The first.

The first.

I’ve sat down to write this more than a handful of times over the last week or so, trying to share some recent and sensitive news with everyone.  Every time, I carve out an hour and I just start to type.  And every time, my free-flow of emotions settle differently, my “message” varying with each writing session.   When people use the cliche, “…all the feels”, let’s just say… I’m feeling them.  So I’ll just get right to it…

I lost my dog.

My old girl, my “first-born”, Deliah Maye (or as we called her the last few years, “Doodle”) is gone.  And it hurts far more than I expected, with all kinds of self-reflection consuming my thoughts lately.  But instead of sharing a bunch of deep, introspective shit right now, I’ll just share our story.

With the temperament of a little old Grandma from the very day I got her, she was my baby.  I was fresh out of high school and had just moved to Nashville.  Upon arrival, I had never driven my car through fast food drive-thru, never wrote a check, having literally nothing to my name but an artifact Nokia phone that my parents let me take down to Tennessee with me.  I was young, clueless, and inevitably, homesick.  I was living in a garage apartment in my managers’ home in Kingston Springs and had just released my very first album.  Musically, things were busy and incredibly exciting.  However, I completely lacked any kind of social life, which made being on the brink of adulthood much harder.  All my music peers were considerably older than me and after sessions, it left me feeling pretty lonely at the end of the day.  A few months after being in Tennessee, my managers suggested that maybe a dog would do me good and help with all these big life transitions.  Clearly, I did not need to be talked into this.

Enter: Deliah.

I was raised with shelties growing up, so I knew exactly what I was looking for.  I found an ad in the classifieds inside the Tennessean (yeah, it was that long ago) for sheltie puppies and I was sold before I even saw them.  That weekend, we drove over an hour to a remote farm, with all the puppies being kept in the barn.  This liter of pups, no bigger than guinea pigs, toppled over themselves and each other, and immediately sent me into sensory overload.  I had no idea which was which, they were too tiny to tell apart.  So I decided that whichever pup let me hold him/her and didn’t try to squirm out of my hands would be “the one”.  I picked them up at random and when I came to Deliah, she snuggled into my easily, almost like she was relieved to be plucked from the pack.  You see, from Day 1, Deliah didn’t want be amongst the “common folk”, being regarded as just a dog.  In all honesty, I think the word “dog” offended her, like she couldn’t relate.  This early perception of herself would epitomize Deliah the rest of her life.  Her demeanor would also ruin me for life by giving me the false impression that all dogs were as “chill” and lazy as this one.  

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I came up with the name Deliah from the flower, Dahlia.  Years earlier, my Polish grandfather gifted me a few baggies of Dahlia seeds when we were moving him out of his house and into a nursing home.  That memory never left me.  I thought the pronunciation of “Dahlia” was kind of weird so I improvised with Deliah (Del-yah).

The first few days of having her, she wouldn’t eat or drink when we’d put the bowls down.  I had no idea what to do.  My managers said they thought she was younger than 8 weeks so she might not be weaned from her mother quite yet.  So each night, I’d lay down by her tiny water/food bowls, crying and begging this little nugget to eat, but she wouldn’t.  Then I’d eventually fall asleep on the carpet, right there by the bowls … waking up to the sound of her eating or drinking beside my head.  

Those first 6 months or so, I’d take her to every co-writing appointment, recording session, I even took her to my first few industry showcases, keeping her in my puppy purse underneath a table up in front.  I even wrote a song about her, “It’s Not About Me Anymore”.  Yes, seriously.  And it’s actually a fucking great song so don’t judge me, ha.  (You can listen to teenage RayRay on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/track/6Rpr6ZBVyku5SP9ma7AII7?si=CACK1ajVSaKfD0ga1sdpCQ)

After our first year together, the vet informed me that she needed to lose weight.  How you get a dog too fat in it’s first year is still, to this day, one of my more humorous life fails.   Aside from changing her diet, I had to get this lazy pup to exercise more.  We lived out in the country and our road didn’t have sidewalks, making daily dog walks more difficult.  So instead I’d sprint back and forth across the lawn and make her chase me.  Or I’d take her to the park and walk fast around the trails, having her follow me off the leash.  Eventually, we both lost our “baby fat”, with me dropping weight right along with her.  (She wasn’t the only one allergic to exercise back then.). I was nervous that she’d gain it back without younger dogs around to play with, especially when I was on the road.  Less than 2 years after getting Deliah, I was given the green light to get another dog.  Delaney.  I was now 20 and a “single mom” of two.

I distinctly remember thinking that Deliah would hate Delaney.  Deliah didn’t necessarily take to other dogs.  Or kids.  Or basically, anything with energy that tried to get in her space, besides me.  Delaney was a rescue dog that I found online and instantly fell in love with when I saw her photos.  When I went to meet Delaney, she was 5 months old and the fastest running dog I’d ever seen in my life.  The moment she was released from her kennel to meet us, she took off in a sprint, running circles around me, with no signs of slowing down long enough for anyone to pet her.  I remember saying, “I can’t take this dog.  She’s too much, Deliah will hate her.” But I did take her.  I was so nervous the entire hour drive back, with this new dog in the car and Deliah waiting in the backyard for us to return.  I hesitantly opened the gate and brought this new dog into the yard, bracing myself for the worst.  Instead I witnessed these two dogs immediately start running through the yard, chasing each other and playing.  DELIAH WAS RUNNING?!  I swear to God, I cried tears of joy seeing how they instantly took to each other.

Deliah and Delaney were sisters without coaxing and right away, I had two best friends.  Eventually, I did make friends my age.  And when I did, they all knew that I came with 2 sidekicks almost everywhere I went.  My first house, out on my own, was a little one-bedroom, 400 square foot house on a dead-end road in East Nashville.  I had just turned 21.  I cut my own lawn, hand-washed my dishes, and watched the same 5 DVD’s over & over on the same small TV from my childhood bedroom.  I stole a weak wireless reception from my neighbor and didn’t have cable, but I had my dogs.

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A few months after this photo was taken, Deliah was viciously attacked by a neighbor’s pitbull in my backyard.   I was in the studio when I got the call from my roommate.  I rushed home and will never forget how she was like a limp noodle when I tried to pick her up, still in shock.  The vet stayed open an extra hour, just to see her.  Her recovery was long, and honestly, in no way for the faint of heart.  The operation was $3000, or there was the option to treat the wound naturally & safely, with the warning that it wasn’t going to look pretty for awhile.  I chose the ugly.  It was tedious, but I never thought twice about it.  I guess I do have a maternal instinct in me.

Deliah would recover.  But she’d have a small lump and a gnarly scar where the fur would never grow again.  I thought her battle scars were cool.  It showed character, also, she sounded like a total badass.  

