If The Eyes Are A Portal To The Soul, My Soul Is The Color Of The Ocean

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You know that saying “I’m at a crossroads in my life”? You know the one, it’s usually on a picture mounted on a factory-white painted wall featuring a forking dirt path with corn on either side with a silhouetted, ambiguously aged female figure in an A-line dress, obviously contemplating which dusty corn path will send her back to Kansas. Well, I half identify with that statement at the moment. Half is the keyword: I recognize that my life is about to change in a major way. But, rather than having two branching paths to follow, I feel like I have come upon a brick wall (on a dirt road littered with broken test tubes and loose-leaf textbooks and the occasional wine bottle or three).
Let me introduce myself in the most generic way possible! I got a lot of practice at this over the last few days at the university’s career fair: Hello! My name is Allison Morgan and I’m a chemistry major with a research background in inorganic chemistry! What I don’t say, but am dying to when the recruiter is asking me questions:
I don’t care what your company does! I don’t really want to work in a chemistry lab! If you wanted computer scientists, why did you come to the science career fair when the engineering career fair was yesterday? Why are you telling me I need a Ph.D. to clean glassware? No, I am not a biochemist! Yes, I have gone to a lot of colleges, thanks for noticing! No, I don’t want your thing that I can stick to the back of my phone that I can peel off to wipe my screen off with that will leave residue all over everything I’ve ever owned, but out of the four pieces of paper you just handed me, this screen cleaner is the only thing with your website on it! No, I don’t want to sell things to people, again, why are you at the science career fair? My face hurts from smiling at you and this un-breaking eye contact is making everyone involved uncomfortable so can we stop pretending that this is how normal conversations happen? Why are the recruiters wearing jeans while I’m in high heels and dress pants???
Fun fact that not many people (with the exception of everyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes) know: I was originally a marine biology major. What even less people know about me: I have never felt passion for anything like I do for the ocean, and never will feel that sort of passion again in my life. I bought my first oceanography textbook when I was in middle school at Half Priced Books and read it cover to cover and even highlighted in it and took notes. I have every word to Blue Planet: Deep Ocean memorized (this is always my fun fact about myself that I whip out on the first day of class). I once bought a book on Humpback whales and wrote an essay on them back when our family computer still had dial up and my feet didn’t touch the floor when I was sitting in my dad’s office chair. I have a jellyfish hanging from the rear view mirror in my car that I’ve had longer than I’ve had the car itself, and I sleep with a stuffed squid every night named Queequeg. I’ve gone to the same aquarium every year since I was in elementary school and I still look forwards to it like a little kid looking towards Christmas. I ask to go to the aquarium in my hometown for nearly every birthday and I can practically give a tour myself. I’ve fed piranhas. I am a font of marine biology knowledge, especially about jellyfish. Furthermore, I wear a jellyfish pendant around my neck because it’s my personal reminder to keep going and that everything will be okay. I did my 10th grade science project on bioluminescence and recreated the phenomenon in a lab with chemicals, and in my organic chemistry class, my instructor demonstrated the exact reaction I had done in 10th grade, and was able to recite the chemicals in the reaction, and got to enjoy the shock on his face. I get excited when I see the aquarium at the local Cheddar’s and always don’t mind waiting for a table because I get to press my face against it.
So…in other words, I love marine biology. I knew since sixth grade that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I never waffled in this decision, and I applied to the top eight marine biology colleges out of high school, and was accepted to seven of them (sorry I wasn’t related to anyone on the board of regents, Stanford). I went to my first choice college (yeah, that’s right Stanford, you weren’t my first choice either).
And then, due to a multitude of reasons beyond my control, I transferred to Texas. I became a chemistry major. I put dreams on the back burner in order to focus on college and graduation. I put my nose to the books and worked hard and now have a pretty darn impressive resume to my name.
But why? Why would I work so hard as a chemist when I wanted to be a marine biologist? Well, here’s the key, when transferring to my current college, I was told these exact words: “while chemistry might not be marine biology, in the end this degree will still get you to where you want to be”.
Now two things: 1. I believed this. I honestly believed that they were telling the truth and that I wasn’t just more money to add to their collection. I legitimately believed that upon graduating with a degree in chemistry, I could apply for marine biology jobs and have a shot at them. I thought that they were taking into consideration what I wanted and wanted to help me get there. 2. I should have done more research before picking a college, but I was stressed, confused, and felt lost, and when I had an inside into this college and my best friends went there, it seemed like a win. It should have sounded fishy to me that I could become a marine biologist when my major didn’t make me take even a single biology course. I let myself down just as much as they did.
Because when I went in for my final advising appointment before graduation, I told them what I wanted to do. And she looked at me blankly, and said “I don’t know how to get you there. I know someone who is working to recycle waste water. Close enough?”
I feel let down. I let myself down because I didn’t try hard enough and didn’t do enough research. I feel like all the people who told me I could do this led me on. I feel completely lost and alone and no one’s help is useful to me because it’s all a symphony of “follow you heart/dreams/insert inspirational body part here” with no actual help as to how to get there.
The same people that encouraged me not to be a marine biologist because they make no money are the same people who are now telling me to go for it because my happiness is worth more than money. They’re the people telling me to go to grad school for marine biology when I have absolutely nothing in my resume that qualifies me for such a thing.
I’m confused, lost, and have no one to turn to. Sadly, my passion doesn’t get me job interviews. I can tell the company until I’m blue in the face that I love jellyfish more than anything in the world and I routinely work the hydrozoans into conversation and that you don’t understand this ismyDREAM but that doesn’t matter when I don’t know how a hatchery works or what makes marine snow a viable caloric intake to large bottom dwelling fish.
There’s no hard hitting quote to end this one. I may be a strong writer, but at the moment I feel like a small girl who is watching her dreams crumble before her eyes in real time. And, for lack of a more eloquent term, it really sucks.

