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After a particularly difficult summer abroad through DukeEngage, I arrived at CAPS with more anxiety than I knew what to do with. My therapist’s office was sunny and warm, with one of those deep, stylish couches, probably made for very tall men. Someone my height either has to lay way back or put their feet up to reach the cushion in the back.
Nothing comforts me more than marking time. I love routine, love the assurance of waking up at the same time every day. I love looking through a calendar with certainty. It will always go like this: Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, New Year’s. After forty days of wintery Lent will always come Easter. Every year, no matter what. Like clockwork.
There was a window on a quiet street in South Carolina with its shutters wide open, light spilling onto the dark, green lawn. By the window sat a girl with long hair, wearing her mother’s borrowed clothes. Behind her there was a white blanket, strung up with a chip clip and some tape to hide the walls she painted purple when she was twelve years old. There was a little table across from her, topped with all seven Harry Potter books, a laptop teetering dangerously at the very top of the stack.
I don’t like bell peppers, so on Tuesdays, when the Divinity Cafe serves them for lunch, I always notice the smell of them cooking. Wednesdays are distinctive, too–the sharp and spicy smell of Buffalo Mac ‘n’ Cheese, the little-bit-cramped, elbow-touching feeling from every one of those red chairs being full. I love Div like that: when you can hardly find a seat, when you have to shout over the clinking silverware and surrounding conversation. But I also love it after it’s just opened, with two best friends before our 8:30 class, when it smells like fresh coffee and baked oatmeal and breakfast meat. Or at 2:45 p.m. on a Friday, when the tables have been wiped and it smells like cleaning spray, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a cookie that nobody wants to waste. The lights are always warm, yellow, easy on the eyes. Every time I go there–and I went there every day–somebody I love is there.
Editor's note: Content warning: this column discusses sexual assault.
When I was a senior in high school, my city flooded. We woke up on a Sunday morning to find our neighbors’ homes underwater. They had left—some in boats—in the middle of the night when they heard it rushing through their doors.
“I once was lost, but now, I’m found, was blind, but now, I see...”
Content warning: This column includes an account of sexual harassment.
“Well, I take Celebrex, which is an NSAID, which means it’s like Motrin or Aleve. It’s not, like, strong or anything. And I also take a muscle relaxer, but only a really small dose, and only at night,” I say, waiting for the unasked question behind their eyes to go away.
Content warning: Church trauma toward LGBTQ+ people.
Though the weather is chilling and the leaves are falling, my mind has been traveling back to a different change in the seasons. Spring of this year brought with it two moments that would change my life, though I didn’t know yet that they would. My doctor told me that pain would be a part of my life for as long as I live, and I applied for an internship at the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South.
I talk about my feelings a lot. I think it’s because one of the things I do best is talk to other people about their feelings. I’m a two on the enneagram, an INFJ or ENFJ (depending on the day), and a Pisces, all of which is nonsense. The point is this: if you’re having a bad day, I’m a good person to talk to. And if I’m having a bad day, I’m usually pretty willing to unpack it with you.
In Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, historian and Duke Divinity professor Kate Bowler describes what it was like to be diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at the age of 35. She writes clearly and honestly about living in the liminal space between wellness and illness, love and suffering, life and death. Her whole book is excellent, but as a fervent member of the Kate Bowler fan club, I can name off the top of my head the part of her book that resonated with me most: right at the end, when she gives a list of things to say (and things not to say) to people who are suffering.
Let me love this good body.
When I found myself hastily preparing for a last-minute trip to see my grandmother earlier this semester—a trip that would involve mostly sitting with my family and navigating grief—I packed the softest and most comfortable things I own: my Duke English major shirt, my favorite cotton pants and the least sexy underwear of all time. My brain had unconsciously decided to prioritize physical comfort in anticipation of an exceedingly uncomfortable few days.
When my mom had a minor heart attack this summer while we were at the beach, I sat in the waiting room with sand between my toes, praying that she would be okay.
“What would it look like for your pain to take up space?” asked my therapist, rephrasing a question I have been asking about a thousand different ways, in conversations with most of the people I love, for at least eleven years.
Back-to-school season has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I eagerly anticipate the return of routine and happy reunions with friends. And while I long for roots that I can put down longer than a few months at a time, I don’t mind packing and moving when it means the beginning of a bright new school year.
Four years ago today, I walked into a hospital, and my life changed.