Never stop laughing

“I know You’re able and I know You can,
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand,
But even if You don’t,
My hope is You alone.” -Mercy Me

“I don’t care if they know it’s me,” she says with a wave of her hand, “They can know!” I’d asked if she wanted to pull her hair back or take off her ring or any other identifiers, something I suggest to maintain a level of anonymity. 

“All right,” I tell her, explaining that she doesn’t have to remain anonymous. She’s like that, though: charismatic, funny, nonchalant. Her personality is as big as her large, green eyes. She’s in her yoga pants and most-recent favorite sweater, sitting criss-cross at her kitchen table with a big cup of coffee.

“Send me that picture,” she tells me after approving the one I snap quickly with my phone, laughing about using it on her own Instagram and I shake my head and promise to send it. She’s a full mess with a laugh you could recognize in any crowd. She’s known for her sense of humor, open laugh, eye for detail, and sarcastic, but honest, opinions.

 I go into the interview like I do any other interview, with professionalism and poise, but she shuts me down quickly when I begin to nod my head and throw out, “Mhm,” and “Yeah,” in that weird you-can-tell-I-majored-in-communications tone we all pick up along the way. 

“Don’t do that,” she says dryly, protesting, “It’s just me.” 

“This is my work,” I laugh, “This is just what I do.”

It’s a phrase that has seen her through tough times: never stop laughing. As a kid, she says, one of her favorite things was that no matter how hard things got, her family always knew how to crack a joke or make something funny. 

“Granted, do we do it at the best times? No,” she laughs, “One time it happened at a funeral, but you laugh it off and you move on. The point is like we always know how to have fun, we always know how to laugh. To me, laughter is the best medicine.” 

 Growing up, life wasn’t always easy for her. The youngest in her family, she was the one who took on the role of cooking for the family at a young age and played mediator between her two older siblings, always working to keep the peace. During her childhood and teenage years, things were really hard financially and her dad was constantly moving from job to job while her mom went back to work full-time to make ends meet. But things were still hard. 

 She and her older siblings were homeschooled and up until her older brother graduated high school, she went through an online school for two years of her high school career. After that, she didn’t feel like being home by herself so her parents enrolled her into a public school a few miles from their home. Going to school was a confidence boost for her and she met some of the best friends she’s ever had during that time, being the social butterfly she’s always been. 

 From there, she went to college and found a love for teaching and working with kids who may have been in the same situation she was in just over a decade ago. She met her best friend while working at a daycare for pre-schoolers, someone who’s been by her side during some tough times.

These days, she’s your average twenty something, still living in Greenville and working on getting to where she wants to go. She’s a 2 on the enneagram, so she lives to help people and have connected, happy relationships. While she loves Greenville for its homey, southern vibe, she’s not against the idea of one day moving somewhere new. It just depends on what happens in the next several years.

For now, she loves hanging with her friends and family, drinking mimosas, and is working towards a goal of one day soon owning her own space. She’s single, for the moment, and content to focus on her career, but still holds dreams of being married with kids someday. She has an associates degree in early childhood education and is holding off on getting her bachelors degree for a few years while she works on building experience into her resume, working as a teacher’s aide for a kindergarten class.

“I’m helping our kids with their letters right now,” she explains, adding, “So right now I’m supposed to be pulling kids to help them fix some of their math they’ve been working on because some of them have never been taught how to write numbers….I will eventually do ERI, which is early reading intervention, so our low kids on the spectrum of reading who aren’t getting it, I’ll take them and we’ll do a small group.” She says a big part of her job, essentially, is to take the kids who are struggling and reinforce what the teacher’s working on with the class.

Planning, she explains, is a large part of her job as well, but admittedly it’s one of her favorite parts. The night before doing an activity requires a lot of preparation—printing off sheets, gathering pieces for any games that will help the kids understand, preparing activities, cutting out shapes, etc. If you don’t plan ahead, she says, the kids will be more confused and everything will be chaotic.

The rest of her time is spent mediating childish arguments, keeping kids in line, and making sure they’re paying attention and not talking. “There are some days, it seems like the hardest part is just walking down the hallway. That sounds bad,” she says, saying that —while it’s such a seemingly simple task—when two kids start talking it seems to go downhill from there, adding, “So we have 27 kids and you get two kids who are talking and then two other kids who start talking and it’s like a chain reaction. And then next thing you know you can’t get them to shut up, or they’re going crazy, they’re kicking walls, they’re doing stuff, and it’s easier when there’s two of you there because one can be at the front of the line, making sure they’re doing the right thing, and then I can be at the back of the line, making sure they’re doing the right thing. But when you’re by yourself and you think you’ve got the first half doing well, but then the back is going crazy. And then you go to the back and the front loses it.” 

