Adventure in Strength; or Ending the Competition

“Strong is the new pretty.” May that please, please, please be true. Strength, like beauty, comes in so many different forms.

I grew up in an environment that fostered the idea that all women were in constant competition with each other. Not because someone ever told me; it was just, and somehow still is, this bizarre understood. Like the “you” in an imperative. The problem with that is we’re all on the same team. Not just as women, but as humans. It’s time we stop working against each other. It’s time we stop looking at each other with judgmental and competitive eyes.

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I’ve spent so much of my life feeling inadequate because I’ve lived a comparative life. It’s driven me to unhealthy places. It’s driven us all to such scary and gross places. If it hasn’t done it to you, if you’ve managed to avoid the terrible concept of a comparative and competitive life, I commend you. It is one of my greatest ambitions to move so far from it that I can no longer recognize it. When I feel threatened or challenged by another woman, I want to stop and take stock. I want to say “this woman is so funny. She challenges me to be funnier. Not to be better than her. To be better than I was.” “This woman is so kind-hearted. She challenges me to love with the same eyes.”

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“Girls get competitive, as though there’s only one spot in the world for everything — but that’s not true. We need to stick together and see there’s more to life than pleasing men. It’s important not to cut yourself off from female friendships. I think sometimes girls get scared of other girls, but you need each other.” -Zooey Deschanel

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What follows will be mostly photos of women I know. Women I barely know. Women I have been living my life with for a decade. For decades. For a year. Women who know my soul. Women who know my name. I asked all of them in different ways and for different reasons. What’s interesting about asking women to send me a picture of them that makes them feel strong, is how many of them said, “I don’t feel strong” or “I’m not strong, but I guess this will do the job.” But every single one of them has built into me so much strength. They’ve shown me strength. They’ve lived strength. They’ve survived. They’ve fought. They fight. They fight. They push me to be stronger. Not in competition. My only competition is me. You’re only competition is you.

2015052595184714Jess. Jess wanted to make sure the photo she gave me included the baby girl growing inside of her. With good reason. She helps raise two other kids, and I’ve watched her constant support. Constant quiet support. That’s what amazes me about Jess. She has so much to say, but only takes the time to do it when she knows it won’t fall on deaf ears. The quietness of Jess is deafening. Don’t let it deceive you. She’s a wonder.

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This is Amy and her fourth child, Dixie. Honestly, I hardly know Amy, but what I know is that she is strong. Her grandmother and mine are the best of friends. It seems only fitting our paths have crossed. When I asked Amy for a photo she told me, “This was after Dixie. So, after my 4th, med free labor. Her’s was definitely the hardest labor too. But I still didn’t give up, and was able to make it through without an epidural.” What I know of Amy is that she has endured so much heartache, and some heartaches never leave us, but she loves and lives still.

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This is Rebekah. I met Bekah in college. I wish so much that I’d gotten to know her better when we were at school together, but what Bekah showed me, and continues to show me from a distance, is that going after what you want, working towards your goals is beautiful. Bekah’s determination is a strength I want to strive for. ” Here I am in my power-pinup gold audition dress. Primped and pumped up to give a great audition. I can do no wrong!”

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This babe is Amber. My Bler. Amber lives in New York, and I never see her. I haven’t seen her for four years. We’re bad at contacting each other, but things never change. From the moment I met Amber she pushed me to stop caring what other people wanted from me, except her. But to sincerely do what I wanted. To do what you want. Be yourself. Be free. Sit in your room with one of your best friends naked and just watch TV. Not for sexual reasons. Not for weird reasons. I don’t love my body, but Amber taught me ten years ago to stop being embarrassed by it.

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Hannah. When I met her people still called her Mayo. People mixed us up. She’s only a few hours away, but it feels like a million miles. Hannah pushes herself for herself. She’s raising a son and a daughter to be themselves. A son who’s taken ballet. A daughter who loves pink and glitter and princesses, even though Hannah can’t understand it. A 6 and an 8-year-old who read better than I do. Hannah is a triathlete. Hannah often becomes my strength when I’ve lost it all. When I feel like I’m losing it, Hannah is there to remind me I’m not, to remind me I’m strong.

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Brett. We were sworn enemies when we met. People told us we were so alike that we’d be best friends. We hated ourselves, so we hated each other. Now I can’t imagine life without Brett. She too is hundreds of miles away, but is always there when I need her. Brett is a poet. And once she tried to make me one. I knew when we started writing together she’d be a poet. I still believe with so much of my heart that she will help reshape the definition of poetry, reshape how people view it. Brett has never been anything less than Brett, apologetically.

IMG_2710I met Dana in college too. What I love about Dana’s strength is that it is this barrage of kindness and love and grace. Dana has time and time again shown strength with a mighty fist of kisses and patience. Even when Dana is in pain, when she’s been wounded in ways that would leave other people desolate, she finds strength. She will always tell you, loudly and kindly, that her strength comes from the Lord. And it is beautiful.

IMG_4406This is my pal Alex on her wedding day. This day was so important to her, and it was not met with as much celebration as it should have been. What I love about Alex’s strength is how beautifully she stands for the people in her life. A few years ago, I was a mess. I had chewed my nails down so far that I was just chewing off skin. Alex sent me a package filled with kindness, including Muppet bandaids. But that’s the strength of Alex, part of the strength of Alex. The part that pushes me. She recognizes the needs of others. Immediately. And acts.

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Kelly has been through a lot. And while I hardly know her, what I do know is Kelly has found the strength to step away from people and things that harm her. To step away from a bad situation. Because it is so hard to step away from that hurt. I’ll never understand why, but I’ve lived in it for so long that I know it to be true. Strength is a step back.

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Ashlee‘s incomprehensible generosity, hospitality, and nurturing spirit are so beyond my comprehension. I’ve been the beneficiary of all three countless times. Hell, right now I’m writing this on a computer of such proof. Ashlee’s strength challenges me to love stronger, love with an open door.

