Today I turn 24. And I am paralyzed. I can’t stay here any longer no matter how much I mentally will the clock to stop ticking and am filled with heartache at the thought of moving any further. 23 was the most heartbreaking, formidable, crushing, inspirational and incredible year of my life. I don’t know how I can possibly feel all of these things about one single year, but here we are. I don’t want to leave 23 because I started this wonderful adventure of working for myself and not knowing what exactly I wanted this jacket painting/lettering/freelancing thing to be, only knowing that putting any limitations on this path would impede its potential. I don’t want to leave 23 because of the fact that I followed through and put no restrictions on myself or my art, I was afforded the opportunity to work with so many lovely clients and companies, all of whom have helped propel my career farther and faster than I ever could have dreamed. (So if you’re reading this and I’ve painted for you, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart and hope that you’ll continue on this journey with me.) I don’t want to leave 23 because I know it can’t stay like this, painting/organizing/planning everything myself and I want to stay in this newborn phase of my career as long as I possibly can. I know I will eventually have to hire others and it scares me. And most importantly, I don’t want to leave 23 because I was 23 the last time I spoke to, hugged, kissed, held, talked to, laughed with, cried with, and everything in between with my grandmother. I am turning 24 today and she is not here to call me first thing in the morning and wish me happy birthday, or give me a card with her doodles on the envelope that my cousins and I loved so much. My strong, dynamic, bright and beautiful grandmother ended her battle with lung cancer this past September. For those that don’t know, she was my best friend, my life. And with each day that passes, I feel further and further away from her. Details start to soften, what if I forget what she smells like? What if I forget the way her hands felt when I held them?
23 started off rocky. I felt lost, a foreign feeling to me. I’d always been so sure of myself and my decisions, no noted regrets. I found myself doubting my choice to leave my day job and freelance until I figured out what I wanted to specialize in artistically. Jobs applied for not coming to fruition, inner frustration, and people projecting their notions and expectations on me about where I should be (which I had been fiercely rejecting) slowly started seeping into my psyche. Maybe it was a mistake? Why did I do this? All the while not realizing that if I hadn’t been freelancing and working on a schedule that fit me, I wouldn’t have been able to spend as much time with my grandmother, whose chemo therapy proved less effective with each treatment. I realize that if I had gotten a 9-5 position, I wouldn’t have been able to see her as much as I did or spend her last 10 days with her or be sitting at the end of her hospital bed when she passed on, something that no amount of money, time, or work experience would ever be worth. This perceived failure was priceless.
I truly believe I was being held back for a reason. Hours after the woman that babysat me everyday for the first 14 years of my life passed away, I got an email for a jacket commission that would jumpstart my lettering and jacket career and put me “on the map,” so to say. This job would singlehandedly catapult my work and I into a flurry of jobs, mentions, and attention. And yes, I do think without a shadow of a doubt that it was her sending that opportunity to me to push me into the next chapter of my life.
And while the attention and amazing reception of my work has been something I never would have imagined and often have to pinch myself about daily, I still have a gaping hole in my heart. How can I go from being over the moon seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar wear one of my jackets to having my chest seize up when I think about how badly I want to call her and tell her I love her and and thank her and tell her that all of this is a direct result of her faith and support in me, which never wavered, even when others’ did. But she knows all of this. I’m sure of it. And it comforts me slightly knowing that I have no regrets about her death. Sometimes when people die, their person and life are glorified by the living, but I talk about her the same way I did when she was here. And I know that I was there. I was always there for her. I talked to her every single day of her sickness (and everyday before that), and I look back with love because our relationship on this earth was perfect, and it continues to be now. I feel her all around me sending me signs and inspiration.
Her death has been the most tragic loss. And I can honestly say that after 225 days of my grandmother not being here, it gets worse everyday. Everyday it sinks in a little more, everyday I feel farther away, everyday I’m being ripped from her even more and there is nothing I can do about it. There are days where I have to talk myself through the next half hour, only to start over again. I’ve tried to put on a brave face and pretend I’m okay, which has only hurt me more. When you act like you’re okay, no one understands why the rose on the window sill makes you tear up, why you’re cranky because you're exhausted from being up late staring at the wall and ripping yourself apart in grief, why at any moment, you’re an inch away from bursting into tears because the simplest tasks become painful. And while I feel of all this, HARD, every single moment of everyday, I also feel awestruck and incredibly lucky that my I've found my sense of purpose again and that each day I get to do what I love. It’s amazing to me how this year has brought out the the most extreme ends of the emotion spectrum. How life can be so lovely and tragic at the same time? The juxtaposition of giving me my best and worst year in one has me feeling grateful and angry at all times. I find solace in trying to incorporate and include her in everything I do, artistically and not. My family’s symbol for her is the rose, so I made my logo an L growing into a rose, I write to her, talk to her, picture her reaction to a certain jacket or design, what her style advice would be, but it doesn’t fill the hole.
If it wasn’t for this loss, I wouldn’t know true character of so many around me. People I thought would be there for me through anything were nowhere to be found while so many others surprised me with their constant thoughtfulness and kindness. I now know who I can depend on, who deserves my energy and attention, and who I want to invest my love in. To all of the people around me that have checked in on me, sent love and prayers, and supported me business wise or personally through these 7 months, you know who you are and the special place you hold in my heart.
Everyday is hard. Today has shown me how loved I am and my heart feels the fullest it has in a long time, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it will be hard to leave my bed tomorrow morning. I was taught by her to get back up after being pushed down. And after watching the strongest woman I know persevere and show the fuck up throughout her 8 months of sickness, I know that no matter how awful, tired, beat, and sad I feel that I need to show the fuck up too. And I will, for her, until I can do it for myself.
I want to go into my 24th year appreciating and accepting all of the conflicting feelings that I have. I need to be less harsh on myself and remember that it’s okay to not be okay right now. I want to continue to incorporate her into every decision I make and honor her memory by living purposefully and thoughtfully. I need to remember that as bad as things may be, everything is temporary. And that while my heart is no longer here, I can’t deny how wonderful this life can be.