Life Lessons From My Teenage Self

Earlier this year I ran across a list that I wrote when I was 19 years old, “Top 10 goals for my life.” I remember writing it. It was late one night when I was working as a server, recently home from 6-months of Army training and in the Reserve, about to begin my first semester of college. I had everything planned out. This was going to be the job that got me through school, and then I was going to start my empire, make millions, become a philanthropist, and eventually the first woman president.

For real.

I remember telling a co-worker a toned-down version of my ambitions and that I was “only going to work here until I graduate college.” Her response caught me off guard and rattled me.

“That’s what we all said.”

Her words hung in the air and sent me into an internal panic. ‘Oh shit. I can’t stay here. I need a new plan.’ Shortly after, I wrote this list of goals to achieve in my lifetime, and quit working there. I got a job as a personal trainer at 24-hour fitness just a couple of months later.

This note to myself has been sitting on my desk for several months and its 16th anniversary seemed like a good time to take a moment to reflect on just how naïve, and wise, the girl was who wrote it.

Within the next 8-months I would love my new job and thrive as a top new trainer at 24-hr, I’d start school at Scottsdale Community College, my mom would be diagnosed with cancer, I would drop most of my classes, she would die, and I would spend the summer binge drinking until abruptly moving to Dallas Texas for a fresh start (i.e. running away from the disaster life had become).

Rough start to my new life plan.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and it is amazing to look back at all that has unfolded. My bright-eyed teenage self never in her wildest dreams could have fathomed the euphoria and kicks to the gut that life had in store.

Until recently, I would have looked at this top 10 list and thought that life had not gone even close to as planned. I didn’t build that empire or become a millionaire philanthropist, I never got on the Oprah show (which was a highly ranked ambition), and I will not likely be the first woman president. My youthful ambitions were so naïve.

However, I read this list now and appreciate the wisdom that sweet girl unknowingly carried. She set a course that has guided me on a journey that I never could have planned for, but is better than I ever could have hoped. I am happy to know that each one has come to fruition to varying degrees in recent years, and I am also hopeful that there is still a lot of life left to continue fulfilling them.

At 35 years old, my only life plan is to stick to this list of goals that a wise young girl gave to me and hope that I can make her proud.

Guns Make Me Feel Powerful

Today there is no escaping the topic of guns, and there is no ignoring the grief and anger we all feel about what happened in Vegas. The thoughts and emotions are swirling in my mind, but I have had all I can handle of social media arguments, so I came here. There are a lot of people who frame this as anti-gun liberals vs. pro-gun conservatives, but that is a narrative we have been fed. We can agree that we want to be able to send our kids to school or attend a concert without fear of death. There is more we agree on than disagree. I am all for strict regulation of firearms, even though I have owned guns for about 20 years and credit them for a lot of my independence and even shaping the woman I have become. I genuinely empathize with people who don't want to give up their guns.

When I was a young girl, my dad took me out to the Arizona desert, handed me a .22 caliber gun then showed me how to blow up melons and knock empty cans from rocks. It was fun! Holding a gun in my hand, and hearing the “TING” of the bullet hitting the cans and seeing the melons burst when I pulled the trigger made me feel powerful. A love of shooting was born. In the coming years, other father figures taught me about guns, gun safety, and took me to practice at the range. I bought my first 9mm Sig Sauer pistol when I was 18 years old. Throughout my 20’s and into my 30’s it was rare to find me without a gun. I even got the nickname “gun-toting Tatum” by some girlfriends.

When I would mountain bike deep into the woods, take solo road trips across the country, attend public events, or dinner or a date or church… it was always on me. Since I rarely carry a purse, there was often a .357 tucked into the back of my pants or a .380 in a “coin purse” in my hand along with my phone and keys. This may sound crazy to people who don’t carry a gun, but once you begin, it can feel like something is missing when you leave home without it. If you’ve ever left home without your cell phone, it is a similar feeling.

The thing is, I knew that I would never ever use it unless my life or someone else’s was in grave danger. And, more importantly, I knew that if I did use it, I was skilled enough to do so and not simply make a bad situation worse.

Part of what makes me feel powerful when shooting a gun is that I’m really damn good at it. I’ve been shooting handguns as a hobby since I was young, and trained soldiers to shoot rifles in the Army. My first year in the military I was awarded the “Hawkeye” title for hitting 40 out of 40 targets with an M-16. The sergeant next to me said that he had been trying to do that for over 20 years. I never saw anyone else do it in my subsequent 8.

Shooting has given me confidence. Perhaps even a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It makes me feel like a badass to know that I can pick up almost any gun and be good at it when I know that most people feel intimidated.

However, in recent years, guns have become much less entertaining, and I feel more like part of the problem rather than the solution. All of the lines I used to believe like, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun” just aren’t adding up anymore. The more mass shootings that happen, and accidental deaths from kids getting ahold of their parent’s firearms, it is hard to find any "fun" in guns. I no longer get enjoyment out of something that causes so much destruction and pain.

