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By my fifth birthday in July of 1993, I already knew how to fold a cardboard box closed, without the added cost of tape. On a rough count, I’ve moved almost as many times in my life as the number of years I’ve been alive. I have never owned a house. I’ve never owned anything, really.
The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation called it a ‘hardship transfer’, so I got to stay in the same district no matter how many address change forms my Mama filled out between kindergarten and 8th grade. The Washington Post called my high school the 10th most challenging in America, but my honor roll status didn’t really matter when there was no funding for a cafeteria. By my sophomore year, I was tired of walking to the grocery store with food stamps just to pack myself carrot sticks for lunch, so I applied for a work permit through the EVSC and began wearing a headset at McDonald’s from 4-9pm every night. Employed at 15 and earning the minimum wage of $5.35 per hour, I still struggled to buy a shitty $300 car in hopes of learning to drive, but I could finally afford Chick-fil-A lunch with all the rich doctors’ kids.
Before I was old enough to test for my driver’s license, there were days nobody ‘felt like’ taking me to school. Without a public transit system or support for charter school buses in my all-American, automobile-economy hometown, my absences started to add up and my decade of straight A’s dropped to F’s. The counselor gave me two things: first, a choice (I could lose some credits and retake some courses, or I could transfer to public school) and second, a subtle but clear confirmation — I did not belong. At 16, I dropped out of public school after only two months with torn blue jeans, spikes on my belt, and the words ‘fuck you’ on the tip of my tongue. I would have never looked back. There was just one problem – I forgot my heart, and realized years too late that I’d accidentally left it in an English class.
What frustrates me now, and makes me laugh, is that I have written this part — the romantic part about our eyes meeting across the room and universes colliding and stars exploding and stuff — a million times over 12 years, in a million ways in a million emails and a million 140 character texts and a million late night conversations over beers and later, crying babies. And now I don’t feel like any words in my vocabulary are powerful enough anymore. I wrote about it at 5am on Myspace, when we woke up early to send each other novel length letters, fascinated with this one moment we had shared. I wrote about it in my journals. I wrote about it in my head, every single day of my life on this earth from that moment until this one where I sit and breathe and type these inadequate words that can’t possibly describe what it’s like to catch a glimpse of your soul inside of someone else. We spent the summer trying to make sense of it then, kissing in cars and trying to keep cool at punk shows. We made plans, in one of our early morning chats at 16, to run away to Vegas. A delightfully tacky wedding with an Elvis song, and a honeymoon in a cheap motel with vibrating beds and pink flamingos on the lawn. Then we’d play music or be artists or strip and swindle til we were rich, and live happily ever after on the road. We were only half joking at the time, trying to understand this thing called love before we understood life itself.
In the summer of 2005, we chose fear.
I know now, what fear looks like in John’s eyes. Our son was only minutes old and crying, and I was bleeding too fast, and there was too much life leaving my body. For just a split second, I saw it. But I also know now, that with him by my side, we can conquer fear. On a quiet Sunday morning in October of 2016, the baby was sleeping in his bassinet and the other three children began jumping on the bed while we sipped coffee on the porch. The moment we heard the fall, my lungs and logic stopped working despite our rush inside. All I could see were so many of the small hands I had created, all covered in blood, gushing from the back of my toddler’s little head. I froze, and I panicked. John cradled my face in his hands and brought me back. I had to take him to the ER, I had to do something immediately, he was not a legal guardian, he could not fix this, he could not save me. I had to do it, and he would be my strength. Like every time before in our friendship, he reassured me in a moment of fear that I could handle anything. In his eyes, I have found trust. I have found that all choices are made out of love or out of fear, and I have found that love conquers fear. And above all else in life, you can trust that.
We don’t have any photos of us during our teen years. Not even one. Though we wrote hundreds of thousands of words to each other over what feels like dozens of lifetimes, we don’t have a record of those either, most of them erased on old devices and platforms as technology progressed. Some of them erased to be hidden, when the words made us blush and the truth came out, crossing the lines of friendship and distance. But we’ve learned from that – we don’t need things, we need each other. And those lines are long fucking crossed, thankfully. Almost two years ago, I spent months alone, packing all of my belongings into cardboard boxes, remnants of a life I had built in Miami Beach that had crumbled around me. It was the longest I had ever lived in one place at one time, so closets and garages were overflowing with everything you acquire when you are stuck in routines. Each box had a label. Some like “kids toys” and “living room decor”and “shoes” and a lot more like “misc” and “keepsakes” and “kitchen tools” and “other stuff” and “____ collection” and none of them had a label like “things I need to prepare myself for a blurry divorce and surviving as a young single mom in southern Indiana during the MAGA campaign” But they all went in a moving truck, and took up thousands of dollars and hours of my time, loading it in Florida and unloading it here a week later. And a month later, I loaded those boxes into more trucks, and unloaded them into a house already full of things. So the boxes I packed months earlier sat with John’s boxes in our shed, and in closets, while we lived our lives.
