He chose to come home for Christmas, I kept reminding myself. He likes me. What had started out as a nice family dinner had gone disastrously wrong.
“I don’t feel well. I think I’ll just sleep,” He said. His olive skin had turned pale.
“Are you sure? The whole family is here, and my Aunt Katie and her family are coming, too.” I had been excited to have him meet more of my family.
There were three long banquet-type tables running the length of the house to accommodate my parents, four siblings and their spouses, my nieces and nephews and extended family.
“I’m really alright,” He said, swallowing.
I nodded and said, “Feel better,” before returning to the chaos of family holidays.
Why couldn’t he push through it? It was the holidays, and the entire family kept asking me “Where’s Mark?”
I tried to push the disappointment away, but the pit in my stomach just seemed to grow. I took a bite of my potatoes, then swirled my fork around the salad. That’s when I realized… It wasn’t a pit in my stomach.
My fork clinked against the table, and I caught the gaze of my brother Matt. His eyes betrayed him. He felt my same agony, and he wasn’t sure what to do either.
I walked to my mom, whispering I was headed to the basement to lie down. Matt was on my heels, nodding his intention to do the same.
It BECAME A SCENE FROM A NIGHTMARE. My mom banished the ill to the basement, and what had once been love and compassion between my brother, Mark, and me became a brutal fight to survive.
“Heather, I need the bathroom!” Mark pounded on the door. “HURRY!”
I was currently doing the double ended elimination technique– garbage can in hands while on the toilet. “Come back later, Mark. I can’t have you by the door right now.”
He pounded louder. “HURRY!”
When I opened the door, he was bent over rocking back and forth. At the sight of an open bathroom, he sprinted past me, almost running me over. He slammed the door on my heels.
I wish I could say it was over. And for Mark at least, it soon was. Matt and I weren’t so lucky. We camped out in the downstairs den and spent the night moaning from body aches and rushing to the restroom.
Mark camped out beside us, and nursed me and my brother. He cleaned out our garbage cans after we puked. It feels necessary to reiterate this. My college boyfriend cleaned up my and my brother’s vomit on his big Christmas visit with my family.
He heard and saw me at my very worst– and I mean worst. I was disgusting. I had purple bruises dotting underneath my eyes. My skin was white, my hair stringy and greasy. I smelled…feral (and that’s putting it lightly). I whined. I was anything but attractive.
And still he was there. He held my hair back, and he gave me water to swish.
I imagine many in his circumstances might act differently. “You know, this isn’t really working out. This whole trip was a good test run, and I think it’s time we went our separate ways. Get better, and while you’re at it– Take a shower. Put some makeup and deodorant on. Maybe I’ll see you around campus next semester.”
But this guy was different. After it was all said and done and we were driving back to school, Mark leaned toward the passenger seat.
Years ago, I sat in a college dorm room, ranting to my roommate about how horrible college boys were. I had just started my second semester of college with a new job (event planning), new classes (chemistry, biology, nutrition), and a new vision… No more dating.
She laughed at my resolution. I laughed at her laughter because I was determined to focus on other things.
I signed up a week and a half late for an Intro to Voice (Singing 101) class for an extra credit to keep my scholarship. It was in a strange building (now demolished) and in a strange part of campus. I had to look at a map to find it. And as I followed my route, I was lead to a deserted alley in the middle of a crowded campus. Walking down the gravel road, I sighed. It was January, and the sun was just dimming. I had been feeling trapped in Provo, trapped with people. I had no car, no place to escape the noise and busyness, and it was suffocating.
And then, there I was in an abandoned alley. I got to the bottom of the hill, and stopped. I was only ten feet away from a deer. I marveled, because a.) I’m a romantic, b.) I was severely missing nature, and c.) It surprised me.
There were footsteps behind me, tennis shoes against the gravel.
“Look, a deer!” I said, turning to meet the gaze of my oncoming companion.
He laughed, clearly amused. “Yep, it’s a deer.”
But he wasn’t laughing at the deer. He was laughing at me. I blushed, feeling embarrassed at my enthusiasm, and met his eyes– his golden brown eyes.
We shuffled around awkwardly.
