Getting back up.

I sat here and looked at the blinking cursor for a solid 10 minutes before I had the courage to even write this first sentence. Where to begin? The word that comes to mind to describe the last 2 months of my life is “struggle.” Or maybe “fight.” “Survive.” “Live.”

I could go into detail about what’s happened. I could elucidate and point fingers and stomp my foot and lament on how unfair life is sometimes. I could go on to say that sometimes decisions get made for you. Sometimes you go to bed one evening thinking everything is fine and that you’re on the right path and that the life you’ve chosen so carefully for yourself is a good one. And then sometimes you wake up the next morning to find that the foundation has been rotting away for months, unbeknownst to half of the party.

It felt as if a bucket of ice water had been dumped over my head, reducing me to yet another millennial statistic. A house, a piece of paper, a white gold band, a surname reduced from eight letters to four, all arbitrary, symbolic, now meaningless. A brain that had rewired itself to make decisions based on coexisting with another person was left bereft and grasping at how to function. The terms “we,” “us,” and “our” were no longer relevant. The queen sized bed seemingly spanned the space of two miles without someone next to me. How would I show my face in a town where I knew everyone?

My first instinct was to run. I steeled my nerves, angrily shooed away the tears falling down my cheeks, and I called my best friend. I called her and I told her that I could not face the pitiful looks, the inquiries, the shock and unwarranted advise from people with the best intentions but the least tact. I couldn’t bear to hear, “You’re so young. You’ll find another husband.” “There’s someone out there for you.” Or, worse still, hear someone tear down a man I gave my life and soul to because that person thought it’s what I needed to hear.

So I prepared to flee. I counted my pennies and mentally packed what I knew I could fit in two suitcases and I prepared to leave.

But then I got sick. My body, in its reaction to the emotional trauma paired with exposure to 156 children 5 days a week, made a decision for me. Two rounds of antibiotics, a steroid shot, no voice, unable to sleep, unable to eat. I broke down mentally and physically. In the lowest point of a life filled with more valleys than peaks, I was broken down.

One fitfully sleepless, codeine-laden evening, I dreamt of a bird. Nothing else, just a bird of indeterminate species. It landed on a branch, ruffling its feathers and tucking its wings by its sides as it settled in for sleep. The bird closed its eyes and I opened mine.

I woke well before my alarm and stared, wide eyed, at the ceiling for two or three hours, listening to my dogs snoring beside me. The sun came up, and I took my daily antibiotic, made a cup of strong black coffee, and sat silently in my kitchen floor for another couple of hours.

Then I picked up my phone and called The Yellow Bird, a gardening and gift shop in Downtown Dalton.

Because I worked for the Downtown Development Authority, I knew where there are quite a few lofts above many shops and businesses. Somewhat numbly, I asked the owner of The Yellow Bird, Sally, if she had any apartments available. Much to my disbelief, she affirmed that her middle unit was available, and that two other people had expressed interest. Those apartments don’t stay open very long, and I had called at the exact right moment.

Three days later, I signed the lease and began moving all of my belongings into my first apartment. Two days later, I was out of our house completely and living on my own for the first time in my entire life. I made the decision to stay, for at least a year, to save money, figure out what I want to do, and to live unbeholden to anyone in the comfort of a town I know inside and out.

I won’t say the past two months have been entirely bad. If you’ve seen me out and about, I don’t look woebegone. I remind myself to smile because the alternative is to sink down and stay there. I have relied heavily on my friends, who have done a stellar job of checking in on me, yet remembering to not handle me with kid gloves. I have made a few new friends.

So I vow to not stay away as long from My Crunchy Crusade. I have been so terrified to put this awful year into words. What started out as a positive year turned into tragedy around June, when I lost my job at U.S. Xpress and my relationship started to unravel at the seams. But I have also been through some amazing changes, like directing “The Great Gatsby” at Dalton Little Theatre and starting a brand new job at the Whitfield County-Dalton Day Care Center. Both of these topics will be explored in future posts, I promise.

But for now, I’ll leave you, dear reader, with some notes of hope from this most trying of eras.

I am obsessed with my new apartment. I walk to work every single day, half a mile each way. I have lost 15 pounds. I have started to enjoy the person I am for what seems like the first time in my life. And with the changing of the season, my perception has changed of the cooling weather and dying leaves.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This is one of my favorite lines from “The Great Gatsby.” I’ve always thought of fall as a sad time, when all of the leaves start dropping from the trees, the air becomes sharper, and the world takes on a more somber, muted palette. Even the word itself, “fall,” can also be defined as “a move downward, typically rapidly and freely without control.” That’s why I’ve always been so intrigued by Jordan Baker’s line to Daisy Buchanan.

Now more than ever, I think it’s important to try to shift my perspective from mourning the autumnal change to welcoming the first steps of the process of living a brand new life. But like the leaves which have no choice in taking their tumble from the tops of their cozy, supportive homes, so must I brave the journey to the bottom to become stronger for my ascent back to the top. 

Peace,
The Crunchy Crusader

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On this day…

On this day, four years ago, my life changed forever. Three instances of happenstance and serendipity led me to the love of my life.

She said he was known as “Mr. Sriracha.”

“There is this very sweet boy who comes into Lisa’s a couple of times a week. He and his buddy work for Shaw and they always order the fish tacos. But what’s really funny is that he got tired of having to request the bottle of sriracha for his tacos, so he started bringing his own bottle. I’m not sure how old he is, but he’s cute as a button.”

My Nana, with whom I had lived for two years since graduating high school, was trying to set me up with one of her customers from Lisa’s Cafe in Downtown Dalton. I thought it was cute that my grandmother was trying to fix me up with someone, and playfully rolled my eyes when she brought it up. I sometimes bussed and waited tables at Lisa’s during my Christmas break or holiday weekends, and had never seen a “Mr. Sriracha.” So life went on.

The day was May 14, 2013. I had just finished my sophomore year of college at Dalton State. I was on summer break, but I also had a part-time job working as a student assistant in the Derrell C. Roberts Library on campus, where I spent 19.5 hours a week re-shelving books and scanning in newspaper articles to be archived for the college.

This day, however, I got a text message from a former classmate from my Humor Communication class, Taelar, asking if I wanted to grab lunch. So…I did what any 19-year-old would do during the summer…I played hooky and went to grab a bite! (Sorry, DSC!)

Taelar and I went to Lisa’s Cafe for lunch and decided to spend the rest of the day hanging out. We went to  Civitan Park to soak up some sun and blow bubbles for a few hours. Then it was time to stop by her house to take her dog for a walk.

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This picture was taken on May 14, 2013.

Taelar lived in an adorable loft in Downtown Dalton, right across the street from the Depot restaurant. As we were walking in, her neighbor Garrett was leaving. After Taelar introduced me to him, he asked if we would be going to trivia at the Depot later that evening. Having never been, I was excited to go! So after hanging out for a few more hours at Taelar’s, we all made our way across the street to play trivia.

I had been to the restaurant side of the Depot, but never the bar. I walked in, taking in the atmosphere, very aware that I was 19 years old and being watched like a hawk by the wait staff. Taelar saw a few of her buddies who normally competed on their trivia team, and we walked over. I was introduced to a handful of people, one of which was a charming, witty, somewhat lanky fellow named Billy.

After swapping some puns and coy smiles, I decided he was alright. This was a guy who was not afraid to laugh, sing, and show his knowledge of Beatrix Potter stories to win his trivia team some extra points.

After trivia was over, the group went back to another one of Taelar’s friends’ apartments to watch some TV. That friend, Brian, lived right next door to her, and we ended up watching “Flight of the Concords,” a very silly HBO show about a musical duo from New Zealand. I ended up sitting next to Billy that evening, squished on a futon between him and another friend. I remember blushing each time my knee accidentally touched his.

I ended up learning something interesting about Billy, which was that he used to live in the same loft as Taelar and her boyfriend Cody, right next door.

At the end of the evening, Billy and I ended up heading out at the same time. He offered to walk me to my car, and I obliged. As we made our way down the stairwell and to my car, I began to dread saying goodnight.

“So…uh…it was great to meet you,” I remember saying.

“You, too,” Billy said.

“So…I’ll…see you around?” I said.

“Yeah…see you around,” he replied.

And I got in my car and left, smiling all the way home.

Fast forward three days, and I got a Facebook message from a Billy Jaco. He asked me if I had seen the new Star Trek movie, a pick-up line I STILL tease him about to this day. After a few days of casually chatting online and texting, Billy asked me on a date. We had mentioned our mutual love of cooking, so he offered to make me dinner. Elated, I accepted.

Our first date, about a week after we met, consisted of grilling steaks and watching “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a movie we could both quote from start to finish. It was the perfect evening!

We ended up seeing each other again about three days later. Billy cooked for me again, and we ended up watching a movie I had never seen, “The Big Lebowski,” which I later learned was Billy’s absolute favorite movie. It stormed really, really badly that evening, and the power went out. After lighting some candles, Billy and I ended up talking for hours, waiting for the power to return. We were sitting on the couch, talking about our childhoods and favorite things, and in walked his roommate, Deanna. She passed by the living room on the way to her room, saw us chatting on the couch with candles, and uttered, “Awwww! That’s cute,” before departing.

What was funny, though, is that I knew Deanna…from Lisa’s Cafe! Deanna is Lisa’s sister-in-law…further deepening the plot of serendipitous circumstances around Billy’s and my meeting.

A few weeks went by, and Billy and I were officially an item. The time came to tell my Nana, who had been inquiring about where I’d been spending my free time.

“His name is Billy. He’s 5 years older than me, he’s from Knoxville, and he works for Shaw. He’s so sweet!”

“Can I see a picture?” Nana asked.

I pulled out my iPhone and pulled up his Facebook page.

“THAT’S MR. SRIRACHA!!!” she exclaimed.

And so it all came full circle. I’m not normally a believer in fate, but the circumstances lined up in exactly the right way for Billy and me to meet.

  1. Taelar lived in the apartment Billy had recently moved out of.
  2. I had known Billy’s roommate, Deanna, for a little over a year through Lisa’s Cafe downtown.
  3. Billy was Mr. Sriracha.

And now…four years later…we are married. We own a home together, we have three beautiful fur babies, and we could not be happier.

I guess it all goes to show you…good things can come from playing hooky.

 

Here’s to four years of knowing the best human I’ve ever met. I love you, Billy Jaco!

 

The Crunchy Crusader