On Cakes, Frostedly

I was always fascinated by the way our cake decorator made cakes. Everything she touched turned into magic.

When I started writing on cakes, they looked terrible, like an elementary school kid scribbling with gel. I practiced. I’ve got it down now, perfect cursive and a quirky print that I love.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more of the cake decorating at work. It’s nice. It can be stressful when there are special orders due – that’s when someone has an idea about how they want the cake to look. Sometimes, their vision is far different from what they request. Sometimes, it’s difficult with a lot of tracing or attempting to mold frosting a certain way. Sometimes, they’re thrilled by the results. I find that when they give us more room to play, they get a more fun, more creative cake.

One of our regulars laughs because when I decorate cakes, I end up covered in everything. She told me that she knew I was really into what I was doing the day she came and I had frosting everywhere from the tip of my nose to my knees. I’m not the most coordinated person in the world, so I think it may be more that than dedication, but hey, I’ll take it.

This cake is by far my favorite. I was bored at work one day and had some time to play, so I printed out an outline and went nuts. The result was fantastic. The people who purchased the cake were thrilled by it and told me how excited they were to have found it.

Tonight, I did it again. I used a purple that I’m not terribly pleased with, but considering the color limitations, I’m excited. I hope whoever buys it loves it as much as I do.

van gogh, starry night, cake,

On the Hot Dog Man and Austerity, Simply

My cousin was in town last week. He’s quite removed from all things pop culture, as he spends his time living a very simplified life. I find his perspective refreshing, and have so enjoyed being able to spend time with him not once but twice this summer. He was in the car with our grandmother and aunt during his brief visit, and they drove by a movie theater that simply showed “All is Lost” on its marquee. We laughed as he explained that he was quite concerned by this message, but I explained to him that “All is Lost” is the title of a film (which I know absolutely nothing about).

All is not lost.

Speaking of a simplified life (which I speak of as one who is impressed and motivated by the power to directly impact your own experiences with the choices you make), I’ve been spending a lot of time simplifying lately.

It began out of necessity, but somewhere in the frantic rush to cut back on everything (I only somewhat joking refer to it as “austerity measures”), I found myself realizing how blessed I really am and how much there is to simply enjoy. In the darkest hours, I was solely focused on survival. As I grew tired and frustrated, impatient and anxious, I began to assess the positives, to focus on reinforcing the things that make me happy.

Creating happiness and finding the good in the worst of it all is the hardest part, but I firmly believe that it is the most worthwhile endeavor in which I have engaged in quite some time. Sowing the seeds of positivity has led to a bountiful return for me in both my experiences and in my own emotions.

It began when I sat down with now-boyfriend earlier this summer and he told me over dinner that he hadn’t done anything he didn’t want to in months. My cousin’s perspective is quite similar. He travels freely, lives simply, does exactly what he wants, and in turn, has a refreshingly grounded air of contentment about him.

I was so caught up in the struggle to move forward without direction that I neglected myself, first and foremost, but also my own drive. This year may not have been my favorite year, but it’s been rewarding in so many different ways.

Right now, I’m sitting on my front porch, feet perched on the railing, absorbing the radiant Colorado November sunshine. A steaming mug of tea sits next to me and a very jealous cat sits just on the other side of the front door. This is bliss.

I am looking at the most positive job week I’ve had in a long time. I had my first actual interview last week, rocked it, and was offered the job. I will be turning it down. I am also poised on the brink of creating a position with a company I’ve been a part of for the better part of a decade, and am thrilled by the level of respect and honesty I’ve been offered.

“What’s your ideal job?” my boss asked. “Let’s work on creating something that will work for the both of us.” Marketing, administrative work to include payroll, and assistant managing all wrapped up in one package? Perfect.

I am so pleased. I did this. I offered the boss my services, explaining that I’d love to help with the office and the marketing, then handed him my resume to remind him that I’m far more than the sixteen-year old he hired all those years ago. He responded with the offer and we’re all set to sit down and hash out the details.