In fact, come to think of it, my first experience with guns wasn’t actually my dad taking me to shoot, it was a 4th-grade boy climbing his parent’s bookshelf to show me where they hid their loaded handgun. The second memory was when our childhood neighbor got shot in the throat and killed by his friend showing off his dad’s gun.

This is not about being pro-gun or anti-gun. I personally have enjoyed being a gun owner. It has been gratifying and empowering. But, this is not about me, or any single individual. We need to take a collective step back and look at the reality, the empirical evidence, and make informed decisions based on what is best for our society. What’s safest for our kids? What kind of world do we want to leave behind?

The founding fathers did, in fact, say that we have a right to bear arms (though probably meaning in the context of a “well-regulated militia” not inexperienced private citizens). However, they did not have crystal balls into the future and never could have imagined what the “right to bear arms” would look like in 2017. As rational men who loved this country, I would like to think that they would have used common sense and put more emphasis on that “well-regulated” part of the II Amendment. We have overridden other statements by the founding fathers because they were no longer relevant in our culture or deemed immoral -- it is time that we have this conversation.

My Coming Out Journey: From Straight Butch to Gay Femme

I’ve been told that I was gay since I was young. Not in a nice “honey, let’s have a talk” kind of way, but more in a “You look like a dude,” “You act like a boy,” “You’re butch,” “Why don’t you act like a girl… dress like a girl… talk like a lady…?” kind of way. It wasn’t just a handful of bullies on the playground; it was a pervasive message from toddlerhood until 30+ years old -- from kids, friends, teachers, family, and strangers.

From middle school through college, there were rumors spread about my sexuality. And, most of the boys that I had a crush on, or eventually dated, were surprised to learn that I was interested in them because they thought I was gay. When I was a little girl, I was even told by another kid that I was born a boy, but they changed my gender at the hospital… Well, I did remember my mom saying that she thought she was pregnant with a boy – so, maybe it was true?!

To say gender identity and sexuality have been confusing would be an understatement.

Not looking or acting “girly” has always meant that the first line of insults was something about me being a dyke, and even playful teasing was about me being boyish. So, I began trying to look and act more feminine in my teens, so I could be more attractive to boys. Because being a tomboy was not working.

The message I’ve received for as long as I can remember is that it’s not okay to look or act like a boy. But, wearing clothes from the Juniors section felt like playing dress up. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and inauthentic. I hated every second of it until I discovered that t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops were acceptable, so that became my uniform. It still kind of is, actually.

While attempting to drop the tomboy persona, I hid the parts of myself that would be stereotyped as "butch," like being an Army Drill Sgt who liked to fix cars. They were things that I did not talk about with anyone other than close friends. But, even when trying to be more like a girl, I still was told to smile more, walk with more sway in my hips, carry a purse, wear tighter clothing, show more skin, and get flattering bras to create the illusion of cleavage...

So, when I met my ex-husband at age 26 and quickly fell in love, I was so relieved. Yay! I’m not broken, or gay, and a cute guy thinks I’m attractive, so this must be "the one!" I was ready to settle down, have babies, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that we had different ideas of what that would look like, so after a painful, drawn out ending, I was back to where I started.

At 30 years old, I had only loved one person, and that freaking HURT, so I was reluctant to try again. If that’s what love feels like, no thanks. I’ll spend the rest my days as a single cougar raising adopted children.

It was because of my “f*ck it, I’m done with love” attitude that I was finally free to just to be me. As soon as I stopped caring what anyone else thought it was like a burden had been lifted off of my shoulders! During two years of this, I had my first sexual experience with a woman, and it was not even remotely weird -- which scared me. Crap! They might have been right. Then, in contrast, when I tried dating men again I realized that I would usually rather be home with my dogs reading a good book or binge watching Netflix.

Around this time I also discovered that the sex scenes between the two female lead characters in Orange Is The New Black were WAY HOTTER than any hetero sex scenes I’d seen... That was another, "oh crap" moment.

I realized that I had spent so long defending myself against the insults of being gay that it never occurred to pause and check to see if I actually was!

My assumption was that 'gay' means that you like girls, and since I liked boys I must be straight. End of story. And, since being gay was obviously a bad thing, I was completely fine with that conclusion.

But, then I met Julia. By then I knew I could be attracted to women, but it was something that I had planned on keeping secret – while I casually dated, and raised my adopted babies. Plus, “girl crushes” are totally acceptable now so it's cool. No need to make a big deal about it.

However, after the first month of quietly spending almost every day and night with her I realized that this was not something that I could hide, and doing so would not be fair to her. So, I started to tell my closest friends and family, and eventually the internet. The responses were all across the board. Managing each person’s individual reaction, answering incredibly personal questions, defending my relationship as something that wasn’t just a phase, and attempting to graciously take in the influx of unsolicited advice was exhausting.

I wanted to crawl in a hole with her and make the world go away. Coming out (of the closet, and even out of the house most days) in a world where everyone has an opinion about something so deeply personal was incredibly scary. Especially since it was all something that I was still figuring out for myself.

Being an independent 32-year-old with a small family, supportive friends, and living in a liberal city like Austin, made it MUCH easier than most people have it. However, nothing about it was easy, and it continues to be a challenge.

In the beginning, I was uncomfortable holding her hand in public. I can feel eyes on us as we walk down the street. Some are just surprised or nosey while others disapproving, but the worst are the creeps who stare like we are prey. I have never been one who feels comfortable putting my body or my sexuality on display, so to all of the sudden be the subject of a cliché sexual fantasy made me feel disgusting at first. Luckily, I'm learning to ignore it all.

There have been many social boundaries that have disappeared now that I am with a woman. People ask about my sex life, in a way they never did when I was with a man, and the most common topic is whether I miss the penis (nope!)… I understand that some is just curiosity, and I’m happy to talk to someone who is genuinely trying to understand. I remember having similar questions. However, at times it becomes something much more inappropriate, offensive and intrusive.

Within the first weeks of being together in public, a man was standing in front of us in line at a concert who turned around to tell us all about what he likes to do in bed and invited us to come home with him. We politely declined, and were way nicer about it than we probably should have been. We recently had another guy follow us down the street loudly asking about our “pussies” in the most vulgar of terms. It took all of my strength to keep walking and ignore him.

Catcalling and inappropriate comments were bad when I was straight, but it is truly shocking how disgusting people can be when it involves two women. And, it can sometimes be downright scary.

I’ll never forget when we got into a small elevator with two men. It was after a date and we were dressed up and having a good time. Julia grabbed my hand and leaned on my shoulder and talked about how excited she was about getting married. I watched the men who had turned to face us and ignored Julia. I remained on high alert until we got off the elevator. My anger and anxiety flooded out of me when we got away from the building. I yelled at her to be more aware of her surroundings and not be affectionate with me in public and that I didn’t want to put our relationship on display… and I remember saying "this (being gay) is not my cause!” Just because I’m with a woman doesn’t mean that I want to fly a rainbow flag and fight for equality!

I already had causes that I felt passionate about and didn’t want to add one more. After all, I was barely even gay.

I look back at that night so embarrassed by how naïve and stupid I was to get mad at her for being affectionate. I love that she doesn't pay attention to people who are being creeps or let it bother her as much as I do. After two years of seeing and feeling what it’s like to be a part of the gay community, this IS now my cause. It can't not be when I see all of the bullshit that we deal with on a daily basis. I am proud to hold her hand and show affection, and if it makes someone else uncomfortable that is for them to sort out and has nothing to do with me.

Being with her is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. And, to think that I was almost too afraid because of what others would say or think makes me sad. It breaks my heart to know how many young people feel scared and ashamed of who they are because of all the hate that they are constantly exposed to.

People ask me about how I knew or when I “converted” and "turned gay" – the answer is when I fell in love with a woman. For me, it was really that simple. The reality is that this has always been who I am, but I was just too distracted listening to all of the confusing messages about what a girl was supposed to be to know any better.

As Julia reminds me, "everyone is straight until they're not." The cultural assumption is that everyone is heterosexual. When someone says otherwise, the assumption is that it is a phase, or experimenting, or a cry for attention.

Coming out is not about attention, it is about speaking up over all of the noise that says you're supposed to be something other than what you truly are. It is choosing to no longer go along with the identity that was assigned without consent and living life freely without shame or hiding.

Every Facebook post about someone coming out has comments like, “They just want attention,” “I didn’t come out as straight, why do they need to come out as gay/bi/trans?” "They're going to hell," and a long list of vile, condemning comments.

The truth is that it is really freakin' tough to be your authentic self in a world that does not treat people very kindly. Many don't ever get the chance because of the stifling condemnation that surrounds them. I am grateful to live in a time and place where I have the luxury of ignoring others' opinions without dire consequences. I have never felt freer to just be me, and can't imagine ever going back. It's something that I wish everyone in the world could experience.

The older I get, the more I realize how short our time is on this earth. We all deserve to spend it in a way that gives us the best chance at being happy. I never understood how important that was until I met Julia. My priorities have drastically changed, and I don’t want to waste another second worrying about what anyone else thinks or concern myself with what anybody else is doing in their personal lives.

Love yourself, love each other, and be who you are. It really can be that simple.

Happy National Coming Out Day.

A Day for Love, Equality, and my Mom.

June 26th has become one of my very favorite days. It has become a day of gratitude and reflection. 

Today is a day I remember the best and funniest side of my mom; it would have been her 67th birthday -- she LOVED birthdays! And, in recent history, it has also become a day to reflect on equality and what it means to be a part of this incredible time in history when laws, hearts and minds are shifting. 

