Many years ago Charlie gave me a Pendleton coffee cup for my birthday. I loved the cup. I made sure it made the move from the suburbs to uptown. It was the cup I had on my desk at the office. This was my cup and no one could drink out of it, like ever. After Charlie died I brought it home from the office as I wanted it safe in my kitchen. I drank out of it almost every morning as I stared off into the distance muttering “what the fuck,” with the muppet like dog at my side. Until one morning it slipped through my hands and landed on the floor in pieces. With tears welling in my eyes, I swept it’s broken remnants into the trash. I tried to find a replacement cup but it eluded me.
That is until Jay accidentally broke the Pendleton Coffee cup that I got for him in the gift shop at Custards Last Stand in Montana. He was heart broken as it had become his favorite cup. I told him “don’t worry, I can find you a new one.” As I scrolled through the tableware section of the Pendleton website my heart stopped. The cup I had been searching for was there on the screen and in stock. So of course I clicked add to bag and then added the replacement cup for Jay.
In that moment, I realized that Jay was meant to break his cup that night. It was Charlie’s way of giving me a reason to log onto the Pendleton website to find the cup I had broken long ago. He sent a sign at Christmas time from heaven above to let me know that he’s still with me. And knowing me he’s probably like “girl order a couple of them, because you drop things a lot.
This cup isn’t the same as it wasn’t given to me by Charlie. However it makes me smile. Smile because it helps me remember the man who healed my heart and opened the door for Jay. Without Charlie’s leaving there would be no Jay. In my heart I know he’s smiling down on us and yelling “live your best dreams!” ❤️
Ten years ago I woke up and made a decision. A decision that was months in the making and one that needed to be made for my own sanity. I chose to leave. To walk away from a marriage that wasn’t worth saving and said goodbye to a child that I will love until my last breath.
Only a handful of people knew about my situation. Most thought I had the perfect storybook marriage. I had the big house in an affluent community, money, travel, and a husband that adored me. In reality my husband only adored me in public, my big house became my prison and the money only flowed one way, his wallet. Day in and day out I was told that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to be loved. Those words cut into my soul and my mind believed them as truth. After awhile I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror and my laugh disappeared. Smiles rarely showed and my light hearted manner slipped away. He broke me in more ways than I could ever explain.
I never correlated what I experienced with abuse. Until I started therapy. My therapist looked at me point blank and said “Hun, that’s not normal. You went through mental and emotional abuse.” All I could say back to her was “Umm what?” She explained that he used manipulation and gas lighting to break me down. To make me feel like I was less than and that if I ever left him I wouldn’t survive on my own.
His last words to me were “you will never make it on your own.” Those very words have been my fuel. I’ve been fighting to do better and be better because I couldn’t let his last words win. It took awhile but I slowly found myself again. At first tears were plentiful. I felt like a failure and having to start over at 27 was scary. I got my first apartment, learned how to pay bills (no side eyes, the ex had done this for me), and I adopted a muppet like dog. And I never looked back. I was determined to make it on my own.
And when I was ready I dipped my toe into the dating pool. It took awhile for me to realize that his words were false and that I was indeed beautiful. To this day I can remember the first time after my divorce a stranger told me that I was beautiful. It was in the uptown Green Mill parking lot and I cried. I cried because it was the first time in over a year that someone uttered that word in my direction. I left that parking lot with a new found confidence and my grove was back.
Dating as a young divorcee is hard. I kept my guard up and my hope close to my heart. I just wasn’t going to settle for anyone that slid into my DMs. I was picky and there were times where I didn’t even show up to the date. Yes, I AJ ghosted people and that’s ok. Sometimes you just don’t feel like it or maybe you got lost and you didn’t want to be super late. Anyways dating is hard, like real hard.