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From Rock Bottom To The Rocky Mountain Top

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Today was my last first day of school. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I expected everyone around me to feel the aura of my power as a graduating senior, for freshmen to bow in awe, for my gait to say “watch out world, I’m graduating with a chemistry degree in 109 days”.
Surprisingly, none of that happened. It was a normal first day, full of nervous stomachs, and bad jokes from desperate-to-be-liked professors, and people asking questions about things that were on the syllabus (Just. Read. The DAMN SYLLABUS. All of the answers to life are in it. Or at least the dates of the exams, which is kind of the same thing.)
It’s almost a disappointing feeling? Like I have clawed my way to the top. I have put more sweat, blood, tears, Advil gel-caps, triple expresso coffees, and anguish into this than I have into anything I have every done in my life. I have felt the highest highs and the lowest lows within the last three years of my life. There were some days that my heart would soar with pride in myself, like when I wrote my first publishable scientific paper, and then there were days that I was at rock bottom making my fingernails bleed because I was determined to make myself get even lower, like the nights I sobbed in my empty tub, holding my stuffed doggy and feeling the cold porcelain on my skin to remind me that I was real, I was alive, and I would survive this.
I want to stand in the middle of Academic Plaza and yell at the top of my lungs that “I made it! In just one short semester I will have earned a bachelor of science in chemistry! CHEMISTRY! Do you know how hard that is?” I want people to acknowledge my hard work, I want random strangers to feel jealous of my achievement, that I’m graduating and they still have years to go.
But. That’s not how this works. I look the same as every other student on campus, whether they be freshman or senior. I’m wearing the same tired look, the same faded Nikes, the same ripped backpack that weighs too much as everyone else. But maybe, if you look at me closely, you’ll see that I’m standing a little bit taller. You’ll see that behind those tired eyes, there’s a rock-hard glint of newfound determination. Maybe you’ll notice that for the first time in three years, there’s pride in my gait.
Life has beat me down, spit me out, and then kicked my spitty bruised body. But I fought back. And in 109 days, I will have won.

In Solidarity

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The lights begin to dim, enveloping us in semi-darkness. The smell of faux butter and plastic fill the air, the only sound that can be heard is that of popcorn kernels being crushed by teeth, and the occasional sucking sound of a straw on an empty cardboard bottom. The darker the lights get, the faster my heart beats. I become hyper-aware of my surroundings.

