When it sneaks up on you

It’s been a while. I’ve had a lot going on. After I returned to Kansas City, I realized I had big choices to make about my future and where I’m headed from here. And as I lost myself in that process, I found that the writing simply wasn’t coming as quickly as it did when I first launched the blog. At first, that worried me. But as more days went by, I decided it was really okay.

Life is full of ups and downs, as is writing. I needed to wait until I had something new to say.

But then, I had one of those days. Well, if I’m being honest, I had two of those days.

I launched this blog with a pledge to be truthful. I was real about a lot of the pain I’d already gone through. And since then, I’ve spent a lot of time telling you about how I’m moving forward and how I work to emerge from darkness.

It’s absolutely the truth when I tell you that I’m in a good place these days. A few days ago, a friend told me she’d never seen me this confident in my entire life. And that’s real.

Every once in a while, though? A day – or two – can still just really suck.

I woke up Sunday morning after spending two days with one of my favorite women in the world. We had long talks, hit the town, watched our dogs play, and had an all-around wonderful time. I said goodbye feeling the happiest I’d been since my Kansas City adventure.

Then it started to creep up on me. I was watching the Indianapolis 500 – a tradition I’ve had since childhood, but one I’d come to share with my late husband during our years together. It was my first time watching an auto racing event since he passed away last summer. As I watched
his favorite driver take the win, it felt like everything had come full circle. I was okay. Or so I thought.

I prepared to move on with my day. But then, all of a sudden, it was hours and half a day later. And I was stuck on that damn couch again. So I decided to try once more, and I headed to the movie theater at 10pm to catch a film by myself. I hadn’t done anything alone since Kansas City, and it was a much-needed reminder that I can, in fact, be my own best company.

After a day of fighting, I went to bed feeling strong. And woke up on Memorial Day feeling utterly and terribly alone.

I made some phone calls. I probably sounded fine in all of them, though in reality, I stayed in bed until at least 1pm – something that hadn’t happened a single time since the day my husband died.

I finally staggered myself up around 3:30 and gave those 3 rules a shot. Shower. Clothes. The store to pick up some essentials. My mood picked up a bit. Until I went to leave the store, and the cashier asked, “Have any big plans tonight with friends or family?” Well, no. Thanks for the
reminder.

I hit Facebook, which I learned long ago is the worst thing to do when you’re feeling isolated – especially on a holiday.

I honestly can’t tell you how I spent the next few hours. I drifted in and out of sleep and sadness, unable to explain why this fog had chosen to descend on me today.

Then my head remembered what my heart had been feeling for the past two days. My husband proposed on Memorial Day weekend.

I wasn’t prepared for this one. I survived the first wedding anniversary without him. His birthday. Valentine’s Day. But this, the anniversary of the date when our lives together really began? I didn’t see it coming. I hadn’t made any plans to distract me, the way I had when I took my nieces to American Girl Place on my anniversary, or headed to a neighbor’s Christmas party on his birthday. I was just alone.

And just like that, for the first time in many, many months, I found myself on the floor crying once again.

That’s the funny thing about grief, especially after a great loss. Sometimes, when you least expect it, it hits you in the face and reminds you that you’re human and that this journey is not linear.

I probably should’ve seen this one coming. But honestly? The fact that I didn’t shows me how far I’ve truly come.  I’ve been so wrapped up simply in the stuff of life – making choices for my future, spending time with friends, and simply just living – that until it arrived, the significance of the date on the calendar just hadn’t crossed my mind.

So I wept.

But as I’ve learned so many times before, the thing about crying on the floor is that sooner or later, you’ve got to get up – even if you don’t have a Beagle who will give you a bath of puppy kisses until your tears stop.

And so, even though it took much, much longer than it had in quite a while, I got up. I made dinner at 9:30 pm. I watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Texted a couple of friends. And finished this blog post at 2:10 am.

Proving, once again, that it’s never too late in the day – or the journey – to get up and try again.

Here’s to getting back on track.

