Protecting the Future of Libraries is Ruining My Life

If you’ve been following my blog for the past year, then you know my professional life has been a bit hectic. Last January, I started as a Supervisory Librarian at the Northside Library. Finally full time, I was able to quit substitute teaching for a new position that was envisioned as 20% supervisory and 80% librarian. Sadly, the title quickly evolved and my true role ended up being 100% supervisory… and still 80% librarian. In addition to acting as manager at all times, I was also the adult librarian, in charge of local and off-site book clubs, building the adult programming department, working the reference desk, maintaining and weeding a quarter of the collection, and performing readers’ advisory. After eight exhausting months, I tearfully explained to my manager that a good week was one in which I was the only person crying in my office… and that I was stepping down, internally.

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This took a bit longer than I thought it would. I assumed I was the obvious choice for the adult librarian position in Cherokee and was rather overdramatically devastated when the job went to a woman who I now know was the more qualified candidate. Then, just north of Cherokee, a position opened in Jackson, also for an adult librarian. While teens have always been my passion, my experience at the Northside Library in adult librarianship just seemed to go further than my bachelor’s degree in education or my six years of substitute teaching or even all the teen-centered classes I took in grad school. No one cared about my goals or theoretical experience as much as they did my actual experience. Since I enjoyed working with seniors and I hated being a manager, it seemed unwise to be picky. Exactly 11 months after my first day, I celebrated my last as a Supervisory Librarian, before starting as just a Librarian at the Eastside Library. Life was good… for a fucking minute and a half.

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Towards the end of January, came the announcement: my library system is undergoing a grassroots restructuring. Literally everyone’s title and job description are changing… no matter how new they might be. Less than two month’s, y’all. I had my position at a small town library with a touch of adult programming for less than two months… which was still enough time to relocate.

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The Jackson Library is unique in that it’s grouped with the Lakeville, Harmon, and Nada libraries, which all serve small, almost rural, communities around a thriving metropolitan city. Together, these libraries comprise the Satellite Libraries of my system, which until very recently, have been treated as the Hillbilly Annex, when it comes to resources and funding.

Me: “I just hate the way everyone talks about these libraries. My bachelor’s degree was in home-ec. I constantly had to defend it, even to those in the education field, and here I am again, defending the Satellite Libraries to the rest of the system.”
Boss: “How do you mean?”
Me: “We’re part of a fifty million dollar system and we didn’t have color printing here, until 2017. I had a color printer in 1997.”

This is one reason why I asked my managers to see if I could be transferred to a new branch as part of the restructuring, since it seemed at least two librarians would be moved from the Satellite Libraries and no one else wanted to leave. Additionally, despite my asking before the interview and during the interview, if my position would require traveling to every Satellite branch and being told no, it seems this position has also evolved. Instead of doing the occasional adult program and working as a librarian, as promised, I would be expected to spend my days in meetings with city officials and schmoozing business owners in four different communities.

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Me to my boss: “This is exactly why I got out of management. I spent all my time in meetings, talking about changing the world instead of actually changing the world.”

The restructuring, however, isn’t just about revising the positions themselves, but also deciding who fits best within them. We were asked to evaluate our strengths and truly consider with which population we could make the biggest difference: children, adults, or teens.

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Children’s library has never even been a consideration of mine. I only like the children I’m required to like and sometimes, not even them. I’ll like my own. I probably won’t like their friends. As a whole, I don’t like kids and I’m not sorry.

While I sort of fell into adult librarianship, I did enjoy it, especially seniors. I had a group of ladies I visited at the nursing home, and they fun, sassy, and opinionated. I was the first stop at the Northside Library if a senior needed help with an iPad or Kindle Fire, because I loved reassuring them that they weren’t stupid, technology is hard, and they could do it. Still… my heart has always belonged to teens.

For the same reason I love seniors, I love teens. They’re the forgotten population. We push them aside in favor of the most active tax payers. When they’re children, we love them because they’re cute (or so I hear) and we cater to them because their parents are watching and voting.  As teens, however, they come in alone, make a ruckus, and can’t vote. Most people view teens as little adults who have not yet learned to behave. I know that their brains are just as different from adult brains as those of children. One of the most miserable parts of management was watching the teen librarian plan and orchestrate programs and mentor volunteers, when I had missed the chance.

As much as I didn’t want to travel to a different library every day, I decided to chance it. I tossed my hat into an unknown ring and claimed teens. I could end up staying and travelling or leaving for any of our other 14 system libraries… but I’d get to be a teen librarian. Management has assured me the decision isn’t permanent, but I don’t see how it couldn’t be. No one will ever be more qualified for a position than someone who’s already doing it. Nevertheless, I was assured that they could probably still find a new place for me to serve teens, in system,  but outside of the Satellite Libraries… or so they thought.

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The next week, I was informed that I would probably be staying with the Satellite Libraries, as the teen librarian, despite the fact that two librarians will still need to leave and no one else wants out. I felt like management was trying to make a point that this wasn’t about me, but was it really so unreasonable to think I could still benefit, if someone had to leave anyway? Furthermore, why did they even open the Jackson Library in December, filling three positions, if they knew they were going to pull the rug out from under us all? After what happened with the Supervisory Librarian position, how could they do this to me, again? For the last six months, I’ve had no idea what my professional future holds. On the one hand, I understand the importance of the restructuring and I’m thrilled we have a director will to take it on to keep our libraries relevant… on the other, I’m trying to move and plan a wedding and prepare for marriage and management is ruining my life!

