Life · personal growth

What if?

My best decision was marring my best friend in 1990.

It’s human nature to ask what if. What if I said yes instead of no? What if I chose the road less traveled? What if I left home three seconds later or turned left instead of right? What if everything was different?

Life is a series of choices. Sometimes your life is shaped by the choices made by others before you even knew you had a voice. Sometimes the choices you make have a profound impact on those closest to you, and even those with whom you may have shared a handful of moments. Every second presents us with choices to make, some mundane and insignificant, but others shatter your world—the life you made for yourself, dreams you chased, a future you thought for sure was certain. Sometimes life presents you with one opportunity to make the right choice. Sometimes we get to make the same choice time and again until we learn to choose better. Sometimes we never learn.

My life has been a series of calculated choice—each decision led me away from a life of poverty, addiction, and abuse. I chose hope. I chose to end cycles that passed from one generation to the next. I chose me. I could have easily made other choices, no one would have blamed me if I had, but I wanted more for myself. It wasn’t going to be gifted to me. I fought for it.

What if my parents would have made different choices? Would I be as stubborn and strong as I am now if I hadn’t struggled every day until I left for college? Would I choose to be as compassionate as I am now if I didn’t know what it felt like to carry around pain and fear I collected as a kid? Would I be as creative as I am now if writing and reading stacks of books hadn’t been my only escape from a chaotic, violent homelife? Would I be as hopeful as I am now if hope had not been the only thing I had growing up? Would I diligently manage my mental health now if I had not watched depression and drug addiction destroy my parents? I could choose to see the tragedy in each choice my parents made, but instead I choose to see triumph. That which did not kill me makes me stronger. That may be true, but it sure hurts like hell.

What if I would have made different choices? I’ve made choices out of fear that absolutely broke my heart. I’ve made decisions I knew were right, but hurt those I love. I chose with my heart instead of reason, and chose reason when my heart begged me not to. I chose to be stubborn and irreverent, when being open-hearted and open-minded would have made all the difference. I chose skepticism over faith, pessimism over positivity, pride over humility, and doubt over confidence. I chose passivity when I should have shouted from the rooftop and anger instead of forgiveness. I chose denial when confronted with facts and chose to believe my worst fears couldn’t possibly be true.

But I chose to try again, knowing I can be better.

There are choices I am so proud I made—being hopeful, going to college, reaching out for help, marrying my best friend, getting out of bed every day, buying a home, raising strong, sassy girls, loving with my whole heart, writing, letting my self be vulnerable when I needed to and strong when I had to, and never giving up.

What if I am living the life I’ve always wanted?

I am.

personal growth · Uncategorized

Did I Actually Write That Nonsense?

The one thing I have perfected as a writer is the beginning of a story—no middle or end; no inciting incident; no idea where it’s going or what it wants to be. I then squirrel it away for years, sometimes twenty. I was a completely different person twenty years ago and it is painfully obvious when I re-read the words of a twenty-something aspiring writer who never cracked open a thesaurus. It does make me appreciate how far I’ve come and am excited to say I’ve had several of my short stories published. It wouldn’t hurt to dust off The Chicago Manual of Style. Who am I kidding? I bought the laminated tri-fold. Its quality is described on Amazon—water resistant, lightweight, compact, and durable. My writing has two of those same qualities. I’ll let you be the judge.

For your reading pleasure, here are the gems I dug out of my squirrel nest. Be prepared to be underwhelmed:

  • “Mitch’s enthusiasm could be seen by the blind and heard by the deaf.” Let me first apologize to the blind and deaf communities. That one is painful.
  • “He would have noticed two damp towels laying on the cold bathroom floor.” Ugh, seriously? Does anyone care the bathroom floor was cold and the towels damp? Lazy.
  • “Her limp, mousy hair falls straight… hanging lifeless over her shoulders.” An ellipsis has no business in this sentence. These words have no business in this sentence. What the fuck is mousy hair? So embarrassing.
  • “She would rather pluck out her own eyes than let anyone see her hurt.” Uhm, that’s not how vision works.  People can still see you even if you pluck out your own eyes. I want to pluck out my eyes so I can’t see this horrible writing.
  • “Although she loves Chris and has allowed him to explore every curve of her body, she has not let him inside her soul. He has tried to scale them, but he always loses his footing and falls to the hard ground below. So, he stands outside of those walls and licks his wounds.” First off, I just threw up in my mouth. “Let him inside her soul?” That’s not a thing. The thought of him licking his wounds just made me throw up again.
  • “Janie worked six nights a week at Heartstone Nursing Center, changing Attends and cleaning up vomit off the cold linoleum floor.” What is up with these cold floors? Heartstone? What a marketing nightmare. Do you really want your mom staying at a stone-hearted facility?
  • “Even when you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere, usually at a place called Regret.” I think I was trying to be deep. Did you see what I did there? Regret is the name of the town. So, so bad.
  •  “I went to wash my hands as to not spread germs.” That’s just the right thing to do, people! Good hygiene is everyone’s business.
  • “Maggie, her legs crossed” – that’s it, folks. Not even a period or point. I didn’t even finish the sentence. The story just stops.
  • “Maggie lay supine on the hospital bed with her eyes closed.” That’s a little clinical and redundant.
  • “Tim kissed Maggie’s parched lips ever so gently, yet passionately enough to remind her that she was still alive. It was like an unexpected rainstorm over the desert in which the dry earth drew long awaited water to its depths.” What a sloppy, disgusting kiss! So gross, Tim! Keep your saliva to yourself.
  • “As he left, the majestic pink petals of the single rose fell to the floor.” That’s ineffectually dramatic and ridiculous. What the hell are majestic petals? Get it together, Jenny.
  • “His voice was small and fragile, as if the words he struggled to speak would slip from his tongue on to the cold, grey pavement.” It’s not just bathroom floors that are cold, my friends.

