Monday, October 14, 2013

It's been a year now, since you were here now and I've been trying to heal inside

A letter to my sister:

     No matter what words I use to try to express how much ache the loss of you leaves me with, none of them really seem like they can ever properly express it. 

     Every single day, at least one thing reminds me of you. At work, it's often Betty Boop or cupcake themed items. Those are everywhere these days, it seems and I always think your name as I look at them. I even found a Betty Boop necklace once where she is sitting on a cupcake. It was shortly after you went away and still had to remind myself that you wouldn't see the text I wanted to send you about it.

     Your phone number is still in my contacts because I can't bring myself to delete it. I decided that when I stop having to remind myself that you're gone, and I stop scrolling to your name with the intention of sending you a message about something that reminds me of you or us or some memory we shared, then I would be ready to take it out. That moment hasn't come yet. Without fail, I get to your name before I remember and I sadly shut the phone back off. 

     I realized not long ago that I really don't know how to continue processing the grief at this point. I mean, some days are easier than others. If I have a lot happening and plenty to keep me busy, I can distract myself. Even then, however, you're never far from my thoughts. Last month, my graduating class had our ten year high school reunion and some of the songs that were played brought up memories of you and I as kids. I felt sad and I wished I could call you right then. 

     Sometimes, I think the grieving process is a little weird and I feel like I'm doing it wrong. I've said goodbyes to friends, family, beloved pets... and it's never felt as horribly wrong and painful as this does. I find myself feeling like getting through each day is something I have to talk myself through by promising my brain that if it can get through today without you, it will be the last day I have to do it. It's not a logical or even accurate thought but sometimes, it feels like having you taken away is some kind of cruel test that we all have to pass. It feels like I want to say, "Okay. It's been a year and we barely made it through but we DID... so, it's time for her to come back and for everything to better again."

     It's not rational to feel that way. It's not rational to tell myself that I made it through this day, or month, or year now, and it will be okay tomorrow. It won't be. Each day is just one of the days I'll have to keep facing without you. This is just one year that has gone by of who knows how many I will have to face without you. It's not rational, but it's the only thoughts helping me along right now.

     I think about your babies all the time and your parents share pictures of them with me on Facebook. I have no idea what I believe in as far as the possibility of an afterlife, Beck, but I hope wherever you are, you see them. Hinata especially looks more like you every time I see a picture. They are growing up so fast and the stories and pictures I get to hear about and see of them remind me so much of you.

     I think... No. I KNOW those kids are a big part of what gets me through every day that I can't talk to you. The boys miss you like crazy and they will have memories of you that they will be able to share with their sister as she grows up. What breaks my heart though, is that she won't ever get to know you. Not really. What she will get, though, and so will the boys, is every single memory I have. I want them to know as much about you as I can give them and it feels like it's what I am supposed to do. It's not something I feel like I HAVE to do. I want to and I just mean that giving them every part of you I can give them just feels... right.

     It's not okay that I got more years with you than they did. I hate the universe for that. I remember how elated you were for every single one of them as each was born, and they should have got to have you so much longer. I know they'll grow up to be wonderful people, because they are extremely amazing kids. That's not a concern. They may be the luckiest kids in the world in that they are surrounded by SO many people that love them. It's not fair, though, that on the other side of the coin, they had the person who is supposed to guide them, love them, support them, teach them, reprimand them and help them find their own path swooped from their life. 

It just makes me so fucking angry! 

     Then there are your parents. I talk to your mom here and there. I call or I message her on facebook and we chat a bit. The first time we talked after we lost you, she mom-yelled at me and it makes me smile to remember. I told her how guilty I felt, and admittedly continue to feel, for not visiting sooner. I told you so many times that I wanted to visit. We made plans for "down the road" and it just seemed like we never found the right time. She told me that I should remember that you didn't make any trips up here either and I am not allowed to feel bad for that and that we always thought there would be plenty of time. 

     I guess that's why I feel so guilty, still. We all know that death could take us any time and we shouldn't assume that there will always BE time. I did though. I didn't find time to visit. It was never because I didn't love you, or because I didn't miss you, though. I just truly thought there would always be time down the road to figure it out. I figured we would watch your kids grow up and we'd grow old together. There was supposed to be so much more time... 

