“I have one question for you,” she said, leaning on the kitchen counter.
Dirty dishes in hand, I stopped loading the dishwasher and looked at my friend.
“Have you said goodbye?”
Her words were gentle yet pulsed with concern.
My eyes slid closed to hold the tears at bay; I bit my lip to quell its quiver.
My sister’s death was eighteen months behind me, but I was still slogging through the muck of grief. I didn’t want to hear this question, much less ponder and act on it. Saying goodbye meant letting go and I was not ready to face the finality it would bring.
Three days later, my friend, Anna, and I attended a getaway with a few friends. Her question had not left me since she released it into the air.
I opened my journal in the quiet hours of the last morning of the trip and started writing. My pencil scratched furiously, unspoken words pouring forth from its tip. Tears dripped down my nose as the things left unsaid made their way from the shadows of my heart to the page bathed in light from the window.
I reached the end of the second page, signed my name, and let the journal fall to the floor. Turning to look at Anna, I said the words at the exact moment I realized what had just happened…
My wonderful friend Anna has invited me over to her space today. If you’ve stuck around here very long, you know Anna and I are tight. You also know she wrote a book, The Polygamist’s Daughter, and we went on an Epic Book Tour last year.
Suffice it to say, Anna’s no stranger around here, and I’m delighted to spend some time with her blog readers today.
A few months ago, I asked Anna to teach me her recipe for made-from-scratch refried beans. If you missed our Instastories and Facebook posts as we documented the process in real-time, here’s your chance to catch up.
We arrived in L.A. late on Saturday, April 15, 2017.
Anna and I had a mostly-unspoken understanding on the book tour: if we needed to get somewhere in a hurry or had to navigate big city traffic, she would drive. If she needed a break for a stretch of road that didn’t involve those scenarios, I was happy to take the wheel. So, the fact that I was in the driver’s seat as we approached L.A. was kind of a big deal for me. Neither of us had realized I’d be tasked with navigating L.A. traffic at night, and when we realized it, it was almost too late to do anything about it.
Anna did ask if I wanted to pull over and switch spots, but we were already in the thick of it and the thought of maneuvering to the shoulder made me more nervous than soldiering on. It was nerve-wracking, for sure, but I count weaving through the throngs of cars on a hundred-lane highway at night as one of my proudest accomplishments of the book tour.
(Those were tough days, y’all. Let me have the little things.)
As I’ve struggled with anxiety over the last four-ish years, a weighted blanket has long been on my wish list. When I experience anxiety, I want nothing more than to burrow in bed under a heavy blanket. It’s an innate need that calms me. And because I was still in such an unsettled emotional state, my anxiety was also heightened. All day, I’d wanted nothing more than to burrow, but that’s hard to do in a moving vehicle.
We arrived at our destination and were met warmly by Anna’s sister Sasha. Anna got out of the car first—this was normal; I took my time exiting and let her get all her squealing out of the way. I took a little longer than usual, and she poked her head back in and asked if I was getting out. I told her I’d be right behind her. She closed the door and followed Sasha into the house, informing her, I’m sure, on my current state. Slowly, I pulled the bags I would need for the night out of the car and went inside.
Sasha hugged me as I entered the house and led me to the room where we’d be staying. The rest of the night is a blur, mostly because I went straight to bed. What I found was that the bed was equipped with a heavy down comforter that cocooned me just as I longed for all day.
The next morning, I awoke and was immediately hit by a tidal wave of grief. I also realized that it was Easter Sunday. (Another aspect of timing that I have yet to wrap my head around.) I think this was the first day I really became aware of the gravity of my loss. I cried from the time I woke up that morning to the time I crawled back in bed.
Anna brought me coffee, then breakfast, and offered gentle words of understanding (not comfort, mind you (because what comfort would be adequate), but understanding). We talked about how this was the first time I’d lost someone close to me, and my first experience with grief.
We didn’t have any solid plans that day and she encouraged me to stay in bed, rest, and write (more like insisted). She knew as well as I did that I needed to process some of the things swirling around my head.
I stayed put well into the afternoon until Anna came to check on me and see if I wanted to go out with her that evening. This was our chance to see Hollywood—including the infamous sign, so I said yes. I didn’t bother putting on makeup, but I did throw on earrings. I shoved my sunglasses on my face to hide my swollen, leaking eyes and we set off.
We cruised down Sunset Blvd…
…Anna signed books at Barnes and Noble and bought her kids Snapchat Spectacles…
… we met up with a Adam Hawk, a gamer Anna’s sons were acquainted with. (She definitely got cool mom points for that meet-up). Adam served us yummy tacos and flan while we modeled the spectacles…
…and, finally, we found the spot to take pictures of the Hollywood sign just before sunset.