That man stood up. There was no reason for him to stand up now, the movie is starting! The teenager in front of me is looking down. No reason for that, the screen is in front of us. Why are you looking down?? Hey! HEY! The movie is in front of us lift your head, if you don’t lift it I will personally lift it for you HEYHEYHEY…

No. I don’t have a problem with people not looking at movie screens. It is not a pet peeve. No. I don’t care when people go to the bathroom or to get food refills during a movie. I am not some vigilant movie lover who demands every person in the theater have their eyes trained on the screen at all times.

Being in enclosed places with a lot of people gives me severe anxiety. It’s not claustrophobia, no, this is different. This is hands sweating, heart racing, mind screaming “you need to get out of here right now!!!”

But why?


Lemme tell you a story. A story that begins with waking up on May 24th, in a hotel bed at the beach, and checking my cellphone before I even got out of bed. A story that begins with having seven text messages from my old college that I had just transferred out of. The texts started out calm and got more urgent.

Shooting in Isla Vista. Residents are encouraged to remain indoors.

Residents are still encouraged to stay inside.

College is on lock down.

Seven fatalities.

My heart dropped lower with every text message I read. After a quick trip to the bathroom to throw up the bile and fear that had arose in my chest, I urgently texted all of my friends, not knowing if they were alive. I glued my eyes to the morning news. Waited for names to be released. Waited for my phone to ring. It never did.

Went downstairs to go run on a treadmill because I couldn’t stop shaking. Cried in the lobby. Heard back from my best friend: she was okay. Heard back from another friend: she was okay. Heard back from another: he was personally okay, physically. But people he had known were not, people he loved were gone, and he was not okay. I felt so helpless. People I loved were 1500 miles away from me, in pain. The college I loved with my whole heart was experiencing this tragic event, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t even be there to console.

A horrible, evil person took lives that day, and injured even more. I’m very glad that he is dead, but even though he isn’t alive, he still haunts that campus. I wish him all the pain and suffering in the world.


I wasn’t even there, and yet I now have severe anxiety when I’m in an enclosed place. I am very convinced that senseless, malicious people are there to hurt me and others. When someone does something out of the ordinary, like gets up during a movie, I notice.

That’s why I don’t go to movies. My new friends don’t understand, and I don’t try to explain, but that’s why.

That’s why I don’t like going to college football games.

That’s why I don’t want to go to concerts and on airplanes. Because I don’t want one of my best friends to be the one behind the cell phone, frantically trying to reach me. I don’t want someone else’s radical ideals to put an end to my life.

So for now, I’ll stick to open parks, thank you.

These Are The Best Years Of Your Life (If You’re Rich or Smart or Talented, In Which I Am None)

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It’s funny how life works.

You go from being so stressed you can hardly breathe to so bored nothing interests you anymore (isn’t that ironic? We can become so dull that we become even duller by not wanting to do anything.) Halfway through my summer vacation and I’m ready to go back to school. My days have no structure aside from the self-imposed schedule I follow.

7:30 – Wake up, drink coffee, force down an unwanted breakfast that sits like a brick in my stomach, clean off the makeup from the night before

8:30 – Go to the gym and do the exact same elliptical workout I do every day. Maybe do some weights. Look at my reflection in the gym mirrors and realize instantly that it was a mistake and one day I will learn to either stop hating myself or stop peeking into mirrors

10:00 to 12:00 – Do pseudo chores I make up to keep myself busy. Make the bed. Clean the dirty clothes off the floor. Read a book. Stare at a wall. Pine for an exciting life.

12:01 – Stare at a full pantry wishing that I had enough money to frequent Panera Bread or literally anything but the same things I’ve been eating for the last 21 years. Settle on a wilting salad.

12:15 to 5:29 – Try in vain to come up with more things to do. Inevitably fail. Annoy my cat. Read more. Wish my life away. Hate myself for not accepting the summer research position because at least I would have something to do.

5:30 – Eat dinner. Internally laugh when my dad asks “what did you do today?” Nothing. I did nothing, just like I have for the last two months.

6:00 – Go to the gym with my dad. Do the same thing I did in the morning. Casually scan the gym to see if the usual people are there, like the girl who constantly looks three seconds away from barfing and the guy with two teardrop tattoos.

7:15 to 11:00 – Sit on the couch that hurts my back. Watch television. Swear that tomorrow I will go to Starbucks and write, or go get my ears pierced, or something, anything, different from today and the previous 60 days, while knowing I won’t.

