When you tackle someone in football, you’re supposed to keep your head up. Tackling with your head down, also known as spearing, is a good way to injure people--yourself and your opponent. It’s so dangerous, in fact, that it was banned at all levels of the sport in 1976. Despite the ban, it’s a practice that persists, in large part because coaches fear that teaching their players the correct way to tackle will curb their aggressiveness. It seems a startlingly large number of coaches actually go the other way, teaching their players to use their helmet as a weapon, despite the fact that it dramatically increases the risk of serious injury on both sides of the tackle--like, permanent, crippling injury. It’s such a big deal that the NFL addressed it again in 2018, making a rule that spearing can lead to a 15 yard penalty or even ejection from the game.
We’ll set aside for a moment that there are grown men teaching children to permanently injure other children just to increase the number of wins under their belt and secure their jobs. Because if I go down that path, it’ll just turn into a tirade. A blinding rage, mama bear tirade.
My youngest is nursing his second concussion of the season. Second. Both are the result of the other team intentionally playing dirty and intentionally inflicting a head injury. I’m struggling to wrap my brain around this on so many levels. How one human could harm another just because, how a grown man could teach children to harm each other, how a grown man could knowingly endanger a child’s entire future just to pad his own ego… again, mama bear tirade. There are a couple of football coaches in the St Louis area who should probably walk the other way if they see me coming. But I digress.
What I really want to talk about today is not about the entitled sleazeballs, but about my son’s football team. About the coaches who put the kids first and go out of their way to teach them how to play the sport safely. About the programs out there that care about the kind of humans they’re shaping these young men to be. About the men who stepped in as father figures to my son and how very lost and angry he was before he found football.
I want to talk about the fact that my son’s team held their heads high even when things got rough. They played with courage and grace and heart no matter how dirty it got out on that field. The fact that there are still teams like that, still young men like that, gives me hope for our future as a society.
Because life sucks. People don’t fight fair. They pay unfair wages even when they have the means to do the right thing. They step on each other for the sake of greed, pride, and pure meanness. The playing field of life is not level. And while I am killing myself to give my children a boost up because I hope their road is easier than my own has been, I’d much rather they learn to keep their heads high no matter what life throws at them. Someone else fighting dirty isn’t an invitation to get down in the mud with them, it’s a call to rise above.
There are a few reasons my blog and books have been largely silent the past couple of years. In part, it’s just been the reality of life. I’m a single mom working multiple jobs and shuttling teenagers. There’s not a lot of time or brain power left at the end of all that to be creative.
But I’ve also been struggling with a bit of an identity crisis. As my friend Jesse puts it, “We’re not talking to Happy Heather right now…” It's hard to write about hope and love when my faith in both has been shaken to its core.
After years of silence, the words inside me are starting to shake loose again. The book they’re producing is different. It’s not part of Throwaway’s world. Jesse also told me to stop worrying about how it fit into the platform and just to write it for me, so that’s what I’m doing. And, as usual, the words are helping me process, to find healing. I’m not sure where they’re taking me, but I believe it’s somewhere better.
And I’m realizing that like my son’s football team, I want to keep my head high, even if those around me don’t. Because it’s not about winning a game, it’s about who I am as a person. And I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t believe in love, the person who’s lost hope.
It feels like the entire last year has been one dirty tackle after another, but there’s been a lot of good in it, too. So I’m gonna spit the mud out of my mouth, pick myself up, and keep playing the game with my head high.
I’ll also be figuring out what to do about dirty high school football programs and my platform (and books) might be a bit cheekier than my long-time readers are used to, but my head’ll be high...
The coffee table in my basement is a destroyer of children. When my oldest, Dylan, was hardly more than a toddler, he was picking up his toys and cracked the corner of his eye on it, earning his first stitches.
But I was the table’s first victim. When I was four, racing through the house to get my shoes so I could go to Scotty’s Hardware with my dad, I wiped out and gave myself a helluva black eye. Instead of going to the store--and getting an ice cream cone--I was left behind to sob inconsolably on my mother’s lap.
