fault lines

My husband and I don’t agree on everything politically or socially. On most issues, we are like-minded and we cheer each other on. But on some, we argue about things (or if you ask him, we discuss them) on a regular basis. And you know what? It sucks to disagree. It would feel so much better to have the person you are committing to love and cherish all the days of your life saying, “Yes, honey, I completely agree!” all the time. But we don’t…and that leaves some conversations a little unfinished and uncomfortable.

One thing we can agree on is that something this time around with our new presidential administration is different. And that different is more bad than it is good – which leaves a spectrum of possibility for our future ranging from “just a little fucked” to “royally fucked”. And within that space, I am unsure how to navigate my world. I do not have the political knowledge that I probably should. I have vague recollections of my high school Government class but it’s spotty at best. (It didn’t help that the answers to the questions on the matching section of the test spelled out a word when you finished. They were more like a crossword puzzle than proof of my solid political understanding.)

And so every day I am searching my phone like an addict – scrolling through articles that predict the fall of our great empire and liking posts (but not necessarily sharing posts) that tell me I’m not alone. All to find some solace in a very anxiety-filled and unpredictable time. Most of this happens in a fake little digital social-world that I wake to in the morning and say goodnight to at night. On Facebook, I seem to have created a cushiony community of like-minded friends who make me feel good about my beliefs. It makes me feel like the majority of the world thinks like me! Though I know this is not true because, scrolling on his phone next to me, is my husband with a very different newsfeed and headlines.

Aside from the very obvious issue I have with social-media addiction, (Are therapists starting to see people about this yet? Would I be the first to admit I have a problem?), there is another one I realize I need to address. I really don’t like it when people have different beliefs than me. The other day I hid someone’s posts from my newsfeed because they disparaged Beyonce. So you can imagine what this means for friends who I disagree with politically. When it comes to disagreement, I am very much flight and not an ounce of fight and Facebook has offered a very handy tool to aid me in my avoidance of discomfort.

More and more since January, when I watch politicians talk on the news or hear family members say things that feel offensive, I find myself searching for a “hide” button. How can they believe that? I think, in exasperation. But if I am being honest, I usually add the word still to the end. Because, once upon a time, before Facebook and Twitter and whatever the kids are doing these days, I thought very differently than I do now. I voted differently, I discussed differently, and I fought differently. If the now-me and the then-me ever met, we probably would not be friends.

It’s hard to pinpoint the actual impetus of my changing beliefs. There are the vague generalities of growing up and some distinct memories of the first tinglings of metamorphosis. I guess you could say it began with the start of college, in which I emerged from a very small, sheltered community and joined a very large, secular world. I found myself surrounded by people who thought very differently than me. Change didn’t come immediately. In fact, I rooted into my belief system more deeply than I ever had before. It was a stubborn and passionate time in which I clung to my past and the friends who thought the same as me. I did a lot of arguing and judging then, which led to a lot of crying from guilt and loneliness.

A year and a half later, I spent some time in South Africa on a study abroad. Along with the obvious cultural differences of the South African people that I met, among the other Americans I traveled with, there was not a single like-minded person in the group. Perhaps because I viewed this as an inevitable part of travel or maybe because I was alone on the other side of the world, I opened myself up to the discomfort of befriending people who think differently than me. It was prickly and anxiety-inducing but, mostly because I am very non-confrontational, I spent a lot of time listening to others and taking it all in.

I distinctly remember a moment of the trip, where I was all by myself, walking to the college campus we attended. A noise coming from the hill caught my attention and I looked up to see a man standing on the rooftop of the mosque and another on the roof of the Hindu temple right beside it. They both wore loose, white pants and a long, tunic-like top and their heads were covered in different variations of a white scarf. The two men, in an unrehearsed harmony, were calling prayers out over the hills. And the sound of their calls made my heart lurch.

When I returned home to my like-minded community, it felt like I was standing on fault lines and I feared the inevitable tremors that threatened my worldview. I isolated myself, wrote a lot of things in private while I said a lot of things out loud that didn’t really match my real thoughts. A heavy-footed question lurked in my mind,

What if I am wrong?