While we were standing on the side of the road awaiting our turn to take pictures, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a faint rainbow arched across the valley. The very sight of it was a balm for my languishing soul.
On Day 14, we left the Phoenix area with weary hearts and swollen eyes. I was exhausted in every way but determined to press on. After all, our itinerary for the day was sightseeing at the Grand Canyon. Our first stop was for copious amounts of caffeine.
Fully armed, we set out for the infamous hole in the ground, detouring through Sedona. I spent much of that stretch of the trip on the phone and responding to texts from friends who were checking in to see how I was holding up.
As we approached the national park, Anna proposed that we keep the shenanigans to a minimum.
I wasn’t prepared for the sight that awaited us. Pictures cannot do justice to the magnificence that is the Grand Canyon. It was breathtaking.
Much to my dismay, my camera battery died right after I took this picture of this California condor at the first outlook.
There was a definite heaviness on me that day, and although I was excited to see one of the Seven Wonders, I was also very subdued. Staring into the crevice that stretched for miles before me, my brain struggled to makes sense of the vastness of what my eyes were seeing while my heart wrestled with the reality of what was happening on the other side of the country. Neither scenario made any sense to me. Just as I couldn’t possible see the entirety of the canyon, nor could I comprehend the enormity of the loss I was facing. Directing my gaze on sections of the rock formations around me was the only way I could take in the sight; focusing my mind on the very next moment was the only way I could keep from falling apart completely.
Alongside the ache in my heart, I was able to dig up a little lightheartedness—especially when I ventured closer to the edge of the cliffs to get those more adventures camera angles.
If nothing else, Jess taught me how to take cool pictures. Anna, who has an acute fear of heights and drop-offs (as I was quickly learning), did not appreciate my forays toward the edge.
Who knows—maybe she was afraid I might try to pull a Thelma and Louise sans car in my distraught state? At any rate, she actually grabbed my arm and pulled me back toward the designated path at one point. (I wasn’t even close to the edge, y’all, but it made for some hilarious pictures.
When I walked on an outcrop and directed her to take my picture beside a tree, she moaned and groaned and whined. Then, I somehow convinced her to pose as I had. (Notice the death grip she’s got on that tree.)
Just before sunset, we turned around on the trail and began our trek back to the truck. These huge boulders sat just off the path, and as we approached, I handed my phone to Anna. I climbed atop the rocks (no easy feat for my short legs) and posed while she snapped away. Back on the ground, I scrolled through the pictures, gasping at the perfection of one of them in particular: my silhouette back lit by the waning sun, arms outstretched.
Having spent almost two decades as one of Jess’ main photography subjects, I’m kind of judgy when other people photograph me. (Sorry, it’s true. Being photographed by a sister who knows all your peculiarities about pictures ruins you for life.) But Anna had nailed it.
“Jess would be so proud of this picture!” I gushed.
When I posted the photo on Instagram later, I captioned it with the lyrics from Imagine Dragons’ “On Top of the World.” Since then, I can’t see that picture without hearing the song in my head or hear the song without picturing this shot.
Like the book tour as a whole, Day 14 was both one of my favorite days and one of the hardest days; the pain and joy of that day are inextricably mingled. Holding the tension of both those emotions wrapped so tightly around this one memory is a task I struggle with daily. But the ability to write about it displays a small measure of healing, and for that I am grateful.
Hi! If you’re just joining me here, you might think I’m currently on this trip. Let me catch you up: I’m not on the road. On April 1, 2017, my friend Anna and I set out on the #EpicBookTourTPD (TPD denoting Anna’s memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter). I never got around to writing about our grand adventure in detail, so when the anniversary of the journey rolled around this year, I started writing. Nifty apps like Timehop and the On this Day feature of Facebook make recalling the daily details easier than asking my brain to bring them back with crystal clear clarity. 112 days of detailed storytelling is a lot to ask. So, throughout the summer, I’ll meet you here with a throwback tale from the open road. Enjoy!
As the sun rose following a fitful night’s [lack of] sleep, I checked my phone and was met with a slew of text messages from Mom about Jess. She’d had emergency surgery the day before and had been stable, but by mid morning her condition had rapidly declined. Between my less-than-stellar cell service, Mom’s preoccupation at the hospital, and my and Anna’s schedule, I was mostly out of touch for the rest of the day.
