Tag Archives: love

The First Time (We) Kissed

I remember the first time we kissed. You were still asleep on the sofa bed when I crept past you on my way to the bathroom. I stood behind the closed door for a minute before heading back out, deciding if I should take the plunge, realizing after last night that you definitely reciprocated the feelings I’d tried to keep locked away. I felt it in the way you looked at me, the way you talked to me, the way you were so attentive, the way you accidentally but purposefully grazed my arm with yours.

I opened the door without looking at you and plopped sideways onto the creaky fold-up mattress, my back to you. I heard you awaken, I heard you smile.

You pulled me into your arms, and we laid like that for thirty minutes—maybe more, maybe less. Time became immeasurable. We both silently took in each other’s smell, listened to each other’s heartbeat. And then you spoke.

“You deserve to be cherished,” you said. “I wanted you to know—I intend to show you that.”

Then I did that thing that I always do when I’m happy and excited but also nervous and embarrassed, overwhelmed in the best of ways. I closed my eyes and I nuzzled deep into your clavicle, burrowing into my safety net, that soft pocket of flesh between your neck and your collarbone.

A few minutes went by. I heard your mouth open and close as you tried to figure out how you were going to say what you wanted to say. I waited, patient and impatient.

“I would like to kiss you,” you said, “if that’s alright with you.”

I did that thing again, taking in the scent of your neck and this time shifting my head onto your chest. My hand slid up to my face and latched on like a starfish, doing that other thing I do, where I try to hide from the barrage of feelings that I yearn for but also don’t know if I can trust. Not you, though. I trusted you. You’re the only man I’ve trusted like that since.

I fumbled for the words to speak.

“I’m nervous,” I said.

“Why are you nervous?” you asked.

“Because of my past, because of my last relationship, the things with my ex.”

“Understandable,” you said. “I’m nervous, too. I don’t want you to feel any pressure.”

I smiled gratefully, but you couldn’t see me. I plucked the knuckled starfish from my face and continued.

“And because we live oceans apart.”

“Another good reason,” you agreed. “I don’t have an answer for that one.”

I squirmed closer to you and hugged you harder. After a few minutes, you got up to use the bathroom. I heard a flush, heard the faucet running, heard you brushing your teeth. I’d secretly brushed mine before, just in case.

I looked up when you opened the bathroom door, watched as you crawled onto the mattress and slid your legs under the covers. You propped yourself up on your arms and leaned over me, staring into my eyes. I smiled nervously. You smiled beautifully. My chest raised as I inhaled deeply in preparation, anticipation. Slowly, you closed the gap between us, aiming for my lips. Your eyes never once broke away from mine.

My hands trembled as my body remembered what it felt like to be kissed this way by a man. I ran my fingers through your hair, like I always do.

Later, I would ask you to teach me to kiss, because I needed to learn how again.

_______

I don’t remember the first time we kissed. The moment is an abandoned memory, floating past the flood of warnings, so many skirted red flags. I remember you didn’t want to kiss me, but you wanted to be naked next to me. I remember I wanted to be kissed, and I wasn’t ready to be naked next to you. You got naked anyway. I didn’t. You kissed me eventually, but I don’t remember it.

I can count on one hand the number of times I remember you kissing me. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I tried to, wanted to kiss you, but couldn’t, wouldn’t. I remember vividly you laughing when I tried, your lips parting when I closed mine to touch yours. Eventually, humiliated, I just stopped trying.

I remember wanting to be strong and once asking you if we could kiss, just kiss. I can still hear your laughter, see the way your eyes crinkled, like I’d just told the funniest joke known to man. I remember me turning away to deal with my pain because you didn’t see it when it was right in front of you. Or maybe you did see it but simply didn’t care to fix it.

I remember eventually figuring out the only one who could fix this pain was me, but it was too long before I got away.

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One of the Hardest Things I’d Ever Do Was Keep from Falling in Love with You

The thermometer read 90 degrees, but my bed felt cold that night.

