Sunday, June 17, 2018

The monster

I never had a friend like Zac before he was in my life, and I’ve never had a friend like him after he was gone. And for a long time, that thought kept my heart in shambles. Not only had I lost this person, but I had also lost the idea of ever having someone that close to me again. 

Grief is this weird, ever-changing, monster that will crawl out from under your bed at the most inopportune times. And society has standards for grief that are not humanly possible to meet. I didn’t deserve to grieve. I didn’t deserve to feel as broken as I felt. I wasn’t his family. I wasn’t his wife. I wasn’t one of the guys. I didn’t even live in the same town when he died. I was just Joyce. I was his Joyce, but what grief category did that fit in? Because I couldn’t find one society deemed appropriate. So I ignored the monster the best I could. I locked him up. And when he came out for air, I pushed him back. And I stacked things on top of him. Heavy things. Things that would bring grief of their own. And eventually I passed societies statute of limitations on grief for just a high school friend. I was stuck standing there holding the monster in. Because if I moved, he would come out. And I would be marked crazy and damaged. 

I have this theory on grief. Society has levels of grief for us to follow. The world tells us what is appropriate to feel. Did you lose a child? Did you lose a parent? And at what age? Because the years they lived and how they lived them determine how much grief you earn. Did you lose a grandparent? Did you lose a sibling? Did you lose your job? Or did a pet die? Did you get divorced? Did your girlfriend or boyfriend break up with you? It’s a never ending list. And society tells us when it’s appropriate to get back to life the way it was before. 

But that’s not how the monster works. For every individual there is individual grief. The most pain a person has ever felt, is the most pain that person has ever felt. Regardless of how it compares to the person beside them. 

It took me years to understand that. Years. And I had a big pile of stuff to get through before I got to the bottom. Eventually the grief gets out. And it’s not fun. But it’s better than the struggle of keeping him locked away. Because the constant fighting is what wears you down. The constant battle of convincing the world that you’re okay is what eats away at your soul. Because it’s dishonest. There’s no truth in fighting grief. The truth is in letting it wash over you. The truth is in knowing the war has been won for you. 

And life doesn’t go back to the way it was before. That’s not possible. But if you’re reading this and you’ve got a monster of your own you’re fighting off, invite him in. That’s all he wants, is to be invited in. And he may stay for a really long time. Or he may only stay for a short while. And he will show up periodically for a visit uninvited. And if you don’t answer the door, he’ll just bang and bang and bang until the noise drives you crazier than letting him in would have. 

It is possible to live your life with grief holding your hand. 

I don’t typically share things this personal on social media. I think social media is for pictures of dogs and funny memes. I want the people who know my mess to be the ones walking through it with me. Not because I’m embarrassed of it, but because it’s mine. It’s not yours. And if I’m gonna give you parts of my mess you better be giving me yours. But I’ve been looking around lately seeing a lot of people being suffocated by their big messy pile. The piles they made to push the grief down. There are people in your life who will help you dig through the pile. And if you’re too buried to see them, come to me. And I’ll help you look. 

Today is Zac’s birthday. I went to my friend’s grave for the first time. For the first time in over seven years. And that in itself brings a little grief and shame. But I went. And you bet that monster went with me. And that’s okay. Not fun, but okay. I cried a little, and laughed a little, and I just was for a little. 

Happy birthday, buddy. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Boys are easy.

I’m not a mother. The only thing I’ve ever had grow inside of me are fat cells. I don’t have the responsibility of another human life. I’ve never had to forfeit hour after hour of sleep because my child demanded care, and still go to work the next day. So when you finish reading this and you think, ‘she’s a self-righteous imbecile who doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about, ‘ you might be partially right. On the other hand, I am a woman. Which means I was once a girl. So you might be partially wrong.

I have spent my entire life being compared to boys. It’s no ones fault. When there’s four of something and one is different, you notice. And sometimes being different feels like being wrong. I know different doesn’t mean wrong, but telling my emotions to find the truth is like finding a needle in a haystack.  

I’ve been hearing a lot of women say things that are making me mad. Some of the women I don’t know. Some of the women I’ve known forever. Some of them I respect greatly. But I do not like what I keep hearing. 

“I’m so glad I had all boys.”
“My boy was so much easier than my girl.” 
“I’m so glad I didn’t have girls.” 
“Girls are hard.”
“Boys are the best.”
“Girls are mean.”
“Boys are so easy.” 

