Blogiversary Number Six

It’s been six years, y’all. Six years ago, I celebrated my 25th birthday, while working two jobs, finishing up grad school, and becoming accustomed to experiencing the world both single and not 270 pounds. I had no idea what the future held and decided to begin chronicling it via blog. It was thrilling and absolutely terrifying.

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It was just like taking… caffeine pills? Is that really what was happening in this episode?
I owe my master’s degree to Five Hour Energy.

Here I am today, on my 31st birthday, working as a full time teen librarian (my dream job), married to my favorite person in the whole world, living in an entirely different city, writing my sixth birthday blog, from a home I own. Instead of hoping the next year might hold a guy who’s not a total douche or the fantasy that is just the one job, my wonderful husband and I are talking babies. There were times, at 25 or 26, when I would wake up and wonder if it would ever happen, if my life would ever start. Sure, in hindsight, I know that that time in my life was valuable, but I wanted more… and now I have it.

A lot can change in just a short time and at 31, it seems that life is moving wonderfully faster and faster. This blog has taken many forms, from the chronicles of a recovering divorcee, a grad student, an online dater, a librarian, a newlywed. Here’s to the many other forms it may take over the next six years, as I will continue to be the chronicler, the researcher, the ranter, the overanalyzer: The Belle of the Library.

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My Escape From Social Media

I am a millennial in every sense. I haven’t had cable for years. I go nowhere without my Kindle. I use a tablet at work, instead of a notebook. I have six figure student loan debt, for a degree that no one thought could make a career (suck it bitches). More than once, I’ve answered the phone with “Did you mean to call me?”, because what year is it and why aren’t you texting? I met my husband on a dating app. I actually started typing this blog post on my smartphone. I love technology and all the ways it makes my life easier and makes me more connected. So, naturally, I’ve been an avid user of computers and social media for… well, my entire life.

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In middle school, it was AIM, or AOL Instant Messenger. I’d get home from school and chat with my friends all night long, while posting comments and reading articles on gurl.com, browsing online at Delia’s, or participating in a Roswell RPG chat room. Eventually, I took up blogging, with Xanga, and graduated to Myspace, when the time was right. At 21, I joined Facebook and have never once deactivated it, since. I tried Twitter, but quickly realized I care very little about the lives of celebrities and ultimately deleted it. Instagram filters drove me mad, but I enjoyed the photos of friends from high school and world travelers I’d never meet, so I maintained a lazy relationship with it, which consisted mostly of cat photos. Despite it’s peaks and valleys in popularity, however, Facebook was consistently my jam.

I think my Facebook obsession can be attributed, in part, to having lived alone for so long. While I enjoyed my single girl peace and freedom, living alone could be, well… lonely. Facebook made me feel connected, especially once messenger took off. I could be at home and still be in contact with acquaintances, friends, and family. I could both play the hermit and be in-in-the-know about everyone from high school. I could strike up a conversation with any random friend from the 9th grade and ask what was going on in their lives. We could get lunch or a drink and catch up, and we did on multiple occasions. I was never truly alone, as long as I was on Facebook and that was comforting when I was alone in every other sense. Because I lived by myself, I never worried about my relationship with social media. Who cared if I spent two hours on the couch, thumbing through my newsfeed, reading linked articles, or falling prey to Modcloth advertisements? With the dog curled up in my lap, I was neglecting no one.

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Gail has always had a love/hate, on/off relationship with social media, deleting and reactivating her account on the regular. I, however, only stopped rolling my eyes at her and started to consider my own Facebook usage, around the time I met Jake. If things went well, I’d eventually be living with another person, and I couldn’t neglect them for my phone. In a sense, however, it remained Future Belle’s problem. I saw no need to immediately cut back. Then, the Mother’s Day before last, I saw the post of a friend of a friend, the result of Facebook’s annoying practice of displaying every item a friend likes or comments on, instead of just their own posts. She was sharing the ‘About My Mom’ worksheet her daughter had completed at school, stating from her daughter’s perspective, what she did for a living, her favorite color, how old she was, and what she liked to do. It was that last one that stuck in my mind.

“My mom likes to…”
“… play with her phone.”

Several people thought this was adorable. Maybe I’m a judgmental cow, but I thought it was deeply depressing. There are so many ways my hypothetical children could respond to this question:

“Play with daddy”
“Read”
“Crochet”
“Play with me”

I think the most horrifying one would be “play with her phone.” I don’t want my kids to remember me with a smartphone plastered to my hand like some kind of nuclear fallout victim. I don’t want them to keep things from me, because my default setting is to ignore them for technology. I don’t want to look at my 18-year-old and realize I missed her childhood to keep up with people from high school I didn’t even like enough to attend my reunions. I especially don’t want my children to think that I care more about how fun our daily lives, holidays, and vacations appear to be than how fun they actually are. It was at that point that I realized, Gail was right, and I would need to extricate myself from Facebook, entirely… eventually.

Indeed, after I got married, I realized social media was taking me out of the moment. I’ve always taken a lot of pictures and actually carried a film camera around with me throughout high school, but I wasn’t just chronicling our memories for us. I was reporting my every moment to everyone I’d ever met… and it was none of their business. It was starting to make me a bit uncomfortable, sharing so much with people I barely knew, but when I cleaned out my friends, I’d feel guilty when they requested to follow me again. I began to post less. When I wasn’t posting, though, I was constantly checking the feed and responding to Messenger. I was immediately available to every person on my friends list, no matter how remote. It reminded me of the way I used to watch TV, not as something I actually enjoyed, but because it was present and easy and just plain addictive… and it ultimately kept me from doing and/or discovering those things I did enjoy.

I thought a lot about my long term relationship with social media. I considered my already exhausted parent friends, further worn out by the virtual mommy wars telling them they could never do anything right. I thought about the girl from high school who shared pictures of her twin girls’ naked baby butts at bath time, my cousin who shared photos of her five-year-old in a bikini posing like a grown up, the guy from high school who was charged with soliciting teen boys, the IT guy of the local school district who was just arrested for distributing child pornography. If I was uncomfortable with strangers looking at pictures of me, I really didn’t want them looking at pictures of my children, one day. With children just around the corner, no longer was I worried about just my time and personal privacy, but that of my eventual family and my well-being as a parent.

I definitely needed to pull back and knew it would be hard to make such a change after having a baby; so, several months ago, I decided to delete the app from my phone to lessen my own posts and scrolling. When that didn’t work and I found myself just using the browser, I decided I would keep the app, but stay logged out and only check it once a day. I’d only use it at work or I’d only use it before work or I’d only sign on for Messenger or I’d only check it for an hour once a week. Back and forth I went, with variations on Social Media Light, month after month, lending just as much head space to not being on Facebook as I did to being on Facebook… and failing miserably in each attempt.