I’d move multiple times throughout my 20’s.  My bungalow house off Shelby Ave with a neon green kitchen, a doggie door, and a front porch swing.  The gorgeous tri-level home, with a big island counter in the kitchen and a huge front AND back yard for the dogs.  The perfect house for entertaining, only all my friends thought Hermitage was “too far” back then, ha!  And then eventually to my “barn” house in 12 South.  With a large screened-in porch, a pathetic little white picket fence in front, and big bedroom windows that opened up and made you feel like a princess up in her tower.  I’d acquire a list of different roommates, guys I was dating, guys I thought I was dating but actually wasn’t, a major tour, new friends I’d make, friends I thought I’d never lose but did … and Deliah & Delaney would bear witness to them all.  

With every new house, I was hopeful for the “new beginning” I assumed came with it.  But my “fresh starts” were usually short-lived.  The reality is, I was so busy stressing out over my love-life and career, I didn’t have the awareness of how badly I was treating myself.   I think a lot of women would agree … I wish I would’ve loved myself / forgiven myself / shown more grace to myself in my 20’s.  But I do know one thing for certain, I sure did love those dogs.  So any love I was withholding from myself, I poured into my making my dogs true companions.  When I needed to clear my head, they’d come along, however many miles I needed to walk or drive.  They’d hear every tear cried.  They would see the very worst days and love me through them all.

About 4-5 years ago, Deliah started having a hard time walking.  She’d struggle to get up off the floor and I didn’t know what was going on.  The vet said that the x-rays showed a benign tumor pushing down towards the back of her vertebrae, interrupting the signal from her brain to her back legs.  The vet assured me that she wasn’t in pain, but that Deliah was probably frustrated because she couldn’t understand why her back legs weren’t doing what she wanted them to do.  That entire summer, I carried her in and out of the house when she needed to go to the bathroom.  I borrowed/bought a bunch of old rugs and made a pathway around my hardwood floored house, so that she didn’t slip.  I carried her upstairs to my bedroom every night when we went to bed.  Eventually, it got much more manageable, but never a full recovery.

The move to Michigan was brutal.  It was the dead of winter and I was incredibly lonely and second-guessing everything I’ve ever done in the history of my life.  I felt like I was betraying myself by leaving Nashville.  But every night, my dogs served as the reminder of who I really was … the good I still possessed, no matter my missteps.  I mean, I’d kept them alive this long, I couldn’t be all bad, right?  Ha.  

Enter: My husband.

Delaney was/still is the crowd favorite, particularly with males.  I had a few that told me, point blank, they preferred Delaney over Deliah.  What assholes. I always slightly catered to Deliah because of the adoration the general public had for Delaney.  Jon and I had been seeing each other a month a half before I brought my dogs over to meet him and his bulldog, Stella.  Although Stella did not particularly care for her new visitors (I mean, I wouldn’t either if I had new dogs in my crib) … Jon loved them.  Both of them.  Instantly.

Six months into dating, we decided to try living together.  It was a completely foreign and terrifying experience for me at first.  I’d had roommates in the past and even lived with a couple guys before, but never in SOMEONE ELSE’S house.  It was always my place,  my sole name on the lease, my furniture, my domain.  That way, if it wasn’t working, they’d leave and I’d stay.  With or without a man.  With or without that friend/roommate. 

Now I’m moving myself & my 2 dogs into someone else’s house.  Someone else’s furniture, silverware, tacky wall decor, AND someone else’s dog who has had this man all to herself for 8 years solid.  To say this was a big life transition would be a huge understatement.  But having Deliah & Delaney helped me maintain some normalcy in this unchartered water.

Just before our one-year anniversary, I convinced him that we should get a puppy.  I wanted a baby Deliah, another Sheltie puppy.  Maybe that would help rejuvenate Deliah, make her more of a “mother hen” in her elder years.  My good intention did not pan out as smoothly as I had hoped.  Deliah was over more “life changes”, so this rambunctious puppy was not her idea of a good time.  Little did Deliah know, her last chapter would prove to be just as important as any.

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My Mom had an almost unbearably rough time between July 2016-July 2017.  She lost her two brothers less than a year apart.  When we had to put our family dog down around the same time, the void grew even more.  She kept telling us she needed another dog, but none of us thought it was a good idea.  A new dog would be a lot of work that my parents did not have the energy for, nor did they have a fenced in yard to accommodate said dog.  There wasn’t a worse idea…

Then I needed Mom to watch Deliah over the holidays.

When I came back to town a week and a half later, it was abundantly clear to me what was happening.  I watched as my Mom made cheese-toast, only to feed it all to Deliah.  Then justifying it with, “Well, if she doesn’t get scraps from me, she gets it from the food your niece flings from her high chair.  And the baby isn’t here today.”

And just like that, Mom had a new best friend.  And Deliah got to live her days being the lazy, old Grandma she’s always been.  No other dogs.  No hardwood floors.  And all the table scraps she could consume.

When we got married, having the dogs down in Tennessee with us was completely non-negotiable.  We’d struggle to find an Air BnB that allowed 3 dogs, but eventually, we found one.  Everyone was worried with how Deliah would handle the trip.  She had not ridden in the car for a long-distance trip in almost 3 years.  My family was bracing me for the worst, expecting our travel to be difficult with her and the other 2 dogs in our vehicle.  Lo and behold, it was easy and without incident.  Once we got to Kingston Springs, we all understood that Deliah wouldn’t be able to go up and down the porch steps.  Like clock-work and without hesitation, I’d lift her up, walk her down to the yard, sit with her awhile, and then carry her back into the house.  (Clearly, my mom’s cheese-toast feedings were taking place by the truck load because she weighed a ton.)  But I didn’t care.  I’d done this very thing a hundred times over in our 13 years together and I wanted to do it for her now.  She adjusted back to Tennessee right away.  She grazed along the yard, she slept heavily, she followed me with an enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in years.  My girl was happy to be home.  My wedding day was chaotic, with literally everything being a last-minute decision.  In all the craziness, the dogs almost didn’t make it to the ceremony.  I was bummed but willing to take responsibility for not organizing their transportation to and from better.  At the last second, a miracle was pulled off and the dogs were there… with a dear friend carrying my fat little Deliah, decked in a bridal tutu, down the aisle.

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Our wedding trip is how I’ll always remember the last days of Deliah.

As a lot of you already know, my husband lost his beloved bulldog, Stella, earlier this summer.  Being there for him throughout the entire process of losing Stella truly prepared me for marriage in a way I can’t fully explain.  I had never so easily stood strong for someone else before.

And less than 6 months later, he now had to stand strong for me.  Literally.  Deliah passed away in Michigan while I was in Tennessee.  He handled everything.  Including talking to her as she went and hugging my Mom when I couldn’t.  It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, but it did.  I’m so thankful for Jon.

And now, like him, I understand the gravity of losing your “first”.  It goes far beyond missing their presence, calling their name, crying over photos.  These dogs lifted us through life in the times when no one else could.  These dogs saw us through every break-up, big move, professional achievement, emotional meltdown, new love, and so on.  We mourn the journey too.  

It’s kind of poetic in a way.

I called a truce with Stella in her final days, promising to take care of Jon as good as she had.  Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the wedding.  And now, a few weeks after our wedding, my Deliah has joined her.  We believe good things happen if we keep showing up.  So I did, with Deliah by my side….and the good found me.  Thanks for seeing it through, Doodle.22008437_10159443032525581_1799044674878134136_n

 

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Happy One Year Anniversary, Ray.

