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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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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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.

 

 

Light the Night.

http://pages.lightthenight.org/mi/AnnArbor17/RWilliams

When I was 7 years old, my best friend was diagnosed with leukemia.  Of course, being so young, I had no idea what that meant.  But I could tell by the look on my parents’ faces and her parents’ faces, it wasn’t good.  Elizabeth and I met in pre-school.  Shortly after, our mothers got us involved in the same dance company, where we would drive out to New Boston…her and I being the youngest girls in the class.  We were ballerinas one day and gymnasts the next, all the while having no actual clue what we were doing…simply following whoever’s lead to whatever Disney song we were to perform to.  One of my fondest memories is when we were backstage for our very 1st dance recital.  Our mothers were fluffing our hair and applying our makeup and calming our nerves.  My mom said as she was leaving us backstage, just a few songs away from taking the stage, “I’m going to leave some makeup right here for you, if you think you need a touch up on your lipstick.”  Needless to say, as 6 year old girls we DEFINITELY thought we needed a self-imposed “touch-up”…lipstick, blush, blue eyeshadow.  The whole works.

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Sleepovers and pool parties and dance class and then, all of a sudden…she was sick.  And just like that, her long hair that nearly to the ground was gone.  Then it was us in matching head scarves as we learned to roller blade in my driveway.  The slumber parties started to decrease and the worry in her mother’s face was more apparent.

We had just moved into our brand new house.  My bedroom was all pink except for this old, ugly recliner that used to be my grandpa’s, sitting against my window.  I remember being asleep and hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night.  I sat straight up in my bed and waited for any kind of sound to follow.  My mother came in a few minutes later, sat me on her lap in that hideous recliner and broke the news to me that Elizabeth had passed away.  I remember sobbing until I was sick.  It was a week before my 9th birthday.

I can recall being paranoid throughout her battle and after her death.  I was in grade school, reading fiction chapter books about teenaged girls fighting cancer.  I took every bruise, every time I brushed my teeth too hard my gums bled as a sure-sign symptom that I too had leukemia.  Thankfully, I did not.

A  couple years later, my Uncle Joe, my mother’s oldest brother, was diagnosed with leukemia.  At this pointIMG_5700, I felt more prepared with what to expect.  I knew it’d be hard.  I knew he’d go bald.  That was as far as I got in my “mental prep” before he too passed away.

It was around that same time that Elizabeth’s father, Bob, relapsed and fell ill with leukemia.  We lost him too.  I can still remember sitting at their house after the memorial, not taking my eyes off her mom and her little brother.  It was at this point, not even a teenager yet, that I started to understand the frailty of life.

I’d lose more people to cancer in the years to come and they’d all hurt.  They’d all seem unfair.  But the “leukemia cloud” would seem the darkest.

Last summer, my godfather, Uncle Mike, was abruptly diagnosed with leukemia, just weeks after we lost his brother to liver cancer.

I’ve written about this before but holy shit…writing about it again still feels like repeated punches to my chest.  (As I’m currently sobbing off my eyelash extensions and pouring more wine.)

I was so sure he was going to beat it.  I really was.  It had been 20 years since this disease left it’s 1st hole in my life, surely we’ve come so much further now… He wasn’t a small child.  He was my lion.  When I saw him just an hour before he passed, laying in his hospital bed, I knew…his victory was not the one I had been pleading with God for.  It was Heaven.408718_10152770655530581_1544559536_n[1]

I cry for him almost every single day.  I cry for my mother that has had to bury 3 brothers.  Two of them dying within a year of each other.  Two of them dying of the same disease. I cry because I’m afraid my aunt, Uncle Mike’s widow, will think she is alone and that we are “his family”, when I feel like I belong to her just as much as I belonged to him.  I cry for all the emotions his death brings up in me and my long history of loss to leukemia.  I cry for Elizabeth’s family, who I’ve lost touch with for no real reason except that we just did.

A few days ago, I was contacted by someone from a local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, asking if I would like to volunteer.  Somehow, she had come across my blog and the entry I’d written months ago about the loss of my godfather.  To say I was moved would be an understatement.  To have my honesty recognized is beautiful enough.  But to be called upon to play a part in such a worthy cause truly feels like God talking to me.  So I’m listening.

I’ll be walking and volunteering my services for Light The Night in Ann Arbor, MI on September 30th.  I need this light, literally and figuratively.  I need to stand amongst survivors and those standing for lost loved ones.  I need to honor this fight and this hurt.   I need to shine a light.

