Today I am sure of two things: first, it is the last day of the year, and second, countless people stand with me when I say 2016 was not a year for the faint of heart. In many ways this year proved to be an immense hurdle; each week a roadblock and every month an overall disaster clouding the image we’d held for ourselves at the end of 2015. In twelve months we have been challenged and pushed far past our limits, our every forward movement has been resisted, and our already thin hopes have been stretched. The past year has had no problem giving an inch only to snatch it right back. Though 2016 taught us a lesson, it was not before forcing our heads into the dirt, and there was certainly no struggle in making us into tired, little soldiers who’ve entirely lost our sense of self along the way.
If you disagree, I’m very happy for you, but I can see a crowd of folks with their hands up who share experiences in the exact year I’m referring to.
I could write a legitimate novel on all the terrible things that happened in 2016. I could explain why the year will forever be wretched in my mind, and why, I hope never to relive more than a few days of it’s memories in my future. However, I am not going to do that, because this shitfest of a year has not been triumphant over me- not even today, on December 31, after the longest journey. Nope, I am the real winner here.
What I have today, instead of a novel of 2016’s torment, is a post on perspective, forged meaning, and new identity- the result of 2016’s hardships. Let’s take a tour…
Exactly one year ago, I documented the day on Instagram with a photo whose caption read, “Miranda; (meh-ran-de) n. [[L, fem. of mirandus, strange, wonderful < mirari: see MIRACLE]] and by my definition: Book work. Plant enthusiast. Author-to-be. Chai connoisseur. Sailboat admirer. Literature junkie. Mug collector. White wine drinker. Star gazer. Grammar Nazi. Midnight breakfast eater. Independent soul. Closet poet. Politically engaged. Daddy’s girl. Over analyzer. Twizzler addict. Go getter. Part-time painter. Sunshine craver. Lover of neutrally-colored-fabric.”
That was the person I believed myself to be when 2015 ended and 2016 began. Those things were all true, and are still mostly true at the end of 2016, but there were a lot of adjectives I’d left out in that definition; mostly describing words I hadn’t acknowledged or couldn’t face. The past year had no problem highlighting those things, thus changing the definition I’d made for myself then into something bigger.
January began, a giant swirl of snow and cold, depression, and a burning hope for the new year. I knew I was sad but I didn’t think I was depressed. I was hiding it well from everyone and was even keeping it a secret from myself, or rather denying myself the simple truth that a damaging relationship was causing me to dig terrible wounds into my being- wounds I still have not completely healed.
I was trying to grow, trying to feed the flame of flickering hope for 2016 with new years resolutions like reading 4 books a month, using my bullet journal, eating foods that would make my body feel good, and making better choices with a positive attitude.
On the 17th of January I started a second job to save some money for college, which I’d hoped to begin again in the fall. It was an overnight job at Meijer, and I was beyond excited when I started. I knew it would be hard to work at Home Depot from 12-9pm and then Meijer from 10pm-4am, but I wasn’t worried. It was a bold move, but it felt like a step in the right direction. I decided that this “khakis and a polo” job was for a purpose, to save and build character, and that I didn’t need it otherwise and would by no means be trapped in it. I pledged that when I felt I’d done enough of that, I would quit. I felt happy because it was a decision I made and I felt in control of it, until I simply wasn’t anymore.
Working 58 hours a week and coping with my disaster relationship began to wear me out quickly. I distracted my tired mind in February with romance stories like Me Before You, and projects like making Valentine’s for work friends, and on my 22nd birthday I celebrated becoming an author after being notified one of my poems would be published in the Spring. Submitting that poem for possible publication was one of the bravest things I’d ever done, because I knew I faced rejection- a hard pill to swallow when it’s related to one of the last things you feel passionately about.
But it worked out in my favor, and that momentum carried me through to March, where I, on a whim, traveled to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida with my best friend and two boys I’d never met. We drove the entire way down and made memories I will likely never forget. I branched out, I did things I’ve never done, I took risks, I wore no makeup, I put my feet in the ocean, I breathed in fresh air, I went to Disney Land, I found shells on the beach, and I was so brave. I felt alive, and the sunshine and time off was the healthiest thing I got this year, however, when I returned, my fire went out completely.
