Category Archives: Guest Post

Mama’s Lullaby

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When the story is good, nothing else exists outside of those pages. I love to read. Always have. Someone standing in the same room asking me a question might as well be a mile down the road asking it because I won’t hear the question. I can’t hear the question. 

A recent conversation with my cousin, who is a writer and avid reader, made me ask where or how he gained his love for the written word. It also prompted me to think where I gained mine. The answer in a word is Mama. Thoughts of her and reading bring memories from my childhood flooding in. 

When I was very small, reading was a huge part of my day. Mama read to me as a way of both entertaining me and lulling me to sleep for a nap. Her tone was soothing. Its sound was like a soft blanket wrapping around me. 

As I grew, Mama returned to work, and I stayed with a sitter while my brother and sister were in school. It reduced my reading time, but it didn’t eliminate it. Even when she was surely exhausted and hated the thought of it, my mother read an evening story to me. 

Each night, supper was cooked and eaten, the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, and then it was storytime. It was my favorite time of the day. Storytime was like my own special dessert. The anticipation of it through supper and cleanup tasted sweeter than any cake or cookies possibly could. 

The routine was the same each evening. I picked a book, and we settled onto the couch. She always sat near the end where the light from the floor lamp made it easier to see the print regardless of which book I chose. I sat to her right as close as possible. That proximity varied based on the time of year and the temperature inside our small house. Winter temps meant I could get as close as possible; summer temps meant there had to be space so we wouldn’t sweat and cause our skin to stick together. On the cooler evenings, when I smushed myself into her tightly, I could feel the vibration from her voice cause a soft rumble from her body to mine. 

I tended to choose longer books because, no matter the length, one story was usually the limit. Laundry still had to be folded and put away, and everyone had to have baths before bedtime. With five people and one bathroom, that was quite a process to complete. 

No matter how long it took her to read the story, it was never long enough for me. Occasionally, if I had picked the same book too many nights in a row, Mama would suggest a different book. I knew that meant she was tired of that story, so I would exchange the book grudgingly. The disappointment always fell away quickly though—as soon as the first word was read. 

Immediately, I was “in” the story. Everyone and everything else around me disappeared, and I was walking with the characters in the book; feeling what they were feeling, seeing what they were seeing, smelling what they were smelling. All of their experiences became my own and were as real to me as the room I was sitting in.

That wasn’t the end of reading for the night though. One more treat was to come. After I was ready for bed, Mama or my sister would tuck me in, pick up the book Little Visits With God, and read a Bible story to me. After that, a quick prayer, and I was off to dreamland feeling safe and secure. 

As I grew and learned to read on my own, Mama took me to the local library to pick out my own books. What a wonderful place! My first favorite moment was taking the first step inside the library door. It was like stepping into an entirely new world! The smell of books greeted me like the embrace of a favorite family member, and the spark of excitement that jolted and ran through me was like the joy of seeing your best friend at school after a long weekend. 

Our library was, to me, one of the stateliest structures in town with its brick facade and three-story, white columns. You couldn’t tell from the outside, but from the front door, the library was down a flight of steps. Standing on the landing was like overlooking a magic land from a lush hill while fairies spun webs of glowing books.

As a teenager, I had a book in progress at all times. Books opened up worlds I didn’t know existed: places, people, ideas, facts, and so much more. They showed me a vast range of possibilities existed for my future outside the boundaries of the small town I was lucky enough to call home. Books even taught me simple lessons about myself. I feel you asking “like what?” One book, in particular, taught me that scary books really should be avoided altogether. An all-night-by-flashlight binge read of The Amityville Horror and a weeklong inability to sleep drove home the lesson books of that sort were, for me, best left on the library shelf. As a teenager, one book was even a source of tension between my mom and me. Mom, after noticing a Judy Blume book in my room and flipping through it, decided the story wasn’t “suitable” and threw it away without telling me. She then allowed me to search the house for several days and, only after I asked if she had seen it, did she inform me it was in the trash because it was unsuitable for me. I was furious but knew better than to argue, so I only told her with teenage sarcasm, “Thanks for letting me waste so much time looking for it.”