Fast forward ten years to a workshop I attended on Culturally Responsive Teaching at an education conference. When discussing how to change people’s belief systems, the presenters shared a theory by Chris Argyris, a professor of business at Harvard University. During his study of human thought and decision making in the 70s and 80s, Argyris developed an idea called the “Ladder of Inference”. And while only nerds might say something like this, that theory on human thought rocked my world.

Basically, it suggests that humans tend to hold on to the belief system that they have very tightly and self-select data to further reinforce that belief system. This is why two people can read the same exact thing and walk away with two totally different conclusions. And because this is, I’m sure, inadequately paraphrased by me, this illustration explains it better:


The presenters suggested that the only way to change a person’s belief, or to change your own beliefs, is to get out of the “reflexive loop” of ignoring data that doesn’t reinforce our worldview. In the context of education, this meant I needed to stop “throwing more data” at people in hopes that they would see it differently. Instead, I needed to create a space for people where they could safely ask themselves, “What if I’m wrong?” or “Why might someone think that?” Personally, I thought about the events that led to my changing beliefs. Through listening to and learning about people who thought differently than me, I was forced to pay attention to data I had been ignoring before.

I am not writing this to suggest that you need to change your beliefs. I keenly recognize that my privilege allows me to say “listen” because I have not been scarred by the system. And I want to be clear that the bigotry and hate that is being embraced right now is horrifying and decidedly wrong, with some people just not deserving of a listening ear. But there are people in our real lives (family, neighbors, friends) who we are isolating ourselves from because it feels uncomfortable right now. I don’t see any solutions coming from dividing ourselves any further. When faced with disagreement, instead of sticking my head in the proverbial sand, I am challenging myself to ask that scary, ugly question, what if I’m wrong and to ask others why do you believe that? It’s in this discomfort, we may actually see more and grow stronger in our beliefs.

I count myself lucky to have a partner in life that I don’t completely agree with all the time. Especially in a time where I am constantly bombarded with conflicting beliefs and actions by our governmental officials and leaders. I feel like this allows me to grow – not only because I have to consider the fact that someone I love and respect isn’t a complete heathen and, gasp, has another opinion. But it also helps us really check ourselves – where are we getting our information and can we recognize the details we are purposely ignoring in order to feel comfortable in our already established conclusions? I hope you have someone like this in your life too, who challenges you to think and question.

I know some people will read this and say, man that girl needs help. Yes, I know I do, thanks. You are much too well-adjusted to need my advice. But if you are having heart palpitations just like me and find yourself asking the universe, “what the actual fuck is happening?” on a daily basis then maybe you’d like to join me in my game plan to survive these trying times:

  1. Check my bias and privilege at the door (try my best anyway…) when I read things. Ask myself “What if I’m wrong?” to allow myself to select more data.
  2. Stop searching the interwebs for the next piece of drama like an addict. This is real life, not the Bachelor. Try to stay level-headed and not get emotionally involved with the actors.
  3. Embrace discomfort. (Go un-hide the Beyonce hater and my Aunt Rhoda.)
  4. Get off social media and get connected to real people, including those who may disagree with me. Then, listen.

P.S. I recognize the irony in sharing a social-media warning via social media. That same irony was not lost on me when a man came to my door with a homemade “No Soliciting” sign and then proceeded to ask for a donation once he affixed it to my house. But, as a writer, I don’t know how else to process this conundrum. I write it out so I can really chew on it, then I share it in case my words might help someone else.

© 2017 D. Willson

my protest


When I was sixteen, I got my first job as a waitress at the Lansing airport. It was a tiny little “restaurant” that sold sub-par food to people in a hurry. If you worked the morning shift, you usually were paired up with another waiter to divide up the 15 tables that made up the floor. Between seven and nine a.m. we busted butt. Sometimes we were so busy it felt like I might split in two from trying to go a million places at once. Then after the rush, things slowed down and there was time to socialize while you restocked the maple syrup dispensers and the cellophane wrapped muffins in the display case. Sometimes, when it was really slow, we’d set up towers of the little jelly tubs and throw sugar packets at them to pass the time.

All of these memories are trivial details that seem to have faded along with faces and names. That is, except one face and name I will never forget. Charles.