Woman. WOMEN are saying those things. Not men. Women. Mothers. And I hear you. Do you get that? Do you understand what that means? If you did, I don’t think you’d be saying it. I honestly don’t think you mean it to the fullest extent that it carries. And yes, this is the part where you get to say I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’ve never squeezed a watermelon out of my vagina and raised it. But, this is also the part where you get to listen to me because I am that little girl you are talking about. You are that little girl you are talking about. I may be different, but I am not worse. My brothers are not the same as me. They are not even the same as each other. But they are not better. When I hear things like that, it makes me feel like different is wrong. And if I can hear you, I know there are more ears that can hear you. Little girl ears that listen just as well as little boy ears. 

When I was 13 years old, a friend had hurt my feelings, and someone who I respected very much (and still do) told me he thought 13 year old girls where the meanest people. The meanest person I’ve ever know was a 27 year old boy. So there's that. 

Growing up sucks. It is hard and you never know for sure if you’re making the right decision. You trust people because they tell you can trust them and it turns out they’re liars. I’m begging you, moms, to be our constant encouragers. You’re the ones who grew us, so don’t be the ones to tear us down. I know you’re not perfect. And you won’t do it all right. No matter you’re best intentions, you will mess up your child in some way. It’s the laws of this world. But you do control the majority of the words that you say. Maybe not all of the four letter words, but you do control how you talk about your daughter. And not just to her face, but to other people too, because it matters. She may not always be happy and easy, but I bet she is always strong.

I understand better than anyone else the depths of my crazy. I know how far my fear goes, my anxiety, my sadness. I know how far my joy goes, my hope, my dreams and goals. When you put of a lot of opposite things in one package things get weird. That's just the truth. I have done and seen a lot of things in a short amount of time. I am funny and intelligent. On days that I wash my hair I am mildly attractive. I have a lot of God-given talents I never use properly. But when I hear women talk about girls like their innately difficult, fear and anxiety and sadness start to trump all the good stuff. I forget how absolutely wonderful it is to be exactly who and what you were intended to be. If I ever have the opportunity to have children, I hope I have an army of girls. And I hope their all like me, and my mother, and my grandmothers and my sister-in-laws. I in no way expect it would be my easiest moments, but I bet it would be my proudest. 

“For you formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are your works,
And my soul knows it very well.”
You know, I honestly could be wrong. But I don’t think those verses just apply to David. I think they apply to all of us. 

I know we’re all doing the best we can. And I promise your best is enough. I’m sure some of you mean what you say. And I’m sure some of you are just expressing a feeling when you feel it. And like I said, never raised a kid. I do, however, have a boy dog and a girl dog if any body cares to have that discussion with me. I could say a lot of things about their differences but they both give me extreme amounts of love and extreme amounts of anxiety. And they both take my money. Which sounds like motherhood to me. 

Boys may be easy, but girls get shit done. So think about all that. 

For the record, I would like to end this rant by saying that I have a nephew who is better than all boys and girls ever, but that’s not because he’s a boy. That is because he’s Huck.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Where we love is home..."

There’s a quote by Oliver Wendell Homes that reads, “Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” Those words resonated so deeply with me the first time I read them that I had them tattooed on my arm. I had the tattoo artist make the text look like a piece of thread unwinding from a spool to represent that my home was the thread that always held me together. That is exactly what Quitman is. It's the place full of all the people who have given me all of my strength and courage. 

My feet have been many places and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I have had, the places I have seen, and the people I have known. Chicago has been the most recent city I have called home. This city has played such a pivotal role in my life. I have learned so much about myself here and the things that I want and need out of life. But that’s just it. For a while now it has been all about me and my selfishness has caught up with me. I have loved living here but if I am really honest with myself, the past several months have felt incredibly forced. It’s like when you are a little kid and you have a favorite shirt that you wear over and over and over again because it’s the greatest shirt in the whole world. But then you get a little taller and your belly starts to hang out from the bottom and the shoulders are a little tight, but you wear it anyway because it’s the greatest shirt in the world. You just can’t give it up until you actually bust out of it or your mom throws it away because she’s so embarrassed by the way you look. Well, that is kind of where Chicago and me are at right now. Something that used to fit and flatter me just doesn’t anymore. 

I came to Chicago to chase a dream and follow my heart and I will never regret any part of it. Now it just seems my heart is taking me back home. It is so weird and I don’t have all the right words to articulate what my head and my heart are doing. If I had a dollar for every time I said I wouldn’t move back home, I would be in a lot less debt. But those words have not turned into dollars. They haven’t even turned into the truth. But I do know that during this season of life I want to be with my family. I want to sit at the table with Jim and listen to him use words that I don't comprehend or know how to spell. And I want to be there when Donnis freaks out because she spelled something wrong in her tweet and she doesn't know how to delete it. That's what I know. 
So Quitman, MS, if you will have me, I am coming back. I can’t promise that it will be forever, but it most certainly is for now.