I didn’t spend a lot of time in the pool, Charlie came in and threw me a life ring. Charlie was able to peel back the layers and heal the years of hurt. In his eyes I was everything and nothing would ever change that. Sure he was 13 years my senior, yet the difference didn’t matter. He’d tell me often “AJ do you know why we work?” I’d tell him no. “You understand the work. You understand that an Attorney doesn’t always work a 9 to 5. You understand that sometimes a case comes before family. You understand that sometimes I have to be away for weeks at a time and because you understand, you are ok with it.” He was right as a paralegal I understood the work and all of the late nights and long weekends that go into a case. I never complained or batted an eye when he stayed in the office till 1AM. He was right, because I understood the work we just fit.
That fit was short lived. And my heart to this day still hurts. Charlie died on February 16, 2012 from injuries sustained in an auto accident on Valentine’s Day. His life was taken by a drunk driver. A driver that I have forgiven. He made a mistake and like me he has to live with the consequences of his mistake for the rest of his life. Charlie was a once in a lifetime love. His soul was vibrant and his personality could fill a room. He knew how to make you smile in the worst moments and roar with laughter. To calm me Charlie would tell me stories in Mohican and with each word whispered I’d forget what I was fretting over. Charlie looked out for everyone and lived life to the fullest. A piece of my heart lies in a little cemetery in Montawk and because of that I strive to live the life Charlie had imagined for me.
After Charlie I took time to let my heart heal and when I was ready I dipped a toe back into the pool. Dates were plentifully, but only a few had long term eligibility. After awhile I just gave up and decided that the single life was the life for me. I had a good job, a cute apartment and a muppet like dog. Life was good and I was happy. But fate, she’s a funny lady, Fate had other plans for me. On Veterans Day 2014 a marine slipped into my DMs and I’ve never looked back.
It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had our trials and our triumphs. We’ve gone through more than most couples do and we’ve come out on the other side stronger than before. He gets me and I get him back. Jay believes in my crazy dream of motherhood. Jay doesn’t like the limelight, he prefers to be in my corner where he can cheer me on from the cheap seats. He answers to every whim of my wanderlust heart. Jay gets my Tasty Taco addiction and my need for adventure. If it’s out there and if it won’t kill me, I want to do it. But mostly Jay is what my heart always needed, he can make me laugh until I can’t breathe, he can calm me when I’m out of sorts, he knows that the simplest things make me happy, and he always makes sure the bed is made. (Having a made bed is everything to me) He is a good egg and I am never letting go. Well that is unless he declares that he hates dinosaurs and fluffy white dogs, then I’ll let his ass go. I can’t have that negativity in my life 🙃.
Looking back now I realize that my divorce wasn’t a failure, it was my launching pad. I’ve done a lot of amazing shit in the past ten years and none of it would have happened if I stayed in that marriage. I wouldn’t have worked as a contract paralegal hopping from case to case. That job eventually led me to my niche, I’m a Risk Consultant and it perfectly fits me. It’s a mix of law/regulation review and procedure/policy analysis, which is my jam. I never would have done the best thing ever…….. duh adopted a muppet like dog! Cullen has been my side kick for almost ten years, he is my joy in four legged form. In the end I am the one who got rescued on adoption day. Nor would I have a shit ton of travel stories to share. My life would have been boring and sad. And ya all know me, I may be a lot of things but boring and sad isn’t one of them. This life I’ve built and rebuilt and rebuilt again, is fucking amazing and I wouldn’t change any of it. Life is a beautiful disaster and this disaster is all mine.
From time to time people ask me for advice. Like relationship advice, yes you read that right, relationship advice. And when I respond I think back to what Charlie said “you need to find someone that understands the work.” He was right, at the end of the day you need to find someone who understands the work and understands you as a person (<—- last part is my two cents). Otherwise your relationship isn’t going to work. Things will happen in your relationship that neither of you signed up for, it’s what you do with those things that matter. If those things break you apart and that break is not repairable, it’s ok to walk away. You did your best, you gave it everything you had and now it’s time to call it. A wise attorney once told me “there are no winners or losers in a breakup or divorce, someone has to call it. That’s the hardest part, making the judgment call.” <—- I heard this advice on a Friday and walked out of my marriage that Sunday and then never looked back. Best advice I was ever given. So if you are where I was ten years ago, just call it and never look back. Your launching pad is waiting for you.