Not only was my mother the source of my love of books, she too was a voracious reader. Having a book in progress, for her, was like having the next breath of air ready to breathe. One time after she came to my bedroom telling me to help with supper, I asked why she didn’t call me from the kitchen. She replied she had done that three times already. Yet, she wasn’t irritated. I presumed she would think I had ignored her calls and questioned her. “Not at all,” she said and then told me a story of her own. When she was my age and engrossed in a book, she didn’t hear her own mother repeatedly calling for help from the kitchen. Suddenly, Mom was brought to reality by a handful of homemade biscuit dough whacking her in the head. From that point on, she chose different times—ones that didn’t interfere with chores—to read. From that experience, she knew I couldn’t hear her when I was reading, and I’m thankful for that realization. Premade biscuit dough in a can would have hurt a lot worse than that handmade dough did. 

That love of books and the magic of libraries remain with me to this day. It is both a simple gift and a deep legacy handed to me by the person who loved me more than any person ever has or ever will.

Pies and Such

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Like most of us, my mamma (pronounced ma’am maw) never wanted to “be a bother to anyone.” On the scale of what she didn’t like, asking someone to do something for her weighed near the bottom – hanging slightly above having her picture taken. As she got older, her reluctance to ask for anything grew.
When she simply couldn’t bring herself to ask directly, she became most creative at pointing a conversation in the direction she wanted it to go. Her hesitancy to ask and her creativeness in asking indirectly was quite endearing.
My favorite all time example occurred one Saturday afternoon when my husband and I made the quick one-hour drive to visit her. Always glad to see us, she seemed a bit preoccupied that day. As usual, we carried the bulk of the conversation, but this time, during a brief lull, she suddenly inserted, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?” Anyone from the South (or a true transplant like my Illinois-born and raised husband) understands that to mean “What do you like to eat?”
Since the conversation to that point was not even closely related to food, we were thrown for a minute. To buy some time, I asked, “What was that, Mamma?” She repeated, “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”
Still a bit confused, I asked, “Do you mean in general, or are you asking if we’re hungry now?” She replied, “In general.” Finally catching on, I told her we like all kinds of food and asked, “What do YOU like to eat?” Knowing two of her favorite snacks were pork rinds and potato chips, it was amusing to hear instead an enthusiastic “I like those McDonald’s pies!”
Now fully aware of the game we were playing, my husband asks “Mamma, would you like us to go get you a McDonald’s pie?” He almost didn’t get all the words out before she was exclaiming, “Naw!! I don’t need one, I just like’em! Unless y’all want one; y’all want one?!”
My husband and I smile and glance sideways at each other. We stand (while she continues to protest she doesn’t want one unless we do) and head out the door while she yells for us to come back and get some money.
We return with McDonald’s apple pies for all. It’s hard to say who devoured theirs first, but it was obvious no one relished that apple pie more than she did.
From that point forward, McDonald’s was our first stop when we rolled into town for a visit with Mamma. The pies were cheap, but the joy they brought was priceless, and the happy memories of shared apple pies linger on.
To this day, 20+ years later, when one of us is craving something and wanting a partner in crime, the magic question is “Whada y’all find goodta eat?”

 

A Snapshot of Memory

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*Guest Post

In this day of phones, digital cameras & easy(easier) photography the world is full of portraits & life-changing memories artfully posed, beautiful for sure yet simpler to catch. Engagements, births, holidays, moments in time long ago not as spontaneous if caught on film.

Back in my childhood photos of the ilk were less common unless you sat in a photographer’s studio- not as accessible to the working folk. You snapped a pic, waiting for the roll of film to be finished, brought it in to be developed, and usually, you got an envelope full of crossed eyes, blurry shots, laughable seconds. Few and far between were photos remarkable.

While we were not the kind to sit in a studio for a portrait, have on the walls framed photos of our time vacationing or spending a holiday, this one moment in time my father took of me is as artfully placed to be one.

Summer, on my front porch, resplendent in my bathing suit ready for running through the sprinklers. That, as I recall, was quite a looked forward to part of any sun-shiny moment then. Playing with my Rubik’s Cube- must’ve been 1980 or so.

I don’t remember much of this day, but I do remember (hindsight, mind you- as a kid I couldn’t register this) my dad got this sort of inspired look on his face and asked me to sit on the steps, against the column of the porch, and try to solve it. So I did. And he took this picture.

