Returning by Paul White

I traveled 3,000 miles. 38 hours of driving. I crossed three time zones and 10 state lines. In a fully packed up Toyota Sienna, where the drum set sat next to me and Spotify played hours and hours and hours of music. When it wasn't dead silent from the lack of service. Thanks T-Mobile....

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I started in Denver. The mile high city. And when I stepped off the plane and stared at the landscape, I felt like I'd been knocked back. Pretoria and Denver look the same, without the Rocky Mountains in the background of course. But the rolling hillside and shrubs look a hell of a lot like home. I don't know how anyone can stand there, in that space, and look at the vastness of the earth and not be overwhelmed with the glory of nature. I sat with my boyfriend's friends and learned about the city he lived in, stopping in at their favorite haunts and eating some of the best tacos I've ever had at a bar with one hell of a sense of humor. It's called Pinche, by the way.

 

I drove 15 hours through Denver, New Mexico, and West Texas. I had multiple moments of heartbreak and awe. The land is not easy, it's rugged and harsh. Mountains paint the sky blue and the land looks wind torn, with the occasional windmill on a mesa like a sky dancer reaching for the clouds. Settler's looked at that land with dogged determination and decided they would make it their own. More often than not I saw land tearing down homes, natures tendrils reaching up to pull bricks down the walls, to reclaim what had been built. But the homes that survived, are incredible.  In New Mexico, I went over 15 miles at time between dwellings and I was mind blown at man. Roads, electricity and telephone wires are testament to the presence of humanity, but otherwise the flats and mountains, mesas and buttes, are all barren of human touch. No billboards litter the highway, no gaudy signs for gas or cheap motel rooms. Just the occasional small town, a blip in the unchanging landscape. The road trip was long, and often arduous, with the wind whipping across the road and forcing me to fight the elements for the majority of the 15 hour drive.

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I landed in Austin at 9:30 at night and walked down 6th street, time and memory and exhaustion driving me to the nearest food joint that still served food on a Wednesday night. Eureka! was the choice, where a bourbon cocktail named Penicillin won me over, and a woman named Christine had me hysterically laughing as we discussed men, bunnies, the love for movement beyond a desk, the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a workforce and the fact we say sorry too much. She invited me to join her for a yoga retreat in Boston in August and when I left she hugged me and told me I had a beautiful soul.

 

In the morning I drove across Texas and into Louisiana, and I cried over the vastness of the Mississippi river and how brave men and women had to be to cross that without a bridge. We owe so much of what we have to people with far more guts then we have. And then I drove into New Orleans, as the sun broke through and storms finally quieted, and oh if that city doesn't feel like coming home. There's an energy in New Orleans, a hum in the lining of the walls. Where belief systems are a little different and you can see children playing tag amongst the tombs as easily as you see them on the playground. Music pours out of open doors, colored houses dot the landscape and theres something amazing to do or see on every corner.

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We visited several local favorites, caught up on a year of changes, discussed love and family, work and wishes, and the lives we want for ourselves. We stopped at St. Roch's market in the morning, before we walked the quarter, and indulged in overly great food. I spoke with Melvin, a man who loves this city so much and was so glad I'd come to visit. And we talked about music, and places to see and the vibrancy of people, of art, of music and experience. And he told me to come back because I looked like I belonged there.

 

If there would ever be a place to pack up and start again, I'd know exactly where I'd go. And I'd never look back. I told Michelle I'd see her in the fall and I left with a heavy heart, because there's never enough time in New Orleans or with a friend who you know you can count on for 12 years and counting. I drove through lightning storms and pounding rain for 4.5 hours, as if the city itself was angry I was leaving. And arrived at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. 

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I saw Stephanie last, 7 years ago, at her mother's funeral. Her son was an infant, not an independent young man like I met. She has done an incredible job, raised a polite and wonderfully kind son. And She and I sat on the couch for seven and a half hours and talked about every possible thing that crossed our minds. From hysterical laughter to conversations that blew my mind. She told me she has stopped apologizing for things and instead has started saying thank you to people instead. "Thank you for your patience, thank you for not judging my house." The shift in position felt life altering. Seven years was covered in such a short time and it will never feel long enough. We ended our journey with breakfast and a hug and a vow to have more adventures together instead of just discussing them. 

And then I drove 10 hours home. Honestly I think the most impressive part of the trip was the fact I spent that much time in a car without getting a speeding ticket.