And even more! I’m meeting with a recruiter for coffee on Friday. Where that will go, I’m not sure, but I’m thrilled by the prospect of reigniting my drive towards a greater future for myself.

But it’s not just on the job front.

I’m finding myself able to appreciate the positives and the beauty all around me.

My strange love of “the hot dog man” and his dog is my favorite example of good in the world. He comes in to work most days and teases me. He’s still upset that I won’t give him my grandmother’s phone number, and we’ve discussed why women are the root of all evil. (According to him, the ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy was most likely due to a woman. “You know why I was the captain of two destroyers?” he asked me. “I didn’t get distracted by women.”) Sometimes, he tries to give me money and tells me not to spend it on men.

He’s fantastic. Yesterday, he came in and I gave him a free hot dog because it was Veteran’s Day. I found out that he joined the Navy at 17 (in 1937!). He laughed as I gave him his free hot dog, and then told me that I was probably going to charge his dog double. (I give the dog a pup cup of ice cream every time they come in.)

He asked me if I was going to join the Navy when I turn seventeen. I laughed and told him that I’m far older than seventeen and that my boyfriend joined the Marines when he was seventeen. “Is he still in?” he asked. I told him that no, he isn’t. “Well, when you get sick of him, just send him back!” he said.

The hot dog man got a hundred-dollar bill from a random stranger the other day. She had just sold her house and somehow had a bunch of money from the closing, so she handed him the 100 and told him that her kids were grown and that she didn’t need it, and that she wanted to spread some good into the world. We told him that we’re going to start calling him “The Hundred Dollar Man” and he said his typical farewell of “whatever” and gave us a wave before finding his walker (with the dog tied to it) outside and heading off towards home.

He probably has no idea how much I enjoy seeing him. Yesterday, when he was in the store, he was talking to a mother and her young daughter. He doesn’t see well (blind as a bat might be a more accurate description), and at one point, he was gesticulating with his hand out and the little girl reached up and high-fived him. He smiled and asked her if she was going to hold his hand. It was such a sweet moment.

He’s the best. I don’t mean to ramble, but he’s one of those examples of the best parts of the world. They’re the most unexpected. They take you by surprise and uplift you in the strangest ways.

I’m so thrilled. Life has a funny way of handing you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m finding that sometimes, the things you need the most are the things you’ve carried with you all along. (Oh, I know I’m spitting clichés out left and right and I don’t care at all.)

I’m going to make the most of this beautiful life, even though it’s not at all how I expected it would be. I think sometimes it’s the weird randomness of the universe that’s the most beautiful part of it all.

On Thanksgiving, Excitedly

This year will be the first year in a long time I’m not in Denver for Thanksgiving. (Not counting 2010, when Mike and I were in Africa.) Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s not as stressful as other holidays; there aren’t any gifts; it’s more about food than it is anything else. Since I’m not one who eagerly anticipates the shopping season, I have nothing to do that day and the next except lounge around and eat leftovers.

Thanksgiving leftovers are the best leftovers. (Cranberries! Stuffing! Gravy!)

This year is a big year. I’m going to Mississippi with boyfriend. I’m going to meet part of his family and go hunting. Oh god. Me hunting deer? I’m most excited about a road trip. I drive. He sleeps. Clears the mind.

I think I’m most nervous about deer hunting. What if I’m bored? Sitting still isn’t my strong suit. Sitting still and being quiet definitely aren’t things at which I excel. What if I actually kill one? Not likely. I told him I’d most likely either cry or be super into it.

I met his grandfather last week. We went to a hockey game and then had dinner the next night. I’m a huge fan – I love families and his grandpa had some great stories. I’m less nervous about the family liking me now that I’ve met him.

Still, I’ve never been to the South. I’ve already made the silent promise to myself not to say anything until after we’ve left. I want to take it all in and experience as much as possible. It’s going to be a very new adventure, but it’s also going to be a very necessary week off of work for me, which I’m looking very forward to.