No digital cameras, no immediate pics to edit. Just a simple photograph on a camera with film he had to wait to develop to see if it turned out.

I think of this as my “portrait” to this day. It was a good moment. I’m thankful for that second in time captured. I think it still resembles me, captures the person I am inside. Sometimes the spontaneous becomes immutable…

 

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Poldark Ends. Or Does It?

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Guest Post:

 

The series finale of Poldark ends, as Ross turns away from Demelza and boards the ship to France, to spy for the British… “I will return,” he says, his devilish grin belying nothing.

It’s likely he will return, albeit years older, in the inevitable sequel which will pass to the next generation of Poldarks, assuming both he and his friend Dr. Enys survive their foray into French espionage.

In the finale, George sees the ghost of Elizabeth once last time. Her back was turned as she entered Trenwith, even as George departed his adopted home, perhaps forever. For me, this was the nod to the sentiment of the series. It’s inescapable that some of the show is indeed soap opera-ish. Almost 90% of all the plot twists could have been avoided if people simply communicated directly. On the other hand, this sort of logical human discourse would make good drama impossible.

The actor who played Poldark in the original version of the series in the 70s made several appearances in this series. Poldark’s horse Seamus has its own Twitter account. (Yes, really.) If you want to visit Trenwith, it’s Chavenage House, in Beverston, Gloucestershire. If you were confused by the layout of the surrounding mines, villages, and towns, don’t be: in reality, they are not proximate. (And Poldark didn’t travel everywhere via the coastline and cliffs, as the series would have you imagine.)

Like Elizabeth’s ghostly return, the rebirth of another Poldark storyline is inevitable. Everything rests on the shoulders of the writers who can imagine the full world that Poldark brought to us.

The series finale is a call to remember that the principal characters will carry on, even if in our imaginations.

All of our stories must end in a predetermined conclusion. Drama, laughter, and finality.

May this serve as a tentative ‘goodbye’ to the series. I will miss the show, but certainly not the hat.

I am certain that another line of Poldarks will live to remind us what we found so sublime and delightful in this series. I’m predicting that they’ll find another unnaturally good-looking actor to serve as the focus of the revival. Don’t bother calling me, BBC One. I’m busy.
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The Unsettling Solace Of the Ruins

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This is a guest post.

Each of us has a hometown. Returning brings the blessing of memories and the bitterness of entropy enveloping what we remember.

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Trips to my hometown are usually quick and for a particular purpose. Occasionally during these trips, an investment of a few minutes is made to drive past the small house that was home to me for well over half my life. 

One of my earliest memories, if not the earliest, is of the day we moved in. I was not yet four years old. We lived next door, and my main contribution to the move was carrying my baby doll’s high chair down the front steps of that two-bedroom house (where a sheet divided one bedroom down the middle to accommodate my brother on one side and my sister and me on the other) to the larger (barely) three-bedroom.

This was home for the next 28 years–until my mother died—when it became a house-home mixture of sorts. It was never the same for any of us with her missing, but my father owned it for several more years before selling it and moving to a new town. 

In the bottom right corner of the photo is the front window to my bedroom. It often held a box fan in the summer and was covered with plastic on the inside during the winter to help block the cold draft. During my early teenage years, it held a view to and thoughts of a much bigger world beyond. 

The crepe myrtle outside this window was always one of my favorite things about the house. It provided a wonderful canopy for day or evening, and its delicate flowers and flaky bark were a constant enticement to touch. This crepe myrtle has never been subjected to the yearly scalping performed on many crepe myrtles, and so it has grown from the 10-foot (or less) height of my youth to the 30-40 foot beauty you see here. Knowing this tree as a friend from day one makes it feel as though the roots of this tree are deeply intertwined with the “roots of me.”

The photo is from the street in front of the house-taken today during one of those quick trips.  

Not all here was beautiful, though. Today brought the unsettling (and a bit devastating, being totally honest with myself) discovery of an abandoned home with a broken kitchen window and No Trespassing/Keep Out signs posted in various places on the property. Barring an unforeseen and unlikely miracle, this house will probably not exist within a few years. Based on the condition the structure and its outlying storage buildings are in, I hope it doesn’t. It would be far less painful to see a clean slate than to see the neglected and abused ruins of a home that held life and dreams for so many decades. Maybe I will drive past again during the next fast dash to the area; maybe I won’t. Maybe instead, I will ask friends who still live nearby to let me know when it is gone. I know this is not a situation unique to me, and maybe it makes no sense to many others who often moved in their growing up years; but, for today, I am sad about what is and miss what was. 