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Then, six weeks ago, the final girl drama broke out among my friends and I decided I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t spend so much energy on cattiness and gossip and drama… and in addition to all of the aforementioned problems, Facebook had made these things that much worse, with friends, family, and even complete strangers. The group chats and photos of events that excluded me… the family dinners and evenings out that I was never invited to… the controversial virtual slap-fights with friends of friends of friends… it was all so draining and beyond ridiculous that an online relationship could affect a real one. So, on a whim, I deactivated my account and deleted messenger.

I’ll be straight with you, folks. In the beginning, I thought I was being rash. I knew I would reactivate to check in on the goings on of my friends and high school acquaintances, the happenings of the library world, the photos my family shared…and I did spend the first couple of days picking up my phone, only to remember I didn’t have a reason. I quickly realized, however, how little I missed updates from people I never really knew, political commentary from both extremes, affirmations in the form of likes and comments.

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In the first week without Facebook, I crocheted three hats, sewed my Christmas stockings, finished three books, called my Gramma several times, and cleaned the house. Jake was gone hunting that weekend and I watched all five Twilight movies while crafting all night. I actually met up, in person, with friends I’d previously neglected, because I’d felt like we were somehow still virtually connected.  I had so much fun and felt so rested. No longer did I wonder why I felt like I was working constantly, despite a pretty consistent 40 hour work week, because I was reading endless posts on library boards. No longer did I snap at Jake that I couldn’t discuss some current event for another second, because I’d spent the day reading every possible viewpoint of the church shooting online. No longer did I feel completely emotionally exhausted with other people’s drama and opinions. It was so life-altering that I signed into Facebook one last time: to download my information and request permanent deletion. I followed this with similar requests for Instagram and Pinterest, to avoid replacing one vice with another.

Over the next few weeks, I was more productive at work and more energized at home. Jake and I had more sex and valuable conversations and I actually experienced movies and shows and nights out with him far more, because I wasn’t checking Facebook every 10 minutes. When my Gramma told me she was disappointed that she couldn’t see my pictures anymore, I created an immediate friends and family only Instagram and showed her how to follow it, finding it far less tempting to share only photos or scroll through the photos of about 20 people. I put the account under a false name and denied acquaintances who’d previously followed me, because I don’t owe them anything. When my family expressed their horror that I’d deleted my Facebook account, I reminded them that my phone still works. 

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but in time, I’ve come to realize that I value privacy more than being connected. Perhaps it’s simply because a live person now takes priority over virtual ones. Perhaps, it’s because I have more free time and realize the sheer volume I’ve been wasting. Perhaps, it’s just because so much natural distance has formed between myself and the people I was once knew. It sounds trite, surely, but without social media, I feel free… free to pursue healthier friendships, take up more fulfilling hobbies, have conversations with family and friends about things they haven’t already read about on Facebook. I feel free to continue blogging anonymously about my life, without the discomfort of people I barely remember knowing the intimate details, because I need an outlet. I feel free to look back on my life one day and not regret that I missed out on it for a virtual one, because I’m afraid that’s going to be the case for so many.

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I admit that some people can have a healthier relationship with social media, than I. Maybe they aren’t millennials, used to a technology driven world. Maybe they don’t have jobs that place them in front of a computer, with a healthy dose of downtime. Maybe they just have better self control. I, however, am glad for my escape from social media.

When Good People Aren’t Good Together

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There was a catalyst, as there always is with these things.

Six years ago, Gail told me the secret of a close friend, Camille. She was confiding in me, because said secret directly affected her, she was hurt by it, and there was no chance I’d ever be close to Camille. She shouldn’t have told me, but Camille was essentially a stranger and it didn’t matter if I knew or that said secret gave me some strong negative feelings toward her. It mattered that a friend had done something to hurt Gail and I don’t think she was unreasonable in sharing that with me.

Five years ago, after a couple of years of chatting on Facebook, Catherine called me out to a local bar and we smoked, drank, talked about guys, teased each other, and a friendship began… and what a coincidence, Catherine worked with Camille and considered her a good friend.

Three years ago, Catherine introduced me to Laura, via Facebook chat. We talked about Supernatural and Buffy and Sherlock and all our silly fandoms and another friendship developed. I eventually brought Gail along and for the last two and a half years, we’ve all been pretty close. Gail was my maid-of-honor, of course, and Catherine and Laura were my bridesmaids. In the last year, our interactions have included many of Catherine’s friends, as well… which meant Camille and I have seen more and more of each other.

When Catherine and I met, we were 25 and single and dating and thrived off of the somewhat abrasive friendship we had. I was the prude and she was the one who got around and our jokes regularly centered around this. I remember once, when Jake and I had just started dating, Catherine actually made a joke about how he’d break up with me once I was done with the Gardasil vaccine and he’d gotten laid. I’m certain I said things that were just as appalling to Catherine. It was not one-sided. We were both just kind of… mean to each other, because that’s how a lot of single women in their mid-twenties interact, today, I suppose. When Laura came along, this dynamic spread and our humor was always sarcastic and antagonistic, as a group. Gail, naturally, fit right in, since we teased each other similarly on occasion and I don’t know if any of us thought much of it.

There are a lot of problems with this dynamic. The most obvious, of course, is that when someone is offended, they’re not allowed to say anything, because they’re just as guilty of offense. Resentment builds and no one tells anyone they’ve crossed the line, so the line continues to be crossed. In time, however, another issue develops. Perhaps as a defense to take the ribbing off of each other, other people become the focus.

Catherine and I, and even Gail and I, have always talked about other people… people from high school, who we don’t know anymore, people we sort of know and follow on social media, people we don’t like who overshare. Perhaps it’s not particularly nice to do so, but I also think it’s natural when you share a history. These are people to whom we have no loyalties, though, and the topic is usually something they’ve chosen to share with the world via Facebook. Gradually, however, the conversation has shifted.

It took some time for me to remember exactly how Camille’s secret was spread. That, in itself, serves as evidence that said shift had happened some time ago and we’ve been talking about the wrong people for a while now. I remember, though. I remember we were all drinking at Catherine’s and the subject of why I didn’t like Camille had come up, with Catherine posing different theories. I told her it was a secret and I shouldn’t share and she pressed, insisting she might already know. I looked to Gail and Gail didn’t object, so I told her what I now realize was Camille’s most humiliating secret and confided that I didn’t like Camille because of how said secret affected Gail… and we all sat and gossipped about Camille’s deepest shame. I didn’t know or like Camille, but I knew that Gail and Catherine considered her a good friend and I encouraged them to discuss her private business and they eagerly participated and it wouldn’t be the last time.

I’ve always prided myself on not saying anything about someone that I wouldn’t say to them and I realize now, that I haven’t been able to claim this as sincerely in the last two years. I’ve been part of secret Facebook chats about an excluded friend. I’ve sat drinking and bad mouthing one of them, only to smile at them and tell them we’re good the next day. I’ve kept quiet when a friend said something ugly to me, only because I know I say ugly things to them… and I’ve realized that these things are only true of this one social group. I have a lot of friends… and none of the others talk to or about each other this way. The conversations revolve around ideas and things, not people… not other friends.