Though it feels like years to me, it was only a couple months ago that I told you I was writing a book, and beginning an Instagram photo project called #forgottenamerica. ‘We belong here,’ I dreamed aloud with poetic rabbit holes about the beauty of the midwest and how muddy water runs through our veins. See, I spent the last year and a half of my life writing, researching, and taking photographs of this place, living through the election in a trailer park full of Trump signs and studying politics. I was trying to find myself, too, here in my hometown. I disappeared from social media almost entirely, and from a social life at all really, just to focus on writing my story. We changed our lifestyle completely, multiple times, including jobs and childcare and schedules, all in preparation for sharing my hard work. My agent was sending my proposal out, and publishers were interested, and I just needed to write a little bit more, and come back full time to social media. All the photos were edited and ready to go, stories ready to publish. And then I just… didn’t…do…anything.
Everything is just so political lately, and everyone has been so loud. It’s hard to feel like speaking up is worth it when it takes so much effort to make sure your voice is heard. And I was just so tired. I am tired of carrying so much with me, and I am tired of being devalued both as a millennial and as a mother, and I am tired of fighting. I am tired of cooking processed food and shuttling children to and from schools that teach bullshit common core with watered down science and music and art. I am tired of being responsible for so many things when I am not respected for the work that I do. I’m tired of washing so many fucking loads of laundry, and of keeping an inventory of what clothes fit who in what gender-specific color, and I’m tired of caring who will treat us differently with our tattoos and gauged ears depending on what church crowd is at the grocery store that weekend. I’m tired of living in a place where creativity and technology are cute hobbies at best and I will forever be treated like a delinquent teenage babysitter. I’m tired of not being able to breathe the humid, dirty air here, and I’m tired of not being able to trust the water when we live two blocks from a dump and 20 from the most polluted waterway in the United States. I’m tired of being the only one who fucking cares. And I was freaking out over the idea of staying here another 5, 2, even 1 year to write a book about it. I’m tired of being the only one who does anything, who takes action.
So I didn’t do anything. I froze, and I panicked. John cradled my face in his hands and brought me back.
We took a hard look at our life choices and all the intricate details of why we believe what we know to be true in our hearts, and made a promise to eachother that from that moment on, we would only do what feels right. We told everyone we didn’t have a plan except to not have a plan, and no one believed us. Because it seems reckless, I suppose, from the outside. Because there are too many what-ifs. Because there is so much in the world to fear, and because for some, that fear is crippling. It is only when you learn to trust the choices you make out of love that you can be unafraid. It’s only when you can recognize how uncomfortable you feel, and how tired you are from carrying so many toxic things, and memories, and thoughts with you, that you can feel happy.
Under the light of the next full moon, we packed away nearly all of our material possessions to be sold or given away. All of those boxes, everything we have carried. On a Saturday in June, we thanked each junk-and-Jesus loving person who came to our yard sale taking our belongings off of our hands. We’ve spent the last two weeks sorting through what remained — the keepsakes, the necessities, the beloved stuffed animals, and more things to be sold or given away. And now what we will own fits in our truck. And the essentials we need to raise our children, and their special belongings, will fit in our SUV. Without a single cardboard box to ship or pack or store or hold us back.
And in less than two weeks, we’ll be driving them both out to the west coast. We might settle in Seattle (where we are stopping first), but then again, who knows, maybe we’ll buy an RV next week, or end up backpacking Alaska the week after that. We are choosing to live an intentional, minimal life, and with that, we want every item we own, every purchase we make, and every experience we have to have some sort of purpose. Even if that purpose is enjoyment, even if we just find something beautiful, it serves us. We are choosing good vibes, and positive energy, and letting go of toxic parts of our life that no longer serve us, or that we feel belong in one place and shouldn’t be carried with us. I know we sound like fucking hippies but, well… it is what it is.
So we’re moving to the west coast. But that is not really the announcement…wait.
We’re Getting Married!
We’ve decided to become husband and wife along the way, without a fuss, and without a real plan, other than to celebrate our love. We don’t want our family and friends to waste $30k on stupid dresses and Tupperware sets, and for godssake please do not buy me a fucking Kitchenaid mixer (do you know how good it felt to get rid of that thing?). So in lieu of a traditional wedding with a frivolous registry, we’re asking for your support of our lifestyle and what makes us happy.
Because life is too short, and we believe that it should be lived to the fullest. Because we want to see the world, and we want to offer our talents to bigger and better things than struggling for hope and playing house in the heartland. Because we have been fed the American dream since birth, and we have busted our asses earning degrees and paying taxes into broken systems, and even with cards stacked against us, we worked our way to the sweet spot of upper middle-class success only to find that it was all a lie. Because we are best friends and we laugh for hours about nonsense and even we can’t make this shit we call American parenting enjoyable, so we’re calling bullshit. Because we believe there is an important difference in the “low cost of living” and the actual cost of existing in a stagnant jobless wasteland working at a chemical corporation and fighting against conservative oppression for another twenty years. Because the pressure to be perfect destroys lives, and because we believe in ourselves. Because we are meant for so much more. Because we want a better life for our children, who will grow into beautiful artists and scientists and musicians. Because we believe in creativity, and because we fucking want to, damnit.
Because we can’t choose fear anymore, we choose love.