In other news: I’m now the assistant manager at my store (officially, since I’ve been the assistant manager in all but name for quite some time now). I’ll be assisting with the revamping of the store as well as the training of the three new kids we hired. But more exciting than that is the prospect of some marketing and office work. The owner and I have yet to sit down and actually hash out all of the specific duties, but I’m thrilled about the opportunity to do more of what the marketing and administrative stuff while still being able to keep up my cake decorating and customer service.

Things are looking up, which is good. Finally a nice break for me and the chance for more positive opportunities and career growth, which are things that I’m looking forward to taking advantage of.

On “Smooth Transitions,” Anything But Smoothly

They say that after a traumatic experience, you begin to describe yourself and your life as being “before” and “after.” I finally understand that. 

The me that existed before January 29 was a very different person than the one that exists now. Of course, I’m still me. There are some things that will never change. There are some things the can never change. And there are the things that will never be the same. 

I shut down after I was sexually assaulted. I lost myself. I wandered around for two months, trying as hard as I could to pretend it wasn’t real, to pretend that I was fine. But in the end, I lost. It bubbled up and boiled over, in an instant, and I was caught unaware. I lost a lot when it happened – I lost my first love (my naiveté); I lost much of the ground I’d gained – my self-confidence, my self-esteem, my belief in myself as human being; I lost my  ability to feel happiness. When I let it bubble over, I lost my composure, the one thing I’d worked so hard to keep. 

Strength isn’t something that you can actively seek. It exists inside of you, and it exists in the bonds that you’ve formed with the people who you care about. When you lose your inner strength, you have to rely on the strength of the love you’ve cultivated. Thank god I’d cultivated some strong friendships. I cried on, and relied on, the people who I love the most. They saved me. 

One silly piece of advice I got, the silly piece of advice that has propelled me through the darkest nights and loneliest hours, was that you have to live for your pets. That’s dumb, and I realize that. But honestly, thinking about Carlos was the one thing that pulled me through some nasty spells of despair. Who would feed him wet food if I wasn’t here? Who would he sleep next to? Who would feel that pitter-patter in their heart when they saw him? Only me. There could be no one else. 

When I gave my three weeks notice at work, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. After that day, I didn’t think about New York all the time. My waking moments were no longer consumed with rumination about it: the not knowing, the bitterness, the rage, the sadness, the hopelessness. Instead, I felt nothing. Sometimes feeling nothing is better than feeling everything, all the time. It’s exhausting. 

I was cautioned that this is a roller coaster. I was told that there would be moments of elation, of pure ecstatic joy, of rage, of sadness, of pain, of heartbreak, of grief. 

I forget that sometimes. I am blindsided, still, by the emotions. They overtake me when I least expect it, when I think I am safe. But you’re never safe, not from something that haunts you. That’s the horror story here — you can’t run. I know, because I thought about it. I thought about packing a single bag (I know, I know, a single bag for a new start? In actuality, it would be more like four bags, and the cat. Of course the cat gets to come. He’s the strange salvation) and running. Driving forever, until I ran out of money and ended up anywhere. But you can’t run, because it follows you. And you can’t run out of money, because without money, you are nothing. 

And now, I stand ruined. I doubt I’ll be receiving references based on the two and half years of my life I gave to the company. Instead, I imagine it will be a curt discussion of my failures. And that’s funny, because even though I didn’t manage to come through in the end, I gave them my all when I was breaking down, the seven hours that day spent crying in April to finish a proposal that “he” was responsible for ended in a lucrative contract. And to me, that hurts almost more than all of it. I did that. I packaged it. I prepared it. I shipped it. And he gets the commission. He gets to go home to his wife and children with a huge paycheck, and I have nothing but the job I held in high school, a last resort, a refuge from the constant reminder that I am vulnerable and weak.

“You’re not being fired, but you’re free to leave,” they told me, when the HR investigation came back “inconclusive.” Of course there was no proof. When it happened, I was so worried about my job (the irony here stings) that I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I sat there and wondered how I’d afford a plane ticket home. “You’re not the first woman who didn’t know she had options,” said one of my doctors, when I’d spilled the story to her in a fit of word vomit that I couldn’t contain. 