Happy One Year Anniversary, Ray.

The show was starting in 20 minutes.  I had already taken up my normal post for whenever I play the Bluebird Cafe.  My preferred spot in the round is the chair that faces the big windows and the front door, so naturally I claimed it the moment I walked through the door.  I was fiddling around for my lip gloss when one of my girlfriends came up beside me.

“We really should take your photo in front of the Bluebird before the show.”

Earlier that week, this same friend had suggested to me that I should create a new Instagram account.  Something solely dedicated to my music.  Something where people could discover me as an artist and see what I’m all about.

Due to multiple delayed projects, it had been years since that kind of spotlight had been put on me, so the thought of putting it on myself seemed like a daunting task.  With the lack of anything big in the near future then, I was uncomfortable with the idea.  Also, I was unsure of how to go about any kind of “re-branding” and honestly, thought no one would actually care so I’d rather not embarrass myself.  Oh, and another big thing …

I was now going by Ray Williams.

The change came about when I was filming a docu-series in Detroit a couple years ago.  The label liked the idea of “Ray” because it suited the persona they needed to fill better than Rachel.  I mean, my friends & nephews call me “Ray Ray” so it didn’t seem like a radical change.  However, with the project still unreleased, it was a change I was open to but in no means was it ‘official’ anywhere yet. A brand new Instagram account would be the very first declaration to everybody that it was Ray, not Rachel.  It was a big deal and I almost let fear get the best of me on that one.  Eventually I let up and told her I’d be down for the experiment if she was offering to help.

One year ago today:

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I like to call this photo “If You Build It, They Will Come”, ha.

From that night on, every trip back to Nashville had one afternoon of Instagram.  My friend and I would drive around to different locations with a back seat full of clothes, shoes, and makeup, me changing right there in the car…snapping a ton of quick photos on an old iPhone.

The 1st month of the new account,  I was newly engaged and back in a snow-covered Michigan.  So I’d lock myself upstairs and sing till I had no voice, while playing guitar until my fingers didn’t work.  All in an effort to capture the perfect, one-minute video of me singing a cover song in front of my vanity lights.  And if I had clean hair that day, well, I might even record two.

And with every post (and thought-out hashtags), we started to see the followers increase.  I felt confident enough to start renaming and re-vamping the other social media accounts on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter and eventually, my website all together.

One month after The Bluebird/New Account Created:  Lyft

Around Thanksgiving of last year, I got a mass text message from Lyft.  The text called for any local drivers or passengers that are musicians to send their music in and possibly win free recording time at a new facility called MusicTown Detroit.  Considering I was always back and forth to Nashville, I didn’t need the recording time, but the submission process took about 30 seconds from my phone.  So I sent it off and didn’t think twice about it.

A week or so later, I got an email telling me that I’d be chosen as a finalist for free studio time at MusicTown Detroit.  I didn’t have a band in Michigan, I didn’t even have artist gigs up here yet.  Any musicians I knew, I knew because they played for the artist I sang backgrounds for.  But as luck would have it, the guitar player I used down in Nashville was visiting his family in Michigan for the holidays, so I was covered.  (Love you, Shane Sanders!) They filmed  & recorded the two of us performing a handful of songs acoustically in the studio and told me I should have the final video by the New Year.  The next morning, I got a call from the studio engineer telling me that some folks from Lyft saw my video footage from the day before and wanted to know if I could come play their Lyft Christmas Party … that same night.  It was so last-minute that I almost didn’t even attempt to make it happen.  Thankfully I did.  We did the show later that night and on my way out from the party, I met a couple folks from the corporate office for Lyft who wanted to talk to me about teaming up in some way in the new year.

Throughout 2018, I have represented myself in conference table meetings with one of the most popular apps in the country.  I have vocalized my vision and needs to the ones at the top of Detroit’s biggest radio stations.  I’ve been featured on Channel 7 WXYZ and Channel 4 WDIV, with no sounding board but myself.  I’ve performed for WYCD’s Hoedown at DTE Energy Music Theater, the Ford Firework Celebration, and Monday Night Football.  I’ve made two appearances on the legendary WSM 650AM and my video performances on 104.5 WOMC and 99.5’s HomeGrown Happy Hour have all surpassed 10K views each.

All of this without releasing any new music of my own.  All of this within the first 6 months of 2018.  All of this while still singing background vocals on stage for other people and recording countless demos in the studio for other songwriters.

Then came September.

Releasing my single, “Sing Me Home” was exciting in it’s own right, but coupled with a Single Release Show sponsored by Lyft, 99.5 WYCD, and MusicTown on the rooftop of Hockeytown Cafe was insanity.  The first “local artist” in Detroit to have an event partnership like that.

No pressure.

I somehow managed to keep my head above water with the techy people & the corporate folk, musicians & radio/television personalities, with no representation or management.  And you know what?  I did the damn thing.  I had a great show.  A successful release.  And I miraculously found myself a Showdown champion that was inducted into the WYCD Hall of Fame after 5 consecutive wins.

But really…

I don’t write this blog to brag about myself or boast my accomplishments, that is not my point.  (Besides, I’m still getting used to the fact that anyone would even care to read this blog right now, ha.)  I write this as a testament to the difference a year can make if you let it.  If you leap and you trust it.

I also write this to bring attention to the friend that encouraged this plunge – who still gives me social media suggestions, still drives around to snap photos of me, including the photo she took of me that night at The Bluebird Cafe exactly one year ago …

Well, she is the same girl who co-wrote “Under Your Spell” with me, and her name is Whitney Madlom.  She came to me just over a year ago because she wanted to start writing songs and didn’t know how to go about it.  Her bravery to explore a new facet of her creativity, having no prior songwriting experience, really inspired me last year and we’ve since written more than a handful of songs together.  It was her countless pep talks of me giving “the artist thing” another dedicated shot that has gotten me here… well, us here … with a song that has been viewed/played over 20K times in the last 4 days.  Surround yourself with good people, y’all.  It makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE.  Love you, girl.

So with all that being said…

Happy One Year Anniversary to Ray Williams!

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Reinvention on paper.

Reinvention on paper.

It’s midnight.

I’ve got the front window open and I can hear the rain hitting the pavement.  Usually that would put me to sleep, but for some reason, it’s inspired me to open my MacBook once again.

So again, I’m sitting where I feel like I’ve been sitting for weeks now… at my kitchen table.  With a computer screen in front of me, an iPhone that needs constant charge because it’s blowing up at all hours, and a big glass of water.  My fiancé finally went to bed and says, “Babe.  The show’s over.  You can take some time off.”

I shoot him a look that’s both comedic and sympathetic.  Because him and I both know that there will be no “time off” for either of us anytime soon.

