suicide

do you remember? // short story

The past couple days and rest of this week have been and are continuing to be pretty busy, which has been an additional struggle on top of the creative one for this 14 day writing challenge I've been putting myself through, trying to write something or publish something every day. I purposefully timed out this writing challenge to end just about the same time as I'm leaving for a trip, since I'm not sure if I'll have the time to continue publishing work while I'm gone, but hopefully this writing challenge will give me the creative boost I need to at least be storyboarding and brainstorming while I'm gone.  

In order to keep myself in the fiction mindset, I've been outlining and storyboarding a bunch related to an older ongoing project that I'm still hoping to finish at some point in time, but I've also been going back to older pieces that I've written a while ago when fiction came a little easier to me, looking at the style, voice, and some of the themes I was working with to see what I can continue to channel into my current work and what I've grown out of.

 

The piece below is one I recently went back to as I've been trying to rediscover and tap into my fiction energy. Originally published in my university's literary magazine three years ago, this piece deals with several darker themes, something that I've oddly always been drawn to in fiction, which is perhaps why I love dystopian and noir works so much. On top of that, it's still one of the better pieces I think I've written, perhaps because it's partially inspired by real life, though I do see myself having grown out of some of the more dramatic elements as I skim through it a few years later. If you were wondering what kind of fiction I skewed towards writing three or four years ago, this piece would be a prime example, haha.

 

--

do you remember?

“Yeah, honey. I’m just leaving now.”

 

Levi Anderson held his phone between his shoulder and his cheek as he navigated down the front steps of Hill Crest Church, the Minneapolis sunset in the background. He lugged a rolling crate overflowing with music books in his right hand, carried a guitar case on his back, and clutched a travel mug of lukewarm coffee in his left as he spoke in puffs of white mist.

 

“What about the kids? Oh, sure. I’ll check. Okay. I love you, Clarissa. See you at home.”

 

He paused near the bottom of the stairs to shove his phone into his coat pocket and then made his way toward the parking lot. Near the front, he approached a green Volkswagen Golf, already surrounded by a myriad of instrument cases and other boxes. With a sigh, he popped the trunk and began loading his car, starting with the things he had just brought out.

 

The cold fall air whistled around him as he packed up all of his things. Reaching up to shut the trunk, he heard the soft crunch of footsteps. Had he forgotten something inside? Before he could turn or say anything, he felt something cold and metallic pressed against the back of his head and drew a surprised gasp.

 

“Don’t turn around.” The higher-pitched, but masculine voice had a forced sternness. “Get in. Drive.”

 

With a racing heart, Levi obeyed, inching toward the driver’s side door. He cracked open the door with a shaking hand and slid in. He heard the door behind him open and shut, the assailant also slipping in, as he started the engine. Was this actually happening?

 

“So where am I going?” Levi glanced in the rearview mirror as he backed out of his space and pulled out of the parking lot. His teeth clattered as he let out focused breaths of mist.

 

“You were about to head home weren’t you?”

 

Levi inhaled deeply, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as he turned onto the main road running alongside the church.

 

“About thirty minutes or so, if I recall?” the assailant asked in a suddenly conversational tone. “Strange that I still remember, eh, Levi?”

 

Levi no longer felt the muzzle of the gun against his head, but he still resisted the urge to snap around. “Who are you?” he strained himself to maintain a calm tone.

 

“You don’t remember me?” the voice whined. “Oh, Levi, I was sure you would remember me. It’s only been, what, fifteen years now? What a shame. You were so important to me, though.”

 

Levi’s mind started spinning as he made his way down the city streets toward the interstate. “Why don’t I remember you?” his voice was ripe with confusion.

 

The voice gave a bemused chuckle. “People did always mean so much more to me than I ever did to them. It reminds me of you and your siblings, actually. How are Caleb and Rebekah?”

 

“Just fine,” he replied tersely, making an effort not to react physically, but he was wracking his brain for any possible connection.

 

The voice laughed. “Do you still not remember me, Levi?” Then it became stern again, but this time it wasn’t forced. “Well, I better help you remember.”

 

He half expected to have the gun jammed against his temple again, but instead he felt the figure lean forward, his breath on his shoulder as he merged onto the interstate. In the rearview mirror, a sliver of his face was now visible, but all he could see was a single brown eye and dark hair. Still nothing.

 

“I was never cool enough for you to like me in school,” he began, his face to the ground. “I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t like Call of Duty. I was too weird for you.”

 

Levi was speechless.