I hugged the box of tissues closer to my chest, the only confidante in an otherwise empty apartment. I let my eyes shed the memories, let the paper blankets listen to my throat’s disenchanting song. I lay there as my tired brain confused impossibilities with could-be’s, would-be’s, should-be’s.

My gaze followed the length of the ceiling, traveled down the wall. I stared at unread books on my nightstand, unlit candles on the window ledge, an unframed stack of pictures on the shelf. You put love right alongside those photographs, nestled it sloppily between snapshots of the past, of hopes and dreams for the future. You piled it high above fate, lorded it over destiny, scoffed at new beginnings.

But see here’s the thing: love doesn’t belong on a shelf.

It shouldn’t be collecting dust with trophies and vases. It shouldn’t be scattered across the countertop with unfinished to-do lists. It shouldn’t be given up on when it never got a chance.

The saddest love story isn’t the one that didn’t work out. It’s the one that was never told.

You chose to give up not give in but not before we bared our scars to each other. We rolled up our sleeves, cuffed our slacks, and compared blemishes twice a week. We didn’t see these marks as damaged goods. We saw them as magnets that brought us closer, electric sparks when placed side my side.

We cut open our chests and placed our beating, pulverized hearts on the table. Their rhythms ticked toward synchronicity. I kept mine guarded. You kept yours sealed.

Who knew that one of the hardest things I’d ever do would be to keep from falling in love with you.

Each time the buttons loosened over my feelings, I fumbled to button them up. I tried to protect a broken heart from more brokenness only to find that love isn’t the only reason we feel pain.

Is it you or I or both who views us now merely as two motes of flesh distantly floating through a cosmic universe? You’re gone but we’re still the same souls craving honesty and integrity and eternally searching for truths, once united in vulnerability, now left yearning in a dying wind.

 

 

 

 

Of Love Languages & the Power of Physical Touch

If you’ve not read psychologist Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages yet, make that the first thing you do after reading this post. Yes, it’s kind of a “girly” book, but I’ve gotten a few of my male friends to read it and they’ve admitted that they learned a lot from it.

Within the chapters, the author speaks of how teaching people to find their own and their partner’s love language can save a relationship. At the core of any association between two people, communication can make or break their union. We show people we care about them by way of a love language and we also know that people care about us when they speak our love language.

Chapman believes five universal love languages exist, and that we should learn to speak each of them. However, we tend to want and give some more than others. You can take a quick quiz to find out which language you speak. The five languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

friends

I didn’t need to take the test to know that my dominant love language is words of affirmation. The saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” has never been true for me.

But words of affirmation isn’t my only love language. I’ve spent a lot of time (maybe too much time) analyzing my past relationships, and in many of them, my love language wasn’t spoken (literally). However, more recently, I’ve realized another love language missing in my daily life: physical touch.

Most people automatically assume physical touch equates to sex, and therefore many couples assume that this must be their love language. That is often not the case. However, it’s important to note that physical touch means so much more than sex.

From hand-holding to hugs, from a passionate kiss to a peck on the cheek, physical touch is something we all crave to some degree in life.  In a famous experiment by psychologist Dr. Harry Harlow, baby monkeys were placed with one of two fake mothers that both offered milk, a “mother” made of wire and another covered in soft terry cloth. The babies with terry cloth mothers clung to them after nursing and were well-behaved little monkeys, unlike the others. Harlow’s experiment showed that tactile comfort offers emotional reassurance.

hugs

Few can come up with an argument to debate this study’s findings. Physical touch can be both positive and negative–a terry cloth or a cold wire. Most of us have seen or experienced how both a slap and a kiss can be exclamation points that make words superfluous. Physical touch exudes strength and power.

In the past few months, I realized how little physical touch I have in my day-to-day routine. Seattle is the first city I’ve lived in. Everywhere else has been little towns where everyone knows everyone’s business, but where everyone hugs one another after four hours apart like it’s been four years.

