November 4, 2015

Real Romance

My sweet romance-writing friend, Nichole Chase, asked me to participate in her Real Romance week celebrating real life love with fun stories and giveaways all week. Look for #RealRomance on your favorite social media site; tell (and hashtag) your own story for a chance to win stuff!

I posted the following story about my own real life love several years ago, just before I published Easy, and thought this was the perfect excuse to resurrect it. Enjoy!

The school year had just started. I was a high school junior. I'd been dating a guy all summer, and tragically, he'd just moved 500 miles away. Since neither of us were licensed drivers yet (he was a year younger), and our dates consisted of parents dropping us off at the theater or the mall, I'd never met his best friend, Paul. That first week of the new school year, I was talking to a friend at the end of the day while waiting for my ride. "Hey, there's Paul," my friend said, gesturing to a guy I recognized only because I'd looked up his picture in last year's yearbook.

Paul walked over, and our mutual friend asked him if he'd met me. "No, I haven't," he said, sticking out his hand. I blinked in surprise and gave him my hand. "Nice to meet you," he said, giving me a firm, gentle shake. The little black and white photo in that yearbook hadn't done justice to his huge brown eyes or the dark, thick lashes that I would have gleefully murdered someone for. I noticed these things, but I was in love with the boy who was 500 miles away, and Paul was missing his best friend. We bonded over our mutual loss, and became good friends ourselves.

That entire school year, I carried on a torturous long distance relationship, exchanging letters and short phone calls with my boyfriend. We talked once a week for thirty minutes, because that's all we could afford. Using the phone to call out of state was still one step ahead of the telegraph, mainly used for sending word of catastrophic emergencies or announcing births. Long distance was not for lovesick 15 and 16 year olds chatting.

By the end of the school year, the strain was wearing on us both. We'd only seen each other twice in nine months. We almost broke up, but for Paul, who called each of us and mediated until we were talking to each other, crying and apologizing for losing faith in our relationship. The patch-up lasted two and a half months, and then it was all over. A year to the day from when he moved away, my boyfriend and I called it quits. I was devastated.

What I knew about Paul after eleven months: He was incredibly intelligent. He took advanced math classes and Latin, and his vocabulary put 99% of the adults I knew to shame. His wardrobe consisted of concert T-shirts (the likes of Nazareth and Ozzy and Judas Priest), baseball tees, and flannel shirts. His jeans were worn and no name brand. His shoes had the swooshes ripped off of them. His hair was very dark, always a little too long, always hanging in his eyes, and poker straight. The combination of all of that and his bedroom eyes drove the girls crazy.

Not all the girls. The bad girls. The girls who smoked in the bathroom and partied on the weekend. They thought he was HOT, and he returned the sentiment.

Since I'd been off-limits as his best friend's girl, I'd been weirdly privy to all the dirty details. Half the time we spent on the phone, we were laughing and talking about teachers or parents or siblings, swapping childhood stories and sharing our plans for the future. The other half, he was telling me what he'd done over the weekend... while I sat on my end of the line with my mouth hanging open. He was the worst kind of Bad Boy. The smart kind. Those poor girls never had a chance.

Fast forward to the second week of school - his junior year, my senior year. Paul and I had bonded even closer over the summer, especially after the breakup, when I often needed someone to talk to. Our homerooms were both out in the "shacks" - those temporary buildings that spring up when school populations grow faster than school district budgets. We began a ritual day one: stand and talk until first bell, quick hug, go our separate ways.

On this particular Friday, we were talking about the dates we had planned that night. I'd gone out with the guy I was seeing a couple of times, and Paul was going out with someone new (no surprise there - most of his dates were someone new). The bell rang, and we automatically wrapped up our final sentences and hugged. And then, to this day I have no idea how or why, he turned his head and I turned mine and he kissed me.

