Inspired by Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried*
*I’ve never been to war, and I am not in the military; I have a lot of fight in me, and I’ve been through some battles. Love is a battlefield, sure. The classroom. The house I grew up in. The marriage I left; I’ve had my share of battles, but like a warrior (my high school mascot) I carry on.
She carried her laughter, her lightness, and something quite new: skepticism. Just enough to keep her safe, yet new enough that it felt heavy, like a pair of boots that haven’t yet been broken in. You’re aware of them because they are a little bit uncomfortable both because they are new, but also because you wish you didn’t need boots. You wish you could just go around barefoot, but you can’t anymore because you’ve stubbed your toe and stepped on stickers too many times. But the boots also meant she still had hope and that she was able to learn. She carried her hope proudly. She carried just enough hope to keep her happy, and she had been carrying that for as long as she could remember, and it kept her light. And it was caused by years of witnessing goodness, by watching people in public treating others with kindness, by seeing an outpouring of support in times of need, by all of her students who she’d seen do incredible things, by her family members who also hoped for the best. Hope was like a rainbow: You knew it took a storm to create, and that made it even more beautiful. She carried laughter with her always. And she was learning to take it out even more. She laughed at herself all the time. It was the best way she found to deal with things. She would always carry these things: hope, lightness, laughter, and caution.
She carried an open mind and an appreciation for the opportunities she was given to remind herself to stop and be thankful. Appreciation for the man on the plane who reminded her of the importance to breathe, own your needs, and take care of yourself. She carried her imagination. Her carried-away, out-of-the-blue, only-in-dreamland, ideological-island, head-in-the-clouds, fantasy-land, in-her-own-bubble, likes-the-box-she-lives-in, beautiful, wonderful, hopeful imagination. She carried her deep breath, the one that always brought her back to the present moment, the one that reminded her to go through everything with the mind of a beginner, and the wisdom of a pro. She carried the box she thinks outside of when challenges arise. She carried the horizon she has always looked out upon, the mountains that taught her how to breathe, the smell of rain. She carried the reminder to slow down, look out, drink slowly, love fully, breathe deeply, ignore consciously, speak honestly, speak kindly, speak up, smile genuinely, stretch often, write regularly, go freely, think fast, and forgive when she was ready.
She carried her shoulders back… when she remembered to. She carried her heart wide-open and on her sleeve. She carried knots in her stomach and tightness in her chest for as long as she can remember, but she was trying to let that go, even when it was caused by hope. She was learning how to breathe all over again. For a long time she was scared to breathe, but now she did it consciously and deliberately and heavily, out of freedom, not of fear. She still carried tightness in her chest, and now she had the wisdom to remind herself to breathe when the tightness arose. She carried the passion to teach others how to breathe before they nearly suffocated themselves, like she had nearly done. She carried the impulse to apologize, but was starting to discern when she didn’t need to. She was learning not to apologize her existence away, not to apologize for being a woman with her own ideas and opinions, and she was also learning to bite her tongue more because she was learning that timing is often more important than passion.
She carried fights with herself. Ones she’d already won and ones she had yet to conquer. There were other fights to come as well, other fights she was in the midst of. Battles she was determined to fight when she entered the field of education. A fight to teach all people to respect one another. A fight to teach people the proper use of a semi-colon. A fight to teach all people the value of reading. It still amazed her how many people didn’t read. She understood she was fighting against video games and apps like Call of Duty, and Pokemon Go and videos of cute cats ,and people running into and falling off of things. She knew she had a lot she was up against, but she would continue to fight. For years she had been preparing for the battlefront of educating our future world leaders, building stamina by carrying an ever expanding toolkit of lesson plans. Her weapons were patience, and kindness, and knowledge of YA fiction– an arsenal of strategies to engage a group of students in discussion about the meaning of life through literature. She carried these things because she believed they would make a difference, and she carried letters from past students testifying that they did. They were her armor.
The things she carried were largely focused on keeping her strong, determined by restriction, and embraced by the desire to downsize her material possessions. She carried a phone filled with pictures of her loved ones. Her sisters and brothers, and her nieces and nephews. She carried pictures of a man who made her smile, emails and poems from a man who made her think and feel deeply. She would sometimes read back through those emails and listen to a song he mentioned or look up a place he’d visited. She carried a longing for a happy future.
And she also carried scars on her skin and she carried a healing heart. She carried the memories of hurt and the possibility to be hurt again, for that is the way with people. She knew that at times the pain she endured was purposeful, and other times it was caused by her own carelessness, so she knew to be more careful now. That didn’t mean she would feel any less when the inevitable happened. She also knew she cared too much sometimes and would be hurt by their leaving, hurt by their inability to love or to speak the truth, hurt by watching them live a life of pain and unhappiness. Many men in her family struggled with addiction: to work, to drugs, to alcohol, to pride, and it hurt her to watch them. She had been hurt by her lovers, her roommates, and her family too. But she was healing. Every day, with every breath, she was becoming stronger. She carried the scars, and always would because that’s how scars are, but now she carried them with pride rather than shame.