I cannot lie to you and say that I don’t feel a little banged up and tossed around, because I do. Bruised, but definitely not broken. There are parts of me that feel like I’ve failed and disappointed people. There are parts of me that are scared and uncertain. But there is a bigger part of me that is hopeful and refreshed. That’s the part I’ve been missing. I still have a lot more questions than I have answers. That just seems to be the way life is. I don’t know how this is all going to play out, but I’m getting excited to find out. I’m grateful to be from a place that’s easy to miss. I’m grateful for a family who will help me pick up the pieces when I drop them. I’m grateful for a gracious, redeeming God. I’m grateful for a father who always told me I could come home and put a cardboard box in the yard anytime I was ready to. (Although, I have a feeling he’s going to let me sleep inside.)

To my friends in Chicago who have become more like family - you are the reason this is so hard. Part of the reason I held on so long was because I was holding on to you. So let’s become familiar with the 800 miles that will soon separate us. We will absolutely, positively see each other again. You mean the world to me. 

I'll see you soon, Mississippi! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mrs. Nurse Harris

Let me just take a second to brag on my mom. If you know Mrs. Nurse Harris, you know that she has some very admirable qualities. She has excellent fingernails. She makes delicious Hamburger Helper. She is definitely more creative than she thinks she is. One time she planted flowers in a toilet we had removed from a bathroom remodel and called it her "pot plant."(It was completely embarrassing.)

But these things only scratch the surface of how great my mom is. I have never known someone more hardworking and passionate about their career than my mom. My mom started working for the Quitman School District in 2001. (Seriously??) And I've watched her improve at what she does every year. She's constantly growing and always working to make her district and Mississippi schools healthier. I'm not a nurse because I'm 400% sure that I couldn't handle it. But not only does Mrs. Nurse Harris handle it, she owns it. And I am pretty sure that there is not a child that has ever crossed her path that did not love and respect (and fear) her. Especially the students at her schools. She has made some pretty remarkable strides for Mississippi school nurses. And I'm happy to say that the National Board for Certification of School Nurses has chosen her as the Certified School Nurse of the Year! So, Donnis Harris, RN, BSN, NCSN, congratulations. I don't know a lot of other school nurses because you are the only one I ever had, but I am pretty sure they were spot on with this award.

Here are some pictures of her I stole from Facebook. Because I'm a creep like that.

 I did not steal this picture from Facebook. I took it myself. Because I couldn't think of a better way to say "WAY TO GO, MOM!" than making some cookies that she could never eat. So the cookies are you for, Nurse Harris. And if you want them you should come to Chicago before they get stale. Otherwise I'm going to eat them. So proud of you, Mom. I have no complaints (that I will write about on the internet.) I love you and I'm mostly glad that I'm so much like you. Enjoy the cookies. 