While she admits her days are crazy, she’s learning a lot. Kids, she explains, are like sponges—something she was always told, but is seeing firsthand more and more each week. It’s the middle of the fall semester when we sit down for our interview and she tells me her kids are starting to form words out of all the letters they’ve spent so much time working on. She says it’s interesting that no matter where her kids wind up, they have to start out with them—with the basics. She feels that her purpose, at least for now, is to help these kids on their way. 

Another thing that’s made an impact in her teaching career is getting to teach the power of “yet”—meaning that even if you haven’t grasped a concept it doesn’t mean you never will; it just means you haven’t yet. “It’s like no, you’ll get it; you just might need more time,” she says, explaining that she never got that as a kid and it’s something she likes getting to pass onto kids who are more insecure about learning.

Outside of work and hanging with her friends, she loves drinking coffee and reading a good book, holing up in her room, and going on adventures. Her favorite color is purple and she loves working in the kitchen, trying new recipes and feeding those around her. Sundays are for church or brunch, in her world, and she loves driving around on beautiful days, blaring rap music. She’s all about good times and Instagram-worthy memories, working to always see the good in life.

One of the hardest things about being her is caring too much, she admits, adding that a lot of times she may not show it but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. “In the past, I feel like I got hurt a couple too many times,” she elaborates when I ask why she doesn’t show emotion, adding, “And people took advantage of the fact that I did care.” Emotions, she explains, have gotten her in trouble a few too many times as in the past she’s either gotten in trouble for reacting to something or was told that she over-reacted to a situation. On the other hand, though, a lot of people will tell her that she comes across as emotionally available or uncaring when she doesn’t open up about how she feels. It’s a lose-lose situation sometimes, she says, but the truth is she really cares too much. 

Expectations, much like described above, are one of the biggest things she wishes she didn’t have to deal with. Expectations for her career, her love life, and her education are a few examples she gives, adding, “Some people? They do the college thing, they get their four years, they get married right afterwards, they hit all their high marks when some people deem they’re supposed to, but I’m learning that’s not always how it is.” And while she’s not in all the roles she thought she’d be in by now, she recognizes that these supposed detours are helping her gain experience and build her resume, preparing her for her own classroom more than those who graduate and immediately start teaching.

And as for relationships? Marriage and kids is something she always has and always will want, she says, but she knows there’s a reason it’s not happening right now. “It will come when it comes,” she says, “That’s what I’m learning….God has his plan.”

We begin to get to the last handful of questions, her full of opinions on girls on Instagram and people being fake and dry sarcasm to drive every point home. Finally, I ask her where she feels safe and she knows the answer immediately. The place she feels the most safe is her room, a hovel-type space she’s decorated and filled with things that bring her joy–a comfy bed, a Keurig, a coffee bar, and a large tv where she binges on shows like The Office and Bob’s Burgers

“That’s my hole,” she laughs, saying that if she could fit a mini-fridge in there she totally would. I laugh and wind down the interview, after nearly an hour of nodding and prying, and ask what she wants on her gravestone and she gives me the same phrase that’s seen her through her best and worst days. 

“Never stop laughing,” she says, adding that one day she’d like to get it tattooed somewhere, but her mom will kill her. 

Never stop laughing. It’s so her–whimsical and positive, but simplistic as well. 

Hey, #8–I hope you keep on laughing and bringing it to others, the way you do so well. 


She Gave It All

“Most girls are smart and strong and beautiful,
Most girls, work hard, go far, we are unstoppable,
Most girls, our fight to make every day,
No two are the same.” -Hailee Steinfeld

To tell you just how far behind I am on these anonymous posts, the person whose story I’m telling today actually met with me way back in September, just as the upstate was receiving the rain from Hurricane Florence. We both hate the rain and the cold, we agreed—for me because I’m always freezing and for her because she can’t go explore the outdoors, which is where she feels the most free.

