The Once and Future Me.

Last year, one of my coworkers (I think it was Sherry) found this website called FutureMe, where you can send yourself an email from the past. It’s a really exceptional concept,¬†I think. And being the nostalgic, sappy person that I’m occassionally prone to be, I latched onto it quickly. I recall sending myself several emails to the future, and then promptly forgot about it (until a few months ago, when I stumbled upon it again, before yet again forgetting). But I digress.

Today has been a year ago since we discovered that website, and I received my first email from the past me a little while ago. Very surreal.

Because it contains no deep, dark secrets, I’ve decided to post it here:

Dear FutureMe,

Right now, I’m sitting in Hester Memorial Library, working at the circulation desk since Nate is training for the new automated system. I think this is a really cool idea.

A few minutes ago, I talked with Leonardo about cooking for the STD party that will be hosted at our house on Saturday (today is Thursday). The party is going to be pretty amazing and fun.

So a year from now (which is when I plan to have this email sent), I’m guessing that I’ll be living back at home, going to grad school at Carolina, and who knows what else? It’ll be interesting to see how this all works out. A year is actually a very short amount of time, I’m finding out.

So, Future Haley, I hope you’re doing well. I hope you love your life. I hope you’re ready for Christmas (as much as I am now).

This is probably really cheesy, but remember that, no matter what is going on now, a year ago, you were happy. People loved you.

Past Haley

If Present Haley could talk to Past Haley, this is what she would say:

1. Shame on your for the confusing modifier in paragraph 1! Upon first reading it, I thought I was excited about the new automated library system and not the FutureMe emails.

2. The party was a lot of fun. Good job on calling that. ūüôā

3. A year is very short…and oh, so long, at the same time. And isn’t it funny how God takes those best-laid plans and throws them out the window? I’m not living at my parents’, and although I’m in grad school, it’s not in Columbia OR for library science. And honestly, it’s a little creepy to read this and know that just a month later, I was diagnosed with diabetes. I would certainly tell Past Haley to stop visiting Dunkin Donuts so often. And lay off the Mountain Dew. ūüôā

4. I am ready for Christmas, Past Haley. In fact, at this moment, I’m sitting in my room, which is lit only by Christmas lights and Christmas candles, and I’m listening to Christmas music from the radio [currently, the original version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”…we’re on Day 10. :)]

5. “No matter what happens”…foreshadowing, perhaps? (Or probably just my overdeveloped sense of drama.) But, Past Haley, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m still happy, maybe even more so than I was then. And I’m definitely still loved.

Past Haley, you’ve come a long way. ūüôā

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I Am Still Running.

I jokingly tell my younger brother that, of the two of us, I am the perfect one–while he was the troublesome child, I was a model of decorum. We joke that if he’d been born first, my parents would have been so dismayed they never would have had a second child. Unlike many children, including my brother Berry, I actually liked to follow rules. When I started school, I enjoyed homework, so getting it finished before watching TV wasn’t a difficult choice. At bedtime, I might have asked for five more minutes, but if Mom and Dad said no, I wasn’t one to argue.

My brother was an entirely different matter.¬†He infuriated teachers in elementary school¬†when he never turned in homework and fell asleep in class, but when asked a question, he could amaze them with his intellect. And bedtime was a constant battle. Frequently, he’d sneak out his bedroom into the hallway and peer around the bookshelf where he had a perfect view of the TV. Often, my parents would find him curled up on the floor asleep when they finally went to bed.

My mother likes to tell an anecdote about the two of us. As an infant, if I were upset or tired, my parents needed only to put me into my crib. Being confined in that safe, enclosed space was enough to calm me down and put me to sleep. My brother, born three years later, was never satisfied with being enclosed. He was the child who climbed out of the crib and balanced on top of the bars. He was the one to take risks in order to escape.

Looking back at my life, I can see that this desire for safety, and the necessity of being in control, ruled my life. One day, when I was perhaps three or four years old, I was walking down the sidewalk back home from my best friend’s house next door. A strange man was walking across the street and moved to cross it. All I knew was that he was a stranger, and strangers were bad. As I walked up the driveway to my house, I could see my father through the latticed fence, but that fence separated me from him. And I knew that fence needed to separate me from the stranger.

I screamed. I ran. I struggled to get the gate open, and I felt the strange man walking closer to me. Finally, the latch released, and I was able to get inside, to safety. I still remember the immense feeling of relief as the gate slammed shut behind me. I remember running inside, running to safety. Just running.

