time travel & longing

“It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry…Why does he go where I cannot follow?”

The first time I read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, I was a senior in college (a Fourth Year for all of you fellow Hoos out there; I’m still down with the lingo). It was spring time, my boyfriend was nearing the end of a nine month deployment and I was nearing the end of what seemed like an endless chapter in life. For me, college was about three years too long. I distinctly remember finishing the book in two days, flipping it over and starting again from the beginning. I could relate so strongly to the sentiments in those pages that I couldn’t let the last page be the end. It felt like a salve on my soul. Still does.

I have always had the sense that I’m waiting for my life to start. Hop scotching through time and space. Always anticipating the next thing, waiting for the ones I love to return to me, waiting to experience life as I think it should be.

“I want something… I want. That’s all. I am wanting.”

Niffenegger uses Henry’s sci-fi genetic disorder of Chrono-Displacement-uncontrollable time travel-to illustrate how longing affects us normal human beings. Those of us rooted in the here and now. But that’s my point. Even us non-CDPs find ourselves either stuck in time, waiting, or disoriented by loss or grief and wasted years and what ifs. Like Henry, we fight to stay here. now.

TTTW tells the story of Clare and Henry. The fits and starts of their life together. For Clare, a love which began at age six and lasts a lifetime, punctuated by his profound absences. While this is primarily a love story between Clare and Henry, Niffenegger explores longing in all of its forms. Henry is repeatedly drawn to watch is mother’s accidental death. Clare’s inability to connect with her mentally ill mother. Clare’s six miscarriages and fierce desire to become a mother. This book is about so much more than the grief that comes from death. It is the grief of life. Of wanting more from life. More from love.

Birds fly through the pages of TTTW. Universally, birds represent freedom. Cranes, crows, goldfinches in tubes, doves, a hawk, starlings, hummingbirds. Clare describes her artwork, a mix of paper-making and aviary sculptures, to be about longing. Young Henry, three years after his mother dies in an icy car accident which alters the course of his childhood, is described as having a thin back and shoulders which “stick out like incipient wings.” Too young and underdeveloped, he is helpless to fly away, to escape his warped life. Birds appear at the junction of every event which disturb the normal flow of life. Which stop Clare and Henry in their tracks. Slows or speeds time to the point that time is both meaningless and overwhelming. Lives are reduced to pin points in time amongst swaths of blurred color. The birds seem to mock the mere humans with their ability to flee at will.

“In fairy tales it’s always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers have to stay at home and wait for the children to fly in the window.”

There are many ways in which the imbalance of those who go and those who stay can happen. Moves across the world. Emotional distance. Disappearance. Death. Each turn us into a time traveler. Wishing to be here. Be now.



my biracial hair: struggle & acceptance

Three weeks ago, I got snowed in without access to my blowdryer and flatiron. My usual routine is to wash, blow-dry and straighten my hair on Sundays, then let it go all week. I was looking at a week without a plan. This wasn’t a DEFCON 5 situation, but it did pose a dilemma for me. Pull my hair back in a bun all week or risk a drive through the storm to purchase some products to go curly.

Here’s the thing about the bun. I styled my hair in a bun at the back of my head every day from the time I was about ten until I was in college. I simply did not know how to manage my natural curls. Thought they were too wild. In high school, I started to get my hair chemically relaxed, but continued with the bun. One, ceramic flat irons weren’t a thing yet. Two, I still did not know what was required to tame the curls, even in this new looser state. The thought of returning to The Bun, even for just a week, felt stifling. Like I would be reverting to a pre-confident, pre-formed me.

Growing up biracial posed a few challenges. Which boxes to check on forms. Questions about being the neighbor’s kid while out at family dinner. Realizing that I have a “tan” year-round while my family remained noticeably pale. But, by far, the hardest thing to deal with was my hair. I have thick, tight curls. A lot of them. Like, lose a brush in them. My parents, possessing straight hair that generally does what they want it to do without a whole bunch of effort, did not know what to do with my mane.

