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.
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.