My birthday is this coming Friday.  And I can’t think of any better way to commemorate another trip around the sun than sharing my story and supporting this cause. Please help me join in bringing light to the darkness of cancer by donating towards my fundraising efforts to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night.  Money raised through Light The Night allows The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to fund treatments for patients who are suffering from all forms of blood cancers. The impact of LLS supported research goes beyond blood cancers. The discoveries made in blood cancer research have led to break through treatments for many cancers and other serious diseases.

 

Even a $5 donation goes a long way in this fight.  You can contribute to my Light The Night page at http://pages.lightthenight.org/mi/AnnArbor17/RWilliams

the celebration and devastation of time…

the celebration and devastation of time…

This morning hurts.  I can feel it already even though it’s only 8AM.  It hurts like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.  I’m not really sure how to begin explaining it because it’s highly possible that no one will relate.  But maybe some of you will.  I have been trying to find the words for what I’m feeling for weeks now… And again, I’ve fallen victim to the train of thought “I should write about that…Make time to write about that…You can write about that tomorrow…” and then I don’t.  It just gets added to my brain’s ever-growing pile of Post-It notes.  Aside from being distracted, I know there’s a part of me that didn’t want to write this blog because I’m weary of giving a public voice to the crippling fear inside my head.  I don’t want to jinx anything.  I don’t want God to find me ungrateful.  I don’t want anyone to find me ungrateful.  I’m so grateful sometimes it feels like it’s too much “gratitude” and my chest might literally explode…maybe that’s my problem.

My Granny is 90 years old today.

Yes, you read that correctly…90.

I am completely blown away with amazement and adoration for this human, who clearly, has stood the test of time and is still looking as beautiful as ever.

Anyone who knows me knows of this unwavering love I have.  It’s a love I make quite public, whether it’s on social media/up on a stage/hanging out with friends/pouncing on her & annoying her with compliments every chance I get.  People see it and think, “How sweet, she’s so close to her Grandma.”  I wish it was as black & white as that.  But I know better.  God definitely knows better.  It’s a love that has without a doubt saved me from myself on more than a few occasions throughout my short lifetime.  A love that was so deep-rooted inside of me that even in my lowest of times (and they were low indeed), I was reminded that even in all the bad, I had a soul that was good… I still wanted to see, hold the hand of, hear the voice of, take care of my G and make her proud.

When I think of “the pillars” in my world, God and my Granny.  I established a relationship with the Lord by going to church with my Grandma, starting around the time I was in 5th grade.  And in turn, God has heard me pray/sob/plead/rejoice over her every single day since.  She is without a doubt my 1st and most important prayer request.  Keep her safe.  Keep her healthy.  Keep her happy.  Let her know You are there so she won’t be lonely.  

This past Saturday (August 26th), we threw my Granny a surprise birthday party.  We reserved a little banquet room at a restaurant not far from her house.  The party fell on my parents’ 34th wedding anniversary, so the “lie” to get Granny to attend was that my Dad was throwing my Mom a surprise anniversary party.  My sister and I put in the time making sure the decorations were perfect.  Photo collages, big balloons, enlarging and framing photos that were nearly 70 years old, making table centerpieces that featured photos of Granny from a woman in her early 20’s to this past Easter Sunday.  Family, friends, neighbors all gathered to celebrate the life of this woman.  She was certainly surprised.  Then overwhelmed.  Then a little nervous.  Then realized that she had no choice but to be the center of everyone’s attention so she went along with it, ha.  We showed her all the pictures we’d “borrowed” from her old photo albums and copied to include in collages and centerpieces.  She laughed as she pointed out who/what/when/where/what they had for lunch that day with all the photos we’d acquired.

Seeing my Grandma young, freshly moved to Detroit and living in a boarding house with her exciting girlfriends…posing with her brothers while wearing a headscarf, youthful and playful and proud to be their sister…her and my Grandpa their first handful of years as a married couple…with my Dad and my Aunt Kathy as young kids, big glasses, big hair, and always at least one dog in the photo…

My Grandma was someone and something other than my Grandma in her lifetime.  The proof of this moved me in ways I can’t adequately describe.  It’s beautiful.

I was equally fascinated as I was saddened.  Sad, that my Grandma has lived alone for the past 25 years on that very same property as these old photos were taken.  Or that she doesn’t see and laugh with her girlfriends like she used to.  Or that she only has one remaining brother now, her youngest brother, my Great Uncle Johnny down in Tennessee.  Or that they took away her license this past spring, so loneliness feels more isolating…Because as much as these photos document what a big life she’s had, it also serves a reminder that “the good ol’ days” are a thing of the past.  