I often worked the morning shift with Charles. He was in his early twenties and was attending the local community college studying music. At the time, I was a pretty serious Christian. Meaning, I went to youth group, loved Jesus, and prided myself on carrying my pocket-sized Bible around with me wherever I went. Charles told me one day that he was a Christian too. We talked about church, God, etc. It felt safe.

Then one day Charles told me that I should come over to his house some time and we could study the Bible. He said we could pray together. Then he said we could pray together in the shower. He said all this while standing very close to me behind the counter. He said it so close I could feel his breath on my neck while I nervously tried to count the quarters from that morning’s till. My heart raced and I laughed. I told him to shut up. But I said it while laughing and quickly changed the subject.

A few days later, Charles and I were on the same shift again. While I was getting some food out of the walk in cooler, Charles came in behind me and tried to tickle my sides. I jumped and told him to stop. But I laughed and ignored it.

The next shift included him saying he liked the way that I bent over to get things out of the fridge. He reminded me he still wanted to have a Bible study. He corned me in the walk-in cooler again, this time I bolted out before he could touch me.

I knew this wasn’t ok behavior so I went to talk to my boss. I explained what he did and asked if he could talk to Charles. I said I wasn’t sure if I could work there any more if Charles was there. My boss explained to me that he couldn’t fire Charles because he was dating Charles’ sister. He promised me that he would never put us on the same shift again. I felt relieved, but not safe. I knew Charles would still be there when our shifts overlapped.

At the time, I chalked this experience up to “dealing with sleezy men”. A normal, adult experience. And then I didn’t think about it much until about ten years later when I went through required sexual harassment trainings at my very first teaching job. All of the feelings of violation came rushing back. I felt infuriated that my complaint fell on deaf ears because my boss didn’t want to make things “awkward” with his girlfriend. I thought things like, “I could have sued his ass! He should have been fired! What’s worse, I was a minor! That asshole should be in jail!!” I felt so un-empowered, so naïve, so stupid.

Fast forward to October 2016. A tape was released of the current president of the United States talking about touching women without consent. “They let you do it,” he said.

His words made my skin crawl. Again, I immediately thought about what happened to me in high school. Technically, I “let” Charles do it too. I didn’t report him beyond the conversation with my boss, I didn’t report my boss. I laughed it off and when my boss had no consequences for him, I accepted it. And there was no one there telling me that this was not ok. So I normalized it.

When the actions and words of the man who is now the president of our country came to light, what bothered me most, or should I say scared me most is that, while alarm bells went off in me that I didn’t even know were there, it didn’t alarm a lot of people that I know. Instead, men had to use their wives, mother, and children to explain why it was wrong. And still others chalked it up to “locker room talk”. They called it vulgarity but they also called it normal. I began to wonder – has the world not changed at all in the nearly twenty years that have passed? And my child, my child with two X chromosomes, has to live in this world.

On November 8, when news of the election results broke, I cried. I cried all night as if I had just heard that a loved one had passed away. But it was more than this. They were akin to the tears I shed when I heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11. It was a fearful cry, terrorized by the unknown and dark thoughts that hope tried to keep at bay this year. They were also tears of defeat. But not like simply losing a game. Defeat, like when love doesn’t win, even when everyone told you that it does in the end. It was like watching the man who raped you get off scot-free.

For me this was something of a metaphor, for others it hit way too close to home.

As the months have passed and we find that this plot, that seems like something from a Hollywood movie, is our actual reality, that cloud of grief and disbelief, or whatever you want to call it, seems to be lifting. I feel more aware and awakened than I was before. I wonder if another candidate had won whether I would be as fired up about these things? Do I dare say that this is a good thing? I don’t want to use a Hallmarky-adage from Mr. Rogers about scary news and looking for the heroes. Yes, it’s true, and yes, it’s a good way to look at it. But it never, really, makes me feel better. Because it’s still so god damned dark and I can’t seem to see the forest for the trees yet.

Today I didn’t attend the Women’s March in Portland. Not because I didn’t believe in it but because of some pretty good excuses (nap time, another engagement scheduled, etc). I really wanted to go and I spent the whole morning having a huge existential crisis. I hemmed and hawed, called my best friend, waffled back and forth. And even though I felt like I was failing my daughter by not going, I made a final decision to stay home and vowed to figure out how to be a part of it all in another way.