He glanced at his map– obviously looking for the same building as me. “Intro to Voice in the KMB?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said.
He smiled again. “I think this is it.” He gestured to the building to his right (my left).
I swallowed and nodded, following him. Great start, I thought to myself. Now this guy thinks I’m “nature girl”.
The New Year brings hope. It’s like that curvy refresh button at the top of the screen. It reconnects me, and often I work better afterward. My 2018 word/motto is Rise. I want to rise to the challenges life has in store for me, rise to my goals, rise to greater strength and kindness, rise to a better version of myself.
My 2018 writerly goals:
Title and edit my new book that comes out this December (Eek! Surprise!). For now, I’ve been calling it Finding Elle, but I think that will change. It’s historical fiction, inspired by my favorite place in the world. It’s coming of age, with a touch of romance.
Write something new. My goal is to complete a draft of something new– something that stretches me. Perhaps a time period that requires more research, or one of the stories in my head that is a different genre… something different to better my writing and efforts.
Attend Storymakers Conference. This is my new annual party– a party with my sister and writer friends, a party learning my craft from the best, and a chance to reconnect with the potential of the stories in my head.
Support other writers. I hope to do more this year– review, critique, promotion– with the intent of helping others. I’m hoping to do a series of interviews on my blog with other authors.
Blog. I have many blog ideas, but I get timid. It’s vulnerable to share, at least for an introvert like myself.
Jay Dell Butler, Army Infantryman, World War II, Germany
“Our two machine guns and the company I was attached to were assigned to walk right straight toward town without shooting back. The other two companies were to go around on the west side and walk through the town shooting from the hip at anything that moved. This was at eleven o’clock at night. So we started toward that town and got pretty close to it. Then the other companies started walking through the town, shooting from the hip. When you get every man shooting, it doesn’t matter what he saw, he just shot.
“You could hear the roar of war. You just can’t imagine that sound.
“I saw the flame of his rifle, and with the rest of them (my company), I jumped in the ditch to get out of the rain of bullets. They were popping over our heads like firecrackers. As we got up to go, I looked to the right and saw another rifleman shooting at us. I saw the flame of his rifle.
“I got the bullet.
“Turning my head to the right saved me because the bullet touched my jaw, entering through the top of my shoulder. It went through me, but on it’s way– it broke my collar bone and top rib, my rib puncturing my left lung. The bullet split the shoulder blade in my back. So there I was in that ditch full of water. I couldn’t get up. I don’t know why, shock or something. The water was ice cold. Everybody had to leave me.
‘Lieutenant, I’m hit.’
‘Ahuh,’ he says.
“But they had to leave me, and I understood that. I didn’t feel bad that they’d go off and leave me out there in the middle of the field, because I knew they had to keep going. So I was left out there alone, in the dark, in that ice water, and I couldn’t see anything.”
We gather, singing songs, pledging our allegiance, and professing our gratitude. In our small town, it’s a community event, complete with music, speeches, essay contests. We are grateful.
But time lengthens the gap between the brutality of war, the history of our freedom. Besides those of us that know active military or grew up in a family of service members, most see it only in the pages of a history textbook, the portrayals of Pearl Harbor and the like.
War is ugly, and no matter how it ends– there are always consequences, far reaching ones.
Have you lived with the consequences? Do you think about the horror these boys (and now women) face(d)?
My Grandpa, the man who gave the account above, lived with the consequences everyday. You see, one of his arms was left paralyzed from the war.
He married after, even had six children, without the use of an arm.
He farmed, he worked as a butcher and custodian. Without the use of an arm.
True grit is rare, almost extinct in our day of technology and entitlement. But, I saw it. I saw my grandpa work in his meat shop (that he built with his own hand), heard stories of him lifting 350 lb. carcasses from the truck to his meat hook, all without the use of an arm. You see, he made do to survive. He took care of his family.
Did the war ever leave his mind, his memory? I don’t know, but by the time he was old, confined to a wheelchair, he spoke of the memories, the horror, as if it had happened only yesterday. War took so much more than his arm. Grandpa didn’t play the victim, but it didn’t matter. I knew it took more– possibilities for his future, serenity in sleep, double-armed embraces of his loved ones.
