Dear Anthony.

“Don’t let anyone tell you ever that you are supposed to stop mourning and missing people you’ve lost. What a crock. Our beloved people are forever…Leonard Cohen wrote that there are cracks in everything, and that’s how the light gets in. Stay cracked; don’t let people shame you into using caulking.”

-Anne Lamott, from a Facebook post

I wrote this post over 5 years ago, and I saved it in my drafts folder because I didn’t want to post anything too depressing, too down. I went through the effort of writing it… and frankly, Anthony deserves all of the writing I can give him.

It’s been just over three months since you died. I honestly thought I might get used to the fact that you were gone. Instead, you pop into my head almost every day. There is always something that makes me wish I could talk to you. Maybe it’s a crazy story I wish I could tell you, just to see that look on your face that says, “no way.” Or some personal victory that I know you would be proud of me for…like hitting my -100 pounds goal.

Some days when I just want to take a walk with you and laugh until I feel like I might fall over.

I feel like I am finally out of the rut I was in when we started walking back in June. What I can’t tell you now is that the sheer force of your friendship levered me up to a place where I could get out. The walks in the rain, the jumping back from dead snake skins, the time you told me to call you when I wanted to eat Zingers, the constant stream of text messages back and forth, the sitting on your enormous couch and hearing you tell a story about me for the first time that you remembered for 14 years.

What I thought when we reconnected and started our walks last year was that I was going to be a good friend to you. I was going to be there for you, no matter what you needed. But you didn’t need anything from me. Instead, you gave and gave, and sometimes I actually feel a little bit guilty because of all of the problems you listened to of mine, all of the advice you gave me, all of the support and encouragement you gave me.

I can’t remember giving you anything.

Actually. I gave you something that was hard for me to give. I tried to act like you weren’t dying. When you first told me that you were sick, you said, “don’t cry for me. I have had one hell of a good life.” When you called to tell me what they found in your brain, I held the phone upside down and sobbed, open-mouthed and silent, while you gave me the details. I talked about it cooly, in terms of facts. I joked that you just had to be an overachiever by filling yourself up with tumors, you couldn’t just settle for one.

The last time we talked on the phone, when I was supposed to come visit you in the hospital the next day, at the end of the call you just said, “Draker. Thank you.”

I knew then that we wouldn’t talk again.

I knew I wouldn’t see you the next day, or ever, after that.

I have a couple of pictures of you on my fridge, and sometimes when I walk by I feel weird for having them there. I printed them off your Facebook profile when we first started walking, and I actually used to have them hanging on my cubicle wall at work as reminders. Reminders to pray for you, reminders of what your smile looked like, reminders that there existed on earth a staggering depth of strength inside of one human, reminders that whatever I was facing, I could do it.

Sometimes, I feel weird for having them there. But most of the time, when I walk by, I just say, “Hey, buddy. Miss you.”

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why

One of the main reasons that I stopped blogging for so long last time (almost two years) was because of an awkward conversation that I had with someone who didn’t know me very well. She asked me, not kindly, what the point was of writing about myself. Why would I feel the need to share all of this personal information with strangers.

At the time, I thought to myself, well. I have boundaries. I very rarely write about everything, especially not the Big Nasty Truths that lurk in the darker corners of my life. I don’t cut myself open and bleed all over the internet, although maybe to some it seems that way. I just tend to let myself think out loud.

And also, at that time, I was extremely careful about what I shared, who I mentioned, and I had a lot of rules for myself with blogging. I’m about 96% certain this person had never read my blog. I wondered why she was judging me, and judging me to my face at that. I just said, “well, I only write about specific things, and nothing too personal. I only share what I feel comfortable sharing.”

But that conversation kept haunting me, even as I tried half-heartedly to keep up my blog. Why DID I want to shave off pieces of my life and leave them on the internet? Because I’ve been doing it for well over a decade? Because I did it one day, and I realized that I actually loved it. I even made some friends I never would have known otherwise because of this sharing. I have always been compelled to write things down as a way of making sense of life, and I think harder about the words I use when I write for an audience, even if it’s an audience of one.

But this person’s question, and her snide tone when she asked the question, became a stone in my shoe. And the stone became a boulder.

Why, though?

Why did it matter to me that this person, who I don’t really even respect that much, didn’t understand or approve of my outlet?

Looking back at myself that day, I wish I had the guts to say, “I just do it. It’s what I do. I like it.”

Grin.

Restricted access.

My husband and I have been burning up our Empire Pass this summer at New York State Parks. We have been hiking 1-2 parks per weekend, with the goal of hiking the gorge trails we missed when they were closed over the winter.

I don’t think much of this now, beyond making sure I wear comfortable shoes and clothes, that I have enough water and a snack if we will be gone for a few hours.

But there was a time in my life when I weighed 335 pounds. Going up one flight of stairs was a true challenge. Hiking an uphill trail, or a trail with hundreds of stairs, for any distance, would have been impossible. I tried. I have distinct memories of my more in shape friends dragging me along to hike with them. I’m sure they meant well, but I have a handful of memories that are some of the most humiliating experiences of my life.

Of course, I hated being obese. Every time I saw the condition listed on my medical chart, I died a little bit inside. I was ashamed of my size, of my inability to lose weight, my inability to blend into a crowd, and my inability to keep up with “normal” people.

What I didn’t know until I started hiking last year was how much I have been missing. I have literally stood on mountain tops and looked across valleys after challenging hikes that would have been impossible for me when I was carrying the weight of an adult male on my back with me. I have seen views that took my breath away after climbing over 200 stairs. I have literally walked circles up and down ravines on mountain tops. I have clambered up hillsides and stone stairs and steep, packed down trails.

And every time, I try to take a moment to remember: I never could have done this before. I almost always say it out loud. I never could have seen this before.

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Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, NY

 

My lucky day.

Today is Friday the 13th. Perhaps it’s my stubborn nature, but I have always refused to believe a date on the calendar can be unlucky – so I declared it lucky instead.

Tonight, I went to an opening reception of a gallery show called “The Rising” featuring my favorite artist, GC Myers. The first time I ever saw one of his paintings, I literally stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of a sidewalk because I saw myself. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. I was right there, behind glass, on a canvas, looking back at myself from a frame.

Tonight, I saw it again. I saw light that got caught in my throat, black teals that swept my breath out of my body, purple twisting trees that anchored me, and always, always, always, the sky that opened my eyes and made them swim in tears. And the red trees. I can’t describe what they mean to me, because they’re so vast. The trees tell me more about myself every time I see them. They’re solitary, but are they alone? They’re what I focus on first, but are they really the most important thing?

I love going to these shows because it’s like seeing an old friend and wondering if you remember them wrong, or if they’ve changed a bit since you last saw them. The work is familiar, but I have to look twice to be totally sure.

It seems that, in every show, I find one or two pieces that cut straight through to my soul – when I see them, I gasp, I feel exposed and found out, I see myself in a frame on a wall on Market Street in Corning, NY and wonder how I can be standing there in the art gallery having a conversation or holding my husband’s hand when I am stretched across canvas and bound in a frame.

This show, those pieces were “Idyllia” and “An Orderly Life.”

The last show, the pieces were “Revealed in Light” and “Empowered.”

Check out the show, either in person at West End Gallery or online here.  And definitely check out the site Redtree Times for more information about the work, straight from the artist.

I love this work, and I love this show, and I deeply appreciate this artist for his willingness to put it out there and do the work. All of the work. It reminds me how much more work I have to do.