Part 10: The Final Test (You’ll Never Believe This Shit Y’all)

Alright, so I’m back with a tenth blog post because this Spring Term has been one hell of a ride, and I think this story is too good not to share. Plus, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot, so I figured I’d just write it all up on here and press that good old publish button so the world can hear it and I can put it all to rest.

  1. Saturday: The 5am Return

Okay, if you weren’t aware… Eric and I left last from the Charlotte airport on Saturday when we returned from the trip. I got off the flight at 7:30 with the rest of the initial crew who was on the noon ish flight from Phoenix. Eric was on a later flight from Phoenix at 3, so he was supposed to arrive at Charlotte at 10PM. Well, as you all know, the weather was crazy and everything got cancelled, and it’s all American Airlines fault, because f*ck American Airlines (see Part 9).

So anyway, Eric landed at 10 at CLT, but everything was so backed up, he didn’t get off the plane until MIDNIGHT! By this point, I was… in an indescribable state. Trying to keep my stress down to prevent more shingles pain, I was forced to stay in as close to a meditative, thoughtless state as possible. My phone was dead, and everybody had left hours ago, and I was just sitting in this crazy mad airport trying to stay calm, relaxed, and awake. Home awaited… Home awaited.

Eventually, I found a corner in a closed Starbucks on the upper floor above baggage claim. I sat in the corner behind some crates with my phone plugged in to the only available outlet at that entire fucking airport. Eric eventually got off the plane, and he met me there.

After Eric and I met up, we had no idea how the hell to get home. We tried for about an hour to get an Uber driver to no avail. We went through a ton of different options for how to approach returning. We thought about getting a hotel at one point. We got in line for a rental car, no luck. We even at one point just started walking out of the airport along the road. I probably would have kept walking if we hadn’t run into a giant construction mud pit that forced us to turn around. At another point, I just sat on the side of the road asking God why the fuck I couldn’t just get one god damn break (I’d been doing that every day since shingles, the Nerve Rash From Hell). I shed a tear while Eric kept looking for Ubers. And in that moment, we found our guy. My prayers were answered. Thanks Universe.

Marvin was his name — a tall, skinny, old-ish southern accented African American dude with a go-tee (or however you spell that) and a tiny little car. He almost said no, but we told him we’d tip him, and he, some fucking how, agreed to drive us to Charlottesville. At one in the fucking morning.

So he got to the airport and we put our stuff in the back of his car on top of a fleece Spider man blanket and hopped into the back seat of his car. We pretty much spent the first 5 minutes of the ride thanking him profusely for driving us. Then, we got into telling him about the airport and how everything was cancelled. Somehow, that evolved into a generous hour long conversation about everything from the miracle of flight to the workings of the universe, the presence of life on other planets, the importance of education and protecting our children from dangers like school shooters while also promoting mental health services and supporting one another, and we even talked about how women should have more power in government because we, sorry men, can actually get shit done instead of farting around like a bunch of old greedy lumps of poopy.

After our conversation, Marvin said “y’all must be getting tired,” and he told us to take a nap and he’d keep driving. I honestly have never trusted a stranger more than I trusted this guy. Thank you Marvin for everything.

He got us home safe at 5AM, and my mom (who wakes up at 4:30) said good morning too us and told us to go to bed. So we did, and we slept til noon. Grayson, if you are reading this, I’m sorry, because we were asleep when you landed, and we meant to wake up but we slept through the alarm out of pure exhaustion. Glad you got home safe. We slept well that night, and it felt good to be home.

2. So the above story was quite the adventure, but it only gets more ridiculous from here.

On Sunday, we were in Cville with my family and sister who is still in high school (the last one of 4 to graduate). She had bought tickets to a concert in New York that was really important to her, and my brother, who originally was supposed to take her to the city, could no longer take her because of a work obligation on Saturday (Saturday the 18th, the day of the concert). So, she asked us if we could take her.

Well, we were originally planning to leave Lexington on Sunday the 19th. If you don’t already know, we had nothing short of a crazy fucking year living alone (Eric, myself, and our cat) in this falling apart, huge ass themed house on East Washington Street. There’s much more to this story, but nothing any of you particularly need to know. But know that we had filled the house with a lot of shit and hadn’t started packing until Monday when we got back to Lexington.

Anyway, we told Cecily that we would do everything in our power to get her to this concert. I love my sis.  But I think both of us knew if we were going to pull it off, we’d have to push.