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I’ve gotta give some credit to Jake, here, y’all, because as much as I tried to keep my cool, I… so… horribly… failed. You have not seen dramatic Belle, until you’ve threatened her future as a librarian and at this point, the back and forth was just too much. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to do teens for sure. There was still a chance I’d have to spend all day in meetings with city officials and lead book club discussions over boring grownup books about the Civil War and economics. If they made me travel and sit in meetings all day, I was seriously considering look for teaching jobs… and education in my state is not looking good. I’ve said it before, folks. I am the old man declaring that what you do is who you are and if I’m not a librarian, who am I? I spent days in bed, sleeping and crying over the stress of just not knowing.

Finally, I was able to sit down with my own Supervisory Librarian and the manager above her, where they explained that it’s unlikely anyone will be leaving the Satellite Libraries, but if they do, it just wouldn’t make sense for it to be their only passionate teen librarian. I was even informed that no one actually knew the restructuring would be so drastic, until after the Jackson Library was opened. My manager also made the point that, despite all this stress and upheaval, the teens in these communities need someone to champion them and I could be the best person to do so, considering the similarities between these towns and Shetland, my upbringing and theirs.

As icing on the cake, amidst all of this craziness, we received some other news: IMLS (Institute of Museums and Library Services) might lose their funding, because President Donald Trump is ignorant and shortsighted and wants to give the appearance that he’s cutting real spending when the only impact from defunding libraries at a federal level, will be a negative one. It’s a drop in the bucket as far as government spending goes, but if it’s eliminated, libraries all over the country will have to cut staff, hours, and resources and some will probably have to close their doors for good. I, myself, am fortunate enough to work in a library system that receives zero federal funding. While we benefit from a state database resource funded by IMLS, my job and that of everyone in our system, is secure.

So, over this past weekend, I was really able to process what my manager said, now that I’ve been assured that there are no hidden agendas and I can at least count on being the teen librarian for the Satellite Libraries. Maybe I really can make a difference out here and be truly fulfilled. Would the traveling even be so bad, once I’ve gotten used to each branch? After my talk with management, I realized that everyone in the system is facing major changes in their title. If I moved, I’d just be in the same trailer, different park. I told my Supervisory Librarian as much on Monday morning only to hear that the wheels are still turning and the Cherokee Library is now considered a Satellite Library, as well. I may end up working there as a teen librarian after all.

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As exasperating as they may be, however, these changes are the reason we’ll be thriving in five years. They’re going to be the reason we’re still standing as other libraries fall, because while I’ve been crying in bed like a fucking Disney Princess, because I don’t know the future of my library, others in my field have been crying because their library has no future. This isn’t just a great chance, because it’s my opportunity to work with teens.

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– I GET TO BE A TEEN LIBRARIAN, Y’ALL! –

It’s reassurance that I can still even be a librarian… because for many in my field, it ain’t looking good.

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Seeing Each Other at Our Worst Through Unemployment

At 19 years old, I married the only boy who’d shown any interest in me, because facing adulthood alone sounded scary and he was there. That’s really the simplest, least dramatic explanation. Of course, since I neither grew up in the 1950s or a Nicholas Sparks novel, at 23 years old and three days after Valentine’s Day, I sat in an office alone, holding back tears, as a judge signed my divorce papers. There were a lot of reasons for said divorce, but the most… well, not notable, but quotable in polite company, was that the man I married refused to work or contribute in any way. In fact, toward the end, I was sleeping with my wallet and keys in my pillow case and driving around with all of my valuables in the car. Ah, young love.

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On an average day, I have few, if any, significant thoughts or feelings about my previous marriage. It, in itself, could barely even be titled as such, equating to many other toxic long term early twenties relationships. It is what it is, though, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. The last few months, however… really haven’t been made up of average days.

One year ago, Jake and I saw each other twice a month and the future of oil was bleak. That’s when he made a promise to me that if things hadn’t picked up by September, he’d get out. All through August, Jake worked the manual labor side of oil, two weeks on and one week off, 12 hours a day, with an hour commute each way. Though he was staying with me, we were lucky to get a half hour together at the end of the night, before Jake would succumb to exhaustion… and unlike other exhausting oil jobs, this one didn’t even pay well. Since this allowed no time to apply for new positions, let alone interview, Jake kept his promise. Starting in September, he was officially unemployed; and although he was applying for positions in the Metro, they tended to be ideal scenarios, as opposed to ones that would provide immediate income.

You see, Jake comes from rodeo people. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. His dad ran away at 15, to become a bull rider, where he met his mother, a trick rider (you’ll have to Google that, I’d imagine), and together they built a cattle ranch and traveled the country, with their three children in tow, like the Partridge Family, if Shirley Jones fried more stuff. His brother is a bronc rider, his sister a retired trick rider, his brother-in-law a retired bull rider, and his uncle runs a wildly successful rodeo company. Every one of them run their own cattle. Even his nieces are third generation trick riders. Meanwhile, I’m trying my best to help Jake see that any spawn of mine is unlikely to possess such coordination. It seems athletic country folk tend to marry other athletic country folk, and well… a few weeks ago, I fell over putting on Uggs.

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The thing about country folk, and I mean genuine country folk, not the “country folk” in my family, who board their horses because they live in subdevelopments thirty minutes from Downtown, is that they’re often not beholden to a Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. For Jake’s family, in fact, this is a pretty foreign concept. I mean, sure they know that city people lead more regimented lives, but it’s in the same way I know that there are people who live off the grid in travel trailers: because I saw it on TV one time. The Grangers do not define “steady work” in the same way the librarian daughter of a nurse and lineman does… and to an extent, neither does Jake. That’s why, when Jake wasn’t immediately able to find work, he wasn’t especially worried. He had plenty in checking from his last paycheck and plenty more in savings, that he knew he wouldn’t have to touch for months. In the meantime, he could just work cattle on the Granger Ranch, for $100 a day tax free. That’s a financial plan, y’all. I couldn’t argue with that, particularly considering I begged him to quit is job in the first place.