As I sat on the couch while my baby girl napped this afternoon, I read news articles and saw pictures of friends and family taking to the streets to protest a man that they did not choose to be their president. Their signs, their words, the beaming, powerful faces of their children as they stand with them, were a balm that my soul has needed after these past few months. And even though I was unable to join them physically, I felt suddenly emboldened by their energy to speak up too and say out loud that I do not accept this as normal. I do not accept that the bad guy wins.

For those of you who know me, it won’t be surprising to you that this piece is hard for me to post. In fact, I started writing it back in October. I was fueled with anger and wine and a hot topic from the news. So I fervently wrote for hours, spewing my thoughts like a cartoon character with steam coming out of my ears. And then I let it sit in my documents folder for months because the topic was political. And I hate talking politics, especially when it’s not face to face. I hate talking about anything that might spark disagreement. I am so anti-confrontation that I once referred to my baby as a “he” for an hour with the Comcast guy because he thought she was a boy. I know I have a problem. I’ll work on that.

In the meantime, these words will have to do. They are my protest for today. The courage to post them comes from a passionate desire to change this world for my kid, our kids, for all of us.

This is for you my dear, future president. A new normal where love wins, in the end. And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure of it.

© 2017 D. Willson



It’s been over a year since my great aunt passed away. There was the purchase of an emergency plane ticket to try and make it home to say all the things I had left to say, the phone call that informed me that it was too late and the preparations to return for the funeral instead, a eulogy that felt chilled and prescribed, and finally a burial that laid her to rest next to her husband, whom she had lost two years before. I returned to Oregon dazed by the event, but jumped back into life, distracted by work and preparing to have a baby in a few months. It didn’t really feel like I actively mourned her death, rather I simply checked it off a to-do list.

To be honest, it felt like I had lost my aunt months before she physically passed away. It was after a phone call in November, a few weeks shy of my 32nd birthday. We tried to talk, but the conversation was filled with long silences and she kept saying, “I’m sorry hon, I can’t understand you.” I tried calling her back on my mom’s cell phone, with the volume as high as it would go, but it yielded the same result. I hung up and sobbed. It felt as if I had lost her when we could no longer communicate, when she no longer asked me questions about work or could tell me what she ate for lunch.

Between November and April, I mourned the loss of this relationship in different ways. I wrote about her, trying to capture every memory in as many details as I could scrape up. I did this before she died so she could read my words, though I never heard whether she read it, or understood it, or what she thought. I cooked her recipes and used her dishes to serve them to people I loved. I urged e to have seconds and thirds, the way she always did. And as if it were a closing chapter in a book, I sobbed in my mother’s arms as we stood in front of her open casket. At first it felt complete.

In the wake of her real death, came the eventual revelation of my great aunt’s trust. Though the details of which don’t need to be shared, suffice it to say, everything of sentimental value was not left to anyone in my immediate family. And soon, the gloves of politeness and feigned interest quickly came off, leaving a bare knuckle fight between siblings through lawyers and formal letters. The finality of my aunt’s death severed the dangling thread which tied our extended family together for over twenty years and exposed an ugly reality in all of us. Anger, jealousy, and unforgiveness all bubbled to the surface of our grief like a sulfurous mud pot.

In June, I went home to visit family. On my way to my sister’s house, I drove past my aunt and uncle’s farm. The brick house stood there a few hundred feet away. The bushes were neatly trimmed below the window where she and my uncle would always wave goodbye. I could almost see her come out the front door to water the nonexistent geraniums. I wanted to pull in, to sneak behind the house and look, just in case there was a dishtowel on the clothes line or some sign of life. But I couldn’t pull into the drive. Just like in a hundred dreams I’ve had since she passed away, I feared the cops would be called and I’d be escorted out. I feared they’d know. 

As I drove away, it felt as if the wind was knocked out of me. The reality of her being gone had hit me like a ton of bricks. I would never again sit on the couch in the den, or fiddle with the keys in the dish by the back door, or help set the table with the largest glass set out for my uncle’s milk. I would never again sleep in the guest bed with the sage green headboard. The bed I shared, three abreast with my cousin and my sister. The bed my aunt bought for her mother to use when she came to stay. The one she said I could have. It felt like such a robbery.