Monday, April 14, 2014


I spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college in San Pablo City, Philippines. A lot of you already know this, partly because I kept a Filipino flag plastered on my wall for several years after that, like I owed the country my allegiance. And partly because I didn’t talk about much else for a while. I was volunteering for a Christian organization called Open Door, which consisted of an orphanage, church, and school in one complex. It was the best summer of my life to date. (Unless you count the following summer I spent taking American Literature and working in the MC mailroom.) I’m absolutely positive that I learned more that summer than I taught, but, oh well. I learned that I can sleep on the floor for 8 weeks and not die. I learned that I cannot spend every day with the same people and not go a little crazy and that I was too immature to handle that communication properly. I learned that I can wear a t-shirt every day of my life and be happy as a lark. (But I think we all already knew that. Sorry Mom.) I learned that eating rice everyday doesn’t make you fat. Eating French fries every day makes you fat. (Sorry Mom.) I learned that I have a deep passion for pineapple. I learned that I like writing and journaling but that I really sound like an idiot when I go back and read it. Oh well. I learned that I can be far away from the familiar and be okay. I learned that despite my desperate desire to go and do and go again, I always miss home. But there’s one story that’s been running through my head lately that happened during the first few days I was at Open Door and I want to tell you about it. I’m not quit sure how it’s supposed to relate to my current life but, I feel like there’s a connection. And maybe writing it will help make sense. And maybe it will be eloquent. And maybe I will sound like an idiot. Oh well…Okay. So. There was a little boy living there named RJ. RJ has lots of brothers and sisters, but this story has just one focus. He was a bit of a fireball and a troublemaker. So right up my alley. He was fearless. And there’s a lot to be said for that. Because if my father had been killed and my mother was forced to put me in a home, I would be full of fear, not void of it. RJ was kind of one of my favorites. Not that I had favorites, because I don’t have favorites, but you know what I mean. We just kind of had a little connection. You could typically find us together if there was free time. He was either trying to climb on my head (because children have always associated me with jungle gyms) or throwing things at me. He often referred to me as “boyfriend”. I just always assumed he wasn’t aware of both of the masculine and feminine versions of that English word.  RJ was about 7 years old when I was there. So now when I think about how old the kids are and where they might be living I just cry a lot. But that’s not the point of this story. RJ’s English was pretty limited, naturally as young as he was, so most of our communication was pointing and pulling and charades. Alright, so the other girls and I had only been there a couple weeks, which means the children were definitely excited we were still there but didn’t completely trust us yet. One evening RJ and bunch of the other younger kids were outside like any normal night, playing basketball and what not. Well, for some reason (I might actually have a lot to do with the reason) they decided to start doing flips off of each other. You know how you hold hands and one person climbs up the legs of the stationary person and does a back flip? Well, if you are a child or have a child and have never done that, I suggest you do it. Just make sure the stationary person has enough strength to support the “flipper”. Otherwise you end up like RJ, face-planting on the concrete. And there was a substantial amount of blood coming from RJ’s forehead. I was not outside when this happened. I did not see it. And it as probably good I did not see it, because I think I would have thrown up. I do not have a weak stomach. I have always been able to handle more gruesome things. But I was affected when this kid got hurt. One of the girls came upstairs to tell me he had gotten hurt and that they needed someone to sit with him for a while to be sure he didn’t have a concussion. And was all like PICK ME! So I ran. Ran. Downstairs to find him and he was sitting on a bench looking pitiful. He had been all patched up by the time I learned of the incident, so I just sat down next to him. It was just the two of us. He was abnormally quiet and still. And I had this knot in my stomach and this lump in the throat that I thought would never go away. I just looked down at him and put my arm around him and he rested his tiny little head on my shoulder and we sat there for about an hour. Just sitting. He was hurt and I was hurting. And I just kept thinking about how this is how my mom must have felt that time I wrecked the Jeep and almost killed (slight exaggeration) John-Mark and myself so she threw up on the side of the road a few times when she saw the wreckage. And now I know what you’re thinking. I can hear you.
Joyce Marie. Get your life together. It was a bump on his head. It’s not like he lost an arm.
Yes. I agree. And had he lost an arm I’m sure we would have been in a real pickle. Because I kept thinking the same thing.
Joyce Marie. Get your life together. This is not even your kid. You did not birth him. He is clearly not dying. His head is still attached. Why are you so nauseous?
Well. I learned something else that day in the San Pablo City. I learned that I didn’t need to know you my whole life to love you. And I don’t mean love the way I love my sparkly Vans. I mean be affected when something happens to you, good or bad. And you’re probably thinking  how I’m going to connect this to my current Chicago/pastry/cake life. Because I’m thinking that too. But this is what I think my mind is trying to get through my fingertips. When I came back from Seoul and started school I knew it was going to be hard. Living with no furniture and 40 dollars for groceries hard. A lot of 16-hour days hard. Giving up my nose ring and covering up my tattoos hard. (Sorry Mom.) Having no friends and no church hard. But I didn’t think it would be people stealing my stuff hard. Which I know compared to a lot of things sounds trivial, and it is. But it’s started to make me angry. I’m angry that keep feeling like a “victim”. I’m angry that I keep having to spend money I don’t have to replace things. I’m angry that I’m angry. I’m angry that over the past 6 years I’ve become so selfish and so self absorbed that I’ve forgotten about all the RJ’s of the world. I’m angry that I keep getting knots in my stomach over people taking my tools and my phone instead of knots in my stomach over people. I mean, do I really need to chop things?? Who needs to call me??? Exactly. I want to be worried about the mom and little boy that live on the second floor of my building. Or the older lady who has trouble carrying her case of natty light up to the third floor. I started pastry school because I want to do pastry. I want to make cakes. Not because I don’t know what I want and I’m just trying things out. I want my own cake shop. I want my own business. I’ve always had this dream of a place that supports and is supported by its community. A business that cares about the families around it. That’s why I want it. Not because I think it’s gonna make me rich. People are probably just gonna steal from me. But because I want to put myself in a position where I can give money to the Special Olympics if I want to. Or hire women who are victims of domestic violence and teach them a trade. Or teach a cake class to kids at a local orphanage once a month. Or bake birthday cakes for homeless shelters, because homeless people have birthdays too. These are the things I want. And I haven’t thought about these things in a long time because I keep thinking about poor pitiful Joyce and how she has to keep eating ramen. I feel like every time I take a step forward I take two steps back. And maybe that means I need to make more forward steps or change my direction. I’m not sure. And I’m not sure that I won’t get angry again tomorrow. And I’m not sure that someone won’t take something else that doesn’t belong to them. But I am sure that there are new mercies every morning. And I am going to cling to that.