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The trouble is, as much as I’d love to claim otherwise, I can never truly break free of 22-year-old Belle, evading those pesky questions about her partner’s employment and working two jobs, herself… not in my own mind and not in the minds of some of those who witnessed that struggle. So, while Jake’s family and friends considered working the family ranch to be legitimate employment; I knew that, at the very least, the man who opened the door to his daughter to hear “ImgettingadivorceI’msorryIruinedChristmas” was struggling with it… and so was I.

Jake is not my ex-husband. He’s nothing like him, nor is he responsible for any of the damage done. It’s not his problem. That’s what I told myself all through the holidays, as I defended his work ethic and decisions to people who, quite frankly, probably weren’t even worried. I’m no longer an idiot teenager making promises I can’t fathom, because I’m out of ideas. They know that. I know that… but that knowledge didn’t change the turmoil and stress I felt and tried desperately to hide.

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I tried to explain to Jake, that his unemployment was wearing on me. I did. I was also careful not to really draw any obvious parallels to my previous situation… so it sort of canceled itself out. “I really need you to get a job… but I know you’re working hard and I trust you.” I was too rational and it wasn’t the clearest expression of where I stood on the issue.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell Jake what our situation was doing to me, without nagging him or sounding manipulative… or just revealing things about myself and state of mind that I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging. What kind of woman begs her guy to quit his job and then complains that he’s unemployed, when he spends all week doing physical labor on his family’s ranch for pay?!?! A batshit crazy one… one who’s a little bit broken… one who can’t quite let go of the past… and I did my best to hide that part of myself. Jake was under his own stress from working for his family and it was starting to show, as well. We started bickering more and more, as I tried to keep a hold on my feelings and he tried to juggle his familial obligations with the new ones he had to his fiancé… sometimes poorly.

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I spent New Year’s Day furious with Jake for getting drunk and embarrassing me in front of his friends, people I barely knew, the previous night. It’s one thing to hear his crazy college stories, but a completely different one to live through them at 29, as a witness to his complete regression. He was not responsible for how I felt about his technical unemployment. He wasn’t responsible for the flashbacks to my previous marriage. He wasn’t responsible for the nightmares, but he was damn sure responsible for not being a drunken asshole and I told him as much. I’d planned to just save my breakdowns for when he was at his parents’ house and only share just how much his unemployment was getting to me, when he’d found local work, but there was always a new need for him on the ranch. It was always urgent and if he turned his parents down, they’d tell him he was selfish and lazy, even though they made no moves to hire anyone for the long term, knowing Jake was looking for work here. He was becoming more inconsiderate and I was becoming shorter tempered. It was really starting to wear on us… and eventually, I just couldn’t abide by my cardinal rule that feelings are for the inside.

Me: “I know it’s not your fault, but I spent years thinking things would be different in six months, in a year, in five years, and I can’t do it anymore! You’re working and you’re making money and I know it’s not the same and I’m sorry I’m so fucked up, but I didn’t sleep for days after the nightmare where you turned into my ex-husband during sex! You have to get a real job.

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Jake: “All I wanna do is help my parents and my brother. I want to get a job up here, stop living out of my truck, and find us a house. I’m just trying to help people and everyone I love is pissed off at me.”
Me: “I know you want to be there for them and I’ve supported that for four months, but you asked me to marry you and I can’t do that if you don’t have a job. I don’t mean that as a threat. I love you so much, but this is too hard for me. It’s been too hard for me.”

Ultimately, we compromised. Jake would spend the next week on the ranch, one week looking for work here, and one more week on the ranch, when he’d tell his dad that he couldn’t rely on him for daily help. By the end of that first week, he had a start date for spraying lawns. It’s not his dream job, but it’s income. It’s local. We survived seeing each other at our worst and Jake’s officially moved in with me. He can stop drinking like when he was 22 and I can stop having deeply disturbing sex dreams about my ex-husband, like when I was 22.

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Fahoo Fores and the Best Christmas Gift Ever

For the last six months, as a manager at the Northside Library, I’ve flirted with tardiness daily, because I just didn’t want to be at work. I’d sit on my couch every morning, fully dressed, staring at the time, knowing I’d need to leave… and stay that way for ten more minutes.

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When I got to work, I’d smile at my coworkers, participate in my meetings, create my schedules, compile the program calendars, write my incident reports, lead my task forces, do every task assigned and do it well… only to go home and think about the fact that I went to college for seven years and took out $150,000 in student loans* to hate my job.

*All eligible for Income Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness in eight years.

I felt like I never had a single moment to enjoy myself, because I was always busy working,  worrying about work, or crying in bafflement at how I got where I was. It took up all of my time and energy to be that unhappy.

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I’m getting married in six months and I haven’t worked out since June, because when you’re miserable, there’s a part of you that thinks the effort it takes must be burning calories. It’s hard to fight the part of yourself that wants to stop for frozen yogurt after a hard day, when every day is hard.

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It wasn’t just working out I couldn’t make time for, either. I didn’t talk to my friends. I sometimes even ignored calls from my Gramma and Jake. I didn’t read my favorite books or watch my favorite shows. I was starting to experience genuine symptoms of depression, y’all. I just read news articles on my phone, while compulsively checking my work email, and lying awake at night wondering how long I could hold out. How many meetings about increasing employee morale and analyzing other people’s workflow and explaining to fucking grownups what work ethic means, could I make it through before I said or did something I couldn’t take back? I’d even attempt positivity and think of every eventual outcome or opportunity my management position might afford me… but they all sounded horrible.

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Then, it happened. On December 4th, I celebrated my last day as a supervisory librarian at the Northside Library… 11 months to the day from my first. I didn’t even make it a year before stepping down. For the last two weeks, I have been just a librarian at the new Jackson Library…

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… and it has been glorious.

Guess how many meetings I’ve had in the last three weeks, y’all. No really. Guess.

Zero.

Zetus lapetus, that’s like ten less than I had in a three week period as a manager!

When we were setting up the new library, I spent my days deciding where different portions of the collection should be located, processing and shelving and evaluating materials, and organizing things. When the circulation desk had to be relocated and Mayor McDouchington of Jackson wanted a say in every little detail of the grand opening and the pipe burst at the old building, it was not my problem!

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I’ve been 15 minutes early for work every day, because I, once again, look forward to my job! The only thing I’ve dreaded about working at the Jackson library was having to walk across the street to use the restroom until the bathrooms were installed. I spend my days processing materials, talking to customers about paranormal romance novels, printing color sheets for little kids, and brainstorming new adult programming ideas. When my former direct reports want to talk to me and invite me to parties, I don’t have to be their manager anymore. I can just be their friend. When my friends text me and suggest we all hang out, I actually have the will to leave my apartment! I’m able to enjoy my favorite time of year, because it’s no longer in spite of the unhappiness I’ve experienced all year, professionally. I want to see my family, because I can now answer the question “How’s work?” without crying!

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When I spoke to family and friends, no one understood why I would step down and take a pay cut, but I am so glad I did. You only live once and there is no point being miserable, when the only thing standing between you and happiness is a $1,500 annual pay cut and your own pride. I don’t even mind the commute, because being just a librarian is the best Christmas present ever. It has been fabulous.

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I have to live with a boy.

I have been single for six years, y’all… and in many ways, it has been glorious. For six years, I’ve binge watched teen dramas on Netflix, crocheted sweaters for the dog, eaten dinners of sweet potato fries and maraschino cherries, and decorated my entire apartment like the set of Babes In Toyland every Christmas, right down to the hot pink tree. In fact, anyone who’s spoken to me for a minimum of 11 minutes is aware that pink is my favorite color, as evidenced by my office supplies, electronic devices, shooting range gear, and even one of my guns. A close second to pink is glitter, as also evidenced by my office supplies and every craft project to which I can apply bling. I am just unapologetically girly. There is no age limit on a neon pink North Face or Laura Ashley bedspread and more than once, when I’ve failed to find something in pink, I’ve crocheted or sewn it myself. As I plan my life with Jake, I’m not sorry that it’s so resembled a Delia’s catalog for the last six years… because now I have to live with a boy.

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I don’t just have to live with a boy, y’all. I have to live with the male equivalent of myself. For every pink glittery item I own, Jake owns something that was once alive and cute. Three years ago, when I was dancing to Taylor Swift with the dog at 2:00 am, my future husband was getting up to shoot something for funsies. My life is to the Victoria’s Secret Pink store as his is to Bass Pro, and as we discuss decor, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to live in adjoining duplexes like some kind of fundamentalist Mormon family.

It all began a few months ago, when I started thinking about getting new bedding. I realized that such a potentially pricey purchase should really be mutual, considering the fact that we’d probably be married in a year, so I started quizzing Jake on bedding sets and color schemes. Jake being Jake, was so confident in his opinions, that I started to agree with his choices… only to later realize that I didn’t like his ugly beige and brown boy bedding at all. So, naturally, I obsessed over it for a good week, sending Jake approximately 30 different screenshots of what I considered reasonable compromises until he gently suggested that I was acting insane, since we didn’t have to worry about this for a thousand years. Point taken. I really was borrowing trouble.

Over the last few months, however, as we’ve browsed department stores, musing over wedding registry options while Christmas shopping, decor has come up more and more. Each time, when I would start to get frustrated with how often Jake vetoed even my most neutral color suggestions, he’d brush it off as he always had, stating that we had plenty of time to decide these things. I’d usually respond with a joke about how we’re going to have to have separate bedrooms with an adjoining door. Admittedly, the communication breakdown here has been pretty mutual. Now, though, I’m wearing a ring. We’re choosing a venue and date this week. Jake’s planning to rent a place in Jackson in the next couple of months and I’ll of course move in, so I won’t have to commute an hour a day from Shetland. I’m contacting photographers and Etsy designers and cash bar services and we are running out of time!!!!!!!

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On Saturday, Jake and I went to Hobby Lobby, where he vetoed clock after clock and picture after picture and any color not on the brown spectrum.

Jake: “It’s too nautical.”
Me: “How is it nautical? It’s nautical because it has a weather vane on it? Why don’t you show me one you do like? You have literally said no to everything here.”
Jake: “How about this one?”
Me: “The one with cardinal directions on it is “too nautical”, but one wrapped in sea rope isn’t? Fine. How about you live in your batcave for the rest of your life and we don’t get married?!?”

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Of course, he took my hyperbole as another joke, rather than genuine frustration.

Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “We don’t like any of the same stuff.”
Jake: “Stop saying that. We do, too.”

