Sometimes people ask me how I got through Blake’s accident. My answer is simple: one step at a time. I went on autopilot, placing one foot in front of the other until we were through it. It wasn’t until later, after the danger had passed, that I was able to begin to process all that had happened or how close we came to losing him.
I’ve been more easily stressed out this week, more emotional than I usually am. I was walking through the grocery store parking lot when the reason why hit me like a lightning bolt.
For nearly 20 years, I have placed one foot in front of the other. I have raised children and dealt with crises and survived. Now, for the first time, I have tasted something more. I’ve found peace. I’ve felt the comfort of another’s arms. I have jobs I love. My children are happy. Over the past year, my life has grown into something wonderful, and I have a glimpse of something richer than I ever could have imagined.
And just like the wave of emotion I had to contend with after the danger of Blake’s accident had passed, I am grappling with a tsunami of emotion and functioning like a normal human being has become a monumental feat. What I really want to do is curl up and cry it all out, to wash away all the years of hurt and stress and badness. And maybe I will.
I’ve grappled with the tumult, the sea of emotions, for a few days now. I’ve tried to hide my crazy, to keep up with life, even though it’s coming at me rapid fire these days. And then tonight, something in me snapped. I’d had enough of myself. Only it wasn’t a wave of tears that washed it all away.
Instead, I put in my earbuds, turned on my favorite playlist, and be-bopped my way through the night. I got caught up on work; I cleaned my house. I danced like nobody was watching - which was a little more likely the case once I remembered to close the blinds.
The music and the movement washed away all the things plaguing me: insecurity and doubt over this new relationship, uncertainty over my job and finances and parents, sadness for friends and students who are dealing with some truly big things. It was as cleansing and cathartic as any tears. More so even.
And while I’m sure my personal growth isn’t complete - I certainly hope not, anyway - last night was a turning point for me. Whatever metamorphosis I’ve been going through this year, I’m ready to move on. To live my life, to write my stories, to embrace my own ever after, whatever that looks like.
So I will write “The End” on this book knowing that in truth, it’s only the beginning.
How is possible that I haven’t posted an update in nearly four months? Oh yeah, life. This morning alone, my house looks like a war zone. Our only toilet is broken. I had to run one kid through the ATM on our way to school to get $10 for a choir shirt. The other had to go in late because we all forgot to put the clothes in the dryer last night and it was go in late or go in underwear. I’m still trying to crowbar the oldest out of bed before he’s due at work. I am hovering on the edge of sick. It will take an act of God for my budget to work out this month. I am behind in freelancing, writing, and pretty much every other area of life because I took a weekend off. And I got stopped by a marching band not once but twice this morning because they practice in my neighborhood and the Christmas parade is this weekend.
And you know what? I’ve never been happier in my life. So much has happened and changed since summer. I don’t even know where to begin, really.
And let's be honest: Everyone needs a marching band to usher in their Monday.
The romance writer in me wants to start with “I met a guy…” but it’s too soon to say more than that, other than it’s nice to smile when my phone buzzes at me. Something about the possibility of having someone who makes me smile has made me realize that the gap in my publication schedule had very little to do with my hectic life. The silence had much more to do with the fact that the girl who loved love stories had gone away. She’d forgotten what it felt like to be attracted to someone, to flirt. To feel special. It’s hard to write with any authenticity about warmth and hope and love when your soul hasn’t felt any of those things in so long they’d become no more than a distant memory.
But with everything going on, everything that’s transpired in the last four months, the fact that I want to lead with that makes me roll my eyes at myself.
Last summer, my sister was diagnosed with cancer and we still had a lot of unanswered questions. In the months since, she’s had surgery and undergone radiation. There’s a lot they don’t tell you as you’re heading into treatment, like that your skin can peel off in reaction to it. That and other side effects have put my sweet, sweet angel of a sister through more pain than any human should have to bear. But she has borne it, with strength and grace. Because that’s who she is. Just last week, she got to ring the bell indicating that her treatments were finished. Now begins the road to recovery, but at least she has started down that path.
This year has also seen my father diagnosed with dementia, his greatest fear realized. His health in general has been failing for a while, though I suspect it’s at least partly in response to the diagnosis. Then, in October, he was hospitalized for a week. We came very close to losing him and the doctors still can’t tell us why. They stabilized and released him, but he continues to waste away while we can do little besides watch. Watch and soak up every moment we can while our family remains intact.
He’d probably be angry with me for saying anything, so I hesitate to include this. But wrestling with the notion of losing him has been difficult not just for me, but for my children. He’s been a strong force in their lives, and he’s played a major role in teaching my boys what it means to be a man. As a child, my relationship with my father was tumultuous at best. But I've also adored him since infancy, and he's shaped who I am today. He and I have long since found healing. We’ve found the closeness I craved in my younger years.
In the everyday, I press on. I look at what needs to be done and help where I can. But as I write this, tears fill my eyes. Because I mourn not only what is to come, but what's already passed. For an all-too-brief window we had a family that was strong and close. Now that dynamic has changed. We're scattered. There is uncertainty. Life and circumstance have changed us. Still, I cling to the strength of my sisters, no matter the distance between us. And I am thankful for the base my parents gave us.