 

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i met Emily my senior year of high school. We were in a musical revue that no one was cut from. The connection was magical, but in the years that followed we didn’t see each other much. We still don’t, but we’ve lived similar journeys the last few years. She won’t admit or maybe even see it. Many of these women don’t see their strength. Emily’s desire to survive, her strength to live, to power through dark times, has been of such value and encouragement to me. Emily pushing through the darkness constantly challenges me to do the same.

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This is my sweet Erica. We may have met through the internet, fallen in love through twitter, but now I know. I know so well the strength of Erica. When we internet met I was challenged by the strength of her will and her confidence. Erica does not take shit from anyone. Nor should she. Her words, her poetry is so ethereal and light a beautiful, delicate strength. In the last year I’ve watched Erica work through so much in her life. I’ve stood with her through some darkness, and watching her come out of that darkness and stand now in such a good place. To live through it. Her strength to keep living.

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This is Mona. When I met Mona, I was immediately threatened. Immediately. Another lady joke teller. Honestly, I quit for a while. I stepped back. But that was silly. Yes, Mona is better at what she does than I am, but that shouldn’t be a reason to stop. That’s a reason to keep going. To stand with her and work at becoming better at being funny. Work at feeling more confident in my own words and thoughts. Mona’s strength and blatant confidence is incredible. It shouldn’t threaten me. It should encourage and strengthen me.

 

 

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Jessica, when I met her she was called JFo, much to her own dismay. I’ve watched her grow, now at a distance, from a spritely teen into a powerful mother of twin boys. Her strength is so quiet, which I think is what makes it so very strong. (As an aside, she couldn’t decide which picture to use. Both seem pretty damn important, so I needed to use both)11303560_683268444123_2056530550_n

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Krista. She’s been in my life for some 25 years now. I’ve talked about her before. Krista is such a presence of strength through forgiveness and grace for me. She’s shown me so much more grace than I could have ever fathomed. Her patience and unrelenting kindness is such a powerful strength.IMG_2673

 

 

 

 

Lauren. Family is a strange thing. Blood is weird. This genetic tie. We’re so loosely tied. Our grandfathers were brothers. And now, Lauren inspires me. She does the things that drive her. Lauren’s goals are beautiful. Her strength to pursue what drives her strengthens me. She maybe my little cousin, but she’s leagues ahead of me.

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Harmony. I’ve known Harmony in real life two days. She was the photographer for the wedding of friends. But, ya know what? I love her. What I know of Harmony already serves so much as an inspiration. I wish she lived next door to me. It’s not often you find kindred spirits in what can be such a hectic place, but she is one. Harmony has this amazing way of understanding people instantly. Which is important for what she does, but it’s also just important. And it’s an amazing strength.

 

 

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Michela. Michela amazes me. I’ve reconnected with her recently, and I’m so grateful. Do you know how powerful it is to have an old ally come forward again as a renewed ally? Michela has this remarkable loyalty. A loyalty I feel so much like I don’t deserve. But that’s what her strength teaches me.

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Amber.
Not everyone has coworkers they love, but I do. Amber is one of them. Over the last year she has helped carry me. When my heart and my head wouldn’t meet, Amber rationally and so straight-forwardly heard me out and advised. Amber’s take no shit from anyone is so monstrously encouraging.

10393973_631809792489_7130074842323492905_nCara. Mostly, I’ll let Cara explain this picture, but know that she has strengthened me over the last 10 years, and I’m so very grateful.
“It’s an interesting task to find a picture of a feeling that people, but especially women, rarely represent in pictures. I’ve been thinking about it, and I was pretty sure this was the picture I would land on, but truthfully- that race sucked. During the half marathon, I didn’t feel strong. I felt uncertain. Looking at other pictures and asking myself how I felt then, that was the same answer I kept coming up with, even in pictures where I looked confident and I knew that things were good. There was always something happening in the picture, whether it was a show shot or a group of people hanging out. I settled on this one because it is a tangible show of strength: I completed a task that I had trained (kinda, I blew this training off a bit) for and I accomplished it. I do like to keep this picture around so that I can remember that feeling of frustration in my lack of preparedness, but that’s another story… I started to think about when I feel strong: in my classroom, smiling at Kars, in general being in my home, and it’s hard to get pictures of that, especially because I’m not a selfie person. It’s not that I don’t feel strong ever- quite the contrary. But that feeling isn’t something that gets documented often.”

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 Ashley. Quiet resilience. Growing with Ashley the last several years has been encouraging. Watching her move forward, watching her love those around her even in adversity. Quiet resilience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AnnMarie. I haven’t known Ree long, but every day she surprises me. Her kindness. Her faithfulness. She’d never admit. She can’t see it, but the truth is she’s so strong. I see it on her face. I see it in her decision to wake up every day. To raise two children on her own.

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Ashley. To me she’s always been McCann. When I call her Ashley, she calls it her “lady name.” I lived with Ashley for two years in college. Providence brought us together. What I learned from her and continue to learn from her is independence and such a strong sense of self-worth. Ashley’s strength resounds the moment you meet her. Knows what she wants. Works for it. And who the hell are you to stand in her way? And while we’re at it, why the hell should she care what you think of her? And yet, Ashley is uncommonly kind.

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Leslie. I developed an enormous friend crush on Leslie the day I received a letter from her. She didn’t know me. I didn’t know her, but her words were perfect. Leslie’s career makes her remarkable, because she continues to be patient with her friends when they too are complete wrecks. She’s quiet, but not because she’s afraid. She’s introverted, yes, but she’s also smart. She’s reading people. She’s feeling people out. And almost instantly understands them. And after years of watching her tend to the needs of so many other people, it’s beautiful to watch her take care of herself too.

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Monica.
This is my work sister. She like Lauren inspires me. Some times I need Monica to just be around to acknowledge sexism or racism or the demonizing of any other social standing. Monica is going to do amazing things with her future, because she’s doing them with her present. Her feminism, her social awareness, is ferociously encouraging and strengthening.

