The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We have beliefs about ourselves to which we hold on tightly. We build a sense of identity around them as if they are truths set in stone. We tell ourselves stories that support our identity and behave in ways that support what we believe to be true, even if that truth is a dark one.

After high school I left home, embarking on a new journey. Many of my friends did the same, scattering to new places all over the country. The path my friend P took however could not have been more opposite from mine. While freedom and possibilities stretched out before me as I started college, P faced five years of imprisonment in the state penitentiary.

P grew up without much parental guidance. His father was often absent from his life. His mother struggled to make ends meet and to care for P’s much younger sisters. P helped his family out by stealing and selling drugs. He dropped out of school at an early age, opting for a street education instead. His lawless activities gradually escalated in nature, as did his mentality. It shaped who he was, who he believed himself to be.

P was a good and loyal friend, and he had a big heart.  While he was in prison, we corresponded through written letters. He always decorated the envelopes with intricate drawings, often of flowers intertwined together by vines of sharp leaves and thorns. I got one every couple of weeks and wrote him back almost immediately. His stories about life on the inside were minimal, but the darkness and hardness of the place emanated from all of the things he didn’t say.

More importantly though, were our philosophical discussions about human nature and being positive and optimistic. P’s life in prison was exposing him to time and experiences that made him seriously question who he was and who he wanted to become. In every letter I wrote, I poured out an immense bounty of positive messages, energy, and encouragement. I wanted desperately for him to change for the better, to emerge from prison with the intention and the willpower to turn his life in a positive direction, and I knew he wanted that, too.

His letters indicated that he was hearing me, taking our conversations to heart. But then he sent me a letter that woke me to the truth. P got a tattoo while in prison. It was of a demon, and it covered his entire chest. When P looked in the mirror every day, he saw his own face, and then he saw the face of the demon, reinforcing what he believed to be true about himself – that he was a bad person.

Sometimes we believe something to be true about ourselves for so long that it feels too hard to test that certainty and see if our belief is still true. It’s easier to simply go on believing and existing in the reality we have constructed for ourselves in our own minds. I could not change P with a handful of letters. I could not unravel the story he had been telling himself for most of his life. Only he could change that story.

The news of P’s tattoo broke my heart. I felt like I had lost him. I continued my letters of positivity and encouragement, however. Once he was released from prison, he never went back. I’m glad for that, but his internal struggle didn’t end there. After he was out, we talked regularly about his questionable ethics and morality evident by the choices he had made and was still making. Eventually it became too much for me, and as I pushed to keep that darkness out of my life, our friendship faded away.

What are the things about yourself that you “know” to be true? Ask yourself why you believe these things and question their validity. We should always be questioning ourselves and the truths we hold so close. After all, we are the ones that constructed them.

We decide what defines us and what we see when we look in the mirror every day. Some of us see a demon, like P did, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We decide our truths, the things that define who we are, and we can decide to change them. We can change the stories we tell ourselves and be better.

A Bond

As I drove home from the shelter with this scruffy 4-year old orange and white mutt curled up in the passenger seat, I could feel my world beginning to shift. She was silent, communicating only by staring at me with her deep dark eyes. I wondered what she was thinking as she looked at me and hoped it was good. I hoped I could live up to her expectations as a new dog owner.

She wandered around exploring her new home before settling down on her new blanket. I img_1244was hesitant to leave her alone so soon, but I had standing plans with my grandma and my boyfriend L would be home within the hour anyway.

When I returned home about five hours later, L explained that the dog hadn’t gotten up since he got home. He talked to her and tried to coax her up from her spot on her new red blanket, but she just looked at him and didn’t move. As we were talking, the dog appeared around the corner and wandered over to me. L was shocked.

What prompted her to get up now after all this time? She had heard my voice when I arrived back home. I understood then that she had bonded to me in the car when I picked her up from the shelter, when she was staring at me with her soulful eyes. I named her Cora after the Spanish word “corazon,” meaning “heart.”

Since those first days, Cora and I have been through a lot together. She has been with me through break-ups, graduate school, career changes, relocations, getting married, and surgery (for both of us). I used to work all day and then study at night while Cora quietly watched me from the comfort of her bed or slept under my desk.

img_1663We have been on many adventures together.   We have hiked together in the snow-covered mountains. We have trekked through the woods and plains. We have gone on road trips and gone fishing. We even went to a bar together once, despite Cora being an introvert.

When my husband and I were dating, he wooed Cora with tacos and trips to the park. He is still trying to fully win her over, but she will always be my shadow. She follows me from room to room, hesitant to take her eyes off of me for too long.  She barks for me to join her outside, and shows me how great she is at chasing squirrels when I do.  She continues to laze in bed until she sees me in the doorway and realizes it is me that has arrived home.  We have trust, understanding, and mutual respect.