Snuggling and head scratching and spazzing on each other happens a lot with my Florida Keys friends and my college and gradeschool friends. My best friend and I have a relationship built upon physical touch. Ten seconds can’t go by without one of us jumping on the other’s back.

friends hugging

But when I’m not around these people, I’m lacking this emotional reassurance, and it’s not just because I’m single. Physical touch isn’t always guaranteed when you’re dating someone, and in fact, I recently wrote about how one of my relationships actually caused me to flinch in response to certain corporeal gestures.

Some people just aren’t huggers, and in city life, it takes longer to build the level of friendships you made in college or small town living. It’s harder to find those people that feel comfortable doling out the kind of bear hugs that knock you off your feet.

After going through some recent hardships, I realized how much I just needed a good hug. When I got that hug–a wave of hugs–my struggles seemed to momentarily melt away. In so many of my trying times, I have felt utterly alone. I have always had wonderful, dear, true friends who will make a routine out of talking to me for hours, on the good days and bad, to get me through. But too often, they’re still on the other end of a phone line. Their words of affirmation can only help me so much.

friendship

I wonder if any of my past pain would have been easier to bear if I was also able to lie next to someone I cared about (and who cared about me) while watching a movie on the couch. I’ve realized how many times I have simply needed a friend to hold me while I cried. I’ve realized how electric a handhold can be, how soothing it is to feel a reassuring thumb rub on my forearm.

I’m working on recognizing my needs. As I do, I’ve begun verbalizing them to the people who surround me. I tell them my love language and ask them to tell me theirs, and then we begin to practice speaking each other’s.

I Was Sexually Assaulted & This Is My Story

For quite awhile, I didn’t know if I would ever publicly share this story. I didn’t even know how much I’d personally share it. Part of that is because I felt so very, very ashamed.

Another reason is because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to feel any better after telling it, largely because people don’t know how to appropriately respond.

The more I noticed how much I feared other people’s reactions to my story, the more I saw that I needed to share it—when I was ready.

In the networking, research, and self-help I’ve encountered since long before I realized the assault, one thing I’ve learned is that too many people don’t understand.

I want people to understand what is going on inside a person’s mind days, months, or years after he or she has been sexually assaulted so that the humans hearing these stories can be empathetic, not judgmental or dismissive.

I want other survivors to know that they are not alone, and it is important that we talk about it.

Too many people think that the assault was an isolated incident. It happened, it was horrible, and that was the end of it.

Too many people don’t realize that the incident, the memory, the trauma, lasts for years. Relocation doesn’t solve the problem. Addiction doesn’t sweep the issue under the rug. Staying busy doesn’t block it all out.

Too many people question the strength and integrity of a woman who let herself get into a situation in which she could be once, twice, repeatedly sexually assaulted.

Too many people don’t realize that it is often strong, loving, giving people with good hearts who find themselves in these situations, who hear that it’s their fault, always their fault, and so they try to do better because that’s the humans they are. But nothing was ever their fault in the first place.

Too often these people are the victims themselves.

I didn’t do anything wrong. But I was told I did. I collected stones in an invisible backpack with each transgression. I collected stones each time I did something I didn’t want to do because I was coerced, manipulated, humiliated, and dominated into doing it. I collected stones until the weight held me down and the only way to pick myself up was to start unloading those stones until my bag was empty.

Sexual assault commonly results in post-traumatic stress disorder. The realization, acceptance, and effects are not always immediate.

In my case, it took me more than a year to realize I was sexually assaulted. And it didn’t occur to me on my own.

The effects of a past relationship slowly started to trouble me. I became nauseous when I heard his name or saw something tangible that reminded me of him. I began to flinch when men gingerly put a hand on my shoulder, making a move. I became hypervigilant and hyperaware, lending toward a constant state of anxiety and subsequent depression. I had nightmares that were only memories. And yet, I still obsessively thought about him.

My mind concluded there was something wrong with me. It didn’t help that this is what most of the world was telling me.