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Kristen. In her own words, “This is me after a Grapes of Wrath matinee. The show was almost impossible for me to do, because all the girls in my dressing room were ostracizing me and gossiping about me. But I kicked its ass anyway.” That’s Kristen. And watching her strength grow into this has been so encouraging. Watching Kristen step into herself, and unashamedly be herself is wonderful. She’s been working with Girls, Inc. to teach other young women the same.

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Emily.
I’ve known Emily since elementary school. In her own words, “I don’t have many pictures of me, at least not since high school, but I didn’t really feel strong in high school. I’ve probably never felt stronger both physically and emotionally then when I was able to bring my girls into the world.” She has three of them, and there’s a fourth babe coming. What touches me about this is that when we were in high school, I did see Emily as strong. I always have. Even when she’s struggling, she is so strong. To come out of some of the darkness she’s faced, and see her now raising three beautiful women is wonderful. Emily’s strength in high school and middle school, when we were both pretty big weirdos, strengthened me. It still does.

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Rachel. Goodness. In the last two years Rachel has become one of my dearest friends. Yes, I’ve known her for years, but timing is everything. Now her patience and understanding, even when I’m making stupid decisions is so striking. She has an incredible amount of strength when it comes to frustrating people or difficult situations. She’s riddled with emotions, but she also has one of the most even tempers I’ve ever experienced. Soon she’ll be a foster mother, and there isn’t anyone better suited. She’s been nannying and babysitting for years. Not to mention essential opening her home to wayward adults who also need a little fostering.

FullSizeRender (12) Lindsay. In the recent past I’ve watched Lindsay step out of a dark situation with so much light around her that she’s now more effervescent than ever. The strength it takes to step away from a terrible situation is so hard to mount, but to do it and then come out on the other side even stronger? To come out and start pursuing what she’s always dreamed of? For her to come out of all of that darkness, and now have this genuine smile on her face is such a calming breath. IMG_3660

 

 

 

Amber. After a couple of years of being strictly social media friends, I had the pleasure of meeting Amber IRL. Amber represents for me this amazing thing about the women of Fort Wayne on social media. The women of Fort Wayne are so good at standing for each other and supporting each other. Amber supports the people around her so well. So intently. She loves her city. She loves her friends. Amber loves. You’re hard-pressed to hear her say something disparaging about another human being. It’s hard to nail down the strength of Amber, because the strength of Amber is Amber.

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Angie. (right) When I asked Angie for a photo, she picked this one because, “it’s from the night I punched you. I acquire power through physical domination.” The truth is Angie’s strength shows through so much. Her words. Her actions. And occasionally her mighty fist. Angie is the older sister of my friend Elise (left). Both of them have represented so much about individualism and determination to me. They’ve both, for as long as I’ve known them, been their own damn people. And now they’re both such strong and formidable women, that to call them anything, but strong would be idiotic.

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Bekah, or Pose as I call her. Left is a photo of Bekah studying her beautiful brains out. She’s becoming a doctor. Because she went on a trip to Thailand once, and found herself caring for people. She knew that was her calling. Below is an image of her with her loving husband. There aren’t two better suited people. Because both of them are two of the kindest, most  compassionate people I’ve ever known.

IMG_1970 Seeing Bekah push through school and so successfully. Below to the left is Bekah being featured at her school. Her face is also inside on a wall, which she said makes her feel pretty BA too. Her kindness and fondness to see IMG951430people live well emanates from her being.

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_5888Tia. I’ve known Tia about a year, and in that year I’ve learned so much about her strength of will. In her words, “These are my two favorite photos of me. They encompass how I define myself. Silly (like miss Lucy was) and strong enough to stand up for other when they can’t.” Honestly, how could I better describe her strength than she has already done?

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Katie. I’ve not known Katie long, or terribly well, but what I do know is that she is strong. She’s inspired me more than she knows, and encouraged me more than she realizes. Katie is unashamed of Katie, which is great because there’s nothing shameful about her. She’s a faithful friend to those she loves. I’ve witnessed it. Moreover, I’ve never known her not to be kind to people. People who can’t mix anymore, it doesn’t stop Katie from loving both sides.  

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Maria.
When I asked Maria for a photo, I pretty much knew this is what she would pick. And I can see why. I’ve known Maria most of my life, and I’ve never known her to be anything less than a pillar of strength. For herself, her family, her friends, strangers. She’s changed so much over the years, and is still that awkward second grader. She still laughs about farts, but also now finds herself the matriarch of two families. Her own daughters and her siblings, and it’s amazing. Her strength to carry on. Her strength to rely on Christ so completely. She’s so admired by so many, and I don’t question why for one moment.

DSC_0624_copyChynna. She was an RA when I met her. In the time that I’ve known Chynna, I’ve known her to constantly serve as an inspiration and encouragement to young women. To stand in Christ, and to stand for themselves. To love themselves. To love others. To be proud of where they come from. Chynna’s strength is overwhelming. She inspires women all around her, including me. In her own words, “Apparently I stopped taking pictures of myself a few years ago. Here’s one that my husband took of me after I spoke at a conference. I felt pretty powerful that night.”

11349917_10206828516816313_1599452285_nEmily. I’ve met Emily once, but she stayed in my home. I don’t know much of her at all, not first-hand. But what I’ve been told of Emily is beautiful. She’s nothing short of herself. Confident and funny. In the few hours I’ve spent with Emily, I saw so much strength in her.

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Kari. Goodness personified. If ever active listening and unrelenting love were to be a person they would look like Kari. Her devotion to her family and her friends should be heralded in the town square. She’s miles away, but when recently when the chips were down and people in my own town didn’t visit when I needed visitors, Kari was on the phone. When she can’t be here, she makes sure she’s as close as she can be. And not just for me. I know that she doesn’t just do that for me. She does it for everyone she loves. Kari isn’t just strong, she’s strength, added strength, for so may around her.

