On High School: What I’d Tell Myself If I Could Do It All Again

Written on May 28, 2015

If keeping a 4.0 requires you to lower the rigor of your classes, don’t. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get good grades, but you definitely shouldn’t compromise your learning opportunities just to maintain a number.

There will always be people who seem to have or get more than you. It’s because the world is full to bursting with all kinds of talent and sometimes it’s hard to recognize all of it. It’s not fair, but it’s true. Don’t get down on yourself.

There aren’t scholarships for making the most people smile or for being nice to the substitute teacher or for only saying positive things about your peers, but these things are infinitely more important than your test scores and GPA. Remember that.

No one really cares about prom queen ten years down the road, or honestly even just a month later. Popularity is an illusion – everyone has something to offer, and no one is the end-all-be-all of perfection.

Jealousy will hurt you more than anything anyone can do to you. It’s hard to overcome it, but try to realize that you don’t know enough to judge who deserves what. Someone is always better off than you, but someone is always less fortunate, too.

Get to know your teachers beyond how they grade your work or insist on teaching class up until the second the bell rings. They’re human too – vast, fascinating, flawed, wonderful. They have stories to tell far beyond the breadth of their subjects and it’s these stories that you really ought to learn.

Don’t run away when you mess up. Learn to turn and face your mistakes head on, because it’s better to fix them all at once than it is to let them shadow you for days or months or years. Be the person who apologizes right away instead of the one who slinks off into a corner to hide.

You’re going to cry, and you’re going to make people cry. It might be because of a boy or a girl or something silly like a failed group project, or it might be because your life is literally crashing down around you. The reason doesn’t matter so much as the recovery, and the recovery doesn’t matter nearly as much as those who help you with it.

There will be favorites in high school and you may not be one of them. There will be kids who don’t even have to work to get the same things you have to fight so hard for. Don’t think that this is your fault or that it makes you any less of an important member of your school; people are flawed, sometimes even those in charge. Be anything but bitter. Be understanding.

No one cares about your ACT score once you’re actually in college. It may feel amazing to score highly or awful to scrape the barrel, but it doesn’t matter to anybody else nearly as much as it matters to you. This is both good and bad – accept it.

Participate in every damn thing you can fit into your schedule, because the people you meet and the friendships you build and the experiences you gain are worth so much more than the time you invest in them. Sing your heart out on your school song, paint your face for homecoming, stop being afraid of what you look like or what people think. Just jump in. You only get this once.

Stay home with your parents once in a while. Talk to them. Vent to them. Listen to what they have to say. While you are growing up, they are growing old. It’s easy to forget how important they are in the rush of these four years, but remember that they are the biggest thing you’ll be leaving behind.

You are not better than anybody. I don’t care if you run faster or score higher or sing more on key. You are not better, you are different. You will surpass your peers in some areas and fall far behind in others and you need to be okay with this.

The first time you really struggle in a class, it will feel awful. It will feel useless and impossible and you will become convinced that you’re the stupidest person to ever walk your school’s hallways. Remember that none of these things are true. The truth is that sometimes it seems like not even the hardest work pays off like you want it to, but you can’t forget the value of your effort.

Watch your words, always. You never know who is around you or who they know or what kind of horrible day they might be having. Never say anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable justifying to someone’s face, and if you do, don’t wait to acknowledge it and try to make it right.

First impressions will kill you. They’re impossible to shake and you’re going to have to deal with whatever initial thoughts popped into someone’s head regarding you for the next four years. You might never fully change someone’s mind, but you can still always focus on being who you really want people to perceive.

This is it. You don’t get to come back and slink into your old homeroom desk like it’s a second home ever again after you graduate. You’re going to hate high school, and you’re going to love it. There will be days you can’t wait to graduate and nights where you want everything to freeze – but it won’t. Know this. Learn to soak up every single experience. You are choosing who you are and who you will be day in and day out. This is a beginning… but it, too, is going to come to an end.