I knew at a very young age that I was called to be my Granny’s best friend after my Grandpa tragically passed.  I’d volunteer myself every Sunday to attend church with her, sit beside her in the back pew and hold her hand, spend the day with her, invite her to every single dance recital/choir concert/cheerleading event/musical, etc. (And she was at every single one of them, with a bouquet of flowers.)  When I moved away to Nashville, I made a point to call her twice a week and never go more than 2 months without seeing her.  I volunteer to fly her or drive her to Nashville and transport her 90 minutes to Hohenwald to see her family.  I don’t list these things for a pat on the back, I really don’t.  I summarize my closeness to my Grandma because it was something that was so natural, so easy, and so understood.  And honestly, it might be one of the ONLY concrete things I’ve ever understood in my life thus far.

She was and still is my constant…my unconditional.  I went through some tough tough shit as a kid.  I then willingly allowed myself to go through some shit as an adult.  And with every fracture to my heart, there was my G…even if she didn’t have all the facts, she didn’t need them because she always came through, no questions asked.  She picked up the phone.  And unbeknownst to her, she picked up my pieces.

A few weeks ago, I started trying to pray through my fears.  Every time I’d get choked up, I’d ask God, “Please allow gratitude to overpower grief.”  And it would help calm me down.  For this last week, I’ve continued to pray the same thing but alas… tears.  Every day.  And what am I grieving?  She’s still here.  Yes, she’s slower, she’s sorer, she’s sadder…but she’s still funny, feisty, grumpy, and loves tappin her toes and snappin her fingers to some Josh Turner all day, errryday.  I looked up the term “anticipatory grief” and I hate it’s definition.  Maybe I hate it because it sounds like bullshit.  Or maybe the thought of waking up to a world where she’s not here really is something to fear with every fiber of my being.

They say to cherish your loved ones.  To let them know how you feel and how much they mean to you.  To never take a day for granted.

So, what do you do when you’ve lived for someone making sure there was nothing left unsaid…or undone…or unloved…?  

I don’t know the answer.  Maybe that’s why it hurts.

So I guess I’ll just continue with what I DO know…  Saying.  Doing.  Loving.

the hometown bubble.

the hometown bubble.

I haven’t been very good about writing lately.  (I sound like a broken record.)  Aside from some journaling here and there and starting a few song ideas, I’ve allowed my mind to be distracted by other things… travelling, packing/unpacking, being outside as much as humanly possible, Harry Potter books (I’ve decided to read the entire series for the first time), putting the finishing touches on releasing new music, learning songs for sessions and shows, visiting my family, happy hours on patios, and my newly acquired love/hate relationship with Crossfit.  (Yes, you read that correctly…Crossfit.  I know.)  It’s actually quite pitiful how much I think, “I should write today…about this…oh don’t forget you want to write about that…” and then I don’t.  Case in point, I’m sitting at my kitchen table with the window open, listening to it storm outside.  The dogs are all at my feet because they don’t like the thunder.  I’m settling in and getting in a good headspace to start writing and I see my boyfriend’s car pull into the driveway with a much-needed new bag of dog food.  So I feed them, I send a couple emails, I wash a few dirty dishes by hand, I check my Twitter, and I think how absolutely LOVELY it would be to curl up on the couch with these pups, listen to the rain, and read more Harry Potter (I’m halfway through Book 6.)  But I have to write.  Kind of like when I set my alarm for 4:50AM for a 5:30AM CrossFit class because it’s the only time of the day my guy and I can both go together.  You dread it, you hate it, you want to push “Snooze” (and maybe you do once), but you know how much better you’ll feel once you’re done.  That’s exactly what I’m hoping happens with writing this blog entry. 

There’s a lot of ground to cover, but I won’t try to tackle even half of it in this entry today.  You’d be reading for hours.  I will, instead, commit to writing another blog entry by the end of this week.  So there, I said it, feel free to hold me accountable.