Repeat ad nauseam.

I am a creature of habit and structure and schedule. Which, ironically, is why school is good for me. It gives me a framework off of which to build my life and myself. On the other hand, school is bad for me because it triggers countless panic attacks and stress levels that make me want to throw myself in front of a bus and self-hatred that borders on dangerous. But during summer, I have no structure. But I also have stress because life is weird. In the absence of papers and homework and tests to stress over, I worry about made up things.

What if I don’t find a job? What if I’m stuck being the same old boring me, and I die when I’m eighty-five, and regret my whole life? Why couldn’t I find an internship when people infinitely less qualified than me seemed to have no problem finding one?

Why is everyone around me so happy when I’m just beige and tired and stuck in a rut?

What’s wrong with me?

I’m still clinging to the hope that things will be made okay when I graduate and find a job and get to strike out on my own. But if it doesn’t, I guess it’s time for serious soul-searching.

I can’t live like this forever.

Even At My Worst, I’m Best With You

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I have something rare in my life. I don’t claim to have an exciting life. I’m a chemistry major who lives in a small college town nine months out of the year and a dull suburb the other three. I don’t travel the world or go to concerts or party. I’ve worn my hair the same way since I was fourteen and the most exhilarating part of my week is when we decide to go to Applebee’s instead of Chili’s. But there is something special that makes my life exciting:

I have sitcom level friendship with five amazing humans. All six of us met my freshman year of high school, and have been pretty inseparable since then. I can’t think of a single big event from high school that they weren’t some way involved in (from homecoming to prom to band concerts to rolling around in the mud together because it was raining for the first time in nearly a year and it was like the thrilling conclusion to an apocalyptic novel).

Think of the TV show Friends. Now imagine those six very distinct, unique personalities. Each of us fit one of those personalities pretty darn well (me, personally? I’m Rachel). There are three girls, three guys, and plenty of drama, bickering, and unconditional love to go around.

Tenth Grade (top) vs. Sophomore Year of College (bottom)

Tenth Grade (top) vs. Sophomore Year of College (bottom)

But here’s the part that’s different from Friends: we live very far apart from each other now. We’re spread out from Texas to Kansas to Georgia (and have had guest appearances in California and Italy and Wales). I see my friends once, maybe twice a year. I don’t hear their voices very often and sometimes I go months without talking to them.

But nothing has changed. Even though we’ve been in college for three years now, with the first batch of us graduating in December, we’re still just as close as we were when we went to our first homecoming together, or when we snuck into our first (really terrible) rated R movie together, or frequented iHop at two in the morning every Saturday for pretty much our entire senior high school career. I have lived with these people, cried with them, made promises that ranged from cute to life changing with them.

Even though I don’t see them often, nothing has changed. When I see them, there is no awkwardness, just hugs that last a lot longer than normal. Nothing is considered too personal to talk about. True best friendship is when you don’t see each other often, but when you do, you feel complete for the first time in a year.

I love these people. I always will. They will be the first people I call when tragedy strikes, the people standing by my side at my wedding, the godparents to my children, the unmoving boulders in the tempest of my life. I am so thankful that I was blessed with my amazing friends.

Thank you for always making me feel loved, safe, and cared for. No matter where I am, as long as I’m with you, I’m home.

Love,

Your Rachel.

Bullet Lists Are Good For The Soul

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Things I would love to hear but never will. Some I need to hear from a specific person, some I need to hear to get through life, and some I just wish I could hear for once.

  • You have a beautiful voice.
  • You’re so skinny.
  • You’re amazing with animals,
  • I never meant to hurt you like I did. I wish that I could take back everything that I ever said or did to you.
  • I don’t blame you.
  • You have beautiful hair.
  • I admire your bravery.
  • You were the best friend that I ever had.
  • Just because another girl is pretty, does not mean that you aren’t.
  • It’s okay to feel hopeless. And break down occasionally.
  • I can tell how passionate you are about this.
  • You’re making the right decision.
  • I wish you had never walked away from me.
  • You could be a model.
  • You made the right decision, but it’s still okay to regret it sometimes.
  • She loved you, she understands, and she forgives you.
  • I won’t claim to understand how you feel inside, but I’m here to help you.
  • You are a beautiful dancer.
  • You have a contagious smile.