Individually, this is still true of Gail and Laura and Catherine. Gail and I talk about politics, sociology, hypotheticals, the ethics of veganism and the meat industry. Laura and I talk about our fandoms and books and movies. Catherine and I talk about… well, Catherine and I don’t much talk one-on-one these days, but when we did, it was shows and movies and our lives. There also isn’t an antagonistic energy to fuel cruel jokes, so they’re few and far between. Together, though… together, we hurt people. Together, we hurt Camille.

Perhaps the gossipy nature of my own birthday party a few days before Gail’s wedding had been the motivation to change my friendships. Undoubtedly the alcohol involved affected the implementation, but I felt a burgeoning friendship with Camille. I realized that she couldn’t have possibly meant to hurt Gail six years before… and I drunkenly told her so. At a wedding, Camille found out that someone she barely knew was privy to her deepest, darkest secret, and had judged her for it, however indirectly, and used it as a reason to avoid a friendship. She found out that her friend betrayed her trust and that several people knew something she’d only told four people… from someone who was too drunk to read the signals and shut up about it. I told her that we’d been talking about her and for once, I realized that it was unquestionably not okay. I absolutely should not have put her in that place… and neither should Gail. None of us ever should’ve discussed these things about her and it wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t who we are together… if the conversation didn’t so often revolve around the person who’s not present.

The outing of Camille’s secret was the catalyst. She wanted to have a Halloween party at Catherine’s and, quite reasonably, no one thinks I should be there. When Laura told me this, I dramatically deleted Catherine, Camille, and all of their mutual friends from Facebook, feeling as though I was the only one getting any blame for something that involved all of us, something that involved much better friends of hers. Catherine messaged me and told me that it would’ve just blown over and that the reason she’d ignored the last 10 messages I’d sent her in the previous month, was because I’d also made some joke about her sexual past in front of her date, saying that those jokes had always bothered her. For years, she’s not commented on this, as I’ve not commented on many of the things she’s said, because we’re stuck in this place where we can only be horrible to each other, as a collective… and we don’t really talk one-on-one anymore. We don’t feel safe setting boundaries with each other. So, while they’ve chosen not to include me in a Halloween party, I’ve chosen to no longer be included, at all. I’m sure it would’ve blown over, but that’s not what I need.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t feel the dynamic of this group of friends is healthy. I cannot grow in this circle. We don’t challenge each other to be better people. In fact, we often look for affirmation from each other to defend poor decisions and actions. We say ugly things about other people, about each other, and then we excuse it as we laugh about how we’re all assholes. Each and every one of us is guilty of this and all I can think is that four years ago, had I looked to Gail before sharing her friend’s darkest secret, she wouldn’t have given me the nod. All I can think is that two years ago, none of us would have sat around the table at my birthday party, saying hateful things about the people who weren’t there. A year ago, I wasn’t exhausted by the level of drama involved in simply being friends with people. I don’t know how they interact without me, of course, but that’s for them to find out, because I can no longer excuse this behavior in myself.

I’m aware the reaction seems like a dramatic response to not being invited to a party, but no one realizes drastic change is in order without a catalyst. Gail is still my best gal and I’ve discussed much of this with her already. If they’re willing, I’m still interested in pursuing one-on-one relationships with Laura and Catherine. They stood by me on my wedding day and I think that’s worth the effort, but if the Girl Troupe is the only option, as it seems to have been for some time, I’m out. I can’t remember the last time we all enjoyed a drama free day together. I can’t remember a time when any one of us has shut down a catty conversation. I can’t remember the last time someone else wasn’t the topic of discussion. Good people aren’t necessarily always good together.

 

 

Approaching Last Day: My 30th Birthday …and 5th Blogiversary

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I’m pretty sure no one has used a Logan’s Run reference on their 30th birthday in the last 20 years, but it is truly one of my favorite movies. In fact, I made Jake watch it early on in our relationship, in exchange for Blazing Saddles, one of his favorites.

Jake: “Why is everyone in this movie naked?”
Me: “What? They’re not naked. They’re wearing drapery.”
Jake: “It’s see-through.”
Me: “It’s not… ooooh. How did I never notice that?”
Jake: “How many times did you say you’ve seen this movie?”

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Regardless of the fact that this is apparently just cleverly disguised porn… or not so cleverly, as it may be, for the last 10 years, I’ve planned my 30th birthday around a Logan’s Run theme. I was gonna buy brightly colored age-coordinated gauze, glue plastic jewels to hair ties, make a geodesic dome shaped cake, and hold a viewing of the movie, while my friends watched in confusion. Then reality hit.

I live in Cherokee, 45 minutes from all of my friends in Shetland.

I got married this year and have spent enough money on parties.

My new husband isn’t above “accidentally” walking into a crowded room wearing nothing but drapery.

I even had to nix the lantern release from Tangled, after Gail the Wet Blanket informed me that it was “illegal.”

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Alas, my Logan’s Run theme has turned into a t-shirt I ordered from Redbubble and an evening viewing with Jake, as I’ve compromised with a more “normal” celebration and relocated my birthday gathering to a downtown food truck site, in the hopes that people will you know… come.

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As I hear it, such is the way of growing older. Reality sets in and all those outlandish dreams you once had fall away… except in my apparent fairyland, where that’s been proven to be complete and utter hokum. That’s right, y’all. I turn 30 today, September 9th 2017, and I have accomplished very nearly everything I had hoped to accomplish… as I’ve detailed in my blog for exactly five years to the day, including annual birthday/blogiversary posts.

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giphy4It’s a big milestone, y’all and this is exactly how I dance.

Surprisingly enough, I never actually sat down and created an official list of things I hoped to accomplish by 30. I think I’ve just always known that if I wrote a goal down and never achieved it, regardless of why, I’d feel like a failure… even though, as I’ve chronicled in my beloved blog, my goals have changed in the last five years. I’ve changed… and that’s okay. I proudly consider myself a very self aware person and now that I’m here, I think it’s for the best that I didn’t make any grand declarations of what I’d achieve by the end of my twenties. That doesn’t mean I’m not really proud of some things, though. Such as…

I lost the weight. I went from “somewhere around 270,” too ashamed and miserable to know an exact number, to “somewhere around 160”, as someone who can hike up a mountain, bike 10 miles, and never receives a raised brow from her doctor.

I’m confident. I learned to apply makeup, fix my hair, and comfortably wear cute clothes, which are blessedly far more affordable than when I was morbidly obese. I owned my quirky hobbies, and fandoms, and even my general social awkardness. Even if I still occasionally miss the mark, I learned how to more accurately gauge when to tease friends and when to be kind and supportive.

I finished school. I went straight through, graduating high school in 2006, my bachelor’s in 2010, and my masters in 2013.

I got my finances under control. I paid off some debt and improved my credit score. I consolidated my student loans and entered an income-based repayment program. I enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and am eligible on 2024.

I’m a full time teen librarian. At times, I thought it would never happen, as I worked two jobs for two and half years after receiving my MLIS. Even after I got full time, I thought the ship had sailed on working with teens, but through a crazy course of events, I’m working as a teen librarian in a suburban library, while still earning the pay and benefits of a big city system.

