Happy Birthday, Kimmie.

Today is my first birthday.

My sister Jamie has dubbed May 8th my birthday.  Why?  One year ago today, I walked into a social worker’s office and I asked for help.  I’ve done this before, but this time it took the stripping away of my dignity and someone telling me they just wanted me to be comfortable to push me over the edge.  I deserved to be comfortable.  I deserved so much more than what I had.

I was terrified.

It’s been exactly one year.  I am still terrified.

However, this is a completely different kind of terrified.  One year ago I was terrified to ask for help because I thought someone would hurt me.  And though the weeks following that first meeting were some of the most difficult I’ve had to endure, I’m still here.  One year later and tomorrow, May 9th, I am signing the lease on my very first (accessible!) apartment on my own.

The difference now?  I’m terrified AND excited.

I’ve had a lot of deep and meaningful conversations about this journey with my heart sisters.  I’ve thought about all of the things that have happened to get me here, and all of the people who have pulled me through it.  Jamie and I were talking specifically about my earth angels the other day (because we were discussing how Cady McClain and her memoir swooped in there right at the end) and she said something that is true.  She said: “Kristin gave you strength.  Susan gave you wisdom.  And Cady has given you peace.”

She’s right… But you know what?  I did this.  I did all of this and I did it by myself.  Though I am always told that I am a survivor and I am strong, I’ve never really realized how strong I actually am until this point.  Maybe it’s because I have just become so self-aware of my surroundings to the point where I can acknowledge what’s not okay and what is.  I’ve finally learned that I deserve everything I never grew up with as a child and everything I should already know as an adult.  I’m sure all of this isn’t going to hit me full-force until I am sitting alone in my living room, or cooking in my kitchen, but I am going to take every second and be grateful that I survived.  I survived for this.

I haven’t stopped smiling since I got the news the apartment was mine.

I have so much more I need to do in this world.  I guess it’s true that “nobody but me is gonna change my story” as Matilda would say… and I definitely showed everyone how big my brave is.  Thanks, Sara Bareilles for that anthem that got me through every single second for the last year.

And then there’s my friends — who are my family — you render me speechless.  You’ve been the biggest blessings ever given to me in this life.  Whether you listened when I needed a shoulder to cry on when it got hard, or took me out to have fun because you know how much I need positive companionship, or sent me things so my apartment isn’t completely empty or donated to my gofundme page  among other things… You’re incredible.  I would not be here without you.  I cherish each and every one of you and will never forget what you’ve done for me.  Thank you.  I love you.

In the photo above, I was one month old.  I look at that precious preemie baby girl before she was shattered and damaged by the people who were supposed to love her most on the planet and I just want to tell her now that she is not broken beyond repair.  I want to tell her that it may take decades, but there is something worth fighting for, and people who will love her, protect, empower and uplift her are waiting in the light.  The light at the end of the tunnel is here.  It’s over.  You’re safe, sweet baby girl.  And you’ve given yourself that gift.  You should be proud of yourself.  They can’t hurt you anymore.

Happy Birthday, Kimmie.  Make a wish on a glittery blue star.


Little Sponge

Something I need to work on:  Talking to people.

When I was a freshman in high school, my school was two stories and logistically I had to have all my classes on the second floor.  This left an opening in my schedule where I should have had a science class, and I ended up spending an hour every day tutoring a boy who had been shot.  I tutored him in math, and I’m pretty sure I should never tutor another human being in math.  I thanked God every day it was just a general math class and I felt blessed and privileged to be the one to help him.  I hope I made an impact on his life.

Over time his teacher, Ms. B. and I got really close.  Since she wasn’t teaching me, I’m not sure where that teacher/student line was supposed to be, but she became my mentor in this life.  She was the first person that ever noticed something wasn’t right with my life at home.  She pulled me aside and I felt safe enough to open up to her.  She took me under her wing, encouraged me, loved me, provided for me in ways I had never been provided for up until that point, and basically helped me cope with how emotionally stunted I was.  For the first time in my life, I had someone I could actually talk to, and when I wouldn’t or felt I couldn’t, she would make me talk it out anyway because she knew that’s what I so desperately needed.  Teachers are the real heroes in this crazy mixed up world.

