Uta Hagen--

"We must overcome the notion that we must be regular...it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre."

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Recap

I have, again, decided to do a recap for this year. This decision comes with a few complicated decisions about what to talk about on this blog and what should remain private. Nothing horrid, I assure you.

The year began with a sense of relief. 2010 was over – the worst year of my life was over. Although I had dreaded 2011 so much and had felt almost guilty for entering into it, once that ball dropped and “Happy New Year”s erupted throughout the house, I knew something amazing had happened. For my family, it was a promise that the coming year couldn’t be worse than the one that had just ended. But for me, it was something else, maybe only slightly different. For me, it was a promise that I was going to make it through Jimmy’s death. No matter what life threw at me, I would make it. And thus far, I have.

In February, my cousin gave birth to a beautiful baby boy – James Henry – on the 7th. Baby H, as we have come to call him, has been such a blessing to watch grow, though I didn’t meet him until a few months later. He’s full of smiles and I think that’s exactly what our family needed. Also in February, the rest of Jimmy’s unit returned home from a one year deployment to Afghanistan. They were met by love, honor, respect, and thanks by their families – and maybe a little bit of bitter sweet hearts by mine. On February 18th, my uncle turned 50 and I gave him a book of poems, letters, emails, and all kinds of stuff that I had written to, about, or for Jimmy, his son. On the last day of February, having been half a year since Jimmy was killed in action, I began writing again. There was an odd feeling that day when I finally got the “okay” from Jimmy’s brother. I looked at a picture of Jimmy smiling in his full battle-rattle and I just felt…at peace. I cried with joy that I didn’t quite understand. I still don’t understand it. The only thing I can say is maybe, just maybe, that was Jimmy’s way of saying that he was okay with this project, too.

In March I attended two “Packing Parties” to send supplies to the Troops – one through the Thank You Foundation and the other through the Yellow Ribbon Support Center. I went on Spring break and just did a bunch of local stuff we don’t often take advantage of. Other than that it was a pretty quiet month.

April, however, definitely anything but quiet. I went to a Red’s game with Jimmy’s oldest daughter, which was fun – but cold. I took a ride on the motorcycle with my uncle in the 10th. On the 15th of April, my cousin, Tyler, deployed with the United States Marine Corps. He would spend one month in Japan and then seven in Afghanistan. How this affected me is pretty indescribable. I don’t think I ever let the horrors of war be real until Jimmy came home with a flag draped over him, and having Tyler deploy just eight months after that really scared me. I prayed for him every night and wished for nothing more than for him to come home safely. I talked to him via Skype on April 25th, and that would be the last time I heard his voice for nearly eight months. On a lighter note, in April I saw “Water for Elephants” with my friend, which I really enjoyed. We also found out the truth about what happened to Jimmy on April 17th. And that day is a day that I will never forget. I remember holding my baby cousin, Nik, and just sobbing as my aunt told me. But what I remember most clearly is the sense of pride and relief that settled in me, knowing that Jimmy wasn’t alone. I resolved that day to meet the men that were with him – and I’m proud to say that I have. A Gold Star Family should never have to wonder what happened to their Hero, and they definitely should never be fed lies. I’m proud of Jimmy, and I couldn’t have asked for better men for him to have served with.

In May, my school held Student Council elections. I didn’t win, but having made it half way through my sophomore year, I honestly think that was a blessing in disguise. Leanna Renee Hieber came to town once again for her book The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess which is always an exciting event. On May 19th, I held Baby H for the first time, which was awesome. I love that kid. Jimmy would have turned 28 on the 24th of May. On May 28th, nine months after he was killed in action, we held a memorial for him and dedicated a stone to him. I was honored to speak at this event in front of not only my family, but several high-ranking government officials state and nation-wide. But the people that I was most honored to speak in front of were the four soldiers that served with Jimmy. I have never been more honored in my life than when I met these men, one of them especially that put my mind at ease. My only regret is that I had to speak right after Jimmy’s staff sergeant – that was the second hardest speech I’ve ever had to give. The man that I’m speaking of has undoubtedly become family in the months since, although we accepted him as such on the spot. He told many stories of Jimmy as a soldier, which was a side of him that was completely foreign to me. He also did something that, to this day, touches my heart. He wanted to give me a bracelet that Jimmy had made for him out of 550 chord. There was no way I was going to let him do that, but the fact that he offered…I don’t think he will ever know how much that small thing meant to me. And I’m not sure I can explain it either. But, SSG Riley, if you’re reading this, thank you. That’s the lamest thing to say, but I have to thank you. I don’t know what else to say.
I should also mention this guy pictured in the red.  He was one of Jimmy's best friends and he has helped me realize that I have to keep living in ways that others could not.  I met him at Jimmy's visitation, and he just came over and hugged me.  That was the first time after I got the news that Jimmy had been killed that I had let myself believe that I could make it through this.