A few weeks back I was sitting in a park sipping on a berry white mocha with a dear friend when she brought up the fact that I no longer write about Charlie. She asked me “Do you not love him anymore AJ? Do you not miss him anymore?” The thing about loss is we never stop loving or missing someone. There are moments where I wish he would just pop up and start spewing advice that I don’t think I need. Charlie will always be apart of me and there is no removing him from my story. Charlie showed me and taught me what love was. He allowed me to put faith into another human being, he allowed me to move in a space that I didn’t even understand. The greatest lessons, those lessons came after his death. Ruin is a gift, it allows us to travel the road of transformation.
Earlier in the summer I sat at my sister’s kitchen table playing connect four with Sophia. As I dropped my black checker in the slot, I studied her face, how excited she was, how she knew she was about to win (I let her win), and about how Charlie would give anything to be here. I quickly wiped my tears away so she wouldn’t see and plopped the checker in the slot. It had been three years since I played a game of connect four and I could have sworn Charlie was in the room with us. I thought about Charlie as I held my nephew in my arms, about how he got cheated out of holding his brother Coleman’s babies and of how those babies got cheated out of an uncle.
Life it is unfair, there is no way around that fact, life is not kind to the soul. Some of us have to travel roads littered with loss, while others travel road littered with promise and certainty. I will take the harder road, because on that road I am living, as in truly living. Uncertainty reminds me to live in each moment, to breath in each moment, and to appreciate each day I am allowed to face the sun. No ones tomorrow is promised, all of us are ticking clocks and only fate knows when the last hand will strike. Almost dying taught me to live this way, to live in the here and now and to travel on the road less taken. Losing Lucia taught me that it was ok to be angry with God and it also reminded me that God knows what he is doing.
God does not desert us in the muck of our lives, he stays the course and sees that we come out of the muck changed. Losing Lucia prepare me for losing my second pregnancy. This time I was not angry, in it I found hope. The doctors were wrong. I have hope. Hope, that my body can and will support a growing pregnancy. It was a genetic accident, two sperm fertilized one egg and it just wasn’t meant to be. I walked away from this with faith that my 3rd time and Jay’s 2nd time will be the charm.
Charming, that is one word to describe Charlie, he had his quirks and his skills, but in the end he was charming. He took a broken woman and loved her back to health. In away I think Charlie knew that fate was not on his side and that he was preparing me to be another man’s wife. He died loving me and for that I am forever grateful. Charlie taught me to believe in love again and he reminded me of how to love someone. I had to learn how to love myself before I could love another person. I had to heal myself before I could even think about helping someone else heal. I had to just be, to just be in the moment and love being alone with the person in the mirror.
Love, I never lost her she was always there waiting in he shadows and when I was ready I opened my heart. Fate had a hand, an opportunity to love fell into my inbox on Veteran’s Day. That one email lead me to Jay, a man that I love and understand with all of my heart. His ability to be raw and open is what captured my heart. He is not perfect, then again no buddy is, yet he was exactly what I needed. Jay slipped a silver band on my finger in a motel swimming pool, in that moment his eyes were brimming with love and fear. We all fear what we cannot see, or touch or know, yet in those moments of fear we let the light and love shine through. In those moments we become our best selves and open our hearts to those around us.
Charlie is always with me and a part of my heart will always belong to him. Even thou he is dead, Charlie is still teaching me from the grave. Every now and then I look up at the stars and whisper the constellations to a man I cannot see. That man will be honored when I marry Jay, when we give our future child the middle name Rae, when I take Sophia to Paris and each day that I live the best life possible. Charlie would want me to be happy. Charlie would want me to live a life outside of the shadow of grief and to have the love that he never got to have. An I am doing just that, I am fine with the fact that change is constant and that I cannot control fate. I am deeply in love, I am hopeful, and I am present in this life.
