Unleashed

Heads up, this poem is written for grown ups. If your parents wouldn’t consider you a grown up, then pretend that this page is filled with something gross like Brussels sprouts or homework and go look up clips of people tripping on banana peels on YouTube or something.

I have this photo of me
that mom and I took
in the hotel parking lot after
dad’s burial service

I love my face
in this image
I’m smiling
but it’s not a smile of frosting and sunrises

It’s a fuck you smile

That smile says:
fuck you death
fuck you suffering
fuck you emotional pain
fuck you miscommunication
and uncharity
and rejection
fuck you isolation
and anonymity
and loneliness

And my eyes
they tell you
I have lived through some shit
that I know things

and I don’t give a damn if
you know that I know them
because I know that I know them
and the people who love me
know that I know them

They know, we know, that
I am a fucking badass queen
that I am fierce and powerful
and that my vulnerability
makes me even more
fierce and more
powerful than any tank, bomb,
or nuclear weapon

I know things
I have been through things
Nothing in this world can destroy me
for who I am was not made to stay in this world

I am built for glory
I will live forever
I am unleashed
Fuck you Devil
I am Veronica
I will not be tamed.

Home Again for the First Time

As a Roman Catholic, the Vatican is the center of it all for me. I wrote this a few months ago, when I visited St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time.

Help me remember
this feeling.
Later
when feeling is hard
and priorities more
confused
Help me remember
your tall ceilings
and echoing voices
harmonies and footsteps
You beckon me. Come home
to this place
I’ve never been before
Come to me my love
Yes
I’ve come home.

At Peter’s Feet

I wrote this a few months back, when I visited St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time.

For all the ones I’ve left behind
For all the ones forgotten
For all those to whom I’ve been unkind
For those I have begotten

I place them here at your feet
Do with them what you will
Just know I wished the best for them
And I wish it still.

How to get to heaven

There is no magic cure
no
quick fix
no easy bake oven
degreaser
10 Minute Abs
“5 Easy Steps
to a Holier You!”
nope

It’s broke ass backbreaking tired lonely grueling work
without
thank yous
or
raises
or
hugs

you.
just.
do.
it.

and keep doing it.
and then…
you do it some more

you work your ass off
and no one thanks you for it.
until
one day…
you die
and then hopefully…
you live.

10/12/18

If I sit in the woods long enough, will the answers appear?
Carved into a tree…spelled out in pebbles on the stream bed?
If I sit here long enough, will I know?
Or do You plan to leave me here
Unknowing
The cacophony of the swollen river keeps time with the cacophony in my head
And still You leave me here
My pride demands more of You
My despair expects nothing
I remain alone

All Grown Up

Remember, when you were a kid
and you thought that pimples
were a problem only for teenagers?
and you thought that grown-ups had all the answers?
but that they just wouldn’t tell you what they were
because they liked watching you squirm.
Remember when you were a teenager
and you thought that when you became a grown-up
you would know all the answers too,
but you would be different than all the other grown-ups.
You would tell all the teenagers
exactly what the answers were
just as soon as you figured them out.
.
Then you got older
and older
yet you still didn’t feel like a grown-up
until one day you were 27
and standing in the frozen food aisle crying
because you couldn’t decide whether to
buy organic peas or store brand
but really you were trying to
decide whether you should invest in your 401k
or pay more on your college loans
and you wanted to go back
to 2002 and tell 16 year old you
that she’ll never be a grown-up
and that adults don’t have all the answers.
.
They just pretend to
because that’s what “grown-ups”
are supposed to do.
They pretend to have all the answers
because grown-ups don’t cry over frozen peas
and they certainly never get pimples.

Messy is Better

It’s painfully easy for me to live life adjacent to people, parallel lives that appear to intersect, but never truly do. I hide behind walls of entertainment and tact. It’s far more messy to live life with people rather than adjacent to them. Actually caring about people is scary and letting them in is petrifying. What if my overtures come across out of tune? What if they don’t love me back? What if they reject me? Or worse, what if they point out what is wrong with me and I actually have to become better? What if my best isn’t good enough? A cacophony of “what ifs” becomes a staggering burden that drives me into my own little corner, headphones in, cell phone in hand.