I tried, y’all. I tried to bring it up rationally… ‘cept with the batcave comment, but he’d literally down voted twenty previous suggestions, so I feel that bit of exaggeration was warranted. Regardless, I put it all aside that night and planned to enjoy our time together. Jake, however, had a touch too much to drink… such a touch, in fact, that I lay in bed at 1:30 listening to the sounds of crashing as Jake sang the Whoville Christmas song Fahoo Fores and promised myself that if he survived his shower, I’d kill him. I was, indeed, ready to do just that when he was too out of it to roll away from me and stop snoring in my ear, ultimately landing me on the couch for a few hours. I mention this to set the scene of an exhausted Belle (all due to Jake), because the next evening, as we were looking over my Amazon wedding wish list, he nixed some brightly colored measuring cups to which he’d previously agreed and I lost it.

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Jake: “What is wrong?!?”
Me: “Marriage isn’t me living in your mancave with sex on tap.”
Jake: “I don’t think that. Don’t say that.” 
Me: “You hate everything I like! You veto everything and you hate all color!”
Jake: “I don’t hate color. I promise, we will have color in our house.”
Me: “No we won’t! You say that and then you say no to every single color I choose! I’m gonna give into everything you like, and I’ll be miserable in your hunting lodge and no one will even know I live there!!!!”
Jake: “That’s not true.”
Me: “One time… I asked you to choose a color of towel and you… you… you chose beige!!!!!”

 

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Me: “I love color and I don’t need everything to be pink, but I want my home to feel like I live there!”
Jake: “It will.”
Me: “No it won’t. I’m marrying one of the bad people from Pleasantville! I don’t want to live in Pleasantville!”

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Jake did his best not to laugh at my ridiculous melodrama and held me as I cried. I told him I worried that I’d end up in the same situation as my brother, having no say and no place in my own home. I reminded him of every time he’d insisted we would have color, but brushed me off when I asked him to tell me which ones he liked. He apologized for making light of my questions at Hobby Lobby, when I pointed out that we actually don’t have months and months to find common ground. Through my tears, I reminded him that I had tried to bring this up rationally and calmly and he’d scoffed at me.

Jake: “I do not scoff.”
Me: “You do, too. You scoff like a little old lady looking at ear guages.”

In the end, he again promised me color and to listen better when I tell him something’s bothering me. He swore to me that I would be comfortable in my home and people would know I lived there. We both promised to communicate better, because for better or for worse, I have to live with a boy and he definitely has to live with a girl.

 

 

 

 

Reigning in My Crazy

If you haven’t been following me since I was a graduate student, you might not be familiar with the fact that I can be a little high strung. Okay, so maybe that was also apparent when I started dating Jake… and then when I started sleeping with Jake… or when I got my new job… or when I realized how much I hate my new job. Know what? Not that big of a mystery. As much as I’d love to be able to, I simply cannot describe myself as a laid back person.

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I want to, at least occasionally, be the girl who’s up for anything, who just goes with the flow when plans change… and I have been at times. I was that girl when I talked Gail into getting tattoos on a whim. I was that girl when Gail called in the middle of the night to tell me Terry was stuck in a ditch two hours away and I went along for the ride, entertaining her by reading aloud from satirical reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey. I was that girl on all those impromptu nights out with Catherine. I was even that girl when Jake wanted to go on a weekend ski trip in February, with little notice and having never skied. Lately, though… lately I just haven’t been able to muster up the gumption to be that girl, at all.

You see, I wouldn’t say that 2016 has been bad. It’s just been in a constant state of change. When I was 21 years old, I moved for the 10th time in two years. Every time someone knocked on the door, my heart leapt out of my chest, because I was certain my ex-husband had gotten us evicted again. After I left, things settled down a bit, but life wasn’t exactly what I’d call “steady” as I worked two jobs and attended graduate school. When I graduated, I was promoted to half time librarian and my pay at the library nearly doubled, but I was still dependent on my substitute teaching check. The harrowing world of dating wasn’t exactly a balm to my nerves, but I was no longer a student, so it was still an improvement. Then, I met Jake and was promoted to full time Supervisory Librarian. Finally, I would have the chance to settle in and get comfortable… except that’s not what’s happened at all.

Jake is wonderful and everything I’ve ever wanted, but his work schedule and the distance have been an endless battle. I thought his quitting the oil field might free up some time, but until he gets a job in the city, he spends his weekdays in another state working on the Granger Ranch. As for me, $50,000 a year in one of the cheapest states in the country sure has been nice, especially with all that health insurance, but… I hate being a manager. Here I am, almost one year from the announcement that I’d been promoted and everything was falling into place and I’m back to my “please let me get the job” prayer mantra.

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Life certainly isn’t as stressful as the days of packing up all of my belongings in four hours, before the landlord calls the police. It’s not even as stressful as working two jobs and relying on the Almighty for health insurance. A surprise middle management position, major relationship milestones, months of illness, a year and a half of schedule conflicts with the love of my life, Jake’s unemployment, and now both of us applying for new jobs, however, does not a laid back Belle make… and I’ve gotta admit, my crazy’s becoming harder and harder to hide.

A few weeks ago, I lay on Jake’s bed, distraught:

Me: “Everything’s in flux and it has been for so long. I just feel like there are no constants anymore.”
Jake: “I’m a constant.”

The only reason he gets away with putting his foot in his mouth so often, is because when he does say the right thing, he nails it.

The next weekend, Jake walked through the door as I announced:

Me: “I’m getting an elective C-section.”
Jake: “Please stop reading those articles.”

After a weekend of arguing about C-sections versus natural birth, I ended up in tears and Jake finally asked the obvious question.