My boss told me several times throughout the course of the investigation that at worst, it would be a smooth transition, where I would stay there until I found a new job. I choked on those words. Smooth transition, my ass. This is not a smooth transition. This is the part where I live on fucking chili cheese dogs because they’re free. This is the part where I fuck up and don’t finish the last of my semi-contract work. This is the part where I finally break, where my body gives out and my spirit follows. 

This is the part where I realize that there is a cost far greater than you ever imagine. The traumatic experience was not just the assault itself, it was everything that followed. I know I have to go forward, but where do I go from here?

I’m working full time at my high school job. I’ve just started applying for new jobs. I’m paralyzed by the fear that my references will be held over me, my actual work lost in the downward spiral that was the end. 

Here’s to the existential crisis I hoped I’d never find myself in. Here’s to digging myself out of that deep, dark hole. Here’s to the future, in the hopes that there is something left of it. Here’s to the hope that somewhere there is a light that will lead me out of this desolate place. Here’s hoping…..

On Looking Forward, Hesitantly

Time is elusive, something you long for more of, but something you can never quite grab onto, or even really control.  The future seems endless, like today will somehow stretch on forever and next week will never come. Before you know it, all of those tomorrows are yesterdays, and all the things you swore you’d do are yet left undone.

I mowed the front lawn the other day, something that remains an overwhelming task for me. What may be drudgery for some fills the core of my bones with a ringing sense of accomplishment, of certainty, of satisfaction. I even did the strange little hilly part that leads to our neighbor’s driveway. (He’s new – I don’t think he knows it’s his job yet. I guess I could leave it untended and let him figure it out, but I’m concerned that he might not due to the scraggly overgrowth that tends to be comprise my lawn at any given point in time.)

I tackled a few other household chores, but I still have a long list of things that must be handled, dealt with, checked off. They’re not showstoppers, but I will feel more settled once I’ve said good riddance to the mental checklist. (I do know that there is no real end to the lists. I know that as soon as one thing passes out of the conscious concern, another will pop up to take its place.)

I’ve been working, still. Trading one sixty hour week for another. I imagined I would have time to seek the calm I’ve been craving, but alas, that was not to be the case. All I can see is today, this week, the schedules dictated by the Sunday release of the Dairy Queen schedule, all plans left in flux until the message arrives bearing a picture of the week’s schedule. It’s an interesting way to view the world. Months, seemingly endless, are suddenly broken down into seven-day segments, both more manageable and repetitive, unchangingly inflexible without meaning to be.

I’ve been spending time with an old boyfriend, the ever-present romantic antagonist of my mid-twenties. We’ve fallen back into our routine. There are errands (my favorite!), dinners (his attempts to woo me with his culinary prowess delight me), and the quiet hours, where he’s decided that I must learn how to play video games.

After days of wondering why he’d try to teach me – a task far more daunting than he had anticipated – I have finally realized that he’d like to get to the point where we can play together as teammates. I find the notion oddly romantic. And you should know by now how much I hate to lose, therefore this challenge is one I’m not taking lightly.

Seriously though, video games terrify me. I’ve never been one to play them (we weren’t allowed to have them in our house until we were nearly teenagers, and by then my attention drifted elsewhere). I’ve no knowledge of the mastery of strategy, but far more difficult than that is finding my damn character on the screen. And so my character dies. Repeatedly. “I didn’t even see where I was!” I exclaim, before surrendering to laughter at how pathetic I must look. The boys can’t believe it.

Even worse than the finding my character is moving the screen so I can see where my character is in relation to the battles. I’ve been instructed to work on smooth movement instead of just tapping the arrow keys sadly. I’ve been sent home with a tiny Game Boy for homework.

He’s a patient teacher, mostly. I think he’s excited that I’m showing interest in joining him, rather than just watching him play. I think I’m too stubborn to back down. I am determined, but amazed at how difficult this is.