Angel Dogs

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Anyone who knows me at all knows how much I love animals. I’ve volunteered at multiple animal shelters, every animal I’ve ever owned was a rescue animal (save one, and even then he didn’t come from a breeder). I cry at pictures of cute animals. Sometimes when my kitten falls asleep in my lap or on my chest, it’s the only real sense of contentment I’ll feel that day.

I can honestly say I love animals more than people. Every cat, dog, horse, goat, pig, every animal has a personality and love to give. With that being said, I want to talk about my baby, Angel.

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Angel dog was a last-chance Staffordshire-Pit Bull mix. She had a huge head, muscles that frat boys can only dream of, and a tongue that was so long we theorized that she had to roll it up to fit it in her head. She had a tail that would feel like someone whipped you when it thwack-ed against your legs, big brown eyes that I swear could cry, and the boniest butt that somehow always found its way into your lap, even though she was fifty pounds. She would never hurt a soul (except for that fly she ate once). She was the best dog in the whole world.

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said she was my best friend. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that she saved my life.

I miss her so much.

I feel like ever since the day she died, I’ve had this hole in my heart that can’t be filled. I have added a new fur-baby to my family since then, and even though he’s my bro and I love him, even he hasn’t been able to fill that hole that Angel left.

(I may be crying just writing this.)

Here’s the thing. Before we adopted Angel, she was abused. I don’t know exactly what was done to her, and to be honest, I’m glad I don’t, because I can’t afford to go to jail. She was a last-chance dog, meaning that if we took her back, she would be euthanized. And you could tell that she had been abused. She was scared of everything. She trembled sometimes. She would tuck her tail between her legs and look up at you with those eyes that never failed to melt my heart.

People thought that we were crazy for adopting an abused Pit Bull. I was in second grade when we got her, and people couldn’t understand why I was romping around with such a “dangerous” dog. The same “dangerous” dog that I had to physically pick up and carry past a house with two Chihuahuas, because she was terrified of them. I saw her puncture tennis balls with her jaws. I also saw her scare herself with her own gas. I saw her chew four-inch thick tree branches into sawdust. I also saw her sleep on her back, her legs splayed in the least ladylike manner, feet twitching with a puppy dream.

She never once hurt me or anyone else. Ever. I had my baby Angel for nine years, and she never once snapped at anyone. I do believe with my whole heart that she would have given her life to protect me from someone trying to hurt me, but we never had to find that out.

So I have two points here. The first is about your pets in general. When Angel got old, she got sick. Beautiful red fur fell out, leaving bald patches all over her. Grey fur covered her face. She wasn’t very cute anymore. In fact, she looked a little scary. But here’s what important: your animal still needs love even though they’re old. I don’t care that they have no fur and it feels gross to touch them. I don’t care that the smell bad. I don’t care that it hurts you to look at them because they’re not the lively young animal they used to be. When you adopted them, you promised to love them their entire life. Not just when they’re cute.

Secondly: give Pit Bulls a chance. They can be the best friend you’ll ever make.

Angel didn’t sleep in my room on normal nights, all of the animals had beds in my parent’s room where they were trained to sleep. However, every time it would thunderstorm, Angel would lay next to my bed, because thunderstorms scared her more than anything else. I would let my arm hang over the edge of the bed, and rest it on her side (I was terrified of storms too). And that way, with us in contact all night, we would both sleep until morning.

Right after she died, there was a thunderstorm. Out of habit, I rested my arm over the edge of my bed, reaching for Angel. And my arm came in contact with fur. I sat up and saw my other dog, Scruffy, laying in the same spot that she had occupied for nine years. And that night, I got out of bed, rested my head on Scruffy, and cried.

It’s been four years since Angel died. I cry every single time I think about her. Last night was one of those nights where I can’t get her out of my head. I’m not an incredibly religious person, but during my nightly prayers, I asked to talk to Angel. And I told her that I missed her more than she’ll ever know, and that I hope she was happy in puppy heaven. I told her that I still, and always love her.

It stormed all morning.