It was 7:30 am when I finally arrived back in town. It smelled like spring, the snow was almost gone, and when I crested the hill and saw those bright red letters above Meijer, I was home. I’d driven twenty some hours, which felt like a lifetime, but it was nothing compared to the struggles I would face in April. My lease ended with March, and so began the end of my damaging relationship, my sanity, and my sense of self as I knew it. I moved home, briefly, but when I was offered a promotion at Meijer, I took the full time overnight management position beginning April 17th. They promised $35,000 a year on 45 hours a week. I was overjoyed that my hard work paid off, though I left my current position at Home Depot reluctantly.
It was a joyous and depressing time. I’d failed to make moving back home work, a decision that caused more harm with my family than good. A deer had annihilated my car. I’d left my cozy, lonely, personal prison of an apartment in town, and traded it for a spacious one in the woods near crooked lake with my newfound funds. I took on a team of employees at my new job who became my good friends in a building that consumed me, and I’d left some of my dearest friends and comfortable position in a building that was pleasant and free from hardship. When the pain of making myself choose to walk away from the man I thought I loved became too much, I got myself a kitten and named her Sparky Berlin. She came home with me April 27th and has been the best thing I could have asked for during a time when everything looked like it was going swell from the outside, but was a terrible mess, my life in shambles, on the inside.
In May I worked very hard to channel my energy into new hobbies like baking and entertaining Berlin. I decided to try to grow with my new company and I did what I could to hone my management skills. I became CPR certified in a class that caused me more anxiety and embarrassment than I think I’ve ever had in one hour, and I got my food safety certification. Unexpected circumstances had me drive to Cadillac and take the exam alone, and while I felt unprepared and had to overcome curve balls like finding a gas station to stop at to put air in my tires during a rain storm on the way down, I passed the test with a 92% and rewarded myself with a strawberry shake from culver’s for my bravery- for overcoming obstacles that seemed too scary and too far out of my comfort zone. I was climbing and I was proud of myself.
After a brief stint and downward spiral with my ex-lover at the end of May, I finally committed to an abuse free relationship and I used June’s warm weather and the State Park’s beautiful shoreline to help free me from the chains I had allowed myself to be shackled to for over a year. On the fifth of June I got glasses and not even two weeks later I cut my hair the shortest it’s ever been. I made a commitment to myself, to be better, and after long nights at work I spent almost every day of June at the beach. It became my happy place, and rock picking became my chosen hobby for relaxation. After 3:00 I’d head home and cuddle Berlin until work started again each evening.
My best friend suggested I come to Panama City to visit, so I bought my first ever plane ticket without hesitation. On the seventh of July I packed my suitcase and the next morning I got up at 5:00am to drive to the airport. So far, this was my bravest month yet. I’d never been to Detroit, let alone on an airplane at all. Navigating the airport was terrifying. Figuring out where to park was stressful. Finding my way to my gate was confusing. Catching a connection flight in Atlanta, Georgia was easy the first time and a disaster the second. While in Florida I played pokemon go in the heat at a park, experienced Krispy Creme in all its greatness, enjoyed a few drinks, laid by the ocean, got pedis and a matching best friend tattoo, and even followed Jasmine in an ambulance to the hospital at 3:00 in the morning through the city. On the way home from Florida I rode an underground subway thing at the airport and had to find my luggage when the plane landed since zone two ran out of carry-on storage. Then I drove through Detroit during rush hour and arrived home to a perfectly cloudy and comfortable Michigan.
Before I knew it, the end of August was approaching, the summer was ending, and Meijer had all but thrown me over a cliff. Despite my all too brief vacation in Panama City, I had been working 60+ hour weeks and I had become one of Meijer’s slaves. I was taking caffeine pills to make it through my shifts, I had lost 14 pounds, my body was sore, my attitude was crumbling, and I was furious. I was furious at myself for giving up so much for this job that turned out to be a literal nightmare. But I hadn’t forgotten the promise I’d made to myself at the beginning of the year, and it didn’t matter that as a manager my pants were black instead of khaki. It didn’t matter that I was making $16.82 an hour, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a good back up plan. I was spent and my time at Meijer was up. So, I left my resignation letter on the desk and I walked out of that building with the biggest weight lifted off my shoulders. It was ballsy to walk out without giving a two week notice, but frankly I didn’t owe Meijer a two week notice, and I had built enough character doing what I did during my time there to last me a lifetime.