I recently ventured back into the dating world. It’s the first I’ve really opened myself up to the idea that I could find someone else since The One Who Makes Me Smile broke my heart. And I did meet someone I thought seemed nice. We had a lot in common and he told me how beautiful I was, something I sorely needed to hear after the six-month torturous death of my last relationship. That first foray into the dating world ended as abruptly as it began, though. I bounced back pretty quickly, but there was a day I was pretty down about it.
I was talking to my sister on that particular day and she brought up the Scotty’s incident from all those years ago. She said she often wondered what that did my psyche, the fact that I was racing through the house so I wouldn’t be left behind. And when I fell, he didn’t scoop me up to tend my wounds. He left me behind. She said I’d spent my life chasing perfection to earn love. That all I’d ever wanted was to belong, to find where I fit. Apparently both of my sisters had been discussing it the other day, that men took advantage of that in me and they worried about me now that I was dating again. I think the last two years were hard on the people who loved me because they worried all along he’d break my heart.
Sometimes I feel like my family doesn’t really see me. Not who I truly am. In that moment, though, I felt like both of my sisters saw right through to the most vulnerable parts of my soul.
I stayed with a publisher who was bad for my career because of the sense of family it gave me. I stayed in a bad marriage more than a decade after I knew it was dead because I didn’t want to lose his family. I could point to a lot of times I stayed longer than I should have in jobs, relationships, or situations because of that sense of belonging.
My whole life, I have craved family. Not just flesh and blood, but the tribe of people you belong to. I think raising my boys helped with that, but as my time with them rapidly draws to a close--or at least, with them as we are now--I think it’s bothering me more and more than I haven’t found my person yet. I want a family. I want somewhere to go on holidays, people to gather at the lake with or coming and going from my house at gatherings. But I’d be truly thrilled to find my person. The one I can tell anything to. The one who has my back no matter what. The one who won’t leave me behind.
It’s hard to admit this. I sometimes feel a bit like the only place I do belong is on the Island of Misfit Toys because I haven’t found that person. A friend tells me it’s because I live life full speed ahead and I keep picking boys who can’t keep up. He’s not wrong.
Maybe that’s the problem. I’ve spent my life trying to be perfect for someone who was never going to be perfect for me. I’ve given myself black eyes for people who didn’t deserve my time, let alone my heart.
This year has been one of immense pain but also immense growth. Of letting go and new beginnings. I’m learning to lean in to my feelings. To trust them. To not be so hard on myself. To give myself credit for things I’ve done right and let myself off the hook for the missteps.
I can feel this terrible, wonderful year leading me to something better. To being someone better. Or, at very least, to being okay with the someone I am. While there are times I question his judgment, God made me who I am for a reason. The world must have needed one of me. I’m not just a spare part.
This past weekend was spent at a music festival with my boys. We had an amazing time and I met all kinds of wonderful people. Something about the weekend brought all of this full circle for me. I realized I’ve found a place I belong, a job that’s as much a family as a career move. Friends who love me. And my boys aren’t leaving. Our family will only grow as they do.
I also realized I’ve led an amazing life. I mean, it’s occurred to me before, but it really washed over me again this weekend. My life has been truly phenomenal. It’s full to the brim with people from all over the world who I love and who love me, even if I haven’t found that one person to do the day-to-day stuff with.
And I have to believe my person is still out there. Maybe I’ve already met him. Maybe not. But until I do, I’m determined to do a better job of guarding my heart. No more black eyes for me. At least, not the self-inflicted kind.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted something on my personal Facebook wall about anger. At the time, anger was sweeping through me with such ferocity I was a little afraid I would lose myself to it.
The post was a quote encouraging people to use their anger to fuel action. For the most part, it was met with encouraging words from friends who know me well enough to be concerned for me. But it was also met with a few well-intentioned but anger-inducing words that basically said anger is never appropriate.
In no frame of mind to discuss it—because I was clinging to my sanity for dear life—I deleted the comments, something I don’t typically do. But I’ve spent a lot of time since then not only trying to regain peace but wondering why it is that we as humans have such an odd relationship with anger, and why it’s particularly frowned on in women.