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Jenn. In the time that I’ve known Jenn, I’ve watched her set goals for herself. Exceed them. And then exceed them some more. She’s raising a daughter, working full time, and a full time student. Her tenacity alone is an incredible strength, but on top of that she’s constantly running. Constantly working to better herself, for herself. Which is nothing short of inspiring.

I guess it’s my turn. I didn’t realize what a hard task I’d given people until I took it on myself. Most of the photos of myself that I take pride in are silly. And they’re silly because I don’t know how to take sincere photos. OR they’re filled with other people, because I feel like I hardly exist without the aid of those around me. But since I’m writing, and I was the one that asked everyone else for photos, I feel I can indulge myself. And maybe I need to. Maybe it’s time I stop and take stock of my own strength.

603466_564168126929_1139749847_nI look monstrously apprehensive here because I did something that terrified me. I felt called to remove the only thing I was taking pride in at the time, so I had my hair cut to no longer than four inches. I love my hair, some times maybe too much. But this decision forced me to look at more than just this one vanity. I had to reexamine my heart and my head, and I finally was beginning to like what I see.

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This was taken one Sunday morning when I was hurting and trying to endure. What strengthens me now looking back on this photo is that I’m still here. Every time I look back into the darkness, I can’t believe I’m still here. But I am. I haven’t quit yet. Oh I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve come very close to giving up. But I haven’t. Things have gotten darker still since this was taken, and I’m still here.FullSizeRender

At the beginning of the month I did something foolish and broke a few bones and had to have surgery. Now, I’m left with a scar that some times makes me so sad. I’ll forget that it’s there, though that seems impossible for the pain. But I will, and then I’ll catch a glimpse of it in the mirror and feel so hideous. So marred and repulsive. My collarbone is short on that side and raise now. But other times I see it, and think, “nah, go ahead. Mess with me. See where that gets you. Because look at me. Tell me again I haven’t endured. I haven’t come out stronger. That I’m not someone who can keep taking the punches.” Because I will, and I do. Things seem to keep getting shittier, but I’m still here. Try to pull me down if you want to, but I’m not going anywhere. This picture features my scar and one of my tattoos. I took it to remind myself that there’s more strength in me than I remember. There’s more strength in all of us than we see. Please, don’t forget that.

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Adventure in Fear of God, Afraid of Church

This is going to be long, and it’s going to be messy, but it’s going to be something I need to say. So stay with me. Or don’t. It’s your choice.

In the highly likely event that you missed me rambling on a podcast a couple of months ago, here is the link again. In this conversation I admit something hesitantly to Adam’s listenership that I’ve told few people in my own life, and now find myself having to be more open about. Which, I suppose, was my intent. In case you hate listening to things or you find my voice grating, which I’d understand, I’ll tell you. With just about the same amount of hesitation. I’ve been sexually assaulted on four separate occasions. It never gets easier to say, because the truth of it doesn’t ever get easier. But I’ve been trying to tell people for a while now, not just for my own sake, but because I think it’s time that we all start being honest about it.

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There’s so much sense of shame around it all. And on the wrong people. Victims should feel no sense of shame. The people who should be ashamed of things like this never really seem to be able to admit they’ve done something grossly wrong. The truth is I’d been doing a pretty good job of repressing everything. A magnificent job. Sure, I’d get really sad or upset for what even felt to me like no reason at all. But the time came where people were beginning to tell me I was happy. I was healthy. I was beginning to believe it myself. Then something happened again, and that’s when it all went south. You never know when PTSD is going to be triggered, and if you don’t know you have PTSD you definitely aren’t expecting your brain to suddenly fall to pieces and start dripping out of your ears and nose and eyes.

Here’s the thing though. A while ago, the second time, the worst of the times, I had been going to a church that I wasn’t fully connecting with. That happens to me a lot. People in congregations do not approach me. People who have been attending service places for a long time do not approach me. I’d been going to service this place for a few years before I finally felt like I had people I was pleased to see on Sunday morning or looked forward to seeing and who looked forward to seeing me. People who seemed genuinely interested in my life, but I still didn’t feel connected.

But I was finally doing all of those things people tell you to do when you aren’t meeting new people at church. I was going to all of the events. Sure, I always went with one or both of my roommates, but I went. And one night someone who seemed to have been trying to talk to me for a while approached me at St. Patrick’s Day party at the church building. My roommate and I had been upstairs in the balcony listening to the band and he approached me to tell me he liked my silly St. Patrick’s Day ensemble. It wasn’t anything exciting. Mid-calf length brown trousers, green and white striped socks, combat boots, and who knows what top I was wearing. Who can ever know? I just remember the bottom half because it was absurd.

Two Sundays later he approached me again and asked if I wanted to get coffee with him. Why not? I admit it. I was excited. I hadn’t been on a date, mmm, much of ever. So that afternoon, while short notice, I met up with him. We, mostly he, talked for four hours. And if I’m honest we didn’t actually drink coffee. And he didn’t want to actually meet in the coffee shop. He wanted to go into the church basement for privacy. It was suspicious, but fine. Mostly he raved in that manipulative boastful insecurity. A sort of insecurity that attempts to manipulate the listener into countering everything the speaker is saying into building him up, buuuut the listener doesn’t need to. Because the speaker some how finds a way to do it at the same time. Not a humblebrag. That’s important. It’s not a humblebrag. It’s boastful insecurity. Confident low self-esteem.

Later that night we went for a walk, but even though we lived down the street from each other, he wanted to make sure we weren’t seen by the other people he lived with. Again, weird, but whatever. Nothing quite like feeling like someone is ashamed of you, but still wants to spend time with you. Honestly, it’s probably a definition of abuse somewhere. Definitely of manipulation and control. Make her feel wanted, but make sure she feels reliant on that feeling enough that she shrugs off that nagging reminder that he’s hiding her.

Part of me kept saying that it was all just for fun anyway. I didn’t want anything, it was just nice to have someone to hang out with for a while.