I leave you with this gem. “The house was a hideous gold-brown color that reminded me of baby poop.” Yep, I actually wrote that. Jealous much?

personal growth

Doesn’t Everyone Lie on Their Driver’s License?

The weight on my driver’s license is a lie—a complete fabrication that may have been true at one time, but it’s just speculation at this point.  I renewed my license and picked a weight I could live with.  I didn’t go crazy, but there was a good thirty-pound difference between reality and what I wanted to believe.  I knew the man taking my picture wouldn’t dare challenge my creative license.

Now, to complicate things further, my bank is nosy and asks what the weight on my driver’s license is every time I pay a bill online.  The answer is the lie I used two licenses ago—a good twenty-five pounds less than the current lie.  To be fair, I really was all those weights at one time, just not on the days I visited DMV.  Everything else on my license is true—my eyes are blue and I’m a donor.  Generally, I lie a little, but not a lot (unless you count each pound, then yes, I lie a fuck- ton).

I never struggled with my weight during my teenage years.  I thought it was perfectly normal to see one’s ribs.  I don’t remember thinking much about it.  My mom was a great cook when she was so moved, but I mostly ate free lunches at school and cereal for dinner. Usually just one or the other.  My tummy was too nervous to eat, anyway.  Growing up in fear and uncertainty tends to do that.  Now when my tummy is nervous, I eat past that shit.

I didn’t become all-consumed about my weight until my first year of college.  My tummy grew accustomed to the three meals per day offered in my dorm.  Did you hear what I said?  Three meals per day!  That was two meals more than I usually had.  As an added bonus, my boyfriend took me out to eat on the weekends.  I had won the lottery. My prize was fifteen extra pounds my freshman year.  I gained another fifteen by the time I got married the end of my junior year.  I was still skinny—my dress size was still in the single digits, I wore a bikini on my honeymoon, and the weight on my driver’s license was true.  My first baby and twenty extra pounds came along after graduation.  I gained even more weight after the second baby.  Looking back, I would love to be that weight again.  I gained more, lost some, gained it back and then some. 

My body changed. There was a lot more of me. Things that were solid now jiggle and sag from added weight. I keep trying to push my tummy fat up to my boobs, but it doesn’t work. I mean, if I’m going to be overweight, I should at least get to have bigger boobs. No such luck. My butt has a shelf my cat lounges on when I’m trying to get ready in the morning.

Having grown up without much food, I make sure I have plenty around.  I over-feed my pets, house guests, and myself.  When I feel bad, I eat. When I feel good, I eat. It’s my reward for making it through dark times.  I recently realized my reward was hurting me, so I’ve made some changes.  Starbucks, Dairy Queen, and food trucks miss me, I’m sure. My goal is to get to the weight on my driver’s license. 

No more lies.

personal growth

Why I Write

I’m standing in front of you naked and showing you every wrinkle, sag, imperfection, and fat roll.  There’s no hiding behind baggy sweatshirts, makeup, or control top underwear.  I’ve given my secrets names and lit a candle so you could see the dark places within me.  I’ve exposed my soft underbelly and I’m vulnerable to your sharp jabs.  This is what it feels like when I share my writing, but I do it anyway, because leaving the words bouncing around my insides is more painful than the fear of releasing them.

I’m an emotional writer.  I want you to feel what I write.  I want you to sink into the environment I’ve created and live there.  I want you to feel angry, frightened, joyful, and hopeful. I want you to face your foes, fall in love, and breathe deeply after the wind has been knocked out of you.  I want you to forget you are reading a story.  You are the story.