Jake: “Why are you so upset about something that’s not even happening for at least two years?!?”
Me: “Because you told me just last week that you’re absolutely opposed to elective C-sections and I agreed with you. Then Catherine and Laura both told me that natural childbirth will rip you in half and to definitely get a C-section. You have such a big personality and you’re so opinionated that I figured if I started arguing about it now, I’d have a better chance of winning!”

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Jake: “Okay, I promise you that when the time comes, I will consider all of the options, if you’ll promise me that you’ll stop reading those articles.”

He also has the patience of a saint.

My irrational fear of eventual childbirth all started when my (former) OBGYN brushed off my birth control side effect concerns, despite my months of pain. Fortunately, though, I had better luck with my new chiropractor… after my hip popped out of place the morning of Jake’s birthday… because I bent over to pick up a pair of shorts.

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One of the things no one ever really talks about, when they’re busy glorifying living alone, is how much it sucks to be hurt or sick and not even have the luxury of company. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about being alone that amplifies any and all ailments… though apparently not nearly as much as finding out that I didn’t get that job I wanted.

I admit, the day I found out that I didn’t get the Cherokee job, I hit a breaking point and had something of a meltdown. While Jake is great at being supportive in person, he’s simply at a loss when his verbal skills are the only arrows in his quiver. Through a haze of pain, I babbled incoherently into the phone about hating my life, which I’ll admit was needless melodrama, but days earlier my hipbone was tucked behind my tailbone while I grimaced through a fishing trip. I’ve been under a lot of stress y’all.

Here I am, though, with an empty uterus and realigned spine, declaring that I will take the rest of 2016 in stride!

I will stop working myself up over Future Belle’s problems!

I will do my best to accept that the ever changing landscape that is my life these days, will ultimately lead to something good!

I will stop taking advantage of the fact that Jake is experienced in the management of high strung, over-achieving women!

I will reign in my crazy and I will force myself to enjoy my favorite time of year, because I will be that girl who goes with the flow!

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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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No. It’s not okay if I get pregnant.

I’ve had to abandon hormonal birth control, because it makes me sick. While I’m considering an IUD, that’s something of a process, so it’s just condoms and somewhat hypocritical prayer for the time being. This comes up a surprising amount, with medical professionals and even family and friends, perhaps because we live in a society where people “check in” to the urologist on Facebook…

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… therefore, I’ve realized that the world is super okay with an accidental pregnancy for Belle.

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Aunt Lacy: “Why get on birth control? Why not just have a baby?”
Me: “Because Jake and I… aren’t married?”
Aunt Lacy: “So? You’re old enough.”

Me: “Well, I’m not on anything right now. Both Nuvaring and the pill made me sick, so it’s just condoms and prayer.”
Nurse: “Well, if it happens, it happens.”

Aunt Dee: “Well, you’re 28 now. If you got pregnant, it would be wonderful.”

Please, tell me more about how okay you are with taking my remaining years of freedom. Let’s talk about how great it will be for me to get fat and go five years without sleeping. I’m sure Jake will be thrilled to either have to propose, knowing he’ll never convince me that he actually wanted to marry me or break my heart forever.

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I have just gotten the hang of putting the dishes in the dishwasher, as I go, as opposed to musing aloud about taking them to a car wash while balancing a mug precariously on top of the pile like a game of kitchen Jenga. I am so shocked that I’ve kept a plant alive since Christmas that I’m not even sure it’s a real plant. In just the last week, my pets have had to alert me to their need for water by barking and meowing when I turn on the bathroom faucet. It’s either really flattering that the rest of society thinks I can handle the life of another human being or really quite sad that their standards are so low, because I’m perfectly willing to admit that I can barely take care of myself right now. I am finally at a point in my life where I can afford a small emergency and remain on top of my bills and I’m enjoying such expansive financial freedom in comparison with where I was one year ago.

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… how my bills got paid from 2007-2015…

It’s fantastic that the rest of the world is now so keen on babies born out of marriage. I’ve seen Bastard Out of Carolina twelve times and I’m not a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, so I really do mean that. I’m glad society is more accepting of individual lifestyles, but I still have a pretty traditional idea of the one I want to live. Call me old-fashioned, but I think life is generally easier and more pleasant for everyone involved if two people fall in love, marry, enjoy some time alone, and then have babies. I don’t want to be the only one to take my kids to basketball and ballet, to be the enemy when I take away electronic time for the weekend, to attend parent teacher conferences and pick up snacks for pre-K, because it’s my week to be the parent. I admire my single mom friends, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look absolutely exhausting.

Fine. I concede that at this point in my life and relationship, I wouldn’t actually even be a single mom. Jake would step up, but his mother and father would never respect me again. Regardless of my financial standing, my dad and step-mom would be disappointed in me, too. Who cares what they think, though, right? I do. I care what they think. I care how the world reacts to the news that I’m having a baby and entering a new and exciting stage of life. So, yes, maybe a child wouldn’t derail my entire future, as it might have once, but it’s still one of my greatest fears and will remain so until long after my wedding day, because I can only handle one mouthy redhead for the moment. Am I being ridiculous and overdramatic? Possibly, but no one really gets to decide that other than me. I am not ready for a baby. I want to be excited by the prospect of parenthood, as does Jake. We are the primary individuals effected, after said baby, therefore it’s only our opinions that matter. So everyone needs to back the fuck off and stop jinxing my uterus with their damn well wishing!

 

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I’m glad I wasn’t hot as a teenager.

Growing up, I was not only chubby, but also an early bloomer. This meant that I was naturally taller than the other kids my age and grew breasts sooner. In the sixth grade, when the other girls still wore t-shirts with glittery puppies on them, I shopped in the women’s section and experimented with taping down my breasts like Roberta in Now and Then. Spoiler alert: don’t.

