Happy Birthday, Daddy.

He would have been 67 this year. We would have eaten Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and welcomed in the new year together as a family.

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays.  The whole night is dedicated to celebrating the forward movement of time.  A night where it is socially acceptable to eat appetizers for dinner, drink a bottle of champagne by yourself, and then light shit on fire.

But it’s more than just fun, NYE is about having hope for the future.

As a child, I loved watching the ball drop in New York City, through means of television  of course.  On December 31, 1999, I was 7 years old.  I vividly remember being disappointed that my parents had pooped out after dad’s birthday party.  They couldn’t quite made it to midnight to celebrate the big “Y2K”.  So after they were asleep, I sneaked out of bed to watch Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve Special while sitting in our old, wooden rocking chair about four inches away from the TV screen.  Being a relatively sheltered child, I was mesmerized by the how many people could fit into Times Square. I remember rocking excitedly as men and women in fancy, sparkling clothes danced and drank and laughed in the night clubs.  They were shameless in front of the cameras. Everyone on the screen looked so insanely happy and energized by being in the same place at the same time to celebrate the same moment together. I put it on my bucket list right then, before I even knew what a bucket list was.

Fast forward 10 years and I was more than ready to say good riddance to 2009.  It was the first year that we didn’t have a birthday to celebrate.  I wanted to be anywhere but  the emptiness that was our home at the time.  Luckily, I had the perfect excuse to leave -my high school boyfriend’s parents were out of town for the holidays leaving him alone to guard the house. Naturally, we decided to throw a party.  I was often the go-to source for supplying alcohol, but along with procurement came the responsibility of preparing the drinks for my friends.  I always made sure the drinks were never too strong, just enough to have a little fun. We had been planning the event for over a month and when the night came everything was in order. I had a distraction from my grief and the night was just as I pictured.

Except that this time, I was the one who didn’t quite make it to midnight. Around 10:30 or so, I remembered what day it was. I remembered that my dad wasn’t here and and it was his birthday and I was drunk and OMG what was I doing?? So naturally, I panicked. Panic attacks came often that winter and I hadn’t learned how to cope with them yet. My boyfriend at the time was absolutely no help.  The narcissistic that he was, wanted the party to go perfectly.  Being far from perfect in that point of my life, I felt the need to leave so I wouldn’t ruin everyone else’s night.  I wanted to literally run away but home was too far. I couldn’t drive, so I called my brother. Even today, I am so thankful that he understood why I needed to leave.  He understood that even though he was at another party too, he was still my big brother and I needed him. There are many times that I have felt let down or disappointed by him, but he has always been there in those moments when I would have called dad. So I left the party and went home and cried myself into 2010.

In the morning, my boyfriend called me, completely pissed off that I left him to host the party alone. After I had left our mutual friend decided to take over bar tending duty.  Attempting to impress everyone, he made the drinks toxic-strong.  Considering that most of our friends barely drank and were also about 100 pounds or less, just about everyone got shit-faced and threw up over my boyfriend’s entire house. And can you guess who he blamed?  Moi.  Feeling responsible, I came over and helped him clean up until he forgave me. Needless to say, he was an asshole who made a shitty day even worse.

The bitter taste of December 31st remained on my tongue for years after.

Five years later, December 31, 2014, was the happiest I had ever been thus far. A good friend of mine had a small get-together at a beautiful apartment downtown Ann Arbor. We made mimosas and ate jello shots and impulsively decided that Molly should come to the party too!  It was my first time meeting Molly, and I have yet to see her again, but I instantly loved her. She made me feel alive and full of love. I couldn’t stop talking and the only place I wanted to look was in the eyes of every person in the room.  That night I thought I was with the love of my life and I thought we were starting the most exciting year of our lives together.  It was supposed to be the year that I left this town.  It was supposed to be the year that we finally lived together and built something real. Shortly before midnight the love and the laughter became a bit too overwhelming for him.  He came to me with panic in his eyes, so we stepped out into the hallway to take a breath. In the hallway we had the quiet to be alone in, to just be us.  I remember wrapping my arms around his neck and holding his head into me until he calmed down. I remember looking over his shoulder and into a mirror in the corner of the hallway.  Seeing us from above, I  remember having so much hope for our future. I was so filled with blind happiness that I never saw the end coming.