September has been a whirlwind of music and wedding preparations (or lack thereof, so more like “wedding talk”).  From coordinating musicians for gigs, to all sorts of meeting downtown, recording sessions, radio interviews and showdowns, to releasing my single, living on social media to promote release and shows, putting out fires all across the board: music-technology breakdowns-family-friends-fiance THEN we have bridal showers and my birthday and my bachelorette party, constant questions about center-pieces & party favors, and dress fittings and I JUST NEED SOMEONE TO FILL IN FOR ME.  Haha. But really 😉

People are surprised I’m handling it all as well as I am.  To be honest, I’m just handling what’s in front of me… and music was first so it’s gotten my full attention.  It’s been a hard thing for a lot of my family/friends to come to terms with … that I could be so completely focused on music with a wedding just weeks ago.  (To clarify, it’s in less than 2 weeks now.).

Launching myself again as an artist has always been the goal, it’s always been the calling.  I had no idea that the Universe would conspire to make it a reality literally TWO WEEKS before my wedding.  But…”when it rains it pours”…in all the best possible ways, for once.

After yesterday’s successful Single Release Show, I see things clearer.  First of all, there’s no way I could be happy not doing music.  Secondly, the love I’ve received from everyone coupled with the emotions I’ve felt are thankfully less overwhelming knowing that I have someone to absorb it all with me.  It’s not a balance between music and the wedding.  It’s a balance between music and my relationship.  The wedding will happen, with or without the perfect party favors or a majestic bouquet, or ties that match perfectly with dresses, blah blah blah.

The most important thing that will happen: Jon and I get married.

I’m sitting here, reflecting on what the last 10 days have felt like… and how I’m going to have to make the shift mentally in order to make the next 10 days a success.

The last 10 days have seen me the most stressed and exhausted I’ve ever felt, but also the happiest, the most humbled, and just genuinely grateful I’ve been in a very long time. From rallying everyone to vote for me in the WYCD Showdown and WINNING 5 nights in the a row…all the way to the Hall of Fame!  Then with preparations for the Single Release Party, and the reality of how many people were involved and what a big production it was going to be.  To rehearsing with the band for the first time…hearing the songs from a record that almost everyone had given up on ever being released…come back to life again in the span of one evening.  The press, the tweets, the comments, the shares, the photos that everyone shared in support of me and my “little song that could”…it has truly blown my mind.

I wrote these songs while living in Nashville, hoping for something different but not knowing what it looked like.  I knew I wanted to pay homage to Detroit because it is a huge part of me that I felt was never truly represented in my music.  So we made it happen.  Little did I know, I’d be foreshadowing my return to Motor City.  Little did I know that the love of my life AND a career resurrection was waiting for me in the exact place I thought I had to leave in order to attain it.  It fills my heart to give thanks to what a full circle moment all of this has been.

My birthday was September 22nd.  Three birthdays ago, I was a miserable mess.  I took myself solo from Nashville to New York City for my birthday week, just so I could escape everyone and the life I couldn’t seem to find happiness in.  I was strolling the streets one morning and decided that I needed a new journal…you know, since “this year” was going to be different, I didn’t need to write new chapters in an old book.  I bought a journal at a local bookstore and found the nearest coffee shop to sit down and start writing in it immediately.  And I’ve been writing in it ever since.

Last birthday, I got engaged.

This birthday, I spent an amazing day with my fiancé and gave so much praise to God for all the tiredness and stress and love and affirmation I’d received that year, and most certainly, that week.

When I sat down this morning to write about all the excitement of the weekend, I saw that I’m on the final few pages of the journal now.

I find no coincidence in the fact that I documented my biggest life transitions, my personal growth, finding love and figuring out how to keep it, my prayers for myself and my family, my musical frustrations and accomplishments… all in 3 years.

From complete hot mess to matrimony & new music. All in one journal.

And now, I get to start a new journal in a few more pages.  As a wife.  As an artist.   Two things that I truly almost gave up on believing would ever happen for me.  And even though there’s a part of me that still can’t believe this is really my life right now…

I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.  For once I can say that and believe it with everything I have.  And many thanks for helping me get here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truce.

Truce.

It’s 8:15AM on a Wednesday.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, right beside our big front window with an iced coffee, our little boring street serving as the perfect morning backdrop for some writing.  Straight ahead of me, our three dogs are sleeping on the couch.  I keep a watchful eye on them, one in particular.

I know that I should write now because in less than 12 hours, our lives will more than likely be completely changed.  And if/when it comes, I won’t be able to write the story I want to share right now, in this moment, because my grief will take over and tell a much sadder story.  But as of right now, I’ve got three girls snoring on the couch, coffee, and more composure than I had yesterday, so here we go…

Let me tell you about a beautifully complex relationship I have.  Some may refer to it as a “love-hate” relationship…I’d always call it a “love-I don’t particularly like you” thing.   Regardless, it’s been our shtick for the last 2 and a half years and we’ve grown more than used to it.  Never has a dynamic made me more grateful or more annoyed, I think, ever.

The “tug-of-war” between me & a 10 and a half year old English Bulldog that hung the moon and the stars for the man who promised me forever.

Let me tell you about a girl named Stella.

Stella has been with my fiancé since Day 1.  He got her with an awful ex-girlfriend down in Florida.  (I’m not bitter, she’s just awful.)  When they broke up, Jon pleaded for the dog.  So the ex said she’d only give him 100% custody of Stella if she could take every single piece of furniture in the condo they shared with her, forks and the toilet paper roll included.  Jon agreed.  He then proceeded to sleep on the floor, in a dog bed beside Stella, for God knows how many days until finally his friends told him he was being pathetic and drove him to a mattress store for a bed.

From there on out, it was Jon and Stella.  The very best of friends.  He took her absolutely everywhere with him, off the leash, the ultimate sidekick.  He never stopped dotting on her or talking about her in those few and far between times that she wasn’t right beside him.  His friends knew, he family knew…this was his ride-or-die.  When another major relationship came and went, leaving him down, his biggest comfort/support was Stella.  There was always Stella.  

When Jon got talked into moving back to Michigan 4 years ago to help his family with his father’s business, Stella set off for the adventure with him.  A move from Florida to Michigan was a very tough adjustment, as you can imagine.  But living solo in a rental home less than a mile from his family’s shop didn’t seem quite as depressing when he was coming home to Stella.  When his old friends all had new lives and Jon didn’t feel like he quite fit in, he still had Stella.  When he went on one bad Friday night date after another with a random Tinder girl, he got to come home to Stella.

That’s where I come in…

Like all great love stories, Jon and I met on Tinder.

He’d been living back in Michigan for over a year when we first met.  I had been back in Michigan less than 2 weeks.  (Clearly, I waste no time.)

I remember our first few dates, him talking about Stella and showing me photos.  I relocated from Nashville with my 2 doggie daughters, Deliah and Delaney, so I found it adorable that here was a single guy that was so good to his dog.  Around our 5th or 6th date, I took him up on his invitation to cook me dinner and went over to his house for the very first time.