The Beginning of The End (A Memoir of Violence)

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Note: someone with stories to tell reached out to me to reveal that she shares a common history with me, one forged in violence and the lesser part of human nature. Unlike me, she must tiptoe over the tightrope of accountability for those in her life. Not everyone embraces my willingness to tell lurid family stores, ones which lay bare the shared roots and episodes of family lore. Stories, though, must be told. They escape our control even when not given voice. Sunlight enriches us and our stories, even when previously obscured in the darkest corners.  Who ‘she’ is isn’t the story. She’s dedicated much of her life to ensuring that so many others have options, hope, and a future. She learned firsthand that such things are sometimes a fantasy for children.

The following is one of her stories:

There are times in life I feel like a fake. Not because I believe I am actually a fake, but because the life and culture I grew up in is not the one I live in now.

Our stepfather, Chip, was sometimes an okay guy, and sometimes a raging lunatic, depending on the quantity of alcohol or other substances he had consumed on any given day. Weekends were generally the worst, as there were more available drinking hours in the day and he felt like he could really let loose. Chip was frequently violent and often demanded unquestioned respect and loyalty.

If anyone had used the words “domestic violence” around us we would never have assumed they were talking about us. No one I knew ever said anything like that or talked at all about what might be going on in our house. These days, as a trainer for Domestic Violence, you might hear me say “The number one rule in any domestic abuse situation is never tell anyone about what happens here.” That was certainly true in our household. We were warned on a regular basis that what happened in our home was no one else’s business. The implied rudeness that anyone would want to know seeped into our minds as such it truly never occurred that we would tell anyone.

Despite the crazy things that would happen, we also had fun. We had friends in our neighborhood with whom we rode the bus to school. They would sometimes come to play in our yard. We were never allowed to leave our own yard to play. Only to walk to the bus stop. In fact, if a ball went over the fence and one of us had to run and get it, we would panic trying to get back before we were spotted by a grown up. The main result of this policy was that our closest friends were the ones who lived right next door.

The Spears were relatively new to the neighborhood. They’d only moved in probably six months before the main event happened. Their family consisted of the two parents and three young boys. Paul, the oldest boy was 13.  I remember this specifically because he was right in between me and my oldest sister, she was 14 and I was 12 that spring. He and his middle brother had come over one Friday afternoon. My mother was in a particularly good mood that day, and Chip was cooking on his grill. I don’t remember what he was cooking, as we never actually ended up eating dinner that day. We were outside in the front yard, and Mom was laughing at something the neighbor kid, Paul, was saying to her. Chip, in quite the mood, was jealous. Mom was standing on the steps heading in the door, mid-laugh, when Chip grabbed the back of her shirt and threw her down on the ground. He immediately began yelling about her cheating. He sat there, hands tight around her neck, raging. The moment was probably quick in real time, but, cliché as it sounds, felt like slow motion. I looked at my sister and despite the longstanding rule about never telling anyone, this situation called for action. We were in unprecedented territory, we were OUTSIDE. I grabbed my younger brother and she grabbed our baby sister and we took off. We ran to the closest place we could get to quickly, Paul’s house. We were all crying and shaking. Chip was still yelling, the entire scenario could have been happening in their living room, as little insulation as there was in those trailers. We sat down on the floor of their living room. It strikes me funny now that we did that. When we were in trouble at home, Chip always made us sit on the floor, sometimes in birth order. We just automatically did it there too.

Paul’s mother looked at us, with a resigned look on her face. She said, “What do you want me to do?” We just stared at her. We were all painfully shy, mostly afraid of talking to adults in general. After a moment of silence, she asked: “Do you want me to call the police?” Simultaneously I said “Yes” while my sister said “No”. We looked at each other and she said to me, “If the police come, we will never see Mom again.”  This was what Chip always told us. It was drilled into us regularly. I suspected it might not go that way. I’d been out of the home more than she had and had seen different things. However, I still thought there was a chance she was right so I didn’t disagree with her. Paul’s Mother looked at us a moment longer, and said, “Well, since she’s older (pointing at my sister) I’m going to go with her answer.”