Honestly, in hindsight, I’m kind of glad I couldn’t move during the night because my immobility meant I couldn’t reach my phone, which I most certainly would’ve been scrolling. Facing the realities of what was happening in S.C. would have been so much worse in the middle of the night.
With a bag of fresh-from-the-tree oranges Donna picked right then in hand, Anna and I hit the road, headed to Phoenix to spend the afternoon at #the4500-er Heidi P.’s house. Anna had an interview that afternoon that required a landline, so we’d arranged our schedule to visit Heidi (who conveniently had a landline).
While at Heidi’s, Anna picked fresh lemons straight from the tree in her backyard. Let me tell you—I don’t even like oranges and lemons, but I’d eat them straight from the tree every day.
After Anna’s interview ended and Heidi’s kids arrived home from school, we jumped in Heidi’s car and set out to sign books at two area Barnes and Noble stores.
Later, we said goodbye to Heidi and headed to meet launch team member Karie B. and her family for dinner before heading to our host home for the night.
After a restful night’s sleep in Tucson, we loaded our suitcases in the truck and headed north. Our drive was relatively short; our destination was Casa Grande. Donna K. had invited Anna to speak to a group at her retirement community that afternoon. We sat on a common area patio outside, shaded by umbrellas—and while this Carolina-girl-turned-Texan appreciated the absence of humidity, the heat was intense! After the gathering ended, we headed back to Donna’s home for dinner which we ate on her back patio overlooking a lake as the sunset. It was so peaceful.
(Those are the only pictures I have for you today. You’ll thank me for that as you read on.)
Later, as we were preparing to spend time in the hot tub, an unfortunate incident occurred. Before heading to the pool area, we’d decided to ready the sleeper sofa where we would be sleeping so we wouldn’t have to when we got back. Anna grabbed the bar and pulled it up…but she pulled too hard and the whole couch lifted…snagging her toenail and bringing it along for the ride.
I’ll spare you all the gory details (aren’t you glad I don’t have a picture?), but our hot tub plans went out the window with that missing toenail.
Anna was in a hella lot of pain and I felt so bad for her. Once we got the bleeding stopped, the toe soaked, bandages applied, and ibuprofen administered, we got ready for bed.
Let me stress here that I felt so bad for Anna.
Let me also say that now, a year later, this night includes one of my favorite stories from the tour. I managed to keep this one to myself until just a few weeks ago when I finally confessed it to Anna.
Anna and I crawl onto this sleeper sofa. She gets her throbbing foot situated, propping a pillow underneath her leg to elevate it and making sure the blankets are touching it. I squish in beside her. (Sleeper sofas are cozy, y’all. This one was about the equivalent of a full-size bed.)
It took me a LONG time to go to sleep that night. Anna was out pretty quickly. (I swear her superpower is the ability to fall asleep fast and hard.) I couldn’t toss and turn because there just wasn’t room, but I did maneuver to a spot where the infamous sofa bed bar wasn’t stabbing my rib cage.
At some point, I fell asleep…
because I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of the night…
with the entire left side of my body pinned down.
I couldn’t move.
Anna, dead asleep, had flung her arm over mine and her good leg over mine.
I was trapped.
Being such a considerate person, I didn’t want to just throw her off me, for fear I’d cause her to jar her injured foot.
(Did I mention how good of a friend I am???)
I tried to gently wiggle my limbs free, but every time I moved, she moved, further complicating the situation. Finally, exasperated, I gave up. I don’t think I slept more than a few hours that night. I’m far from a morning person, but I’d never been so happy to the sun rise at 5:00 a.m.
Recently when I told Anna this story, I confessed, “There was this one night I came really close to smothering you in your sleep on the book tour. If our friendship survived that, I’d say it’s pretty solid.”
There you have it—one of my favorite stories from the open road!
Groggily, I rolled over in the hotel bed and looked at my phone. 4:00 a.m. Two missed calls, three text messages, and a voicemail from Mom. Tears welled in my eyes and a knot formed in my stomach. “No, no, no,” I whispered as my lungs constricted. I needed to call Mom back, but I already knew.
Trembling, I stumbled toward the bathroom. I grabbed a box of tissues and, fighting nausea, went back into the bedroom. “I have to wake her up. I can’t do this alone.” I thought.
Clutching phone and tissue box in one hand, I carefully pulled back the blanket of the other bed. “Anna,” I whispered as I sat down. Startled, my friend opened her eyes. “Mom called. I don’t want to call her back.” Tears pooled in her eyes. She knew, too.