On June 4th, I brought a soldier home to his family with smiles. It was a hot day, but it was so worth it to ride with the Patriot Guard Riders to see that soldier’s surprise when bikes with flags escorted him back to his parents’ house. I will never forget that day. On June 14th, I turned 15, which was pretty exciting, I guess.  On the 18th, my little sister turned 4. On June 15th, my cousin, Corey, got out of the United States Army. On the 28th, Corey arrived in Ohio.

On July 16th, my family and I left for Myrtle Beach. We stopped overnight in Tennessee and had dinner with my cousins – two of which I hadn’t seen in years. Yes, Scott, I’m talking about you. It was so good to see them. Sometimes we get so caught up in our everyday lives, we forget that our family won’t always be there. I sat around the table that night and looked at each of my family members. It amazed me how far each of them had come, Scott and his son especially. His son was eight at the time, and he’s just about the sweetest, funniest kid I’ve ever met. I hope he turns out just like his dad. We could really use some more people like him. The next day, we traveled the rest of the way to Myrtle Beach and we spent 5 days there. I rode with my uncle a couple times upon returning home, nothing PGR related, though. On the 29th, I saw possibly the worst movie ever made – “Cowboys and Aliens” – with my ‘cousin’, Nina, my friend, Kyle, and his cousin, Aaron. Note to self, never let Kyle choose the movie. We would have been better off seeing “Mr. Poppers Penguins” or “Winnie the Pooh”. But we had fun nonetheless. Even if there were a lot of short jokes (amongst other jokes *glares at Nina*) made.

And then August came. You know that month that makes you want to run backwards through the summer and just cling onto whatever last bits of freedom you can? Yeah, that month. The one year anniversary of my Granny came and went on the 3rd, and my dad turned 50 the next day. I saw the Smurfs movie, which made me love to be short. My Great Grandpa would have turned 100 on the 6th, which was pretty cool to me. My friend, Abby (HEY YOU’RE ON THE BLOG AGAIN! YOU ARE ACCOMPLISHED!) came over on the 11th and she got to see me open my Advanced Reader’s Copy of DARKER STILL by Leanna Renee Hieber (one of my most favorite books ever). I went to the lake with my grandparents, and my aunt and cousins joined us the next day. On the 19th, my family and I went to Columbus for the weekend as a last hoorah of summer. We met my cousin and his girlfriend for breakfast Saturday morning which was lovely. But it’s hard to eat next to someone that tall – he was cutting his pancakes and about elbowed me in the face. Granted, that could have been on purpose. Then we went to the zoo. We went back home and I started my sophomore year of school on the 24th. On the 28th, we honored Jimmy’s one year angelversary. My aunt and her sister went skydiving at the airport where we brought Jimmy home. We then let off 27 balloons in his honor, one for each year of his life. Later that night, we held a candle light ceremony at his grave and I gave an impromptu speech. And we made it through that day.

On September 10th, I went with some of my family to Sunbury, Ohio for the Fallen Heroes Memorial Dedication. It was an awesome ceremony and a highly emotional day. If we’re friends on Facebook, you can read my thoughts on that day there – I don’t think I can more adequately describe it than I did there. On the 11th, we attended a 9/11 remembrance ceremony. On the 16th, my dad drove my brother and I to Columbus and we spent the weekend with my cousin and his girlfriend. That weekend was definitely a highlight of my year. I laughed so much that weekend and I bonded not only with my cousin, but with his girlfriend too. It was a great weekend, and I don’t think they know how much it really meant to me. We went to the Ohio State campus on the 17th and that was just amazing. I’m completely in love with it. And now all I can say is, cousin and girlfriend if you’re reading this, you’re going to be soooooo sick of me when I go to college at Ohio State and live only minutes from you!!