Because while the Bible cautions us to not sin in our anger, and it speaks against outbursts of wrath, and in the book of James, we learn that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, I would argue that there is a place for anger in our lives and not acknowledging is much more harmful than seeing it, owning it, and channeling it.
Ignoring anger is what allows it to turn into bitterness, and bitterness is a cancer that eats away at our souls and our relationships.
I have built a brand on the image of Happy Heather, but I am angry.
I am angry at the CEOs who used me for my mind without acknowledging me or paying me a living wage, leaving my family to struggle.
I am angry at my ex-husband and the choices he made and continues to make, at the hurt he has caused me and our children.
I am angry that every time I lift my head up, there is an avalanche waiting to bury me.
I am angry at the men who assaulted and raped me.
I am angry at the childhood wounds inflicted by those who should have protected my heart.
I am angry that I spent so much time healing from those wounds, only to have everything stripped away by alcoholism and dementia.
I am angry that I have to watch my father die a horrible death.
I am angry that the VA would leave him to die under a bridge. That there are no resources available to our veterans, and we are left with the option of my mother being left penniless or my father being shipped to whatever facility they can happen to find—assuming he survives the wait.
I am angry at the old coots sitting at “The V” in Republic, Missouri who snuck him booze when we tried to dry him out two years ago and then left us to deal with the disaster they created.
I am angry that it ripped my family apart. That where there was once cookouts and laughter and love, there is now silence echoing throughout the emptiness of our world.
I am angry that the man I love doesn’t want to build a world with me. That he gave me hope and made me long for something he had no intention of giving. That he hurt my children in the process.
I am angry at how incredibly alone I feel.
I am angry at the powerlessness I feel.
I am angry at the church for turning from Jesus and to politics.
I am angry at the number of people who have been turned away from God by those who purport to follow him.
I am angry about the human beings in concentration camps in our country.
I am angry that instead of looking for real solutions to the question of abortion, women’s health is being legislated in dangerous ways.
I am angry for the children forgotten in foster homes and abject poverty in our own backyard.
I am angry that after a decade of crying out against human trafficking, we haven’t even made a dent because people do not care. Bargain deals matter more than human lives.
I am angry that I’m stacking people into my house like cordwood because young people cannot earn a living wage in this country. Jobs are aplenty, but none of them offer a salary someone can live on.
The problem is not with my anger. Yes, it is a secondary emotion—in every instance above, I can point to the pain, injustice, and a sense of powerlessness that are fueling it. But the anger is real and shoving it down will do nothing beyond allowing it to fester.
I shoved it down for 41 years, and when my father’s crash-and-burn ripped back the scabs covering that anger, the power of it nearly consumed me.
I don’t want to keep this anger. My point is not to hold on to it. It has to be acknowledged, investigated, channeled and then released. I must move forward and leave it behind, and that’s a continual process.
But in that process, I use my anger to fuel me. To guide my decisions. To draw boundaries. To fix what I can and fight for others.
Because we have much to be angry about. But there is also love, and beauty and joy to be had. To deny the anger gives it power over us instead of using its power to move us beyond, to something better.
I have no idea why, but today I had the compelling urge to listen to Chicago—something I did often as a preteen but haven’t done in years. For some reason, as I sit here nursing a shattered heart and navigating adulting minefields and intense family drama, I decided I needed to listen to Chicago. Because that’s just what I need right now, more feels.
The first song to come through my earbuds, I realized it’s all their fault. Maybe not the minefields and family drama, but the broken heart is on that danged sappy group.
Couldn't stand to be kept away, just for the day, from your body. Wouldn't want to be swept away, far away, from the one that I love.
That. I want someone who feels that. I grew up listening to music like that, writing books about it. My heart yearns for something that feels impossible right now. I’m not sure if he ever felt that, the one who made me smile, the guy who brought me back to life. Maybe he did and just didn’t let himself show it. Or maybe he just didn’t. As much as my romantic heart rebels at the notion, it happens.