We have weathered many storms together, real ones and metaphorical ones. When the sky is taken over by thunder and lightening, Cora shakes and I tell her things will be okay and that the storm will pass. When I’m facing a storm of my own, she gives me the same advice in her own way. She looks at me, lays down by me, and I know that everything will work out fine.

The new year got off to a rocky start for me. I was sick for the first two weeks (and am still Cora - 160not fully back to normal yet). Fever and chills and the worst sore throat I can remember threatened to take me down. I still went to work when I could but spend a lot of time in bed and on the couch, must more so than usual. I was never alone though. Cora was always by my side, reassuring me that it’s okay to take naps in the middle of the day, especially when you are sick.

As we were both resting, relaxed in the comfy, warm bed, it occurred to me how lucky I am to have her and to have had her for so long and through so much. She has been a constant flow of love in my life.

When I rescued her from the shelter seven years ago, I knew my world was shifting, but I had no idea how much and how much for the better since having Cora in it.

 

Too Late

We have so many intentions to do so many things. We plan to get around to them eventually, when we have more time. But sometimes we don’t have as much time as we think.

H and I met in high school. He’d always greet me with a huge smile in the hallway. When I asked how his day was going, he’d answer, “Oh, you know me. I live my life a quarter-mile at a time,” laughing and mocking my love for the movie The Fast and the Furious. He daydreamed in class and drew cute and funny cartoons that featured me and the people we knew. He was smart and silly and coined witty catch phrases that caught like wildfire among our friends, some of which we still say. When a friend of ours died unexpectedly, H and I went to the funeral together, leaning on each other for support. He was an impressive musician and played drums in a punk band. We also kissed once.

After high school I left for college and moved to a city about four hours away from my hometown. A couple of years later, H moved there as well. He needed a change and to break some old habits. By then I had a different life. I was going to college full time, working, and had a busy social life. H and I had grown apart after high school, but I was excited to know we were living in the same city again.

We chatted on the phone and via text message. I told him about my classes and he told me about his job at a popular pizza spot, a place I had been a few times.   We made tentative plans to hang out, but something always came up. I always intended to hang out with him, but I never made it happen. After a year or so, H moved back home.

Shortly thereafter, I was at work when my cell phone lit up, and I saw on the display it was a close friend from home. I didn’t answer at first, but then I thought about how strange it was that he was calling me in the middle of a weekday when we were both usually at work. I answered the call and heard the somber news. H had died of a drug overdose. He was only 24.

I went home and went to the funeral. I started crying in the car before we even got there, and there were moments when I wondered if I would ever stop. Afterwards, about thirty of us gathered together to tell stories, laugh through our tears, and to drink ourselves into oblivion. We cried and reminisced into the wee hours of the night until one-by-one we started to pass out from emotional exhaustion and alcohol. H’s death was unexpected and hit us hard.

Death is a strange thing. It reminds us of our own mortality. It reminds us that we only have a limited amount of time. H has been gone a long time, but I still think about him, and it is still weird knowing that he is not here.

I have always regretted that I did not see H at least one more time before he died. I do not remember the last time I saw him.

We don’t know how much time we have, but it’s finite, so it’s important we prioritize and use our time wisely.  We get busy and sidetracked going through the motions of daily life, putting off one intention after another. If we put them off too long though, it may eventually be too late.

Social Scene

It’s a Saturday night. What’s on the social calendar? The hubs and I can opt to go to a party, go over to a friend’s house and hang out, or spend the evening with just the two of us. We choose the latter. We almost always choose the latter.

Social scenes set the stage for all the various versions of ourselves to surface. We show different sides of our personalities depending on the situation. When K and I were first dating, we socialized with others frequently. We were getting to know each other, and spending time in a group is a guaranteed way to get a stronger line on someone’s character and personality.

However, a friend once told me that one of the biggest challenges in a relationship is other people. They influence your interactions with each other. Just like the atoms that make up our world and everything in it, when under observation by others, we have a tendency to change. We’re susceptible to our environment and who is around us.

I remember the first time I saw another girl openly flirt with K in front of me. I heard a rushing sound in my ears and my heart started to pound. I got mad. I was apparently a little jealous and possessive of K as I learned in that moment, and it influenced my social interactions the rest of the evening.

After the initial stages of dating and getting to know each other, K and I found ourselves spending most of our free time with just the two of us, and we have continued that habit since moving in together and getting married, not simply because it is convenient, but because we enjoy each other’s company. We are best friends. We are also both introverts. We like spending time alone, and we like spending time alone together. So why hang out with other people?

There are quite a few reasons actually, reasons that I have discovered as K and I have recently been slowly but actively seeking out new friendships and better nurturing our current ones as a couple.