I fell in love and got married. I unashamedly admit that being married by 30 was pivotal to my overall happiness. Bt 27 or so, I didn’t want to come home to an empty apartment and Netflix any longer. I wanted a loving husband and a family.

When I started this blog, on my 25th birthday, I probably would’ve listed owning a home and children as goals for my 30th and now, five years later, I realize that it’s all come in God’s perfect timing. Jake and I weren’t ready for each other until exactly the day we met. We weren’t ready for marriage until the day we exchanged our vows. We won’t be ready for a house until next fall, when we’ve saved the money. We’ll benefit greatly from two years alone together, learning to communicate and not strangle each other, when I passive aggressively hide the clothes he throws on the floor, before we start talking about kids. 

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People keep asking me how I’m coping with turning 30 and my response is… coping? Why would I be coping? I live in a fucking fantasy world, where life only gets better as time passes. Despite the combined efforts of the entire South, I’ve spread out the good things in life and have yet to experience the best days of my career and buying my first home and having babies and watching my children grow and settling into a comfortable and steady marriage with the love of my life. In all honesty, if I did have Logan 5’s opportunity to seek renewal on Carousel tonight, I’d only go if I could be me all over again… because I have a shit ton of good coming my way, including a lot of brightly colored cookie cake.

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Shetland in My Rearview Mirror

At 10 years old, I was chubby, asthmatic, and uncoordinated, longing to rank amongst my sportier classmates, who played competitive soccer and already had “boyfriends.”

At 13, I was still chubby, asthmatic, and uncoordinated, but also surly and defensive around those “stupid whores” who now bullied or ignored me.

At 16, I was every small town, cliche, misfit, declaring this town was too closed-minded for my creativity and biding my time until I could leave the judgemental assholes behind.

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I used to joke that there was no sight as beautiful as that of the Shetland water tower in my rearview mirror, insisting that once I left, I’d never return. I did leave at 19, to go to college about 45 minutes away. It wasn’t far, but it wasn’t my bizarrely religious and intolerant southern suburban hometown, either. Sadly, however, my college years involved several more moves, a house fire, a miscarriage, and a divorce, as opposed to the more traditional toga parties and slam poetry readings everyone else enjoyed.

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Wait, wait, wait… did Saved By the Bell lie to me?!?!?

Luckily for me, as Robert Frost once said, “home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” because at 23-years-old, newly divorced and a little broken, I returned to Shetland to lick my wounds. Waiting for me was a flexible job substitute teaching and a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment that rented for just $490 a month, with an ironically comforting view of the Shetland water tower from my patio.

After the first year, the fear began to subside when someone knocked on the front door, because I knew the rent was being paid and there was no risk of eviction. After the second year, I realized one morning that I hadn’t slept with my purse right beside me, because there was no risk of anyone stealing from my wallet. After the third year, I was able to put away my .357, in its pink gun sock, because I knew he wouldn’t break in and steal from me again. Surprise of all surprises, when I wasn’t looking, the town I once despised had become a healing place.

Indeed, for six years, my little apartment has been not only my home, but my safe haven. I’ve pulled all-nighters with the patio door open, enjoying the breeze and the cigarette smoke from the neighbors as I worked on my graduate portfolio. I’ve littered the floor with fabric swatches and straight pins in my latest craft project, while marathoning One Tree Hill. I’ve lain by the pool and read romance novels and listened to 50s music. I’ve packed more people than was probably wise onto my patio, to smoke cigars and drink cheap booze. I’ve dramatically cried after bad grades and bad dates and bad days at work.

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In a lot of ways, Shetland now embodies my carefree twenties, more so than my tumultuous teen years. The horse-themed landmarks that once brought forth memories of bullying and boycotted football games now recall nights at the community center playing pickleball with my friends after closing, getting day drunk in my living room floor and giggling over online dating profiles with Gail, decorating my hot pink Christmas tree, sharing my first kiss and makeout sessions with Jake. It’s been a wonderful time in my life and it’s bittersweet to see it end.

Saturday, I bought packing tape and boxes. I threw out my college kid papasan chair. I took down my wall of photos of just my family and friends and consolidated them to one collage frame. In less than eleven weeks time, my life will no longer be just my own and so in just two weeks, Jake and I will move into our first house together. The town of Cherokee is just fifteen minutes from the Jackson library, but forty minutes from Shetland… forty minutes from Gail… forty minutes from my Gramma… forty minutes from home.

I know it’s for the best that Jake and I start on neutral territory, that we have more space than my apartment allows, that my dog finally has a yard, but it’s so hard to pack this stage of life into boxes, knowing I’ll unpack them in another. I’ve hardly begun and I’m having trouble not tearing up looking at my bare walls. Ridiculously, I already get weepy driving through town, knowing that one day I’ll be surprised to see new restaurants and office buildings, that the Shetland I know today will cease to exist.

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I’ve worked so hard over the last six years to carve out the life I wanted, to figure out what that life even was, who I even was. I’m overjoyed that that’s where I’m headed. I’m also beyond grateful, that I cherished my time here in Shetland and the bulk of my twenties. I didn’t spend my days pining for a husband and children and mortgage. I enjoyed my days alone and my nights with friends and even my bad dates with strangers, because each phase of life should be savored, one is no more valuable than another. At one time, I identified so clearly with Steinbeck’s quote that “it’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” But… I loved this one and it’s kind of breaking my heart that it’s just time to put the Shetland water tower in my rearview mirror.

 

 

Being Single is Hard

I’m not single and I haven’t been for quite some time. I met Jake last June and I wouldn’t have called myself single past August or so. As Jake and I move closer and closer to marriage, shopping for rings and spending more and more nights together, though, I’m starting to realize how much harder it was when it was always just me.

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I’ve shared, previously, the number of blogs, articles, and comments I’ve come across on the difficulty of marriage, which are usually followed by new parents telling me I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I have a lot of friends who have been sharing this article on the difficulty of parenting on Facebook and I applaud the author for choosing not to discuss how easy everyone else has it… because that’s all I ever hear about being young and on your own. I don’t know if everyone is simply looking at their past through rose colored glasses or if young, single people feel pressured to insist that their lives are fulfilling in every way, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard or read a discussion on how truly difficult it can be to be alone.

Now, I’m certainly not pitying those enjoying the single life and the freedom that comes with it. I had a great time going to movies alone and enjoyed many all night Vampire Diaries marathons over the sound of a whirring sewing machine, when I was single. When Jake visits his parents or goes to Wellston for a few days, I even try to remind myself to enjoy the last chances I’m going to get to be, well… a little bit single. It’s a great time… but it’s also a tough one and no one ever gives anyone credit for the strength it can take…

… to be the sole earner.

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As a single woman with an advanced degree, my entire adult life has been something of a financial struggle. In college, I was married to a man who refused to work, so perhaps I had a skewed view, but everyone remembers those years as the Age of Ramen. After I received my bachelor’s degree, however, that stage had already ended for most of my classmates and not because they got jobs, but because they got married.