     Your dad is on Facebook a lot now. He and my dad have been in touch a while and they are often arguing with my dad's friends about politics. I really should learn just to stay out of it and let them argue but I find myself feeling the need to defend your dad if someone is, in my opinion, too harsh towards him. He's a grown man and doesn't need my defending and when it comes to politics, we don't agree at all. I guess, though, because it's your dad and I grew up with your parents being my other parents, I have this sense of protectiveness with them. I think a lot of it is, you're not here to 'watch out' for him, so I feel like I should. I have no idea if it's the right thing to do or if I'm just doing it because it feels like I should, but it's put me in some arguments, for sure, heh. 

     I guess the next thing I could tell you about has to do with my relationship-y stuff. The last time we really talked about it, I was still head over heels for someone that I can barely stand to hear mentioned by name these days.
There is someone else in my life, I care about him more than I could ever express and I absolutely HATE that I can't call you to tell you all about him. 

     The really messed up part is how the loss of you factors in to all of those feelings. The person I thought would always be there for me left me to grieve alone when I lost you and couldn't be bothered to offer me the slightest condolence, let alone actually support me. Instead, a better man, one of my dearest friends, stepped up. I don't know what the future holds for us but everything he did and continues to do for me has guaranteed him my support, love and loyalty as a best friend for the rest of his life. 

     I admit, a lot of the moments I miss you the most are probably really selfish ones. I want to tell you about him. I want to go to you when I argue with another friend and need to vent. I want to tell you all of the good things in my life and then listen to you tell me about yours. I want to vent all of the crazy and frustrating difficulties and then listen to you talk about yours.

     I don't know how to handle this, Beck. For eighteen years, you were there and always with the right thing to say. Sometimes, it was just being able to talk to you at all and knowing that you knew me better than anyone else. For eighteen years, we told each other the most important things in our heads and hearts and stood by each other.

     Those years took forever to go by and made our friendship that much stronger. Eighteen long years of love and respect... and I have barely survived a single year without you. How in the HELL am I supposed to cope with any more? Some days, I have no idea how I got through them at all, and now I'm forced to keep doing it?

     ONE year was enough. One year without you has been complete and total hell and I feel like it was a punishment I have more than paid my dues for. We all have. Every holiday, every birthday, every anniversary, and every average damn day when every single one of us missed you so much, it made our chests tighten and ache. 

     I truly have no idea how any of us can be expected to keep this up when it continues to feel harder instead of easier. The longer the world keeps spinning without you, the harder it gets for my head to stop spinning with it. 

     I guess I'm still in the bargaining stage of grief because as long as it keeps feeling this hard, I'll continue telling myself, "If you get through today, it's the last day you'll have to do this," and hope that sooner rather than later, that becomes true.

     The other day, I watched an episode of Glee where they were saying goodbyes to a character they were forced to kill off after the actor playing him overdosed. They were playing all these goodbye songs, and each one was getting harder and harder to hear. Then, they got to a character singing, "If I Die Young." I lost it. I started sobbing and couldn't stop. I couldn't breathe. It felt like the day I learned you were gone all over again.

     Maybe this wouldn't be so hard if I didn't feel like I was grieving alone. I know I'm not. I'm not the only one who lost you. Your parents lost their daughter. Your brothers lost their sister. Your kids lost their mom. Your friends are all missing their friend. Your husband lost his wife. The thing is, they're all around each other. Most of them live close together and have each other to lean on. If not, they at least have someone else they were close enough to that they have someone to talk to and lean on.

     I don't. I don't have anybody, at least it doesn't feel like I do. Most of my memories with you were just of the two of us and it makes me feel really alone in that I can't reminisce about those memories with anyone else. They don't know the stories. I'm trying to think on those moments are something that I will always have just between me and you, but things still feel so fresh, it's hard to smile about some of it. 

     I know I am going to spend the rest of my life missing you. I guess this first year is just learning that the world is going to keep spinning even when someone amazing leaves it. I guess I'm being taught that I can survive even though it feels like it kills me to keep going sometimes. 