But one day I couldn’t take it anymore. One day I picked up the phone and told my story to someone, with as many painful details as I could remember, from beginning to end. That conversation positively changed the course of my healing, because I felt for the first time in a very long time that I was not alone. I felt listened to and respected. I felt empathy instead of judgment.

I had been carrying this burden that I didn’t fully understand and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t carry it alone.

But understanding the truth of my past relationship was only the beginning. From there, I had to go through heartache all over again. I had to break up with the memories—all while continuing to function in my daily life: go to work, cook food, make new friends, sleep. Most importantly, I had to forgive myself, because in the first months of the healing process, I blamed no one but me.

I thought I was weak for getting myself stuck in this situation in the first place, for being blind to the red flags. I felt guilty and shameful, dirty and disgraceful. In my mind, I had become infinitesimal.

The man who assaulted me took my virginity. I lost something I can never get back. For a very long time, I felt that this man took with him a piece of my spirit.

Since realizing the assault, I have been trying to redefine what intimacy means—without being intimate with anyone. That’s a very hard thing to do.

But by opening up to a select few people and sharing my deepest, darkest, most vulnerable secret, I am learning. I am understanding that romantic passion between two people is not supposed to be selfish. It is not supposed to cause you gut-wrenching, incapacitating pain that leaves you unable to walk for a week. It is not supposed to make you feel like you are merely a body—inadequate, disposable. It is not supposed to make you feel like you are just an ant crawling across this great big earth, trying to escape the magnifying glass that taunts you.

I have wanted so much to forget the man who assaulted me. I have wanted to never hear his name or see his face again. On the other hand, I have wanted to stare him hard in the eyes and show him what a strong and capable woman I’ve not only become but have always been.

Sometimes what we want doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s what we need that counts, and what I really need is peace in my heart. The only way I know how to do this is with forgiveness.

He doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, but I won’t be doing it for him. I’ll be doing it for me.

Now, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a woman who feels helpless, unworthy, or ashamed. I see a woman who is confident and self-aware, who is not afraid of men or love but who is learning what it means to be respected and dignified in a relationship and most importantly, within herself.

Too many people put a timeline on someone else’s healing. We often even do it to ourselves. But the truth is, time is irrelevant to matters of the heart. And sometimes, we never fully heal.

Sometimes, fresh wounds become scabs that shrink in size but remain intact, picked at accidentally on rare occasions down the road. But those wounds, those scars, make us human. Those broken pieces of us somehow make us whole.

We cannot change the past. We can wish a thousand times over that the past never happened to us, or we can learn from our unique experiences. We can be open about them so that we invite healing scabs into our wounded hearts, so that we don’t live our lives in fear of love or other people’s reactions, and so that we realize no matter how much it feels like it, we are never truly alone.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve written and revised these words in an ongoing draft over the past year, knowing that I would only publish this story when I was ready. I am ready. This article isn’t about pointing fingers. It’s about sharing vulnerabilities in an effort to inform, unite, understand, and—ultimately—heal. Thank you for letting me tell my story, and for being there for me on the other side.

**This is a public post. If you feel this story speaks to you or can help someone, feel free to share it.

Hurricanes, Hugs & Humor

The first two weeks of October, I was on the road A LOT, offering my heart and receiving so much heart in return.

When Hurricane Irma hit the Keys, I struggled from afar for half a dozen reasons, part of which involved immense empathy and understanding for my Keys island family, having lived through a CAT 4 storm myself.

As the days ticked by, I found myself becoming increasingly more anxious to step foot in my old stomping grounds. I was antsy out of excitement, nerves, and fear.

Without consciously planning it this way, the timing of my trip proved to be quite serendipitous. I boarded a red eye on September 30, the two-year anniversary of the day a tropical storm was brewing in the Caribbean that might hit the remote Bahamian island I was living on. I landed on October 1, two years to the day I woke up to a CAT 4 historic hurricane on top of me.

But the second I walked out of Miami International Airport and into the arms of my Bahamian island parents who drove from Naples just to see me, my anxiety melted away. My island parents hug like no other–strong, sturdy, genuine. Their embrace needs no words to tell how they feel about you, about life, because their assuring physical touch says it all.