As I entered graduate school, more and more of my high school acquaintances were choosing to stay home with their babies. These women posted funny YouTube videos about how their friends without children knew nothing of responsibility as I worked 13 hour days and came home to finish a research paper while eating off brand spaghetti rings, because who am I, the Queen? I still don’t buy the name brand. I paid for everything on my own, from my rent, electric bill, and groceries, to the rare nights out with Gail. Student loan payments, car trouble, chiropractor visits, that time my phone was stolen, my $70 asthma inhaler, trips to the vet… they all fell to me, while my peers showed off their new houses and $300 highchairs and longed for my stress free life.

As a successful young woman, I can’t discuss money when sharing my desire for marriage and family, without giving people the impression that I just want a man to take care of me. The women I’ve mentioned above had their own financial hardships. I understand that, I do, but they weren’t solely their burden or responsibility either. When you’re on your own, you’re the only one available to talk yourself out of that designer purse or that second drink, because you’re the only one funding the inevitable emergency. At the end of the month, it’s just you and whatever remains in your bank account. While this is a really great learning opportunity, it’s also really scary. It’s almost as scary…

… to be the sole everything else.

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American culture has grown strangely proud of poor time management skills, with everyone from stay-at-home-moms to childless professionals competing to see who can claim the least amount of free time. Never was this more apparent than when I rushed home from a substitute teaching job to take my dog outside, before heading to the library, where I worked circulation until 9:00. When I’d get home at 9:30, it was often to an apartment that looked like an F1 tornado had hit it.

When you’re living with another person, it’s easy to take for granted the things that get done with little to no effort on your part. When Jake and I are married, whoever gets home first will start dinner. If one of us has more free time in the week, we’ll help the other out by doing the laundry, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn. If the Internet goes wonky, there will be two people who could potentially take the morning off to wait for the service call, and two people to compensate for any lack of income that might cause.

When it was just me, every day, working two jobs, I was lucky if I had the energy to microwave dinner, let alone clean up the kitchen or do the laundry. Thank God I didn’t have a lawn. Two years ago, a day off of work to wait for a service call could ultimately have been the difference between being able to afford that Internet or not. Even something as simple as company has become a given, now that I’m in a relationship. It’s easy to forget all those times I ran to the drug store sick or went home after a bad day to an empty and lonely house, now that someone’s available to pick up the prescriptions and cuddle up to during bad Netflix movies. It’s almost as easy to forget how hard it is…

… to have to face the unknown solo, with a smile on your face.
Zetus lapetus, dating sucks. If there is one aspect of being a single twenty-something that none of us feel compelled to talk up, it’s dating and that’s because no one looks back on it fondly… unless they just didn’t do it for very long. I remember getting ready for what was unsurprisingly another dead end date, with Gail’s help, a few years ago. She told me how, although she loves Terry, she sometimes misses that feeling of anticipation and excitement. In hindsight, I’ll admit, there were times when it really was exciting. Toward the end, however, it was just… emotionally exhausting.

The entire time I dated, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to admit that the one thing I wanted more than anything was a loving husband and children. I didn’t want them immediately or solely, but it was a goal of mine to be well on my way by the time I was 30. For some reason, I was supposed to leave something so important up to “fate” or “timing,” while being told my career goals were only subject to effort… even though the former was dependent on how one random person felt about me and the latter hung on how several very specific people felt about me. As a result, not only was I terrified that I may never attain what mattered so much to me, but I felt like I wasn’t even allowed to discuss it, for the sake of all womankind.

Not every woman shares my priorities. Some focus more on career or travel or general life experiences, but most people want to eventually find someone to love and care for and with whom to make all the big life decisions. There was a time when making all of those decisions by myself was freeing. Eventually, however, what I yearned for was a little less uncertainty in the world, some assurance that I would eventually put down the roots I wanted with someone I wanted. In your twenties, there are a thousand unknowns in your existence and when finding someone is no longer one of them, you feel a little more grounded, because you’re not facing the other 999 alone.

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I look fondly on the time I spent single, because I made a genuine effort to enjoy it while I could. I had a great time thinking only about me and bettering myself and my career. My Gramma once commented on how exciting it must be to have my whole life ahead of me with all that freedom and all those decisions yet to be made. She was right. It was and still is very exciting. It’s also a lot to take on alone, because no matter how many amazing friends and family members you have, it’s not the same as being in a committed relationship. I don’t doubt that being newly married, having young children, or raising teenagers is stressful. I imagine every stage has its battles and tears. I just get really tired of hearing about how the post college, pre-marriage stage isn’t one of them… because going it alone is, quite often, really very hard. I hope I never forget that.

Blogiversary and Last Birthday of My Twenties!

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It’s always easy to remember my blogiversary, because I started this blog on my 25th birthday. Today, I turn 29, which means I’ve hit something of a personal record in blogging. Not only have I been chronicling my life and personal soap boxes for four years, but I’ve done so consistently. I don’t think I’ve ever gone a full month without an update, even when I was working two jobs and going to grad school. Here’s hoping the anonymity I’ve employed allows me to do so for years to come and that I’ll have even more reason to celebrate each and every birthday, because I love birthdays. I don’t just mean my own, either. Nope. I’ve already chosen gifts for both Gail and Jake, each of whom I fully intend to celebrate with next month, despite the fact that the former finds birthdays only vaguely appealing and the latter insists that they’re downright juvenile. No one spends a birthday alone on my watch.

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My love of everyone’s birthday stems from the fact that my mother always did them up big, when I was a kid. Still, I always sort of assumed, that as I grew older, mine would lose their appeal, as everyone’s eventually do. I mean, my Facebook feed has been flooded with comments about how old we’re all getting since we were 24. I, myself, used the phrase “staring down the barrel of 30” just weeks before I hit 27, much to Gail’s horror. Surely, birthdays would lose their novelty in time.

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On the contrary, I have come to the very last birthday of my twenties and I could not be more excited about getting older… and this blog deserves much of the credit. For four years, I’ve been sharing every triumph, every failure, every heartache, and every cheesy lovey dovey thought with the 1,400 or so followers who subscribe to my blog. At times, I haven’t known if anyone but Gail was even reading, going off of likes and comments, but I’ve told the tale anyway, because I know one person who will always read and that’s Future Belle. I love to look back at the stories and thoughts I shared in a different time, as a different person. At 25, I never realized how much could change in four years, but here I am struggling to remember what it was like to be the single grad student rushing from one job to another, praying I’d have enough money to make it through the summer without substitute teaching. In another four years, I’m sure I’ll be looking back, wondering what it was like to go home to an empty apartment and have the entire evening to myself… and that’s just so exciting. 

At 16, if asked, I’d have predicted college, career, marriage, home ownership, and babies years ago, because that’s how it’s supposed to go in the South. Certainly, I wouldn’t have anticipated reentering the dating world after a divorce at 23, in tandem with starting graduate school. I wouldn’t have even guessed at the possibility of meeting the love of my life at 27 and still being unmarried at 29, let alone waiting until my 30’s to start a family. I’d have been horrified by what the timeline actually looks like.