I’d like to give this afternoon’s attention to my hometown.  And my guess is, your hometown is probably an awful lot like mine.  So I’ll proceed…

I was born in Garden City, MI,  lived in a Polish neighborhood in Detroit the first few years of my life, and then moved 20 minutes west (with Metro Airport right beside us), to the suburb of Belleville, Michigan by the time I was a toddler.  The first home I have memories of is the little brick ranch that sat off a horrendously pot-hole-filled road right behind what used to be Dimitri’s Kitchen (which I guess is now called Mike’s Kitchen).  I made my very first friends there.  Friends that I actually still keep connected with via social media.  I lived in Belleville and only Belleville until the day I moved to Nashville, however, throughout my younger years, I ended up attending 3 out of the 5 different elementary schools within Belleville’s city limits.  Don’t worry, I was uncool through all 3 schools, ha.  Between 2nd and 3rd grade, my mother was expecting her 4th (and thankfully, last) child so we inevitably outgrew our little ranch.  We relocated over the bridge, on the other side of Belleville Lake, to a brand new subdivision, where at the time, we were the 5th house being built in the whole neighborhood.  Our new location had us directly beside Belleville High School and it was a dream for me to people-watch all the students, imagining my own “Saved By The Bell” episode when I reached those hallowed doors someday.  Yup, it was a whole new world on the other side of Belleville…

Our new home was walking/bike-riding distance to Main Street and all the glorious things you can only truly appreciate when you’re a kid.  Hours spent climbing and running all over Victory Park, sugar highs from Frosty Boy, hanging out by the library, loaded cheese fries from A&W, candy cigarette’s from the Dairy Mart, feeding the overzealous (and disgusting) carp off the boat docks at Reflections…  It was sublime and as a child, I had no interest in knowing a life outside of my town.

I was a Belleville Cougar cheerleader when I was 8-10 years old, which lead me to cheerleading for South Middle School and the first couple years of high school.  Turns out, I was too cynical & sarcastic to be a good cheerleader even at 9 years old, and I never outgrew it, who knew.  I was heavily involved in dance and singing at Jan’s School of Dance.  The owner/instructor, Jan Oliver, scared the hell out of me as a kid.  She was strict but she was good, and she called me out on my laziness.  She also gave me some of my first public singing performances at our dance recitals over the summer.  I was involved in my hometown’s Strawberry Festival, whether it was singing/dancing in the parades, performing at the craft fairs, headlining on the ‘main stage’ with my comically bad band at the time, or coming in 1st Runner Up in the Strawberry Queen Pageant.  *cringe*

Throughout high school, I started performing at every local event there was…charity dinners, Music in the Park, choir concerts, tree lightings, church revivals (shout-out to Faith Assembly), talent contests, the whole works.  Suddenly, my dorkiness was irrelevant because everyone knew I could sing.  The local papers wrote about me and for the first time ever, I felt almost cool.  I started performing bigger gigs on bigger stages with bigger artists, and Belleville had a unfailing, “That’s our girl” way about them in their support for me.

All of that was great, but the closer I got to graduation, the more I wanted out.

Nashville was calling.  Literally.

I got to feature my hometown of Belleville, Michigan on USA Network’s “Nashville Star 2” when I was a top 10 contestant back in the day.  I was still working as a hostess at our local Cracker Barrel and I’ll never forget one morning, while refilling a gentleman’s coffee at 7AM, seeing my face on the front page of the newspaper he was reading.  That’s when I KNEW knew…It was time to go.

I’d visit Belleville multiple times a year, every year, for over 10 years.  The first 6 years or so, I’d come back and find it, uh, uneventful.  It was the same few storefronts that managed to stay afloat downtown somehow (one of them being the Chamber of Commerce, so I don’t think that really counts), the rest were closed and the buildings stayed empty.  There was no night-life, no trendy bars or restaurants, the closest theater or mall being 20 minutes away.  I was really just visiting for my family’s sake.  Nashville was so big, so exciting, something to do every second of every day…forever a new place to discover, new friends to meet, coffee shops to bring your dog, countless boys to date, any and every concert you could ever hope to see, studios and writing rooms and stages to be on.  I was so certain I could never be anywhere but Nashville for the rest of my life.

I’ve always joked, “God put a bubble around Belleville.  Nothing’s changed in 20 years.”  And although I’ve always thought those exact words to be true, the way I interpret that statement started to shift about 4-5 years ago…

Somehow, as life went on, my hometown started to become my place of solace, my refuge.  I needed a break, and Belleville gave me one.   I needed away from never-ending construction and condos and bar-hopping and bad boyfriends and insufferable traffic and comparing my dreams and my progress to everyone else’s.  I needed my family, yes.  But I also needed the simplicity that I once rolled my eyes at.  I needed to sit in Horizon Park, right beside Belleville Lake, and breathe…just like I’d done throughout middle school and high school, when I used to look for my voice through writing poems, diary entries, and song lyrics down by the water.  I needed to walk my nephew to Frosty Boy and chase him in the park.  Because if I could watch his eyes light up, then I could forget about all the messes I kept getting myself into.  I needed the comfort of knowing that every member of my family was only a 5 minute drive from the other, so that they could remind me who I REALLY was, not this train-wreck persona I couldn’t snap out of.  And $3 drinks with old friends at Johnny’s was quite the welcomed change of pace from the $14 martinis/shoulder-to-shoulder bars/loud bands playing “Wagon Wheel”/getting all dolled up just to have boys treat you like they’re at a buffet/inevitably leaving my debit card somewhere-scenarios I’d been dealing with for years on end.