Google's homepage currently has a quote that says, "Be who you are. Love who you love. #prideforeveryone."

Time magazine has written that "June 26 is a date that represents what happens when America works the way it’s supposed to work... June 26 isn’t just a symbol of marriage equality or gay rights– it’s a day that commemorates a collective change of mind, the American ability to choose freedom and equality."

I absolutely agree.

June 26th has more than a decade history of being a day of equality:
  • 2003 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Lawrence v. Texas that gender-based sodomy laws are unconstitutional.
  • 2013 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5–4, that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  • 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5–4, that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. 
Last year's Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriage in the United States was two days shy of Julia and my one-year anniversary. We were planning to elope to Colorado since Texas was adamantly opposed to equality -- it didn't seem like that would change, and we didn't want to put our life on hold or give archaic politicians the power to validate our relationship.

When it was announced that marriage equality was the law of the land I was overcome with emotion -- not just for us, but gratitude for the people who had fought and even lost their lives to make it happen. And, sorrow for those who have had to live in hiding, and who were not given the rights that Julia and I will have in our marriage simply because they were born to a previous generation, or live under an oppressive regime. Not a day goes by that I don't feel incredibly blessed to be able to love Julia openly, wholeheartedly, freely and legally.

We are lucky.

I would like to think that there is some connection between June 26th being a day of love and equality, and my late mother's entry into this world. I know that if she were here, she would love Julia and support marriage equality and happily celebrate her birthday at a Pride parade. 

My mom had a zest for life. She loved parades and festivals. June 26th is the perfect day for pride parades and festivals to be held around the country -- if she were here she'd probably end up on a float with the drag queens, wearing a tight pink dress, big hair and sparkles, out-dancing everyone :)

On her 52nd birthday, the year she passed away, she hosted a big rock 'n' roll themed costume party simply for the excuse to dress up, be flamboyant, and dance.

Beyond pride festivities and equality, there are other ways that June 26th is the perfect day to celebrate my mother's life.

June 26th is the kickoff of Shark Week, and she loved sharks. We spent our summers at the California beaches, and while I was terrified we might encounter a shark, she was hoping we would see one. She also had a giant crush on Chris Isaak, Wicked Game was one of her favorite songs. So it makes me happy that she shares her birthday with him.

Lastly, June 26th marks, "Forgiveness Day," which is explained as "a time to forgive and to be forgiven. The world will be a better place for this day." 

I do believe that the world is better for this day. 

It's a day when people are reminded that they can love who they want to love, and I can celebrate the woman who taught me that it was okay to go against the crowd and not be afraid to be unapologetically myself. The woman who gave me the courage to take a chance on love.

Today is a good day.

Happy Birthday, Mom. xo

If Not for White Privilege, I Would Probably Be Dead.

If I were born a black male, I would probably be dead or in prison. I would be labeled a thug and a criminal. But, I am not. I am a petite white female with innocent looking blue eyes who has lived a life of white privilege. And so, I am known to many as an upstanding, self-made success story, although that is only a fraction of the truth.

I have not lived a privileged life by most American standards. It has been tough in many ways. I was raised relatively poor by a single, troubled mother and have endured my share of tragedy, dysfunction, neglect and abuse. But, I am white, and I have benefited greatly from that alone in ways that black men and boys (and girls for that matter) do not get to experience – often with grave consequence.

I’ve wanted to write about this for very long time, but I know that race and “white privilege” is such a heated topic that I have avoided stirring the pot. I also know that to be truly honest about my experience with white privilege I will have to out a few of the skeletons in my closet. I’ve already shared many of them with those who are closest to me, however, once my life is in writing I know it will no longer be my own. It will be available as ammunition and judgment at any time. By writing honestly, instead of just sticking to daily highlights and successes on my Facebook newsfeed, I could be kissing my future political career and positive public image goodbye.

After the recent news that nobody will be punished for murdering an unarmed 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy gun on a youth center playground, and then handcuffing his sister on the icy dirt next to his dying body as she tried to run to his aid – I am at my wits end.

Yes, 12-year-old Tamir Rice should not have been playing with a toy gun. Sandra Bland shouldn’t have gotten so pissed off at the cop who pulled her over. Michael Brown shouldn’t have been confrontational with the officer in Ferguson. Eric Garner shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes… and, I suppose that Freddie Gray shouldn’t have been carrying that legal pocket knife and Travon Martin shouldn’t have been wearing a hoodie? The list goes on and on of black men getting killed for things that white people do every day with no consequence. And for some reason, a large number of people seem to think that the black people who are killed had it coming since they were being thugs or criminals or confrontational or their parents were unfit or whatever justification helps to rationalize murder.

Here’s the thing. Many, if not most, of those who get killed by police, are in their teens and twenties. I don’t know about you, but I am glad to have those younger days behind me! I'm embarrassed when I think back to the stupid things in my youth, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from those experiences. They helped shape who I am, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I am lucky.

Many kids who get shot are out on the streets because they have a single mother who is working long hours to support them and/or there is dysfunction or violence at home that they are staying away from, or they were simply out being a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was that kid who didn’t want to go home. My mother worked a lot, and when she was home, there was usually fighting and chaos. So, I spent much of my early and mid-teens alone on the basketball court or hanging out around the neighborhood with my dog. It was pure luck that we lived in a pretty safe, middle-class neighborhood where I had neighbors ready to help me with my homework, teach me valuable life skills and keep an eye on me. Unfortunately, many black teens are not so privileged. The “street” is not a safe refuge like it was for me. For them, it is full of gangs, mischief, and police ready to pounce when they make a wrong move.

Even with people looking out for me I felt lost and angry for much of my teen years. I was a good kid who worked hard and was determined to have a good education and live a better life. But, in my young head, the ends often justified the means for many of the mistakes I made.

I began stealing in my early teens from the Walmart Supercenter that opened up down the street. It started small, and I just took things I thought I “needed.” In my mind, Walmart was a big bad organization that came into my town. I was simply a young activist fighting for the mom and pop stores and the desert landscape… seriously. I was Robin Hood, taking from the rich to help the poor. This is what I told myself. So, the stealing got bigger and bolder and the more I got away with, the more emboldened I felt. A kid who had no power and control in life was now doing something about it.

It started when I was blackmailed into taking something small. A “take this for me or I’ll get you in trouble” type of thing when I was 9 or 10. I was petrified! But, decided that possibly not getting in trouble if I got away with stealing was better than definitely getting in trouble if I got ratted out to my mom for whatever it was that was being used against me.

I walked out of the store with the item, heart racing, and stomach flipping… then, nothing. I walked out, and that was it. Wow. That was kind of exhilarating. So, I did it again, but this time with stuff for me. Then I did it again, but this time with stuff for my mom. And, again, with stuff for the house, and our pets, and Christmas presents. And, again, with expensive electronics that I’d take back the next day saying that they were a gift I didn’t want, and get handed hundreds of dollars in cash for the return. I got so bold that I would fill up an entire shopping cart, grabbing some plastic bags on my way into the store so it looked like the items were purchased, and then walking right out the front door past the security guards and door greeters, smiling and wishing them a great afternoon.

This happened on and off for about a year or two in which time I was able to afford new flooring for my bedroom that was so old it was rotting and moldy. I bought a dishwasher for my mom so she wouldn’t have to spend her evenings washing dishes after being on her feet all day working as a waitress. I installed new speakers in our family truck to replace the old ones that had blown. I got a computer desk for doing homework, and spoiled our pets with fancy toys and treats. When my mom asked how I could afford the all of these things I said that it was money saved from neighborhood lawn mowing, housesitting, etc., and that was the end of the discussion.

My heart is racing just telling this story. It is something that I am so ashamed of in hindsight, but it has taught me so much about the world. For starters, if you do something with confidence people tend to believe you. And, it has clearly illustrated the advantage that I have in a world that does not see a petite white girl as suspicious no matter how blatant the offense.

I could give countless examples from my youth, like the time a friend and I were literally playing with fire in the alley behind our school. It got out of control, and we tried to stomp it out, but as the flames grew higher and the sirens got closer we ran. Later that day, my clothes still smelling like smoke, the police called our house saying that someone had seen me earlier in the day with a lighter, and then fleeing the scene of the fire. My mom came in my room to ask if I knew anything about it. I said no. She told the police that I didn’t do it and hung up the phone. End of discussion.

Fast forward to my adult life: I would like to think that I am a law abiding citizen with a strong moral compass. However, the lessons of my youth have stuck with me. So, when I went on my 6000-mile road trip a couple of summers ago I had to make a decision – drive across many state lines with a loaded handgun knowing that several states don’t allow it. Or, go unarmed and risk being vulnerable to a predator as I travel the country alone. Experience has taught me that I am much more likely to be a target for the men on the street rather than the ones in uniform. I chose to travel with a gun, sometimes stuffed into the back of my pants when I went inside to pay for gas late at night.

I made a conscious decision to put my own safety above the law, knowing that the risk of being abducted or assaulted by a stranger was much higher than being shot or arrested by police. It is very unlikely that I would even be stopped by police much less have my car searched or be arrested. And, I would be more likely seen as a naïve damsel in distress rather than a dangerous criminal. At the end of the day, I chose to break the law because trusting myself seemed like a safer option than trusting the police or anyone else that I might encounter on the road.

I wonder how many black kids have lost their lives with this same line of thought?

Just like when I was young, I knew that I’d fly under the radar and that the consequences of getting caught were worth the risk. I learned at a very early age that it is usually better to ask forgiveness rather than permission. And, because I’m a white female, I get the luxury to do so.

I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask forgiveness, to learn from my mistakes, to allow life lessons and experiences to mold me into a better, more mature person. But, there are hundreds of black people killed by police this year who are not so lucky. They will not get that chance to ask for forgiveness or learn from their mistakes. They were not born with white privilege, and because of that, they are dead.


"My" Wedding Ring Story

My grandma, Janice Roege, died when I was two. A couple days shy of my third birthday. She was only... I just Googled her name to find out her exact age when she passed, and only found this on an ancestry website, "According to Jean Jacobs, she had polio, was beautiful and died young." 

I have no idea who Jean Jacobs is.

Ironically, the only things I do know about my grandmother are that she was beautiful, she had polio, and she died young. And, also that I liked to comb her bangs, I cried when she tried to paint my toenails, and I once fell asleep on her lap in the back of an old car... according to the three photographs I have with her. No actual memories.

Growing up without a grandma, I'm sad to say, I didn't miss her much. I honestly didn't know what I was missing. My mother was so shaken by her sudden loss, she rarely spoke of her. I only knew that my mother had regrets, and was sad that her mom was gone. I couldn't tell you much about the woman she was or the life that she lived.

When I went to Arizona earlier this year, newly engaged, I explained to my sister that I just wanted a simple wedding ring. She retreated to her room and came back with a box that contained my grandma and grandpa's gold wedding bands, and offered either one as an option. I immediately grabbed the petite gold band and crammed it onto my finger, insisting that it fit perfectly. She urged me to take the larger one, but without any thought, I knew that Janice's was the one that I wanted.

My grandpa was a good man, I think. I actually remember him as an old curmudgeon who yelled at me not to drag my feet on his carpet and told me to go play on the roof. And, I remember being bored to death watching his beloved Cubs play baseball. But, I see pictures of him smiling and hear stories of his warped sense of humor, and I have no doubt that I would love to have a beer with him, and talk sports, politics and business.

But, I have no interest in wearing his ring.

I put my grandmother's ring on right then, and have rarely taken it off since. My immediate nostalgic reaction to this inanimate object has surprised me. There have been moments when I hold onto it and tears roll down my face. Moments where I feel more connected to the women in my family, and powerful because of the history and legacy that it holds.

It seems a bit silly to me. It is just a thing, and she is almost a stranger. But, it feels like something bigger. It feels like a connection to the woman I never knew. An understanding between my mother and her mother, and the loss that we all share. A chance to keep them both with me.

Today I spent the afternoon making wedding plans, and was feeling extra sentimental about embarking on this journey. Then it occurred to me that it was September 21st. The day engraved on "my" wedding band, which I never knew was their anniversary until I read, 'JR & GR 9.21.46.'

Today, sixty-nine years ago, before my mom, my aunt, me, my siblings, polio, cancer or anything else that's happened in life was even an idea, they were a young, handsome couple in love, full of dreams and possibility.

I want to reach into these photographs and hug them. I want to re-write their story. I wish that I knew more of it -- more of them. I wish that they were here. I wish that they knew me, and Julia. I wonder what they would be like... if they would approve.

But, I am grateful to be a part of their story, no matter how small. And, I am happy to wear her ring.

Happy anniversary, Gene and Janice.

Feeling Small in a Big World

This week I saw the new movie, 'Fury' (yes, Brad Pitt was the main motivation for going to see it, and he did not disappoint!). It was an entertaining, heart wrenching movie that left me in deep thought about the history of humanity, war, and the insignificance of life in this world. Heavy topics for a date night.

Recently I have felt a bit overwhelmed by the news. From ISIS to ebola, social injustices, and good people gone too soon. 'Fury' reminded me of just how many lost their lives in WWII, which only amplified my thoughts about how cruel we are to each other. The human condition has always been one of struggle and injustice, but now it is in our faces 24/7 in the form of news and entertainment. There is no escaping the brutality of this world, and it can all feel like too much sometimes.

When I was younger I felt like I could do anything. I was going to change the world. I felt powerful, like I was put here to fight the good fight. For as long as I can remember I knew that I wanted to make a meaningful impact -- to live my life so that when I leave this earth it's better than it was before...

But, life has been humbling. I now know that I probably will not change the world. I most likely won't be in the history books. Future generations won't use my quotes for inspiring internet memes. The big goals that once fueled me to wake up and seize the day now feel a bit insignificant.

I often struggle to the find enthusiasm to achieve smaller goals after "saving the world" didn't quite pan out like my childhood plans had anticipated. I'm learning how to feel content being small, and how to not feel guilty for no longer striving to save the world.

When I was a kid I heard a short story that has stuck with me, and I want to start thinking more like the little boy in that story. I'd like to celebrate the small things one can do instead of feeling overwhelmed and helpless by enormity of the big picture.

The Star Thrower story goes like this: (by Loren Eiseley)

A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello!  What are you doing?”

The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man.

“The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer.

“Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Even though my youthful ambitions have not turned out as hoped, I can still wake up each day and be a star thrower.

And, that is enough.

Life and Love Update

So far this summer I have traveled to California, New York and roughly 20 states in between. It has been an amazing adventure -- exhausting, invigorating, cathartic, inspiring, educational, affirming… I could go on and on.

There were many reasons for my journey, but a large part was that I’ve been in Austin for 7 years now and began to feel a bit restless – wondering what I might be missing out on somewhere else. In the past that’s been my cue to pack up and move, but I couldn’t think of any other place I’d rather be.

Before I uprooted my life and moved back home to Scottsdale or ran off to NYC, I thought I’d spend some time away from Austin and see what it was like to live in other places. But, when I arrived in each new city, I found myself telling everyone about how awesome Austin is by comparison. Though I liked them all, I didn’t love any of them like I do Central TX -- it became very apparent that it was time for me to come home.

When I returned with the realization that the grass is not greener, I had a daunting feeling of “now what?” and it became clear that after two years of being single, it was probably time to throw my hat back in that ring. Ugh! After exhausting a long list of excuses, I had run out of reasons why I was avoiding a relationship.

So, I did what anyone who's looking to find a suitable partner would do -- I set up a Tinder profile late one night while watching bad TV and drinking a vodka soda.

At first I had it set to men ages 30+ within a 10-mile radius and added a profile pic, with no bio. The next few days I got lots of matches, and it was addicting! I couldn’t turn off the app.

I started getting messages, and it seemed that the men were divided evenly between those looking to hook up that night, and others interviewing for the position of “baby mama.”

After browsing profiles on the app, I decided to just use Tinder as practice for getting back into dating and not take it too seriously. I took off all age, location, gender restrictions, and added a short bio trying to weed out the riff raff.

Lots of new seemingly cool, interesting people! I started chatting with a handful of them and decided that for the next couple weeks I was going to go on a bunch of dates. I was just going to dive in headfirst!! Worst case I would end up with some funny stories. Best case I meet some nice people. I planned on shooting for ten dates with a variety of people and began to fill up my calendar.

The first guy was super sweet, but not for me. The second guy was also very nice, but exactly the kind of guy I needed to RUN away from!!! A cute, young foreigner, without a vehicle or a green card -- bad news.

By the third day I was already feeling exhausted and rethinking my ability to be outgoing enough to sustain two weeks of dates. I was looking forward to the lunchtime doggie play date scheduled for the weekend…

Julia and I began talking after a night of insomnia when she saw that I was online at 4am, and asked if I was having a late night or an early morning.

By the time we met we’d been texting daily for a week, so I felt like I already knew her. She had also been married, in the Army, two big dogs, a liberal, tree-hugging vegetarian… lots in common.

It felt very comfortable from the beginning -- besides the part where I’m straight and didn’t want to lead her on of course. When we met we had a very honest conversation up front to make sure we were on the same page about me not being gay, just trying to stay open-minded as I figure out what is next in life.

The rest of the day we ate pizza, played with the dogs, swam in the pool and had great conversation over a couple beers -- before I knew it she had to leave. More than six hours went by in a blink. I didn’t want her to go, and as an introvert, that is NOT normal!! But, she had to get to a work dinner, so staying wasn’t an option.

As she left, I kissed her goodbye -- and, it was awesome. Whaa?! Wasn’t I the one who just hours before made sure she knew that I wasn’t gay? Hmm, yeah, maybe not as straight as I thought.

We saw each other a couple days later for another afternoon date, which turned into two days. I immediately went to visit her for the weekend in San Antonio, and then she came back to Austin with me.... and that is how its been since. I didn’t go on any other Tinder dates. In fact, I deleted the app a few days after we met. I didn’t care who else was on there.

This has all happened very fast. It's felt surprising and exciting, and there have been a handful of mental/emotional breakdowns when it all seems too scary.

Not only has dating a woman completely caught me off guard, but also falling in love has scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to again, and I certainly didn’t anticipate it happening with a woman or so quickly after meeting.

When I start to feel scared or overwhelmed, I realize that the scariest thing is dealing with others’ reactions and worrying about what people will say or think -- getting looks from strangers and unsolicited advice from those who have a strong opinion, but no personal experience. When I am able to clear all of that out of my head, the reality is that this is without a doubt the healthiest, happiest relationship I have ever been in, and the rest is just noise.

I know some will not approve, and as much as I’d like to say it doesn’t bother me, it does a little bit. However, I feel like I have found exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’m in a relationship full of fun, respect, and trust… I am happy and in love. And, that is where I’m choosing to focus my attention.

Epic Journey Musings Volume Two: Memorial Day Edition

I woke up this morning thinking about Memorial Day and the meaning behind it, as well as my own connection to the recent wars and those who served. I thought about writing, but the day got busy and Facebook is saturated with "Happy Memorial Day" posts and outdoor celebrations, so I figured there was no need for another post about the day. I spent most of today enjoying beautiful weather and had a great time exploring Manhattan with the pups... getting a bit lost at times, and honked at by disgruntled locals who had little patience for my TX license plate and confusion about which way to turn. 

I'm back at the apartment and ready to crash after a long day, and yet I can't rest. I can't let this day pass without sharing my gratitude for those who have sacrificed it all so I could have a carefree day in the sunshine like I did today. This day is the reason I joined the Army, it is the reason I love this country, and it is a day that makes my heart swell with pride for the selfless men and women who gave us what we freely enjoy on a daily basis.

There was a time during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars when I was so frustrated and disgusted by what was happening that I felt ashamed for being a part of it. I hated that I was training men to go into a war which I felt they were not prepared for and there was no clear reason for putting their lives at risk besides having an order from our President.

By the time I left the Army I hated it. They offered me promotions and bonuses then attempted to intimidate me into signing another contract by sending me higher and higher up the chain of command until I finally sat across from an Army General and told him that if they handed me one million dollars cash right then and there I still wouldn't sign the contract. There was nothing else they could offer. I was DONE.

Fast forward seven years and I'm driving across the United States by myself as a single woman, meeting people who are kind, supportive and happy to help, friends willing to take me in with my two big dogs, and feeling freedom in its truest sense. I've been listening to the radio as I drive and hearing stories of girls who are kidnapped from their school in Africa and women who are beaten for speaking out politically in Egypt and Iran -- I am remembering what makes this country so incredibly amazing and unique.

There is no doubt that we are far from perfect. But, as a whole, we have opportunities and freedoms that people around the world only dream about.

And, today, as I stood at the site of the twin towers and remembered those who lost their lives on 9/11 as well as the soldiers who have lost theirs in the years since, I am inspired and humbled by the strength and courage and resilience of our country and our service men and women.

Epic Journey Musings Volume One

Last month I quit personal training, let my apartment lease expire, put my stuff in storage and hit the road for a two month cross country trip with a duffel bag and my pups. I knew it was time for a change, but wasn't entirely sure what that change would look like. Maybe I'll stay in Austin, maybe move back to Scottsdale to be closer to family, or possibly live in NYC for awhile to change things up a bit. I figured that being jobless and homeless with 80 hours of driving in solitude should not only be a great adventure, but also give me an opportunity to get very clear about what's next on my journey.

As I set out on this trip I hoped for clarity and adventure -- then got smacked over the head with a lot of both. This trip could probably be made into a Lifetime movie already. A good reminder to be careful what you wish for!

In a nutshell, the first day we got caught in a tornado and stranded on a closed highway in the middle of nowhere New Mexico for the night. Then arrived in Arizona just in time for my sister to go into early labor and rushed to the ER, which happened to be the same hospital I took my mother to twelve years ago for cancer treatment where she learned of her impending fate. And, just to top it off, a close friend is buried directly across the street. Wow! Talk about a flood of emotions. After a minor breakdown and a long waiting period of feeling scared and helpless, I am happy to say that my sister and nephew are healthy and life is good.

Several weeks on the road so far has given me a lot of time to think, and there are some things that are standing out and becoming very clear.

When I piled up most of my stuff into a storage unit I honestly had the thought of tossing a match behind me as I walked away, and just being done with it all. Not because I'm a pyro, there is just absolutely nothing in there that I need anymore.

I haven't even used a third of the stuff I packed in my bag for that matter. I have been drastically downsizing for years, and now that I am down to a duffel bag, two dogs and a car, I kind of feel like switching to a backpack instead.

After having so much stuff and being trapped by self imposed shackles for a very long time, this is the first time in my life I have ever been truly free. There has always been something controlling my life whether it be family, military, school, marriage, job or stuff. And, now, there is just me. It's liberating and a bit intimidating at the same time.

It's been interesting reflecting on a time when I was obsessively driven to have MORE. More money, more things, more credentials, more titles, more friends... At one time in my early/mid-20's I had two houses, three vehicles, a few bikes, two sets of golf clubs, a couple computers, six handguns, a home gym, a kayak... and a $6000 couch. What?!

I inherited some money from my mom's death and leveraged it to get home loans, student loans, and lots of toys. I ended up with a shitload of stuff and debt.

The money was not mine, and I did not want it. So, I blew it all.

Once there was nothing else I could buy to mask my grief or fulfill my need for external validation I began simplifying. Surprisingly, the less I had the better I started to feel. Like I had lifted a weight off of my shoulders.

Now that I have almost nothing left, I never want to go back! Everything I need in life is right here with me in this car.

Freedom, adventure, and unconditional love. I couldn't ask for anymore more.