A Colorado number flashed across the screen, having no idea who it was I hit decline call. The number it kept calling and a voicemail was left. It was Steve, he was in town on business and wanted to catch up. Steve was Charlie’s associate, together they wore their white hats and fought for justice. I haven’t seen Steve since 2012, he met me at The Butcher and the Boar, being a partner has aged him, yet his smile was still the same.
He spotted me and came running over, the man gives good hugs. He asked “do you still drink the same?” Yes I said, my whiskey on the rocks with a twist of lime was ordered and our waitress lead us to our table. Steve talked about his new cases, life as a partner, and mostly how he realized that he could never fill Charlie’s shoes. Agriculture Business Law is a tough game, but the payoff and recognition are worth the long hours. We talked about the big three, GMOs, and seed copyrights. Boring to some but highly entertaining to me.
Steve loves to tell me stories about Charlie. Stories of how Charlie had to search every town and airport for a candy shop to bring me strangely shaped gummy candies. Steve quickly caught on to the silly tradition and helped Charlie in his search. Eye balls, that was the strangest thing they ever found for me and the eye balls were so life like I refused to eat them. They are still in my freezer to this day.
With our bellies full of animals and other deliciousness we set out for a walk on the chilly Minneapolis streets. The Spoon bridge glistened under the lights, I paused for a moment, and allowed myself to remember how much Charlie liked the sculpture. Steve noticed that I paused and asked “what’s going through that head of yours.” Nothing I said. He looked at me grabbed my shoulders and put his forehead to mine and said “I’ve read your blog I know, I know you are hurting.” Full on in public ugly cry, yup I am a cryer and it just all came out. Steve smiled and said “a wise man once told me that board games and whiskey can solve all of life’s problems.”
I’ve heard those words numerous times and they brought me comfort. I walked Steve back to the W and was going to head home, He stopped me and said come up to my room for a second. I laughed and said no I am good, the dog he needs me. Steve wasn’t taking no for an answer, so I amused him and followed. Up in the room he repeated “a wise man once told me that board games and whiskey can solve all of life’s problems.” He pulled Checkers out of his suitcase, a bottle of whiskey from a brown bag and two Dixie cups.
I took of my coat and proclaimed, “I get to be red and I get to go first.” Deal! With each checker moved my BFF breakup and crappy October melted into the board. Steve listened carefully and interjected when necessary. Through others I was able to see that Gopher Guy was my bottom and I, I can do better. Steve said to me “you deserve someone who is going to stand up and change the status quo and not please the masses.” Those words made me smile. Steve was right, I deserve someone who is going to vouch for me and protect me. Not someone who tucks me in their pocket and keeps me a secret from their friends. I don’t want to be someone’s secret pocket friend or girlfriend for that matter. I am never going to be someone’s pocket friend or pocket crush again. If you like me own it and who gives a fuck what people think. Just remember no one ever erected a statute to a critic.
Charlie was somewhat right, board games and whiskey can’t create world peace, however they do provide a much needed distraction from life. A couple games of Checkers and Steve’s perspective were exactly what I needed.
The above quote has kept me going on my toughest days. At the end of the day we are all just little nuts trying to hold our ground. What we do with that ground is what matters. What matters is that we hold steady in the winds of change and stay true to who we are when the storms end.
My life has been anything but easy and there are moments where I look up and say “why me?” I didn’t choose this life, it chose me. I am the human Bermuda Triangle and I always brace myself for hurricanes. I have built up walls to hide the hurt and to keep people out. My heart it’s been broken and patched a time or two. I am afraid that if I put it out there it will get sucked right back into the triangle.
Survivor, that’s a term I hear over and over again. I want to be more than a survivor. I want to be more than a grieving mother, friend and fiancé. I want to be more than broken. Broken is what people see when they look at me. I am strong and mighty on the outside, but on the inside its a different story. I live with one foot in the now and one in the past. Emotions, I am not good at dealing with them. I tuck them in my back pocket and march on.