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I have so many thrilling moments ahead of me, so much to accomplish and yet, so many achievements to boast. If my life has changed this much in the last four years, I can’t imagine how amazing it’ll be in the next four. Given the choice, I’d so much rather be 29 and where I am than 25 and where I was and I imagine I’ll say the same at 39. Being an adult, moving forward in life, just generally getting older is awesome!

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I’m not going to my ten year reunion.

Gail sent me the guest list, via screen cap on Facebook, because we are our generation.
Me: “Nate Walker and Keith Thompson? I’d rather be part of the human centipede, it sucks less ass.”

Lacy: “Are you going?”
Me: “Nate Walker. Country club. Hors d’oeuvres. It’s like a Mad Lib from Hell.”

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My response was likely expected, considering I started publicly insisting that the class of ’06 could kiss my ass if they thought I was paying to see them, the day I found out that the class of ’05 was charging for their reunion. In fact, I’m pretty sure the last time I actually expressed any genuine interest in attending my ten year reunion, was ten years ago, when I couldn’t wait to see how everyone turned out.

I’m apparently alone in this line of thinking, however. Everyone is adamant that I’ll regret not going. With the way Jake talks about his high school days, you’d think he went to fucking Hogwarts, he had such a magical experience, so naturally, he wanted me to go to my own reunion. He even offered to pay for everything. Though Catherine and I did attend the same high school, we kind of didn’t. It wasn’t until after college that the two of us started bonding and though we were friendly enough in our earlier days, we didn’t even run in adjacent crowds. While I sat with the drama kids, band nerds, and AP students on the auditorium steps, Catherine regaled her friends with tales of her groupie weekends with local Christian bands. We weren’t hostile, but we weren’t besties, either. Surely Gail would sympathize with me, though, right? I mean, we had all of the exact same friends and nemeses, the same misfit hobbies, a near identical lack of regard for basic fashion. Nope. Gail was even looking forward to the reunion, before deciding that she really didn’t want to go play the role of The Girl Whose Baby Died two days after what would’ve been Grace’s birthday.

So, why am such a Negative Nancy about all of this? Well, it’s certainly not that I hate these people. On the contrary, I’ve really enjoyed looking at pictures of their crazy college days, their wedding dresses, and their new homes. I’ve read all about their infertility battles and wondered how exactly someone manages to take an artsy picture from the bathroom floor, where they’ve supposedly just been vomiting. I’ve both awwed over their baby pictures and scoffed over the cost of the new high chair. All of this is precisely why I’ve no desire to actually speak to any of my old classmates, though. What could they possibly tell me that I haven’t already read, in detail, because nothing is private anymore? I’ve spent the last ten years watching everyone from high school grow up and get over themselves and start their lives… all from the comfort of my own home. So why on Earth would I pay (or let Jake pay) $70 to do the same damn thing, while wearing pants? Facebook has rendered the high school reunion completely redundant, even if I don’t consider the fact that almost no one that I would like to catch up with is going… for all of the same reasons.

“You should go and show everyone how skinny you are, now!” – All of My Aunts

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It’s really quite sweet that they see me this way, in comparison to my 18-year-old self and I’m sure a lot of people will attend with a similar mindset. I could wear a cute dress and bring my hardworking oil man along, flaunting my master’s degree and Supervisory Librarian position to all of those people who bullied me, but… I just don’t care enough about what these strangers think, to put in all that effort. Instead, this weekend, I’m going to celebrate my one year anniversary with Jake. I’m going to wish my Gramma a happy birthday and check on my best friend to see how she’s coping with the grief she still feels. At some point, I’m sure I’ll get on Facebook and smile over the reunion pictures, glad that everyone is having a good time. I don’t need to peek behind the curtain and make new memories of old acquaintances, though. I’m just too busy with the present.

 

Things I Will Not Do as an Adult, Wife, and Mother

Gail’s engaged, y’all.

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I know, I know. After she’d lived with Terry for three and a half years, we’d all pretty much lost hope, but there it is: my best friend is getting married. Some people do buy the cow.

While some of the most pertinent to me, Gail’s pending nuptials are hardly the only big life news being announced. It seems anyone who isn’t planning a first wedding is subtly reclaiming their maiden name. What can I say? We’ve got a lot of twenty-something divorcees, here in the South. The rest are planning babies… possibly numbers two and three. We’re growing up. My Facebook feed is no longer flooded with beer pong photos and 4/20 shout-outs, not even college graduation pictures and new job announcements. Even the engagement announcements are usually for the aforementioned divorcees or some of mine and Jake’s younger friends. Today, it’s all babies and mortgages… and that’s awesome. Truly.

Everyone I know is complaining about getting older, but I would so much rather be 28 and where I am than 22 and where I was. Life is good and I aim to keep it that way, which is why I’m baffled at why so many of my peers are doing such awful things they don’t want to do. I’m sure many who read this will chuckle with a patronizing “Oh, you’ll see, when it’s your turn,” just as my parent acquaintances who hear me say my kids won’t have cell phones chuckle with the same comment, while wondering why their own children are such lazy assholes. I don’t care, because there are pins and posts all over Pinterest and Facebook that make both adulthood and parenthood sound awful and exhausting. Adults today are screwing themselves and if Future Belle reads this list and shakes her head, I hope she’ll at least consider the reminder of the things she once swore were neither healthy nor beneficial to anyone involved. Such as…

Having an Elaborate Wedding
Y’all, when Gail told me about her upcoming wedding, I immediately started hyperventilating about my own. It wasn’t because I expect Jake to propose soon, but because if ever and whenever he does, at this point, I know I’ll say yes. My stars, does it sound wonderful to actually be married to such a genuinely good man… but the part where we get married? I’ll pass. Is passing an option?

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Jake loves weddings, so it’s really not. Yes, I found the one man who thinks weddings are so hunky dory that he’s been in like ten of them. That’s not even an exaggerative Belle-isim. I frequently joke that his online dating headline was “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” For Jake, a boy, a wedding is an awesome party where he and his best friends dress to the nines and enjoy free food and booze. Not until he got himself a researcher for a girlfriend did Jake know that the average cost of a wedding is $26,444.* When I look at pictures of other people’s weddings, the obvious expense stresses me out. It’s a party, y’all. It just happens to be one where I’m expected to spend $200 on engagement photos, $900 on invitations, $1,500 on flowers and decorations, and $700 on wedding favors.*

You know what my wedding favors are going to be? Free food and booze. That’s it. I’m not paying hundreds of dollars to have flash drives or plastic stadium cups or even cutesy Hershey bars made that no one will remember. That also means no programs, or rustic wooden backdrops, or burlap… ugggggh, the fucking burlap…, or twinkle lights, or mason jar chandeliers, or lace tablecloths. I’m not spending the first hour of my reception taking photos that look like I’m cutting a cake, even though I’m not really cutting a cake, and another 30 minutes personally thanking each person for coming. My perfect wedding plans involve butcher paper, crayons, and Sam’s Club cupcakes and if Jake will let me get away with it, that’s what I’ll do. I want to have fun and I want to do it on the cheap. I’m not missing my own wedding, because Pinterest told me I’d forever regret not taking a photo where Jake and I spell out L-O-V-E with our hands while laughing in a field of blue bonnets. I’m also not going into debt for a party. I. Will. Not.