I grabbed my pumpkin spice latte from the counter, finding that the lid wasn’t secure as soon as I sat down and spilled it all down my cup. I rushed for napkins, laughing at how klutzy I am. We talked for a minute and complained about the rain, commenting on how we both thought it was supposed to be much worse than it was. Autumn had barely grazed the upstate, South Carolina autumns never reaching a peak until early to mid October, and the atmosphere had that sense that we were all waiting on something to change, the heat to subside, things to settle down, and life to return to a simpler rhythm.

Passionate, creative, smart, positive are some of the words I’d use to describe her. The story of her life is complex—some parts joy and gratitude, some parts heartbreak and loss, all paired with determination and the perseverance to keep moving forward.

As a few of the people I’ve written about recently have expressed, we both grew up here in Greenville, South Carolina, and grew up going to church and private school. We have a lot in common, having majored in journalism, but while I had a concentration in print, her primary focus was broadcast journalism. Originally, her goal was to be an anchor but she quickly fell in love with behind-the-camera work her freshman year after signing up for a required course that first semester, which propelled her into a love for videography.

These days she works an 8-5 job working as a videographer for a company that specializes in producing video courses for families who homeschool their kids. She spends her days with teachers, working to capture their lessons in a way that will be the most effective for the kids watching them at home. While the process doesn’t allow for as much creativity as she’d like, she enjoys helping the teachers look their best and taking care of behind-the-scenes details.

In her spare time she also owns a wedding videography business and loves networking and capturing moments that the bride and groom will carry with them for a lifetime. She loves the thought that even if she forgets capturing their wedding, the work she did will continue on as part of their legacy and will be something they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives.

When she’s not behind the camera, you can find her out and about with her friends and family or at home watching a good movie or reading a book with her dog at her side. She keeps a tight-knit community around her who she knows love her for who she is and know her better than anyone else. While she hasn’t done everything she thought she’d have done by her mid-twenties, she explains, she knows how important it is to rest and be where your feet are. Even taking the time to rest is something she values because she understands that’s a time of healing.

Talking about someone’s childhood is one of the greatest topics you could ever delve into and it’s a subject she loves, telling me about her life back then. As a kid, she describes herself as a reader and a free spirit, wandering around the outdoors barefoot as much as possible. She says she loves reading because it allows you to escape from the real world and I find myself nodding along, knowing exactly what she means.  Third grade, she tells me, was the year that unlocked that love of reading for her and brought words to life, something that she’s carried with her all the way into adulthood. “There’s something about being able to imagine in your own head how it looks and how things are happening,” she adds.

Her childhood, she explains, she sees as divided into two parts. The first part consists of her and her younger sister playing at their old house, going on adventures together and just being kids. This was all before her dad’s business venture took off, which landed their family in a  better financial situation and they moved to a new house with lots of land. The new house is what she sees as the second part of her childhood because in that house was where her second sister and younger brother joined their family. Her family is a large part of her life and is always there for her. One of the biggest things they love doing is going on vacation every year. Her dad, especially, loves making memories and has passed that love on to his family and will save up all year so he can take his family on a nice vacation, she explains.

And while reading is her escape, the outdoors is where she feels most at home. Even now she loves the free feeling nature brings, often taking her dog to the park so he can run around and she can get some fresh air. The most important pieces of her purpose, she feels, are to share joy, make people feel beautiful, and be a good friend, sister, and daughter. She believes in the importance of contentment. “Contentment is just one of those things you’ve got to choose,” she says, elaborating,“I don’t think it’s as hard for me as for a lot of people and that’s one of the reasons I’m here is to show those people that hey, I realize that things are tough and hard and it’s absolutely okay to feel like it’s the end of the world but know that I’m here to tell you it’s not.”

While this is the person she is now, it hasn’t been easy to get to this space.

Around the midway point of our interview, she tells me about her more recent adulthood years and I sit in mostly silence, listening to her and jotting down notes, nodding along. Dating, for her, was something that her parents encouraged her to have fun with. She always loved being around boys, she says, and remembers having lots of crushes in elementary school. Her college years saw some relationships that sparked promise, but ended up falling apart in front of her eyes—some she had clarity on and some she didn’t. She never gave up on the belief that one day she’d find someone who was right for her, so she kept trying.