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I also happened to have a mother who swung between the extremes of neglectful and overindulgent, letting me go without a bra and put on extra weight in the first place, only to eventually fight the insurance companies to fund my breast reduction at age 15.

It wasn’t until I was 24 years old and 90 pounds lighter than a year before, that I began to consider diet and exercise just a part of life for all people and not just those who struggle with their weight. My high school years were spent watching TV, playing the Sims, and enjoying Elevensies and Fourth Meal, before they were cool. My favorite outfit was pretty much stolen straight from She’s All That, consisting of combat boots with ribbons for laces, overalls, a turtleneck, and thick black framed glasses. I wasn’t morbidly obese at the time, but I wasn’t Rachel Leigh Cook, either. Since I was never great with makeup and still prefer portable drug store options, 15-year-old Belle was pretty strictly a concealer and lip balm gal, on a fancy day. In short, I was never that girl who wore Abercrombie and Fitch.

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It. Was. Awesome.

Y’all, I got to do the high school thing without any of the “I have nothing to wear! I’m not going!” crap that I’m faced with on a daily basis, now. I was a lot of things in high school. I was smart, funny, driven, mouthy, relatively responsible, creative, loyal, and insightful. Being hot, having people appreciate my appearance first, was just never a priority for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely consumed with my appearance, today. I often rejoice over the fact that I’m officially old enough to be mistaken as an overworked stay-at-home mom, on the rare occasion that I go out in an oversized t-shirt, Star Trek pants, and flip flops. When I’m at work, however, it’s all A-line Zooey Deschanel dresses, cardigans, and full makeup and jewelry. I have to be a professional, these days, and that takes a lot more work.

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Still, even at my most dolled up, I’m not what an average guy would refer to as “hot.” I have nice legs, hair, and clear skin. I’ve also never seen my own ab muscles and don’t know how to use foundation. I’ve never been comfortable in a bikini, even outside of my own standards of modesty, because I’m still… soft. Extreme weight loss comes with stretch marks, no matter how you do it and honestly, I don’t really mind. Yes, yes, I’d love to be 20 pounds lighter and it’s certainly a goal, but this is good, too. In fact, it was good at 24. It’s awesome now.

Y’all, I am officially at a point in my life where everyone is soft. The girls I envied in high school, who could put away 4,000 calories and still maintain their lithe, athletic figures no longer run five miles a day. The one who wore that prom dress with the slit cut to her waist only gets to exercise when she’s chasing her two kids around the McDonald’s play yard. We’re all wearing mom jeans now and I have fifteen years of experience on the high school hot girls. When I look back at my nerdy girl, awkward years photos, the nostalgia isn’t tainted by envy. There was only one way to go from Carrie White bleeding in the locker room showers and that was up… or you know, to prom with fire. Fortunately, I chose the former and I am in my hot years, now.

I’m getting married naked.

Gail and I are living the besties dream, y’all. We’re looking at being engaged at the same time. Naturally, this means we spend all of our time poring over $16 bridal magazines, discussing the merits of white versus ivory, and sewing lace to burlap.

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It’s funny, because it’s a lie.

Gail and I both find weddings to be one of the most superfluous luxuries of modern society. So much money is spent on flowers and tablecloths and wedding favors and no one even remembers them. Tell me: why exactly would I buy gifts for my guests? Their wedding favor is free food and booze. But no, I will not get on that rant right now. That’s much better saved for another time. My rant, today, is purely about the horror that is wedding dress shopping.

Neither Gail, nor I, plan to endure the actual wedding dress shopping experience. Gail wants to buy something at a department store the week before the event, like she’s going to the 8th grade formal, while I want to buy something right off the rack and hope for the best from alterations. For this reason, I suggested we go wedding dress shopping now, when it truly doesn’t matter, because I don’t even have a ring and Gail just mumbles something about the year 2018, when asked when she’s getting married. So, the plan was to browse, perhaps try something on, but be completely transparent in our intentions, so as not to waste anyone’s time. What better place to do that than David’s Bridal?

Y’all, I might be getting married naked. Perhaps I’ll wear some kind of paint with large jewelry concealing my illegal bits, like in that erotic novel I read. Maybe I’ll play homage to my Native American roots and get married in a fringed nightgown… because traditional wedding dress shopping is miserable when you’re not getting married any time soon, so I can’t imagine how it would be were I actually engaged.

When we walked into David’s Bridal, the first thing we were asked was whether or not we had an appointment, because each dressing room was assigned to a personal stylist. The second thing we were asked was for our wedding dates. After explaining that we weren’t serious shoppers, I made an appointment for thirty minutes later and jotted down some time in April, because it’s approximately a thousand years from now.

Five minutes later, Olga the Stylist (not even a pseudonym) introduced herself.

Olga: “Well, your wedding date is coming up really fast…”
Me: “Oh, I just wrote that down, because she asked me for a date. My boyfriend and I are definitely planning on marriage, but I don’t even have a ring yet. We’re really just browsing.”
Olga: “Well, what kind of dress do you have in mind?”
Me: “Honestly, I’m not even sure if a bridal shop is the right place to find what I’m looking for, but I was thinking tea length.”
Olga: “Well, we only have a few tea length dresses, but your date is right around the corner, so you’d pretty much have to order now, unless you want off the rack.”
Me: “I’m actually totally fine with off the rack. That’s likely what I’ll do anyway, because I imagine we’ll have a pretty short engagement.”
Olga: ::laughingly:: “Well, I’m not pushy at all. I’m a terrible saleswoman. Let’s just see what we’ve got. Now, your wedding date is coming up really fast, so if you like any of these, we have a credit card with no interest for the first six months…”
Me: “Well, really, we’re not even engaged yet, but when it does happen, I promise my boyfriend would not be okay with financing anything.”
Olga: “Is he the one who will be paying for your dress?”