This week my family reminded me that living life together is better and that I won’t get better until I open up enough to let better in. Being surrounded by family restarted my healing. They do not heal because they are a balm, a coverup, or a distraction. My family heals me by reminding me what good is and reminding me what makes me good.

When Uncle Ramesh sneaks up behind me and taps me on the shoulder, when Everett hugs me, his arms wrapped around my calves and his chipmunk face wedged between my knees, when Manda asks me how I am doing and actually cares to hear a real answer. These things make me good. These things are healing.

When Asha can’t contain her laughter long enough to get out a whole answer in the board game, when Kate holds my hand and tells me her favorite color is turquoise because my favorite color is turquoise, when mom tells me stories about living alone as a young single woman. These things remind me where I come from. These things are good.

When Dan calls me his guru and thanks me endlessly because I shared my yogurt, when Erik offers to take the dog while we hike, when Susie, while 9 months pregnant, hosts the family Thanksgiving dinner. These things show me what good looks like. These things remind me where I want to go.

When Jonathan talks church shop with me, when Manda and I discover that we have the same taste in beer, so we share three, when mom insists on paying for everything even though she is working two jobs and getting collection notices about dad’s hospital bills. These things remind me who we are. These things are signs of the good within us.

When Uncle Ramesh asks me about dad dying, when he is not afraid to hurt with me, because he knows we both need to talk about it and he tells me that I can always call him. When Dan and Asha and Kate play rounds and rounds of duck duck goose while Everett sits in my lap and we read the same story book we read yesterday. When the board game is made for six people, but there are nine of us so we make up the rules because being together is more important than keeping score. These things are what good is made out of; these things make us good. These things make me good.

Being around these people reminds me how much better it is to actually live than to merely exist. When I actually live I cry a lot more, but I also belly laugh and sing and think and pray. Family heals me; family keeps me alive; family reminds me to live.

Family is messy. Messy is real. Real is better.

Daddy

Yesterday

There are too many weird things
No light in the hall tonight when I went to bed.
no need for one.
The stained sheets
Tucker all alone in the basement
Does it smell like death down there or is that in my head?
I will never give dad that tie for Christmas.
His body is lying naked in a fridge somewhere.
No wedding ring, no necklace, no soul inside
He’s gone
And today is Friday
And tomorrow is Saturday
And a week from now
it will be Friday again
And he will still be gone
& I will still be here
living

One week

I miss him so much
Sometimes so much
that I forget
to miss him

A Conversation
Me: You had no money
almost no ability to move
You were the poorest person I knew
Dad: No I wasn’t; I had you

Two weeks

I hadn’t cried in a few days
not since the funeral
really.
I cried today
nothing torrential
But I think I was numb
for a while
Being sick and dealing with the practicalities of the funeral,
I had no space in me
to mourn you
Now my cold is retreating
and my heart is remembering
that you are gone.
People talk about a hole in the heart
I don’t feel that so much.
It’s more like a gnawing
like there is a set of incisors
latched onto my right ventricle
and they won’t let go
Sometimes, I see your old t-shirt in my closet
and the jaws clamp down hard
and steamy blood pools in my chest cavity
I don’t know what to do then
do I wallow in it? pick up your t-shirt, smell it, maybe even put it on?
do I move on and close the closet?
do I throw your shirt away?
no, not that.
Right now, I can’t look at things that remind me of you
It hurts too much to be reminded of you
…as if I could forget

When I talk about you now,
I’m supposed to add “-ed”
I don’t want to
I don’t want you to be gone.

Three weeks

Remember when I was little
and you were 10 feet tall?
(well, actually 6’3”)
Remember how you carried me on your shoulders?
How tall I felt!

I thought we would have more time.

You died on a Thursday morning
I cried thinking about your eventual demise the night before
Did it hurt?
Did you know it was coming?
It was so hard for you to talk at the end.
Did you have last words?
Did you have a last fight?