She put her arm around me as I pressed the button to return Mom’s call…
I’m tempted to let 2017 slip away quietly, to bid it farewell without the fanfare of a final blog post–because reflecting on all this year is and was and will be is a lot for a heart to handle.
(Just forty words in and already I feel the tears burning at the corners of my eyes.)
It was the worst best year I’ve ever experienced and trying to process all. the. things is overwhelming, razor-sharp, exhausting work. So, I’m just diving in to share an unedited glimpse of some of my highest highs and lowest lows of the year. This won’t be a cheery, tied-up-with-a-pretty-bow kind of post, but I hope my honesty meets you where you are, somehow–even if that means we sit in a heap of ashes and tears while remembering.
Between Thanksgiving 2016 and March 2017, I traveled back and forth between Texas and South Carolina a lot. My sister’s health was declining rapidly (damn you, cancer) and I was almost literally living with one foot in my native state and the other in the state I was trying to claim as my new home. Unsettled was the new normal I never asked for.
I’d had to quit my job in Texas in order to be so transient, and it was for the best, ultimately. It gave me the chance to spend some sweet last days at the beach with my sister and allowed for memories that gave me the strength to carry on through the rest of the year.
In January, I finished the first draft of my book manuscript. 55, 000 words in one document, ready to be edited and pitched to an agent. (One of those goals that hasn’t yet come to fruition.)
After two weeks of working furiously to map out a cross-country route and secure places to stay along the way, the #EpicBookTourTPD rolled out of town on April 1st. I was also leading my third launch team at this point (Jamie Sandefer’s Love You From Right Here).
Barely two weeks and four states in, I got the middle-of-the-night call no one wants to get (or make) while sleeping in a sketchy hotel on the Las Vegas strip. (I’m choosing to leave out a lot of details here, not only because this was and is a deeply personal period, but also because I don’t remember a lot of the two weeks that followed that call. It still feels like a nightmare to recall what I do remember.) I cried nonstop for at least three straight days, then tiny tears leaked out of the corner of my left eye for weeks after that. I stopped wearing eye makeup for the first time since I was thirteen. The last weekend of April, I flew from Salt Lake City to Greenville for her memorial service where I had the excruciating honor of eulogizing my little sister.
If it hadn’t been for the support of my closest friends who listened when I needed to yell or cry or talk about my sister, and the distraction of the book tour, I would have crawled into a hole this year. There were (and are still) occasions when I did crawl into a hole and had to be dragged out.
In the midst of the shattered mess of grief, I was given the gift of fulfilling a dream Jess and I had: a cross-country road trip. I knew, without a doubt, that she would kick my ass if I quit the book tour, so I grabbed her travel mascot–a green, plastic dinosaur named Migrating Monty–while in S.C. for the memorial service and flew back to Utah to rejoin Anna. Monty sat on the dashboard of the Epic Book Tour Mobile for the remainder of our trip, a constant reminder of my adventure-loving sister. I’ll never forget driving through the Colorado mountains the week after the memorial service when Hanson’s “I’ll Be With You In Your Dreams” started playing.
From April to August, Anna and I crisscrossed the U.S.A., covering 40 states, meeting hundreds (thousands?) of people, and driving a cumulative total of 23,461 miles.
In April, I was talked off the ledge of getting a grief tattoo in Vegas.
In May, we traveled from Colorado to New York and back to Texas. We saw Niagara Falls–the sightseeing highlight of the book tour. We got tattoos in Winona, Minnesota.
In June, we left Texas again and went east, traveling as far north as Pennsylvania. When we passed through the Carolinas, I had the opportunity to take Anna to my hometown to meet my people.
In July, we headed south to Florida and back to Texas before making a second trip to Utah, then coming home for two days before Anna headed to her birthplace in Mexico while I spent a few sweet days with my heart-friend, Kelli, in New Mexico to conclude the book tour.
Through August and most of September, I laid on the couch.
Seriously. After four months on the road, sleeping in a different place every few nights, and thousands of miles of sitting in a car–all while being in the shock stage of grief–left me entirely drained. I’d put my hand to the plow and did what I had to do. But once it came to an end, I turned inward, fast.
In late September, Anna threw me a lifeline, fished me out of the deep waters of depression, and offered a simple question: “If I make you an appointment, will you go?” (If you’ve read her book, you know what that question signified.) I said yes and she made the appointment for my first counseling session–something I knew I needed, but just the thought of beginning overwhelmed me.
October brought an opportunity to use skills I didn’t even know I had when Anna and I built a website and online course to disperse her expansive knowledge on leading launch teams. Turns out I’m pretty good at web design and have since helped design another website for a friend. Who knew?