***

By the way, today is Miracle Treat Day at Dairy Queen. $1.50 of your Blizzard purchase goes to the Children’s Miracle Network that supports children’s hospitals across the country. Your donation goes directly to the children’s hospital closest to you. It’s a gloomy day in Denver, so I hope that doesn’t hurt our sales. (I’ll be at my location from 4 until close, so come say hi if you’re craving a Blizzard.)

Yesterday, my first customer asked me if I was full-time or part-time. I gave him a brief overview of my current situation, full-time ice cream queen, part-time legal software marketer, and he was supportive, appreciative, and fantastic. He told me that my cheerfulness was exactly what he’d needed.

But of course, bright things can only linger for so long in this world. A bit later, a man came in and told us that the reason that we work at Dairy Queen is because we voted for Obama. Offended (as I usually am by people who assume I’m unintelligent), I continued the conversation very stiffly and politely. He told me that I had no knowledge of how government works (to which I bit my tongue in order to stem the tide rising inside me), and then proceeded to patronize me. At one point, he told Evan that Dairy Queen is a good job, because he “has a woman” — me — and that my desire to have a career is what’s killing our future as a Christian nation. (Ah, yes. To which I responded that the reason I long for a career is because I fear that the alternative is relegation to domestic tasks for which I am clearly unsuited.)

He concluded with a thought about how the end of marriage and religion were going to be the downfall of our nation. Finally, I’d had enough. I countered, “What I think you’re neglecting, sir, is this question: is it possible to be a good, moral person without religion?” I gave him a brief overview of my belief that it is not religion that drives people to be good, and that community will continue to exist by nature of the human species rather than by the driving force of religion alone. Therefore, I concluded, religion and the end of marriage are not what will doom our society, but rather, our lack of cooperation. He didn’t have a response. I didn’t imagine that he would. He left us a tip and thanked us before he left.

Never a dull moment, I assure you.

On Big News, Relievedly

The words were gone again, the constant bubbling up of ideas temporarily ceased. I started typing draft after draft, but each one was pushed aside in disgust as I stared at the pathetic words on the screen.

Tomorrow, I kept whispering. I’ll try again tomorrow. Before I knew it, many tomorrows had turned into weeks. My apologies for the extended absence.

I have spent the past few weeks dreaming the most vividly intense dreams I’ve ever dreamt. The images are surreal, telling signs of the subconscious dwelling deep within, stirring, demanding attention. The questions seem as though they will remain unanswered for some time, if they are ever answered at all.

There is only muddled clarity, which I imagine is the worst kind, other than total obfuscation. However, it is with the utmost certainty that I can say that I am about to start on a new path, one that I hope will take me swiftly away from the things I wish to leave behind. It may not be clear, but it is (“is” as a state of being and existence) because it must be.

I handed in my three weeks’ notice today. I told them that my last day will be July 31st.

I have not yet found another job. I will continue to work at my other part-time jobs while applying for new jobs in the marketing field, and I will hopefully be able to cover my expenses without draining too much of my precious, carefully hoarded savings. (Seriously, I’m like Gollum when it comes to my savings. You can re-read that sentence and hiss “precious” if you like. I just did.)

I am terrified, of course. This is my first time really embracing the job hunt. I hope to be able to find something that pays me enough that I will only have to work one job. I hope to do more writing. I hope for many things, but mostly I hope for new opportunities. I’m excited to expand my skill sets and to embrace the challenges that come with new employment.

I know that this is not the usual order of things, but I believe this is the best choice. Which is why I made it.

On Uncertainty, Sadly

“Not to be forgotten, but still unforgiven.”

Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes the words you wish you could say are the very words you cannot say – sometimes the truth can’t save you, can’t ease your pain, can’t grant you freedom or success or even hope.

There is only that singular small glimmer of hope for a better future, for something greater. The world is full of injustice, unfairness, betrayal, anger, and I firmly believe that karma, in the end, will be the great equalizer. Everyone will get what is coming to them, whether it comes now or later. It will not come from me, but it will come, when it must, when it can, when the time is right.