But the next day we felt worse than horrible. When I woke up, I thought for sure I was dead. My head felt like it had been cracked into two and my mouth was desperately dry. My jaw was clamped shut and we slept the entire day. We tried to convince ourselves that it had all been worth it and honestly looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. I just wish I hadn’t been so naive in thinking that the high would last forever.

The next year my now ex-boyfriend went to New York City to celebrate the new year with his also new girlfriend.  He fulfilled my bucket list without me.  After moping around and falling into the all-too-hairy arms of a rebound, I realized that I had wasted so much my time waiting to be rescued. To give up so much of myself only to hope to be saved like the damsel in the stories.  So I said, “Fuck it!”  I decided that 2016 was going to be the year where I stopped playing the victim and instead, I rescued my goddamn self. 2016 would be the year that I stopped letting men and their idiotic choices and over-inflated egos define my happiness. Surrounded by friends and family supporting me, I decided that I would live the next 365 days for me. That was the year where I chose to only do things that made me happy and I stopped worrying what everyone else thought.  New Year’s Resolutions were a natural answer.

One. Delete Facebook. I found that the people who still cared about my life were just as easy to reach through the phone. I also truly believe there that nothing healthy comes from constant comparison.

Two. Join the gym and run again. My legs were itching to be stretched and my soul needed a new space. Running had been part of my identity since the age of 9 and I was still kicking myself for giving it up for previously mentioned high school boyfriend.

Those two steps were so small, but they were everything.

Those two steps led me first to myself.  I found that my legs had been waiting for me, ready to work hard.  I found that my lungs were tired, but they rejoiced at the first breath of cold, fresh air. I found my voice growing steady and my heart beginning to heal.  For the first time in a long time, it felt right to be me.

But those two steps also led me to him.  To a man who I never felt indebted to because he didn’t define me.  A man who never made me question who I was or what I wanted in life. A man who was my equal from the start, who never made me feel less than.  A man that I never felt that I needed, but instead that I wanted.

The following December we traveled to Chicago together to ring in 2017. I felt loved every second that he was by my side, but equally happy when I was by myself.  I know when it comes to healing, time has been on my side.  I can now remember the days of pineapple upside-down cake and smile.  I can share memories of my dad with him and I see the same patience in his eyes. I can remember all that my dad had done for me and my family and I can be proud instead of sad.  It has taken me so long to realize that my father truly did raise a strong, independent woman.

I am also proud to say that this year we will be ringing in the new year as husband and wife.

And I know my dad would have loved him.


Happy Birthday, Daddy!

And Happy New Year to the rest.





It’s been almost 10 years since I last played Canasta.

It was an early Saturday morning, I’m sure.  Mom and the boys were most likely still sleeping.  Dad had woken me up with the smell of his daily dose of hazelnut coffee.  Sleepy-eyed, yawning and wrapped up in a blanket, I meandered into the kitchen to join him.  Sitting at the kitchen table of our cottage, he was already deep into a game of solitaire.  Happy to have some company, he shuffled the cards back up and pulled out the Canasta Deck.

“Should we play?” he asked quietly.

“Sure”  sixteen-year-old me replied as I snuggled into the chair across from him.

He dealt us each 11 cards and that was it.  We probably played the game until the rest of our family woke up.  My mom probably made bacon and eggs and toast. After breakfast, we probably each retreated back to our own corners of the house to read books from the library.  A family of quiet, sensitive introverts finding peace in Northern Michigan.

Ten years later, I found my dad’s old deck.  The cards are worn, but somehow none have been lost.  The discard tray still reminds me of an ashtray and they still smell exactly like the cottage; slightly musty as if someone forgot how to open the window.  My boyfriend had never heard of this version of Canasta.  (Which I must say is exponentially better than the middle school version most people know). This version of Canasta involves planning and patience and math, which is probably why I love it so much.

But then it hit me that I had completely forgotten the game’s complexity.  It had taken me years of watching my brothers, aunts, and father play before I fully understood the flow.  I was out of practice and my memory was failing me.  After the initial shock of realizing how much time had passed wore off, I googled the instructions.

And I remembered each step with vivid detail.  I remember asking questions when it didn’t make sense.  I remember my father’s patience in explaining each part to me. I remember begging my brothers to play so we could have teams of two.  I remember my mom telling us to put it away because it was almost time for dinner and we needed to set the table.

I remember my family at its best.

My dad may no longer be here to patiently answer my questions, but I feel blessed to have to opportunity to continue his tradition.  To patiently teach my own family not only how to play the game, but how to come together and be our family at its best.

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