At least four times during the past 20 years, I have toed up to the notion of being an English teacher. Every time, I chicken out. As I was deciding what to do with my struggling business and how best to keep a roof over our heads, it hit me that it was time to stop resisting. I think I just wanted to be a rebel - after all, both of my sisters are teachers. Perhaps I relished being the oddball, no matter how much I lamented it as a child.
Once the decision was made, things moved so quickly I can only believe it was Divine intervention. To make a long story short, I've been substitute teaching in the Buffalo schools for a little over a month now while I study for my certification test through ABCTE. At first, my boys were hesitant. The conversation went something like this.
"I don't know mom…"
"Don't you want me in your school?" I was wounded.
"It's not that. These kids. They aren't like us. They're pretty wild."
"You don't think I can handle it?"
"It's not the kids I'm worried about."
I forged ahead, nervous but determined. I rarely like to admit I'm afraid of anything, but I was seriously afraid of those first few days in the classroom. It was not only a new job, but one utterly different from anything I'd done before. Sure, I'd taught adults. I guess a room full of disgruntled IT guys compares to rebellious 5th graders in some ways, but it was still pretty foreign.
To my profound relief, I survived. Not only did I survive, I enjoyed it. And I only had one conversation get out of hand.
I'd written "Ms. Huffman" on the board. I'm too old to be a Miss and I'm not a Mrs. This was apparently a new concept for these 5th graders.
"You left a letter out of your name," one of them informed me.
"No, I didn't. I meant to write Ms."
"Because it doesn't matter if I'm married or not. You can use Ms either way."
"You're not married?" a girl asked.
"That's not the point."
At this juncture, another young man joined the conversation. "Do you have a boyfriend?"
That elicited a chorus of "oohs" from the class. They had interpreted the question as this kid’s way of volunteering for the position.
"No. I have three sons, one just at the other end of the hall. But we're not talking about that right now, we should be doing our bell work."
"How do you have kids if you're not married?"
This is when I thought Really? I'm the only unmarried mother in this town? Instead, I replied "I used to be married. Now I'm not, and we're done talking about this."
The boy who started it all gasped. "You got fired from being married?"
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. I'm super proud that I didn't retort that I'd fired him. Instead, I managed to get the conversation back on track. Lord only knows how.
Since that day, I've taught everywhere from 1st grade through high school seniors. I've covered for the Special Education classroom and the middle school band teacher. I find myself increasingly impressed with the kind of person who chooses to educate children for a living. And I am increasingly proud to be joining their ranks. The kids have come to know me. Whichever school I’m at, I have kiddos coming up to me and hugging me or saying hi. I'm crazy about them. And my boys have even decided they like having me in their schools.
Despite all of the proverbial frolicking in the sunshine, I'm exhausted. Every day is a bit of a whirlwind as I learn this new world and study for the test that will give me my full-fledged teaching certificate. I feel the time crunch as my window closes before hiring for next year begins - I'm trying desperately to have everything in order to be one of the candidates for any jobs that might open.
Another pretty big event for me was taking advantage of the open mic nights at my beloved coffee shop. A dear friend and I worked like crazy to prepare four songs for our 15 minutes on stage, only to arrive and find out we were the only ones signed up. We wound up singing more like 7 songs, a couple of which we’d never even sung together before. I know I’m a far cry from a professional, but we weren’t half bad and I loved every single second of it. It was so incredibly freeing to sing in front of a room full of people, not worried about how it sounded, only thrilling in the song.
The old Heather wouldn’t have done that.
I also am pleased to report that I’ve lost over half of the weight I’d gained with the ankle debacle from a few years back. I still have a bit to go, but I feel so much better already. Dylan and I have taken to hiking with our dogs, exploring whatever trails strike our fancy whenever we can squirrel away an afternoon. I love it. Hiking days are some of my favorite days; they make me feel gloriously alive.
There was a moment when I began to worry that my horses would be the price I had to pay for my freedom. Every time I thought I had something lined up for them, the sands would shift and plans would change. And just when I was desperate enough to consider selling my darlings, friends stepped up, things fell into place, and the horses were moved on the day the land changed hands. One more day and they’d have been homeless.
I’m sure a smarter person would sell them. Heaven knows we can’t really afford them. But I am clinging to the hope that someday soon I’ll have my world rebuilt enough that I can once again buy a little patch of land for me and my girls. (I guess I’ll let the human children come too…) That’s a dream I’m not willing to walk away from just yet.
There was no last minute miracle for my little company, though. It went quietly into the night, leaving behind memories and a handful of clients who I continue to freelance for. I thought I was ready to completely walk away from marketing for a while, but it seems that world isn’t through with me yet. It makes answering the question “What do you do for a living” all kinds of fun. I’m a writer, teacher, and marketer. Maybe that last one will drop off the list someday; maybe not. I enjoy each aspect of my career. Each reflects something of me.
Oh, and I joined forces with some amazing authors to launch a website and Facebook group by and for women. It's a judgment-free zone on the internet where we celebrate all the many facets of being a woman today. It's going to be so much more - we have big plans - and it deserves so much more than a paragraph mention, but a paragraph is all I have in me at the moment.
I feel like there’s more to say, more to share, but the thoughts and feelings are swirling through me, as elusive to catch as the clouds. All I know is that 2017 has been a year of profound change for me and my children. It’s only now that I’ve shed the chains of my past that I begin to realize how heavy a burden they were.
And today, in this moment, while the weather is warm and my heart is happy and full, I feel like I can finally spread my wings and fly.