And in between each raw feeling of loss was a layer of guilt. Am I really that greedy? Why do I care about all these THINGS? My aunt had already given me so much. I didn’t need or necessarily deserve anything more. I felt like a four year old throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get a pony for her birthday even though the gifts were piled high. On top of all of this was a heaping spoonful of resentment. Not only do I not have those things but they have them. And they will probably just throw things out because they don’t know the story behind them. They are clearly heartless and pure evil.

When my father died, I would go into his closet and smell his shirts. I would stand in his workshop in the basement and study his tools on the wall. I collected all the pictures I could find of him and put them in a box next to my bed. But with my aunt, it was as if I stood on one side of a cliff where a bridge once existed. On the other side, I saw all the material things that I once felt ownership over. A grandfather clock, a cottage on a lake, a child’s rocking chair. The gaping, impossible precipice that was created in between made me weep and feel desperate because most days my memories don’t feel as if they are enough. I miss her so much…but it is more than just this word “miss”. I miss eating cheese and getting snail mail letters. Miss doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to a person.

A few years ago, I bought a coffee table book for my sister called Lost in Translation. Included with cute little pictures were words that can’t be directly translated into English. Amid the Norwegian “Palegg” which apparently means anything you put on a slice of bread and the Arabic “Gurfa” which is the amount of water you can hold in your hand, a Portuguese word stuck out to me. Saudade. It’s used in a rough sense to describe missing something that you will never have again or homesickness for a place to which you will never return. But that is not exactly what it means, since it can’t really be translated. I had been thinking about this word in relation to my aunt when a friend of mine posted pictures of her trip home to Brazil on Facebook. At the top of one of her posts there was that word, “Saudades”. Curious, I decided to ask her what it really means. She explained,


Yes. This. When she explained it to me, it’s as if a light came on. This word describes perfectly what I have been feeling this last year.

Losing my aunt has given me so much saudade I feel a bit over-emotional most days. Like, the first strum of a guitar string causing the water-works to immediately flow, kind of emotional. I’m realizing that beyond missing my aunt, I miss home. Not in the sense of a particular location, home as in a feeling, a sound, a smell. The bristly fake grass carpet that scratched my shoulders while lying on the floating dock at Higgins lake, the taste of strawberries picked directly from the patch, the sound of a speed boat on the water very early in the morning, the smell of the hot truck tire my dad used to make a sandbox for us. In moments where living life feels like one more dirty dish in the sink and the eery expectation of depressing evening news, I have saudade for these things, for my childhood, for innocence.

I think then about the other part of my friend’s definition when she said that saudade is “a solidified and eternal feeling.” For some reason, this gives me peace. It’s not like the paralysis of fresh grief. It’s not something I carry with me, separate from me, a weight necessarily. I will grieve the loss of the physical things and that feeling will eventually go. But I will have saudade forever. It’s become a part of my bones.

© 2016 D. Willson



“The innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time.” – William Butler Yeats.

On the longest day of the year, my mother celebrates her birth. This season in June is marked by red-ripe Michigan strawberries, sugared and macerated on homemade biscuits, and dusky evenings filled with fireflies. Tucked in my mind, under photos that make various memories congeal together, is my mother’s 40th birthday. The whole family, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles, gathered for a picnic in the park.

I was nine, wearing turquoise corduroy culottes and pink-and-white saddle shoes. I had just started to notice my crooked teeth and the silky blonde hair on my pale un-sunned legs. Though it was 1992 and eyeglasses were starting to shrink considerably, my mother still wore large 80’s-style ones that covered half of her face. I always wondered if her cheeks needed to see too. She also donned a hand painted t-shirt she made at the craft store during a night class she had taken earlier that year. In that moment, I had no concept of whether she was cool or not. She was simply my mother and her lap was still a perfect fit for me when I curled up my legs. She still called me her little “monkey-shine”.

After gorging ourselves on ham sandwiches, watermelon, and perfectly prepared potato salad, it was time for gifts. Aunt Laveda pulled a wet washcloth from a ziplock baggy to wipe down the plastic tablecloth. Four or five packages were set on the table in front of my mother, each box meticulously wrapped with grosgrain ribbon bows that could easily be slipped off and reused for next time. This was before gift bags existed, or at least before anyone in my family considered buying them. I sat close to my mother in case my assistance was needed with any present opening.

