Monday, June 14, 2010

After A While

When I was a Junior in high school, I visited my sister for a "little sibs weekend" at her college, and was introduced over a drinking game to a boy, a fellow "little sib", who for the sake of this post we will refer to as "A".

"A" and I had an immediate chemistry (or so I thought at the time) and what followed that weekend was an intense relationship that lasted the remainder of high school and into my first semester of college (which coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, was at the school that "A" attended).

If you had asked me at the time, I would have described "A" as a Prince Charming. Eleven years, and a lot of maturing and perspective later, I realize that this particular boy turned out to be anything but, and though I couldn't see it when he left, his departure from my life was one of the greatest gifts I ever received.

Shortly after our breakup (and for totally unrelated reasons) I fell seriously ill and was hospitalized with a case of epiglotitis, a throat infection that essentially shut down my airway. I was intubated, operated on, airlifted to a hospital closer to home, operated on some more, and then spent the majority of the following two months recovering.

My parents, upon receiving word of my sudden hospitalization, were forced to make what I am sure was a white knuckled 5 hour drive to be at my side at the backwoods hospital near my college. Once I had been released to recover, they asked me to transfer to a school closer to home so that my doctors could keep an eye on me, and since I had just put them through the emotional wringer, I really didn't feel I was in any position to argue. I conceded, transferring to a school only an hour away that next semester, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This past weekend, while clearing through some things in the garage, hubs and I stumbled upon two boxes that had gone unopened since our move three years ago. Inside these boxes I found a plethora of keepsakes - old yearbooks, cheerleading pictures, quotes from my favorite poems scrawled across a t-shirt. At the bottom of the box, beneath the snapshots, newspaper articles, and old report cards, neatly tucked into an envelope labeled "mail stuff", I came across two pieces of white paper, typed in 12 point font, cleanly folded, and just begging for me to rediscover them.

The first was a letter from my mother, sent upon the completion of my first week at my new school. She asked some housekeeping questions - had I seen my advisor, was I registered for all the right classes. She told me to stay focused on my work, and assured me that if I did, everything else would fall into place.

I should tell you that I now consider my mother a confidant. A friend. A rock. When I was nineteen, obnoxious, and thought I knew everything about everything, our relationship was a little different. I imagine that at the time, reading this letter felt like being nagged. Now, ten years older and marginally wiser, I hear the love and concern in her words.

I can now empathize with my mother from that time, in a way I never could before. She had just watched her daughter fight for her life (a feeling I know the horrors of all too well) and while I can't speak for her, I imagine that having seen her child go to school, have her heart broken by someone she trusted, and then battle an illness all in the span of a few months, probably made watching me leave to start at a new school a little scary. It's no wonder she wanted to keep tabs on me.

On the second sheet of white paper, my mother attached a poem that she had found in the prior day's Anne Landers column.

I can tell you with complete honesty that I don't remember receiving this note, or this poem, after that first week at my new college. I am sure I opened them, glanced quickly thinking that she knew nothing of heartbreak if she would send me such rubbish, and stuffed them away into the "mail stuff" envelope. After all, when you are a teenager with a broken heart, who wants to hear from their mother that hard work at school will make "everything else fall into place," or the words of some poet who obviously never knew your kind of heartbreak.

Maybe I was young, or just too stubborn to grasp the message that my mother was sending me. Maybe my inability to find truth in the words of the poem at the time, just speaks to how little I knew of true heart break, or the lessons that can be learned of it.

Maybe it took a loss, a true life changing loss like that of Peyton, and the depth of love that I feel for and from my husband, to make these words resonate with me, but resonate they did, and with an understanding that my mother could never have imagined when she neatly typed them up for me all those years ago.

I know that this is a space for my words.
My poetry.

That being said, today I am going to share someone else's words, because they meant something to me when I read and re-read them this past weekend, and I have a feeling they will mean something for you too. xx

After a While

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't always mean security.

And you begin to learn
That kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child

And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow's ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every good bye you learn.

Veronica A. Shoffstall


  1. I love the lines "And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans."
    I could not have written that better. I feel my ground is way to uncertain for sturdy plans. I feel I am just moving through life letting it happen to me, because it is just too scary to attempt to plan it, and allow myself to be dissapointed again...

  2. There is something about becoming a mother (in any shape or form) that somehow brings new perspective, love and respect for our own mothers.
    Beautiful peom!

  3. I am probably your mother's age and I remember Ann Landers' column well.

    I also remember this going around in the 70s/early 80s. A lot of girls, post breakup, would write this in their binders.

    It totally resonates, even now, in the 2010.

    Hugs hun. Keep movin' forward, alwaysamomma

  4. wow. how poignant. thank you for sharing

  5. I remember this poem from high school (87 grad)
    Thanks for the reminder! I love the poem!
    So true.
    I love the line "Plant your own garden" "Decorate your own soul"

    Love and Prayers,

  6. One of my all time fav poems... kind of like a BLM mantra. Thinking of you... and sweet little Peyton.

  7. I had never heard this poem, THANK YOU for sharing this. It brings tears to my eyes because it makes me really think of my life. I will have to share this with my niece as well(her mom just passed). Your mom sounds like a beautiful person. ((HUGS)) to you!

  8. Beautiful words, and yet, still haunting...with every goodbye, you learn.

    This was not a goodbye from which I wanted to learn and I don't know if I am strong enough to do so.

    Always thinking of you...

  9. This gave me chills. Because the day before yesterday I had never read that poem before. Yesterday it was posted on a forum totally unrelated to the subject matter of your blog.( Though there it was attributed, rather improbably I thought, to Danielle Steele. Unless she an Veronica are one an the same!) Now it appears here too. Hmmm!

  10. We don't fully appreciate our parents growing up-not until we are older. You talking about that resonated with me.

  11. LOVE this post! I can really relate to what you said about your relationship with your Mom at that stage in your life & now & how different they are. I love the poem, such great truth in there, thanks for sharing!

  12. Totally what I needed to read today. Thank you.