Whereas I used to look almost sympathetically at those that never got out from my hometown, I was now jealous of them.  Maybe the “world of endless possibilities” is too much, granting me too many options.  When you have so much in front of you, it makes you feel like you should never settle, like you’ll never be satisfied, therefore, you never do and you never are.  And that’s a lot to take on in your teens and early 20’s when you still don’t know your ass from your elbow.  I started to see my old high school friends that were raising their own families in Belleville in a whole new light, as I was on my 4th disastrous relationship of that year in Nashville.

When I made the decision 18 months ago to live 50/50 between Nashville and Michigan, I second-guessed it everyday for months.  It was that internal tug-of-war where the Nashville Rachel was supposed to be so much better, more evolved than the old Belleville Rachel, so how could I resort back after coming this far?  I’m happy to say, it didn’t take too long before I removed my head out of my ass and realized that both Belleville Rachel and Nashville Rachel can indeed coexist together.  They are both me, they both have a lot to offer to whoever will listen, and no matter what, I’ll never be able to out-run that nor should I want to.  It’s kind of like this brand new song I just wrote and recorded a couple weeks ago in Nashville, where the lyric asks, “How you gonna grow when you’re cutting off your roots?”  Perfect, right?

I give you all of this backstory because recently my hometown has been shaken to it’s core.  There’s been a few tragic (and unfortunately violent) losses that has left Belleville stunned and speechless.  It makes no sense.  One loss, in particular, hasn’t left my thoughts since it occurred a couple weeks ago.

I was down in Nashville late last month, loaded up on meetings and studio sessions, and for once, not really reading what anyone was posting on social media.  I was updating my Instagram story fairly regularly, detailing me in the studio and all, and I saw a somewhat familiar Instagram user that had viewed my story earlier that day.  Curious, I clicked on her page and went through some of her photos.  This girl was a few years younger than me and went to school with my sisters, also she hung out with some of my old childhood friends, so I’d see her pop up on Facebook sometimes. I hadn’t physically seen her in a few years.  Last time being at a local bar, where she came up to hug me and tell me that she had started singing out and about recently and how she thought it was so cool that I moved to Nashville.  When I looked at her Instagram profile a couple weeks ago, I saw photos and videos of her singing, posts about yoga and meditation, intellectual and inspiration quotes, and I thought to myself, “She’s super pretty, she’s into fitness and music, she’s single and child-less and likes to go out, I should become real-life friends with her.”

She was gone 24 hours later.

She died inside her house that sat off a dirt road less than 2 miles from my parent’s house.

And just like that, the bubble I was so sure would always cover Belleville burst.  The reality that my hometown is not exempt from ‘the world’ hit hard.  The reality that a young woman…just like me…just like my sisters…just like you…could be taken…?  This isn’t a troubled past/wrong crowd/drugs/bad neighborhood/a photo shown for 15 seconds on the local news.  It’s so much to process and it will continue to be so much to process.

I share this story, not because I have anything new to contribute.  I don’t have details, I don’t have all these memories and stories.  All I have is perspective.

Egypt Covington was one of us.

I’m still Facebook friends with a lot of people in my hometown that are terrified/enraged and quite a few of them are saying the town has gone to shit.  Despite these recent tragic events, I have to say that I disagree.

All the things I couldn’t see/appreciate about my hometown while growing up are still present today.  There’s something soul-stirring about the loyalty of a smaller-town community, regardless if it’s progress rate.  For a long time, my eyes were fixated on the “new and shiny”.  But now I’ve seen the new and shiny, I’ve lived the new and shiny, and the new and shiny doesn’t claim you when you feel forgotten, or when you’ve forgotten yourself.  But your hometown does. 

I’m proud to be from Belleville and to stand with a community that took care of my family and I.  This town gave me the love and the platform to create these big ol’ dreams of mine.  This town let me cry on it’s shoulder every single time my heart got broken, whether by these dreams or some stupid boy.  This town let me start over.  So no matter where the music takes me, I will always appreciate landing on this stretch of runway that continues to welcome me home.  Bubble or not.