     I just hope you know that I will never forget you. I will never stop missing you and most importantly, I will always love you. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

An angel got her wings and we'll hold our heads up, knowing that she's fine

Half of a year. Half of a year. 
I just keep thinking that over and over and wondering how it's possible that time keeps moving like nothing happened. 

Half of a year ago, on a Monday like today, you were taken away. Your birthday was only thirteen days away but you didn't get to celebrate it. I don't know how much time we're all supposed to take to grieve,  but for me, it never feels like enough. I don't know how it's supposed to take before I can bring myself to take your number out of my phone. I don't know how long it's supposed to take before I stop thinking that I should send you a message about something that reminded me of one of our memories, then remember that you can't laugh about it with me anymore. I don't know how long it's supposed to take before all of the songs that remind me of you stop making me cry.

I don't think there will ever come a time where you don't cross my mind several times a day. I don't think there will ever come a time when I don't wish you were here to share an experience with me. I don't think there will ever come a time when, on your birthday, I won't look at your picture, close my eyes and think of you. I don't think there will ever come a time when, on my birthday, I won't spend the day wishing that every phone call was the one that always came in from  you. 

Repeatedly over the course of the past six months, I have found myself wanting to tell you about things that have happened in my life. I have wanted to go to you for advice. I have wanted to ask you how you are and listen to you talk about the things you needed to talk about. I have watched television shows or read books that I know you loved and wanted to talk to you about them. I have remembered stories from when we were just kids and wanted to reminisce with you.

The difference in six months ago and now is that I don't remember first thing when I open my eyes that you are gone and struggle to make myself get out of bed. I don't have to avoid making eye-contact with people anymore, or avoid hugs because they would trigger uncontrollable sobbing. I can smile again and I can laugh again. I can enjoy time with the people I love again. I can say that you died out-loud now without struggling to actually say the words.

I find that there are even more little things that make me think of you than there were before you died. It seems that there are Betty Boop or Cupcake things everywhere, from pajamas to necklaces. Those use to cause me to get a tightness in my chest and a lump in my throat. Now, I smile at them, albeit sadly. I don't think I would be able to do any of that if it weren't for the fact that I see you in my dreams from time to time. I am extremely grateful for those dreams each and every time.

Half a year later, I am grateful that I have talked to your mom on the phone. She has pictures of us from that big Halloween/Birthday party that year that I didn't know existed. I can't wait to see them when I visit this summer. I am grateful that your dad leaves you messages that everyone can see every week, talking about your kids and your family and how much he misses you. It feels easier to keep on when I know we are all grieving together, but all appreciating everything about you as we watch the person you were in your children. I'm grateful that I get to meet them this year, finally, though I regret every single day that it has taken me this long.

I am grateful for Eddie, and Courtney, and Debra and Shan, and knowing that, even if brief moments of conversation, we have been able to help each other through this. 

Mostly, though, on this Monday, six months after the Monday that tore you away from us, that I got to have a sister for seventeen and a half years.

In memory of you today, there are a few songs that will remind me of you for the rest of my life. I'm posting them here for myself, for you, and for others who love you. 

Our Song..the one that we used to send to each other in the most difficult times.. Garth Brooks, A Friend to Me.

Well you and I
We're buddies
And we've been since we first met
Me and you
Well we've sure been through
Our share of laughter and regret

Lord knows we've had our bad days
And more than once we've disagreed
But you've always been a friend to me

You can be so stubborn
There's times I think you just like to fight
And I hope and pray
I live to see a day
When you say I might be right

And there's times I'd rather kill you
Than listen to your honesty
But you've always been a friend to me

You've always been
Time and again
The one to take my hand
And show to me it's okay to be
Just the way I am
With no apology

Oh you've always been
And you will 'til God knows when
Yes you've always been a friend to me
The Band Perry, If I Die Young. This song really seemed to encompass the loss of someone so beautiful.