Altering or Defending My Choices About Adulthood/Mommyhood
Jake and I talk about money more than I would imagine most married people do. I think it’s great that he’s so opposed to any and all debt, but this means that we would likely not buy a house until my student loans are cleared, in which case we’d buy outright. Now, as heartbreaking as a future without Jake sounds, I have always maintained a Belle Goes Solo version, as well. In this, I still wait until my loans have been cleared, because only at that point can I afford both a mortgage and a new roof. In short, with or without Jake, I will not be a homeowner until I am at least 36 years old.

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For some reason, in the South, owning a home is the pinnacle of adulthood, regardless of whether or not you can afford it. I’ve been told numerous times that renting is “wasting money,” but until you’re paying on the principle, “owning” is exactly the same, except for the part where you replace your own roof. While Solo Belle likely wouldn’t have any other choice than to take a mortgage, Jake and I wouldn’t be “wasting” any money renting that we wouldn’t be paying in interest and upkeep. For us, buying outright is the most desirable option. That wasn’t the case for Gail and Catherine, who are both thrilled to have recently bought homes the traditional way and more power to them. I’m not going to defend my choice not to buy before I’m ready, though, to anyone with whom I wouldn’t discuss any other financial matters. Nor will I defend my choice not to roll the existing loan on my used car into the price of a new one, which I might add is terrible advice, Dad. While we’re at it, I’m also not defending the aforementioned student loans, because it’s my money that I dedicated to build my career.

It amazes me that people will ask a near stranger about their finances, but this pales in comparison to the audacity it takes to ask a woman about her Mommyhood choices. My birth plan is to be high as a kite. I’m going to vaccinate. I will never breastfeed. In regards to my birth plan, anything and everything involving my vagina is and will remain private. I’ve had friends criticize me for my breastfeeding decision, though, and I don’t have children. I had a reduction at fifteen and can’t breastfeed, but it’s bizarre to me that I’m supposed to explain this to a nosy woman in the grocery store who tells me “breast is best.” I swear on the sorcerer’s stone that if anyone ever says that to me, I will at the very least respond with “so is minding your own business.” I’ve heard women complain that a stranger scolded them for not having shoes on their baby in a carrier, in July. I’ve listened to friends complain that a lady at the gas station mocked them for extended rear-facing.

I didn’t say a word when Jake and I had hibachi for dinner the other day with a four-year-old who spent the entire time loudly laughing at a tablet, even though I thought it was unimaginably rude to ignore the chef’s show and disturb the other diners. It’s not my business or my problem that you’re raising a disrespectful little shit, just as it’s none of yours that my child will have horrible detachment issues, night terrors, a desire to harm small animals, or whatever it is that people think results from formula feeding. Why are we, as capable adults, answering to these rude and nosy people?!?!

Spending More Time and Money on My Children’s Happiness than Mine
Oh em jingles have parents today made the whole gig harder. I admit, I’m not a parent, but that means I can be entirely objective when I ask: why are you people exhausting yourselves over your Pinterest orders?!?! Y’all can’t just wrap presents as a couple, while eating cookies, on Christmas Eve. You have to spend the month of December coming up with increasingly complex and elaborate Elf on the Shelf scenes. You can’t just take everyone’s favorite fruit snacks to pre-k. You have to stay up all night making strawberries that look like lady bugs, because heaven forbid your children eat anything non-organic. You can’t buy the one time use Halloween costume at Wal-Mart. You have to spend $120 on Etsy, so your daughter can look more like Elsa than the 47 other Elsas at the church carnival. I don’t know about you guys, but my skating rink birthday parties, where someone else made the cake and did the cleaning, made for great memories. Your children don’t need tiered cakes to make them happy, or at least they didn’t until you started convincing them that tiered cakes were for anything other than weddings.

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I understand that some people genuinely love making cutesy snacks or complicated costumes or designing unique family t-shirts for the Disney trip. I, myself, will be the parent who plans elaborate birthday parties, because I love birthdays. I struggle with the idea that anyone genuinely enjoys being expected to do all of these things. Maybe it really does fill you with joy to buy your seven-year-old that pair of $120 basketball shoes or give your 12-year-old the Uggs she so desperately wants. I’m not saying that I’m never going to do nice things for my children or enjoy making them happy. I’m saying that I’m not going to spend all of my time and all of my financial resources satisfying their every whim. I’m not neglecting my marriage or my retirement fund for my children, with the exception of some life-threatening illness. I’m not going to scratch my head over why my sex life is nonexistent as I, once again, lie in a bed with all three of my children between my husband and I. I’m not buying the newest game system, planning a trip to Disney World, and paying for brand new fencing equipment for my beginner fencer.

By today’s standards, maybe it makes me selfish to say it, but building a happy marriage and strong financial future will come before my children. If we took a family vacation one year and only have the means for one big trip the next year, the kids can have a fun-filled week with grandma and grandpa, while mom and dad remember why they got married. Given the choice between a good night’s sleep and my child having the most convincing costume for Dress as Your Hero day, I choose sleep. I also choose $80 worth of groceries over $80 worth of costume supplies.

It’s wonderful that our society cares so much about children, but we’re all so fucking miserable, because we’ve been told we’re supposed to stop caring about ourselves. I’ll tell you from experience though, that having mentally and financially stable parents who loved each other would’ve trumped the MacBook every day of the week.

Citations

http://www.costofwedding.com/

Living in Fear: A Millennial without Health Insurance

I don’t have health insurance.

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That’s right. I’m 28 years old. I’ve had a house fire, a miscarriage, a divorce decree with my name on it, a bachelor’s degree, a teaching certificate, a master’s degree, more student loan debt than I’m willing to admit here, and a car payment. I’m an adult in all these ways, but I’ve spent most of my adult life without health insurance.

To be clear, I am not blaming anyone. That’s not the point of this post. I made my choices, starting with the decision to marry at 19, kicking me off of my father’s insurance and continuing with the decision to pursue a master’s degree, rather than enter the workforce as a full time teacher, earning me benefits. Just as the aforementioned student loan debt is no one’s fault but my own, so goes my lack of health insurance… and it sucks balls.

You hear the statistics of uninsured Americans and occasionally someone posts a Go Fund Me link on Facebook telling the horrifying tale of a 27-year-old melanoma victim who just wants to live until her son’s fifth birthday. No one ever talks about what it’s like to just be uninsured. No one really mentions the people who simply can’t justify paying a $200 monthly premium for government mandated coverage with a $3,000+ deductible, just so they can get a couple of asthma inhalers every year. The penalty for not doing so, by the way, is still less than two months of this worthless “insurance.” Personally, I’m a professional researcher and found a loophole, so I’ve never paid the penalty, but it would still be my preferred choice… which means living without health insurance.