I started writing as a kid.  It was my escape from the pain and fear I felt every day at home.  I would share my stories with my best friend, Adrienne.  She was my biggest fan. I wrote until I didn’t anymore.  I stopped after my dad read my diary out loud to me and I heard all the words I wrote in secret spill out of his angry mouth.  I knew the words hurt him.  My words became painful to see and hear so I kept them inside after that.  I let fear and vulnerability shut down my creativity.  I didn’t write again until I was an adult with a mortgage, two children, a full-time job, and overwhelming exhaustion.  I wrote here and there and stuffed the pages away.  I wrote on the back of fast food bags and napkins and left them isolated and hidden from the world.  I wrote a thousand words of nothingness and stopped before they became anything other than broken thoughts and false starts.

A dear friend presented me with the opportunity to submit a short story to a new online literary magazine called the Fictional Café.  It was accepted and became the first story published on the site.  All Things Buried is a story about hope in a hopeless situation.  I started writing it as a teenager and didn’t finish it until I was in my mid-life.  It was terrifying to share but it set me free.  I’ve been writing ever since.  Here’s the link to the story that started it all:  https://www.fictionalcafe.com/all-things-buried-by-jenny-cokeley-4/.  I hope you enjoy it and become the story.

compassion · older adults · personal growth · Uncategorized

Tales from the Nursing Home: Margaret

When Margaret was younger, she wasn’t a striking woman.  She had deep-set eyes trapped behind think-lens glasses, a long, off-centered face, and a bit of an overbite.  She couldn’t stop a man dead in his tracks or even earn a second glance when she walked into the room.  She was a quiet woman with a gentle demeanor who faded into the background.  She had a serious stride that hid any trace of playfulness or grace.  She wore a dab of rouge and a touch of lipstick, never red. 

I did not know Margaret when she was a young girl or even during her mid-life.  She was an 89-year-old woman whose thick chestnut hair turned to white wisps and deep grooves encircled her mouth and spread across her face.  Her legs could no longer support her slender body and she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair she could slowly propel when she wasn’t overcome with fatigue. 

When I met Margaret, she lived in a world of confusion highlighted by brief moments of clarity that added frustration and loneliness to her life.  Her husband of fifty years suffered a heart attack several years back and they were never blessed with children, although they tried.  Margaret’s friends were long gone, not that she could remember their names.  She would ask me why the Lord hadn’t taken her yet.  She felt she had lived a good, Christian life.  She prayed every night she wouldn’t wake up.  She didn’t view death as something to fear.  She was ready, but had to wait.  It wasn’t her decision.

Margaret would often come to me in tears.  She felt ashamed and embarrassed that she showed such emotion.  As a minister’s wife, Margaret had always been the shelter that protected others from the harsh realities of life.  She had no time to cry for herself when she had to wipe away the tears of others.  She had to push away her own feelings of insecurity and doubt while she smiled sweetly and offered encouraging words of advice.  As a girl, she was told to be strong and never show her weakness with tears.  It wasn’t until dementia began to tighten its grip that she was forced to acknowledge her loss and loneliness.  I sat with her, held her hand, wiped her tears, and spoke softly.  That’s when I realized Margaret and I were alike.

One of my most vivid and touching memories of Margaret was seeing her sitting in the dining room after all the other nursing home residents had left.  In front of her, the memories of her life were scattered across the table revealing the Margaret I had never known.  With every picture she touched, she came alive as memories flooded her mind. 

When I first saw her sitting at the table, I was overcome with sadness.  This wonderful woman had nothing left but a table full of distant memories—her childhood home; her brother carrying her on his shoulders; her wedding day.  The pictures freed her from confusion, if only for a little while.  It was my youth that did not allow me to see that these pictures were Margaret’s shelter. Her smile lit up the room and my heart.

The moments I spent with Margaret validated my life’s purpose.  Like Margaret, I became a shelter to those in need of love and comfort, often pushing away my own need for compassion and understanding.  When I held her hand, we were both comforted.  The soul of a woman in her early twenties was intertwined with that of a woman in her late eighties.  She showed me the treasures hidden behind white hair, wheelchairs, and bewilderment.  To me, Margaret was a beautiful woman.  Her beauty was revealed in her comforting touch and soft voice, her caring spirit and sincerity, her generosity and goodwill.  I can honestly say she was the most beautiful woman I have ever known. 

I was on maternity leave with my first child when Margaret passed away. I didn’t get to hold her hand and say goodbye to her.  I’ve carried her picture with me for twenty-five years.  I look at it every day and it reminds me to be compassionate and comforting to others.  Everyone needs a hand to hold and an encouraging word once in a while.  Margaret knew that better than most—my beautiful, sweet Margaret.