The first time I met Stella kinda felt like walking into a batting cage and having the pitching machine malfunction.  Let’s just say, she required a lot of attention, ha.  The moment I sat down, she was pushing slobbery toys into my lap, growling like a ferocious alley dog, not letting Jon come near me without standing or sitting in between us.  He cooked her fillet to eat before he completed our meal of salmon.  When sitting on the couch, he sat on the inside corner, putting his arm around me.  Stella, who was sitting up as straight as possible on the couch directly beside me, faced us and made me feel like “personal space” was not her thing.  While she was being pet with the same arm that Jon had around me, I started to develop motion sickness and requested to trade places the second half of the movie.  Romantic, I know.  It was right around this time that I started to put it together…this dog was not going to lay down without a fight.

A few dates later, I would soon realize that if I thought my problem was just a possessive dog, I was mistaken.  My problem was also an obsessive dog owner… yes, you read that right.  There is such a thing as loving your dog a little too much.

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Full disclosure, a girl he had gone out with a few times before me had actually used Stella as the excuse when saying she couldn’t see him anymore.  So I mean, the connection is real…as is witnessing it, ha.  And truth be told, I had many conversations with my family and close friends early on, when I was describing how over-the-top amazing this new guy I’ve been seeing was but…that I really didn’t think it was going to work out…because of his dog.

If I knew anything, it’s that one must never feel they have to choose between someone and their dog.  If you didn’t like my Deliah or Delaney, you were out, plain & simple.  (I’ve honestly broken up with dudes that yelled at/seemed annoyed by my dogs.). So I was cautious.  I waited another handful of dates to bring up my concerns.  When I did, he thought I was joking.  What, a guy who loves his dog too much?  There could be worse things, you know.

Yes, there could be worse things.

Like breaking up over a dog.

He soon understood that compromises had to be made in order to have both a happy girlfriend and a dog.  Thankfully he found me worth it.  And I tried SO hard those first 6 months to be patient.  The hardest sacrifice was kicking Stella out of the bed.  You know how when you sleep beside a little kid and it’s like they are the hands of a clock…somehow they do an entire body rotation throughout the night, kicking you in the face, vagina, and everywhere else?  Well, imagine if that kid was also snoring and blowing farts in it’s sleep.  Now imagine if you were sleeping next to two of them.

So yes, I was adamant about the dog-less bed.

As time went on, I’d like to tell you that Stella and I forged an inseparable bond.  But not quite.  When I moved my two dogs into the house, it took some adjusting.  She didn’t want to eat for me.  Or go for walks with me.  Only for her Daddy.  She was like an emotional ninja.  She knew how to play it.  Correction, she still knows how to play it.

I’d always laugh when I’d describe it to people, “We have a very stepmom/stepchild thing going on here.  I love you but I don’t get you so let your father deal with it.”

When discussing our wedding coming up this October, I joked and said, “We should have the bridal march play and send Stella down the aisle in a veil.  Everyone would lose their shit.”  They would because EVERYONE that knows Jon would get it.

But unfortunately for all of us, the reality of that is very slim.

Stella fell ill on Saturday afternoon and was rushed to the emergency vet.  After almost 2 full days in an oxygen chamber, being pumped with fluids and antibiotics, we were told that she would not recover.  The fluid they found in the x-ray on Saturday had spread by the next day and they feared it was heart disease.  She has an intestinal blockage that requires surgery, however, with this fluid around her heart, she wouldn’t survive the surgery.

Monday was one of the hardest days I can recall in recent memory.  Death seemed swift and unforgiving and we weren’t prepared for any of it.  The vet advised putting her down rather than putting her through the surgery.

How could this be?  We just had her at the lake less than a week ago.  She was playing with her sisters in the yard the day before.  Jon takes her to the vet every few months for nothing more than to hear, once again, what an outstandingly healthy dog she is for her age.  We feed her the best foods, she’s on heart worm medication.  How is this even possible?

The vet told us the surgery would cost $3,000.  We’d already paid over that to stabilize her at the emergency vet over the weekend.  No one ever wants to feel like they’re putting a price-tag on their child, but the mere thought of going broke and having her die on an operating table was something I knew we couldn’t live with.

So we brought her home Monday afternoon.

It is now 11:04am.  

I tried to take a breather from crying and head to a kickboxing class.  However, I kept having to run back into the house, forgetting one more thing before I pulled out of the driveway.  So now I’ll just stay here.

I beckoned Stella off the couch (where she’s been in a napping coma all morning) to come outside.  She immediately jumped off on her own, walked to the back door, and found the nearest stick in the backyard and started chewing.  It has now been almost an hour later and we are still outside.  Tugging on the new toy I bought her a couple days ago.  Soaking up sunshine on the little deck Jon built the other week while I was in Nashville.

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The hardest thing about all of this is that some hours, she seems like she always has… a playful, toy possessive, give me all the belly rubs girl.  Other times, we feel like we have to check to make sure she’s breathing.

The emotional rollercoaster of this is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

We take her to the vet this afternoon for one final x-ray and both of us have accepted what we might have to do by the end of the day.

I will say this though…no matter if this is her last day with us or whether we have more, it is a blessing.  The despair we felt Monday morning after the vet told us our options compared to what I feel in this current moment are night and day.  Even if it was only a few extra days, it was more time than we thought we had a few days ago and I am so incredibly thankful.

My heart truly has expanded in it’s brokenness throughout all this.

I have always loved Jon.  I will always love Jon.  Forever does not scare me in the least.  But in the last few days, I’ve physically felt this love deepen.

What once was obnoxious is now gut-wrenchingly special.  I know he’s absorbing every slobbery kiss, butt wiggle, belly rub, every compliment she gets to hear him tell her.  He keeps reiterating how this dog saved him from the lowest of lows.  I already know this, but I listen and nod anyway.   I can relate.  If I didn’t have my Deliah and Delaney when I plummeted to rock bottom time and time again years ago, I don’t know what I would have done.  There was something about being able to cry to my dogs, having them in the room with me when the loneliness felt unbearable.  But there was a difference between Jon and I.  I’ve always had close family and friends rally around me, I’ve always a shoulder to cry on, whether I took it or not is another story.  But there were times in Jon’s life where he truly only had Stella to get him through.  And thankfully, she did just that.

I am forever indebted to this 65 pound, wrinkly faced, fart machine of a dog.

As sure as Jon gave her a wonderful life, she ensured that I had the best place to land when I finally found it.  His love is as close to unconditional as I’ve known (from someone outside of my family, of course) and I know that is because of Stella.

In a weirdly poetic way, I feel like Stella and I have come to the ultimate understanding.

A truce.

I acknowledge that she made him the loving human he is.  That she brought him out of the darkest times in order to not just survive it, but be better for it.  To be ready and waiting and willing for my crazy ass to walk in and change everything.

And she understands that Jon doesn’t need her to be the only thing that gets him through anymore.  He has me so he’ll never be alone again.  He’s in good hands.

Jon and I have both suffered some major losses and some very close calls in our short time together, but I have no doubt that this will be one of the toughest things we’ll ever go through.  And for the first time, maybe ever, I understand what it’s like to truly hold someone up and love them through it.  To deeply hurt for someone else.  To be a rock.  To be a true partner.

So I guess we can add that to the list of what Stella Robocop Drouillard has done.

She made a wife out of me.  

Truce, you “angel from Heaven”.