In a recently rediscovered photo of me around age nine, I am sitting on a bed in a t-shirt which looks like it was signed by classmates I now cannot recall, caught unawares by Mom.  The best part about this photo is the epic rat’s nest on my head. My hair is totally wild, completely natural. Likely slept on. Maybe hiding a comb or two. That was me, at home and one hundred percent comfortable with my hair, however it wanted to be. Before I hit middle school, before I became aware of beauty norms, before I heard the sniggering of classmates, this was my state.

See the girl in her natural habitat. This girl must be near shedding her summer coat to prepare for upcoming winter. 

I have a few very distinct memories from growing up which circle around the theme that my hair was different. Mom taking a lock of her hair, folding it on itself and then pushing down the bubble. Watching in fascination as her friend, Jen, ran her hand through her long, silky hair. Leaving a spiderweb-like net cascading down from her crown. Going to a regular salon and leaving looking silly, going to a black salon and leaving unnecessarily greasy. The other girls at cheerleading camp French braiding each other’s hair, but leaving mine because it was too difficult to work with. I remember thinking that I would never be able to run my hands through my hair like that and feeling distinctly left out because no one knew what to do with my thick, crazy hair.

My hair made me feel a bit like an outsider. Even ugly, sometimes. I thought that curly hair was beautiful. On other people.  I thought that on me, it just looked unkempt. And so, I spent a decade obsessively pulling it back, hiding it, trying to forget everything it wouldn’t do for me. When I got my first flat iron in college, it was a chance to express myself with my hair. I learned to love my hair long and straight and touchable and soft. I then spent years obsessively straightening it, thinking that my beauty came from my long locks. With adulthood, I’ve learned that my hair can be short or long or straight or curly. Whatever I damn well please. However, it wasn’t until very recently, that I felt radiant with my natural, wild curls.

I never thought of my hair as black or white, just as a uniquely frustrating brand of thick and curly. I never derived racial identity from my hair, but I will admit to believing for a long time that “white” (read: straight) hair was the only kind worthwhile. I wish I’d seen women like Shakira from a young age. Now that is a wild-haired, badass, sexy woman. I probably would have come to the conclusion much sooner that beauty comes in many forms. Would have learned that my own hair is actually pretty malleable, I can go curly or straight at will, depending how I feel on a given day.

Every time I see a young woman struggling with their hair, I want to pull them aside and give them a pep talk. Or at least take them to Target and point out my go-to products. I’ve seen progress, but still think that the media could have more biracial, curly-haired women to serve as role models to an increasingly diverse young generation. I wish there had been other little biracial girls I could have talked to about the struggle. The Struggle is Real AF. But it gets easier. If I ever have a girl, she’s going to love her hair, no matter what kind of craziness it’s doing.


thirty before thirty

On my twenty-eighth birthday, my friends gathered at Liberty Tavern, passed around my phone, and created a “thirty before thirty” list for me. Like a bucket list… but more manageable and not contingent on completion before death. My friends know me well. There were some fabulous items on my list. My friends are also goofballs, so there are some things on my list that are just not. going. to. happen. Here’s looking at you, Mile High Club.

Now my due date (aka 3-0) is just a month away, I figured I would look back and see how I did. Here’s the list in its entirety and some of the amazing experiences I had fulfilling it. Or most of it, anyway.

1. Horseback Riding. Went with my friend Donald to a horse rescue out west past Leesburg. Our guide was a grizzled ex-military guy who a serious love of his horse. Riding, I felt like I’d discovered another side of myself. I am definitely a horse person and this summer I plan to go back and volunteer with the horses.

2. Sing in public. I am strictly a car/shower singer, but Mary and Mary Margaret got me to sing karaoke in San Francisco this past summer at The Mint. This place was dinge-tastic and with the girls, I became a part of the ‘regulars’ crowd. This one chick KILLED Evanescence to the point where I wanted her to just keep singing for us. Mary’s rendition of anything jazz, to this day, gives me tingles.

3. Crow Tattoo. I tried real hard guys. Found a tattoo artist in Brasilia who came highly recommended. Unfortunately, he spent the entire World Cup traveling around Brasil following their National Team.

4. Learn to use my DSLR. This will have to rollover to my next list. I plan to start when I visit Croatia next month.

5. Baseball game. Sara and Maureen took me to a Nats game and opened my eyes to the fun that is baseball. I even got a ‘First Baseball Game’ certificate that they usually give to little kids. Have been back a to see the Nats a second time and got to see a game out in San Francisco. Not my favorite sport to watch, but the atmosphere is amazing.

6. Bourbon Trail Tennessee. This is still on the list, and will be happening within the next year. Damnit.

7. Motorcycle license. Not only did I get my license, I bought a bike! Mo. This summer, I convinced my brother to take the class with me. We had a blast and both ride now.

8. Visit Montreal International Jazz Festival. Not yet, but still a goal.

9. Mardi Gras. Having been able to swing this with my current work schedule but I’m salivating a bit just thinking about ALL THE FOOD there for the tasting.

10. SXSW. Not only did I go, I did South-By like a local. Sara and Alex bought me my armband for my twenty-ninth birthday. Spent three days trudging around Austin in the rain like a damn happy fool. Discovered MS. MR. which has become a personal favorite.

11. Run a 10k. November 2014, I ran my first post-surgery race in the Marine Corps Marathon 10K. Larry met me at the finish line with his huge professional camera and snapped just about the least flattering picture of me. The experience was incredibly motivational-running with veterans who were wounded, there was no way I was going to slow down. I felt like I owed it to every military member I’d ever served with to keep going. Of course, I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards, but it was more than worth it.

12. See Coldplay live. I think Coldplay is avoiding me.

13. Perform 10 Unassisted Pull-ups. I got to five. That’s good enough for the time being.

14. Be a Maid of Honor. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done as a friend. Never been happier for Sara and Alex. But damn, did the wedding have to be outdoors in the middle of July?

15. Drive Pacific Coast Highway. Douglas and I flew to LA and spent 8 days driving up the coast, stopping in Big Sur, San Francisco and St Helena. The most gorgeous drive I’ve ever taken, by far. But hiking the Redwoods and discovering Venge Vineyards were the highlight of that trip. Each moment was so peaceful and surreally beautiful.

16. Buy a Handgun for Oneself. Check. Proud owner of a Glock 42. It’s kind of like Mo… my size, but still could do some damage. Larry took me to his favorite gun shop and then helped me do a thorough cleaning when the trigger was a bit stiff.

17. Train Fang. I sure tried.

18. Hike the Inca Trail. Got so far as to look up guided tours but wasn’t able to make the timing work. After seeing friends’ photos of Peru, I still want to do this.

19. Jump out of a completely good airplane. Courtney badgered me for not asking her to go with me, so I guess we’ll be making that leap next summer.

20. Join a boxing gym for 1 year. No idea who put this on my list, but boxing is not really my thing. I wouldn’t mind trying out Jujitsu, however.

21. Have a Threesome. Hahahahahahah. No.

22. Swim with Sharks. This was actually a freebee. Sara and I snorkeling with some nursing sharks in Key West after high school.

23. Tight Rope Walk. Oh man, forgot about this one. I’ll need to find a place to do some acrobatics. Love the feeling of free-falling and swinging around. There is a trampoline gym I have been dying to try out.

24. Ride an Elephant. Nope. Probably will never, not sure how I feel about how the elephant are treated in these scenarios.

25. Ride a Hot Air Balloon. Think I’d rather just jump out of a plane. At least I’ll have a parachute?

26. Go Surfing. I looked for a spot out in Venice Beach in LA last summer, but the surf looked way too choppy for a beginner. Instead, I want to try paddle boarding this coming summer.

27. Join the Mile High Club. See above answer to “Have a threesome.”

28. Cook Osso Buco. I’m guessing Tarra threw this on here. Sorry, love. Haven’t done it yet, but I’m sure I will if it shows up in my Blue Apron!

29. Hike the Appalachian Trail. Have definitely hiked parts of it. In 2014, the Babilyas plus Courtney and Fang trooped out to Shenandoah on a gorgeous fall day. I watched Larry and Courtney do matching handstands on a summit and comforted Fang who was scared shitless of the view from the top.