So essentially on Monday, we committed to working ourselves to our physical and mental limits. This was stupid, but you also have to remember that we were 1. already sleep deprived 2. already exhausted from the year long cluster fuck headache that was this year and 3. we honestly just get so distracted by love and trying to make others happy and can think we can do it all sometimes but honey, we cannot.

3. If you want an idea of how our week went, picture this: waking up, drinking coffee all day, and switching off vigorously between packing up and clearing out our entire house and finishing all of our work for class — non stop, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 AM every. single. mother fucking day. from Monday to Thursday.

Thursday was the final push, and that’s why we were late to the poster session Friday, because we both stayed up til 5am going HARD. Well, Friday comes along (yesterday) and Eric and I are both so sleep deprived I feel like I’m a part of a psychological experiment. What does a year of isolation from others, 24 weeks of minor sleep deprivation, and 4 straight weeks of major, honestly insane sleep deprivation do to a person? You get shingles and lose your functioning brain!

It’s kind of funny looking back at it.

4. At like 10 PM last night, prospects of actually being able to pull everything off seemed weak. I’m in the bed blasting I Am The Highway and Gasoline by Audioslave (thank you Guse) on repeat (literally for like 2 straight hours) cranking away at my paper like you’ve never seen a woman on no sleep crank before. Sipping coffee, ravaged and wild. Meanwhile, Eric is running around making trip after trip to our storage unit and packing up the house and car for the drive back.

5. At 12:30 AM, we hit the road. This was pretty emotional because I had to say goodbye to the house. It wasn’t even finished packing, but we decided to go back later in the week (our CA William Hamryka was still gonna be there because he is a senior) and finish up the house. But we were still saying goodbye, and it was sad, and I was crying and giving the walls so many hugs cause I love this place and I love this house, and I’ve lived here for two years and it taught me so many great lessons despite everything. Also important to note, neither of us had finished our papers, but were planning on staying up for the rest of the night or finishing them in the morning or something to turn them in. We had not yet planned that part.

We hit the road with our cat and our car filled to the brim with shit. And, ha ha! 15 minutes out we break down on the side of the road.

6. Well, long story short, it all worked out. Hammy came to help us with the car, and we turned around to head back to Lexington. My Dad took a huge L and decided to take Cecily to the concert since we couldn’t do it. My little brother Sullivan had gotten home from college, and he agreed to help my Mom out at the B&B so Dad could take Cecily. And most importantly, we got some SLEEP. 4 AM was when we headed to bed.

The craziest thing was at the end of all that, Eric and I truly were happy as clams, laughing about how ridiculous the week had been. The greatest part was that, even though we didn’t pull it off, we almost did, and that’s something to be proud of. So we’re back at our house resting and working on our papers now. I don’t know how long we’ll be in Lexington because we still have to get the car fixed up, but I don’t even care. I feel like a wild animal, but I don’t even care. In fact, it’s kind of epic in an exhausting , funny kind of way. Eric and I are two crazy kids, but I love that about college and life and being young. Although, I am sorry Harvey and Guse for turning the paper in late. I hope you understand why after all this!

7. In reflection, I feel strange more than anything — trying to put the pieces together of the last 2 and 3 years, the pieces of my life, the parts I’ve created, and the parts that have passed.

Coping with the stress of this year, I painted a total of roughly 210 paintings over the span of 6 months (from Thanksgiving break, my first paintings ever painted, til now). I also wrote an entire album that Eric and I are hoping to produce over the summer and coming year to release under our band name Naked Lunch. I also came up with the frameworks for my first 3 books that I plan to write during the rest of my time in Lexington (at least the next 2 years while Eric is still in school).

When I look back at what I’ve created during this period of such intense hardship, I feel nothing but love and gratitude for my inner and outer self — I see a woman who took many dark pieces of her life and past and turned it all into love, music, art, and creativity. The creation of something special, meaningful, and beautiful despite everything that has been thrown my way. Fuck the haters! I couldn’t be prouder of myself. And also, I couldn’t love my life and everything about this Universe more than I do right now.

To be totally honest, I spent a lot of my time internally hating Washington and Lee. It was really, really fucking hard to get to a school like this and be a woman like me. I’m from rural Virginia from a place filled with magic rolling hills and air that makes you feel at home. There’s hippies and nature and so much love. I had an incredible family and support system, and while I struggled to find myself, I was home always before I left for college. I spent the summer before college road tripping out West to Colorado and Utah with 3 friends, and I felt free for the first time, saw myself in the land and in artists and in 2 lovers outside of a grocery store in a town called Mancos. I saw the stars and sang to them, ran with the Universe, and found a part of me.