It’s like Mike would say, stolen from Wedding Crashers, “Rule Number 72: no excuses, play like a champion.”

And so I will.

Professionalism in the face of obstacles that I never could have foreseen, grace in the face of turmoil, strength in the face of the unknown, courage in the face of opposition.

“Never let your fear decide your fate.”

There is only the solid belief in myself, in my potential, in my future. There is so much that’s left to do, too much to be undone. The things that were set in motion months ago have come to fruition (hah, that’s a horrible word) and it is time to let it go, to release it, and move on. Move forward.

“Whatever it is kid, don’t let it beat you.”

(And yes, I’m terribly embarrassed that I opened this post with a Linkin Park quote. Forgive me.)

On Adventure, Happily

Sometimes the need for escape trumps everything else. I have never believed that it is possible to lose sight of the grand vision that is life for the blinders of the present more than I do now. There is only today, and there is only tomorrow, and the endless list of tasks yet unfinished, emails unanswered, deadlines unmet. There is no great whooping joy, no time unaccounted for, nothing but the drudgery and confinement of the current moment, the oppression of the here and now.

I never take fun days. But early last week, after getting an invite to romp around in the wilderness, I threw my hands up and (with permission from my bosses, of course), I took the day off.

We drove two and a half hours outside of Denver to a tiny swimming hole. We parked, pulled our supplies out, and hiked in and down to the small pool surrounded by rocks. It was magical. The road was freeing. I held my arm out the window, breathing in the possibility of not knowing when I’d return home. There was no set schedule. There was only the music and the company and the water.

I was nervous to jump off the rocks into the water. Some military guys that were there told me that if I jumped, they’d give me a beer. I laughed, and steadied myself, taking a deep breath. (The rock is only about 15 feet from the water, but from up there, it looks like it’s so much higher.)

I reminded myself that I’ve done one of the world’s highest bungee jumps. That didn’t help at all. In fact, I remember how much I hated that. But as I stood there, nervous, I realized that it’s something I’ll never regret not doing, and that spurred me on. I jumped.

Paradise Cove, Colorado, Guffey, Swimming hole, secret spot

(That’s my splash. And there’s Gina, who counted down for me because I am a chicken.)

It was freezing. The boys gave me a beer, and seemed very proud of me. I was proud of me. The feeling of accomplishment far outweighed the terror, but it was not enough to get me to jump again.

We had the very best day. It was the perfect way to say farewell to one of my best friends, and to be perfectly happy with a crew that I’ve come to love fiercely.

I returned home late that night, exhausted. I was in charge of hosting a small get together for a girl who graduated from a culinary program. I was tired. I offered to cook for the people, and Evan refused to let me, ordering pizza instead.

And then came Las Vegas. I dragged myself out of bed at 5 am and was ready when the car showed up to take us to the airport.

This was a cousins’ trip, a chance to bond and be with family in a fun setting. I was looking forward it, although I’m honestly not a huge fan of Vegas. I discovered blackjack this time, and had a blast – I didn’t lose! Mike is a great and patient teacher, and the dealers were all lovely.

As usual, my favorite part of the trip was the pool time.

And we saw Jersey Boys.

And we had dinner and saw another show. (Side note: the dude from 90210 who is now a Chippendale is terrible….)

All around, it was a lovely weekend.

On Quotes, Motivationally – and a Little Bit Lamely

I used to think all of those motivational quotes on posters (and now, all over the internet) were stupid. That was before I needed them.

(All quotes pictured in this post come from the same site – a. I like it and b. I was too lazy to find more. Don’t judge me.)

I was browsing Reddit one day and I came upon a thread discussing the one piece of advice that stuck with you when you needed it most. (Obviously, I’m being terrible at paraphrasing the thread topic, but that’s not really the point.)

I read a comment that’s been with me ever since. Someone posted that they were on a bus, and things at that time were terrible for them, and someone said to them, “Whatever it is, kid, don’t let it beat you.” Funny, how a comment about lifesaving advice would become lifesaving advice for me.