But I learned so much about myself in that car. To drive that far alone is to be trapped with your own thoughts and fears and wants and to be forced to confront them. I didn't stress about food or workouts, I enjoyed the moment. The first trip I've gone on where exercise and food were not an obsession, because I know what I'm capable of and that I can alter my state with hard work. I felt a sense of calm and peace as I looked forward to my new career choices. Between restaurant industry and advertising, my day will be filled with excitement and value. I will not be a stationary, caged bird, I will travel. For work, for pleasure, for a change in scenery. Fears, that have once kept me tethered were alleviated as the hours passed and I realized I am able to do a lot more on my own than I gave myself credit for. I forgave myself for holding back, for still allowing someone else's voice to ring hollow in my ears after the fact.

And when I pulled into Richmond, it was with love, because I do love this city, but also with joy. Because you can always come home, so there's no reason to stay tethered anymore. 

I'm ready for more, more life, more adventure.

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Tribulation by Matt Maeson

When I was 12, I had a crippling fear of death. We were the only ones in the USA at the time, so I was constantly worried what would happen if my parents died. Would we go home? Into foster care? What happened to the dog? To my sister? I used to wake up screaming. I cried when they went to work. It took sitting down and planning my parents funeral and every step I would have to take in case they died for me to stop having nightmares. 

I'm good with a plan. And so I've handled every crippling situation since then with a plan.

After I put Alex in jail, I would wake up with nightmares for months. Terrified he'd fulfill the promises of killing me, my parents, or my dogs. I would fumble for my glasses and turn on the lights and try and will myself to breathe again. So I made a plan- if I could see when I woke up, it might be better. If I decided to get a gun for protection it would be better if I had to just open my eyes, not open my eyes and shove glasses on and fumble. And so I paid $5,000 dollars for the ability to see when I woke up so that I'd be less afraid, and the nightmares lessened.

I started to lift heavier weight too, because if I wasn't going to get a gun I was going to be able to defend myself in some way. The day I picked up 200 lbs. was the first time I slept through the night after my court case.

I have become incredibly proficient, in handling my anxiety over the years. I recognize the irrational and the overwhelming. Boomer was a part of that process. Lifting and exercise have been a bigger part. Focusing on being the best I can in my day-to-day work has been even more of a focus, building my own small business, serving and bartending, and trying to fulfill goals I'd set for myself in my career path.

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I have a new career to step into, and I'm torn between excitement of the possibility and a stomach rolling nausea from the reeling experiences I've had in the last few years. I've jumped into careers, with nothing but excitement, to watch 5,000 of us be laid off, or our small team of 30, or be head hunted by an office that promised they were looking for a long term solution to their marketing team, - only to be laid off 90 days later with the entire team I was hired with. I work so many jobs because I am a person with a plan, I prepare for the worst. I've had the bottom drop out from beneath me so many times, that possibility is more terrifying then success.

And I'm struggling with the overwhelming. Death has knocked into my life twice in the past two months. With Boomer's loss still fresh and raw, and a dear friend finally losing her battle with Ovarian cancer, I've found the irrational has taken root a bit deeper than I'd like. I've started pausing at the entrance of our apartment, unable to unlock the door, overwhelmingly afraid Onyx has died while I've been at work. I have to count out breaths, because the panic claws up my throat, feeling like I'm drowning on dry land. If I don't hear from my family or my significant other at a usual time, I skip normal concern and straight to possible death scenarios and the relief I feel when a text or call is answered can make my legs shake. 

Usually, I'd choose health and exercise as my game plan for these scenarios. A goal, a focal point, a clear path to push towards, numbing the background noise that can grow so loud in my head. But as I look at the timeline of competing on June 30th, I also look at my ability to become obsessive, to use a plan as a coping mechanism, and there's part of me that knows that that kind of focus on weighing and measuring food at this time could lead to a much unhealthier future. And that knowledge is progress. So I'll push back the date of competing and focus on bodybuilding- a sound mind, a sound body- as I move forward towards that goal, delayed but not forgotten.

I'm not ashamed to admit these issues. They are woven into the fabric of my being, much like my rolling laugh, or inability to sit still for long periods of time. I have asked for and received help when the burdens become too much for me to bear alone, and as I step forward I'm keeping in mind that I can always do so again.

But.

We have to move forward. People and sharks- neither can stay in the same place without stagnating and dying. Moving forward to new adventures, as terrifying as they may be, is the only way. And so my game plan is to do just that- to move forward, to embrace the unknown, to take the first steps on this new adventure. 

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I head to Denver tomorrow and starting Wednesday, I'll be making a drive across the South. Austin, New Orleans, Mobile and Montgomery- stopping for work and for pleasure. Gaining some perspective and beginning my new role with an open road and open mind.

New beginnings. 

Goodbyes and new normals

When we walked into the yard to meet Boomer for the first time. I was so depressed that I had barely been able to get dressed to go. I'd been struggling for some time and the idea of a dog was daunting. This dog, when he came bounding out of the house with all the energy in the world, seemed particularly so.

