My Honey Bunches of Oats

It was the seventh grade and I was the new kid. Sitting in Orchestra one day, the fire alarm went off. Filing outside, my class stood underneath the maple tree in the front of our school that was just beginning to lose its leaves. That was when she introduced herself to me.

“Hi! I’m Emily. You’re Abbey right?”

Her confidence was obvious. And her personality seemed to radiate out of her body. She wore a Jets sweatshirt, cargo capris, and green etnies sneakers. Her curly light brown hair was pulled into a low ponytail, and green eyes peered through glasses to look me over. She wanted to know where I came from and how I was liking school. It was typical conversation that the new kid (which I happened to be) experienced, but for some reason ever since we filed back into the school after that fire drill, we were inseparable.

We became stand partners in orchestra, which encouraged our friendship to grow as we both realized that we were passionate about the violin. We dreamed of going to Juilliard and playing fiddle shows across the world. In our imaginations, our futures looked something like this:

Barrage

After months of talking in orchestra class, we finally decided to hang out outside of school. It was wintertime now and Emily’s mom dropped her off at my house. While our parents talked outside, we walked up my front steps and into my house. I could tell we were both a little nervous to be hanging out outside of the safe environment of school. What if we had nothing to talk about? Slowly though, we each came out of our shells and started talking and laughing about all the people in school we found particularly strange and all the movies we discovered we both liked. For lunch, I made us both frozen pizzas and we ate them on my bedroom floor with glasses of apple juice. When her mom came to pick her up later that day, we wished we had more time.

On the last day of seventh grade, I took Emily’s bus home to her house. We ran into her bedroom and cried our eyes out because we were afraid everyone would forget us by September. Secretly, I think it was just fun to be a little dramatic. We felt our lives were a television series; a network just hadn’t picked us up yet.

That summer we created the memories that lie at the foundation of our friendship. Despite Emily’s habit of sleeping with the television on, forcing me to wear a sleep mask, I began sleeping over for days at a time. While staying up till all hours of the night that summer, I discovered bagels with cream cheese; nearly broke my nose on her kitchen chair while ducking from a moth that was flying towards my head; played games of chess that lasted hours; developed a love-hate relationship with her cat; learned Emily’s passion for all things Disney; and became a member of her family. I met her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, her cousins. They all treated me as one of their own. Even now, eight years later, I love staying at her house where I know I am safe and supported by not only her, but her whole family as well. They give me a place where I feel like I belong. Where I feel I am a part of something bigger than just myself.

In the following years, we developed a sisterly bond. And like all sisters, we had our fair share of fights. What is a good television series without a little conflict, anyway? Looking back, I’m pretty sure adolescent hormones fueled most of our arguments. However, through our fights, we learned that we don’t want to live without the other. It’s awfully hard to stay mad at the person who will sing classical music while riding the Ferris wheel at a carnival to distract you from your insane fear of heights; who will hold your hand through an entire movie no matter how stupid it is; who will take care of you when you are sick; who will become as insanely passionate about a book series as you (or more so); who tries out for softball with you despite both of your athletic inability; who makes you a better musician; who believes in soul mates like she believes in air; and who doesn’t punch you after you’ve thrown a glass of water in her face.

This past October, Emily came to visit me in my college town. I knew something was wrong, but waited for her to tell me on her own time. Sitting at a restaurant with people constantly streaming by our table, televisions with volumes was way too high, and conversations buzzing in the room, she told me that one of her relatives was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. I was devastated. In my mind, I thought I had taken the brunt of all bad things that could happen within my circle of friends since my dad died of cancer. I never thought any of my friends would be affected by what I had gone through. Unconsciously, I had the feeling that what I had been through was somehow worth it, because it would protect all the people I loved from having to experience the same thing. Sadly, I was mistaken.

It was in Emily’s time of crisis that I realized just how much I truly loved her. Not romantical love; companionate love. Because Emily was in pain, I felt it within myself. Knowing that she was hurting and knowing how it was affecting me was proof that I truly loved her because I wanted to do anything to take her pain away. In my opinion, this is one important signifier of love. Love involves being willing to do anything to keep the other person from feeling pain, even if it means feeling it yourself. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do. I was helpless. And I realized how she must have felt for the two years my dad was sick. It’s hard to be the friend of someone going through painful experiences because nothing you say or do can really truly help. It can’t fix the root cause of their pain. But what I’ve learned, from Emily’s example, is that simply by being a friend, checking in, and making the other person laugh, you can ease it.