If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn,
Send me away on the words of a love song

Lord, make me a rainbow,
I'll shine down on my mother, 
She'll know I'm safe with you when she stands under my colors.
Oh, and life ain't always what you think it ought to be, 
No, ain't even grey, but she buries her baby.
The sharp knife ofa  short life.
Well, I've had just enough time

If I die  young, bury me in satin.
Lay me down on a bed of roses.
Sink me in the river at dawn.
Send me away with the words of a love song.
The sharp knife of a short life. 
Well, I've had just enough time.

And I'll be wearing white, 
when I come into your Kingdom
I'm as green as the ring on my little cold finger. 
Well, I've never known the loving of a man, 
but it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand.
There's a boy here in town, 
says he'll love me forever. 
Who would have thought forever could be severed by
The sharp knife of a short life?
Well, I had just enough time.

So put on your best, boys, and I'll wear my pearls
What I never did is done.
A penny for my thoughts, oh no, 
I'll sell em' for a dollar.
They're worth so much more after I'm a goner
and maybe then, you'll hear the words I been singin'
Funny, when you're dead how people start listenin'

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

Oh, the ballad of a dove.
Go with peace and love.
Gather up your tears, 
keep em' in your pocket. 
Save them for a time when you're really gonna need them, oh,
The sharp knife of a short life. 
Well, I've had just enough time.

So put on your best, boys, and I'll wear my pearls...

This next one was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. I love listening to Bayside sing it because the way they did this song just feels as sad as I feel about missing you. It's called Winter. I changed all of the he's in the song to she's...

When Winter falls 
Next year, I'll be holding on
To anything nailed down
As for being patient, with fate and all, it's getting old. 
And my mind is slowly changing
I'm calling all my oldest friends,
Saying "sorry for this mess we're in,"
And I'm waiting, waiting
For the Sun to come and melt this snow,
wash away the pain, and give me back control, control.

An angel got her wings, 
And we'll hold our heads up knowing that she's fine.
We'd all be lucky to have a love like that in a lifetime.

Should we still set her plate?
Should we still save her chair?
Should we still buy her gifts?
And if we don't, did we not care?
It makes you think about the life you've led,
Shit you've done, things you've said.
And it's grounding, grounding.
I've been feeling three feet tall this month,
hardly indestructible.
But the snow melts, and the rhythm still goes on.

An angel got her wings, 
And we'll hold our heads up knowing that she's fine.
We'd all be lucky to have a love like that in a lifetime.

Friends stay side by side,
In life and death you've always stole my heart,
You'll always mean so much to me, it's hard to believe this

These nights in vans,
These nights in bars,
Don't mean a thing with empty hearts, with empty hearts.

An angel got her wings, 
And we'll hold our heads up knowing that she's fine.
We'd all be lucky to have a love like that in a lifetime.

Friends stay side by side,
In life and death you've always stole my heart,
You've always meant so much to me, it's hard to believe
So much to me, it's hard to believe
So much to me, it's hard to believe this.

Six months. Half a year ago. Where does the time go?

I miss you every single day, sis, and I love you.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The day that I died is the day that you died.

I looked through the pictures stacked on my desk. I stared at the dried wax trail left on this red candle I bought for you. A few words blink across my mind: Spice Girls. Mr. Cardboard man. Germany. Colorado. I'm a burrito. Sleepovers. Macerena. N'Sync. Betty Boop.

Each word brings back a memory. We laughed. We danced. We fought. We watched My Girl together and decided we needed to become blood sisters. A few months ago when we talked, we got to that topic. I admit that it reminded me how special our friendship was that you never did that with anyone else and neither did I.

Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since my world crashed around me. Two weeks since I was singing my heart out to music and feeling pretty content with life. Two weeks since I came across the words, posted to your facebook page, that you were gone.

I cannot tell you how much shock I felt. I was sure it was a sick and twisted attempt at humor. I was sure that someone just wanted a laugh. Then I saw the follow up comment explaining that there had been an accident. The driver never saw you. Your friend was gone. You were gone. Your beautiful baby girl was in the hospital with a skull fracture.

I went numb. Every muscle in my body stopped working for a moment. Then, my hand went instinctively over my mouth. I heard this heart-wrenching scream and the following sobs exploding from somewhere. I didn't realize until later that they were from me. My hand was still over my mouth, ready to stop the vomit I could feel coming. I ran outside, clutching my phone, trying with fingers that would not work to call your phone.