When the second semester of my freshman year rolled around, Ms. B. had talked to my guidance counselor about putting me in her other class, called Affective Skills, in my open hour.  So off to Affective Skills I went.  It was a very small class – no more than ten people – and we all came from what seemed to be what one would call ‘troubled’ situations.  The class was VERY personal.  The point was, we shared all about what was going on in our lives, what we’d been through, and what we could do to make ourselves better, more productive and well-adjusted human beings in society.  The class was all about personal integrity, finding your personal power and growing with it, and the power of positive thinking.  I saw very quickly why she wanted me to be a part of that class.  That one class for that one semester changed my life.

Most of the time during class I was very quiet.  As the weeks went by and I got more comfortable, I came out of my shell, but I’ve never been the outgoing girl in class.  I was more the quiet one in a corner wishing I wasn’t in that room and could be working alone on my own.  Naturally, Ms. B worked this out of me and I was more active than normal but still not as vocal as I could have been.  However, this wonderful thing began to happen to me… I would sit in this class and she’d teach that day’s lesson and I wouldn’t say a word at times.  But every day, on my own, I’d go home and write a poem about whatever it is we learned that day.  I’d take it with me to school the next day and my words would blow her away.  I did this every single day without fail for that entire semester.  So, if I wasn’t talking, this is how she knew I was listening, and not only was I listening, this is how she knew I heard her.  Because of the way I soaked up every ounce of this class, she began referring to me as her “Little Sponge.”  When I couldn’t speak, the written word had saved me, as it continues to do today.  The written word has never failed me.

I need to find a way to grow out of that dependency.

Last week, I had brunch with my sister and my Susan.  It was a lovely brunch and I am glad we had that much needed time together.  I got Susan up to speed on everything going on with me and the conversation got pretty heavy and involved.  It was a very one sided conversation because, well, even though it’s not an excuse, I’m not good at talking to people.  I revert so quickly if I talk to you in person, no matter who you are, and it’s not something I’m proud of.  I realize that this action leaves people to wonder if I actually hear them.  They know I’m listening, but am I actually really LISTENING?  Do I HEAR you?  I do.  I hear you.  I hear all of you.  All of the things Susan talked to me about that day were things I need to hear and be told in such a way.  My brain sat there and soaked up every word she said, even if I didn’t know what to say in the moment.  That’s how I work.  My Person calls it “marinating,”  I marinate on on every word, absorbing it and taking it in as the “Little Sponge” I’ve always been.

I want to break that this habit.  Not necessarily being the sponge, because I think it is vitally important that voices are heard, since so many aren’t.  But after we left Susan the conversation continued in the car and even then it was hard for me to talk to Janice.  And she pointed out that if I can’t even have a conversation like this with my best friend, how could I move forward?  I didn’t like that.  I don’t want people to think that I don’t trust them, especially the people I love the most in the world.  Because in the case of Janice and Susan and several others, that is so far from how I really feel.  I’d trust them with my life, with anything.  So all of this has been “marinating” in my head for over a week now and now I really just want to do my best to fix it.

Since then, I’ve gotten organized and began taking even more steps in bettering my life as I need to keep doing each day.  Walking this path however, requires me to do things I’ve never done before as well as things I’m too scared to do or plain just terrified to do because I don’t want to talk to anyone.  Like today, I had to call businesses and government agencies eight times.  Eight.  By the time I was finished I was almost in tears.  But you know what?  I’m glad I did it.  I had to do it.  No one is going to do any of this stuff for me.  They may help and be supportive when I need it, but change has to come from me.  Change is coming from me because I want it.

I don’t want to be scared anymore.  Verbal words are just words.  They’re the same words written out before me.  They’re the same words that have always saved me.  So why am I so scared of my own voice if it comes in a different form?  How do I change it?  Janice says I practice.  If I actually have to practice having conversations with people out loud, I will, because this is ridiculous.

I’m jumping in.  Talk to me.

The Secret of Happiness

Photo: Olivier Ciappa

Generally when I listen to an album, this is how the process goes:  the first time I turn it on, I listen all the way through from beginning to end.  I take note of the songs I like, the songs I love and the songs I’ll likely always skip.  Any time after the first listen the album goes on shuffle and I sing along and skip to my heart’s content – always appreciating the element of surprise.  It’s routine and I like it that way.  However, Susan Egan likes to shake things up and prove to me with every note, every lyric, that her new album “The Secret of Happiness” is special.  I should have known “routine” would be tossed out the window the second I pushed play.  I’ve listened to nothing but this album for almost two weeks, top to bottom every time, no shuffle or skipping allowed and I am nowhere near tired of it.  Why is this album so special?  Let me count the ways…

That Voice:  Susan’s voice is so clear and unique and always manages to leave me in awe of her talent, no matter how often I hear her sing.  It is beyond refreshing to have an artist like her still out there who can share her gifts and messages with the world without being over-processed and auto-tuned.  It seems in the music world those kinds of artists and musicians are few and far between these days.  A breath of fresh air, indeed.