Photo credits to the Wausau Daily Herald.

Better Again

Written on January 16, 2017

I have learned to love deeply
To crave the rawest parts of those around me
I extend love in the face of myriad mistakes and never give up on those I care for

But I have also learned to be bitter
Sometimes I fear the darkness within,
My leaps to the most terrible conclusions
My discomfort when I hear whispers from the other side of the room

I cannot cite certain baggage forever, I know
I cannot be damaged goods from events so far in the past
But sometimes it seems, no matter how hard I try
I will never recover what I felt was taken from me

And I’m faced with a question, the most uncomfortable of all:
Was anything stolen, or did I just let it go?

I wonder if I’ve littered my life with excuses
The mysterious collisions of passion and pain
I want to be me again, no doubts or hesitations
But I’ve forgotten how to act even while surrounded by love

It’s too late to change what has been done,
Yet I grapple with leaving it behind
All I can do is be better tomorrow
All I can do is be better again

Dear Snort: You Are So Worth It

Written on January 12, 2017

Dear Snort,

It’s been three weeks since I met you. Three weeks since I sat down on the concrete floor in front of your kennel and pet your fur through the chain links. Three weeks since your beautiful blue eyes met mine with such sweetness and I fell in love. Three weeks since I sat in a visiting room as you flopped on the floor next to me, wanting nothing more than to be pet and cared for… and three weeks since I first wanted nothing more than to be the one giving you that care.

In these past 21 days, I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I’ve talked about you endlessly to all of the friends and family that would listen. The morning after we met I spent three hours doing research on your eye condition, exploring the costs and possibilities of your care. I’ve loved huskies forever, Snort, but this was different. I was drawn to so much more than your breed.

You have this joy about you, this gentle sweetness, this overwhelming purity that I can’t help but love. Despite looking at the world through constantly painful, half-closed eyes, you exist in it so peacefully. You changed something in me within the first minute I held you; you made me feel real hope for the first time since we had to say goodbye to my 14-year-old Larry. You stirred something in me, Snort. You woke me up.

I want you to know how much I care about you. I haven’t come to visit recently because I am afraid of getting too attached; I want you to go to the best home possible, but I just love you so much that I don’t know how I’ll handle it if that home isn’t with me. It’s silly, I know. Selfish. But I don’t want either of us to form a relationship that will only lead to disappointment. When you walk out of that humane society and bound into your new life, I need to feel nothing but pure joy for your future – even if that future doesn’t have me in it.

You are remarkable, Snort. From your quirky name to your beautiful coloring to the eye condition that plagues you day in and day out… I saw the reality of your care. I looked at pictures of enucleation surgery. I am prepared to stand by your side through anything your life might bring, and I know you will do the same for whoever is lucky enough to be your new owner.

As I sit here writing this, I know that in less than twelve hours you will be on your way to Madison to see your special vet. I know that a few hours after that I will be on speaker phone with all of you in the room, talking over your future, praying that I can be a part of it. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring or the day after that or all the ones to follow, but I do know that I will forever be thankful for how you have changed me.

Snort, I want you. I want you so desperately. But more than anything, I want love for you. I want comfort for you, relief from your pain, reprieve from your stay in a cold kennel. The staff at the humane society is just as amazing as you are, but I know nothing can beat a bed that’s all your own. You have given me the gift of loving again. You have opened my heart. You have reminded me why I’ve always loved animals do deeply – because you are worth it.

And Snort, let me tell you, you are so worth it. So damn worth every vet visit and every bill and every eyedrop application. Worth the worry, worth the stress, worth the wondering. You are even worth the pain of not calling you mine if that’s what it comes to. Just knowing you has been enough to bring light into my world.

Thank you for being you. I hope that we can grow together – I haven’t stopped fighting for you since the moment we met, and I don’t plan to cease anytime soon.

You deserve the world, beautiful girl. Wherever you end up, you belong with people who see that.

All my love.

