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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 | Author:

storyofjo san diego friends

I convinced her to do the hike with me.

It’s called the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  Some of the reviews and bloggers were surprisingly dramatic about how hard of a hike it is and how much water you need to bring with you. (One blogger suggested something like 5 gallons per person. Which I still stand by the fact that that’s ridiculous.)

Reading a bit further on the matter, though, I found plenty of people who had said the hike itself is easy-moderate, it’s just hot and unshaded. Perfect, I thought. Work on my San Diego tan while we hike. Win win.

I asked Lizz if she was down for it, and she expressed concerns about having heard similarly scary reports of how hard it was. But I told her what I’ve just told you and she agreed to try it.

You hike three miles downhill in desert areas outside of San Diego, get to the Devil’s Punchbowl, hangout in the shade and/or water, then you go three miles back uphill in the sun. In the summer it averages around 115 degrees. But in March, when we were going, it was only 85 or 90. Totally doable.

We laughed and made jokes about the huge signs at the trailhead that say in big, capital block letters: “CAUTION. HEAT STROKE KILLS!”

“Hey Lizz, I don’t know if you’re heard, but you should really be cautious. There’s this thing called heat stroke, and it’ll kill ya dead.” We have a very dry, sarcastic humor with one another. For some reason we find it hilarious to just repeat obvious things in dumb voices. At least we entertain each other.

We hiked down with ease, though Lizz was starting to get really hot. Which probably should’ve been a tip-off. We were trying to conserve our water, though, so she drank little on the way down. When we got to the water, we stayed for a good 30 or 40 minutes, just trying to get her back to feeling OK. We still made jokes about how she was dying from heat stroke. But of course, she didn’t have heat stroke, she was just hot from hiking in the hot sun. She was fine. It did take her a long time to feel like she got her temp back down though.

When she finally did, we began the hike back up. About 2/3 of the way she was really struggling and started to talk about feeling light headed, nauseas and having a throbbing headache. Having worked at summer camps for many years, I know that means dehydrated, so we made steady slow effort up the trail and I kept having her drink more. More. More.

Here, drink my second water bottle. Here drink the rest of my last water bottle. With no cell service I was starting to get concerned, but near the end she said she was feeling a little better, so I went on ahead to get to the trail head and get myself some water, and bring some back for her if she had to stop.

But I didn’t have to go back for her, she was close enough behind me. She got to the trailhead, drank an entire liter of water, and then went and laid in the shade until she cooled off.

Sorry I almost killed you with heat stroke I apologized, still snarky.

She cooled down, we got in the car and headed for our next item for the day. On the drive I got cell service back and received a text message my mom had sent earlier that morning: “Hi Jo. Give me a call when you have a chance.”

As I was driving and Lizz was all heat-strokey, I decided I would call her once we arrived somewhere. I had a feeling in my gut that she was going to tell me my childhood cat had died. He was old, I knew he’d been potentially nearing the end for a while now, but if it was that, I didn’t want to know just yet.

We got into the next town and were almost to our destination when Lizz said, Pull over. Pull over right now I’m gonna throw up.

I pulled into a parking lot and she couldn’t get the door quite all the way open before she puked in the most projectile way of “projectile vomit” I’ve ever seen. Some of it hit part of the door, splashing back on her, and the rest drenched the hot asphalt.

All of the water I’d made her drink shot out like a water cannon. It was really quite impressive if it weren’t so sad.

After she seemed to have finished, she sat up, I handed her a napkin, she wiped her mouth and the door, and said I think I just need to sit here for a bit.

I decided I might as well call my mom and face the sad news if thats what it was while I waited.

Hi Jo, she started. It’s about your cat. 

My tear ducts got ready.

Is he dead? I asked.

He went missing yesterday, and Dad went out to look for him today because we hadn’t seen him, and I’m sorry Jo but he found him in the pool. He drowned.

Tears. Falling. Throat. Catching.

He drowned??? I balked.

I’m so sorry Jo…

I cut her off. I felt the grief assaulting me. Ok, I’m sorry. I have to go. Bye.

I hit the “end call” button with a messy punch of my thumb before my hand just dropped the phone and I cried ugly, loud sobs while strangling the steering wheel. And then I wailed. The sounds guttural. Moans of distraught youth. Cries of old, old life officially gone.

Because he hadn’t died of old age he had drowned.