The Music:  The sound of this album is stunning and eclectic.  Paired with Susan’s voice every arrangement is seamless.  I find that as much as I enjoy listening to the story being told, listening to just the music is a powerful experience that feeds the soul.  I guess that’s what happens when you work one-on-one with the best modern day composers.

The Story:  The album is produced by my favorite composer of this generation, Georgia Stitt.  Here’s something I love about Georgia – she knows how to tell a story.  All composers tell their stories, but Georgia does it in a way that is simplistic and magical at the same time.  She can do it in one song, or in a production of songs like this whether they’re hers or not.  When listening I feel like I’m on a journey with Susan… starting off a little unsure but excited for life’s changes, the hilarity of the unexpected, to the manifestation of what’s really important through happiness and love.  Even the album artwork ties it together into one neat little intimate package.  By the end of it all I am just proud.

Comfort Songs:  This is where I get a little personal.  I may not be a parent, but it is no secret that I missed out on a lot growing up.  My cousin calls it my “stolen childhood” – but I make up for it now and make the best of what I have.  All of the mom related songs (“Nina Doesn’t Care”, “Children Will Listen”, “Momsense”, “From the Stars (Isla’s Song)” and even “Cock-Eyed Optimist” though not for maternal reasons) are the ultimate comfort for me.  These songs fill an emptiness inside of me and strengthen the love in my heart for all of the “small people” in my life.  I am so grateful I have learned to love through a child’s eyes and share love as an honorary auntie.  People in my life like my best friend Janice (who is a nanny), all my friends that have children, those that don’t but still love the ones around them like family, and even Susan and Georgia… they all treat and appreciate children like the precious gifts they are.  You all are my heroes in this life.  Thank you for giving those kids someone to look up to and turn to.

Life Songs:  I could write a whole separate post for each of these songs.  I have known Susan for almost six years now and we clicked and bonded pretty quickly.  She’s been a consistent cheerleader and motivator in my life.  I am so grateful for this that to this day I still struggle to find the words to properly express my gratitude.  Now I feel like I’ve found the words and of course it is in the music on her own album.  “The Me of the Moment” and “The Secret of Happiness” remind me that a struggle is ok – that there is always happiness on the opposite end and I am ready for anything if I try.  These songs are basically all the things she has taught me to find in myself and seek out.  Then we have “All Things in Time” (written by the brilliant Jason Robert Brown) which I could probably write a whole series of posts about.  I heard Susan perform this song live for the first time in April of this year.  Susan and I have had many a conversation about the intimacy of a live show, a raw expression of truth, the things a performer shares with their audience and vice versa.  On this night, the place I had been in that day and in the previous weeks was a dark one.  I was on the verge of giving up.  The struggles, obstacles and loss were too great for me to even find my faith.  Then “All Things in Time” comes along and literally saved my life before she even recorded it.

All things in time.
If not today, if not tomorrow,
Then all things in time.
We can’t predict what comes to pass.
All we control is how we react and how we recover.
Something like faith
Deep in our skin:
Everything in its time.

It was like time stopped then and the world opened up so I could see again.  I felt safe.  I felt carried by love.  I felt protected by faith. I was released from the turmoil by the tears streaming down my face.  It was probably the most honest and powerful moment I’ve spent with myself, and I felt I finally “got” everything that my loved ones have been trying to show me over the years.  I am forever changed by one little song.  Never underestimate the power of music.  God bless Jason Robert Brown for writing yet another masterpiece.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, the ones I call “life songs” are topped off with a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  This is the most beautiful rendition of this song that I’ve ever heard in my life.  When it comes on, I have to stop everything I’m doing and just listen.  It’s like musical salvation for the soul.  The perfect ending – it will leave you speechless and take your breath away.

Thank you for this album, Susan, Georgia and everyone else involved.  You’ve made a statement.  You’ve told the most beautiful story.  You’ve touched my heart.

You can buy “The Secret of Happiness” on iTunes, Amazon and LML Music.  Check out Susan Egan’s website at susanegan.net and keep up with her hilarious shared-blog with Georgia Stitt – Glamour & Goop.  Album photos credit: Olivier Ciappa.

Susan’s official music video for “Nina Doesn’t Care” is posted below.  Enjoy!