Kansas City, Day Four: Everything falls into place

My final day in Kansas City presented me with a unique challenge. Because I’d originally planned to drive home that morning, I had no scheduled destinations for the day. After checking out my options online and flipping through the “Visit KC” guide I’d grabbed in my hotel library, I decided to head to the Kansas City Zoo.

GorillaI wandered the two miles of trails at the zoo slowly and deliberately. I took time to notice the details. The colors on the bird’s feathers. The petals on a flower. I stared into a gorilla’s eyes for a while, wondering what he was thinking.

My heart broke for species so endangered only a few of them remain. I took a ride on the sky tram and sat for a while by a lake.

And as I walked and as I noticed, I was overcome by all of the emotion of the past four days – and of the past year. I sat down at a picnic table and pulled out my journal and a pen. I started to write. And I didn’t stop for two hours. And by the time I was done, I felt an inspiring mix of peace and possibility.

Lake
Feeling lighter than I’d felt in a year – or perhaps even longer – I headed back to Kauffman Stadium, where the sun was shining. There would be no rain out tonight. I revisited the Royals Hall of Fame, and made my way to my seat. Glove in hand and fully decked out in new Royals gear I’d picked up the day before, I sat down to watch the game. And it was like all was right in the world. There were so many memories here. I could hear my mother screaming for Willie Wilson like she was still sitting next to me. I could still picture the fireworks in the sky – the first ones I remember seeing. The crown scoreboard, the fountains in the outfield – everything was as it should be.

Stadium
And for the first time since my husband died, but maybe, really, for the first time ever, I felt whole. Healed. And fearless.

During my four days in Kansas City, I fell in love with the city again. But more than anything, I fell in love with the woman I became as I walked these streets. Unstoppable. Ready to take on new challenges and responsibility. Ready to grow. I realize that my life truly can be anything I want it to be. And where I go from here is entirely up to me.

I am the girl from Kansas City. And Annapolis. And Wheaton. And Iowa City.

I am the girl who sang on the rocks. The toddler who broke her arm falling out of a high chair while dancing. The girl who wanted a Mickey Mouse balloon more than anything. The girl who played softball and ran cross country. The girl who invented a radio station with her childhood best friend. The girl who played guitar and wrote a musical. The girl who moved to Iowa and became a Hawkeye.

I am the woman who is moving forward. Who can travel alone to a city and have a marvelous time. Who has accepted all that her life has been, and who has fallen in love with all that her life can be.

I do not know what tomorrow holds.

But wherever this journey takes me, there will be no holding back. There will be dancing in public and laughing hysterically. There will be adventure and spontaneity. There will be honesty and forgiveness. There will be unadulterated joy and raw, serious pain. And I don’t intend to miss a minute of any of it.

Because I am strong. I am unashamed. I am beautiful.

I am the girl who sings on the rocks. And I am ready.

Writing

Kansas City, Day Three: Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

After two days of exploring some of the best Kansas City had to offer, it was time to visit my childhood stomping grounds.

My first stop was the apartment complex I lived in from kindergarten through second grade. One of my earliest – and most precious – childhood memories takes place here. The apartments used to have these ponds throughout the grounds, surrounded by giant rocks. As a child, I’d climb on the rocks and sing at the top of my lungs. My “set” usually included hits from Annie and The Sound of Music, with a little early Madonna & Tiffany thrown in for good measure. The older residents of the complex would sit on their balconies, watching me and applauding, and I was on top of the world.

As I got out of the car, it was like re-entering a scene from so far back in my mind. The whole thing felt so surreal. I remembered seeing this place from my own eyes, not from photographs the way so many childhood memories are recalled. This had been one of my happiest homes.

Then, there they were – my singing rocks. Unchanged, just waiting for me to return 25 years later. They seemed smaller now. I remembered them being so large, so high – I was always afraid I would fall. This time, my footing was sure. I climbed the rock. And yes, I sang. Because the child inside me was aching for an encore. And because the woman I am today still had something to sing about.

Braveontherocks
I walked across the complex as showtunes continued to play in my mind. It was all so familiar. I grew up all over this country, but had never, until now, had the chance to re-visit a childhood home. An old man came outside to feed a 1-legged duck. I was surprised to find that old men still live there. It was like he was frozen in time, that nameless resident.