I cannot out run my emotions, or the heart ache, or the fact that I survived, and definitely not my past. In order to move on I need to face the very things that made me who I am. I need to embrace the very things that terrify me and to realize that I too am human. I, I need to face my shit and deal with my neatly pocketed emotions.
When I deal with the past, face the ugly, and own my shit I will be able to face myself. I want to have healthy long lasting relationships. I want to actually connect with a man on a deep you know all my secrets kind of level, and to stop pushing my dearest friends away when I feel they are to close.
Year 32 is going to be the year of been there, done that, and I owned my shit. It’s not going to be easy, yet I am not scared. My family and friends are cheering me on and all of them think owning my shit is a good idea.
After all in five short years I had a stroke, lost a child, got a divorce, lost friends, fell in love, lost my fiancé, got sick, and yea the list goes on………. It’s time to face all of those things and to deal with the emotions of the past. I am finally ready to face what’s in my back pocket and mostly I am ready to face myself.
Memories seep in like a cool breeze. At first the breeze touches your hair, caresses your skin, and the chill it catches you off guard. Memories are like that, they catch you off guard. Much like love, when you are falling you don’t realize you’ve fallen until that one moment when his smile catches yours. I’ll never understand why Charlie chose me to call his own, in my opinion I am more of a mess than a prize. Something you walk by and leave for the next guy. Charlie would often tell me “AJ you are bigger than you can imagine, you are the spark that lights up the room.” I would simply smile and walk away. His brown eyes, god those eyes would meet mine and he would say “I mean it kid, I mean it.”
I have been caught up in a cancer scare and trying to get my feet on solid ground, so caught up that I almost forgot that today he would have been 43. Charlie loved celebrating birthdays as much as I do and I almost forgot his. Then again with time his being gone has gotten easier and I have learned to live without him at my side. On the day of my surgery I could feel Charlie around me and as I went under I was certain that I heard his voice. His voice is etched in my memory and the way he whispered into my ear late at night, those moments are something I cherish. Surprisingly I’ve come to find peace in the goodbye and those memories bring me comfort.
I can still hear the squeak of the chapel doors and the way the covering on the pew felt against my wool tights. The way the room felt, how the light flickered through the stain glass, and how the sunlight bounced off the cobalt blue casket. I held his hand for the longest time and talked to him for what seemed like hours. Part of me believed if I held his hand long enough I could will him back to life, in my heart I knew it wasn’t possible, yet I held on. As I held his hand I looked at all of the mementos that were placed inside, there was barely any room for him, and in that moment I knew he was being sent off with more love than one soul could handle.
Love is what I felt when I followed the casket down the isle, the church was standing room only and I was amazed at how many lives he touched. I took my place and waited for the Pastor to give me my queue. As I walked up to the Pulpit I dug deep and face the crowed, I did the last thing I could do for him, I sent Charlie off with one hell of a Eulogy. That was the last thing I could do. Hymns were song, prayers read, stories were told, and a video was shown, this was how we celebrated his life.
The tiny stone church stood proudly in the distance, a path to the grave site was shoveled, tents set up and men holding metal trays filled with shots of whiskey greeted us. Each guest grabbed one, I stayed behind with the pallbearers and waited for the guests to take their spots. The funeral director gave us the queue, they carried his casket on their shoulders and I walked in front leading him to his final resting place. Charlie’s father raised his glass, made a toast, took the shot, and slammed the empty glass on the lid. His brothers did the same, followed by his Mother, grandparents, and then it was my turn. Overcome by emotion, I had nothing witty to say, so I just bawled, drank the shot and slammed the empty glass on the lid. I will never forget the sound it made, the heavy clunk and then a clink as it hit another glass.
His life was bigger than his death, he had so many dreams and had done so much in such a short period of time. I was lucky enough to be a dot on his timeline. I was lucky enough to know what true love feels like and I was lucky enough to be loved by someone who loved me until he took his final breath. The only thing I can do in return is to learn how to grow and move on from it. I know with all of my heart that Charlie would want me to move on and to live the best life possible.