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During college, I didn’t feel the effects of my lack of coverage so much. My mother did fund a root canal, after the dentist refused to start pulling teeth from a 20-year-old (glad it wasn’t a broken arm, Mom), but despite my morbid obesity, I was generally pretty healthy. I suppose the most profound healthcare issue I had was my miscarriage, but my state government actually has a fair resource for low-income pregnant women… emphasis on the word fair.

When I got pregnant, I received WIC and state funded doctor’s visits, so I could eat well and get the prenatal care I needed. God had other plans, though, and at 11 and a half weeks, I lost the baby. According to americanpregnancy.org, after 10 weeks, the chances of an incomplete miscarriage rise. I was nearly to my second trimester, but after a tearful few hours in the emergency room, I was sent home. I wasn’t referred to a physician, who could prescribe me pain medication. I wasn’t told to report for an ultrasound in a week to make sure pieces of my dead baby weren’t left behind, which could potentially kill me. I was sent home… without instructions of what level of pain to expect or how long I would bleed. That’s what it’s like to miscarry on low-income health insurance.

About a year later, I received a call from my step-mom telling me that I would once again qualify for my dad’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, until age 26. At this time, I was 23, so three years with insurance was a saving grace after five without.

As my 26th birthday neared, I made a half dozen doctors’ appointments. I got a pap smear and an eye exam and a final teeth cleaning. I visited the chiropractor as many times as I could and made an arrangement with one to let me pay cash after my coverage expired. Thankfully, when I hurt my back at 24, I was insured, because there’s no other way I could’ve afforded the treatment to gain the ability to fully straighten my right leg. On the eve of my 26th birthday, I prayed. I asked God to please grant me my health until I got a full time position and the benefits it afforded… as I did for the next two and a half years.

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When you don’t have health insurance, you live in constant fear of injury. live in constant fear of injury, regardless, because I regularly hit my head, but without insurance, everything is a risk. A trip to the wildlife refuge reminds you of the story you read about the guy who was bit by a rattlesnake there, while hiking. A day of swimming makes you question every mole you’ve ever had. An ice storm has you envisioning the bills attached to a fractured wrist. When your best friend buys you a heat gun for Christmas, you vow to save it for the day you get your insurance card. Even dating has you wondering about how much birth control will cost out of pocket and what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Every single sickness, no matter how normal, calls to mind the fundraiser for the woman who found out she had breast cancer at age 25. When your long-term boyfriend asks you to go on a romantic ski weekend with him, you recall the article about the woman who’s in debt for the next fifty years after being airlifted to a hospital.

It doesn’t improve your nerves that every concerned family member tells horror stories about people they’ve known without health insurance. Over Christmas, I had to explain to an aunt that, no, I wasn’t lucky I hadn’t gotten leukemia like her first husband did at 29; I was a statistical norm. Awkwardly, I also had to note that it wasn’t worth paying the premium because I was of “prime childbearing age,” because I’m not a candidate for the Mother of Christ.

I’m a pretty consistent blogger, y’all. I know there are times when I’m a bit more reliable than others, but I can usually be counted on to post every week or two, but I’ve been terribly ill. Last Monday, I woke in the morning to feverish chills and shaking. I called in to work, thinking it was a one day thing, happy I at least had paid sick leave. The next day, I woke feeling worse, after a night of getting up to pee every few minutes. After calling in sick, I pulled up my trusty physician Google, who reported I had a bladder infection. It wasn’t urgent, I read. I just had to drink a lot of water and it would be over in a couple of days. What a relief. I had an important training Wednesday morning. As long as it didn’t get to my kidneys, I was fine. Y’all, I literally felt the moment the infection entered my kidneys, during that training. After 30 minutes of sitting in rapidly increasing pain, I asked to speak to my boss in the hall… where I broke down and told him I had to go to the doctor.

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I drove 80 miles an hour to the Urgent Care clinic, sobbing to my Gramma, who told me to go and she’d pay for it. When I arrived, I was informed that my visit, which took all of 15 minutes, would cost $130. A nurse took me to the back, took my temperature, asked my weight instead of weighing me, and put me in a room. A doctor came in, asked my symptoms and agreed with Google. He literally did zero research and just prescribed an antibiotic and something for the pain.

I keep telling people that I was really sick, but no one seems to get how far the infection had apparently progressed. While the doctor seemed to think I might be able to make it to work the next day, the increasing pain seemed to disagree. My body didn’t seem to be responding to the antibiotics at all… not that I could afford to get a second opinion. That night, the pain was so intense that I went through my medicine cabinet and found some muscle relaxers, hoping they’d help me sleep… because I’d developed a sharp pain in my right side.

According to Google, I could be suffering from a number of things, from an appendicitis to an ectopic pregnancy to kidney stones… all of which would cost a fucking fortune to treat at the hospital and could be fatal if ignored. I found an old wives’ concoction that was supposed to help kidney problems and got up early in the morning to make it. The fever had gotten so bad that after mixing my apple cider vinegar/water/baking soda drink, I started to feel woozy, rushed to make it to the bed… and woke up on the floor, not sure where I was or how long I’d been there. I couldn’t tell up from down. I couldn’t stand. Thank God himself that I couldn’t reach my phone, because there is nothing more terrifying than waking up on your floor alone, with no idea where you are or what’s going on and no one to help you. In that moment, the possibility of financial ruin from an ambulance ride or emergency surgery meant nothing to me. I was petrified and had read nothing of these symptoms online. I’m also pretty sure Jake wouldn’t have appreciated the horrifying 6:00 am call of me incoherently telling him I needed help and couldn’t afford an ambulance. I mean, it’s not like my Gramma could help me down my stairs.

As a woman without health insurance, though, I did the only thing I could. I don’t know how long I lay there bargaining with God that I’d accept any emergency surgeries he had in mind, if he’d just wait until I was insured. Eventually, I was able to rise to my knees. Somehow, the glass of vinegar and water hadn’t entirely spilled. I downed it and crawled into bed in my vinegar soaked shirt… where I simply prayed I didn’t need to go to the hospital, now that the fear had subsided, and I went to sleep. A few hours later, I woke to find the pain in my side was now bearable. By God’s amazing graces, the vinegar concoction had worked.

I didn’t get well as soon as the doctor told me I would. On Saturday morning, Jake woke to me crying, because I was never going to get better. On Monday night, I left work early. On Tuesday evening, I still had a fever. At times, I wondered if perhaps I’d been misdiagnosed. I thought about returning to the Urgent Care clinic, but it was just too expensive, unless I was sure. I’d just have to wait it out.

Yesterday, I actually felt well enough to go shopping, on my day off. By the end of the trip I was exhausted. I’m still recovering from what was apparently an epic infection… not that I knew that, because the doctor I saw asked few questions and ran zero tests. I got lucky… and God gave me one last glimpse of life without insurance before mine kicks in on April 1st.

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