 

“Remember that basketball tournament your sophomore year? You and all the other guys threw me in the pool in all my clothes and I had to walk all the way back up to my room soaking wet.” He took a deep breath. His voice was pained. “And then your junior year, I was in your room and you told all the guys I was gay because I didn’t want to sleep on the floor.” There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “Remember now?”

 

Levi swallowed. Bits and pieces had risen to the surface. He did remember, but he couldn’t put a name or a face to any of the incidents.

 

“The same year, you convinced one of my best friends that I was in love with her. She stopped talking to me. The next week she started dating you.” The voice gave what sounded like a stifled sob. “Then at prom, you and the other guys got wasted and hid the bottles in my locker. Remember now?”

 

“I—”

 

“Do you remember?” the figure lurched forward, his voice cracking halfway between a shout and a sob. Levi flinched, his breathing heavy. “Do you remember me?”

 

In his current position, Levi could see most of the figure’s face in the street lights. He barely looked different at all. Same eyes. Same hair. Same everything. His emotion-painted face was just how it had looked fifteen years ago. “Isaac…”

 

“You haven’t completely forgotten me, I suppose,” he whispered, leaning back. As Levi wove onto an exit ramp, Isaac began rhythmically tapping his gun on his knee, the sound of each tap lingering in his ears.

 

“Isaac, I’m so sorry. It was high school and if I had—

 

“Your apology is a little late,” he interjected, suddenly composed again. “Not that it changes anything. You can’t take any of it back.”

 

“Isaac, you don’t have to do this.”

 

“I know,” he answered as Levi pulled up to a red light. He raised his weapon and Levi braced himself, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his clenched teeth. He heard the gun click empty and then silence before Isaac spoke again. “But I would never stoop that low.”

 

Levi raised his hand to his chest. His heart shook his entire body as he exhaled. “Isaac.”

 

“I just wanted to talk.” His breaths were weak and labored. “I just wanted you to understand.”

 

Levi heard the back door open and snapped around. Isaac stepped out of the car without looking back at him. “Isaac!”

 

Just then, the car behind honked loudly at him. Glancing forward, he saw the light had turned green. Turning around, another car blared its horn as the first sped past him in the next lane, then another and another.

 

“Better get going,” Isaac murmured as he kicked the door shut, meandering toward the oncoming traffic.

 

“Isaac!” Levi voice cracked, but another car led a blurred curtain of vehicles that blocked off his view. “Goodness,” he muttered as he stepped on the gas. Looking back, Isaac was gone, lost in a sea of headlights and metallic sheen.

 

As the street lights passed overhead, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. The gun could’ve been loaded. He could’ve done it, but he hadn’t, even after everything. Yes, he had abducted him at gunpoint, but Isaac had shown more character than he ever had.

 

Levi sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he braked and turned onto his street. Pulling into his driveway, he sat there in silence, staring at the clock on the console. He had been right. Thirty-one minutes.

 

Sobered, Levi shut off the engine and dragged himself inside, leaving everything in his car. He flipped on the kitchen light and tossed his keys on the table, leaning back on a chair.

 

“Levi! Oh my goodness!” Clarissa’s voice called as footsteps clomped down the hall.

 

“Hi, honey.” He couldn’t even force a smile. He felt so hollow. “What is it?”

 

“Look what Kira mailed!” she exclaimed, handing him a thin shred of yellowed newspaper. “It’s nearly ten years old so I almost didn’t recognize him, but I could hardly believe it when I did. How did we not hear about this sooner? You do remember, don’t you?”

 

Levi could hardly speak as his eyes glazed over the words. He covered his mouth with his hand and tears spilled from his eyes as he could only nod his head and clench the clipping.

 

Bright college honor student, Isaac Stone commits suicide. October 22, 2003.

2015: the year of change & balance

As a blogger, I feel like I have some sort of obligation to do some sort of New Year’s/New Year’s Eve post. I think there might actually be an unwritten rule about it somewhere. But in all seriousness, this year has been so completely insane that I thought I would write up a monthly recap of all the madness that’s happened in the past 12 months, because sometimes I forget about all of the huge things that were a part of 2015. So here we go.

January:

I reconciled with my best friend after several months of whatever the heck we were feuding about.

I took my first ever real writing class.

I experienced suicidal thoughts for the second time in my life.

I started coming to terms with what I really believed about being a gay Christian and what that meant for me.

I started my last year of Welcome Week at Bethel with spring welcomes.

February:

I continued to heal from the depression and spiritual attack I experienced in January.

I came out to my family.

March:

I shared this blog publicly for the first time, coming out to everyone who read it.

I saw two of my favorite artists live in concert.