My brother and I are both in our twenties now. Berry’s a firefighter. Not much has changed for him. Safety actually dominates his life and his profession, but he still must be that risk-taker he was as a child.

Not much has changed for me either, actually. I’m still bound by safety. I want guidelines. My life is frequently dominated by control. And often, I find that I’m still running. Searching for safety. Grasping for control.

* * *

August 2001

I imagine that a major goal of every sixteen-year-old girl is to discover something about herself. She may not state that explicity, but each day as a teenager seems to be marked by a quest to discover one’s identity. I was certainly no different.

August 2001 was a culmination of a year of soul-searching and decision-making. In September 2000, I had received an invitation to apply to the Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics, a two-year residential high school for gifted students. As an awkward, intelligent student in my very rural, small-town high school, I saw my chance to escape. I grasped an opportunity that I knew I could not let pass me by.

The day in February that I received my acceptance letter was the happiest day of my life, to that point. I took a week to decide, but I knew what my choice would be the moment I read the word “Congratulations” on that letter. I was getting out of my hick town. I was running . . . towards something better. Towards the future.

When August arrived, I was a basket case. Excitement. Nervousness. Extreme fear. All of it was there, battling it out inside my heart. Leaving home must be the right decision. The Governor’s School could offer me so much more than would ever be possible in my small town.

I lasted six days. Six days, marked by the most intense roller coaster of emotions I’ve ever experienced. Six days of working diligently to convince myself I’d made the right decision, followed by moments of terrible heartache at knowing that it had instead been the wrong decision.

So I ran again, back home, to the place that was familiar, even though, less than a week before, I had run away from that very same place. I was only six days older, chronologically. But my life had taken a dramatic turn down an entirely new path. I had been intelligent before, but now that intelligence was accompanied by something else: a fierce motivation to be better than my circumstances, a desire to prove to the world that good things can come from a dying town.

I was running again, albeit in a different direction. This time, instead of running away, as I had so often before, I was running towards the dream of finding a place where I truly belonged. It had not been in Hartsville, at the Governor’s School; it wasn’t in North, my dying little town. But I knew I would find that elusive location eventually; I just needed to work really hard to get myself to that point. And so I pushed myself, and I kept running.

* * *

December 2007

After dropping my friend Nicole off at North Greenville, I drove back home to my little house in Travelers Rest. As I drove down the darkened highway, admiring the Christmas lights that were starting to appear on various houses, I thought about the conversation we had just had.

I was twenty-two years old, a college graduate, and utterly dissatisfied with the state of my life. I disliked my job and dreamed of moving home, saving money, and starting graduate school, with the hopes that being back in school would make me feel as though my life were actually going somewhere. I was also angry, bitter, and single at a time when seemingly every girl I knew was getting married. God and I were not on speaking terms, although no one knew that. I had built a wall around my heart, and I struggled everyday to maintain some semblance of control.

Somehow, in the course of our lengthy conversation, Nicole had seen through a crack in that wall. She peered into my heart and honestly and lovingly rebuked me. “I’m going to pray for you to be broken, Haley.”

I nodded through the tears in my eyes. I let pieces of that wall crumble in front of me that night, and I knew she was right. I also knew it would be painful, and I wasn’t ready to take that step on my own. So I kept running for the moment, holding that facade in place, not knowing that just a few weeks later, something would happen to shake me to my very core. Brokenness was coming.

* * *

January 1, 2008

It seemed like a cruel joke. No one should start the new year off in ICU, strapped to machines and unable to move because of all the needles emerging from her arms. At 12:04 a.m., the nurse woke me up to give me yet another pill. She wished me happy new year, and I wondered where my friends were. How they were celebrating. If any of them knew that my life had changed completely and irrevocably.

Diabetes is the fastest-spreading disease in America, and I had just joined the ranks. But reality had not set in yet, and I was so relieved to just be feeling better (thanks to the shots of insulin and the continuous fluids being pumped into my severely dehydrated body).

Nearly twenty-four hours later, I had nearly made it through the first day of the new year, and my first full day as an official diabetic. I was moved out of ICU, and I spent a relatively uninterrupted night in a lonely hospital room. The relief had begun to fade, only to be replaced by a desolation I had never known.

