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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s