There are many opportunities to learn from other people, but those opportunities only present themselves when we actively engage with them. Every conversation I have with someone leaves me a bit wiser in some way, whether it’s in regards to newfound facts or in the art of reading people or making successful small talk. Every interaction is beneficial. Social interactions open our minds to new things, new ideas, and we experience that as a couple. Our discussions with others add to the topics of conversations we later have just amongst ourselves.

In social situations we also learn to read each other’s body language and facial cues. I become hyper aware of K when he and I are with other people. I feel even more conscious of his presence and find myself watching him and his mannerisms, looking for any indications that he is uncomfortable or bored. It’s important that we make sure our partners are included in the conversation and that we remain aware of each other’s feelings and comfort levels in the situation. We have to work together to stay united, to not embarrass each other, play off of each other’s discussion points, joke casually and easily without giving too much away. These situations allow us to practice and become better at looking out for each other, reading each other, and being better partners overall.

We also see different sides of each other’s character as part of social interactions.   When at dinner with my longtime friend who K was meeting for the first time, he asked questions and cracked witty jokes. I could tell he was trying hard to make a good impression, and make a good impression on her, and his efforts meant a lot to me. When we spend time with our friends with kids, K plays with the little ones and makes them laugh so much they can hardly breathe. It’s a light and silly side of him that warms my heart.

I know that when we walk into a room, we are in it together.   Social scenes have become adventures on which we embark together, and we are letting more of the world in a little at a time. We are growing and learning and having a great time. But I think my favorite nights will forever be the ones we spend with just the two of us.

Bound Together

Friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life.”
-Pythagoras

What is a true friendship? Aristotle believed that true friendship is rooted in goodness of character and equal virtue and is extremely rare. In the age on social media, we use the term “friend” loosely. We can easily connect with anyone and everyone, but those connections are often shallow and empty of real meaning. I, too, believe that true friendship is rare, and I am grateful to have firsthand knowledge of it in my life.

N and I met in 7th grade history class. I don’t remember the moment we met. She was simply and suddenly in my life. Our family structures were very similar. Our parents both married and split around the same time. Both of our dads remarried and were often absent from our lives. We were both only children and very close to our moms. It was our common ground.

We partnered on projects together, ate lunch together, went to school dances together. We made frequent treks to the grocery store to buy rolls of sugar cookie dough to snack on while binge watching MTV. We decided that when we turned 16 we would take a road trip to Seattle, the capital of grunge, and we started saving money for the trip by putting change in a jar. We asked kids in the cafeteria to donate their leftover lunch money to our cause, but we never saved very much. We kept buying cookie dough with it instead. We made up songs and games to entertain ourselves. We had (and still have) infinite inside jokes that no one else would ever understand. We roamed around our city, exploring and making our presence known.

N and I both have somewhat adventurous natures. We never daydreamed about our wedding days or settling down to have kids but instead focused our free spirits on really living life, taking advantage of opportunities, and experiencing everything we could. As we got older, this of course got us in trouble a few times. We snuck out, partied hard, got tattoos and piercings. But we took risks. We didn’t shy away from the world and never felt like we were missing out. We were in advanced honors classes all through school. I was in the internship program and N competed on the debate team. And we were both in math club (believe it or not).

In high school our friendship got more complicated, as many teenage friendships do. As our relationships with other people increased and became complex, so did our relationship to each other. There were rivalries, jealousies, and dramatic love interests intermixed with the white lies that we told each other for no real reason except that we were simply trying to find our ways through the world and didn’t know how to be honest with each other or ourselves.

Our bond was undeniable, but still we grew apart. Our friendship became too disjointed and frictional. On high school graduation day, we threw our caps in the air, hugged each other, and didn’t speak again for three years. N and I have taken a few natural breaks throughout our friendship, but our bond has always brought us back together. I think those days are behind us now. We have learned how to be better friends to each other. We have traveled across country many times to see each other, having lived in different states for more than half of our friendship. We message each other all the time, for vital reasons and for no reason at all except a desire to connect.

Here is a little bit about N: She is incredibly bright. It was easy to see that way back when we first met in junior high. I have always admired her quick wit. She makes me laugh longer and harder than anyone I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t let her wear her pretty long blonde hair down at my wedding because it would have overshadowed my whole bridal ensemble. She has a glamorous style that she never sacrifices for any reason. She is smart, bold, and brave.

N is stronger than she sometimes realizes. She is finally seeing that she deserves so much more in life than she has allowed herself to have. I have not been diligent in showing how much I admire, appreciate, and love her. In this way I have failed her as a friend, but I hope to have many more years of friendship with her to make up for it.

Relationships are complex, messy. N and I have grown up together, spending some of our most turbulent years together. True friendship is not about perfection. It’s about working through life together. We have seen each other at our worst. We have judged each other and carried each other. We know each other on multiple levels, and for that reason we can talk more deeply and laugh more honestly and whole-heartedly together than with anyone else. We are kindred spirits.  After more than 20 years, we continue on our journey through life bound together forever in friendship.