Because he’s the only pet* that’s ever been mine.

Because we only got him because me and my now dead older sister begged for him on our knees on the sidewalk outside of the froze yogurt place when we saw the lady with the box of free kittens. And while Julie would typically be far too proud to do anything like that, she’d done it with me.

Because he was just like me — he was independent and feisty and wanted to be loved, but only on his terms. He didn’t want you to hold him all night, he just wanted to touch base and come and go as he pleased. Unless you didn’t want him near you, then he’d work his way into your lap and your heart.

Because he had been a constant when everything else in life seemed to change. Not just once, but twice.

Because it was still with a child’s heart that I loved him.

After my loud cries and then silent sobs subsided, Lizz projected more vomit out the door while I blew my nose and wiped my eyes. She wiped her mouth again and we looked at each other.

Well, we’re a sad pair, she said.

And we laughed.

I’m really sorry about your cat, she said.

I’m really sorry I made you hike and throw up, I said.

And we laughed again.

That’s officially the ugliest crying session of mine that anyone has ever witnessed. And again I reiterate that I’ve never seen such quintessential “projectile vomit” ever before in real life.

But we didn’t judge each other. We laughed at ourselves. And we were there. In the ugliest parts of life, that’s the most I could ever ask for in a friend, I think. No judgement, some laughter, and just being there. That’s the majority of what true friendship is. Not grand gestures and bff bracelets, but being someone who can sit in the ugliness of life and call it what it is.
Also, be cautious, heat stroke kills.

storyofjo san diego friends *I had a desert tortoise when I was young that my dad had found as a kid, and his mom had kept after he was grown, and she had given the tortoise to me when I was a kid, but then Pickles ran away one day. So one, Pickles was not just mine. And two, she ran away. And three, she was a tortoise, and it’s hard to connect with a tortoise. Just saying.

 


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Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 07th, 2015 | Author:

“We need to talk,” she said to me in a serious yet conspiring tone.

We walked with rushing feet to our personal conference room — the Children’s Church room at the back of the church where we’d hang out before church. We were two rambunctious 8-year-old girls who got to church early with our parents when they had to do something or another for the service.

Once within the confines of our private scheme-building room, we stood in the middle of the room, near the wall with the old piano that I’d play for us sometimes.

We stood facing each other, and I was not nervous as adults are when someone says to them, “we need to talk.” — I was eager to hear what was so important.

“Did you hear that his parents are getting a divorce?”

“I know,” I said, looking down, not knowing what that really meant or entailed, but knowing it was bad. “My mom told me.”

He was a boy in our grade who we’d known for the past few years. He was our number one enemy. His life goal was to annoy us. And our lives’ goals were to make him look like a fool by pulling pranks and such. This was the essence of most of our friendships with kids of the opposite sex, as seems to be the norm. But he and one other boy were our particular enemies and we paid each other more mutual attention than we paid the other kids.

medium_301168593photo credit: rolands.lakis via photopin cc

“I think we need to be his friend now,” she said to me, the decision already made.

“Yeah. I think you’re right. That would be good,” I replied. I hadn’t thought of that, or realized it was needed until she said it. But once she did, it was decided. Third-grader conference of the year over.

It was one of the most important, efficient, and impactful conferences I’ve ever been a part of, and the decision stuck. We started that day at church. We didn’t drop the enemy act, but we had changed our heart toward him, and he changed his toward us. We continued to be frenemies all through high school.

When we were in junior high, he gave me one of the best christmas gifts I’ve ever received — he bought, with his own money, the movie Princess Diaries for me on VHS. He knew I loved it, and that was far above the $1-5 gifts we had sometimes exchanged in the past. He told me I couldn’t tell anyone he had gotten it for me because that would show that we were friends, so I didn’t, but we watched it together nearly weekly for about a year until we moved onto other fixations.

I’ve seen him a couple times this past year, and each time, I’ve thought how much I enjoy him as a person and a friend. But I may not have been friends with him had she not pulled me into that children’s church room and presented her idea for what we needed to do.

She saw disaster on the horizon and proposed a plan of action. I just followed.

We were in high school when her parents divorced as well. I was still friends with her, but in the of-course-we’re-friends way, not in the I-am-here-for-you-in-daily-life way. Our paths had started to take us in different directions, and I’m sad that I didn’t have a conference with anyone, declaring “we need to be friends with her.”