Leaving Meijer the way I did was liberating, but it was also humbling. I quit my well paying job and spent two weeks waiting to start a new one. During that time, I got to explore Sutton’s Bay with a close friend, and I was able to reflect on the past 8 months and look into myself. I started to think about what kind of person I am and why I choose to do the things I do. When I finally started working as an Apparel Manager at Dunham’s, I had to ask my brother to move into my second bedroom so I could continue paying my rent. My credit card debt grew, and my savings emptied over the next two months. I’m not proud of the balances of either of these accounts, but I made the choices I did because I felt strongly about my health and well being, and now I have a year of paying off my debts to look forward to.
My debt is not the only thing that grew in September, though. After building thick walls all Spring and spending Summer carefully drawing boundaries not to be crossed, I had found myself tumbling over someone in the Fall. We were in love long before Fall, however I refused to allow myself back into anything that resembled the hole I’d recently forced myself to bury. But he captured my heart and pure circumstance kept pulling us together. I was scared to let him into my life, but eventually I realized it was something we could never prevent. I kept our relationship off social media, and it helped me enjoy our time together without distraction. We spent September cooking together and making trips to Traverse City, where I realized a distinct beauty that can be found nowhere else. Nicolas brought me to Old Mission Peninsula and had me experience wine tasting for the first time, in the most breathtaking place. We began spending much of our time together, and life seemed to calm down for a while in each other’s presence. Something that began so innocently in March had grown immensely. By October I realized my life had changed more than I could ever imagine…until imagination became reality.
On October 21st I sent a text to three of my closest friends: “What does this look like to you?”
A photo followed:
When I got home from work that day the answer became very clear to me and I realized I had a decision to make.
I spent the next month in tears. I did research, and learned about my options. I wanted to make an educated, well thought out decision. I cried every day because while I’d been incredibly bold and brave so far this year, I knew that whatever decision I made during the month of November would be even bolder and more brave, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me. Apparently I did.
An abortion was scheduled for November 21st, and when that day came, we drove all the way to Grand Rapids, hand in hand, trying to talk about lighter topics on the way down trying to make the drive seem less grave. I clutched my baggie of goldfish in the hand that wasn’t being held and tried not to feel every mile run over my heart. As we approached the clinic the clouds grew thick and the traffic thicker. Two red lights before our street Nick turned to me and said, “You have to tell me what you want to do here.”
I just stared at him, the seconds were ticking and there weren’t enough red lights in all of the world to save me. The decision was mine, and like I had been told so many times before, no one could make it for me.
So much was at stake in that moment. My future, his, ours…the life of a person I haven’t met. For either choice I could ask the same questions: What would people think? Who would be the first to speak out against my decision, whatever it be? How would this affect my life? The lives of those around me? Was I ready to do this? Would I regret my decision? Is this the right thing to do? The light turned green.
He drove up to the next light. “Your destination is on the right.”
I was still staring at him. “Well?” he asked.
It came out as a whisper.
“I don’t want to bleed for that long,” was all I said, and he turned left and took us home.
To date, in all of my existence, I have never known myself to be more brave.
Close family and friends have known all of the details of this story as it happened, and in December we sent out Christmas announcements to extended family. We’ve been waiting a long time, for the right time and in the right way, to announce this publicly. There seemed no better time than at the end of the longest year, and at the start of a beautiful new one.
Before I close this post I want to end with a final remark: I once read, “we don’t seek the painful experiences that hue our identities, but we seek our identities in the wake of our painful experiences. We cannot bare a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it is purposeful. Ease makes less of an impression on us than struggle. We could have been ourselves without our delights, but not without the misfortunes that drive our search for meaning.” Take some time to look back on the year you’ve had and find in what looked like sorrows, the seedlings of your joy.
If you are like me, and at first glance 2016 seemed to be the worst year of your life, view it from another perspective: you have made bold mistakes and brave recoveries, do not despair- find meaning and assign purpose to the painful experiences you’ve endured; find peace in the idea that this year has brought you where you are and has played a part in making you who you are; when you finally do, you will only have bliss to look forward to in 2017.