30. Run a Half Marathon. Given my knee’s reaction to the MCM 10K, I think this is a little bit outside my reach. For now at least. I can always continue to work toward building my strength back up.

31. Participate in the Running of the Bulls. My friends are ridiculous.

32. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I think I missed this one. Next Christmas?

33. Guest Bartend. Also took care of this one in the war zone. My name is carved into the ceiling above the bar.

34. Sleep under the stars. Sleep under the stairs. My friends are creepy. While I’ve never been camping, I did technically fall asleep on a pool chair in Atlanta on a layover to Brasil. Thanks, Scott for not leaving me there overnight.

35. Go Fishing. Hmm, don’t think I could. Hate to watch anything suffer. Nearly drove off the road trying to avoid a crossing possum last night.

36. Sip Malbec in Mendoza. This is so awesome and I should have visited Maureen in Argentina to make it happen. One. I love wine. Specifically Malbec. Two. At one point in 2013, I tried very hard to go live in Buenos Aires.

37. Play with Penguins in Antarctica. Ditto to the above. I saw photos of Rhonda and Maureen running a race in Antarctica. Those ladies are BOSS.

38. Run the La Champenoise Drinking Half Marathon. Just the thought of this is making me queasy.

39. See the Northern Lights (with Sara). Sara, when are we going to Alaska??

40. Ride a Tandem Bicycle. Who are you people? A mental image of me riding a tandem bike, with literally anyone, is beyond hilarious.

41. Snowboard Naked. There are two problems with this. One, I prefer skiing by far. And two, hahahahahahah. No.

42. Tomato Fight at Pamplona. I was actually going to do this last year! And then my travel buddy wasn’t able to get away for it. What a bummer. I was really looking forward to pelting total strangers with tomatoes. Who wouldn’t want to do that??

Ok, so looking back… my friends also cannot count. Thirty! I said-thirty-people! Each time I crossed something off my list, I felt this serious sense of accomplishment. Not only that, I had friends with me each step of the way. I loved sharing the silly, the awe-inspiring, the excitement with the people who had all of this adventure in mind for me. When I figure out what I want my next set of life goals to be, I’ll be sure to include you guys. Even whoever put the threesome on my list. But don’t get any ideas.

identification & identity

First, let’s start with words. As a species, we use words to communicate. In the beginning, language was rudimentary. Used to signal an alert of danger or the availability of a food source. In order for individuals to successfully communicate, they had to use the same sets of sounds to identify objects, actions, places, emotions, and the individuals themselves. Over time, human language has evolved from a tool to assist with the basic needs of sustaining life–to how we use it today. Reading a worn copy of Harry Potter, ordering Chic-fil-a through a speaker, emailing friends across the world, happy hour gossip, the comments section in Twitter.

While the ways in which we use language have expanded with time and technology, it still holds true that, within communities, the same set of words are used to identify people, places and things. A name is a word used to identify an individual. But a name doesn’t feel like just another word. We retain our name across the world. It goes with us no matter where we go or who we encounter. Who we are as people, our identity, is tied to our identification. Our background, our familial ties, possibly our generation can all be gleaned from the sounds used to identify us.

Yesterday, I met up with my college roommate for brunch at Le Diplomate in DC. Over buttered toast, she begins telling me about a gripe with her husband of two years over her resistance to adopting his surname as her own. She described their compromise: professionally, academically and legally, she will keep her maiden name. Socially, she’s happy to use his. In the most millennial sentiment I may have ever heard, she says, “So, I changed my name on Facebook and OpenTable.” She’d told him that tradition wasn’t a good enough reason to give up the identity she’d built over the past thirty years. I tend to agree with her.

A quick tangent. I am irked by most traditional marriage conventions. Given that women are no longer moving from the parental home straight to a husband’s home, are no longer property of said husbands, are quite capable of making their own way through the world, can vote, earn income, and own property… you know, equals… why do we keep these silly traditions?? Ok, tangent over.