On October 1st, my school held their homecoming dance, which was fun, but really crowded and hot. On the 8th, my cousin’s scholarship fund – Shabooms – held its first annual bike ride. I rode with my cousin mentioned above and I had a great time. My cousin, Scott, also came with his girlfriend and it was just a great day. It was also the 12 year anniversary of my mom’s death. In that respect, I was really glad I rode with my cousin. Every time my mind began to wander, he’d do something – pinch my knee, use my leg as an arm rest, start singing, etc. – that kept my mind off of it. I don’t know if he knew it or not, but I really needed it. So thank you, cousin. That night, my dad and I went to a bonfire at a family friend’s house and I saw said bad-movie-picker-friend. It was entertaining, but at that point my mind wasn’t allowing me to divert it from what the day meant. We didn’t stay long but when I went home that night, it was a long night to say the least. And I’m thankful for the person that talked to me the whole while, telling me I’d be okay. If you’re reading this, I don’t think you know how much that meant to me. You didn’t have to do that, but you did. Fire. Hot. Hurt!

In November, I was really busy. On the 11th, Veterans Day, a hard day was made less by the lovely Leanna Renee Hieber, once again in town for the release of a new book – Darker Still. I had such a great time at the signing and I love her dearly. Leanna, if you’re reading this, I want you to know I would have long ago given up on my dream of writing if it weren’t for you. You inspire me immensely. The next day, the 12th, Shabooms held a spaghetti dinner as a fund raiser for the scholarship fund. I met some other soldiers that Jimmy served with and it was just a great night. It was a hard night, but a great night nonetheless. I hope those two guys know just how much I loved meeting them. It was an honor. On the 18th, “Breaking Dawn Part I” came out in theatres and I went to see it opening night with my mom, my friend, and her mom. Front row, once again. Because I’m a nerd like that. Thanksgiving came and went, and for the first time ever, I went Black Friday shopping. Whether or not that will happen again, is undecided.

December. Possibly the best month of the whole year this year. To be completely honest, not a lot happened. My baby cousin, Nik, turned one. I went to my friend’s house (You’re in here, again!) to celebrate her birthday. On December 18th, though, Tyler came home from Afghanistan. At 5:34 that night, my phone rang and I heard the voice that I hadn’t heard since April 25th. But this time that voice wasn’t coming from Japan. It was coming from Chicago. I nearly broke down as he told me that he had wanted to surprise me at school, as he told me that he was so glad to be home, that he’d see me soon, that he loved me. I hadn’t expected a call that day, but I had feared that I’d never hear his voice again. I was so, so emotional when I finally got to muster the two words I had wanted to say to him for 8 months “Welcome Home.” And although Christmas came a week later, that was the best Christmas gift I received. Welcome home, CPL McNabb. You’ve made me and your country proud. I am honored to call you my cousin, and I love you.

And now, New Year’s is here again. I said last year that 2010 had made me a different person. And if that was the case, 2011 has made me true to that new person. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same as I was, but I don’t think any of us are really ever the same as we were. Whether we were changed by a loss, an addition, or just by decisions, I don’t think we can ever say that we’re the same as we were. I think every year offers a new opportunity to be someone we weren’t – whether that’s for the better of worse – and I think it’s up to us whether or not we take that chance. I’m pretty happy with who I am, right now. There’s always going to be a part of me that wishes I could just be a normal, happy, ignorant teenager, but I know that will never happen. I am who I am because of what I’ve been through. My views have changed, my priorities have changed, and yes, I’m very military-oriented. I love my country and I love my family. I’m not all about boys or the Jersey Shore or anything like that. My Heroes aren’t on TV or in music, my Heroes wear combat boots and dog tags. Maybe I won’t change the world, maybe I won’t ever be known by millions, but I’m okay with that because I like who I am. There’s always going to be a pain in my heart, but that pain is what keeps me in check. I found a quote earlier this year that I think perfectly sums up 2011 – “I’m not what I’ve done…I’m what I’ve overcome.”

Happy New Year!

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