They drove me down to Florida City after a quick jaunt at Cracker Barrel (a restaurant I haven’t seen or visited in years–Amurrica!). I then waited excitedly in a Starbucks to reunite with my friend Kris who left the Keys nearly five years ago. I was SO excited that, in sending a flurry of texts and phone calls sharing my whereabouts and ETA to Keys folk, my palpable joy started putting smiles on faces of the coffee shop’s caffeine-infused customers.

I expected to hold back tears as we entered Key Largo, creeping south toward Marathon in the Middle Keys. Memorable and iconic local hot spots were strewn about; towering piles of debris lined the roads. But mostly, I had a smile on my face, because I knew I was about to see my island family.

In the short week that I spent in the Keys, I had limited time to help: ripping off moldy, sodden baseboards, tearing down dry wall, and digging through sand. My friends are exhausted; cleaning up the aftermath of a hurricane is a daunting task. Many of my friends are now homeless and/or jobless.

But they still have so much love to give.

I spent the evenings attempting to organize gatherings–relief from the hurricane relief. I knew one week wasn’t much time for me to make a dent in the clean-up and construction, but aside from putting my set-building skills to use, I also have my joy, love, and comedy to offer.

Before my trip to the Keys, I was struggling to process it all. I called one of my closest friends who knows the long version of what I’ve been dealing with the past couple years. He asked me to recall the first time I laughed after Hurricane Joaquin.

I really, really had to think about that. Due to my isolated situation following the storm, it was two weeks before I could get out into the community. I had no one to talk to about the fear I’d experienced or the apocalyptic aftermath that kept me awake and inappetent. Two isolated weeks following a traumatic experience is like two years.

But I thought hard, and then I started laughing. I remembered someone lending me some gasoline so I could drive the truck down south and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to distribute to the now homeless, alongside the hot dogs my friends cooked. (Read more about the incredible perspective I gained from this trip south here.)

Bahamians like their meat, and they don’t eat PBJs. (It’s largely an American thing.) I made somewhere between 50 to 100 PBJs… but I had to practically beg the locals to take the sandwiches from me once we ran out of hot dogs. I remember laughing at my efforts to help and seeing how people can still be opinionated in the hardest of times. It reminded me that no matter what life throws at us, we’re still human.

Even if I am covered in sweat and dirt and my muscles are sore, I am still me. Even if my heart is broken and I can’t imagine tomorrow, I am still me. I will always have the gift of crazy, uninhibited, Energizer-Bunny energy, and I tried my hardest to share that with my island family then and now.

Another aspect of my healing process that was missing post-Joaquin was human contact. Studies show that supportive physical touch–a simple hug–actually results in incredible physiological changes within the body, including decreasing stress.

I hugged often and I hugged hard when I was in the Keys, because I’m a hugger, and I know how much I’ve missed and needed that in my life. My Keys friends are huggers, too, and they have a way of making me feel more loved than I’ve ever felt before.

Mother Nature can turn lives upside down in an instant, but she cannot destroy our human nature, that indelible mortal connection. Laughter and physical touch bring joy and hope that have a healing power all their own.

The Keys will recover just like Long Island, Bahamas recovered, and it happens with love, joy, and a little bit of laughter.

To anyone experiencing hardship: hug & laugh, more & often.

The Art of Listening: Stop Telling, Start Hearing, Give Feeling

My best friend knows me about as well as I know myself, and he is the one person in the world that I have told everything to. Part of the beauty of our friendship is that I don’t feel that I have to tell him everything but I know that I can and want to tell him everything.

He is my confidante, advisor, soulmate, comedian, and one hell of a listener.

Recently, I asked him to just listen, to offer no advice or opinions because even though I respect and value whatever he has to say, and I know it always comes out of love and care for me, and I know he is always right (dang nabbit)… At that moment, I just needed someone to hear how I was feeling. I needed empathy, not pragmatics.

And I am tired of people telling me how to feel.