It’s a lot to take in. But we should try. We should try to understand the sacrifices, the purposeful placement in harms way of our veterans, all in pursuit of protecting our freedoms, our America.
Gratitude and debt don’t seem enough. But it will have to do.
We honor those that fought, and continue to fight, for our freedom, for our America. “Thank you” isn’t nearly enough. We love you. We pray for you and yours.
Hey friends. I’ll be at the Sandy, UT Barnes and Noble this Saturday from 1-4pm signing books. I’d love to see you, signs some books, or just chat! It’s a great chance to get some Christmas shopping done; there should be around 40 other authors at the signing. Come say hi, grab a hot chocolate, and enjoy the weekend!
After straining my calf in a pickup volleyball game last night (yeah, I still think I’m eighteen), Mark gallantly carried me from the car to the house, which involved a flight of stairs. It brought to light two things:
He isn’t as strong as he once was.
I’m not as skinny as I once was.
There was way too much huffing coming from him when he carried me up the steps, like an offensive amount of huffing… but then he set me up in bed, wrapped my calf with an ace-bandage, and brought me medicine.
Sometimes I wonder what the secret to a happy marriage is. I have one, but why? How? Last night shed some light on this subject. Maybe the secret is life. Life throws nonstop curve balls, and maybe all that matters is that we swing, that we try. Maybe romance is all about swinging, trying to win it for the team. Whether that’s carrying your post-four-children wife up a flight of stairs or smiling through the pain of a silly I’m-not-eighteen-anymore leg injury, we have to swing.
We can’t ever stop, or we’ll strike out.
Enough deep thoughts for your Friday night. Let’s get down to the point of this post: I’ll be down a lot this next week writing, I mean recovering. Enjoy your weekend!
Excitement is overflowing around here for my new book, The Forgotten Girl. It won’t be available until February, but preorders will be happening soon, and to kick it off, I’ll be releasing some beautiful photos with quotes from the book. Along with that, will be another book trailer. And I promise, it’s so awesome! Amanda Conley Photography did INCREDIBLE!
I’ve been down for the past week recovering from jaw surgery. What a doozy, I tell you.
Someone texted me last week, “Was it as bad as you thought it would be?”
It wasn’t the right moment for such a question. I was on strong meds, barely able to squeeze a condiment bottle of tomato soup between my numb and dysfunctional lips. My jaw bone throbbed, resulting in an excruciating headache, and my neck and lower back were aching from the anesthetic and surgery. It might sound like I’m being a tad bit dramatic. But I’m not.
It took every ounce of restraint to respond rationally. It was a concerned family member, for goodness sake. But I couldn’t help add a touch of snarky. “Well, the doctor cut off half my face and screwed it back together, and it feels like it.”
Anyways…back to what this post is about. NETFLIX.
Netflix has really come through for me during this time. It’s been my shoulder to cry on, so to speak. I have spent more hours than I could count binging on series and such. And I’ve come to understand a fundamental truth– Romance movies, or rather romance stories, are not created equally.
Romance stories (at least the ones I’m going to discuss) fall in 1 of 2 categories:
Whole Wheat Romance- these are the stories that nourish, leave you thinking. These stories have realistic characters, ones you become invested in. Real romance stories are like a homemade chocolate chip cookie (the good kind, like my friend Becca makes). They are perfectly delicious, made of the real stuff… and no matter how many I eat, I NEVER regret it. I just want more. (Becca… if you are reading this… I can eat milk-soaked chocolate chip cookies in my current state… just saying).
White Bread Romance- these are the stories made for binging, made for an occasional viewing– the type that usually leave viewers feeling indulged… and slightly disappointed with themselves. The iconic example is any movie made by Hallmark (GUYS, I LOVE Hallmark). Like cheap Little Debbie snacks (I Love these too) or a cheap Chinese-American buffet (Guilty again), these stories seem like a good choice in the moment. So many trans fats and sugars, so much oil…
So, in an ode to all that is good in the Real Romances, I’ve compiled a list of my TOP 10 WHOLE WHEAT ROMANCES, accompanied by their less worthy, less effort-watching partner, the WHITE BREAD ROMANCES… Let me know if you agree, and heaven forbid, I hope I don’t misplace one of your beloved stories….But remember, we all have weaknesses (one Little Debbie type snack). I’m a self-proclaimed expert now, thanks to my broken jaw and countless hours of binging.
