30 December 2016

The Year of Balance, 2016: A Year in Review

"I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade." -Hattie White in Lemonade

The last photo I took of Igor and Sabine together. September 9, 2016.

The Year of Balance, 2016: A Year in Review

I'd like to think of 2016 as a year of balance. But the truth is, it wasn't at all. Rather, it was full of navigating extreme ups and downs. There were months where I felt like life couldn't get any better. And, when that happened, life was fucking fantastic. But then, there were months, where I felt like life couldn't get any worse. During those months, I lost all sense of balance. Reflecting on the entirety of the year, I think the biggest lesson that I learned was the need to find balance, particularly in those dark days. Especially, in those dark days. Toward the end of this year, I started to find my way back to balance. I started to find that inner strength, that I know I always have, but I often forget when things go to shit.

I think it will always be difficult for me to remember this year without thinking of it as the year that I lost my #catpilots. When I reflect upon the year, I tend to forget everything else that happened. I forget the amazing way I started the year. I forget the great spring semester I had at school. I forget the fun of last summer. It seems all I can remember is September 12th and 20th, the days I lost Igor and Sabine, respectively. It feels like the only thing that happened was the loss of Igor and Sabine. But, I think it is that way with loss. It consumes so much of everything else around it. I forget the nine months of the year that I shared with them before I lost them.

And, I forgot all the other amazing things that took place this year. I think it is really important for me to also remember the people and places that I feel gratitude towards from the past year. It is all these moments that made up 2016, and here they are, with the intention of remembering balance:

1. New Years in Vegas with Rami. Last year when I wrote the end-of-the-year blog, Rami and I were about to take off to Vegas for our NYE celebration. It was his first time to visit Vegas. We made the road trip from Flagstaff to Vegas. It was fantastic to watch his eyes light up as we entered the city. And, later that evening, we got dressed in our finest and made our way to the Nicki Minaj show. It was a dream come true for me to see Nicki perform. But, the best part was spending the evening with this amazing man and all our little inside jokes from the night...drinking rose, fireworks and missed countdown kisses, getting lost, gambling, paying for free drinks, and "THAT BUTT" signs. Being with the person I love so dearly on the new year ultimately was one of the best NYE's I've ever had. 

2. Therapy and Recovery. I won't say that it's easy to be in a new relationship, while you are still in recovery. But, my time with my therapist is still one of the most positive things I've ever done in my life. Without her guidance and encouragement, I don't think I would have had the courage to do the hard work that it took to get to where I am today. And while this isn't a new aspect of this year, I think its important to acknowledge the continued hard work we do together.

3. Oakland and 40th Birthday. One of the things hardest about being so far away from my friends and family is when you have big celebrations in your life. This year, I turned 40. Fucking 40. To me, this is a BIG birthday. And I was really nervous about celebrating, or rather, I was nervous about the fact I likely wouldn't be celebrating with most of the people I'm closest to in my life. But luckily, I have Yvonne. We went to Oakland for one of our annual conferences, and on our way back, she organized a whole night to celebrate my 40th in Tempe. I feel so very fortunate to have her in my life. One of my favorite memories from this day/evening was when I pulled a Rihanna in the pool with a swan float and a Bud Light. Keeping it #klassy, Everhart....even, in your 40s.

4. Graduation. The biggest highlight of my year. While I finished my dissertation and technically became Dr. Everhart at the end of last year, it was in May of 2016 that I had the chance to formally celebrate my graduation. As someone who has chosen not to be married or have children, it feels like there are few opportunities to celebrate your life choices. After a certain age, it is unlikely you'll have your entire family together celebrating you. So, for me, it was a HUGE deal that my entire family made their way to Nashville to attend my PhD graduation. While my mom had visited me once during my time at Vanderbilt, the rest of my family had not visited me in Nashville. So, it was amazing to have the whole group of them together in my favorite town. Also, my bestest friend, Ashley, made the trip to be with us. And IT WAS SHEER FUCKING JOY TO HAVE EVERYONE TOGETHER. We ate, drank, laughed, and celebrated. And everyone got to meet one another. I don't think I could ever explain to them how much it meant to me that they were there. While my dear friend Red wasn't at my official graduation, we got to spend some time together in the aftermath. Now, Red and I have a pretty hilarious relationship. We joke around with each other all the time. The night after my graduation, we sat together at the Germantown Pub. As we talked, he started crying and put his arms around me and told me how proud he was. That moment floored me, and will stay with me for the rest of my days.

5. Summer in Germantown and 8th Avenue North Market.  Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Nashville. With Rami's roommate back home in Egypt, I was able to stay with him. Not only that, I pretty much spent everyday with him at work at the 8th Avenue North Market. And outside of my everyday moments with him, I also got to spend so much time with my friends, like Allison, Robbie, Russell, Sandra, Carly, and all the amazing people of Germantown. It was lovely. Food. Baseball. Drinks. Late-Night Laughter. But my favorite moments were those mundane afternoons, when I'd run to Kroger to pick up a cheap sandwich for me and Rami to share for our lunch. We'd sit on the stools behind the glass at the store and have lunch. Or, maybe it was every night when we'd stock the cigarettes in the store together. Or, how I'd wait out front while he locked up the store and we'd find our way to the only bar still open for some late-night dinner. Or, that night when we ordered a pizza and watched a movie together. It was hell to leave Nashville after those three weeks.