I know he loved me. There was a time when anyone in the room with us could see how much we adored each other, but somewhere along the way, he stopped enjoying me. Our relationship became more work than not. Not because I was a diva or he was a jerk. It was life, mostly. Life and outside influences. People with their own selfish interests putting up roadblocks. Neither of us handled it as well as we could have, but we tried. I genuinely believe we both did.
After we broke up, I reposted sage words of internet wisdom on my Facebook wall. He wasn’t speaking to me and part of me wished—naively, I know—that he’d see it and some sort of light bulb would go off in his head. (Which would give me the added bonus of being the first person ever to change someone’s mind via a Facebook post.)
Instead, what I got was a comment from an old colleague: All you need is love.
I think it would have hurt less if he’d physically punched me in the gut. I know I’m a romance novelist who has built her entire platform on hope and love and all kinds of sunshiney stuff, but I firmly believe that statement is absolute crap. Like it was my fault for not loving him enough.
I’ve seen people who were loved dearly drink themselves to death. I’ve seen women love their husbands but leave because they couldn’t take the emotional or physical abuse anymore. And sometimes you can love someone, immensely, and still say “no more” because their actions hurt you and keep hurting you and at some point, your heart (and sanity) just can’t take anymore.
I loved that man, deeply, and I believe he loved me. But here I sit, alone. Listening to Chicago and wishing things were somehow different. Because it takes more than love. It takes work, and a choice. Maybe even a daily choice.
I believe that relationships (of all kinds) are not static; they’re fluid and ever-evolving. Either we move toward people or away from them, but we never run completely parallel to them.
When you first learn to drive, you realize that it’s not as simple of a process as it seems—there’s a lot of counter-correcting involved. If your wheels are aligned and the driver is good, you don’t notice it, but it’s still happening. I think maybe relationships are kind of like that. And somewhere along the way, the counter-correcting happening in mine was reminiscent of a 15-year-old behind the wheel for the first time. We meant well, but we were giving each other whiplash.
There is so much in my life that is good right now. I love my new town. My children have turned into ah-mazing men and are flourishing. My dogs are at me feet. I am safe; I am comfortable.
I am sad.
I mourn my family, tattered and torn remnants are all that remains of what was once a big, bustling family full of love and laughter (and craziness, but there was a lot that was good). Childhood wounds lie gaping at the surface, the scars that covered them ripped open by alcohol and dementia and so much brokenness.
I worry about money, cars, work, and my irritating landlord.
And I grieve the loss of the man I love.
The Facebook gods have been serving me all kinds of self-help ads. Recently, they showed me a TED Talk on grief. I felt guilty, identifying with that widow. It feels wrong to compare a breakup to death. But what she said resonated with me: that person you loved is always a part of you. You don’t move on from that. But you do have to move forward.
And so I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.
Maybe someday he’ll show up on my doorstep and leave no room for doubt in my mind and we’ll have that life together we’d been building.
Or maybe I will cry a little less each day. I’ll grow a little stronger each week. I’ll find my feet again. Learn to hope and love again.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll even write.
It’s only 10 days old, and already 2019 has proven to be a year of change for my family. So much so, I don’t even know where to begin. (Which says something, considering the number of changes we’ve undergone since that fateful day in March 2011.)
I spent most of 2018 burning up the pavement between Columbia and Buffalo since my beloved lives in Columbia. It was a fluke we even met—we both happened to be in the same area for Thanksgiving in 2017. But once we did meet, neither of us wanted to let the distance keep us from something we could tell was worth the effort.
It was a tough way to start a relationship, but it was also good—we learned what we were made of early on.
The discussion of which city we would consolidate to was a long one with many twists and turns. We involved the boys in the process; their lives would be impacted by the decision we landed on. In the end, it was apparent that no matter how much we loved the beautiful farm we were leasing, Columbia held our future.
So I stuck my toe in the water, just to see if I’d even be able to find a job. It feels like I blinked and had my pick of positions to choose from—good jobs that would further my career.