Remember holding George Brunner’s baby in the backyard last summer?
You loved babies so much
and we laid her in your lap in the wheelchair and you looked…content and nervous
You worried about dropping her
Your body had betrayed you in every way possible.
I’m glad you got to hold a baby one last time
Even if you won’t ever get to hold mine.

What’s it like with Jesus?
Are you bored?
Do you get to watch the Bears and the Cubs?
Do you watch me?

I want more hugs, daddy.
And tell me why I call you daddy now?
Three and a half weeks ago, when you were alive,
I never called you daddy.
It was either “Dad!” or “Daaaaad” or “Father”
(the last always accompanied by an eye roll)

I think the last thing I ever said to you
was “I love you”
I am glad for that.

How were your last three weeks, daddy?
Did you miss me?
Were you holding out while I was there?
Did you give up when I left?
Did you let go when I left?
I’m glad you’re not hurting anymore
I’m mad you didn’t try harder.
I’m selfish that way.
Who will I call when my car makes a funny noise?
Who will mediate fights when mom and I go at it?
Who will walk me down the aisle?

At least we had our slow dance at Susie’s wedding
Did you know then that you were months away
from never walking again?
I think you did
because you hated to dance
From the moment you asked me
until we sat down again,
I will remember your tall frame holding mine then
just as vividly
as I will remember
holding your drained frame
in the bed on September 7
Your cold greasy forehead against my lips
Your clenched hands wrapped in mine
Your white toes poking out from the sheet
I said goodbye to your body then
I’m not planning on saying goodbye to your soul

My Way

Preface: if you don’t know what the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is, stop reading this and go watch the movie “The Way”. If that’s too intense prep in order to just read a blog post, then check out wikipedia

I don’t know where to start, but I know I need to write about my Camino.

Let’s start here.

On May 8th, 2017, I started walking; on June 2, 2017 I stopped. The space in between is where life happened. The Camino taught me that. Life happens. Life is always happening. There is no pause button on living. No matter what you do. Life. just. keeps. going.

I walked the Camino with my good friend Meredith. She and I….she and I are as alike as granite and daisies. Somehow though, we became friends. Sometimes our differences make it more difficult for us to understand each other. Other times our differences allow us to accomplish twice as much. Our strengths balance us out. The Camino was a forge for my friendship with Meredith. We went through fire, but we went through it together and we came out the other side with a friendship that has welded us together. I will always be friends with Meredith. I thank the Camino for that. And I thank Meredith, for asking me to go on the Camino with her.

 

I am still in the process of discovering all that the Camino taught me. Writing this is a part of that. It will take some time to process. I take time to process things. The Camino taught me that. Also, it taught me that it is okay to be me. No, that’s not quite right. The Camino taught me that it is wonderful to be me! That there is nothing better or more perfect for me to do than for me to be me! The Camino taught me how to be myself, to be unashamedly myself, to be more myself than anything ever has. Me all the time, with anyone, anywhere. God made me to be me and God only makes good things, so, the more “me” I am, the better of a person I will be. The more “me” I am the more content I will be. The more “me” I am the more I reflect the God in whose image I was made.

So…What does “being me” look like in real life? Well that means I tell dad jokes with no shame, I laugh like a donkey, and I take pictures of beautiful things. It also means I swear more, cry more, and am more open with my emotions. That is how I was made. I am a woman full of deep feelings. When I hold them in, they char my insides; when I let them out, I am a more healthy person. I am the person I was made to be!

Some of the things I discovered about myself along the way happened during my interactions with others. Spontaneous heart to hearts with strangers were common on my Camino. Other times I discovered things about myself in the silent times when I was walking alone. Silence is scary, but I need to have it in my life. Especially the scary silence.  When the silence is scary, I need to confront that scary silence head on. If I don’t, the scary part just gets worse. I have often kept noise (music, podcasts, Netflix) in my life to avoid being alone with the scary thoughts in my head. The thing about scary silence is that…it’s a part of me. If the silence is scary, it’s because there is something in that silence about me that I can’t handle. My Camino taught me to confront that and learn from it. I am stronger and wiser for it.