We hung out a couple of more times, but things kept getting weirder. He kept asking to skype with me, but as you’ll remember, he lived down the street. MAYBE four blocks. I never did. It was too weird.

One night we went for a car ride and things took a terrible turn. Back roads. I won’t get into the squeamy details for you, but it was terrible, which is an understatement.

And I never once felt like I could approach someone in the church about it. He lived with so many guys from the church, and I didn’t feel safe with anyone. And I got the impression, I was not the first person this had happened to. He kept bothering me. He was quite sure he didn’t do anything wrong. I was being dramatic. He was well connected, not just in the church. So, while I was offered a job I would soon fall in love with, I moved to Indianapolis. As soon after things happened as I could. And he called me one night while I was out with friends. I had told him earlier that day to leave me alone and never speak to me again. I had gotten a new job, and I was moving. And he told me he was proud of me. Someone I’d seen a few times and was a total monster, who had not invested in my life in anyway other than total devastation was proud of me. To this day, I find it very uncomfortable when people tell me they’re proud of me.

I moved and he still tried to engage in conversation. Was going to come to Indy and visit. I ignored him, but was unsettled. I tried a few churches in Indianapolis, and the only person who spoke to me at any of them was a 7-year-old girl. And that was just to thank me for letting her have a drink from my water bottle because she was coughing uncontrollably.

In less than a year I moved home. Still struggling to connect with a church community When things were triggered last year I slowly stopped going to church. I had been going with my boyfriend, which felt safe, but he started going somewhere else, and I tried to go with him. But I had a pretty big wiggins every time I went. Then I slowly stopped going at all. Then we broke up. Then I stopped altogether.

Church wasn’t safe. It wasn’t safe without knowing I had people right next to me who would fight for me. That church where I met that terrible man was not safe. Those people weren’t safe. The church that I had been attending for five years fairly consistently wasn’t safe. There weren’t enough people who knew me. It was only my parents and a few people I knew threw high school. The people from high school were so well connected in the church though that I felt disconnected. I would run into people from church, still do, that I had to introduce myself to a dozen Sundays. People who had met my friends once and threw their arms around them in public and looked at me like I was a total stranger. Who never, while treating me like a stranger, asked again who I was in public. That’s not a safe feeling. Being a single woman with no attachments in a church filled with families is uncomfortable. And when people in your church make you feel unsafe and you don’t have enough connections to say something you stop going.

So other than Easter, I haven’t been to church since February. Maybe January. Because it’s not safe. It doesn’t feel safe. A place that is supposed to be safe isn’t safe. I want to start going again, but how do I start all over. I don’t particularly want to search with other people. It has to be something I can do for myself. Brave enough. Strong enough.

Here’s the thing though. Just because I haven’t been to church in a while, doesn’t for a moment mean I’ve given up on God. Quite the contrary. He’s my constant reason for…anything. To stay. To live. To try. He’s important. He’s everything. Attending a service somewhere on a Sunday morning is not salvation. If it is one’s salvation, one has missed the message. I’m not saying that fellowship, that constant interaction and teaching of God’s Word isn’t important. Goodness, it is. I am saying some of us don’t feel safe there. Some of us have been hurt so deeply by the Church that church terrifies us. Don’t assume sleeping late on Sunday mornings means a lack of faith or turning one’s back on Christ. The people who claim his name and then do terrible things and go back to the safety of his community. They are the reason I’m going to have to fight pretty hard to get myself to go back to church. Anywhere.

As a point of interest, that man is married now.

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Carol Rossetti is incredible, and here is some of her work. Here is a link to more of her work. She was in Fort Wayne not that long ago. And here is her website.

Adventure in Back to Who I Was

In January a friend approached me about running auditions for a show his studio was having for Valentine’s Day. By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around we had a completely different show, a completely different band, and a completely different cast. I was directing, organizing, and acting as well. But by the end of it I also had 6 amazing friends supporting me and participating. I had a band that makes me cry pretty much every time I hear them. I had the support of a community. All in all, I had a success. A big success. I had something I’m proud of, which is new for me. You can read more about it here, just know that Matt and Brian could not have given an opportunity like this to a more appreciative human.
simon and simonLately, my life has sort of been a disgusting state of flux, but something about this show sparked something in me again, and I decided I couldn’t let it die again. To the surprise, I’m sure, of many of my college professors this month I hosted my first Shakespeare reading. Nothing elaborate. Just 12 people sitting around my living room drinking wine and beer and soda, eating cheese and reading through The Twelfth Night.

It was perfect, and it filled my head with so many new and exciting ideas. I’d forgotten all about how my heart races when a group of people who have little or no connection to each other come together for one purpose. It’s why I love theatre. It’s why I love collaborative art. It doesn’t have to be friends, but by the end of it, it’s hard not to feel even the smallest connection to the other people involved. They too just experienced the same things you did, produced the same product you did, and are now going through the same successes and failures. It’s a binding thing, and it’s beautiful.

For now, it’ll stay simple and living room bound, but that doesn’t change the value of it for my heart and my head.

Maybe some times regress is better than it sounds.

Adventure in Speaking Up

A little over a week ago a friend came over to interview me for his podcast. I can’t deny this was an odd experience. I do not find myself interesting enough to be interviewed by anyone for any reason. In the process he asked me some pretty good and hard questions. Questions about things I haven’t told many people. Things that will be available for anyone to hear starting tomorrow. Because maybe it’s time for me to start talking about it, or at least stop hiding it or feeling like everything about me is a lie because I can’t be honest about this one thing. So tomorrow you can hear it. Tomorrow I have to be okay with knowing that people I love are going to know, and people I barely know are going to know. People who have hurt me are going to know.

If tomorrow you find yourself wanting to hear it, know that you can. Know that it scares the shit out of me, but you can hear it. You can hear it here.

And if you are someone who has to respond to it, to shut me down or give false pity or who has genuine questions, that’s okay too. And I’m going to work on being okay with that. Please, be patient with me. Please, be gracious. And might I just recommend doing that with everyone you meet. It’s a hard world.