But, after a few tough years where she lost a childhood friend to cancer and her grandfather as well, her life took an unexpected, but happy, turn when she was engaged right after graduating with her BA degree in journalism. Her fiancé was fashionable and charismatic and thoughtful, at first, she says of him, telling me the way he’d kept their dates interesting and fast-paced. They were so in love and set the date for their wedding, but life took yet another unexpected turn and landed him unemployed and depressed. She worked hard to keep things going, she explains, but as he kept spiraling she finally came to terms with what she had to do and she ended the engagement exactly one month before their wedding. It was the hardest thing she ever had to do, she says, and an awful time, but she sent the gifts back and took her mom with her on what was supposed to be her honeymoon and kept putting one foot in front of the other.

During that time, she had to fight to find the silver lining but she eventually found it in the adoption of a puppy, who ended up being quite literally her “spirit animal” and one of her best friends to this day. He always knows when she’s upset and is always there to cuddle her on the days where life feels overwhelming.

You never sprint through heartbreak—it’s a walk. And after a spring of walking through that heartbreak and letting go of the life she’d been dreaming of, she reconnected with someone who’d been an acquaintance for a few years. He was fun and exciting and spontaneous, she says. They saw each other at a summer wedding they were both working at and it was like a fairytale, at first. She was the videographer and he was the DJ and they swing danced on the floor while everyone was cleaning up from the reception. They lived a very short, very fast-paced romance and she’s not even sure how it happened, but that October they went to the coast and eloped. It seemed magical, but eventually reality caught up to speed and soon they were fighting all the time and never able to find themselves on the same page.

When her family found out about her marriage, she says, they were devastated and it was a blow to her relationship with her family. Her new husband was someone who wanted to fix things, but that was something he couldn’t fix and they entered a winter knit with tension. The bills were piling on and she was working three jobs and she found herself wanting a way out, but there didn’t seem to be any other option except trying to make it work.

She’d been with her best friends just before it happened, while he was at work, telling them how she’d been feeling. But her story was about to take yet another unexpected turn when her marriage suddenly ended. The night she knew it was over, she’d run to her parent’s house and told her dad she wanted to divorce as quickly and simply as possible and he’d nodded and said, “Okay.”

The divorce was final a year later, but it left its mark on her. She has no hard feelings towards him any more as she realizes how young they were. “Divorced is a box I’ll always have to check,” she says. And, though it was one of the hardest lessons she’s ever had to learn, she knows she’s stronger than before. These days she’s careful when it comes to love, working to remain grounded.

She wraps up her story and laughs, ”And that’s my 25 minute story.” I tell her that it’s perfect. And it is perfect—not because it’s cut and dry or because it’s an easy road, but because it’s honest.

As we wind down the interview, I ask her about her challenges, her not one to hold back from giving an honest answer. “That pressure I put on myself to make everything the absolute best it can be,” she tells me. She’s always been a visionary, knowing what she wants out of each thing she tackles, but says that there have been challenges along the way with being misunderstood by her peers. It took a long time to put a filter on her brain, she explains with a chuckle, saying that words would go from brain to mouth and out. “So many times my parents would be like, ‘You squeezed out the toothpaste; you can’t put it back in the tube.’ So you know, you’ve got to be really careful when you talk and stuff.” But she eventually did learn to filter her creative, to-the-point brain and tries to keep in mind the feelings of those around her, adding that she never wants anyone to feel bad because of her.

One of the defining principles she works to live by is that of being balanced, explaining that a lot of times the expectation that’s placed on her is to always be happy and bubbly. “If something is happening in my life—in my personal life—with relationships or whatever, I focus on that and I might not be all there at work….my goal is to give my all to everything I do, but at the same time you only have so much bandwidth.” She explains that balance is everything. When I ask her how she would define balance, she takes her time to find the words, explaining slowly but emphatically. “Balance means that at the end of the day there wasn’t one thing that I was focused on all day. If I was just focused on myself all day, that was an unbalanced day. I need to think of others—and even if it’s just explaining to others, ‘Hey, I’m not feeling well. I’m so sorry—I’ll try to do my best still.’ That’s still balancing because then they’re aware of what you’re going through.”

We arrive at the last question and I ask her what she would want on her epitaph and she says that she wants to reach the end of her life having given all that she possibly could give. I nod—it’s perfect.

After I thank her, we part ways but some of the things she said in that interview stay with me. I think we take the things we were meant to see in someone else with us–no relationship is ever wasted. Even though I can’t take every person who sits down at a coffee shop table with me, in a way I do. That’s how stories work: they stick to you through the good times and the bad times.

Hey, #7—I think you’ll give as much as you’re supposed to. I really do.