It had to be someone else. It had to be a mistake. It couldn't be you. It just couldn't be you. I waited, holding my mouth shut tight, refusing to let the bile escape. I would hear your voice. Everything would be okay. I would cry and cry and tell you how much I love you and how I was so glad I could tell you that again. It would be wrong.

I waited. My chest was tight and I pressed the send button and waited. It immediately gave me an unavailable message. No voicemail. No snippet of your voice to reassure me. I knew. I don't know how but I knew. It was true.

For a moment, nothing happened. I just sat there, crouched on my knees on the deck, unable to move. Then, it started. I was rocking. Then I was on my hands, heaving and hyperventilating. I thought I would vomit, but it wouldn't come. Just dry heaves and panic in my head. The sobs started again. I couldn't stop them. Another moment of a tortured sound escaping that I couldn't recognize as my own howling as I curled up against the porch.

I don't know how much time went by before I picked up the phone again. I had to call someone. Anyone. I had to know what was going on.

I continued to cry for some time as I moved around doing things I was supposed to do. Through the shock, I still asked Debra if it was true when I called her. I needed someone else to tell me though I already knew by how empty I felt inside. A connection had been severed.

More tears. More phone calls. More curling up alone on the floor. I split into two people that day; two minds in one body.

The first me cries and continues forward. She does her homework. She goes to work. She tries to talk about you. She talks about the good memories to try and ease the ache. She's miserable. She tries to keep on, like everyone else says you would have wanted. Funny how people suddenly think they know how you would have thought, even when they didn't know you.

The second me is still raging inside. She's angry. She's broken. Her world is shattered and she can't put it back together. She is the one that makes my chest so tight. That hasn't lessened. She's the one that I can feel sobbing and heaving when my throat gets suddenly constricted and I feel dizzy. She's the one that can't focus when people talk. She's the one that is staring at some far off memory and is completely outside of reality now.

I spend more time being the second me. The first...she's trying to hold together with little luck. She's the one trying to smile when she looks at Betty Boop pajamas at the store. She's the one that let's out a small, somewhat forced, giggle at the sight of anything with cupcakes on it. She's the one that will remember everything we shared, like a memory keeper.

Second me, though...She knows things will never get better. She knows that this inability to breathe properly will be here for the rest of our life. She knows that the long phone conversations to catch up on each other's lives are over and she holds on tightly to the memory of your voice. She knows that this empty feeling in our chest, this ache, this constant reminder  that you're gone... it's going to sit there for a long time.

My sister died. There are those that use the terms for siblings for everyone that they meet. That's not me. You and I know that more than anyone in our worlds, you and I had each other. There was a connection there that no one could break and we reminded each other of that every time we talked. We have other best friends. We have other people we share our secrets with. We don't have other sisters though. That is a different type of bond.

We are sisters in every sense of the word, except that we have different parents. We can fight tooth and nail, but no one else is allowed to give us shit or hurt us. The other was always there, despite distance, despite busy lives. You were there for me. I was there for you.

We even had a song. It isn't just a song that reminds me of you. It isn't a song we just danced to a few times and remembered nostalgically. It was our song. We sang it to each other when we needed to remember how much support and love we had from the other. It will be our song until the day I die, and we don't need one anymore.

Well, you and I
we're buddies
and we've been since we first met
Me and you, well, we've sure been through
our share of laughter and regret.

Lord knows we've had our bad days
and more than once, we've disagreed
But you've always been a friend to me.

You can be so stubborn.
There's times I think you just like to fight.
And I hope and pray I live to see the day
when you say I might be right.

And there's times I'd rather kill you
than listen to your honesty, 
but you've always been a friend to me.

You've always been
time and again
the one to take my hand
and say to me, that it's okay to be
just the way I am
with no apology.

Well, you've always been,
and you will til God knows when...
Yes, you've always been
A friend to me.

This is all that is left. I remember laughing. I remember crying. I remember fighting. I remember talking to each other in soothing voices.