We sat there in her living room listening to the ongoing fight at home. I don’t know how long we sat there. Eventually, it quieted down some. Then the summons began. “KIDS! IT’S TIME TO COME HOME!” He bellowed it several times. I will never forget looking at Paul’s mom as we gathered up the siblings and left their living room. Chip stood on our steps, one arm resting on the door frame, cowboy hat cocked down over his eyes as we came in. He lined us up right on the floor in the order we walked in. Jessica first, then Thomas, Sue, and me last.  Mom sat on the couch, crying, with blood everywhere on her face and bruises already showing. He began to talk then. He talked about how much we didn’t appreciate all that he did for us and how ungrateful we were for the life he gave us. He got himself all wound up again. He tore the phone out of the wall, and threw the tall ashtray and broke it, leaving the chalk residue that must have been weighing it down all over the carpet. He popped pills and washed them down with this Old Milwaukee’s Best. His eyes were red and he was sweating profusely. He had finally had enough. He went down the hall and came back with his sawed-off shotgun. He got a box of shells off of the high shelf in the living room and began to load it.

“I’m done,” he said. “And we are all done. Let’s all go out together.” At this point, mom started begging him not to do it. He loaded the weapon and pointed it right at me.  He said, “How about you? You wanna go first?” The moment went on forever. His sweaty finger shaking and hovering over the trigger. I prayed that day like I’d never prayed before. I knew better than to answer him out loud. There was too much chance the answer would not be what he wanted. It wasn’t our first rodeo, as it happens. I don’t think I knew I was holding my breath until he put his arm down. After a moment, he launched back into speech mode. Eventually, he wore weary of his audience and sent us kids to bed. My mom spent the next several hours talking him out of killing himself. I vaguely remember wishing he would just do it.

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The next day, we packed our clothes into large black trash bags and went to stay with my Mema, my mom’s mother. She lived in the two-bedroom center unit of a triplex in North Springdale.

It wasn’t the end of our relationship and experience with Chip or even our last time in City View, but we never lived there again. It was the beginning of the end.

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This post did extremely well on one of my social media pages. Countless people read, commented, and shared the story. I was glad to have been a part of her sharing. X

 

 

There’s Always Time For Underwear

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Note: this anecdote is from my favorite cousin Lynette. She grew up in Brinkley, Arkansas, a quintessential small agricultural town in the South, one preoccupied with tornados.
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A bad weather post a friend made earlier reminded me of a tornado experience from my youth.

We lived a block from a tornado siren. If you have never experienced one of these at that range, you should. A resident of my hometown likened it to the sound of the angel Gabriel blowing the final trumpet.

Anyway, one evening I was in the shower, and the alarm sounded. The sudden firing up of the siren alone was enough to cause cardiac arrest even for a teenager. Add to that the thought of being hit by a tornado nude, and the panic was real.

My mother runs into the bathroom throwing clothes at me. I catch the underwear and throw it to the floor.
She yells, “Put on your underwear!”
I scream, “There’s no time for underwear!”
She shouts back, “If the house is destroyed by a tornado, that is the only pair of underwear you will have!”

It’s Mom for the win!
Remember – There’s always time for underwear.

Guest Post: Erika Saboe – A Musical Memory

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When I was 15 I had a very emotional time. I was horribly sad. Enough so that I asked my parents to commit me. What I was going through seemed so insurmountable I could not fathom working through it. My parents did not ignore my plea. And for a month I was institutionalized.

It was almost like a twisted resort of sorts… I had a private room but a shared bathroom, I didn’t mind that. My days were scheduled for me. When meals occurred, when activities happened, etc.

When you arrived you were stripped of all boons. No music or pleasantries you were used to. This was before cellphones or internet. My makeup was taken away. One could break the mirror in a compact or the the glass a nail polish bottle was made of and use it as a weapon or device to cause pain. The bathroom mirror was a sheet of metal to allow us a way to see ourselves and ready for the day without being dangerous.

Walkmans were big then. Cassettes. We didn’t have cd’s at this point. They were a privilege. So any kid who checked in lost theirs until they earned it back. You did well you raised a level and got privileges.