When I got to W&L, that freedom felt like it was stripped from me. The stress, lack of support, and divisive nature of social institutions left me feeling helpless in the wake of my existence hoping for anything to come save me from this place I never thought could make me feel so alone. I was taken advantage of, hurt by others, confused by myself, and unsure of where to turn or go from there.

The craziest thing was I spent the last night of college my Freshman year in front of the infamous Old House smoking a cigarette and feeling somewhat sorry for myself and ready to get out of here. On that side of the street, I looked up at the house across where I’d be living the next year. I can’t remember what I was thinking then, but I sat on the steps of my front porch just the other night and saw myself 2 years ago looking back up at me from the other side. I am proud of that girl and proud to say that I have accomplished everything that girl could have ever dreamed of for the duration of my time in this house, which was the last 2 years — Sophomore and Junior Year.

I think about how many great things come in fours. Four Stern kids, four years of high school, four years of college. The first 2 are the pain, and the third is the purge. You get ripped open and pour yourself out to build yourself again. I wrote a line in one of my songs that says “I look back just to see the kind of girl I used to be. Then I let words spill out of me and square these fleeting things”

You create something out of nothing. Box them up and turn them into something beautiful. And once you’ve opened up that space, the fourth year is the one where it all comes together, and you can be who you want and do what you want and send yourself on your way because you’ve put in the work to become the person you want to be. And things make a little more sense than they did before — all the moments of being lost you realize were just showing you the way.

I found feathers for a year, and the birds showed me (whether I knew it or not then) the way to open my heart to love. They kept me going every moment I felt I couldn’t. When I got to Arizona, I hadn’t found a feather in a while — at least not consistently since I was in Amsterdam for February break with Eric (I had dreamed of feathers raining down on me, then woke up the next day and found feather after feather on our walk through the city and along the canals together). The first day in AZ was when I started to develop shingles, and the pain would make me cry under my sunglasses during the tour of Pueblo Grande. And at Casa Grande? I walk ahead of the group to keep myself in check from the pain, and I’m the first to spot that beautiful owl in the window of the structure. And as I’m sitting on the ground in the shade, an owl feather appears before my eyes saying I love you strong one. You will be okay. And I was.

There are forces beyond what we can understand in this Universe. We are but one piece of a multi billion year pie that is infinite and ever changing. But there is love everywhere. All around us and within each one of us. The Universe is working to bring you where you want to go, but you’ll never get there if you don’t surrender first. You can fight it all you want. You will try to fight it until you can’t anymore. And then you let go of the fight and realize the float will take you just where you need to be, and all you have to do is enjoy the ride.

8. Thank you for allowing me the space to write an honest reflection on my existence and all that I have learned. I’m not lost anymore, though I am still pretty tired. But that is what the summer is for — what Alaska will be for — what this life past this point will forever be for. Love and rest. Peace and quiet. Hard work but this time giving yourself the breaks you need and saying “Fuck you” to anybody who doesn’t understand the effort and work you’ve been putting in and why you need to take the moment or hour or day or week or however long you need to get back to the place you need to be. Also saying “Fuck you” to anyone who doesn’t understand you because the paint and the guitar always will, and so will the English language if you arrange the words well enough in just the right way. And if they’re not the love of your life or they’re not the friend who knows your soul or they’re not on the same wavelength, then fuck them because that shit and everything they say or do doesn’t matter because YOU are the only one in charge of YOUR life so BE FREE because YOU CAN! Love because it’s the path of least resistance. Open up because you find out who you are. Be vulnerable because you’ll make great art out of it. And don’t give a fuck about what anybody else thinks or wants you to be, because if you do, you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to please those who aren’t going to mean anything in 10 years because if you’ve put in the work to be where you want to be, those assholes aren’t even going to be around.

So the morale of my story, from year 1 to 3 is fuck it. Fuck it and be happy. Fuck it and find the solution. Fuck it and make art. Fuck it and be nice to everyone. Fuck it and do what you can and be who you want and enjoy your time on planet Earth because this sliver of existence is all you’ll ever know at any given moment. The breath brings you back and you are the energy to connect.

Much love to all of you in this class. Eric, I couldn’t have gotten through shingles without you. Thanks for applying my pain relieving cream while I said fuck you over and over cause it hurt, and for wheeling me around, and for being my personal walker and best friend.