I love you, Stella.

xoxoxo

The luckiest Stepmom ever

 

THE LATEST:  9:30PM

We went to a different vet around 3:45PM, where we sat in a small, claustrophobic room for over 2 hours.  The anxiety was excruciating, waiting in a 4 x 4 room for what we’d prepared ourselves for…the worst news.

The vet told us that the mass had moved, but still had not passed.  That because Stella was still drinking/eating and not getting sick, clearly things were moving around the obstruction, so that was not her primary problem.  The problem is her heart.  With a thorough physical exam but without an “official” cardiologist diagnosis, our vet seems certain that Stella has AFib.

When she recommended a cardiologist to work with to possibly prolong Stella’s life another 6 months or so, we both declined.  No one, including Stella, needs to go through more tests and procedures and medical bills.  When the vet saw us start to cry in our conflict over putting an outwardly healthy-looking/acting dog down…she took it to heart.  She offered to prescribe Stella some heart medication, despite not being a cardiologist, that may or may not help, but regardless, won’t do anything to hurt Stella’s condition.

We were speechless, overcome with gratitude.

She told us, “If you told me she wasn’t eating & drinking.  That she wasn’t able to move around or seemed in pain, I’d tell you different.  But she’s tugging ropes and wagging her tail at me right now.  I wouldn’t feel right about putting this dog down either.  She’s tough.  She doesn’t want to die yet.”

And just like that…we got more time.

Might not be much more than a week or two, but it’s more.  And we’ll take it.

Thank you for your prayers and your support.

And yes, our truce still stands 😉

365 long short days later…

365 long short days later…

Dear Uncle Mike,

I don’t know how to start this letter.  If I’m being truthful, just the thought of writing it had my stomach hurting all morning.  It’s one thing to think these thoughts internally, pray my prayers in the morning…but I can physically feel the weight on my chest as I write it out.  My hope is, I’ll write it, others will read it, some will know exactly what I’m feeling, and the weight will be lightened because it’s shared.

There are still tears.  Just about everyday.  I don’t mean to cry,  I certainly don’t want to, but I do.  Alone.  I’d like to say that it hurts less, but if it does, it’s only slightly.  I guess the only difference is that I don’t break down sobbing everyday now.  Just tears.  Tears that I quickly wipe away before anyone catches me because crying isn’t my thing.  I guess there’s a part of me that feels embarrassed that I can’t keep it together when I think of you, one year later.  It’s like, we’ve seen or heard some people, so reflective and peaceful about death.  Their words and demeanor, it’s comforting and reassuring.  They speak about how they smile when they think of their departed one, how they see signs/reminders from their lost loved one…it makes you almost believe that you too can be this person.  Like it’s attainable to reach that point.

I am not at that point.

The sadness is still very real and very present.

I know that’s not what you intended when you left.  I know it hurts your heart, watching how hard we’ve taken it.  Aunt Susie.  My Mom.  Everyone.  And I don’t mean to make you feel sorry for going.  I know the alternative wasn’t what any of us wanted either.  No one wanted to see you in pain.  No one wanted to see you small and defeated.  Not when we knew/know who you really are.

You’re a lion.

I’m so sorry for the years that passed when our communication wasn’t as frequent as it should have been.  I was a stupid girl, living her early 20’s with her priorities all out of order, and the delusion that her people would always be around.  I regret every visit home, up to Michigan from Nashville, that I didn’t come see you or at least call you.  Every time you heard from my mom that your goddaughter was in town for the weekend …after the fact…  I’d give anything to undo that.

Thank you for loving me and supporting me anyway.  Thank you for still asking Mom about me.  Thank you for being my first big donation when I fearfully launched a Kickstarter campaign to record an album.  An album that I am SO thankful you finally got to listen to before you left.

Thank you for being there for my Mom.  I know it was your support that got her through some of her most difficult times.  I’m very grateful that I have a brother to talk me through life too.  (And sisters, of course.).  Thank you for the reminders, even when I was frustrated and complaining, “I hear you, but it doesn’t matter.  That’s your mother.”  I now see that you said that not only because it’s true and you loved your baby sister, but because you would’ve given anything for the opportunity to be “frustrated and complaining” about your mother again.  I’m sorry it took decades to get it but I get it.

I feel blessed that we reconnected before everything went wrong.  Before Uncle Corky. Before your diagnosis.  It’s the only solace I really find after your death…that I knew how important my relationship with you was before it was threatened.  And in that reconnection, you got to meet Jon.  You got to see the beginning.  The start of a better life and of a better Rachel.  Although you didn’t know, I didn’t know, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t know then either just how good him & I would turn out to be.  I wish you were going to be sitting right beside Aunt Susie at my wedding.  I’d give anything to hear your thunderous voice make jokes about how I better sprint down the aisle before Jon changes his mind.  Because we all know you’d say it, ha.

I can’t believe it’s been an entire year.  It’s been both the longest and shortest year of my life.  So much has happened since March 24, 2017 and yet, I can remember every detail of this time last year.  The weeks leading up to it, the weeks that followed…how when we left the hospital room that night, I was so sure you were going to miraculously pull through despite how dire it looked.  How I went out to celebrate Fat Tuesday in Hamtramck a few weeks prior, leaving you a semi-buzzed message on your answering machine.  I just wanted you to know how ridiculously Polish I felt that day because I thought you’d get a kick out of it and be proud.  And you were.  You always brought me back to my roots, whether you meant to or not.  And despite the deaths and the distance on the Polish side of our family, it’s still half of who I am.  And I feel it’s pulse stronger in my veins now than ever.  I know that’s you.

This year I celebrated Fat Tuesday at Polish Village again.  I raised a glass to you and tried desperately to recreate last year’s experience.  Consequently, it fell short.

There is no going back.

There’s a huge part of me that feels guilty in moving forward, like it means you weren’t here.  If I feel that way, I can only imagine how Aunt Susie, your son, your sisters must feel.  But again, I know you most certainly don’t want the alternative for any of us either.  Stagnate.  Or declining.  Constantly sad or guilt-ridden.

So a year later… I can’t promise not to go there, but I can promise not to stay there.  And maybe that’s good enough for now.  Staying sad a little less each day.

Tonight, a big group of Siniarskis will assemble for our first family gathering that didn’t involve a wedding or a funeral in a long time.  I’ll be proud to sit with them.  I’ll be proud to honor you.  And we will save you a seat…and a pierogi.

Say Hi to everyone for me.

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Messy

Messy

One week ago.

Sunday morning.

I woke up in my own bed for the first time in 8 days.  My bags that had been unloaded from my frozen over car the night before, awaiting me still by the kitchen door.  After an 8 hour drive home in a snowstorm, hauling my belongs upstairs to unpack was low on the “to do” list that morning.  So while my fiancé slept in, I made a pot of coffee and unpacked my essentials onto the kitchen table.

Journal.  Pen.  Jesus Calling.  MacBook.  Library book.  Note pad.

Between the early morning sunlight coming through the kitchen window and the fresh bouquet of roses he had gotten me the night before, the ambiance of my “work space” swelled my heart.  So much so that I tried to capture it’s peaceful perfection with a photo.