Dear Charlotte: Kidney Failure

Written on

Dear Charlotte,

Some people don’t understand how a cat can be so important in my life. Some people don’t understand why I have twice as many pictures of you on my phone than any of my human friends. Some people don’t understand that I would do anything for you – truly anything – the same way I would do anything for my parents or my boyfriend or my roommates. But the fact that these people don’t understand only gives me confidence in my decision to give you more of my time than them.

I don’t remember life without you, kitten cat. I was barely three years old when Santa brought you at Christmas time, and to this day you are the best gift I have ever received. I can’t help but wonder if you are the true reason I adore the holiday season so much; after all, any time of year with you is a time I remember fondly.

Though I am nineteen now and away at college more often than not, our relationship has resisted any change. You still share my bed every night that I am home. You still climb on my lap within seconds of me sitting on the couch, meowing to be pet like the queen you know you are. You still sit on the edge of the tub outside the shower as I wash my hair so that my body remains in your vision, even if it’s blurry through the glass door. You still run to greet me when I get home. You still groom my hair as if I am one of your own kind. You still show me such kindness and love.

But though our friendship has remained steady for over sixteen beautiful years, the truth is that something is changing, baby. You have kidney failure.

That’s why you have been feeling so tired and weak, why you’ve been losing weight, why your cat chow hasn’t sounded as good lately. That’s why we’ve been trying to get you to eat special-smelling wet food and soft treats, offering them to you at every chance we get. That’s why you’ve had to go to the vet each weak to get fluids injected into your body, because we refuse to allow dehydration to set in. That’s why we’ve been spending more time petting you and coming to check on you as you sleep in various cozy places around the house. That’s why things feel different.

You’ve lost over two pounds, baby. And you didn’t have a lot to lose in the first place. Your blood is anemic and 75% of your kidney function has ceased. It’s scary, I know. I’m scared too. But I will comfort your anxiety in the only way I know how: by speaking calmly, softly, without pause, to tell you that you can trust me.

We are doing everything we can. Some cats can live with exactly what you’re dealing with for years – and they can do so comfortably. It’s all about managing it and paying attention to your blood work, and that’s exactly what we’re focusing on. I know you hate trips to the vet, but those kind people there are helping us make the best decisions for you. They are speaking to us the same way we speak to you: calmly, softly. And we need them.

This is a scary ride, baby girl. But we are here for you through it all. You’ve had sixteen beautiful years and it is my hope that you have many, many more – but when you become too tired I promise I’ll be there for that too.

You are my best friend. Always.

All my love,


Dear Lucy: I’m The Needy One

Written on

Dear Lucy,

You’re laying at my side as I write this, your tiny body pressed against mine. I know you’ll never read these words, but I hope the way I run my fingers through your fur and massage your back and let you take up three quarters of my bed is enough to show you how I feel in a language you can understand.

We’ve all noticed how since the loss of Larry you’ve become more “needy”: following us around, picking up our idle hands with your snout, demanding to sit next to Mom while she works on her computer at night and to sleep with Ali or I when the time comes to go to bed. You run to us whenever we get home, tail wagging and big eyes bright, and as much as we occasionally laugh at your insistence on constantly being near us, I hope you know how much we love it.

Because the truth is that you are not the needy one, Lucy. The truth is that I am. We all are.

You are remarkable, baby girl. From the day we brought you into our home we’ve all noticed how absolutely sweet your disposition is; from letting toddlers tug at your ears to always respecting your brother as he aged, I can say with confidence that you have never – and would never – hurt a fly. You have given us so much unconditional love in these past 12 years, and I am so thrilled that you are doing well enough that we get to have a few more with you. The piece of my heart you hold is massive.

When we lost Larry I know it affected you too. Though you were never best friends, there was always a sort of connection between you two, a level of steady love that always displayed itself when one of you didn’t feel well. With that said, I know that you must love being the only dog in the house and am happy you enjoy all of the attention – because we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t have you to give it to.