To celebrate her fourth decade, Grandma and Grandpa Parker were going to take her and my father on a Royal Caribbean cruise. It was the big gift that didn’t need any wrapping paper. Naturally, all of the other gifts that year were nautical themed. Blouses with bright tropical fish patterns, flouncy shorts with gold anchors for buttons, and a new swim suit that was navy blue with white trim. I must have missed the memo because my present was a package of clove-flavored gum and a Mars bar, two of her favorites and all I could afford at age nine. Despite this notable disconnection, I was quite pleased with myself.

Next Happy Birthday was sang joyously over a piece of strawberry shortcake with a wax “40” candle shoved in the top. After listening politely to the adults chat for a bit, my brother, sister and I escaped to the playground. The light grew dim as we swung on the swings and rode the big metal animals that stood on coils but hardly moved, even with the strongest of efforts to get them to rock. We successfully slid down the slide with a perfect dismount before the puddle of water that resided at the bottom. Still too chilly for mosquitoes, we played easily and carelessly till the sun disappeared.

Across the grassy park, fireflies began to dot the air. We ran to catch them, only to discover nothing but empty air. Being experienced hunters, we stood very still, knowing that soon, a dark, slow insect would float before our eyes. They were the laziest bugs in the world and the easiest to catch. You could slowly lift your hand and give them a gentle bump, which caused it to trustingly rest on your hand. Some people would smash them to see it streak on the pavement. But I only did that once because I realized how unsatisfying and rude it was.

Eventually we navigated our way back to the adults by the light of the street lamp that was near the picnic table. In a lawn chair, with his curly mullet and giant glasses like my mother’s, lounged my father. His mysteriously tan legs were crossed at the ankles and his chubby large fingers were intertwined on his stomach. I grabbed his hand and pulled, begging for him to push us on the merry-go-round. Reluctantly he retired from the adult conversation and followed the three of us kids to the dangerous toy. My sister and I took our places at the metal arches, wrapping our legs and arms around them. My brother bravely sat right in the middle.

With his tree trunk legs and big-boned strength, my dad began running in a circle. He went round twice and set us free. Then, with one hand in the pocket of his too-tight shorts, he kept the momentum of our spinning with a swift shove of his free hand on a pole he could catch here and there. Holding on for dear life, I let my head lean back to view the whirling world upside down. Fireflies flashed in streaks behind my dad, who chewed his gum detachedly. Though it was dark, I thought I caught a glimpse of a smile and was warmly surprised.

While most of my memories of my father are gray and shadowy, this one is flickery and vivid. It’s my first solid memory of having the very desperate thought of never wanting a moment to end, a very contagious feeling that I haven’t quite nicked. Nine (going on sixteen) was an age when I seemed to grow into a consciousness of being: the difference between moving along without thought, and “knowing better”. It’s the precipice between childhood and growing old, when you notice how surprised you were by the attention of your father.

In the midst of winter, I long for this season. For daylight that stretches past nine and fresh fruit picked from the local patch. But mostly I long for the days when I simply played, rather than analyzing my every step before I take it (and consequently, stand frozen in fear). Would I have tugged my father’s hand to come play if I had been more aware in that moment? If I had been more calculated, would I still hold one of my dearest memories of him smiling easily and free, a space of three years buffering him from news of cancer and chemotherapy?

You know what they say, you can’t uncrack an egg. Actually, I’m not sure that anyone says that. But I’m saying it now. I can’t look back on these memories without the layer of understanding that I have woven over the years. I can’t just live instinctually as I did when I was a child because I simply have too many years of over-thinking things under my belt. But I can try to look forward and step without thinking as much, to race to those fireflies and stand right in the middle of the tangible stars. I can still measure a person by the space on their lap and try to look out at the whirling world upside-down, in order to see the things that shouldn’t be forgotten. In fact, in these dark solstice days, I think we could stand to look at each other from a different perspective. Remembering the light of summer and the surprising warmth of a smile.