Do you know how hard it is to shut your mouth and just listen? Humans have a natural instinct to try to fix things, even if it isn’t their own thing to fix. Vulnerability makes so many people uncomfortable that when they see someone else opening up their bag of emotions, they instinctively reach to clasp it shut.

No one wants to pick up the pieces of brokenness, so humans work to make things right and whole again. We hurt to see others hurting, but we’re also scared shitless of it. I know. I’ve been there.

My best friend listened to me, my big mouth, and my bigger heart for an hour. He didn’t set the phone down away from him; I could hear him breathing. He said about two sentences, neither of which was advice. One was a short but welcome opinion. The other was a deep sigh followed with two of the most common words in the English language, a phrase that we dole out like chocolate in a candy store, words that are simultaneously overused and underused because often times we’re too self-righteous, egotistical, or bull-headed to use them.

He told me, “I’m sorry.”

He wasn’t pitying me and he wasn’t trying to fix me. He wasn’t telling me that I would be okay, that it would get better–things I already knew to be true. He was just feeling my feelings, embracing my vulnerability. That simple act, listening and empathizing, acknowledged the courage it took for me to slice open my chest and lay my beating heart on the table.

Sometimes, when I bare myself in this way, the flutter of ensuing commentary is like a meat pounder, and my heart is its victim. Sometimes, those remarks are what I need to hear. Usually, they’re what I should hear.

But sometimes, I already feel so hurt and alone that bringing out the meat pounder only grinds me to a pulp. Words are so very powerful. Sometimes, too many of them can be so overbearing that their target looms smaller.

While speech has a time and place and always a freedom and right, sometimes listening is the greatest act of love we can offer someone who is in pain.

I asked my friend if he was dying to give me advice. He told me no. He said one day, when I’m ready, I’ll hear it. But that wasn’t today. Today he was just sorry.

How to Change the World in 4 Easy Steps

We all want our lives to have meaning. We all want our time on this earth to be significant. We all want to make a difference in the world.

But how, exactly, do we do that?

It’s something I struggled with greatly when I took a break from wildlife conservation to work in a more stable veterinary clinic setting. It’s something that tormented me as I set off to chase my many dreams. Was I being selfish? How was I giving back to the world?

I have since realized four things:

First, every job is giving back in some way. Maybe you’re helping the needy, maybe you’re inspiring others, maybe you’re boosting the economy, maybe you’re putting a smile on someone’s face or simply making their day a little easier.

Second, my career does not define me. My values, beliefs, morals and desires define me.

Third, by focusing on myself, I have been able to gain incredible self-awareness. I know my wants and needs. I know my skills and talents. And I can nurture them and use them to change the world.

Fourth, changing the world does not happen on a monumental scale. Change in the world is the result of chain effects. Little things. Elementary, my dear Watson.

So how do you change the world?

 1. Know yourself

Self awareness goes a long way toward making the world a better place. Take time to actively engage in conversation with yourself, to get to know you. Spend quality alone time with no one other than yourself and learn to enjoy it, to crave it. Slow down. Pray, meditate, journal or find an active means of self reflection to guide you along the path to self discovery.

 2. Love yourself

Appreciating your own self worth is pivotal to anyone’s success and happiness. People who want to change the world want to do so because they love humanity, they love this earth. But we absolutely cannot fully love anything else without wholly embracing who we are as individuals. If love really does make the world go round, then it starts within ourselves.

3. Be yourself

In a world full of so much sham, authenticity is a rare find. Live your life with honesty and integrity. Never try to be anyone but yourself. If we are not truthful to ourselves, then we are not being truthful to the changes we wish to see in the world.

 4. Give of yourself

Pay it forward. The focus on giving back isn’t on being selfless, because learning to love yourself can be an incredibly selfish task, one that requires constant time and sacrifice. Give of yourself by being open and vulnerable to the world so that you can find your role in it.

And that’s it. It really is that simple.

How do you change the world? By turning the focus inward. Look to yourself and there you’ll find the answer.