For some odd reason…. they did not find mine when checking my luggage. They took everything else but… my Walkman was still there with one cassette in it.

What did I do when seeing so? I stood on my bed and lifted the ceiling tile. Put it above me. Every single night while I was there I would elevate, push my fingers and lift that tile. Pull that Walkman out and listen to Crosby Stills & Nash. I have no idea how they didn’t catch me but I am so thankful they didn’t.

This song, it played so much it has become a trigger for the memory.

I’m aware now, as an adult, that the world is a painful place even when usually comforting. Sadness… it is nothing more than an emotion we feel every day.

Nonetheless this song I wear close to my sleeve due to the memory shared.

Crosby, Stills & Nash – Helplessly Hoping

Guest Post: Erika Saboe – A Cigarette Memory

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The following is a social media post by one of the best personal essay writers I’ve encountered. This one was written without any idea it would be retransmitted elsewhere. I can only imagine how vivid the words would be if she didn’t write casually. The pictures are ones I made to help her see humor in her struggle to stop smoking.

I’ve been a smoker the majority of my life. I grew up in an era of it being perfectly acceptable. I can remember being 11 or 12 and walking to the rinky-dink gas station across Old York Rd and buying a pack for about a dollar. Smoking on the porch of the lunch commons at my high school. I actually remember smoking on an airplane!!!

My father was diagnosed with stage IIIB lung cancer in 1999 or 2000. I was living in Memphis at the time and probably smoked about 2 or 3 packs a day. This was when you could smoke just about everywhere still without stigma. I didn’t know what IIIB meant, had to look it up on the interweb I had on my Sega Dreamcast (ha!). Then I really got it, like a cinderblock to the face.

My dad asked me to quit and it was a no brainer. I stopped that very day. Was there ever a better reason? NO. I also chose to end my relationship at the time and haul ass home to care for him while he was sick. I spent the next 6 or so months by his side until he passed. And after stayed smoke-free for a good long time. Years.

One day I saw an old friend I hadn’t had the pleasure of hanging with for a long time. He smoked. I threw an ashtray on my table and said, “I’ll have one with you for old time’s sake.” Stupidest idea ever. It started me smoking again for another 15 years. I tried many times to quit. It never took.

I always said, “How will I find a better reason than the first time when my dad was told he was going to die and asked me to quit?” And anytime I tried to quit it seemed impossible. Nothing was enough to make it stick more than one day.

I hated smoking but loved it. I rationalized that it was one of the few vices I had that gave me momentary peace and comfort, but what a line of bullshit that was to simply give me an out to not try. I thought about quitting again all the time. No day was ever right, no reason ever great enough.

I was at the tail end of a work week. Got a fabulous new job a month or so before. Told myself when THAT happened it was my sign to quit but even then I couldn’t. Not a big enough reason to my psyche I guess lol.

Anyway, I was running low on smokes and had this crazy idea to just not buy any more when they ran out. I was already contemplating heading to the convenience store to get another pack when I realized it was Mother’s Day. Thought to myself, “let’s give mom a gift she will really appreciate and stop.” I’ll admit I wasn’t 100% sold but figured I would give it a try.

And shortly after was about out the door to replenish after weakening when I saw what the date was on my watch. It hit like a prize fighter’s knockout punch. It was also my late father’s birthday. Wow. What a crazy coincidence… or was it? I kept looking for a big enough reason to stop again and never could, but it was Mother’s Day and my dad’s birthday all at once. Could the stars align any better to tell me it was the day without being as tragic as the first time? No.

It has been 4 months. 4 months after 15 years of smoking since the 1st quit. 30+ years of smoking total. I haven’t caved once and while at times walking by someone smoking smells delicious (while also repulsive) I have no desire aside from Pavlovian urges brought on by ingrained routines.

It was so hard to quit for so long. And then a day presented itself. That’s really all it takes. Finding the day or reason that flips the switch. When that occurs it becomes the easiest thing imaginable.

If you want to smoke I don’t judge you. It was a vice I loved for a long time. As I said there was an age where it was par for the course. I hope for the people I know who still do and want to stop that they keep their eyes open for the perfect day, and I really want it to be bittersweet like my most recent, rather than tragic and traumatic like the first.

 

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