 

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I dove into my quiet time by writing my first blog entry of 2018.  A long stream of consciousness that explored my previous week in Nashville.

I discussed how I felt out of place with familiar friends in scenarios I’d been in hundreds of times before.  How I was no longer emotionally drained from but just tired of seeing/hearing people I love making excuses for other people and being unhappy.  How grateful I was for the perspective from “this side”…a side that I feel I barely survived long enough to make it to and now that I’m on it, I’m as alive as I’ve ever been.

And where I’ll quote the blog entry I wrote last Sunday (but never published) and this one that I am writing now is when I said…

“It’s funny, really.  I was so ready to get back to Nashville as soon as possible.  Thanks to the holidays, I had been in Michigan for 40 days straight.  The restlessness was real.  I was starting to feel like my days were not my own anymore.  Like my “job” was to drive 45 miles each way to help my family out with whatever they needed that day, no matter how big of a deal it was or how mundane.  I was ready to put some distance between us.  

My car and I weren’t within the Nashville city limits more than 10 minutes before it felt like my timing was completely wrong.  I was supposed to be in Michigan.”

I drove into Nashville early on a Friday evening.  I had seen my Granny the night before and promised to call her once I got to Nashville so that she wouldn’t worry about me.  I was driving down Interstate 40 when I called.  She answered the phone and it sounded like she was gasping for air.  She couldn’t get any words out.  I immediately hung up the phone and called my family to get over there.  When my aunt arrived less than 10 minutes later, an ambulance was right behind her.  She’d had what they thought was an asthma attack.  Her first real one.  So new to all of us, in fact, that no one could locate her inhalers because my Granny was so insistent that “they don’t work”.  Once her breathing calmed down and her vitals came up normal, EMS left and my family sat with her awhile with the promise to take her to see her doctor next week.  They assured me she was OK.

I, however, was not OK.

To make matters even worse, the very next day, my mother was fit in for a last-minute surgery.  Her second one since Thanksgiving.  Nothing life-threatening, but still requiring a few days in the hospital.

The rest of the weekend, the rest of the week, really, just dragged on.  I didn’t want to be there.  At all.  I wanted to be home.  Music.  My friends.  Being out and about in my city.  All of it felt as trivial as an Instagram “like”…

My phone blew up daily.  Updates from family members.  Check-ins with Granny.  Check-ins with Mom.  Walking siblings through some huge life decisions.  My “job” of my family followed me over 500 miles south.  I wasn’t off the hook.  And I couldn’t have been more grateful.  I concluded my blog with some bullet points of things I learned in that week away…the last one being…

  • Family is everything.  Without them, none of this matters.

So after my 8 days in Nashville (and being held captive an extra day thanks to the winter storm), I drove back on a Saturday.  My very first stop once I crossed the Michigan state line was to Romulus.  To sit on the floor by my Granny’s recliner.  To hold her hand.  To smother her in kisses.  To jokingly tell her she doesn’t have to scare us all with a medical emergency to get me to come back to her faster.

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So let’s go back to last week.

Sunday morning.

Peaceful.  Quiet.  Contemplative.  Thankful to be home.  Writing, reading, drinking coffee and looking out the window.  Everything felt good again.

Later on that day, the Williams’ met for dinner at Olive Garden to celebrate my mom’s birthday.  I got to kiss on my nephews and niece.  Hug my parents.  Stuff myself with pasta and go home to enjoy a lazy night of Netflix with my fiancé that was over a week overdue at this point.

Then the phone rang.

My Aunt Kathy was rushing my Granny up to Urgent Care because Granny couldn’t breathe again.  Then… They are admitting her to the hospital.  We are about to drive her up there.  Then…she is going by ambulance because it isn’t safe to personally transport her without her on oxygen.

Even simply typing this right now, I can still hear the ringing in my ears.

Pneumonia.  

At 90 years old, you cannot catch pneumonia.

I knew that.

We all know that.

And just like that, a bomb exploded on my “peaceful perfection”.

I spent the next 6 days living in hospital room 553…

…sleeping on a window seat “bed” (gym mat) with a paper thin blanket to protect me from the drafty window I was pressed against.  Waking up every hour on the hour while a whole roster of nurses and techs came in to check whatever it was they needed to check whenever they needed to check it.  Holding her up when she’d cough her lunges out, her back and ribs aching so badly that she couldn’t get comfortable again for hours.  Watching them stick needles and IVs and leave bruises all over her frail and aged arms.  Helping her in the bathroom and making jokes so that she wouldn’t feel embarrassed.  Spraying down and brushing her hair when she got self conscious about her “bed head”. Trying to be the translator between her and the nurses because she couldn’t hear them 80% of the time.  Helping set up and clean up every meal they brought to her.  Staying quiet in the corner while she desperately tried to catch a nap whenever she could.  Kissing her forehead a dozen times in a day.

**Now this is not to say that other family members did not dedicate long days up there as well.  Because they did.  I was just the one who took it upon themselves to take up residence in the room too, ha.  **

Messy.

Our days.  Our heads.  Our hearts.

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Tried to write what I was feeling and couldn’t.  Tried to learn dozens of songs for a rehearsal that I never made it to.  Tried to text and email people back but didn’t know what to say.  How could I plan anything…meetings, shows, studio, work-outs, dinner with my fiancé…when I really didn’t know what was going to happen.

Thanks to the good Lord above, her lunges cleared up.  She started to get better.

Once she could walk down the hall with a walker, maintaining an average oxygen level, they let her go home.

She is tired.  She is beat up.

She is a fighter who’s still fighting.

There are a lot more things to figure out and a lot of hard conversations to have amongst ourselves and with Granny.  Some tough questions to ask ourselves, when we’re alone and processing.  A reality that will be difficult to accept, but is already here nonetheless.  A reality that is thankfully far less crushing than the alternative, so I’ll take it.

I performed with a band in Detroit last night and tried to stay in the moment the best I could, trying to remind myself that this is what I do when I’m not obsessing over my Grandma, haha.  I was blown away by the support from the musicians and even some people in the crowd that had heard or read on Facebook about my Granny.

One woman in particular said, “At 90 years old, every day is a blessing.”

I’m so thankful for more days.

I’ll gladly take the “messy” …

Just give me more days.

 

 

 

The ‘hood’ that raised us

The ‘hood’ that raised us

I’ll start this post off with a simple “Thank you” to whoever is reading this.

Whether it’s been a random call or text to say Hi, a congratulations on my engagement, leaving a comment on a video I posted, or coming up to me after a show… I’m thankful (and still socially awkward with compliments) for a view of my world from an outside perspective.

If you know me, you know I don’t take myself very seriously.  I’m never without some sarcastic or witty remark on social media or in the middle of telling you a ridiculous story, complete with comedic pauses and exaggerated facial expressions.

I feel like I was born an open book.

However, lately I have not felt like opening up about much.  It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

I’ve attended 2 funerals in less than a month’s time.  An absolute pillar of my world was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, my faith and fear all rolled up into a little ball, resting like a constant lump in my throat. My mother was in and out of the hospital all around Thanksgiving (she’s home and recovering now).  And we just came up on the one year anniversary of my fiancé’s best friend passing…needless to say, the emotional rollercoaster has been running to the extreme lately.