The truth is, a lot of people stepped away from her in that painful time. The girl who intentionally stepped in at 8. The girl who recognized the severity of the pain of divorce before she’d ever felt it. The girl who put aside sacred cooty-laws and annoyance-wars to be a friend. She was pushed to the outskirts and left alone in her time of pain.

It is a hard thing to see and recognize that you do not always reap what you sow. Mean people sometimes prosper and good people sometimes get left. At least it feels that way sometimes.

But the thing is, the girl who has heart enough to decide to be friends with a hurting enemy at 8 years old, she will be a woman who will live life well. She will be the type of woman who has deep friendships with people she’s met in passing. She will be a friend even when she is in pain. And some of those relationships will give back to her as well. The humility that lets her put aside childhood feuds also strengthens her to reach out to people who need a second chance in her life.

And that gives me hope about life and about the world. Because, almost two decades later, I still remember her as the girl who decided to be a friend when she didn’t have to be, and she got me to do so too. And the woman I know her as now still has that same understanding, supportive, caring heart.

I don’t know about the whole reap what you sow thing, because life has dealt her a crappy and painful hand several times.

But I am confident that when you have that goodness inside that she does, that everything will be okay. That you will continue to make a life worth living. That you will continue to build friendships worth having. That you will continue to find your way, and choose your path. That while life may be ugly and painful and hard, you will be the type of person that responds, that works through it, and that decides to love life again.

And that is really what matters above all else. You don’t always get to choose what happens to you or those around you in life, but you do get to choose how to respond. When pain shows up, will you step in? Will you give up or keep trying. Will you choose to love life again and again and again?

Life may not always be easier for good people, but it is more beautiful and more worth loving when you’re the type of person who steps in.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 09th, 2014 | Author:

medium_142324601photo credit: [phil h] via photopin cc

“Don’t tell them that you’ll keep in touch,” she said to us. “Because you won’t.”

One of the school administration was talking to the group of 5 of us from the US who were brand new to the school and were there for the semester as study abroad students. We were at a small (read: 25 students) university on the border of Switzerland and Germany. The rest of the students were from Europe. This admin gal was giving us a new student orientation, and she herself was American. But I was taken back by this strong command.

“What?” I asked. Maybe I had misunderstood.

“Don’t tell them that you’re going to be friends forever or that you’ll stay in touch or that you’ll come back and visit. It happens every year, and the thing is that while you might think you mean it, you don’t. Not to their standards. Keeping in touch once a year is not keeping in touch. So don’t promise anything like that.”

This started me out on a sour note at the school. But soon, I forgot her words as I was swept away by how much I enjoyed my new friends at the school. The whole place was a dream — we did school together and played together, we cooked together and ate together, we lived together and did chores together. It was this tight-nit incredible community and I loved being there. I even decided to stay for another semester as one didn’t feel like it would be enough. I didn’t want this community, this season of my life with these people, to end yet. So I delayed the inevitable.

But too soon, the second semester at the Switzerland school flew by, and before I knew it, it was December. We had Christmas parties and talent shows and went to Christmas Markets (Wienachts markts) and then we had a week left. Then a few days. Then it was the night before I was to leave, and the swine flu was sweeping through our little community like wildfire. Most everyone caught it in that last week.

And the last night before I had to leave, I remember sitting on my friend Bekky’s bed as she laid there miserably. She’d caught it a couple days prior and was already in the deep throws of it. Luckily I had just caught it just that day so I was in the beginning stages and could still be up and around and go around to everyone’s rooms to say goodbye.

I was sitting on the edge of her bed, and she was telling me about how our friend, Gideon, had taken her for a walk and professed his love for her and she was freaking out about it. She’s married to the man now, but at the time this was brand new information and she didn’t know what she wanted.

I remember those moments of sharing one last piece of important life turns amid the regular-life things like being sick. I got up to leave, and hugged her and my friend Sara who was hanging out with us, and they asked the question: Will you come back to visit? I remembered the Admin’s words, and made a decision that I would mean what I said: “Yes. I’m not sure when. But I promise I’ll come back.” And then I left them in tears, returned to my room to finished packing and sleep. I cried my sick self to sleep that night.

In the following weeks, “normal life” didn’t feel normal anymore. It was the first time I’d ever permanently moved away from a place, and it was a feeling of loss I can only describe as grief.