DRUM ROLL… in no particular order…and with clips for your enjoyment…Whole Wheat vs. White Bread…
Far and Away vs. P.S. I love you
Like most girls, Ireland holds a piece of my heart… and so it would seem any romance with Ireland would be the real deal. Not the case, not the case. While P.S. I Love You brings the waterworks, it isn’t in a good hormonal-cleanse sort of way. Nope, it’s in a cry ‘til your sick sort of way. And nobody needs to do that. Watch a real love story– not the heartbreak of one. Also, it’s one of the actually good Tom Cruise films.
Pride and Prejudice vs. Lost in Austen
Not all Austen adaptations are created equal, but I’m wise enough to avoid that debate. *cough, cough* That aside, there are numerous spinoffs of Austen’s work. Don’t fall for it, don’t go for the lazy attempts. Go for the real thing, the real stories with real characters and real lessons vs. the fantasies of a fourteen year old girl who RUINS everything about this beloved tale. Darcy was made for Elizabeth.
While You were Sleeping vs. ANYTHING on Hallmark during the Holidays
If you need to go for a lighthearted romance, that’s fine. There can still be merit in romcoms. But let’s talk about Hallmark. I know… I know… I KNOW. I do it, too. Every holiday I find myself fall prey to the promise of lighthearted Christmas miracles and romance heroes (usually some retired baseball player or beyond handsome small town homeboy). I love them. I really do, but they end in a predictable way. I recommend a Christmas romcom alternative– perhaps While You were Sleeping.
Anne of Green Gables vs. When Calls the Heart series
Historical series have my heart. I, too, have watched When Calls the Heart. It felt so harmless at first… but then the series kept going on and on and on and on… until the plot got forced and the real romance was lost. It only took one watch of Anne of Green Gables to remind me of why it trumps all others… hopefully this clip will convince you, too.
Age of Adaline vs. The Lake House
Age of Adaline surprised me. It shouldn’t have. I adore Blake Lively. But anyways… if you happen to be in a mood for time-defying romance, please, I’m asking you to choose Age of Adaline over The Lake House. Please.
You’ve Got Mail vs. She’s All That
Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are classic. Their on-screen chemistry is so real, and I can’t help but love them. Any of the 90s romcoms– She’s All That, Never Been Kissed, etc, they have NOTHING on the classic Ryan-Hanks stories. They resembled fast food. Don’t do it. There’s a better choice.
Tangled vs. Snow White
I had to put a Disney in here, because I love Disney. If you want your children to think love is about a chance meeting at a wishing well, followed by true love’s kiss… be my guest. But, I’d opt for the real kind of love– the type Flynn Rider offers Rapunzel by sacrificing himself to free her. Mmmmhmm.
Sweet Home Alabama vs. Twilight
If you are craving a love triangle, there are a plethora of options. If you need something that transcends reality also, you’ve still got options (Just Like Heaven). Reese Witherspoon brings a realness to her characters that’s absent from any character of Twilight. And, you won’t have an indulgent hangover the next morning.
How to lose a guy in 10 days vs. Anything Nicholas Sparks
I know this one is controversial. But with the exception of The Notebook (and even that one is debatable…I’m not a huge fan), Sparks’ stories are indulgent, weak love stories. They almost all seem to deal with infidelity or affairs and infatuation. It’s rarely worth your time. If you’re looking for contemporary, opt for a Kate Hudson or, dare I say it, Matthew McConaughey flick. My husband would die of he heard that (he can’t stand these type of rom coms). But it’s true. You’ll get more of the real thing than you will with Sparks.
Under The Greenwood Tree vs. Titanic
A privileged lady with different options… will she choose the rich one or the poor one? It’s a classic quandary. But, if you want one that is based on real love and in real life time, choose this period piece Under the Greenwood Tree. You won’t regret it, and you won’t be covering your youngen’s eyes.