He slammed, boxer style, into my mother and knocked her back and zoomed around the yard repeatedly. He was so skinny, his ribs prominently showing through his coat. He'd spent 12 weeks pent up in a crate for 18 hours a day, hadn't had many of his puppy shots. We knew even if we didn't keep him, he wasn't staying in that house. 

But he came bounding up the stairs, where I had chosen to hide from the excitement, overwhelmed and scared out of my mind, and he placed his paws on my shoulders and licked my face. And then he sat down in front of me. And I knew he was my dog. The way you know the sky is blue and water is wet. It was bone deep and the most comforting feeling. 

He was always smiling, that happy dog smile. He wasn't the most coordinated dog, but he threw his whole soul into the effort. He loved walks, but hated the heat. He loved to blow bubbles in water to try and get ice cubes in the summer. He would hold a tennis ball in his mouth for hours, never dropping it, so that he could be comforted by the fact he'd won it. 

He was SO much personality.  And I'm staring at the wooden box with his name on it and I cannot fathom how so much fits into such a small box. And I can't stop crying. I've lost friends and family before, people I loved dearly, but I didn't feel like this. I feel untethered. Adrift. 

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Every heartache, fight, struggle, career move- all of them have had him in my life. Boomer was my steadfast cuddle buddy, content to curl into a ball on the couch with me, head on my chest like a toddler. He was my protecter- he stood in front of me for 8 hours one evening, preventing any more injury or damage to my battered soul when my ex came into my house for the last time. His fur had more tears soaked into it then I'd like to admit. Both happy and sad. When the days of depression would get particularly bad, there was no judgment from him, just a comforting presence beside me. He loved to be pet, he would walk up to children, strangers, everyone and anyone to get a touch. One time, he tried to climb into a stroller, much to the delight of the toddler within it, and to his mom's horror. But she laughed when she realized how much of a giant baby he was. 

I have remembered so many little memories over the last two weeks. So many moments I didn't realize had such an impact. 

I miss him so much. And it's everywhere. From the way the bed seems colder because his body isn't laying beside me like a little furnace. To the way walks seem so different now. I feel lonely. And like my pain is a burden. There is nothing to do but roll through these emotions until they hurt less, but when people care about you they struggle to see you in pain. So I do my best to hide it, and they do their best to comfort.

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I'm still blessed to have Onyx. And I'm appreciating the time I have with her so much more. Each little moment. We take longer walks and we cuddle as often as we can. She's found her new space between our pillows, she lives with one paw on his shoulder. 

I'm trying to find my way back to "normal" but I'm struggling. The things I love to do have lost a bit of luster. The pain is like a paper cut, taking forever to heal, sharp and stinging and reminding you of that at the most inopportune moments. I'm trying. That's all I can do. 

I found this video the other day. And I hope you'll take more pictures and videos of your moments. Take pictures of the animals, the people, the friends that you love. Build a memory bank of wonders and moments. 

This was one of the happiest memories.

Ubuntu

Starting from scratch is pretty much the absolute worst. Trying to rebuild your business and your brand is a daunting task. One I've haphazardly worked on for over 6 months.

The fear of failure is ever present.

And something always happens to get in the way. Work, clients, a sick dog that needs medication and so on and so forth. The money put aside for logo design or website work has to be repurposed and the entire project placed on the backburner.

But you have to get out of your own way right? You have to sometimes struggle and just leap a little bit. You have to finagle and use your resources correctly so you can do what you need.

And so here I am. Launching my first new website in 5 years.

I'm excited and I also kind of feel like I'm going to throw up. Because I love what I do, and I want to do more of it. And it's scary to have that kind of faith in your abilities and your passions and be willing to make that your full-time career. 

And I still have some steps to complete, items to fix, paperwork to fill out, logos to design, etc. But I took the leap, I've made the first step. 

I chose the word Ubuntu to launch this blog because it represents so much to me. First, I am South African by birth, and Ubuntu is a Nguni word meaning humanity. But it's grown into something so much more and today, when translated, it means: "I am what I am because of who we all are."

In RVA, I have been surrounded by a supportive community. From accidental friendships forged by many run-ins, to coworkers, professors, friends and family- my career has been built by word of mouth and the connections I've built over the years. I am what I am because of who we all are, I have the faith in my worth, in my work, in my ability and my community, because of the chorus of support from others in the same boat. RVA has become Ubuntu for me, and in that I was given the courage to step forward. 

And I'm excited to take on this next chapter, with bigger and better things to come. With new perspective, with clear heart and mind, with enthusiasm. 

I'm grateful you're willing to take this journey with me, or just keep up with it online. 

I've always loved an adventure.

-Kerith