More than any of the memories, I remember sitting on a rock at the top of the hill, overlooking Colorado Springs. It was behind my house. I remember you having more hope about everything we were going through that seemed so intense at the time. I remember you making me move my butt over so you could sit next to me and we just hugged each other. We looked over the springs and huddled each other against the cold wind. It's the first memory I have of us feeling like we were adults. We weren't, but it was the most adult I had ever felt.

I won't be sharing that memory with anyone. I won't be telling anyone what we were talking about or why. That is just for us.

That is where I'll meet you one day. We'll embrace each other at the top of the hill and sit on the rock. We'll watch until dark so we can see the lights of Colorado Springs come up. We'll walk into those lights together and everything will feel right. You're already in the light, I know it. I can feel it.

I'll be here in the dark until you call me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Forgiving is truly not forgetting

I wandered into work, like every other night I am scheduled. I left the house at 9:00pm, stopped for food on the way, and made my way to the back to eat, get my things for the night around and check my schedule for the next several hours.
I don't always pay attention to anyone around me during this process. It is my routine and other people do not really fit into my thought process until I get to the break room and settle in. I play with my phone, look at the sad selection of books on our book wall just before I pass through the large, grey double doors to the back of the store. 
A couple of weeks ago, I had a moment in time during this process that felt as if it lasted for hours rather than seconds. I walked my usual path to the back; in the front door, straight between grocery and cosmetics, around the corner by the pharmacy, past the infant clothes and then I cut over to Electronics, which is right in front of the back room doors. 
That day, my mind was acknowledging people. For no other reason than happening to glance up, I made brief eye contact with a guy. He was pulling a pallet, of what I have no idea, past Electronics towards the hardware department. I couldn't tell you what he had on that pallet or if he turned down an aisle or any other detail of anything happening in that vicinity within the next few seconds. Right then, my stomach took a giant leap into my throat and an instant nausea fell over me. My stomach hurt. My chest hurt. My throat was tight and the remainder of my body frozen in place.  I was convinced right then that my ex-husband had transferred stores and was now employed again in the same building as myself.
It had been a long time since I had felt that sick to my stomach. I didn't want to move. I didn't want to think. I didn't want to believe he could have just walked by me and destroyed, in that brief few seconds, any semblance of sanity I had gained since the day he stepped out of my life. 
After what seemed like hours, I forced my brain to force my legs to move. I walked stiffly towards the doors, pushed through them and found a couple of co-workers and friends. Only a minute or two had gone by.  I was informed by one of these friends that the guy I saw only briefly was not my ex-husband, but a new employee with an uncanny resemblance to him.  This friend saw the look on my face, and having met the guy I saw already, and having known my past, knew exactly what I was thinking. I let a wave of complete relief wash over me and my entire body sighed with exhaustion. Those few minutes wore me out physically and emotionally before I had even clocked in for work. 

While it still throws me off to see this new co-worker making his way through the store, as it does to many of my other co-workers, knowing that the situation is not at all what I thought it was makes my work place feel normal again. My thought process, however, is not. 

Having such an intense reaction to something I thought was far into my past has created a lot of frustrating realizations in my mind. I still feel a range of emotions at the thought or sight of him. I still feel sick at every idea & inkling of him in any place in my life. The strongest sentiment, though, is that, after all of this time, over four long years, and after being convinced in my mind that I had forgiven him, my heart has not. 

I have no desire to go into the explanation of what happened for anyone in my life that did not know me during that time. I don't want to hash through the memories, the feelings, the shock, the pain or any of the rest of it. Mostly, that is because I really don't remember it. I don't remember why I loved him. I can't recall why we ever thought the two of us would work. I have no idea why I married him. My soul has long let go of those things and left them in the past where they belong. My heart, apparently, or perhaps the deepest part of my memory, has not. 

To have such a deeply emotional and physical reaction like that makes me angry. It frustrates and enrages me at myself because I don't want to feel that. I don't want to physically remember anything from that point and time in my life. It's gone. Better things have come into my life and I want to live in my present, thinking about my future. I want my past dead and buried where I left it. 