For a preview.
https://soundcloud.com/guerrilla-bio/episode-035-hayley-johnson-preview

Unrelated, I went to Chicago this weekend.

I went to the Art Institute when it opened and alone, which meant I got to spend about 20 minutes in a room filled with Van Gogh paintings all by myself. No one was there. Which also means I cried openly in a room alone. I was transfixed. I could not look away from his eyes. The man could have painted himself anyway he wanted to, but he chose to convey every single ounce of pain he had in him. I looked into his eyes, and he looked into mine. And centuries apart we had a moment.hayley 5 hayley 6

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But then I couldn’t stop staring at people’s eyes. Seeking out similar pains. No one carried quite the same sincere hurt.hayley 8hayley 7hayley 15

I kept expecting her to move. She was so flawlessly realistic. I couldn’t handle it.hayley 13hayley 14hayley 16

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Oh, and it was my birthday.
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And my friends are perfect. Far better than I deserve.

Adventure in “Non-Parent”

I’m 27, approaching 28, and usually just rounding up to 30 if someone asks. This means that many of my friends, particularly from my highly (rather closed-mindedly) conservative high school are already married and have children. Many of them have more than one. Which means most of my social media sightings of them, since actual sightings are so rare, are pictures of their children or even more common, and increasingly so, links to listicles of all of the ways people without children will never understand life until they have children. “13 things non-parents should never say to parents.” “89 ways to prove you aren’t a parent.” “962 times neanderthals tried to ‘do me a favor’ and ‘babysit’ my children (though I call it proximal nurturing).” They go on and on. Moreover, it all also comes with lots of responses to my “grotesque feminism” with “well, when you’re a parent you’ll understand” or “as a parent…”

So here it is. My. Rant.

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Hey parents. Ya know what you should never say to a “non-parent?” NON-PARENT! It takes a village. If I love you, I love your children. And no your child did not crawl out of my vagina (I’m not a parent, and the way I’m treated, I assume, that’s what you think I think happens), but I have prayed for them. I have in many cases watched them while you were out.

And, for the record, giving birth doesn’t make you a better woman. If one more Christian woman throws in my face, that God’s will for my life won’t be fulfilled until I push a baby out my hooha, I’m going to remove my uterus. Personally. First of all, how is it YOU know God’s will for my life? So many of you?! I’m learning it day by day, but you’ve known this whole time?!??! And if God’s will for my life is just to reproduce, then why did he make it exponentially harder for me than the average woman, before I even get married? And why would he give me such a passion for all of the children already born who live without homes?

There are so many ways to be a parent, and it has only so little to do with giving birth. And there’s so much more to being a woman that has nothing to do with giving birth. It strikes me as odd that so many evangelical Christian women think the greatest think a woman can do with her life is give birth, but that’s a very evolutionary way of thinking about things, isn’t it? Your lot in life is to reproduce? And maybe for some it is. Understand, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with wanting to be a mom. For wanting to give birth to your own biological children. There isn’t. But please, stop imposing that idea on every woman you interact with. Please, stop reducing all women to your ideals, and moreover, holding other women to them. We aren’t all going to be mother’s at 23. And we aren’t all incomplete until we are mothers. And not having children doesn’t make women inherently stupid when it comes to children. And having children doesn’t make you suddenly more intelligent than the other women around. Nor does it make you better. So please, stop treating us that way. Today.

Adventure in Ch-ch-changes and Not

No. No this isn’t well-thought out or cohesive. But right now, neither am I.

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My absence probably suggested I didn’t survive the summer. I didn’t think I would. Turns out surrounding myself with consistent things helped a lot. Turns out the temperatures not trying to roast me out of living helped a lot. I don’t know that I accomplished anything this summer, but I kept my heart and mind so busy. That did help. That kept me from letting my weaker brain bits take over and destroy my soul, like they usually do come summer. I don’t even know that I really slept this summer. I mean, obviously, I did, but I never really drowned in fatigue as in the past.

But now my love and friend Autumn is in full force, why he’s nearly gone now, and I’m getting weary. Before this started happening I found a therapist, as a preventative measure. This will continue to prove to be an excellent choice.

I’ve been at my current job for over a year now. With a wash of pride and shame I admit that this is the longest I’ve ever held down a job. I love what I’m doing. I love that mostly I just plow through paperwork and my fingers fly across keys as Stephen Fry or Jim Dale read Harry Potter to me. I love that my department understands my heart. I love that they’re becoming my friends.

Soon I’ll be moving to a new apartment still in town, but I look forward to the change. The space. The peace.

And yet, my mind and heart are pretty constantly plagued with rape culture and how to deal with and respond to it. It’s a very heavily discussed topic right now, I’m sure you noticed. And I have so many thoughts, and I assure you I’m working on compiling them, but for now it’s all just breaking my heart and filling me with a troublesome rage. My hands feel so tied. So very tied.

Last month I got to celebrate the union of two beautiful people with so many people I love. I don’t know if it’s the nature of Autumn in my heart, but I find myself grossly nostalgic. And while I’m terribly not, I feel very alone. College does this terrible thing to people. It surrounds you with all of these people that you just sort of have to be friends with or you have no friends. You live exclusively with them for four years, and then you go away. They go away. They all move to the same city, and you stay behind. And you feel this hand wrapped around your heart wishing you could be so near to them. It’s pulling you to them, but to what end? to have someone familiar? someone who knows your past? someone who knows that that voice isn’t weird, it’s normal? Because you’ve finally found people again, people who love and accept you no matter what, but there are so many gaps you have to fill in because they weren’t with you for four intensive years of development and growth.

Adulthood is stupid.

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Adventure in Lists, Day 6

Here is another set of two days’ lists. Again another throw-away list and one I actually more carefully considered

Top Ten Favorite Superpowers

We’re going to start off by noting things that people like Peter Petrelli and Rogue carry around are stupid. If I could just absorb anyone’s ability, then I’m not special. I’m a parasite.