There was a time I couldn’t fathom leaving Buffalo. It was a safe place for my children and I to find our feet again after our world was shattered. Last year, I wrote that I felt like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, ready to spread my wings and fly. Now I realize that spreading my wings means leaving the chrysalis, leaving Buffalo.
It’s been a terrifying and thrilling couple of months. It felt so unreal, like we were going through the motions but nothing would really change. The rhythm that had become our world would go on.
But now we’re at the doorway. Today is my last day with the sleep company. Tomorrow, I make the journey to my new home. Monday, our new lives begin. We are leaving behind the quiet cocoon of small town life and trading it for an adventure in the city. It’s not exactly Manhattan, but it’s a big change for us.
Dylan, my oldest son, will be spreading his own wings as he stays behind to finish out the lease on the farm before setting off to find his path. He’s a smart and resourceful man. I know great things are in store for him. But lately, I look at him and I picture the chubby toddler in jeans and a flannel and a grin that could light up a city block. And I get a little teary because I know that once he steps out on his own, it’ll never quite be the same again. These are my last precious few moments to have all of my chickens under the same roof in this way. From now on, it will be different.
There are still a lot of unknowns with this next chapter. Horses need to be sold or boarded. Dogs will be divvied up among family. I think I knew—we all knew—that our time on the farm had come to an end. I just wasn’t quite ready to face it. Still, what lies ahead is where we’re supposed to be, and I have to keep trusting that, even through the unknown.
Thankfully, my guy is there for me through this emotional roller coaster I’m on, solid and steady and reassuring me that we’re going to be okay. That I’m not alone anymore; whatever comes up over these next few weeks, he has my back. I suspect he’s going to have to work especially hard to keep me sane the first week or so I’m away from Dylan, but we will get through that, too.
The other exciting thing that happened was that I cracked open a manuscript for the first time in nearly a year. I can’t say the words tumbled out, but progress was made. I think, maybe, I’m ready to write again. I’m hoping that all of the changes I’m making in my world will trim away the distractions and leave me with more head space to create new worlds.
It’s also been bothering me that I’d moved away from helping the fight against human trafficking. My world has become about me, about survival. There is so much darkness out there, I don’t think any of us has the luxury to stop fighting for light. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what that means for me, how I can best keep fighting to make the world a better place.
Happily, I think that piece of the puzzle is taking shape in the form of a new venture with some of my favorite people. I’m not quite ready to share the details yet, but I will say to keep an eye out for some unabashed Sass coming from me this spring…
And until then, wish me luck.
Sometimes I cringe when I look at my own website. I have no idea how I blink and another six months goes by with me neglecting my poor books and this site. Although I prefer to think of it less as neglect and more as percolating—my world is changing and with it, my writing. At least I’ve stopped saying “soon” and started acknowledging that I’m not sure when the words will flow again, but when they do, they will be words worth saying. At least I hope they will.
So much has happened this past year, my friends, I don’t know if I could even begin to catch you up. (For those who were following the goat decision on Facebook, we opted to wait until life settles down a bit. So, no goat.)
I can say that my view of love has changed and grown this past year. The dynamic in my extended family has shifted, my children are growing and our relationship is undergoing the inevitable metamorphosis that comes with emerging adulthood, and I have fallen truly and head-over-heels in love with a pretty amazing man. That last one didn’t look anything like a Hallmark movie, that’s for sure.
In my head, I knew it wouldn’t. But I still wasn’t totally prepared for the uneven messiness of it all. Looking back over the last year, I’m not even sure I could tell you when the crush turned to love or at what moment I knew it had. Because there was always this feeling of belonging. It just fit from the start. Not to say it was love at first sight—no, the love was forged over time. I just can’t pinpoint when.
I hate to talk about my love life too much here. Mostly because he’s an incredibly private person and would be super ticked at me. (So there is irony that he wound up with me, since I can be obnoxiously transparent with my life.) I suppose there are also times I’m afraid I’ll blink and this magical thing we’ve found will be gone, though I can’t imagine my life without him.
December 1, it will be one year since we went on our first date. It was truly the best date I’ve ever been on. I remember what we wore and how it felt to walk next to him as we wandered the city. We talked, so much and about so many things. He made me laugh. He made me think. He gave me butterflies. He still does all of those things. (Although sometimes he makes me yell now, too.)