The tears ran down the sides of my face to my pillow, as I wondered what would happen next. Could I be diabetic? I knew enough about the disease to know that everything had changed. Syringes and vials of insulin would be my constant companions. I would never be able to touch another Mountain Dew. And who knew what else? It seemed too much to handle.

I marveled at what I imagined to be God’s sick, twisted sense of humor. I knew that my lack of trust, my tight reign on control in my life, was a sin. I imagined that God was punishing me for this sin. I had suddenly, it seemed, been stricken with a disease that required absolute control over every aspect of my life. It seemed that God had given me exactly what I desired. In the midst of my tears, I laughed bitterly at the irony of it all.

My anger, fortunately, didn’t last long. It couldn’t. In the midst of all my pain and fear, I realized that I had very little strength. I also knew that I would soon be leaving my family, to return to Greenville, and I could not rely on their strength, either. God was all I had, and¬†I realized I finally had to stop running.

* * *

It’s been a long journey, these eleven months. But it’s been so worth it. I’ve learned more about myself than would ever have been possible had I not been tested and stretched. I’ve also learned a great deal about God’s love and strength and how He provides for me. I’ve come a long way, and while I still fight to let go of control, and I still try to run on occasion, more and more, I find that I’m running towards something now.

“Give me a home inside Your open arms, the only place I ever will belong.”

-Jon Foreman, “I Am Still Running”

To W.C.: A Lament

The good professor Hendrix is hosting yet another contest that pits the writing center instructors against one another. Last time, in the art contest, my “Grammar Superheroes” entry won me a coloring book and crayons. I hope to be as successful this time around, in the poetry contest.

And so, for your reading pleasure, my latest contribution (picture Julie Andrews and some hideous green curtains):

Cramps in my knuckles
And ink stains on fingers
Really long papers
That student who lingers
All of these problems that each student brings–
These are a few of my most dreaded things.

They bring comma errors
And very poor spelling.
A misplaced modifier
Makes me feel like yelling.
All of these problems that each student brings–
These are a few of my most dreaded things.

When the verb disagrees,
And they use no apostrophes,
And passive voice must not be had,
I simply remember that Christmas break is coming,
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Redbirds

I bought a Christmas ornament yesterday…a beautiful redbird made in Indonesia from pressed bamboo. I picked it up from the basket, twirled it between my fingers, and admired the beautiful, fragile piece of art that it is. Then I thought about how much my grandmother would have loved it. And so I bought it, in honor–and in memory–of her.

*****

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.¬†When I was¬†a child, my family lived in a large house divided into two apartments–our side and Mama Kat’s side. The beauty in this arrangement is that, at Christmas, we essentially had two houses to decorate. Twice the fun!

Mama Kat loved Christmas, as well, and held fast to traditions. Every year, the artificial green tree sat in the same place in her living room. Every year, she wound white Christmas lights around it, as I waited anxiously to place the ornaments on the tree. Every year, she lovingly unwrapped each ornament, slid an ornament hanger on, and handed it to me.

I was very particular even then. All the similar ornaments needed to be spaced far enough apart so as not to appear cluttered. The seemingly hundreds of crocheted white snowflakes needed to cover the tree. Her collection of ornaments featuring “The Night Before Christmas” must also be spaced accordingly. And the special, individual ornaments needed to be placed so everyone could admire them.

One in particular stands out. The flat, round ornament had a beautiful redbird displayed on its front. I knew how much Mama Kat loved birds of every size and shape, but redbirds seemed to be her particular favorite. I always hung that ornament in front.

When we finished decorating the tree, I¬†sat and stared at the white lights. My parents always decorated our Christmas tree with colored lights and eclectic, homemade ornaments, as well as ornaments commemorating each Christmas my brother and I had experienced. I always thought the colored tree was the more beautiful tree, until I opened the door separating our side from Mama Kat’s. The green tree with the bright, white lights and all the white ornaments seemed to glow in a supernatural sort of way. It seemed so classy, so old-fashioned; it seemed to embody all that was Mama Kat.

Last year was my first Christmas on my own, and when Christmas approached, I searched for the perfect ornaments to hang from my very first Christmas tree. But as I stood in the store and stared at the boxes of lights, the choice between colored and white seemed like so much more than that. And when I chose the boxes of bright, white lights, I imagined Mama Kat’s tree, and I imagined myself as a little girl, sitting beneath it in a darkened living room, enraptured. I imagined that she would be pleased with even my simple choice of white Christmas lights. But even more so, I imagined that she would be pleased with the woman I’m becoming.