November was a hard months for reasons I won’t disclose here, but it forced me to find my voice again. I flew to SC for a brief visit over Thanksgiving and cuddled my nieces, which is always good for my soul.
December began with a retreat I didn’t really want to attend, but I went anyway. And instead of pretending I was happy to be there, I gave myself the freedom to be real and let the other five women there know that I was struggling. Best decision ever. That weekend deserves it’s own post, so stay tuned.
My trip to S.C. for Christmas turned into a disaster from the moment I stepped in the Dallas airport until the time I boarded the plane back to Texas in Charlotte. An already hard holiday tipped the scales as everything that could have gone wrong did. Yes, there were some bright spots, but overall, it sucked.
So here we are. A few more hours of this year left.
I still have a lot to process, and I’m fully aware that it will be slow going.
Because of the way excitement and joy have been so entangled with grief and loss this year, I haven’t felt like I have permission to celebrate the good. And, honestly, that makes me angry. It’s not fair. What should have been the best year of my life–traveling the country, settling into a new home, discovering new talents, and working toward healing from old wounds–has been irrevocably robbed from me. And while I’m working on allowing myself the freedom to acknowledge the happy moments of 2017, they’re still greatly overshadowed by the broken pieces.
The landscape is barren as the asphalt glides backwards under the tires. (Hello, West Texas.) Thousands of miles have accumulated, a few hundred more to go. We’re headed home. (And will have reached our destination by the time you read these words.)
It’s officially the last day of the #EpicBookTourTPD—the one-hundred-twelfth day, to be exact. Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d do. A four-month, forty-state road trip? With a total extrovert? No way.
To say that life has gone topsy-turvy over the last year is an understatement. So many layers of change—exhilarating change, traumatic change, anticipated change, unexpected change—have built up faster than I can process them. Because the positive changes are so interwoven with the negative change, it’s been difficult to write about them—much less celebrate them.
My sister’s death has cast a shadow over this summer. There’s no other way to slice it. It has shattered my heart into a million pieces again and again. I can’t imagine that will ever change.
(A plea: No canned platitudes in the comments please—well-intended or not, I’ve had about all of those that I can handle. And Jess is hard-rolling her eyes about it, too, I’m sure. If that offends your sensibilities, I’m probably talking to you. See my upcoming post on the most helpful words I’ve received concerning grief.)
One of the most ironic things about this summer of endless miles is the fact that Jess was the sister with permanent wanderlust. She’d been to Europe twice and planned to visit many other countries. The two of us had dreams of a cross-country trip someday, but it seemed quite intimidating to me considering my homebody tendencies. When I decided to accompany Anna on this trip (and finally convinced her that it was a good idea), Jess encouraged me to go. After all the adventures, she’d dragged a reluctant older sister on, she wondered what alien species had abducted me. I’ve wondered the same.
When things went downhill fast with Jess’ health, I had to choose whether to go home to S.C. or stay on the road. There were many factors that played a role in this deeply personal process that I won’t address here. Ultimately, I felt that there would be no better way to honor my sister than to travel the country and see what she could not.
More than 23,000 miles later, I believe I made the right choice. Would I rather have taken this trip with my sister than for her? Of course. No question. But she’s been with me every moment and every mile—and I’ve had her own traveling mascot, Migrating Monty, to remind me of that. (A plastic green dinosaur as one of my most treasured possessions? Add that to the growing list of things I never thought would happen.)
Now that the trip is done, I’m ready to start writing about it—in all its overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating glory–starting here, at the end, before making my way back to the beginning. First, I’ll need a few good nights’ sleep in my own bed.
I’m trying something new and joining in on the Five Minute Friday Party (#fmfparty), a writer’s link-up hosted by Kate Motaung. Each Friday, she offers a single word writing prompt. The rules are to free write whatever comes to mind for five minutes using that one word as their prompt. No overthinking, no editing. Yikes! My friend Anna has “taken away” my delete key before–and I didn’t like it! We’ll see how this goes!
The water rushed over the cliff, dropping 186 feet into the natural pool at the bottom. We stood at the water’s edge, shaded form the July sun, a huge boulder at our backs.
Emotions rushed through my heart, thoughts flooded my mind, and tears dropped from the corners of my eyes.
The dam was beginning to break and I couldn’t stop it.
The grief that I’ve been holding back was cracking through the walls.
I turned around, facing the rock, and leaned into it, growling with frustration at my tears and the lack of comfort they brought me.
“Do you always snuggle up to rocks when there’s a person standing beside you??” she asked, holding out a hand.