6. Seattle. 

7. Visiting Ashley in Lafayette and Ashley's Visit to Flagstaff.  Ever since my first friend moved away from home, I've always felt it to be extremely important to make the trip to visit them in their new home. Mostly, I think it is about being able to visualize the places in which they move on a daily basis. You know,  they tell you, "I'm going to the coffee shop," and if you've visited, you can see them in your mind. You can see the scenery, you can imagine the route they take to walk there, and, it makes you feel a little closer to them. So, this summer, when I was in Nashville for three weeks, I decided to make the trip to Lafayette to visit Ashley. We had too much fun. But of course, she moved shortly thereafter, perhaps so she could get another visit out of me! But then, the biggest thing for me was when she came to visit me in Flagstaff. Since I've been in Flagstaff, none of my lady friends have been able to visit with me. Having her in Flagstaff started to change the town for me. We ran through the streets. We met new friends at the local restaurants. And she was able to see all the places I navigate. I realized just how important it is to me that my friends and family come to visit me in my place. I've said it before, but that girl is a treasure.

8. Loss.  There was all that loss. Igor. Sabine. My wedding. Some friendships. For a moment, my relationship. Some of this loss was about expectations. And, when I think about that kind of loss, I feel like I understand it. We often have to cut ourselves loose of expectations and all the "should's" of our lives in order to really figure out what we want in our lives. It opens the door for change and new things. But, you know, the loss of Igor and Sabine is really fucking hard to think about in that same way. As I honored them in their funerals and eulogies, I remembered how important it is to translate my grief into joy. The joy that I had from sharing 12-13 years of my life with these two amazing beings. But, its fucking hard. Yes, I'm happy they were with me. They brought so much joy. It's hard to be without them. But, I do realize how lucky I was to have them. I was lucky for them to live with me from Saint Julien Street in Charlotte to Seaview Street in North Myrtle Beach to 7th Avenue North in Nashville to Riordan Ranch Street in Flagstaff. I was lucky for every single moment we shared together. And that's the only way I know how to continue to process the loss and grief that comes from letting go of people, places, expectations, and a life that we may have imagined for ourselves. And then, open ourselves up to the next ones. The next cats. The next friends. The next phases of our life.



9. Teaching. My teaching career is always a source of joy for me. The students give me life. In this past year, it was a highlight to teach a couple of new classes. I had the chance to teach a graduate course in Qualitative Research Methods, which allowed me to meet a bunch of our graduate students and to end up chairing their thesis committees. Their colleagueship (and friendship) has been a light in my life. I also got to teach a course on the black feminisms of Beyonce and Nicki Minaj, in which I had the chance to observe 24 first-year women navigate their first semester of college. But more so, I was able to see them make such incredible process. The course was difficult, as any new course is to develop; but I'll never forget our challenges...and even more so, how kind they were to me as I navigated all the difficulty of this semester.

10. Fostering. Liam and Anna. Pirate and Lily. After the loss of Igor and Sabine, my life felt very lonely. Living across the country from most of my loved ones is difficult. But, having those two waiting for me when I got home always provided me with a sense of stability and belonging. When they were gone, everything felt more lonely and quiet and empty. But, fostering kittens has brought that joy back into my life. It isn't always easy. I'm learning the lessons of how to love something unconditionally, and even, maybe more importantly, how to be loved back unconditionally...and then, how to let go. But, to let go in a healthy way. When you don't have a history of harmony in relationships, you don't really know how to mourn and grieve and let go without it being full of broods and drunkenness. And so, the fostering is actually teaching me this lesson. It is teaching me a sense of balance. And every single time I drop them off to be adopted, I feel a tinge of sadness, but I also feel so optimistic about their lives to come. And for me, that's a really big step. To remember they will be okay without me, but, likely, much more importantly, to remember that I'll persevere without them. There will be another set. And one day, one day very soon I hope, there will my next #catpilots. And I'll start to rebuild my family, all over again.

As I write this, it is December 29th. I'm sitting at the dining room table at my mom's house. I've had the privilege of spending so much time with my family this holiday season. I also had the opportunity to drive down to see Michelle in her new home in Mt. Pleasant. Tomorrow, Rami is making his way to Charlotte to spend the next few days with me and my family. After the fact, I get to head to Nashville to see my friends and family in Nashville. Ultimately, life is good. I know it. But I also feel sad to close out this year without my two #catpilots. There are still things I want to be different in my life. I have things I'd like to change in the new year. But y'all know me, I never really like to lay out a bunch of resolutions. Rather, I think I'd just like to keep myself focused on the notion of balance. To find balance between my life and work, to find balance between the ups and downs, and more than anything, to remember to maintain balance when things go to shit. Because, undoubtedly, they will again.

Earlier tonight, my mom played this song for me. And I can't really think of a better song to summarize my emotional state at the end of this year.

A year from now, we'll all be gone, 
All our friends will move away,
And they're going to better places,
But our friends will be gone away.

Nothing is as it has been,
And I miss your face like hell,
And I guess it's just as well,
But I miss your face like hell.

Been talking about the way things change,
And my family lives in a different state,
And if you don't know what to make of this,
Then, we will not relate. 
So, if you don't know what to make of this, 
Then, we will not relate. 

Rivers and roads,
Rivers and roads,
Rivers 'til I reach you....

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