Unlike my dad, Emily’s relative is doing very well now and I couldn’t be happier for her and her family. Things can always change, and if they do, I will be there beside my best friend to help her along the way.

Emily and I have a lot of years ahead of us. And it’s great to know that we’ll be by each other’s sides no matter what. I look forward to the memories we will create and can only hope they’ll be as outrageous as the one’s we’ve already shared. Emily may dream of finding her prince charming one day, but until then, I suppose she’s stuck with me.

abbeyandemily

Those Who Have Vanished

Last month I had the honor of meeting the poet, Robert Collins at my university. He did a poetry reading from his newest book, “Naming The Dead.” This was the first poem he read. I highly recommend him to anyone looking for a good, approachable poem that will touch your heart.  

We read of them in the papers
in notices smaller than obituaries.
They’re the strangers who step out
one evening for a brief breath of air
or to the store to pick up some bread
and, turning a corner or leaving
the train, vanish and never return.

The police put out their APB’s,
but somehow they slip through
like aliens swimming under water.
Search lights sweep the suburbs
like the second hands of clocks,
and the river’s dragged for bodies,
but dragnets fill only with shadows.

I think of those I’ve loved
and thought I knew and lost.
How we got so far apart
we couldn’t find a way back
remains a mystery to me
as if we left nothing behind
we could ever have wanted.

And sometimes, like tonight, I think
that someone lost like myself
might be out there searching still,
dragging the long, slow waters
of moonless nights without sleep,
and I want to say, “I’m still here,
not far away, I haven’t forgotten,”
as we each fade farther and farther
into the lives we have chosen.

What Is Love?

Sitting in my car the other day in front of a strip mall, I watched people pass by from all paths of life. I saw parents and their children, men dressed up in business suits, and teenagers with clothes way too tight to permit breathing. I started thinking about how different we are from each other and all the unique stories we each have to share. Then I thought of the things we must all have in common. There must be some things we all share besides our species.

And so I thought, what are the things we all want from life?

I decided that besides being happy, there is at least one other thing we all want in life. And that’s to experience love, either by giving it, receiving it, or ideally, both.

Maybe it’s just me—and if so, I give you full permission to tease me mercilessly—but whenever the topic of love comes up it seems that we all think of romance with a beautiful man or woman being swept off their feet in a whirlwind love affair. Maybe this image comes to mind?

titanic10n-6-web

We think of Valentine’s Day, chocolates, bouquets of roses and steamy nights spent in bed. We all have an image of what the perfect lover would be like and what they may even look like. It’s no surprise that we think this way though, considering how the media portrays love in movies and television shows and how they market celebrities as the ultimate lovers.But there are so many different types of love. We don’t love our parents the same way we love our partners. We don’t love our friends the same way we love our pets.

According to psychologist Robert Sternberg, there are three components that make up the various forms of love. They are 1) Intimacy, feeling close or attached to someone 2) Passion, sexual attraction to another, and 3) Commitment, the decision to stay with the other person in the short or long term. He calls it the “triangular theory of love”. Using this theory, we can identify all different forms that love takes.

There’s nonlove, which is the absence of all three components, intimacy, passion, and commitment. This is how we may feel toward a stranger on the street. Unless they’re banging’ hot, of course.

In that case, we would experience Infatuated Love, where we have no true attachment or intimacy toward the other and no commitment, but we feel physically attracted to them. It’s hard to admit, but this is how I feel toward Harry Styles. (No shame!)

Then there’s liking/friendship. This is when we feel close to another person but feel no physical attraction or commitment to them. This may be how we feel about an acquaintance at work or school.

Empty Love is when we experience no emotional or physical connection with the other person but remain committed to the other; this may be seen in a marriage that has fizzled but remains together just for the sake of doing so.

Companionate Love (the kind of love I’ve experienced the most) is feeling emotionally close to someone knowing that we will stay committed to the other person but with no physical attraction. This is how most of us feel toward our best friends.

Fatuous Love is how we might feel toward someone we have a committed physical relationship with in the absence of emotional connection.

Romantic love involves being physically and emotionally close with someone but having no commitment to the person. This is what is shown in most movies and therefore what we may yearn for, without knowing that there’s an even better form of love out there.