I have no doubt that I would have thrown him the best 43rd birthday party known to man. Filled with friends, family, food, and of course whiskey. Then again I know Charlie would have preferred an evening playing board games with friends over a lavish shindig. Like the previous two years there will not be a party, instead, I will blow out a single candle on a lemon cupcake and whisper “Happy Birthday Charlie” with the muppet like dog by my side.
For the first time I found myself able to sit down and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas without bawling. Christmas 2012 was hard, I mas deeply missing my partner in crime and I still harbored a lot of anger towards the drunk driver. Blinded I wasn’t able to see how incredibly blessed I was and I let the magic of Christmas slip through my fingers. Ba humbug perfectly described my mood, I wore a smile to hide the pain I was feeling inside.
I didn’t think my heart would heal and that I would be able to forgive. A healthy heart harbors no hate and a healthy heart is a happy heart. I had no room in my life for hatred or anger, I needed to heal on my own and to find my way. I choose to heal by doing something Charlie loved. I spent my summer walking the shores looking for glass to fill his half empty jar and with each piece my heart began to heal. I was able to love again and soon I felt like my old self. My heart will never be fully healed, the glue with hold it together and one day I will place my broken heart in the hands of another man. He will look beyond the scars and inside he will find a beautifully broken soul.
A soul that has a soft spot for beggars on a cold winters night. One who tries her hardest to find the bright side in every situation and one who never gives up. I am an unsinkable ship crashing against the waves. One who does everything in her power to make the lives of those around her better. One who cries at a song, finds joy in the smallest things, and lives a beautifully designed chaotic life.
The other day I was listening to KOOL108 when “Three Ships” came on and I was over come with sadness. Not the oh my I am so devastated sadness, but the good kind. You see “Three Ships” was Charlie’s favorite Christmas song. He would listen to it over and over on his iPod and would often sing along in his very out of tune voice. He would sing “Three Ships while in the shower in the middle of July, in the car in March, and would wake me up singing “Three Ships” in December. At the time I was annoyed and now I would give anything to hear his out of tune voice singing “Three Ships” from the top of his lungs. Until the song came on I had forgotten how much he loved it, it was the reminder that I needed to find the joy in the simplest things and to keep on singing. To keep on singing my song until I find my way home.
Tonight I found myself singing “Three Ships” while doing dishes and then I remembered that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was on tonight. A huge part of me didn’t want to tread the waters and flipped the channel, the other part wanted to give it a shot. I sat with the Kleenex on my lap, to my surprise I didn’t need them. Instead of tears, I was filled with joy and found myself repeating some of the lines to the muppet like dog. Charlie loved “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and he would watch it as much as he could during the month of December. One can’t blame the man, his mother after all did name him after the little bald-headed character. Charlie knew the lines by heart and would often burst out with “All I want are 10s and 20s. All I want is what I have coming to me!” To Charlie December was about living through the eyes of a child, about finding the wonder in the every day, and spreading as much kindness as he could.
Even though Charlie is gone, it finally feels like Christmas, like Christmas should. I find myself looking for the spectacular in the every day and spreading as much kindness as I can. I am only one soul on this earth and I am doing my best to take care of my tiny part of the globe. I decided to get my shopping done early this year so that I could focus on my family and friends. I want to spend my holiday moments with the people I love and not in some checkout line. I want to watch Sophia’s eyes light up as the fireworks race across the cold night sky and to sing “Three Ships” to her as she drifts off to dreamland.
I ask all of you to sing your song and to follow your heart until you find your way home. Enjoy the journey and learn from the lessons. Spend time with your family, hug them tight, whisper more I love yous than you can count, because life will be over in the blink of an eye. The greatest Christmas gift does not come in a box with a fancy tag, it comes from the heart, the greatest gift of all is the gift of love.
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning.
Pray, wither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
Pray, wither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas Day in the morning.