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Me: “Well, he’s the one who wants the big wedding, so yeah, probably, but we’re not actually engaged yet, so…”
Olga: “Oh, sweetie, I’ve sold dresses to women who don’t even have the ring yet.”
Me: “Well, I definitely don’t have a ring.”

What… what do I even say to all that? I mean, do I just read off the bullet points?

  1. Horseshit. There is no way I can’t get a dress in less than eight theoretical months.
  2. Please, continue telling me how not pushy you are, as you try to get me to take out a line of credit for a wedding dress, before my engagement.
  3. Said wedding dress is hypothetical, because my “wedding date” is pretend. I’M NOT ENGAGED! I’ve told you that five times.
  4. What the fuck?!?! How is it anyone’s business who’s paying for what part of my MAKE BELIEVE wedding?!? If it weren’t incredibly rude and inappropriate of you to ask that, are you really suggesting I go against what my NOT FIANCE wants for us financially? Should you really be in the wedding business?!?!
  5. It’s oh-so-fortunate for you that you serve so many batshit crazy customers, but buying a wedding dress before being asked to marry someone is insane.tumblr_mvk8usae1r1rtzeu6o1_500
  6. You’re right about one thing. You are a terrible saleswoman.

Gail and I stayed and tried on a couple of dresses, giggling in the fitting room about how horrible the whole thing was, while Olga aggressively tried to get a date out of Gail. We left pretty quickly, as neither of us was comfortable continuing to browse imaginary wedding dresses to the sound of a ticking bomb. Later, as we browsed dresses at Macy’s, we declared that that was the very last bridal store trip either of us would take. One thing I will credit this venture with, however, is my re-dedication to my diet. There’s nothing like trying on a wedding dress to make you want to moo at the mirror. I mean, my wedding is in like five hours and I’ve gotta look damned good, since I’m going naked.

I will never be dainty.

Today, as I was doing my makeup at a stoplight, I realized that I was about to put concealer on what was not a skin imperfection, but barbeque sauce.

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As I prayed to get one more red light, so I could finish doing my makeup, I started to think about the role models I grew up with, in media. A child of the 90s, these included Kelly Kapowski, Topanga Lawrence, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy Summers, and even Lizzie McGuire. As the style of the day dictated, each of them had well-coordinated, brightly colored outfits, perfect bubble gum pink lipstick, and intricate hairstyles requiring those tiny rubber bands they use to attach bows to a poodle’s ears.

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These trends may be the stuff of Buzzfeed posts now, but unless it was a defining feature of the episode, such as that time Buffy had grass in her hair, these girls were nothing but coordinated and adorable, regardless of style. Lizzie may have struggled to fit in with the cool crowd, but she did it with perfectly crimped hair.

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As I entered my late teens and early twenties, I longed to be more like Rory Gilmore and Blair Waldorf, with their preppy, tailored jackets, headbands, plaid, and perfectly timed topical references. I wanted to wear subtle makeup, designer prints, and kitten heels while discussing college life.

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I, of course, never mastered any of the above.

I once burned toothpaste into my hair with a straightener.

I regularly wear oversized t-shirts over my work clothes, because I can’t trust myself to drink a cup of coffee without spilling it.

I frequently use the word “shankraped.”

I don’t own white clothes. As much as I’d love to be the girl in a white sundress and strappy sandals, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it is never going to happen.

I’ve gotten through an entire day, wearing a dress that zipped up the back, before I noticed the zipper under my chin.

I make “that’s what she said” jokes to my Gramma… and then try to explain them.

I’ve notified my loved ones that if they ever find me in a bathtub full of blood, it wasn’t a suicide attempt. I just never mastered shaving my legs.

I’ve done the Sign of the Cross in thanksgiving after realizing my dress was tucked into my panties before the interview.

I walked like a newborn deer for all four of the months I tried to wear heels.

My makeup comes from the drug store.

I don’t trust myself to use a styling wand without taking out an eye.

My punctuality is based on how many green lights I can catch.

I’ve noticed I’m wearing two different shoes, at work… something I’ve been told is unique to extremely pregnant women.

I look at least four sizes larger in plaid or argyle.

I’m far too cheap to buy the pricey, sexy undies.

I will always ruin sweet moments with an inappropriate joke.

Some days, I apply my eyeliner and just go with it, even though I look like a panda bear.

Gail says she can always tell which dressing room I’m in, by following the sounds of crashing.

I’m afraid to go shopping alone, because more than once, I’ve gotten stuck in a top and been unable to get out.

Today, my style most resembles Jess from The New Girl, but at least she’s supposed to be uncoordinated. I mean, sure, she’s never endured the awkwardness of dry humping someone while wearing a skort, but it’s at least a little closer. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I come from a long line of opinionated, boisterous, and often wildly inappropriate women. I buy size 10 shoes, can’t wear button up anything because I’m so broad-chested, and I cuss like a sailor. All of that runs in the family, too. I’ll never be the girl with the perfect hair and makeup, because I like my sleep. I’ll never wear the latest fashions, because I like my money. I’ll always be a little too loud, which is fortunate, because my best friend is getting married and has already refused to give me the microphone at her wedding. I’ll never be the debutante who spends two hours getting ready. Simply put, I will never be dainty… and that’s okay.

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