And that’s what I think is the ultimate form of love that we are really dreaming of, which is Consummate Love. This is the presence of all three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment, where we feel emotionally and physically connected to someone and have committed to staying together.

Here’s a pretty little chart to explain it all:

Intimacy Passion Commitment
Nonlove
Liking/Friendship X
Infatuated Love X
Empty Love X
Romantic Love X X
Companionate Love X X
Fatuous Love X X
Consummate Love X X X

I truly believe in the saying that you have to love yourself before you can love another and after taking the time last year to do just that, I’ve been able to become aware of how to show my love to the people in my life. I may have brought consciousness to this area of my life but I’m no expert on any type of love. Far from it. But there are a few people in my life who have helped me realize what it means to love another. Of course my family has helped teach me this but there are four women in my life that have especially helped teach me what love is, in all of its various forms. And the best part about it is that all of these girls are my dearest friends.

I have been graced with these beautiful people in my life and want to show each of them how much they mean to me and what they’ve taught me, without even knowing it. Each of these women share characteristics that should be celebrated in all people.  They are each intelligent beyond measure in all different subjects. They are all caring, supportive, encouraging, and despite the challenges they have experienced in life, have risen above them to live the lives they each dream of. They are determined and hard-working and most importantly, are wonderful to talk to, have great senses of humor and live life to the fullest.

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing stories about each of these women in my life and what they’ve taught me about love.I hope you’ll follow the stories of my friendships with these women as I know that what they’ve taught me are things we can all learn from.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is an amazing documentary that examines women’s lives in ten countries around the world: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S. These girls are living under unimaginable circumstances and yet, are rising above their oppression to create better lives for themselves than generations before. These women are truly inspirational, help put perspective on our own lives and are raising awareness about the living conditions women around the world must face. I highly recommend watching this documentary in the hopes that each person who learns of these living conditions will take one step towards ending them.

Hal Little

Today I’m doing something different. I’m off to a one-hundred year celebration of the firehouse my grandpa worked at his whole life this morning so I decided to post a silly short fiction piece since I won’t have time to write a full length narrative today. I hope you enjoy the change of pace! 

Hal Little dreamed big. Hal spent his whole life dreaming of driving his car all the way to Pluto. So one day, Hal got into his silver Honda, roared the engine, and took off. He figured he’d be gone for a while so he stopped to get gas, a bagel—with butter not cream cheese–and a bottle of orange juice—no pulp. He took off from planet Earth, passed over his town, and rode the clouds until he got so far out into the atmosphere that the sky was no longer blue. He hopped onto a star for a while and although it was spectacular, he found it to be a little blinding. So on he went. His stomach growled for food but he ignored it. He crashed onto Mars but was disappointed when there wasn’t a single alien to greet him. He arrived on Jupiter only to realize that the inclement weather made it quite difficult to drive. Landing briefly on Saturn, then Uranus, and then Neptune, Hal was not impressed. But he believed Pluto would be different. It was starting to get cold since the sun was so far away now and Hal started to wish he had brought his pea coat. But instead, he just blasted the heat in his little silver honda. He didn’t mind the breeze against his curly blonde locks but he did wish he had brought some hand lotion. The hot air really dried his skin out.

Finally, hitching a meteor heading in Pluto’s direction, Hal passed some time reminiscing. He remembered his first science fair and how he had reported on Pluto, when it was just a far away planet that no one seemed interested in. He then recalled the day he found out Pluto was no longer considered a planet and how he became so horrified at this insult that he didn’t talk to his science teacher for a week. Hal felt even worse that nobody seemed to care about Pluto anymore. It was no longer taught in schools and Hal felt that eight planets just did not seem complete. But Hal was proud that he hadn’t forgotten. As he came out of his trance, Hal suddenly realized he had no idea where he was. He had been distracted by daydreams and now he was lost. He tried to relocate himself, but he was disoriented now and all his GPS said was “Recalculating…recalculating.”

For days Hal kept looking for the beautiful plutoid…driving, waiting for it to pass. It never came by.

But don’t you worry; Hal went on. Hal went out and out and out into the universe. And sometimes, on a really clear night you can still see Hal’s silver Honda riding the stars. Hal Little dreamed big.