*****

Mama Kat will turn 88 years old in a little over a week, but she won’t realize it. She won’t celebrate it. She’s been in a nursing home for the past¬†four years, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. I saw her¬†about six weeks ago¬†for the first time in ten months. She did not recognize me. I could find nothing to say to bring a familiar spark back to her dull, lifeless blue eyes. I could find no trace of the woman she once was. She is a shell, a fragment of her old self.

Tonight, at Radius, the discussion was about suffering. And my first instinct, as usual, is “Oh, no, I’m just fine.” As Stuart continued to talk, however, the image of my grandmother came to mind. And, suddenly, I was grateful for the darkened room. Thinking of her brings tears to my eyes and a stabbing pain to my heart. I can barely think of her without crying, and tonight, I wept silently as I prayed for my grandmother.

It seems that everytime I think of her, all I can ask is “Why?” Why her? And where is she? Where is that essence, that embodiment of my beloved grandmother?

After I saw her the last time, I cried on the phone with my mom. Then later, I called my dad, my grandmother’s son, and cried again. He listened to all my questions, let me cry, then confessed that he had not visited her for the same reasons. Then the conversation got significantly harder to handle, as my father told me that he’d been praying for God to be merciful and let her die.

At that moment, I told him that I was too selfish for that.¬†I could not bear the thought of praying for that. But tonight, as I thought about suffering and Alzheimer’s and little redbirds, I finally prayed. I prayed for my grandmother’s suffering to end. I thought about how it would finally be for her, to be free from her ravaged mind, to meet Jesus and be whole again.

In the meantime, I have my cherished memories, and white Christmas lights, and my own little redbird to remind me of her.

Morning. Evening. Autumn.

 Awake and Alive

7:40 a.m. Morning always comes too soon. I’m never quite ready to face the world, but the 25 minute drive to work helps. I drive the same route, see the same sights, and sometimes pass the same motorists. I’m in the world, but still secluded. I can see other people, but I don’t have to interact with anyone just yet.

The drive is¬†ritualistic. I know that, depending on the music, I can generally get through six tracks on a CD. I watch the dashboard clock and know that if I don’t¬†turn onto a certain road by¬†7:54, I’ll be late for work. I scan the drivers of other vehicles, hoping to spot a familiar face. My co-worker Mary, perhaps, taking her daughters to school. The lady who wear an awesome cowboy hat and drives a red Jeep.¬†Others that I recognize but will never know. We’re each isolated. We occupy the same space, but¬†never interact.

I watch others’ rituals, too. Sometimes, I count the¬†people drinking coffee, the people on cell phones, the¬†women putting on mascara in their rearview mirrors. ¬†

I also observe progression. Gas prices, displayed on roadside signs, rise and fall. A church is almost finished with its new building. New houses, built mere feet apart, appear in a growing subdivision. Leaves transform from green to gold, burgundy, and brown.

During the last five minutes of my drive, however, the observation ends. I turn off the busier highway onto a curving back road, and the interaction begins. I drive with the window down. Leaves flutter down to the pavement, then swirl up again as I drive past. Some mornings, fog lies low on the landscape, cloaking the ponds, farms, and cows in a supernatural mist. The sun hovers above mountains painted in autumn colors.

I’m awake and alive. I’m part of this creation. And I’m ready for the day to begin. ¬†

 

Headlights on Dark Roads

9:30 p.m. On my way home, I drive the same roads in reverse. Rarely do I make this drive in the dark, but I stayed on campus after work to watch a movie with friends. I’m tired, so I roll the window down, but a chill pervades the air. I compromise by turning the heat on and pulling down my sweatshirt sleeves. Autumn is here, and it’s too good not to be breathed in as often as possible.

The road is unfamiliar in the dark. Reflectors and yellow lines shine in the glow from my headlights. The autumn leaves, so bright and colorful in the mornings, seem dull and muted, but still beautiful. Stars hover in the clear sky.

I’m alone, but not lonely. Solitary, but not isolated. The road feels like home. I feel grounded. My identity is solid. I have no one to impress, no one who needs me. In this moment in time, nothing bothers me. Only this moment exists: the cool November air filling my lungs, the black asphalt running beneath me, the music that I love¬†vanquishing the silence.

I’m finally where I belong.