I remember returning home from the vet on that October day with tears pouring down my face, and when I walked in and saw you I just collapsed on the floor by your form. You were quiet and soft, and you brought your face to mine to lick a few tears away before leaning into me and just letting me hold you. If it weren’t for your love in that moment I’m not sure what I would have done.

We take you almost everywhere with us now; the number of car rides you’ve experienced in these past three months is substantial. You’ve come with my parents to Madison to drop me off in my apartment, you’ve gone to work with Ali, you’ve traveled distances both large and small. It has been such a comfort to have you with us.

I know you probably don’t understand exactly what happened to your brother. I know you couldn’t be a part of the decision we had to make. But through it all you have done the one thing you know how to do best: love us with everything you have. You might never know just how much we return that sentiment, baby girl, but I hope we can continue to show you.

So thank you, Lucy. Thank you for dealing with our tears and letting us hug you probably a little too tightly. Thank you for putting up with being carried from room to room so that we don’t have to be alone. Thank you for sleeping with me (even though you definitely have the sweeter deal there). Thank you for being so patient, and kind, and overwhelmingly sweet.

You may follow me around like you are the needy one – but I know I’m the one who wouldn’t survive without you.

I love you, honey bun. Here’s to many more years.

Your Haley

Dear Larry: Only A Dog

Written on

Dear Larry,

I used to get mad at you, you know. When you’d bark too much or throw up on my clothes or poop in the basement because you didn’t want to go outside in the rain. There are moments where I remember gritting my teeth as your ears went flat and you knew that you were in trouble, and I had to take a stream of deep breaths so that I didn’t raise my voice. I always felt guilty afterwards for wasting some of our precious time together in the midst of anger. I’ll always blame myself for the lack of consistency you sometimes experienced in your training. I’ll always have regrets; most of it really wasn’t your fault.

I’m only human, you know. I’ve only ever been human. But you, baby, were never only a dog. You were always so much more.

I was barely five years old when you waddled into my life with a few inbred genes and far more reasons to be loved. You were my first dog, my first unconditional best friend. You were the first life who loved me day in and day out, no matter my mood or my childish actions.

You were my first stab at responsibility. You taught me about obligations, about consistency, about cleaning up my toys and understanding natural instincts and taking time out of my day to give to you. You helped shape me into someone with morals and values and a heart ready to love.

You were my first experience with aging. It seems so far away that you and Lucy could actually jump up on our furniture without help, and watching you change over the years was as educational as it was difficult. I learned about your joints, about your eyesight, about your skin that never seemed to retain moisture. More than anything, I learned about love in the face of adversity from you. No matter your pain or your inabilities on any given day, you were always there to wag your tail and look into my eyes and press your body against mine for some cuddles. Even in sickness you were my unconditional best friend.

And then you were my first loss. I’d had hamsters throughout my childhood of course (you’d remember – you always were quite scared of the little fellas), but I always knew their lives were short and I could expect the time when it came. I’ve been fortunate to not lose a close family member or friend in my nineteen years of existence. Oh, I’ve been so blessed Larry… blessed that your loss was my first, blessed that I was able to live such a happy life for so long, blessed that I still have my parents and my sister and three other wonderful pets. But even the blessings that hide in the midst of heartbreak are never enough to make up for the pain. I know that now more than ever.

You were never only a dog, buddy boy. You were the most special, unique, loving, loyal creature I’ve ever met. You transcended simply being a pet, simply being a family member, simply being a friend. You became a part of me.

Even now, more than three months after we lost you, I still turn corners and expect to see you waking up from a nap to come greet meet. Sometimes I still hear my sister crying at night because you are not there to share her bed; sometimes I still cry myself to sleep, too. I don’t know if I will ever be used to your absence, but I do know that I will never forget the way you touched my life for fourteen amazing years.

I’ve only ever been human, but I’m a much better one than I was before I met you… because you were so much more than only a dog.

I hope you’re running and napping and making friends like crazy up there.

Your girl.