During the moments where I’ve felt like I can’t possibly win – not even winning so much as keep going – I’ve repeated that to myself and it’s spurred me on. “Don’t let it beat you.” I refuse to let someone take everything from me and walk away. I’m Katie Barry. I do not give up; I’m stubborn, but more than that, I’m tenacious. And powerful.

When I was fifteen, I did what most emotional adolescents do – I used to find “meaningful” quotes and write them on scraps of paper and hang them on my wall. I had a book filled with quotations. They were appropriately angst-ridden and brought me the comfort that my young self needed.

Looking back, I cringe a little bit at the pride I had over these quotations, the sense of ownership, as though the quotes had been constructed solely for me, for my benefit. But of course, to each their own, and what works has to be what you do, embarrassment or no.

Here I am, a decade later, relying on these little tidbits of wisdom, grasping onto them as though they can rescue me, shepherd me through the storm, and guide me safely to the other side, if only I cling to them desperately enough. And they can. Because they have to. There is no other option but to keep moving forward.

There is always laughter and light in this world and I want to be where it is.

 

On Love, Actually

I opened my planner today, and it hit me that it’s June. As in, we’re halfway through 2013 and I feel like we just started. It’s already been a hell of a year, emphasis on hell. But it’s also been the kind of year where blessings are abundant. Without the bad thing, there would be no beautiful new things. Without the bad thing, I never would have discovered my strength or the love that surrounds me.

Change is inevitable. It’s terrifying, and sometimes it’s quick. Sometimes you look around and realize that change is has been happening without you even noticing.

One of my best friends is moving to Germany this week. I’ve cried no less than eight times already, but I’m genuinely thrilled for him. Jacob has let me ruin t-shirts with my tears; he’s perfected the art of the across-the-bar-wink; we’ve been silly and serious and wild; we’ve made terrible chana masala; we’ve danced.

(We look like babies here. Babies with wine lips.)

I have loved him. I am looking forward to visiting him – I’ve been meaning to make it to Germany to visit people for some time now, and he’ll be added incentive. Jacob + lederhosen + South African friends + Oktoberfest = excellent reasons to go.

Sometimes, change happens so organically you don’t even realize it. Sometimes, in the lowest valleys of your life, you realize how much people can care about you. I wasn’t looking for love, or anything like it. I didn’t realize it right away, but I probably should have seen it – the signs were there, even if it did take eight years for it to finally fall into place.

I spent the first few months of this year actively avoiding dating. I was worried that after everything that had happened, no one would love me. I was worried that I’d never be happy again. And there he was, with me through all of it. I didn’t have to tell him everything – he already knew. He’d been listening the entire time.

I remember when it hit me – we were out having a late night dinner after a particularly gruesome Sunday night shift at the Dairy Queen, talking about how hard it is to find people who meet our needs – intelligent, fun, educated, driven, and so on. As the silence fell heavy around us, I looked over. He was right there. He’d been right there the whole time.

The Crew. 2008.

I’ve known him since I was seventeen. We used to go drifting in his car after work. We used to dance behind the counter to that song “Call on Me” — there were banana phones involved. It was weird. We used to cause all sorts of trouble after we’d closed Dairy Queen. I never thought that this was where we’d end up.

There is no greater joy than having someone who understands your sense of humor, who challenges the way you think, who brings philosophical amusement to the long shifts spent in the service industry. He is, like myself, stranded now at the crossroads of the future, where the unanswered questions linger longer than the workdays.

Sort of our first date.

It has grown, swiftly and smoothly, from friendship into something so much more and it’s starting to set in that this is for real. For me, this is terrifying. It wasn’t something I expected, wasn’t something I’d prepared for. It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing. It’s got all the nerves of a first date and all the excitement of first love. It’s the first sip of hot tea, the warmth of a hot bath, the wild abandon of a midnight swim in the ocean, the comfort of the hammock, and on top of that, Carlos loves him.