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.

 

 

Marrying a Whole Person

It started with a pillow.

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On Friday, Jake and I had planned to look at a furniture outlet, so we could get an idea of what kind of new couch and bedroom set we’d like to buy in a few months. Unlike our often disastrous Hobby Lobby trips, I wasn’t concerned that this would cause any disputes, as we generally agree on large furniture pieces. It’s soft furnishings and décor that cause meltdowns and declarations that maybe we shouldn’t get married and he can just live alone in his bat cave forever. On the way to the store, however, Jake dented his pickup, so he was in a bad mood when I wanted to make a quick stop at the beauty store, before exchanging a pillow to Hobby Lobby. Eager to find out how much damage he’d done to his truck, he told me to go ahead, which was fine… except for the wording.

Jake: “There’s no reason for me to go to the beauty store with you.”
Me: :: angrily browsing hand lotions :: Well, there was no reason for me to go to the western store, the golf store, the video game store, and more often than not the liquor store, but I didn’t insist that all of your interests are frivolous and stupid and sit in the car.

I was eventually so frustrated that I decided to walk to Hobby Lobby on my own, because there ain’t no way that trip wasn’t going to end in a fight… and I was right. So, I suppose it started with a trip to the beauty store. It escalated with a pillow.

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Me: “You hate everything I like.”
Jake: “That’s not true. I liked the shelf you wanted to get for your coffee mugs. I just didn’t like the pillow. I thought it was a stupid, frilly, single girl pillow.”

Dude. Ouch.

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*Jake insists he did not say “stupid.” I insist he did and that that’s a terrible defense.

I spent the next 10 minutes or so privately crying on the way to the furniture store, messaging Laura about how everything I like is dumb and girly. I told her about the pillow and she agreed that one pillow was not worth any strong opinion, that Jake could handle a single pillow.

Jake: “There’s no point in going in here and looking at furniture if you’re pissed off at me, so what’s wrong?”
Me: “What’s the point of looking, when everything I like is stupid and frivolous?”
Jake: “That’s not what I said. Would you prefer me to just not say anything and you do whatever you want? I don’t even mention the stuff I’d get if it were just me.”
Me: “Neither. Do. I. Every single thing I point out is something I consider a reasonable compromise. It wasn’t sequined or pink. It was a white, furry pillow, to go with several other pillows you do like.”

We argued for a few more minutes, before I told Jake that I really didn’t want to look at furniture with him right now and that I’d like to go spend my gift card money at Bass Pro first… where I’m sure he’d love the furniture. After a good 45 minutes of silence, Jake was the first to speak.

Jake: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “You keep saying that, but we keep having this argument. Aaron hates that ceramic deer head Mindy likes so much. He thinks it’s stupid. She still has it, though, because that’s what marriage is. You know what? I hate your “Manners Maketh Man” sign idea. I think it’s pretentious and dumb… and Buzz is gross. It’s absolutely disgusting that you have a dead animal on your wall. The only reason I named him Buzz was to make it slightly cuter and less morbid, because you like him. I love animals so much that I cried when a goat died on The Walking Dead and I can still get over a dead fucking deer on my wall, for the rest of our lives, but you can’t handle one fuzzy fucking pillow? You just want to smoke cigars on a bear skin rug with the head still attached, while I sit quietly and contain my glitter. You tell me our home will represent me as well as you, but apparently it’s only the parts you like.”

The word glitter has never been spoken with such hurt and tears. Dude’s lucky it didn’t end with a pillow.

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Jake: “I like all the parts of you.”
Me: “Apparently not the ‘stupid, frilly, single girl’ parts.”
Jake: “Okay, that might have been what I said, but-”
Me: “That’s what your sign needs to say.”
Jake: ::laughing:: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “I’m buying that pillow.”

I didn’t actually buy the pillow. I bought a much larger, softer one, with shorter fur, at Target… and Jake loved the overall effect of a gray linen comforter with large beige linen pillows, one red and one brown suede pillow, my fluffy white pillow, and another furry brown oblong one. I draped a soft red throw over the foot of the bed and we’re both happy with the overall appearance and comfort. We found our medium and Jake was only an ass and I was only a drama queen, like half the time… because this is not a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Jake and I are not two teenagers figuring out who we are, what we like, and what we want from the world. While I’m sure we’ll grow together over the years, we’re hardly the blank slates that were Noah and Ally/Jack and Rose/some example where the woman wasn’t a screeching whore. On our first date, Jake and I discussed our views on both religion and politics, in depth, because we’re not college freshman taking a contemporary moral problems class to evaluate theses concepts for the first time. Similarly, on our third date, I made it clear that I wasn’t leaving my library system. I worked hard for my degree and my place in the system. I make damn good money in my field and region and am over the soul searching part of life where I’m up for anything. Not long after, Jake and I talked about our financial philosophies, goals, and personal standings… because these things are not up in the air for us. We were 27 and 30 when we met. We’d had respectively 9 and 12 years to establish ourselves, take a stance on these issues, and realize that they weren’t worth compromising.

The only trouble is, Conservative Christian values are not equal to a fluffy white pillow. The career about which I’m passionate isn’t comparable to a clock that is somehow “too nautical.” A debt free lifestyle is not a deer head on the wall. While it’s benefited us greatly to have spent those 10 years or so making mistakes, conquering our goals, and becoming whole and complete adults, it’s also given us grounds to be quite the stubborn asses. It’s not just him, either. I may not be completely irresponsible with my money, but I also don’t have $50,000 in the bank like Jake… and I do have debt. For years, my Christmas budgeting plan has been to buy what I want for everyone and catch up later. Jake, however, is committed to us being debt free. So where Jake is going to have to let go of the rustic hunting lodge image he has in mind and loosen the purse strings a bit, I’m going to have to learn to hold off on that cat costume, the Amazon Echo, and a new watch, when I don’t have the discretionary income to fund it immediately.

At 29 and 32, we’re well established and developed individuals. Jake is a whole person and so am I, which has only ever been a perk, until recently. While I’d still rather have 200 fights over home decor over the course of our lives than 2000 about how he responds to everything with “I don’t care”, I am realizing that it’s going to be a struggle sometimes, for us to marry such complete people. It’s worth it, of course. Just… maybe we no longer talk about pillows.

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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.