10. Super-strength/Super-speed
This feels like it would only be convenient for being unnecessarily impressive or for life-threatening situations. I assume that I can control it, so I don’t smash a ton of pickle jars or anything. So unless someone is trapped under a car, or I need to hold up a building for reasons, I’m not sold. And speed just seems mostly useless. I can get to you way quick? Great, but I imagine I’d still get tired like I do now.

9. Flight
Flight is sort of overrated I think. I mean, in theory it’s nice, but I assume I don’t have super strength, so I can’t bring other people with me. I am still bound by atmosphere and air pressure changes. So it’s convenient for getting from a to b, but mostly it’s just a little faster

8. Healing/Rapid-cellular Regeneration
This seems better to me than being invincible. Invincibility sort of takes away some of the parts that still make me human, so I’d prefer to still be able to feel pain and then be able to come back from that. Also, if it’s possible that my power can somehow benefit more people, so much the better.

7. Precognition
My brain tells me I would like this because I like to be able to prepare for all circumstances, but odds are I’d end up hating it. Unless, I’m able to control when I do or do not get to take on visions. Otherwise, I’m going to be pretty mad it made it this high on the list.

6. Omni-linguism/Polyglotism
This just feels practical. To naturally be able to understand and speak all languages.

5. Teleportation
This one plays to my laziness, but it would also just be good to be able to see the people I love whenever I want. That would be so nice. Not that I don’t value the time spent alone or with one or more close friends, but to get to immediately be with people. That’d be wonderful.

4. Telekinesis
I’ll be honest. This sounds great because I’m a very lazy person. To be able to reach for something across the room and have it in my hand. Yes, please.

3. Telepathy
For communication only. I think I’d hate every moment I could read another person’s uncontrolled thoughts. I think they’d constantly break my heart, but to be able to communicate with someone silently in an instant. That sounds great

2. Waterbreathing
Again, assuming pressure holds, but still to be able to be underwater for an indefinite amount of time, not by holding my breath but maintaining it. That would be ideal. I’d never leave the water, though I assume I must as some point. I would think that my skin would still absorb water as well, and that I would be susceptible to at the very least a severe form of water log, if not drowning.

1. Muscle Mimicry
Honestly, and to me this isn’t like absorbing powers. It’s the ability to see something done and capable of doing it. I would say this doesn’t apply to superpowers. That it would only be things ordinary people could do, but to be able to acquire any skill would be amazing. To be able to see a gymnast and then replicate a routine or paint or dance. There are so many things I’ll never be able to do, but some times when I see people do things my brain convinces me I can. I can’t. I want to.

I won’t take the time to justify all of these. There are a lot of opinions out there, I’m sure. I’ll just add a quick note to a few, but probably just Harry Potter

Top Ten Favorite Children’s Books

10. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

9. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

8. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

7. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Surprised this isn’t nearer to number 1? Surprised this one and not other ones? Not nearer the top because there are things that speak to my heart more frequently, better, and longer. And why this one? Because this is the one that brings you in, and this is the one, in my opinion, that maintains itself as a children’s book. After this one they become adolescent lit.

5. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

3. Matilda by Roald Dahl

2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

1. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Adventure in Lists, Day 5

Here we go. I’ll try to be brief.

Top Ten Episodes of Gilmore Girls.

10. Cinnamon’s Wake s1ep5
This episode is the first time Stars Hallow really comes together for one purpose, and in a truly Stars Hallow way they come together to mourn the death of a cat. And it is beautiful.

9. We’ve Got Magic to Do s6ep5
Rory pulls off something Emily doubts she can do and TOTALLY sticks it to the the Huntzbergers.

8. Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin’ the Twist s4ep17
Rory and Paris go on spring break and almost go nuts with their peers. They go home early. Obviously.

7. Will You Be My Lorelai Gilmore? S7ep16
Everyone together to celebrate Lane, Zach, and the twins. Everyone working together to make it happen. Plus. Perfect.

6. They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They? s3ep7
Sad for reasons, but ultimately it becomes an amazing thing. Even if it’s a miracle Kirk wins again.

5. You Jump, I Jump, Jack s5ep7
The only time I sort of like Logan, and it’s mostly because I love secret societies.

4. Luke Can See Her Face/Last Week Fights, This Week Tights s4ep20/21
Luke loves Lorelai. LUKE LOVES LORELAI. Liz is married. Jess is back.

3. The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale s4ep2
Owwww owowowowoooo!! Because everyone still wants her mommy on the first night at school.

2. The Bracebridge Dinner/Raincoats and Recipes s2ep10/s4ep22
Because they’re essentially the same episode. But the whole town. Back again. Coming together to just enjoy things.

1. Bon Voyage s7ep22
No marriage. No grand life’s gonna be great. Just a village sending out the child they raised. Working together one last time to love as they love.

Adventure in Lists, Day 4

My apologies. Yesterday, I was busy doing not this, so I must admit I neglected my list. I made up for it today though by doing two lists.

So first the important one. This one has been a long time coming. This one is essential.

Every summer since the Summer of Fox Mulder I watch X-Files. This year I made Jared and Rachel, and some times Dan, watch with me. We’re dragging ass right now, but I think friendship is almost more important. Almost.

Top ten episodes of X-Files:

10. Triangle (s6e3)
I love it because Scully is, like Topanga in the 50s, all snarky and sassy because it’s the 40s. Time travel somehow makes tv women more outspoken than they are in the present. It doesn’t make sense. Plus. Lone Gunmen. Plus Mulder hates Nazis. Just. I like it. Ok?

9. Three of a Kind (s6ep20)/Jump the Shark (s9ep15)

Ok. I’m one of those people who watched The Lone Gunmen.

Three of a Kind. Drugged Scully is a goof. A GOOF.
Jump the Shark is important to me because it’s the final love to the boys.