But what happened was that grief pushed me to stay in touch with my close people there — something I’d never been great at prioritizing before. The upswing of facebook helped severely, but it was the first time when I learned how to truly maintain relationships across such great distances. Coming from such a steady small-town upbringing, I had been used to just leaving for a month or two at a time for college, and then coming back and catching up with everyone, then repeat. But I had begun to realize that that only really worked with those long-standing life-long friendships from home. And it only worked with semi-regular visits in place. I’d need to do something different this time.

I have a friend I grew up with who’s blog url is TheDistanceIsWhatYouMakeIt.com (“The distance is what you make it” for those of you that struggle reading things like hashtags and urls without spaces). I believe she started the blog when she, too, was leaving for a semester abroad.

This notion, the distance is what you make it, is dead on. I didn’t learn that fully until I came back from my year in Switzerland. And I shake my head at the admin’s advice at the beginning of my first semester: “Don’t tell them you’ll keep in touch. You won’t.”

I’m not saying I’m great at keeping in touch with everyone. Statistically you can only truly have a limited number of people you’re regularly connected with in life. But coming out of that amazing year of community life, I was driven to try to figure out how to do it with at least some people.

And it’s taught me how to continue to do that as I move around in life. As I move around to different places now, it’s a comfort that my relationships are not cemented by time and place.

Just this summer I got to fulfill my promise to visit those friends Bekky and Sara (and 8 others) again for the first time in 5 years, and it was amazing to be there with them and to feel how incredibly normal it felt to be friends in person still.

My friend Kate told me once, “I think everyone collects something: You collect stories and people.”

And as I’ve continued on in life, and continue to get to know people and want to continue friendships with them even when there’s distance, I think she’s right. As I’ve moved around, I have less friends in every day life as I’m breaking into these new places, but I continually have many close friends all over. And I’m content with that, because my friend’s blog url is right:

The distance is what you make it.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 | Author:

powells bookstore card

I was in the famous Powell’s bookstore in Portland, spending over an hour browsing through their cards-and-quirky-things section when I pulled up one of the last cards that caught my eye, and it made me freeze.

In the middle of Powell’s, I could see people meandering around, chatting, browsing, loading their arms and their baskets with books, and I was paralyzed with gratitude. The card in my hand was plain white with a simple, dark-faded-to-light blue font. It’s message was simple: “I’d like to be the sort of friend that you have been to me. -Edgar A. Guest”

And just like that, I was that emotional lady in the greeting card aisle. The memories started bubbling up and brimming at the rim of my eyes: the faces, words, touches, presence of the people who have been a friend to me. And I couldn’t stop the tears from falling.

It was this beautiful mosaic of love flashing before my eyes showing me that in the midst of what has often felt like a life of brokenness and heartache, I am blessed. I am so blessed.

I have had people face shame with me, literally hand in hand. I have had friends who physically held me when I so desperately needed someone to, but didn’t even have the words to ask for it. I have had people who brought me comfort food in the dark hours. Friends who call me several times over the course of days and weeks, and when I don’t answer their calls, they aren’t deterred, they keep calling, keep checking in.

I have had friends who have made midnight drives when I needed them, friends who have flown to other continents to vsiit and adventure, friends who have loved me not because of what I do, but because of who I am and the fact that they decided to be my friend.

I’ve had friends who let me share my painful moments with them. Who, when I say honest things like, “I don’t know how to do this,” have responded honest things like, “You’re not supposed to know how.”

Friends who watch FRIENDS with me when it’s too hard to cope with the heaviness of life. Friends who make me laugh. Friends who let me cry (and some who cry with me). Friends who are honest with me about their own crap. Who journey with me. Who support me and let me support them. Who accept me, enjoy me, and make me lovable through the process of loving me.

And in the card aisle, as I wiped away the sweet tears of gratitude, I put the card back, because I couldn’t afford to buy it for every one of the people I had thought of in those moments. But as I moved from that spot into the rest of the store, I felt like it was time for me to make a move in my heart — a move from gratitude to fruitfulness. Like the card says, I want to be the sort of friend that you have been to me. I am so blessed by these people throughout my life. But it’s time I started to be a blessing to them, and others too.

Thank you for blessing me, and for showing me how incredibly powerful it is to be loved by a friend like you. And thank you for modeling how to be that kind of friend. Some of you may never read this, but you have shaped my life, and now you’re shaping my heart. I thank God for you.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon