This past fall I felt emotionally lost. We had just finished what I had already decided would be our last round of Clomid, without success, and Jimmy and I were both being hauled through the ringer. Both personally and with our families. I was down, despondent, and tired. I'm not exactly sure what changed. I think a huge weight was lifted when Jimmy and I decided to take a step back from the baby-making business and get our heads on straight. You know that whole saying about relationships: "you can't make someone else happy if you're not happy yourself." Well I think that is what I realized about having a baby. A baby wasn't going to magically make me happy, and I sure didn't want to put all of that pressure on a squishy new human. So, I listed out all of the things making me unhappy. Obviously, infertility was on there, but Jimmy and I came up with a plan that suited us both. Check that off. The biggest thing on my list was this annoyingly pounding presence in the back of my mind saying "what are you doing with your life?" I constantly told it to F right off, but it was a persistent bugger. So I started doing some research. I talked to friends at work (thanks Hads) about how they dealt with stuff, I talked to Jimmy about how I could find happiness within myself, and I looked into making my body healthier.
And then some magical things started happening. I took on the Whole30 with my gals from work. And the results were amazing. Throughout that process, I gained friends at work and I find myself laughing...often. A couple of months ago, I remember talking to a friend at work about how I had become somewhat disillusioned with my career. To be frank, I hated it. Not always, but often. I'm not sure if any other nurses out there have ever felt like that, but it hit me and there I was. I felt like I wasn't good at my job, as well as feeling like nursing had turned into how I could please my "client" rather than help my patient. I think I even told her I chose the wrong profession. Well, fast-forward to last Saturday, which was a horrendously hard and heartbreaking day at work. We work in pediatric oncology, its bound to happen. My heart broke over and over again that day. All I could do was watch as this family's life was becoming forever altered and there was nothing I could do. I kept hoping I was saying the right thing and doing the right thing. This sounds crazy to say, but I just wanted to make sure the absolute worst day of their lives went as smoothly as possible. I couldn't have done it without my co-workers. They gave me hugs, and fed me snacks, and made me laugh when I needed it. When it was all said and done, my patient's parents hugged me and said the kindest words to me. I was blown away and brought to tears that they would even think of me in their time of grief.
Well, that same nurse that I had had the conversation with a couple of months ago was working with me that day also. I'll never forget how she turned and looked at me and said "Remember how you were telling me you didn't think you were any good and you picked the wrong job?" I blew out a sigh and said "yes, yes I do." All I got was a smirk and a "uh huh" which made me laugh. So thank you Brittney, for reminding me that what we do matters and that what I do is important. You da bomb.
That is all kind of a long, drawn out explanation of me finding happiness these past couple of months. But, the biggest thing that has brought me joy are the writing classes I am taking at SMU. I finally found my oomph, my niche, my "passion." Man it is exciting. So, I thought I would be brave and share an assignment with you all. We were instructed to write a short story. And so I did. Hope you enjoy!
A Short Story
By: Kelly Marks
A slight wind whispers through the trees as we quietly make our way down the pebbled path. The air has a crispness to it that was not there just last week, and I hug my jacket closer to myself in an attempt to shield away the cold. I absently wonder if the oppressive heat of summer has finally left us. The path Jack, my husband, and I are traipsing down is one we take often. Everything around me is quiet except for the crunch of pebbles beneath my shoes and the whistling of a bird who so desperately wants a singing partner. To our right is a man-made pond with a sparkling fountain placed in the middle. One of the fountain heads is broken and water is spraying in zig-zagged directions. I think the pond is meant to bring peace and tranquility, but the brokenness somehow fits.
“Happy Anniversary,” I say quietly.
“Happy Anniversary to you,” Jack responds.
I won’t lie that at this moment I am hoping for something more. Some gesture of passion or at the very least an acknowledgement of love.
“Remember our wedding? You were so handsome, but so nervous. I could see the perspiration on your brow, but you just kept smiling. The weather was wretched, the minister was late, the flowers were the wrong color. Your cousin was blitzed out of his mind and the DJ played the wrong first-dance song. It was actually a pretty horrendous day, but I only had eyes for you. I’d never been happier in all my life.” Laughing at the memory, I wait to see what Jack will say.
“It was a great day. You were beautiful.”
I let out a small sigh and keep walking. The wind has picked up and I know this trip might have to be a bit shorter than our last. I parked farther away today in hopes that a longer walk would breathe life into our otherwise stagnant conversations of late. So far, no such luck. The path forks and we veer to the right in order to reach our destination.
“I keep thinking about your first deployment,” I say. “I am not quite sure how I made it through. I would try and not live my life based off of the mail schedule, but every day, like clockwork, I found myself peering through the blinds as the mailman made his way down the street. I’d rush out to the box and feel such intense disappointment if there was nothing from you. But the days there were, oh! Those were great days. I would read over each letter a hundred times, tracing the pen smudges with my fingertips knowing that you at one time touched the same pages. Each letter was a breath of relief that you were safe. Thank you so much for giving that to me.”
Jack had been a Marine since before we met and started dating. His father and grandfather were also Marines. It was a family business of sorts. We always made it work, but everything changed after 9/11. America went to war and my entire world turned upside down.
“You’re welcome, Liv, I only wish I could have written more often.”
“I have to ask –again –what happened with this last deployment? I hardly got any letters from you. They went months and months apart. Didn’t you know that I needed them?” I’m starting to sound shrill, which I hate.
“Let’s not argue.” Jack sounds slightly exasperated.
“Arguing at least shows that you care,” I mutter, but I know he doesn’t hear me. He’s gone, lost in his own world. He’s been more distant than usual. At first it was a slight change that I barely registered at all. But lately, I’ve been feeling it down to my core. It is an agonizing realization, and I fear it means he is leaving soon.
We round the corner and our destination is within view. I stumble slightly on the path as my brain wants to retreat but my feet don’t quite get the message. My heart is pounding and all I can hear is the blood rushing in my ears. I try to take some deep breaths, but I am drowning in memories. Jack doesn’t hold my hand but I wish he would. I wish he would show me any sort of comfort right now, but I know he won’t. I am vaguely aware that dark clouds have descended over me, but I reluctantly keep walking. When I have reached the place where I both crave and despise coming to every day, I drop to my knees.
“Hi baby.” I reach out and drag my fingertips over his name. I have memorized every notch, scratch, and groove in this piece of marble. The wind has picked up and when I go to brush the hair off of my face, my fingers come away wet. I hadn’t even realized I was crying. A tear drop lands on my knee as I stare at the headstone in front of me.
Jack Robert Phillips
Operation Iraqi Freedom
May 3, 1978-Nov 8, 2004
Loving Husband, Son, Brother
Jack’s letters had started coming less and less frequent. I knew he was seeing intense battle, but he could never tell me exactly where he was. On a mild-weathered day in November, his unit walked into a raging firefight in the streets of Fallujah. A sniper’s bullet from a rooftop one block over ended the life of my precious husband. I have been coming to his grave every day since the funeral.
“I think I am certifiably insane, Jack. How can I tell my family, my friends- that you and I still talk? That I hear you. It has to be all in my head.” Tears spill down my cheeks as I think about how much of myself I have lost. I am a shell of the woman I was before Jack died. I spend half of my time sitting in this cemetery talking to my dead husband and the other half attempting and ultimately failing to convince my family that I am okay.
You aren’t crazy, love. I am here. I hear his voice as clearly as if he was sitting right next to me.
“I miss you so much. Why did you leave me? I needed you.” I cannot tell you how many times I have uttered these words. My soul teeter-totters between suffocating grief and palpable anger.
I miss you and love you always, Olivia. I never intended to leave you alone. But it is time now, honey. It is time.
“No. Do not say that. Please, Jack.” My stomach clenches and I suddenly feel nauseous.
Liv, you were the love of my life. I saw you so clearly and you forever changed my heart. You are kind, compassionate, and you have so much to share with this world. But you are wasting away by visiting this place every day. I see you breaking and I refuse to be the reason for that. You need to find a way to keep on living. I know you can do it, babe. When I was alive you were my first thought every morning and my last every evening. I was born to love you, and I pray I did it well. It is time for me to leave you now. You need to find your strength and your will without me. Goodbye Olivia, I love you so much.
“Please Jack, please don’t leave me. Please don’t say goodbye!” I scream out my words to an empty cemetery.
I know he is already gone. I sit there sobbing until I have no tears left in me and I am hiccupping more than breathing. I am a mess, and I don’t even know where to begin picking up the pieces of my life. My clothes are damp from the light rainfall that came down while I was lost in my grief and I am shivering. I know it is time to go. I place a kiss on my fingertips and lay them down gently on the top of Jack’s headstone.
“Goodbye love.” I whisper.
I stand up and glance once more at the spot of grass that has become my lifeline this past year. I turn to the pebbled path that I have so often traveled and start the long walk back to my car. I feel exhausted from my tear-fest, but for the first time in a long time I feel something else. It feels an awful lot like hope, so I am going to cling to this new sensation even though I know it will be a long and arduous journey. I am not ready to lose Jack’s constant voice, but a part of me I have been ignoring knows he is right. It is time to start standing on my own two feet. I quickly reach the section of the path that forks, and I pause briefly. At that moment, the clouds part and a ray of sunshine beams down at my feet. A warm breeze flushes over my cheeks, and a sad smile graces my lips. I hear Jack’s name in the wind and I feel him wrapped around me. With that knowledge, I take the first step towards the rest of my life.
Let me know what you think!
Until next time,