So, in all that, I’ve completely thrown myself into fitness classes and book-reading and learning songs that are easily played using the only 4 chords I’m good at…anything that I can control in the midst of what feels like chaos of the brain.

This here little blog of mine is where I process.

So here it goes…

I grew up in Belleville, Michigan. First, in a small ranch-style home, nestled in the most pot-hole-ridden neighborhood behind a family dinner.  I made my very first friends there. I learned how to ride a bike in treacherous terrain. There was a church at the end of my street where I loved to sneak into the “secret garden” to play. (Once I was older, I learned my “secret garden” was actually used to sprinkle ashes of deceased church members. Not creepy at all.)

When I was 8 years old, my family bought a “lot” in a brand new subdivision, Harbour Point. It was on the other side of Belleville Lake and sat directly beside the high school. I vividly remember Dad driving us across town each week to see the updates on the house-building process. When it was nothing but a frame, he’d point out, “This is the kitchen…This is the bathroom…etc.” We took photos with disposable cameras of me standing in what would eventually be my bedroom. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

When we finally moved in, there was only a handful of other completed homes in the subdivision. The rest of the neighborhood? The ultimate ‘playground’.

Dug out basements to jump in and out of, huge piles of stacked up A-frames to hide in, Port-A-Potties (for the construction workers) with vulgar doodles all over them, crazy “puddles” that were the size of ponds when it rained and made excellent ice skating rinks when they froze over, a wooded area in the very back where we’d pretend to survive in the wilderness.  All the half-built homes were ours to invade once the workers went home, kicking their empty beer and soda cans across incomplete rooms.  Giant dirt hills were the ultimate to climb up and play on, making for endless sledding options in the winter.  Our imaginations ran completely wild in this “oasis” of adventure. Looking back on it now, I don’t know how all of us kids weren’t severely injured/in need of a tetanus shot every other day. I would never allow my hypothetical child to play in those danger zones now, ha. But back then… it was everything.

Being that I am the oldest of 4, my siblings were fairly little when we moved into our new digs. Their very first friends in life lived within a 6 house radius. Their first bus stop was at the end of our driveway, where all the kids from the neighborhood would congregate. Kids barely bigger than their backpacks.

I can remember walking down the street, trying to wrangle up my sisters and brother for dinner, their bikes always dispersed in someone’s yard. Whether they were currently at that house or not was irrelevant to them.  Each kid had their sidekick(s) in the neighborhood.  You know, constantly at each other’s house, in the same grade, taking band class together, and so on. No other girl in Harbour Point was quite my age, they fell either a couple years younger or 3-5 years older. It’s funny what a huge difference that can make once you start middle school.  I never quite “fit in” with a neighborhood crew, which of course, planted seeds of insecurity in an already awkward time of life. While they had sleepovers and pool parties and got asked to babysit other neighborhood kids, I found solace in my school friends and music. Looking back, I now see that being more of a “loner” only helped  my singing obsession as a kid.  Also, why my siblings are, to this day, my very best friends.  (My siblings, on the other hand, would never say I was their best friend growing up. Ha!)

My little brother had 2 best friends in the neighborhood. Kyle, who lived directly across the street, and Jesse Johnson, who lived down the block. Garrett was NEVER without at least one of them by his side. The 3 of them were always making big plans for something…constructing elaborate forts, trying to con my dad into giving them permission when both of the other dads had already said “No”, choreographing Star Wars battles in the backyard, and all the other adorable and obnoxious things that little boys do. I was always the one sent up the street to retrieve my brother from Jesse’s house.  A lot of times his sister, Sam, would answer the door. She was probably the closest in age to me and was always super sweet to us Williams kids.  However, she was best friends with a couple girls in the neighborhood that I always seemed to be at odds with, so we never really hung out. I cringe/belly laugh when I recall the hilarious & petty “enemy lines” that so easily get drawn when you’re a kid. No real reason behind it, most times you forgive and forget after a day.  You’re just oblivious to life beyond your driveway.

I’d like that oblivion back right now. And if you grew up anything like me, I’m betting you want it back too.  We all come from our own “Harbour Point”.

My brother’s childhood best friend, Jesse Johnson, the blonde-headed and funny face-making kid from up the street, passed away last week.

He was 26.

This is a hard one to wrap my brain around.
I know I’m not alone on that.

His memorial over the weekend was surreal. Surreal to be mourning the 26 year old that was gone, when I so distinctly remember him as the little kid up the street. I don’t know that I’d seen Jesse since him and my brother graduated high school.  Observing the memory boards with him and Garrett…from 5 year olds on bikes to teenagers on stage, starring in high school productions…it felt like swallowing a brick.  Surreal to be reunited with my younger siblings’ friends and old neighbors from “the hood” and realize that everyone didn’t stay 10 years old. Everyone is grown and half recognizable.  It made me feel even more shocked by everything.  And old.

I’ve cried for my brother, the one who “gets me” more than anyone in this world, and for whom I cannot muster up anything enlightening or comforting to say.  I cry for his childhood memories that are now bittersweet & for the guilt I know he feels for having lost touch with Jesse the last few years.  I cry for Jesse’s parents, because this is just unfathomable. His mom was a secretary at my middle school. I’ll never forget when my mother was sick with a vitamin deficiency and had to be hospitalized.  I kept having meltdowns in the middle of class and wanting to call my Grandma to get updates. I was 11 years old and could sense the other people in the office growing impatient with me leaving class just to use the office phone. But Jesse’s mom understood and let me use it every time. I’ll always remember that.  I cry for Jesse’s sister, Sam, and I pray to God on my hands and knees that I never have to feel what she’s feeling. I could not lose my sisters or my brother. I can’t even bring myself to imagine it.

I’m broken-hearted for the kid in us all that thought we would live forever.

As adults, we know better. We won’t live forever, but we still think we have time.

It’s truly ironic that one hour before I learned of Jesse’s passing, I was reading the day’s devotional from Jesus Calling about thankfulness.
“A thankful attitude opens windows of heaven. As you look up with a grateful heart. you get glimpses of Glory through those windows. You cannot yet live in heaven, but you can experience foretastes of your ultimate home.”

I then proceeded to write in my journal that morning about how there has been a lot of loss and illness to process this year, but that I was grateful. My exact words were…“I’m so thankful that I still have time to make it right.”

Those words make me ache right now.
The hundreds of cliché sayings about letting people know how you feel before it’s too late, chasing the dream, forgiving, living life to the fullest…it’s all true. We lived it so unapologetically as children, with our bravery/creativity/vulnerability fluctuating as we grew up into adults.

But here’s the thing… We were all that kid conquering dirt hills once. We just find our uphill climbs more exhausting than adventurous now.  But we couldn’t be who we are today without being the child version first.  jesse

If I can take one thing away from this tragic loss it’s this…

May we cherish not only the kid we used to be, but honor the kid that still lives in us.  Trust me, they’re still in there.