© 2014 D. Willson

a dream, a peso, and an elephant

photo (1)

Summer 2013… 

My friend from work, Giselle, had a dream about me. In her words, this is how it went:

“I was back in the Dominican Republic, where I had spent my honeymoon a few months before. What I vividly remember is that I was on a beach. I was walking out and I saw you sitting in the sand. Your back was to me, but I knew it was you. You looked sad and you were grabbing at the sand with your hand, digging for something at your side. I remember thinking I wanted to go talk to you, but then I had this overwhelming urge that I needed to get you sunblock first. It was so hot and the sun was hitting your back.

So, with the Dominican peso that I had in my hand, I walked over to the grass roofed huts that made up the “town” but they had American store names like Target and Home Depot. I went into the Target one and it was just like a regular Target on the inside. I kept walking the aisles looking for sunscreen, but no one knew what I was talking about. I came to an aisle where a woman was training baby elephants. I thought you would want to see it, so I went outside to find you but you weren’t there. So I went back to the store and instead of buying you sunscreen, I found a necklace in the sunscreen aisle that had a baby elephant on it. I bought it for you because I just had a feeling that it would make you happy.

A few weeks later, in real life, I saw almost the exact same necklace on a website that I like to shop at. I bought it for you, just like that, without even thinking. I remember thinking, why did I buy that? I wondered if you were going to think I was weird.”

Early November 2013…

I walked the aisles of Target looking for some sunscreen for my upcoming trip to Mexico. Worried about parabens and recent warnings about the spray kind, I pulled a bottle off the shelf to read the label. To my surprise, a coin fell off the shelf from beneath it. I picked it up and discovered that it was actually a peso. Not sure what to make of it, I superstitiously put the coin in my pocket just in case it was good luck.

One year ago…

I was lying in the sun on a Mexican beach drinking something delicious and rummy, recovering from my friend’s wedding the night before. I was probably thinking about how smart it was to buy a lot of sunscreen before I left the states, on account of the $25 bottles available in the resort gift shop. I also ruminated on the deep and significant topic of how everyone’s butts looked in bathing suits. I didn’t know in that moment that I had just started the very serious job of growing a tiny human in my womb. A blob of cells I would gaze at on a screen just a few weeks later. An idea, a hope that I would start to call my angel while I rested my hand on my tummy and sang it songs. I didn’t know that I would feel the highest highs and the lowest lows of my life in the short span of the next three months.

January 2014

Giselle invited me to join her in a relay race called My Muddy Valentine. Besides the fact that I was wildly out of shape, I was also pregnant. I texted her my decline along with my excuses. She replied with:

“You are going to be an amazing mother! I have something for you. The whole story behind it is actually pretty freaky now that I know you are pregnant. The story involves a dream, a peso, and an elephant. You will have to wait and see…”

February 2014

I sat on the exam table at my 12 week check up, eager to hear the heart beat of our little blob. It never happened. Though never confirmed, I felt like it was a girl. We named her Angeliki.

June 2014

I finally saw my friend Giselle and she told me about her dream. My arm hair stood on end as I discovered that she had the dream months before my real life event of finding a peso under a sunscreen bottle in Target. I had no idea what it meant or if it meant anything at all.

August 2014

I went to see my father’s grave, as I always do when I go home to Michigan. I have developed a little bit of a ritual for these visits over the years. If the ground isn’t too wet, I’ll sit on the grass right in front of the headstone. I talk to my dad, sometimes out loud, but mostly in my head so I don’t appear nuts to the passersby who are walking their dog through the cemetery. After the right amount of time, which varies from visit to visit, I will trace my fingers along the etching of my last name Willson on the headstone. I then kiss my fingers and touch the name Daniel, tell my dad I love him, and go on my way.

On this day, the sun was shining through the huge tree that shades my father’s grave. I sat for a long time with my arms wrapped around my knees and thought about the past year. I thought about dreams and miscarriage, pesos and baby elephants. My dad was a man of great faith and I asked him if he could help me with the things I didn’t understand. As I listened carefully to the still air around me, I got a sense that I should pray. But when I tried to say God’s name, I felt stuck. Like a kid paralyzed with fear on the edge of the pool.