8. The Goldberg Variation (s7ep6)

I love this one because all this guy wants is to win exactly the right amount of money just to help one boy.

7. Drive (s6ep2)

Bryan Cranston. K? Bryan Cranston in a car with Fox Mulder. The whole episode. You’re welcome.

6. Dreamland/Dreamland II (s6ep4/5)

Outside of the magic of a rock and lizard existing in the exact same space and time, Mulder switching places with Michael McKean, smarmy, smarmy Michael McKean. I love it.

5. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (s6ep6)

Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner as ghosts trying to convince Mulder and Scully to kill each other. Good stuff.

4. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (s4ep7)

This back story is so a part of my brain that some times I think this man is culpable for real things.

3. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (s3ep4)

This story is so melancholy and still so light-hearted. It’s how I feel most days, and I love that this so perfectly reflects my mood.

2. The Unnatural (s6ep19)

I know this is Duchovny’s baby, and that it hardly holds to character development, but I love it. I love the interactions. I love that it hardly even touches on Mulder and Scully. I love the final scene. I love the rice cream. I love it.

1. The Field Where I Died (s5ep5)

This episode. I want this to be how it works. There are people in my life who I think maybe this is how it works. I love it, and it exhausts me.

Honorable mentions:
Syzygy (s3ep13)
Field Trip (s6ep21)
First Person Shooter (s7ep13)
Chigna (s5ep10)
All Souls (s5ep17)
The Post-Modern Prometheus (s5ep5)

And now for something completely different.

Top Ten Fictional Bears:
10. Yogi Bear
9. Grumpy Bear (don’t tell my mom I watched Care Bears)
8. Rupert
7. Gummi Bears
6. Paddington Bear
5. Mrs. Emily Bear (Fozzie’s mom)
4. Baloo (Jungle Book and TaleSpin)
3. The Berenstain Bears
2. Fozzie Bear
1. Winnie-the-Pooh

Adventure in Lists, Day 3

This will face some contention. This will not be well-received.

My top ten favorite episodes of Buffy.

10. Selfless (season 7 episode 5)

“I don’t talk to people much. I mean, I talk to them, but they don’t talk to me, except to say that, ‘your questions are irksome,’ and, ‘perhaps you should take your furs and your literal interpretations to the other side of the river.'”

(There’s going to be a staggering number of episodes rep seasons 6 and 7. It surprised me too.)

I love this episode because it gives us so many pieces of Anya. It fills in holes, but doesn’t answer every question. If anything, it makes me hurt more for Anya than it does make me love her more. (Though it does that too)

9. Halloween (season 2 episode 6)

“They don’t know who they are, everyone’s turned into a monster, it’s a whole big thing. How are you?”

Halloween is important because it’s the turning point. Halloween is the episode that I have to urge people to get to. It’s the game-changer. Halloween is when the show becomes good and not nearly as campy.

8. Conversations with Dead People (season 7 episode 7)

“Of course I’m scared. Last time we were here, 33.3 bar percent of us were flayed alive.”

For some reason episodes where people talk to dead people really touch my soul. It happens in an episode of Scrubs too, and I just overlook the fact that it’s Brendan Frasier. I think it speaks to something in us that still pines for those we’ve lost, even if we aren’t talking to someone we knew.

7. The Gift (season 5 episode 22)

“Blood is life, lack-brain. Why do you think we eat it? It’s what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead.”

The intended finality. The sacrifice. The brokenness across the board. Obviously this episode is powerful, but I think this moment is one of the most.
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6. A New Man (season 4 episode 12)

“You know what gets me? This is what gets me. Twenty years I’ve been fighting demons. Maggie Walsh and her nancy ninja boys come in; six months later, the demons are pissing themselves with fear. They never even noticed me.”

Honestly, there just might not be enough Giles-centric stories. In the wake of losing his job and his slayer going away to college he also gets turned into a demon by that dumb Ethan Rayne. Giles’ reliance on Spike is a huge draw for this episode, and him goofily terrorizing Professor Walsh. More that, please.

5. Normal Again (season 6 episode 17)

Buffy: I was only there a couple of weeks. I stopped talking about it so they let me go. And eventually, my parents just…forgot.
Willow: God. That’s horrible.
Buffy: What if I never left? What if I’m still in that clinic?

Some times brains break. Some times brains are forced into breaking. No matter how it happens, it’s always horrifying, even if you are the slayer.

4. Grave (season 6 episode 22)

“Is this the master plan? You’re gonna stop me by telling me you love me?”

Sue me. I love a good, overwhelming story of pure friendship. Sure, Will and Xander have had their moments, but ultimately they remain best friends. Even when Willow goes completely wiggy and seemingly over the line.

3. Band Candy (season 3 episode 6)

“Screw you. I want candy.”

Because teenage Giles. Because for some reason Ethan Rayne is in three of these episodes. Guess I like his monsters of the week.

2. Hush (season 4 episode 10)

“Can’t even shout, can’t even cry
The gentlemen are coming by
Looking in windows, knocking on doors
They need to take seven and they might take yours
Can’t call to mom, Can’t say a word
You’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.”

Outside of Doug Jones being amazing and the Gentlemen being horrifying. (Out horrifying the Silence, Doctor Who) the genius of a silent episode.

1. The Body (season 5 episode 16)

“I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s- There’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid. And-and Xander’s crying and not talking, and-and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”

Mostly. That quote is why, but then look at the fact that all underscoring is gone. You’re stuck, YOU, with your own thoughts and ambient noise, just like the cast. It’s brutal and hard and perfect.

Honorable mentions:
Gingerbread (season 3 episode 11) this one almost made the cut, because of the power of persuasion.

Once More with Feeling (season 6 episode 7) mostly, I feel like I have to have it on my list, and while I love it I hate social obligation more.

Restless (season 4 episode 22) seasons 4 is sort of a wash of worth it gets too heavy in places it shouldn’t. But I love this episode for just being silly. Not entirely, but it’s not a real threat and the cheese.