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The Best Ships are Friendships

We travel though life with others by our sides for a few days, a few months, a few years. Some people are just passing through while others stick around for a while. We become co-travelers on the same journey, even though we often go in different directions.

A decade ago my life intertwined with the paths of many others, brought together by our desire for change and adventure, by our thirst for life, the sun, and the beach. In the city of L.A., which is known for its fleeting and shallow relationships, we built bonds that have kept us connected through time and space.

Though we are now scattered across the country and find ourselves in different phases of our lives, I recently traveled to reconnect with three of my favorite friends in person, in real time.

After my flight landed and I arrived at baggage claim, seeing D standing in front of me was surreal. We first met at a show in Hollywood. My friend’s band was playing and D was there as a scout for a record label. Until that moment at the airport, it had been 7 years since we last saw each other.

We walked along the falls and river, enjoying the rush of water and lush greenery around us, talking about who we were, who we are, and who we want to be. We both miss the L.A. lifestyle but are finding our way through the unique urban pockets intertwined with suburbia. We wandered around town, stopping at hidden gems along the way, happy in the simplicity that is our friendship. D is in the process of shifting his center of gravity, and he reminds me that life is only as hard as we make it. He reminds me to revel in the things I love and to not waste time on the things I don’t. I told him about my blog, and he told me that he’s proud of me.

Next I arrived at the home of my friend F, her greeting expectedly warm and sincere as she welcomed me inside. I do not remember the moment I first met F; she just seamlessly fit into my existence as if she had always been there, a gem of authenticity and honesty. We used to spend hours playing tennis, bouncing both the ball and our thoughts back and forth to get a handle on the things in our lives that were holding us back or holding us down. She is strong and fearless and never settles for less.

Now F has a family of her own, including a baby. She marches forward with such confidence that you’d never know she is figuring it out as she goes. She refuses to give up the simple pleasures she enjoys, like scrumptious Saturday morning brunch at an overcrowded organic café, just because she has a baby. Her tiny blonde frame hoists the baby carrier in front of her and pushes through the crowd to a table at the back, making no apologizes along the way. She tells me about the big job on which she has set her sights. It’s a huge leap, but she knows she can do it, and she is fighting for it. F is inspiring. She shows me that I can do it, too.

N arrived on a later flight and was waiting patiently for me and F to show up. When she spotted me in the crowd, she practically leaped into my arms with an embrace that lifted my spirits a mile. I remember first meeting N at a backyard party by the beach. She was all glowing smiles and open arms, the same as she is now. She is warm and open and incredibly trusting. After the birth of her first son, almost immediately upon seeing me, she invited me to hold him.

What most defines N is her huge heart. She loves hard and only wishes for love in return. She gives of herself tirelessly to her husband, sons, and rescue dogs. She cares so deeply for the world around her that I think it hurts her sometimes. On our way back from a girls’ night out of dinner and dancing, N. aimed her face out the car window and into wind, staring at the photo of her boys on her phone. She reminds me to love fiercely and whole-heartedly, no matter what.

I wish we all still lived in the same city. Though my wish will never come true, my heart is full of gratitude that they are still part of my life, that we have found a way to stay connected. Life is short and time steals itself away from us. Spend it wisely and intertwine your life with the people you love. Don’t let your friendships float away.

 

Friends to the End

In a partnership, you lean on each other. You teach each other things. You support each other and do things together as a team.

When Toby was a year old, he got a sweet little sister, Haley. He showed her how to make the cute sad face to get more treats, how to play a game of Tug, and which door to greet us at when we arrived home. He showed her how to live the best life a dog could live.

Eventually Haley grew up and became the annoying little sister, but Toby still looked out for her. He’d make sure she was okay after returning home from a trip to the vet. He cried at the backdoor when she was stuck outside. They worked in tandem to take down the trashcan and eat the leftover pizza inside. They searched for rodents in the shed and patrolled the yard together at night. They were partners.

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When Toby died earlier this year, Haley was lost. She had never been without him. She wandered the house, restless and lonely. She refused to eat, not having Toby there with his usual watchful encouragement. When we came home from an outing, we would come through the back door and find Haley standing anxiously at the front door. She didn’t have Toby to tell her where to stand to greet us.

But now it’s Haley’s turn to pass on her dog knowledge. She shows her new friend Sid how to squeal for attention, where the dog treats are kept, and how fun it is to run really fast. Together they chase squirrels and play Tug with their favorite toys. Haley now knows which door to greet us as when we come home. She has Sid’s help in figuring it out, and she almost always gets it right.

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In response to the Daily Post photo challenge
Partners