It’s been a while since I’ve known what to call God. A few years back, I asked God what to call him or her and in a comical vision I was told, “Just call me Susan.” This time, in hopes of a more serious answer, I whispered again at the sky, what’s your name? And soon I heard, or thought, or dreamed some semblance of these words: Call me wind, call me peace. Call me pain but also call me hope. I am love and dreams. I am not the reason for your loss, I am Loss. I am just as much grief, as I am joy.

Tears came, just as they did almost every day. But this time, instead of asking God why or getting frozen in prayer, peace came for a fleeting moment as I formed this prayer: Patience, hold me up when I see those stupid negatives. Distraction, keep me from focusing all my energy on something that doesn’t exist yet. Hope, carry me forward into my future. Love, wrap Mikey and me in your arms and bind us together. Laughter, replace the tears that won’t stop streaming. Sanity, keep me from falling apart if this goes on for months and months. Peace, come dwell in my soul no matter the ending of the play. Bravery, use me. I don’t know how, but use me.

September 2014

My friend Giselle gave me the gift that had been in her purse for nearly a year. It came in a tiny white gift box, tied up with a sheer maroon ribbon. Inside was a gold necklace that held a charm of a baby elephant. She told me about her dream again and how she went back and forth on whether to still give it to me after my miscarriage. I was so glad that she did, the gift solidified something that had been forming for while. It was like understanding the message someone was trying to tell me, even though I didn’t speak the language. I immediately put it on and haven’t taken it off since.

October 2014

I decided to start a project called Baby Elephants. I named it this for a few reasons. My first thought was an overwhelming sense that the details of the past year meant something. I knew my friend’s dream was too strangely prophetic to dismiss, though I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with these clues besides walk away with an increased faith in “something more”.

In hopes of discovering the missing clue, I started to read about elephants. I wanted to find the thing that would make me put my index finger in the air and say, “Aha!” I knew that elephants were highly intelligent, but I didn’t realize how this played out in their experiences of grief. How “tears” stream down the sides of their faces when they lose a newborn calf. Or when a baby is separated from its mother, how it will wail for days and often will perish without her. And, for reasons we can only guess at through anthropomorphism, how elephants return to the site of a dead relative to rub the bones with their trunks over and over. Though, as someone who traces the name of her father on a gravestone, I think I understand it a bit.

While “researching” elephants, I came across a quote by Sharon Salzberg from her book Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.

“The first step in developing true compassion is being able to recognize, to open to, and to acknowledge that pain and sorrow exist. Everywhere, absolutely everywhere, in one way or another, beings are suffering. Some suffering is intense and terrible; some is quiet and small.”

I was struck by the concept of “quiet and small” suffering. It was what I saw when women came out of the woodwork to tell me that they still thought about their loss every single day. That some, who have gone on to have several children, are still pained when they see a diaper commercial because it reminds them of a time that they couldn’t bear to watch them at all. One idea that I seemed to return to was the concept of the elephant in the room that is miscarriage. Or in this case, the baby elephant, quiet and small. It’s a suffering that doesn’t seem to fade, yet we expect ourselves to stop talking about it within a specific time frame. For some women, it is a few months. For others, they are expected to move on the very next day at work.

As time and space grew between my loss and my future hope, I felt the unspoken command that it was time to stop talking about it. Even though I thought about my loss almost every second of every day, it didn’t feel right to dwell on it. But I couldn’t just will myself to move on. I still cry, almost every single day. It’s irrational and possibly hormonal, but it’s real and doesn’t seem to go away no matter how much healing I try to fabricate. I wondered if there was a way to create a space for people to “talk about it” even when their time for grief is supposedly up. A place where the elephant in the room is recognized, brought to light, and honored. An opportunity to understand that you aren’t alone. Not just through anecdotes or well-meaning friends sharing the statistics of how “common” your situation is, but through real stories and voices.

Since posting my request for people to share about their loss, stories have been streaming in, slowly but surely. Though they are each unique, there are threads of similarity and familiarity. And even though I don’t quite understand it all nor do I know the shape that this project will take, it’s something that I’m just choosing to be a part of because, for lack of a better phrase, I feel called to.

If you still have a story to share, or a need a space to talk, please contact me. Thank you to those who have already reached out. Yours are the voices of Bravery, you are my Sanity, and my Peace.

To learn more about the Baby Elephants Project or to share a story, click here.