I remember in college, this same roommate, whose parents immigrated to the States from India, telling me about the trouble of choosing a spelling for her first name. In high school, she’d adopted a shortened, Westernized version. She was unsure who she wanted to be. The all-American girl everyone grew up with, or the girl with the richer name and cultural background? The confident, successful woman sitting in front of me yesterday had no qualms voicing her concerns about retaining the portions of herself attached to her maiden name. At the same time, this wildly intelligence woman, understands and accepts the importance her husband places on being a Mr. and Mrs. Hence, Facebook and OpenTable.

This conversation had me wondering about other friends who recently tied the knot. Checking in with my best friend, who was married this past July, and who has updated her Facebook to include both her maiden name and husband’s surname, I asked if it was legal. With an equally giggle-worthy sentiment, she texted me back after midnight to say she’d been too lazy these past seven months and is now waiting until her taxes are done to add her husband’s last name (sans hyphen) to hers. I can only imagine the hassle of trying to do one’s taxes with two legal names within the same calendar year. You do you, bestie. She leans a bit more to the traditional side but I truly love that she is using both names. If our name, our identification, is linked to our identity, shouldn’t the melding of two lives into a partnership warrant a growth in identification? I guess my issue with this is that it is typically only the woman who grows in this manner.

When I moved to Italy after college, I learned from the family with whom I was living, that Italian women retain their maiden names in marriage and that children adopt the father’s name. Fairly progressive, Italia. This is a convention I know well. To this day, my mom says she should have put her own last name on my birth certificate, but chose that of my biological father instead, for no other reason than tradition. I was legally identified as being family to a man that my mother had no intention of allowing contact with me. This bow to centuries worth of patriarchy did me no harm, and is actually an interesting and meaningful part of my identity. When I was fourteen, I chose to legally change my last name and adopt that of my dad. The man who actually raised me and whose name I used socially anyway.

I like to say that I will not change my name again for a man–I’ve done it once already. However, I do see a kind of gracefulness in changing one’s name with the ebbs and flows of life. Making your identification match your identity at a given point in life does not have to represent a succumbing to a societal norm for norm’s sake. Whether it be using a nickname, adding a hyphen, reverting to a maiden name after a traumatic divorce, or adopting the name of the man who raised you like his own, making a conscious choice about the sounds we use to identify ourselves, one way or the other, demonstrates an awareness of self.


goodbye, nugget.

Today I came home from two weeks away and a plant was dead. Or mostly dead. Either way, it was dry and brittle and shedding its tiny leaves with abandon. But I literally can’t keep a plant alive–am known for my anti-green thumb. So why care about this plant? One month ago, Fang left my life. And this damn bonsai tree was given to me to honor his loss. While I try to soak its roots and encourage it to drink, it still makes me feel like a failure twice over.

Fang was with me for six years. My best friend. Sometimes it felt like, my only friend. He was my reason for getting up and out on the weekends. My go-to for a nap buddy. He got me through mortar attacks, breakups, hangovers, birthdays, depression. Life. He was who I would grip when a loud noise would startle and disorient me into thinking we were back in a conflict zone. Probably, I provided similar comfort. The trainers I hired to work with him and I, both said that dogs experience a type of PTSD. Whatever you want to call it, we are all a product of our environment in some way. He was no different.

Fang was wild and sweet and beautiful and scarily intelligent. I’m not saying I’m all of those things. But I do think there is something to dogs possessing similar traits to their humans. When I was anxious, he was anxious. When I was calm, he was calm. Thus, he made me try to be the best me so that he could be the best him. In the end, either his or my best just wasn’t good enough. I made the hardest decision I have ever made in my life.  I said goodbye.

I don’t regret things. I just don’t. I weigh my decisions and actions and accept the consequences of such. There is no place for regret. That does not mean, however, that there isn’t a place for grief. Sadness. Anger. The depths of loss. The shock of an empty house. And the absolute fucking stupidity of a dead plant. From experience, I know these things will dull with time. I will remember the cute and loving moments. The times when Fang’s seeming capacity for empathy literally saved me from myself. For now, I’m just going to continue misting the bonsai and hoping I can do better.


that is the question.