I am only just beginning to think to myself what any of this means, how I should handle it and what I can do for myself to change these things. I have a lot of emotions churning that I don't know how to sift through and understand. I don't know how to comprehend any of them and how I can let go of them permanently. 

I guess the lesson I can take from this is that you can move on, you can step forward, you can let go of the things that hurt you, the things that rip you apart and the things that leave you feeling weak and less than what you want to be, but you can't erase that the past happened. You can't pretend that your life began years after it did. You can't pretend that you were always the person you are, because behind you, there is a person you were. You can let go of anger and try your best to forgive, but when it comes down to it, you won't forget. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mischief, memories and sentimentality

Every year as my birthday rolls around, the same scenario plays out. I find some book to read, a game to play, a friend to pass the time with until 1:23am arrives on the clock. Birthday wishes and sentiments before that seem strange to me, even though it is technically my birthday as the clock strikes 12am. That's never mattered to me, though. I was born at 1:23am and each and every year, I wish myself a happy birthday at that moment and then, the fun can begin.

I usually spend the time leading up to that point gazing backwards. I think of the path my life has taken. I reflect on every fork that I've come to and which direction I chose to follow. I think of birthdays past and those I spent them with. I imagine my life now and my life before and every decision that lead to every change and every person that's been along for the journey.

Now, don't misunderstand me as I follow this thought train. I wouldn't change the decisions I've made, as each one has lead to the person I am now and I accept that. I can't change those choices even if I wanted to, so it really doesn't matter.

At this time every twelve months, however, I let my mind wander the paths of yesteryear. I like to imagine what my life would be like had some choices been made differently. I ponder what my life would be like now had some friendships not faltered, had some relationships not ended, or if others had begun that never were.

If that one relationship had not forced me to reevaluate my life, would I still have the same wants and needs that I desire in the present?

If that one other relationship had ever turned into one, would we still be together now? Would our friendship have dissolved the same way?

If that one friend hadn't started down the path of adulthood before myself, would we be able to better understand each other now? On the same note, did I really mature faster than that other friend or did I just stop trying to understand too quickly?

Could I have been a better friend? What about a better daughter or granddaughter? Could I have been a better girlfriend?

I don't only question the pieces of my past, though. I also reflect happily on the memories that are still with me even after so many years.

There was that time she and I jumped around in my driveway in the middle of the night in my big orange sleeping bag bellowing, "I'm a burrito! I'm a burrito!"

I remember the year she stole my giant Pixie Stix and I chased her around my living-room. She stumbled around in my pajama pants, which were about four sizes too big.

I still shake my head and smile at the night I climbed through his window so I could sit with him when he was drunk without waking his parents up.

I feel warmed by the memory of standing on his balcony as he hugged me and told me that choosing to live so that someone else wouldn't feel hurt or guilty by the loss of me made me someone with more heart than anyone he'd known.

I remember laughing in my room with fuzzy posters over 'Blue chicken" and "Orange Kitty." Those inside jokes will be remembered forever.

I remember the night he told me that he was glad that I was alive because he didn't know if he would have been without me.

There are days in life that are sad, maddening, exciting, infuriating, frustrating, confusing, wonderful, memorable, terrifying and exhilarating.

There are days, and will be days ahead, when I wonder how things could ever feel good again when they feel so bad. In contrast, there will be days where I will wonder what I ever did for so much happiness to be bestowed upon me and how I could possibly ever feel down again.

To be cliche, life is a journey that no one escapes alive. My game plan? I want to jump into everything that makes me happy with no thought for the consequences. I want to take terrifying risks so I'll never question what would have happened if I had. I want to tell every person that means something to me just how they make me feel. I want to smile with my friends and family, cry with them, laugh with them; I want to inspire people, I want to encourage them and I want to be encouraged and inspired by them.

I've spent twenty-seven years running, stopping, questioning, grieving, appreciating, exploring, admiring, risking, laughing and loving. If I'm lucky, I've only lived a third of the life that I could. I want the chance to do all of that again at least twice more.

Then when the time is done, and I'm hopefully wrinkled and wise, I'll be ready to step into the next great adventure with no regrets, pride in who I was and contentment in all that I accomplished.