I vacillate between marveling that it’s already been a year and that it’s only been a year. He is woven into my every day. He shares my moments, big and small. He’s the person my kids turn to when they need something or someone to talk to—sometimes even before me.
If you’ve followed my work for long enough, then you might know that when I write my novels, I usually have an actor in mind as I write them. It helps me envision mannerisms and speech patterns. The actor I had in mind for Devon McAlister, one of my favorite heroes, was Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
At first, the romantic in me took it as some sort of sign that my love bears an uncanny resemblance to Jeffrey Dean Morgan. As in, people stop the man on the street to comment about it. Although it should be noted he’s more Negan and less P.S. I Love You's Irish dude.
I can see why people think there’s a resemblance (it’s the dimples), but it’s not something that’s even on my radar now that I know him as well as I do. Besides, my guy is way hotter than Jeffrey Dean Morgan. (Sorry, Jeff.)
But, with it being our anniversary and all, it amused me to offer up all of Devon’s books for free. Because in some small way, I think the resemblance is what encouraged me to take a chance, so you could say Devon led me to my own love. And for that, I thank him.
There are times when I’m a strong woman, independent and fierce and in control of my world.
And then there are times when I’m a scared little girl, vulnerable and unsure and silenced by my sense of self-doubt.
It’s part of the paradox that is inherently me. Kind of like the way I adore super cute shoes but hate wearing gloves when I garden because it deprives me the feeling of dirt on my hands. (Which I’ve recently discovered is actually really good for your sleep. The dirt on your hands, not the super cute shoes.)
As transparent as I am in this blog and as many books as I have published, I’m sure it surprises some to know there are times when I stand tongue-tied, completely unable to verbalize the thoughts bouncing around my brain or the feelings swirling through me like a torrent.
My boyfriend once told me that it’s incredibly frustrating that someone as articulate as me is, at times, unable to coherently express what I’m feeling, what I need, or what I want.
Here's the thing, I'm a passionate woman. While that's fun to watch from afar via a Facebook feed or something, it's not everyone's cup of tea up close. I’ve found that what’s inside of me is something best doled out in doses, usually through a dozen books or so, lest it be too much.
And that is the fear that stays my tongue: I am too much. I smile too big, talk too much, feel too deeply, think too hard, am bruised too easily… and don’t even get me started on the days when I fear that I am not enough.
There’s so much going on in my world right now. Some terrifying, some heartbreaking, some thrilling. But it’s all roiling inside of me, like a flood waters threatening to breach a levy. This week, I found myself standing frozen in the face of it, afraid that I am yet again too much and not enough at the same time.
My middle sister, Karen, and I have been known to butt heads from time to time. I suppose that's what happens when two people have personalities as strong as ours. But she’s also the person who gets it when others don’t. Maybe that’s the thing about sisters; you share the same brand of crazy.
A few months ago, my boyfriend and I were going through a rough patch. He said those words to me because I was utterly unable to verbalize what was going on in my head. Or rather, I did speak for myself but the instant he challenged it or ignored it, I let him. I froze in my uncertainty. Was I being too much again?
(In the spirit of full disclosure, there are times it’s less uncertainty and more weariness. One of my favorite lines comes from Carsie Blanton’s song Backbone: Honey, I’ve already conquered all I can. I just wanna be a woman. All you gotta be is a man.)
I’m a woman who prides herself in being independent and strong and still sometimes I am so small and broken. When we were having this fight, Karen shared the song Brave by Sara Bareilles with me. It’s since become my anthem whenever I find myself allowing people to treat me in a way that isn’t okay, whether it’s a boyfriend, my own kid, a colleague, or even a parent.
Something else I’ve learned—sometimes we can love a person fiercely and accept them as they are but also know that the way they treat us isn’t okay. If they can’t or won’t change that, it’s okay to walk away from them before they destroy you. It doesn’t make either of you bad people. Sometimes, that’s the bravest thing you can do.