I’m not talking about Hamlet’s existential crisis. I am, however, referring to one of the most basic questions in the universe. A simple, Why?

Why, Mommy? I’m fairly sure this was my first question. I’m also fairly sure that I abused it. My curiosity was, and still is, extreme. I want to know how and why things work. If I see a good movie, I follow up and research the topic until I think I have a good handle on the facts, the speculations, the lore. After reading The Other Boleyn Girl, I spent nine hours researching Henry VIII and his wives. And the Tudors. And Queen Elizabeth. And Mary Scots.

When we’re younger, we use Why to explore and understand our world. But as we grow older, Why seems to take on new meaning. It becomes the default setting, the knee jerk response to anything new and unknown, scary or simply annoying. With adulthood, Why evolves into a challenge and a dismissal. I can’t blame Why; it can be a perfectly good question. When the status quo is working just fine, why bother?

One of my favorite videos on the interwebs is called This is Water. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend not infrequent viewings to remind oneself that we are more than our default setting. The video is set to a well-known graduation speech given by Author David Foster Wallace, and follows your typical Millennial through what can arguably be called the ninth circle of hell: food shopping, after work, during rush hour. My favorite part about this whole setup? It reminds me to just consider, for a moment, before I lose my mind at the utter stupidity of the world around me, that everyone else is in the same boat. And more importantly, to consider that the lady in front of me failing miserably to control her child may just be the angel from the phone company who just yesterday took pity on me and my phone bill. And further, that the possible reason she is having trouble with her son is because he’s going through a rough phase after his father’s recent abandonment. These things are unlikely. But, I remind myself that I have the intellectual capacity to give the benefit of the doubt to my fellow humans in the ninth circle of hell.

So back to Why. A couple of years ago, I was traveling overseas and met with a colleague of mine. She boiled humanity down to one very simple phrase. She said, “There are those of us who ask Why?, and those of us who ask Why not?” Mind. Blown. Intrinsically, I understood this. However, this was the first time it had been voiced so simply and eloquently to me.

There are those of us who are still open to new possibilities and who do not immediately reject any notion which may involve a little more. More research, more effort, more compassion. I can say with complete honesty, I am definitely a Default Setting kind of person. I wish it came easier to me. I really do. There are days when I lack the patience or motivation to ask  Why not? But far more frequently, I remember to pause. Pause when someone suggests a method or idea I hadn’t considered. Pause when a friend invites me halfway across the world for a long weekend of fun. Hell, pause when a friend invites me fifteen miles away for a drink. (The introvert in me really needs to pause on that one.) I pause when someone asks for something that initially sounds completely preposterous.

What do we get when we pause? We may change our minds about the “right” way to do things. We may experience food and culture and arts that would have otherwise been too costly or time-consuming to explore. We may catch up with good friends over bottomless mimosas which will somehow lead to a new opportunity in life. We may discover that a request which seems silly or selfish at first glance, is actually quite easy to fulfill and may carry unimaginable meaning to someone else.

If, like me, you need a nudge every once in a while–or daily–to be the type of person who asks Why not? instead of Why? then remind yourself! The power of mindful thinking. If you’re not into mindful thinking, then this video will do the trick.

Choose your response to life.

at home & abroad.

Christmas Eve. Fang and I are snug on my couch. Safe in America and only thirty minutes away from the homestead. Such a luxury, to be able to see all of my loved ones, in person, on Christmas tomorrow.

It hasn’t always been so for us, and I feel a little guilty in my contentedness thinking of my friends around the world who will not be with family this holiday. This life of service we’ve chosen truly requires sacrifice. And what other time than the holidays to most feel the sharp stab of longing for the comforts of home and loved ones? Life feels punctuated by all the moments you missed.

Looking back on all of the holidays and special events that were just slightly off –because of our family’s duty to Country–you know, they were some of the most memorable and special for it. Nothing will make you appreciate your family and home more than being away from it during a time entirely devoted to the importance of Family.