Broad daylight, 8:30 AM, people definitely around. No date, no reason, no excuse, no nervousness beforehand, no warning. It wasn't a peck, either. The second his mouth touched mine, it was like we were made to kiss each other. His lips were soft, warm, knowledgeable. His arms were already around me; he kept one at my lower back and slid the other up under my hair to my neck. I didn't know or care where we were. I just hung on for dear life.

And then it was over, and we were both in utter shock. "Why'd we do that?" he asked once we could breathe and speak.

"I don't know," I answered.

The second bell rang; we were both late to first class.

"See you later," I said, and stumbled away, smiling.

"Yeah," he said.

Halfway to the building, I glanced over my shoulder. He was still standing there, watching me go.

It took a while longer for us to get everything together. I didn't want to settle down to anyone so quickly after having my heart broken. He scared me. I wasn't attracted to bad boys, and I'd seen firsthand how he treated girls. I'd lectured him about it enough times, while he made smartass comments that made me laugh and try to tell him he wasn't funny.

"Then why are you laughing?" he'd say.

I knew this bad boy. I wanted so much to be his exception, but I was the one who came around slowly, and he was the patient one, waiting out all of my doubts.

That first kiss was wrong place, wrong time, wrong reason - which, as far as we could tell, was "because." But all of those wrongs added up to a right. It's still right - multiple kids, moves, fights, makeups, mortgages and pets later - thanks to just enough love and passion to sustain it all for nearly three decades. And always, that kiss of his that makes me melt in all the right ways.

September 5, 2015

The Face of Disillusionment

This past week, like many people around the world, I was horrified over the photos of the lifeless Syrian toddler who, along with his brother and mother, drowned while attempting to flee to a safer home. (Warning: the photos are highly disturbing.) His tiny body washed ashore in Turkey, and the world was forced to face the reality of what it means to be a truly powerless refugee.

Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

Upon further investigation, I found that over half of the 4 million plus (registered) Syrian refugees are children. Unsurprisingly, this is true of refugees everywhere, and the worldwide figures are staggering. I considered what it would take to tear my family from our home, to leave belongings that couldn't be carried, along with family and friends who would not or could not go, and to risk the loss of everything - up to and including life itself - all in search of a safer existence. As unimaginable as that seems to someone like me, I know one thing. This is not a decision people make on a whim.

This is the crucial point - when the face is the mirror is disillusioned and frustrated. The temptation to harden your heart in light of the seeming impossibility to make any kind of difference is strong. The excuses flood in: Leave the volunteering to people who don't have careers just taking off or families to support. Leave the donations to the wealthy and the government and all those tax dollars your hard work already provides. You can't help everyone, and besides, you aren't really sure what's going on and who's really on the receiving end of all those aid efforts anyway.

On the receiving end are people in need of the most basic necessities. Food. Shelter. Clothing. Jobs. Medical care. Homes. Yes, it's a good idea to educate yourself as much as possible, and you may feel more comfortable donating closer to home. But we don't have to understand every aspect of a fellow human being's plight to know they need help and to offer whatever assistance we can.

What could you give up over the course of one month? Could you ditch a bad habit (like smoking) and give part of what you save on cigarettes to improve someone else's life? What if one day every week you pack a lunch instead of heading for the drive-thru, or skip one trip to Starbucks? "That's only like ten or twenty bucks per month," you say. "How the hell is that going to actually help anyone?"

I understand - but stick with me.

What if twenty percent of your Instagram followers did the same thing? What if twenty percent of my Twitter followers did? Or twenty percent of the 72,845,934 people who follow Justin Bieber on Facebook? The latter would add up to over $1.7 billion in one year at $10/month each. No joke.

This is how we help, then. We bind together. Please check out the organization links below, and think about that ten bucks per month. Don't be afraid to check the "other" box and fill it in. That $10 is important, not only to the recipients, but to challenge your own fear about being a drop in the bucket. Be a drop. There are millions more where that came from, and together, we can do something good.

July 28, 2015

Sweet on Audible

Sweet - narrated by Christy Romano as Pearl and Zachary Webber as Boyce - released today on Audible! Happy listening to my audiobook readers! :)