Artistic Is Not A Dirty Word

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I’m tired. I’m worn down. I’m like that shirt that you loved so you wore it every week for four years because it was soft and durable, but then it started to get those little fuzzies that mean the end is near. I’ve been giving all of myself to college for the last three years. And before that, I gave all of myself to high school. And color guard. And band and tennis and literary magazine. I’m exhausted. I’m your favorite pencil that you always made stellar test grades with, that is now nothing more than a nub.

I have 14 days, 16 hours, and 17 minutes until summer vacation. I have 239 days, 18 hours, and 42 minutes until I graduate. I have 239 days, 18 hours, and 43 minutes until I can close my eyes, and take a deep breath, and know that I made it. It’s been an uphill battle and I know the war isn’t over.

What waits for me at the end of this war? I don’t know. I don’t particularly like my major. I don’t have anyone in my family who works in a job that’ll help me. I wonder if I’ll ever stop having dreams like I did last night, about being back at UCSB, and wishing I could start over. I wonder if five years from now I’ll wake up and wish that I hadn’t listened to everyone and done a major that made me happy, rather than one that *might* make me more money.

I’ve always felt like I was such an awkward mix of talents. I was smart, no doubt. I can do math incredibly well and I understand chemistry like it’s second nature. But I was also athletic. I could dance and play tennis. I was also artistic. I could write laps around pretty much everyone in my high school, play the bassoon pretty darn well, and my voice isn’t half bad.

So why is it that I “chose” to pursue the intelligent, STEM side of me? If you asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I have a pretty solid answer for you: I want to write. If you asked me what skill that I possess that I am proudest of, I would tell you all about my color guard days. If you asked me what I feel like I’ve put the most effort into in my life, I would reminisce about hours and hours and days and months and years spent on the tennis courts. If you asked me my passion, it would be the ocean, and the feeling when I write a beautiful metaphor that I have to read over and over again, astonished that the words came from my own brain. Why is it that all the parts of myself that I love most have nothing to do with how smart I am?

Maybe it’s because I was raised in an environment where “artistic” was a bad word. Maybe it’s because being intelligent was the end-all, be-all. Anything other than science was for people lesser than me. I was taught to believe that people that weren’t good at science and math were stupid, and lazy, and didn’t try hard enough. I was taught that writing was a hobby, and that chemistry was forever.

But now here I am, twenty-one years old, and completely unsure of my future, save one thing. I hate chemistry with a passion. It’s taken so much from me: my happiness, my will to live, my health.

I remember being told that “I wish I had written that book”. I remember sad eyes saying “follow your dreams”.

Why don’t we follow our dreams? Why am I, at 21, doomed to a life of lab work, counting down the minutes until I get to leave, and being too tired to do what I actually love?

I wish someone had told me to follow my dreams and actually meant it, not just “follow your dreams as long as they involve science or math.”

Putting Whipped Cream on Spilled Coffee

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Yesterday was an important day to me. Yesterday was April 15th, and it marked three years that Cooper and I have been dating. I’m a very lucky girl to have someone who puts up with me every single day and never once complains about my random crying or throwing things.

Here’s the cold hard truth kids: listen to your parents. When they say being in a relationship is hard, they’re right. When they say that it’s a lot of work, they’re not lying. When they say that no matter what you think, the person you’re dating isn’t perfect and you’re seeing them through rose colored glass, it’s true. But it’s okay, because you’re not perfect either.

There will be fights. And tears. And ignored text messages and hurt feelings and spilled coffee. But you can get through all of them. No relationship is just “meant to be”. Every relationship requires work, and those that are “meant to be” are had by two people who decided to fight for it.

We’ve done long distance (and in three weeks, are about to do it again). We’ve dealt with mental illness (all on my part, because I like to be challenging), and death of people we loved, and the general hardships that people in college face (like wanting to get hit by a bus). We’ve fought. We’ve screamed (well. I’ve screamed). We’ve cried and stayed up all night talking things through and decided to pick up the pieces and start all over again more times than I can count.

But it’s all worth it, because I love him. And I can’t imagine my life without him. He’s my two a.m. text when its thundering and I’m scared, my knight in shining armor with pizza in hand after a bad week, my daring defender that will clean the litter box to a cat that isn’t even his, the person who knows exactly what I need to hear and when to hear it. There’s way more smiles than there are frowns, and there’s way more laughter than there is silence.

I love you Cooper. You’re my person.