There was the Christmas in high school when Dad was gone for months, including Christmas, in order that my parents could afford to buy me my first car. A 1992 green Mercury Cougar. With a red bow on it fit for a Lexus. That thing was a tank and I loved it. But I have to admit, at the time in my teenage angst, I was a teeny bit resentful of his absence. Not until I was an adult, serving my own Christmas in a war zone at the age of 23, did I full comprehend what my parents gave up to provide the best life possible for their children.

At 23, the year I missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, my Mom’s birthday, my brother’s graduation from college, and so many other moments. I wasn’t without love. The family we built out there on camaraderie and pure survival saw us through the holidays. My job was basically to serve as the mom for all of my coworkers. Duties included jerry-rigging decorations and nagging the guys to not forget to write to their moms/wives/girlfriends/children.

That year for Christmas, my parents sent me a camera so that I could document life. Knowing that I have loved taking photos since I was old enough to understand what a camera was and how to operate it, this was a fantastic gift. Or at least it would have been. Mom sent it through the mail system early and I put the wrapped present under a hand drawing of a tree in my hooch and dutifully waited until Christmas morning to open it. The box was empty! I laugh now, but then, I cried like a baby. Getting a gift from Mom and Dad was the closest thing to normal that I had, and it was off. Mom to the rescue; she went back to the store, probably Target, explained what happened, and I got the camera about a month later. I still have it, even if I’ve upgraded a few times since. That thing went through a lot to get to me.

A week later, tragedy struck. How do you celebrate the coming of a new year and a clean slate when you’ve just lost friends to senselessness? There are no words. Twenty four hours after, I was faced with a decision: go ahead with the New Years “party” I had put together in the MWR or cancel it. I went with something in the middle. God knows why, but I’d found a six inch mirror ball in a storage closet and rigged it on string to drop at midnight. I had our cooks make platters of “American” food and had hoarded enough Johnny Walker to toast with. We used the occasion to mourn and move on because there was no other choice. Life and the rest goes on and there is no stopping.

Fast forward to a year later. I decide to surprise my family for Christmas. I worked it out with a close friend of mine to pick up and drop me off in a giant gift bag that I could hide in and get left on the door stoop. Stupid, yes. Cute, absolutely. SURPRISE. My first flight is significantly delayed and I am told that I will likely miss my connecting flight in Paris. Because, Africa. My heart sank and I felt a desperate urge to Just. Get. Home. I ran through Charles de Gaulle and made my flight. My luggage, not so much. Despite the nighttime arrival, my friend was kind enough to drive me to Target to get a change of clothes and a tooth brush. The gifts I’d ferreted in my suitcase wouldn’t make it that year. But the look of utter disbelief on Mom’s face when she looked down the stairs and saw me-priceless. Air France managed to find and return my luggage back a couple months later.

At 25, I was nearly fired over a special event. My little brother was graduating boot camp in mid-January so we postponed Christmas so that we could all be there. I would fly home from North Africa and head down to see Larry at Paris Island before we all went home and celebrated. And then a month in advance, a project comes up that I cannot miss. No, what I was not going to miss, was another graduation of his. At the end of the day, what am I going to look back on and regret-missing being on hand to open doors for a Big Wig… or missing the moment of pride in seeing my little brother become a US Marine? Easy decision for me. Ultimately, I won that battle, which was made moot when said Big Wig cancelled said project at the last minute. We froze our assess off hoping to catch a glimpse of Larry running by in formation and then hugged his skeletal frame in an auditorium full of other families ecstatic to see their newly minted Marines.

So tonight, I am thinking of my dearest friends all over the world. Sacrificing and serving so that I can sit here with Fang on my cozy couch in America. We’re sending you all hugs and licks. I’m also thinking of my family. It still surprises me every time I realize I can just hop in the car and go see them. Especially during this season. The holidays are special and even if you can’t be with family, they are still out there, thinking of and loving you. Waiting until that next time they get to hold you hard enough to make up for being absent on that arbitrary date which the calendar tells us is special.

Happy Christmas and Merry New Year, everyone.