Hal Litte

If A Tree Falls In The Woods

It was a Sunday afternoon in October 2001 and I was at my grandparents’ house as usual. My grandpa and I had gone to church that morning and returned home to the breakfast of champions with rolls from the bakery and over easy eggs cooked to perfection by my grandma. I was living with my mom at the time and knew that that evening my grandparents’ would be driving me back home where I would stay during the week until they would return on Friday afternoon to pick me up again. My time was running out and all I wanted to do was go bowling. I had just seen the Disney Channel Original movie Alley Cats Strike about a bowling team that conquered the odds and won the championship game of their lives and I just wanted to recreate the winning scene in real life. So over breakfast I begged my grandpa to take me to the bowling alley. Unfortunately, he wasn’t having any of it.

As we sat at the kitchen table, the wind rattled against the windows as the sun shined in through the curtain. It’s a beautiful day my grandpa insisted, why would you want to go bowling when we could do something outside instead? After complaining half the afternoon away, I finally decided to listen to his suggestion. Doing anything–even if it wasn’t bowing– would be better than just sitting at home. Since he was in the mood to be outside, we decided to go to the local nature center.

I put on a sweater and a pair of comfortable sneakers before heading outside to wait for my grandpa. Leaves floated on the wind/road the wind, spinning around my head and I ran up and down our driveway pretending that I was a witch, just waiting to take off into the sky.

Arriving at the center, my grandpa and I realized we were almost the only people around. It was pretty deserted, probably because it was a Sunday afternoon. We went inside and looked at a few exhibits of animals that could be found on the park’s grounds. Stuffed foxes and owls peered through the glass to look at me with their marble eyes and although I was interested, I must admit, they kind of creeped me out. We talked to a man about birds of prey and quietly left the building to walk along the grounds. Despite the chill and whip of the wind in the air, we decided to take a walk into the woods where a path had been carved out for fellow hikers.

As we walked along the trail, trees lining our path left and right, branches crunched under our feet and we crossed a little bridge over a stream. Pausing, my grandpa noticed a white birch tree. I had never seen one before and he was taking the time to explain to me that some trees have white bark—they weren’t sick, it was just the way they were. Contrary to the animals, I thought these trees were really cool. Even at eight years old, I liked finding beauty in things that were a little odd. As he continued talking about the birch tree however, we heard a distinct crack. This was not a little crack either, like stepping on a twig. This was the crack of a tree that was about to lose a limb.

My grandpa stopped talking midsentence and my heart stopped in my chest. Panicked, we looked to our right and our left, trying to see where the crack came from. If a tree was going to fall, it’d be best to get out of its way. After a few silent moments, we figured we were safe and I slowly exhaled.

My relief didn’t last long, however. Suddenly, as if through instinct, I took a side step over to my right. Holding my grandpa’s hand, I yanked him toward me but he wouldn’t budge. Before I knew it, his grasp slipped from mine and I watched as a tree branch sent him flying through the air just like the way Superman flew in cartoons.

Superman Flying

It had happened in only a fraction of a second, but the entire day had changed in immeasurable ways. What was once a nice day out for grandpa-granddaughter bonding-time-in-nature had suddenly turned into a tragedy that would surely be on the front page of the newspaper the next day. I could see it now: “8 Year Old Granddaughter Watches Grandfather Get Decapitated By Tree On Innocent Hike Through Woods”. I knew we should’ve gone bowling.

Shocked, I rushed to my grandpa’s side. He lay on the trail, still conscious and surprisingly, propped up on one elbow. The only difference I noticed in his appearance were two new holes in the knees of his blue jeans. There were no bones sticking out of his skin and his head was still safely in place. His cap hadn’t even been jostled. The brown limb that had fallen, lay across his legs. He was not crying or screaming in pain so I didn’t understand just how serious the situation was. All I knew for certain was that we needed help. And we needed help now. He was certainly not going to be walking the rest of the trail on his own.

Lying in the dirt, he remained calm and instructed me on what we had to do to get ourselves out of the situation. The first and most obvious thing we had to do was call 911 but since his cell phone was in his back pocket and the tree was crushing his legs and consequently his cell phone as well, before we could even call for help we had to get the limb off of his legs. But considering we were a bit of an odd couple–a sixty-pound eight-year-old and an incapacitated accident victim–it didn’t seem likely that the limb would be going anywhere any time soon. It didn’t seem possible that either one of us would be able to lift a forty foot limb off of his body.

But I guess what they say about adrenaline rushes is true. You’ve heard the stories. A mom’s baby is trapped under a car so she lifts the whole thing up to rescue the child. A man rolls a helicopter over to save a trapped passenger. And so despite my paralyzing fear, I bent down and wrapped my scrawny chicken arms around the limb, took a deep breath, and slowly lifted it an inch off of my grandpa and rolled it slowly back to the ground. Unfortunately, my adrenaline rush didn’t give me enough superhuman strength to throw the limb through the woods, which is what I would’ve liked to do.

My grandpa then instructed me to retrieve his cell phone in his back pocket and while he called 911, I stood a few feet away from him screaming at the top of my lungs repeatedly. HELP!

Since we were in the middle of the woods however, cell phone reception was poor and he could barely get a call to 911 to go through. In desperation, he even considered having me walk the rest of the trail alone until I came out of the woods and could get help. But the sun was setting and walking alone in the woods was not something I thought I could do. But if I had to, I would’ve. Thankfully though, he got another idea. He took the cell phone out again and instead, called my grandma at home so she could call 911 and have the EMTs sent to us. I was still screaming, hoping that someone would hear my cries for help. Tired, I took a seat on the limb that had fallen and for the first time since the crack, looked behind me at the trail we had walked along so happily before. The bridge we had crossed was nowhere to be found, though. It had disappeared behind the curtain of the treetop that had fallen. All I could see was a great canopy of green leaves.

The call to my grandma worked. She had called 911 and they were on their way. As we waited for them to arrive, the sun disappeared behind the hills surrounding us and it became dark. The cell phone rang and it was the EMTs. They needed our location. Since my grandpa couldn’t exactly get up and tell them any significant features of the part of the trail we were on, I had to get on the phone. The reception was poor and I could barely understand the man on the other end. But I did my best and told them we had just crossed a bridge and that we were right by a sign for a Frog Pond. Despite my efforts to have them locate us easily though, when they finally arrived they came through the brush, not even using the trail because they couldn’t find it in the dark. All they had to do was follow my screams.

They immediately went to my grandpa’s side and I watched on in horror as they quickly and methodically cut all his clothes off except his underwear. I’d never seen anyone that naked before except myself and my little sister and I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for the both of us. They wrapped a brace around his neck and rolled him onto a wooden board where they strapped him on tight, only leaving one arm free (which my grandpa later told me he had requested so he could strangle anyone if they hurt him).

A woman approached me wearing a faded pink sweatshirt and khaki pants with two dogs. She had been walking in the woods when she too heard the crack and my screams but couldn’t find us until she had left the trail and saw the EMTs entering the woods at a different site. She followed them to meet us, hoping to help. She spoke to me in a soft voice and as they packaged my grandpa up as if they were going to mail him across the country, she offered me a piggy-back ride out of the woods. But I couldn’t accept. I could barely speak. They draped a white sheet over my grandpa for discretion (and I would assume, warmth) and six men collectively lifted him up and started marching along the trail.

I followed them until we finally reached the mouth of the woods. I took my first step onto concrete and knew I would not be returning to the forest anytime soon. My grandma and aunt were waiting for us and while they spoke with the EMTs, I sat on the hood of a police officers car, exhausted both mentally and physically.

Finally, my grandma and aunt claimed me and we piled into our caravan and followed the ambulance to the hospital. I was examined by a doctor to make sure I hadn’t been hurt and was free to go when I was found to be completely unscathed. I had escaped death by only a side step to the right.

When I left the doctor’s office, I followed my grandma to the emergency room where we waited for my grandpa who had been taken away for countless tests. A few dark twigs lay strewn across the hospital’s white tile floor from when they carried him in. And that is the last image I remember from the night.

I knew the situation was serious but I never knew quite how serious it was. The injuries he sustained were life threatening. He had two punctured lungs, two broken ribs, three broken bones in the foot that required a metal plate to be pieced back together, a broken hip socket and ball (requiring hip replacement surgery), one broken bone in his left knee, a broken femur socket, five smashed spinal protrusions and two minor fractures to the neck. His doctor told him that if he’d gotten hit by the limb a half-inch higher on his back he would’ve died. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: my grandpa’s survival was a miracle.

Even now, twelve years later, my grandpa still credits me with saving his life that day. But what he may not realize is that he saved mine. That tree could’ve hit me instead.