Along the Camino, being alone was a choice. Most of the time there were other pilgrims around and I was pleasantly surprised by how many of those pilgrims became my friends. Some even became close enough that we call ourselves “Camino Family” I discovered that friends come from the people you happen to walk beside and the people you happen to stop by. Sometimes it seemed as though we had nothing else in common other than that we were walking at the same pace. I struck up a conversation with, Delphin, a man from Leon, Spain who had done 33 Caminos and only spoke Spanish. We had a conversation in my broken Spanish and took this picture:

On the Camino, I met people from Mexico, Australia, China, Korea, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, USA, Argentina, France, England, Ireland, Canada, Denmark, and more I’m sure. I met married couples, children, retirees, and college students. All sorts of people all on their own walk. A certain group of these people became close enough to call them “Camino family.” My family was made up of Melina from Argentina, Denise from the USA, Laura from Germany, Rainer from Germany, Ramon from Spain, Jose from Spain, Javi from Spain, and Tania from Canada. My Camino would have not been the same without each and every one of them. Here are photos of my three “Camino Families”:

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My Camino Families taught me a lot about community, about what it means to care for other people, about sticking together, and about accepting help. I have always been a very independent person. Accepting help is hard for me; asking for help is downright terrifying. I could have done the Camino alone. I could have completed the mileage alone; I am capable. However, that’s not what my Camino was supposed to be about. My Camino was about learning the value of accepting help. Accepting help is still scary for me. Now I know, though, accepting help is giving love. Accepting help is allowing another person inside my shell. Good people recognize this and are honored when I let them in.

 Speaking of shells…mine has been rather thick for most of my life. Much of the healing I have done over my life has been to chip away at my shell. Sometimes it grows back. Sometimes it shrinks. The Camino helped get rid of more of mine. My shell is about safety. When you get hurt a lot, you get scared. I have been hurt a lot so that makes me scared. Being in a shell is safe. Being in a shell is lonely. The Camino taught me that the pain of being outside my shell is worth the risk. Yes, I will be hurt. I know that. Hurt is inevitable in this life. On the other hand, I will have much greater joys than I ever could hiding inside where it is safe.

Not all the lessons I learned on the Camino were introspective. Some had more to do with the culture in which I was existing. The Camino is definitely its own culture and then, of course, are the various Spanish cultures. I learned a lot from both. Here are a few lessons:

  • I ate well in Spain. Good cheese, meat, fruit, bread, wine, chocolate…the food was not complicated, but it was delicious. This taught me to work hard and eat well. Don’t deprive yourself of good food. Good food, good real food, brings great pleasure to life.
  • Many people on the Camino had tan lines and scars. I have always been proud of my scars. On the Camino, I realized why. Tan lines and scars are stories of adventures.
  • I had very few belongings on my Camino, just what fit in my backpack. So I was very deliberate about what I brought and how I took care of it and of how I took care of myself. It wasn’t complicated, but it was important to realize. I needed to appreciate the simple things, if things are quality, they need not be fancy to be wonderful.
  • I didn’t learn a ton of Spanish in Spain, but I learned enough to learn this. In Spanish, “esperar” means “to wait” and it also means “to hope”. The Camino taught me that the passage of time never needs to be passive. Waiting is never just waiting; waiting is an act of hope. Waiting is active. Hope makes it so.
  • There were plenty of days where walking felt like a full time job. In a way, it was our job. Meredith and I both loved it, but some days it felt like the kilometers were endless. We never gave up and that is why we made it to Santiago. I realized that you will get there if you keep moving forward. Even if you feel like you are moving slow. Forward is forward. We were always walking forward. Slow or fast each step led us closer to our goal.

I know there is a lot more to my Camino, both internally and externally. While we were walking, we were already making plans about when to come back. While I am writing this, I am already thinking about other ways in which the Camino has affected me and is changing me for the better, even now, and now, and now. My Camino is in my heart; my head is still catching up, and my soul is already there, back in Spain, sandals on, backpack cinched tight, heart facing towards Santiago, face drinking in the sky.

My Camino, this Camino, will never be over, espero.