Kathryn, thanks for not judging me for my shingles because I know I cried a lot and that was only because it really hurt. Also thank your mother, because knowing she got shingles made me feel a lot better.

Pat, you’re the fucking man and are hilarious. “Fake rabbi, real asshole”

Eric H., I appreciated your honesty and love of shit-talking. I haven’t been updated on the Class of 2020 drama since, like, freshman year. Good to know the juice.

Abby, I never told you this but you are strangely similar to my sister Cecily (you guys look so similar that sometimes I would see you out of the corner of my eye and be like what the fuck Cecily why you in Arizona girl?) Also thank you for your kitchen partnership at the mission, and thanks for being a good lab partner in Bio lab, too.

Emily, stand strong in your stance against fruit. I don’t understand it, but I respect it and the fact that you do not waiver in your beliefs.

Grayson, I’m sorry we didn’t pick you up from the airport. All in all I appreciated the questions you asked during all the meetings we had because you always asked them, and they were always really insightful and interesting thoughts that I, in my shingles haze, couldn’t have even come up with. You kept us on our toes. Also, shout out to South Dakota!

Donnie, I think we may have met my freshman year but I can’t remember and I was a very different person then, but it was good to get to know you a bit better during this time. Thanks for offering to carry my bags a bunch and being super kind about that.

Evan, I also think we may have met my freshman year but I can’t remember either. It was also good to get to know you better, too. I appreciated you and Donny honestly as a unit. It reminded me of me and Eric. Sometimes you just have your go to bud and I loved that that was you two.

Tanner, thank you for picking up the driving slack post shingles, and thank you for asking me and Eric why we were vegetarian that one time. And, thanks for the many country pop jams and for suggesting Thai food the last night.

Jacob, you, like Ponchi, are a freaking baller, and I hope that you have an amazing summer.

Harvey and Guse, thank you. Thank you for the two best Spring Term courses I ever have and ever will take.

I LOVE YOU ALL and best of luck on all of your many journeys and adventures in this life.

And so this story ends, and another begins. Be well, all of you.




5 Replies to “Part 10: The Final Test (You’ll Never Believe This Shit Y’all)”

  1. Haley. Thank you for granting this spring class a remarkable sense of closure with your final post. Out of a string of events, absurd and cruel by turns, you have evolved into a stronger, even more capable woman than you were before suffering the horrors of shingles and American Airlines. You have constructed meaning where most of the rest of us would have settled for shambles.

  2. You know I’ve read this already and we’ve talked about it but I’m proud of you for getting through all this. All things happen for a reason and despite the searing shingles pain of being stabbed with a thousand burning sporks, you got through it and now any pain you feel from this point forward will feel wimpy. Always a bright side to this situation, even if the bright side is just surviving through it. Glad I got to push you in the wheelchair and Harvey got a good picture of us. Excited to go to Alaska and slow down the pace of life and spend some more time reflecting about things. The spirituality we felt on the reservation is something we should all aim to include in our lives here before we get swept away by the tides of life and find another year flown by without knowing where the hell it went. Let’s take deep breaths and meditate, because I don’t want no shingles either.

  3. Ok. First off, there’s at least eight blog posts in there. Pat is writing epic poetry; you are writing sagas.

    I love the thank-you notes at the end. So nice!

    Ugh I hate flying! We need a real rail system in this country! Of course I knew the broad outlines of what happened, but not quite all of these details. I think I would have advised you guys to get a hotel room that night, if I had thought about how late Eric flight was coming in and then how late it was when he actually got off the plane. But then I guess I would have denied you the chance to meet Marvin and work out several of the major and minor issues of the universe. Thank you both for being resourceful and getting home safely.

    Here’s my favorite quote from your post Haley: “Fuck it and find the solution. Fuck it and make art. Fuck it and be nice to everyone. Fuck it and do what you can and be who you want and enjoy your time on planet Earth because this sliver of existence is all you’ll ever know at any given moment. The breath brings you back and you are the energy to connect.”

    That’s basically the advice I try to give my children (though I usually withhold the “fuck it”‘s. ) and it reminds me of an essay by David Brooks where he talks about resume virtues and eulogy virtues: “… The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

    We teachers spend a lot of time trying to develop the resume virtues in our students and, of course, it is important that you all acquire marketable skills and find a job. But a successful career is a means, not an end and reading this, its clear that you’ve already figured that out.

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