Publication Updates

Hi y’all, I have great news to share!

Two articles have been published this week.

Check out a past blog post that made it into Thought Catalog here.

And read on to discover What Keeps Us, published on Odyssey Online. I’ll be posting weekly articles there as well. Please be sure to comment and share! I’d love to hear from you.

 

Thanks for following! Stay tuned for what I have up my sleeve for next time;)

 

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Making the Connection

This past week, I have thought a lot about connections. How they’re made and strengthened, or broken in an instant, or missed by a moment…

How strange is it that girls I thought would someday be standing beside me on my wedding day haven’t spoken to me in years?

They had been there through moments nobody else had- my first real break up, holding my hair back after too much vodka, picking up the phone when everything was falling apart. They knew me like no one else had. I get that they’re called memories for a reason, but how one could just forget these huge moments and years of knowing and move on, the Earth still spinning and them not shaken, stunned me.

Perhaps it was entirely my fault. Did I not call enough? Put myself first instead of them? Have some quirky habits that they got sick of? Or did I just try too desperately to tape back  together a friendship that was beyond the point of repair? It was ridiculous how I pounded these thoughts into my skull looking for answers. This was a friend, not a boyfriend. I thought they were supposed to be there forever. I know there is a reason and season to everything. Maybe ours just was over. We were meant to be inseparable in those crucial years, to learn and be there for one another, but beyond that, grow apart into our own separate selves. Our friendships weren’t serving us anymore.

But in some cases, their presence on social media still haunted me. Part of me wonders why I haven’t severed the remaining ties between us. The block/delete button is right there, but so hard to push. What am I holding on to? Or am I worried that will send the wrong message? Better yet, why do I still care, if they don’t?

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I heard somewhere that your high school friends often disappear, because people grow up and change and go away to college, and the bonds that cannot withhold the distance will soon break. Plus, your college friends become more like your family due to the capacity in which you are living near/with them 24/7, and you begin the foreign adventure into adult life together. I thought I believed that until I lived through it.

Three nights ago, I had dinner with a friend I’d maybe spoken to a handful of times during my time as an undergraduate student. He has never seen me projectile vomit at a fraternity house, nor did he ever know what was going through my mind when I broke up with my first boyfriend. In fact, he probably knows very little about my family or my favorite color. But he knows exactly how it felt when I stepped foot off the plane in Barcelona, and how my heart continues to ache for the places I haven’t even been to yet. And he was the first to guide me and help me with traveling, and despite our many differences, is always someone I can rely on when it comes to my journey.

Similarly, two coworkers who have husbands and pets (of which I have neither) and who I met during my 9-5 have become two women that I admire most. I cherish our friendship and the roads that brought us together, though I never expected them to lead us here. We are now training for a full marathon together. Lord knows anyone who sees you sweat is seeing a side of you that others will never understand!

With other friends, it has been more like a cha-cha. We live far away, (Washington, Utah, South Carolina, New York, etc.) yet EVERY single time I meet up with them, I find the conversation barreling past 90 mph and picking up right where we left off. They don’t hear much about my day to day life or even what’s really been going on in my life via frequent messages, but I have full faith that they would be there to see me through it.

I have made so many acquaintances in my small corner of the world, and it has helped me to connect (and in some cases, reconnect) with amazing people. And sometimes, it is shocking who has proved to be there for me.

But that’s how it goes. Several people I thought I would never lose touch with, I have. And those who I was not close with, I now spend time with and talk to regularly. Life keeps you constantly on your toes like that.

Quite similar is the evening I shared with four incredible individuals (The Night Five Strangers Fell In Love). We did not have the same native language, nor did we spend more than only 24 hours together, but they have set my soul on fire in a way no one else has, especially in that short of time.

And what about all the connections that we miss? Before my boyfriend and I started dating, we had several run-ins at college. We had an insane amount of mutual friends. I had been in the building where he lived. It is quite possible that we were in the same room at the same party on more than one occasion, yet maybe we just were not ready for one another. We needed that time to become who we are, and to be ready for one another. Fast forward four years after graduation, and it is still mind boggling to think, “What if?”

One of the main reasons I have such a strong passion for travel is because of the connections I am able to make while doing so. And no, I don’t mean just with other people, although that’s evident. I have felt the presence of God standing on the top of Schilthorn more than I ever have in a church pew. I have felt more loved when I was completely alone on top of the castle of Sant Joan than surrounded by friends and family. I have befriended a couple who was nearly 3-4 times my age and never missed a beat feeling right at home. I found out who I was when I navigated city maps and got lost on street corners, when I was angry or sad or hurt, lonely or confused. I found myself by leaving what I thought I knew behind. There is such a deep connection made through more than the sights. More often than not, travel discovery becomes self discovery.

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I’ve got this notion that airports are just so freaking romantic. There are hellos and goodbyes in every terminal, and it’s that moment where a loved one steps off a plane, or gives one final goodbye wave before boarding, that I have both felt and witnessed such true and pure emotion. There is nothing like it. I could people watch for hours if security would let me. Everyone is just trying to get somewhere, you know? We all have our stories, our connections, our ties to something and someone. Who knows where they intersect? And though many of these people are rushing, there’s fleeting glimpses between strangers, always flirting with the idea of the unknown, or a smile, like maybe they knew you in another life.

I’m not sure what solidifies these connections, but in 2016 I aim to make many more…and who knows? Maybe I’ll meet you somewhere along the way.

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On a Connecting Flight from Philadelphia to Frankfurt

I make my home for the next eight hours in seat 22C, separated by an aisle from two French girls with honey woven hair, their words bubbling over the soft cries of a child behind me.
To my right- a blonde, straight-faced younger man. He copies my dinner order on our overnight flight, and I exchange names for time to kill.
Ryan from Indiana, graduate from Nashville, selling engineering equipment on a business trip.
I tell him I am Kara, almost 23, a bird fleeing from the suffocating nest of corporate worlds
And how I will travel.

He said I inspired him to do something spontaneous
But he is not yet ready to canyon jump in Interlaken
Or abandon ship from the security of a 9-5 office,
That 35,000 feet in the air is more than enough risk.
I laugh as we talk of past education, and our families back home
He is 27. No kids or wife, he says.
Conversation is a coffee-carrying flight attendant still meandering
As we touch down in Frankfurt, our throats scratched from conversation.
He jokes that he better be in my book when it is published
And my eyes smile as if to say, “You will.”

Air-plane

Weeks later, I will remember this journal entry and look up Ryan from Indiana
To find two blonde toddlers and a wife plastered in his pictures
And will need to steady myself from the turbulence.
Why did you have to invent a story to a woman you just met, leaving out the woman you wrote it with?
And stash oxygen masks from your children as you suffocate them with your silence?
Why lie at all?
Maybe you needed to feel the desire of fresh attraction,
Or try on a shade of single to cover up what you left behind.
But hiding your wedding ring, in a foreign country, telling your wife you love her when you’re flying white lies fast out of Germany…you make me wish I could think up a plane crash for men like you.

P.S. Here you go, Ryan. I wrote about you.

 

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Something to Sacrifice

My brother, Ryan, never made it to my high school or college graduation. He’s missed several birthdays, countless holidays, and important moments in my life where I needed him most, or just wanted him to be there.

Now in their sixties, my parents have had an empty room upstairs in their home for nearly the past ten years. There are not really any Mother’s Day or Father’s Day celebrations, let alone birthdays, or Christmas mornings with the four of us gathered together by the tree. In fact, I have felt like a family of three for quite some time now.

Now that my parents are grandparents, they can count the number of times they have seen their granddaughter on one hand since she has been born. And, as a first time aunt, I am realizing how much distance robs me of the simple things: discovering what gross things she may try to put in her mouth, learning to crawl, what color her ever-curious eyes are, and the way her laughter sounds. I only know by the videos that are sent to me.

Sure, a lot of this can be chalked up to “growing up.” Things change- I get it. People get older, move away, get married, and start their own families. There is no denying that it is simply a part of life, and sometimes it sucks.

However, our lives are different for another reason: the military. My brother joined the Air Force right out of high school. He became engaged to the love of his life, Alesha, at age 19, and they were married at just 21. Since then, they have lived in England and Italy, and traveled all over the world. My brother has slept in countries I probably couldn’t even find on a map. Despite the deployments and distance, Alesha has remained a pillar of strength for my brother and supported all of his endeavors, even if it means a rough road ahead for her. She has endured the difficult adjustments of living in foreign countries and being separated from her family back in the States. I can only imagine the many nights she has slept alone, struggling to keep the house in order, while working full time, just keeping her mind busy until my brother’s safe return. Ryan and Alesha have shown me what it means not only to sacrifice, but to love, honor, trust, and support your spouse unconditionally. They have fully put their faith in one another, and I admire that more than I have ever told them.  In June, after 5 years of marriage, they welcomed their first child, Cora Rae. Now, they are thankfully back in the States, but still a 10 hour drive away.

It is hard for me to admit that Ryan and I did not have the best relationship growing up. I was (as he would say) the annoying little sister, grappling at every chance to spend with him. In the end, all it did was smother him and push him further away. Yet, during my years in college, and his overseas, our relationship stabilized significantly. Though the calls were few and far between, we grew closer. I finally visited him in England in the winter of 2010. It was there that my desire to travel ignited, and could not be ignored. In a sense, he is the reason behind what I have been able to accomplish, whether he knows it or not.

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But in the typical fashion of life’s many surprises, my military ties didn’t end with my brother. In April of 2013, I went on a date with a friend from college, J.J.  And- wait for it- he was in the Air Force as well.

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(Ryan, left. J.J., right)

We have been dating ever since, and though I have been lucky to have him stationed out of the 911th Airlift Wing right here in Pittsburgh, he has still faced his fair share of obstacles to overcome. I have seen firsthand how dedicated he is to serving our country, and how hard he works to be a better son, brother, boyfriend, and Airman. In past conversations, he has emphasized the way that the military changed him, both for better or for worse.

Friends have asked me, “Well, what if he gets deployed? Are you going to stay with him?” Part of me is always shocked when I hear that. The answer is yes. I chose him, and though I didn’t necessarily choose the military, it comes as a package deal, and I am aware of that. I support my brother and J.J. 100% with everything they do, and despite distances or the strain on our relationships that this lifestyle may cause, I am forever proud of them.

Every year during this time, similar to Memorial Day, 4th of July, etc., I see countless posts on social media about thanking our armed forces for the sacrifices they make. But I also see those people at barbecues with their families, and significant others. I see them photographed with their siblings on family vacations. I see them partying with friends, at fancy Valentines Day dinners with their spouse, or together around the table for Easter dinner.

I am not denying anyone’s right to celebrate, or comparing sacrifices, or condemning those people. I cannot (and do not intend or wish to) sit here, innocent, because I too have taken far too much for granted, and we all have lost or sacrificed something- there is no need to measure the size of those scars.

But I would be lying to you all if I didn’t sometimes get upset over how I do not have the luxury of having annual family vacations, or weekly dinners, or even Thanksgiving with my brother. I know that the time together we have missed is something I can never get back, and will always be looking forward to- especially now that my brother and sister-in-law have a family of their own.

I would also be lying to you if I didn’t admit how frustrated I can get sometimes with J.J.’s unreliable schedule with ever-changing shifts, or the months he is gone for training. Having him not be there for certain things, or be unable to plan trips together (you all know I LOVE to travel) can still be upsetting, even though I understand fully and respect why they can’t happen, and feel selfish in confessing these feelings.

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Because I certainly cannot complain.

For all of these things, I am lucky.

I may not have a brother (and consequently, a sister-in-law & niece) who are close by to visit. But I have a brother.

I may not be able to pick up when I’d like and travel with my man, or spend important days with him. But I have a man I love, and who loves me.

Some people don’t get their loved ones back. Some women lose husbands DAYS before they are supposed to return from deployment. Daughters and sons lose fathers, just like they do mothers, while they are serving our country- sometimes before they even get to meet them. Parents have had to bury their children without ever even saying goodbye.

I cannot imagine surviving the unthinkable. I do not even know the half of it, nor will I pretend to. I do not know what private wars still rage on in their minds when they return home, or the horror of the sights they have seen. I don’t know what they eat, or where they sleep, or the extent of everything they sacrifice, and from my brother’s silence, sometimes I don’t think I want to.

So yes, I am very lucky. And I am thankful. And all I know is that they deserve to hear this more than just on today.

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The Mark I Left

*As promised in my Madwomen In the Attic post, here is my first draft for my creative nonfiction workshop.

***UPDATE: This piece was published in Longridge ReviewCheck it out here!***

 

 

The Mark I Left

I run my hands gingerly over the white and tan splotches of matted fur on my new Calico kitten. We got her a week or so ago, from a woman getting rid of a whole litter. She promised she had all her shots but she just couldn’t take care of all of them anymore. The kitten was thin, probably sick. But that would change now that she was mine.

She squirms in my arms, escaping. With hesitant steps, she explores her new jungle of four acres of wide open land. She darts around my bare feet, pawing at dandelions, and then lowers to the ground, ready to pounce. As I watch her hunt, I think back to last week when I held her alone in my bedroom. She would not stop crying. She meowed relentlessly, and when I tried to pick her up, claws extended and sharp teeth sunk fast and hard into my sensitive skin. Red lines rose, etching marks on my hands.

I did not think, She was just scared.

I did not think, It’s okay, it was just self-defense.

I did not consider the condition of the home the kitten knew before mine.

Furious, I opened one of my empty dresser drawers, plopped that stupid kitten inside, and slammed it shut it. That’ll show it. I pictured it in the dark, afraid and deeply regretting it had ever thought to leave marks on me. Well, good. The kitten had to learn that I was in charge. If she didn’t behave, I would punish her. That’s just how it works.

I left the kitten there for a few minutes until my rage abated, and remorse quickly washed over me.  I didn’t want to hurt her, that was never my intention.  But I couldn’t deny how powerful it felt to be in control for once.  It was impossible for her to get out of the drawer without me. She needed me.

In a way, we were the same. She was small and helpless, and I was accustomed to that role. The baby of the family, I was always being told what to do, forever a puppet on a stage with an older brother or a parent pulling the strings. My parents had my brother, Ryan, and I to attend to, full-time jobs, and bills to pay. Ryan had dirt bikes to ride, a punching bag in the form of a little sister, and better things to do than be bothered with some “dumb cat.” But forget any of that. This living animal was mine. I alone held the power. I knew that I was the stronger, bigger one.

Her fate was in my hands. For the first time I was the one to restrain, not be restrained, and it felt good. I could see why my brother liked it. The thought sickened me as I stared down at my hands in disbelief.  Even at eight years old, I knew that feeling was wrong. My mother would never do this kind of thing. Only bad caretakers would. Fear plummeted to the pit of my stomach.  What does this make me?

“Come on, we are going to be late!” my mother calls from inside. I hurry to climb shotgun into our sky blue Plymouth Voyager, leaving the kitten down in the grass. We are already late for a meeting at church, and I can hear the stress in my mother’s voice rising as she rushes down the stairs, carrying so many bags over her shoulders and under her eyes. She held so much of my world together. If that’s what being a mom meant, I don’t believe I could ever do it.

The sound of the ignition interrupts my reverie as our old van springs to life, and my mom flings her purse in the space between our seats. She puts it in reverse, steps hard on the gas, and that’s when I feel it. So fast I don’t even have time to process what the bump meant, then so painfully slowly, leaving me breathless as if my own lungs are the ones being crushed. Tiny ribs collapsing, the weight of an eight passenger van and two human bodies, alive and breathing, as life is sucked from a kitten, not yet one month old.

My mom quickly jams it into park and falls silent with the realization. It’s almost as if the world stops and gasps, watching, waiting.  I throw open the passenger door and scream, seeing the tread of the tires imprinted on the patched white fur. The mark I left. I know I am going to be sick. Bones and blood and whiskers and more blood. Blinded by hot tears, I go to hold the limp head in the palm of my hand but stop when I see its pink pearl nose. Just minutes ago it was wet and soft. Now, guts gush through nostrils. They push out, pouring red and already caking over in the hot July sun.

I realize I am still howling. Was this because of me? I know things about accidents, a little about death, some about pain. I know bodies have spines and heads and hearts and bones, and blood. There is so much blood. I wonder if this is God’s way of punishing me. I wonder if God will pluck me from this driveway and shove me in a box and slam it shut. That doesn’t happen, but I feel the guilt just the same. Death doesn’t care what mark it leaves.

Although numb, I force myself into motion. I stand up with skinned knees, spinning around wildly to face my mother, and choke out the words,

“You.

Killed.

Her.” 

I am hysterical, repeating it over and over again, wailing so loud I’m sure the Kilburn’s next door could hear, despite the overgrown fields between us. Everything inside me breaks. My mom is at my side instantly, smoothing my hair and whispering apologies. We don’t say it, but I think we both knew it was my fault. We lived in the middle of nowhere and left our pets outside all the time, but this was different and I knew it.

Why did I leave the kitten so close the driveway? I should have kept her inside. Why didn’t I check to see where she was before getting in the van? How could you be so stupid? Good job, moron, I could already hear my brother saying. I block out his voice in my head. I can’t think of that right now. Forget this church meeting, I don’t care. I insist we hold a funeral for her right then and there. We can at least give her that. My mom obliges, albeit reluctantly, and disappears into the basement, emerging with a cardboard box for a coffin.

“We have to put holes in the top,” I say. I had learned this is necessary for creatures to still breathe. She doesn’t remind me that the kitten is already dead and this is useless, but instead pokes holes through the top of the box. And then my mother, still in her black pumps, follows me to the woods. She carries the kitten’s lifeless body in the curved belly of one of my father’s shovels. I choose a spot next to one of my favorite trees, feeling the heavy box hit against the side of my leg as I walk up the hill. I tell her we should pray, or give a speech like I saw them do at my uncle’s funeral last year. She bows her head to pray, but I hear nothing.

My head is spinning. I am wondering if Jesus will forgive us. For how I kept that kitten trapped in my dresser drawer, for making my mother late for her meeting, for not paying attention to where the kitten was, for everything.  I look down at the dandelions I’ve picked to cover the grave, and realize I never even named her. Perhaps I knew, even at that age, that she wouldn’t stay with me for long.

Seventeen years later, when my mind has a better understanding of motherhood, and my hands know how to hold something fragile, I still feel my lungs give out at the question, “When are you having kids?”  Distant family members will ask me, trapping me at the dinner table during holidays. It is suffocating. I wonder sometimes if God forgot to poke holes in the top of my box.

When I try to explain to people that I just don’t want children, I give them reasons like finances and freedom. I don’t say how I am afraid of what my own two hands could do, or how you can love something so hard and still not keep anything safe in this world. I do not reveal my choking insecurities and how I feel unfit to care for another. Nobody asks. I know they label me heartless, but it seems easier to ignore that.  Because it’s hard to explain how when love and death and fear gripped the axles of a four door van, and guilt flowed freely into the four chambers of my heart like blood out onto hot asphalt, this decision buried itself in my womb many summers ago.

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