Ontheplayground

My next stop was my old elementary school. I arrived with Madonna’s song “This Used to Be My Playground” playing in my head, even though, well, I know it wasn’t really my playground. Surely after 25 years, the equipment would have changed. No matter. I snapped a photo holding my old yearbook from kindergarten. I took a turn on the swings. But then – and I almost missed them – I caught sight of those bars. Three metal
bars, all in a row, for flipping and swinging and probably even chin-ups. Those bars were still standing, still taunting me after all these years. I’d always longed to be able to really flip around on them, because even though I had no technical skills, I was a gymnast at heart.

As it turns out, at 32, I still have no technical skills. It seems I’ll never conquer those bars, but I have conquered far greater things, and that’s what really matters.

My final stop was the first house I’d lived in as a child in Kansas City, from ages 2 to 4. I recognized it instantly, but I believe more from photographs than from my heart. The new owners were flying a flag outside for the University of Kansas, which made everything seem right somehow.

As I drove away from the places I’d called home, I took the time to really notice my surroundings and take in all of the places I’d remembered. A piece of me was still here – would always be here – and this place had left its mark on me, way back then, and most certainly today. It made me wonder. Where is my home, really? Back here in Kansas City? In the empty house that waits for my return in Iowa? Or is home, for me, something bigger than just a city? I wonder what this means for my future, and I don’t yet have the answers.

I split the rest of my day between the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. When I see beautiful art, it somehow connects me to that place in my soul that tells me what I’m really longing for, what is deep inside. It makes me understand how I am human and life is so fleeting. I viewed paintings from the 1400s. A mummy from before Christ. What am I going to leave behind?

I spent hours in the galleries, walking miles in the process. I felt so peaceful, so calm. Yet so full of life. Because I still have so much to do. I must stop wasting days because I have so much life to live and I want to fill every moment with joy and color and words. I sense that something big is coming, but I don’t know quite what it is yet.

Artmuseum
As I head back to the hotel and reflect on the day, I realize that something significant has happened. The “old me” and the “new me” have converged. We are one and the same. I am just Ally. I have learned lessons. I have been battle scarred. I have been through hell and back. I have grown so much – but I am no longer certain I have changed at all. I still climb rocks. I still burst into song. I still throw my hands out and smile. I still believe that life can be magical and a pond can be an audience. And old Ally was tough, too. She didn’t have all the skills she needed and she made some wrong turns. But she gained knowledge from her mistakes, and she survived. And here she is today. Here I am today. I was the little girl who sang on the rocks. And I still am.

Coming up: My final day in Kansas City. I head to the zoo, finally see the Royals play, and for the first time in nearly a year, I feel like life makes sense again.

Kansas City, Day Two: I am not a Cubs fan

It started by sleeping later than I’d planned. I was going to be late. Late for what? This was my trip. My rules. So I changed the itinerary. And it was ok.

I headed to the Hallmark Visitor’s Center, which contains a museum of all things Hallmark and celebrates this history of the company that cares enough to send the very best. As a person who’s fascinated by card-making and postcards, the entire center was amazing to me. I loved seeing how Hallmark grew from a man with a dream to the awesome company it is today.

And yes, I had WAY too much fun with the video screen that puts various Hallmark crowns on your head and then emails the photos to you. Over and over and over.

Crowncollage
Then, after spending a somewhat ridiculous amount of time in what I nicknamed “the crying booths” – booths containing video screens that played sappy Hallmark commercials on repeat, I headed over to Hallmark Live, to meet the creators of hoops&yoyo.

Now, if you’re not familiar with hoops&yoyo, you really should be! These inspiring, silly characters never fail to bring me a smile, even on sad days. Check out their video message just for you:

At Hallmark Live, the creators of my very favorite animated duo were on site to chat about their creative process and sign autographs. I loved meeting them. I let them know how much hoops&yoyo had made me smile during the past year, and that it had been a hard one. I shared a little of my story. I got a little emotional. And I think they did, too. The thing is, us creative types – writers, artists, musicians – we create something hoping it will make a difference, and we put it out there. But we just never know how it’s going to impact someone. So I really just loved the chance to say “thank you” for creating such happy, wonderful characters that had brought me so many smiles.