She carried her list-making, eyebrow-picking, heart-pounding, nostril-flaring, finger-tapping, hair-twirling, lip-biting anxiety-management-system. She carried her pinky up high along with her expectations of herself and others. She carried her stress in her fingertips, her jaws, her slouched shoulders, her neck, her tense lips, her wrinkled forehead, her tight stomach, her popping ankles. She carried the knowledge that despite the stress, despite the worry, things would be okay. Things would be better. She would do better. She carried the knowledge that the clouds will always reflect the light, eventually, and that she’ll always end up on the bright side.
She carried too many t-shirts because they were comfortable. She carried a few pairs of jeans and way fewer shoes than she thought was possible. She carried teaching clothes, warm clothes, beach clothes, hiking gear, and paint brushes. She carried a keen eye for colors and balance and finding beauty in unexpected places. She carried a ring from Rome. A ring she bought from a flirtatious vendor. A ring carved from coral. A ring that represented her freedom from any person, any place, any emotion. That represented a connection with nature and her ancestors, the balance between hope and fear. She carried a bag full of jewelry and a pocketful of sunshine. She carried a yoga mat, a King Harbor hat, a beanie and a pair of gloves. A chef’s knife, a pocket knife, and more pepper spray than she hoped she needed. A pack of paint brushes, canvas paper and good erasers, and more inspiration than she could fulfil.
She carried the desire in her heart to end up with the right one. She carried a glimmer of hope. She carried the longing to feel the touch of that one on every plane trip, in every foreign country, for every cheese and cracker, for every beer, with every cloud, across every lake, through every song, for every breathe. She carried the wisdom that two people are not meant to complete each other, but to enhance one another. She carried the desire to be complete on her own. She was working towards it and was closer than she had ever been before.
She carried the love story of her grandparents. She carried it in her heart because that was where she always felt it and she knew it was safe there. She carried the hope that this story conveyed. She carried the strength of her grandmother when she traveled to another country for love. She carried the comfort of knowing how proud of her Bob and Margaret would be if they knew of this journey on which she was about to embark. She carried a coin from the year they were married in England. She carried their love and their green thumbs.
She carried so many memories of her Grandma Babe, who lived just up the road from where she grew up, who didn’t remember her anymore when she visited the nursing home. The squirrels in her yard, the walks around the lake, the bowl of caramels, the cinnamon rolls, the sips of margaritas, the bells, the game room, the wall of framed photos, the perfectly-made beds, the perfectly-applied makeup, the smell of the Mary Kay lipgloss she would always ask to wear when “Gramma Babe” picked her up to go to town. And Grandpa John. A man of few words but many lessons.
She carried a love for adventure (Thank you Uncle Larry), a neverending love for books (Aunt Jean) and crafts (Mom) and sarcasm (Dad) and family get-togethers (Wildes) and love of food and games and the outdoors (Deganharts). A comfort with noise and a love of silence, for sunrises and sunsets, for storms, the calm before the storm, and gratitude that not all storms last. She carried the knowledge that some storms do last forever, so it’s best to walk–or run–away from those ones. She carried the confidence that she could, would, did, can, and will make a difference. That a smile can change lives, or at least someone’s day. That helping someone up lifts us all higher. That sometimes cliches are all you need.
She carried Chapstick, always, unless she knew she’d be with her mom, who also, always, carried Chapstick. She carried antacids, anti-frizz serum, a book, band-aids, eye drops, lotion, pens and paper, and some kind of snack.
Most importantly, she carried on. Regardless of, because of, and in spite of her past, she carried on. She carried on with hope in her heart. She carried on with a vision in her mind. She carried on with abandon. She carried on with tears in her eyes sometimes–tears of joy, sadness, longing, hope, anxiety, and power. She carried on as though there was a flame chasing her. She carried on as though she was running to light a torch. She carried on for her mom, who never had the courage. She carried on for her dad, who always believed she deserved more. She carried on for her sisters, her brothers, and their significant others; for her niblings, who were the light of her life. She carried on for her students, past and future. She carried on for her happiness, her passion, her love. For the holes she still needed to fill and the mountains she still needed to climb. For all the blank canvases to be covered and frames to be built. For all the words she still needed to learn and the feelings she still needed to feel. She carried on for the scars, the fears, the memories, and the dreams. But mostly, she carried on for herself, because there was no other choice.
And she carried on for you.