Hoopsyoyo

From Hallmark, I headed to Union Station, and then on to the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. But then, just like that, it was time to head to my favorite and most-anticipated destination of the trip: Kauffman Stadium.

Though I’d been in Kansas City for two days now, the stadium was the first time I encountered a place I truly remembered. As soon as I saw it from the highway, I just started crying. Even though it was slightly rainy, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Every time an employee asked “How are you” I replied with this giant smile, “I’m amazing! Thank you!”

RoyalsI’d arrived early to explore the stadium. I headed first to the Royals Hall of Fame, now part of the stadium. I saw George Brett’s bat from his 3,000th hit. The ‘85 world series trophy. And a vintage memorabilia case holding a 1985 duffle bag – the exact same one that’s hanging from a hook in my closet right now. “Oh my gosh, I have that bag!” I exclaimed to
jealous looks from all around.

I headed to the stadium shop – because naturally, I’m going
to need to stock up on Royals gear before I head back to Iowa. As I walked through the store, surrounded by all that blue & white, and overwhelmed by childhood memories, I suddenly burst out “Oh, my God! I’m not a Cubs fan!” A few people laughed, and many just looked at me strangely.

Because here’s the thing. When people ask me about my favorite team, I’ve always said, “The Chicago Cubs. And the Royals, too, you know, from when I was a kid.” And when people ask which one I’d cheer for in a Cubs-Royals world series, I laugh it off and refuse to pick – because seriously? Like that would ever happen. But as much as I love Wrigley Field and the Cubs, I realized, after all this time, that the Royals truly are first in my heart. My childhood heroes were George Brett and Bret Saberhagen. All of my first memories of sports – of cheering, of fireworks, of what it means to love to win – were here in this very stadium. I have been an avid sports fan for my entire life – and it all started by being a Royals fan first.

Even though I have a seat just 13 rows from the field, I walk up the spiral walkway to the upper deck. I loved running up the walkway as a child, and I was still just trying to take it all in. Even more than hour after I’d arrived, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. A staff member takes a photo of me with the stadium in the background.

Stadium
And then I see it. Right there on the scoreboard. The game has been cancelled for rain. It had been misting all day, but they kept saying the game would go on as planned, so I’d held out hope. But here was the kicker. The game had been postponed until Sunday night. And I was supposed to be driving home on Sunday morning.

I head back to my hotel. I am nearly shaking. I don’t like it when things don’t go according to plan. And I have no one here to talk me through this. No one to tell me what to do. I mean, we’re talking about the woman who typically struggles making simple purchase decisions without running them by someone else. But this was exactly why I was here. To stand on my own feet and know I can make decisions and face the world on my own.

I do a gut check. I decide that I didn’t drive for five hours to NOT see the Royals play. I am going to stay. I go to the hotel office, I call Camp Bow Wow, where my dog is spending the weekend. Arrangements are made, and the plans are changed. But I’m exhausted from the process.

I make a decision to call the one friend who knows I am here. I am not going to ask her advice and I’m not going to overanalyze. But I would like, quite simply, just to talk to my friend.

I’d been learning things like crazy for two days. How to be better at talking to strangers. To ask for help taking photos. To ask questions instead of wander around afraid. To make decisions about rained out games. To tell a man I’ve never met that he looks great when trying on a Royals jacket. My confidence is soaring. I’m SO going to make it. I’ve totally got this.

But it was in this moment that I also realized how important relationships really are. And I was so, so glad that my friend had my back, and she was there to listen and chat when I needed her. Yes, I’m going to live this brave new life on my own terms. But it’s all about discovering a balance. I don’t intend to live a life alone and I have no intention of cutting people out of my life. Going to Kansas City was about taking off the training wheels. I needed to find out that my bike wasn’t going to fall over when I rode down the hill alone. That said, I sure I am glad for the people riding along the trail with me.

Tomorrow: Day Three – I visit my childhood homes, my elementary school playground, and contemplate where my life is going from here.