I decided on a new life verse: Ephesians 3:20-21

April:

I experienced the start of my first relationship with another guy.

I had an article published in an online magazine for the first time.

May:

I wrote a second article that was published in an online magazine.

I was interviewed and later appeared in an article in the Clarion, Bethel’s student newspaper that went on to gain nationwide traction, shared by the likes of Justin Lee and Rachel Held Evans.

June:

I moved out to North Dakota for the summer and later discovered that I hated the 9 week linguistics program that I was in.

I started dealing with some demons that went all the way back to middle school as a result of the people who were in the program.

July:

I experienced my first breakup.

I learned that one of my friends passed away.

August:

I finished my linguistics program in North Dakota and headed home.

I had an emotional and mental breakdown with my family where the full magnitude of everything that happened in middle school, including my first bout of suicidal thoughts, finally all spilled out.

I reconciled that whole mess with my family.

I went back to Bethel to serve in my last Welcome Week ever and loved every moment of it.

The morning of the second to last day of Welcome Week, I packed in four hours and went to the airport to leave for my semester abroad in Spain.

I arrived in Spain and met my host family.

September:

I got lost my first night in Segovia.

I watched wide-eyed as the first month went by.

October:

I visited Ireland, the Czech Republic, and England.

I almost killed one of my annoying travelmates.

I realized I was hopelessly addicted to Spanish chocolate croissants.

I experienced my first Gnimocemoh (that’s homecoming backwards fyi).

I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in 4 months.

I missed a friend’s wedding.

November:

I DTR’ed with another guy and saw nothing come out of that.

I visited Hillsong Church Barcelona.

I finally understood Don Quijote.

I talked with one of my friends the night his dad passed away.

I was acknowledged as a regular at my favorite Spanish bakery.

I missed another friend’s wedding.

I reached the tell-stories-cook-together-and-go-to-theatre-shows-together level with my host mom.

I wrote the suicide letter that I never wrote and sent it.

December:

I started coming to grips with the fact that I was leaving Spain.

I started a massive 25 page paper (that still isn’t done).

I said goodbye to Spain.

I arrived home in the US.

I’m writing this blog post now.

 

Thinking about this list earlier today, I decided that this past year has been filled with probably two or three years’ (at a conservative estimate) worth of monumental moments, and I just think that’s absolutely mind blowing. I honestly don’t think that I would’ve expected all of those things to happen a year ago, and yet here I am, having experienced so many things this year that you’d think they wouldn’t all fit within one 365 day period.

2015 has been a lot of things. It’s been painful. It’s been wonderful. It’s been challenging, and it’s been growing. I’ve cried a lot this year. But I’ve also stood wonderstruck quite a few times as well. I’ve faced demons old and new. I’ve been to four different countries and probably been on just as many, if not more, flights than I have in my entire life before this year. And I’ve closed a lot of chapters of life that have been open for a really long time, as well as opening a few new ones.

God has once again proven Himself to be infinitely faithful throughout whatever we might struggle through in this life, from being in a place where I questioned whether life was worth living anymore a year ago, through healing from that, through having that thing in my chest broken and wading through many different kinds of loss, through providing friends and love in other places that I didn’t expect, through a semester in another country immersed in a different language, to bringing me home and instilling in me an anxiousness stemming from the excitement over the infinite possibilities that lie ahead in 2016 and in life in general. This year has been nothing less than an emotional, spiritual, mental, and personal rollercoaster of all the twists and turns you could ever imagine, but He is the one thing that has remained constant throughout all of it, planted steadfast as the one thing that I can rely on when everything in my world seems to be up in the air, spinning completely out of control.

So, I’m not really sure what the next year has in store. As I’ve said countless times already this year, everything after graduation in May is uncertain. 6 classes stand between me and college graduation, and I don’t really know what comes after that. I’m applying to grad school, but other than that, I’m trusting that God will continue to lay out His path for me as the time comes. Though I’d like to know a more detailed plan of what’s to come, I suppose I’ll have to be content with that for now. I had no idea what to expect a year ago today, and then a thousand crazy things happened over the course of this year that left me speechless as to the unpredictable ways in which the Lord chooses to work. So, I guess I’ll just use the same plan for this upcoming year. It seems to have worked out alright.

So, I guess I’ll end this sort of sappy roundup post this way, by resharing my new favorite couple of verses as of this year from Ephesians 3.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

  • Ephesians 3:20-21

I might not know the scope of what’s going to hit me in 2016, but God does and He promises here that it’s going to be immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or imagine, and that just gets me excited to see all of the crazy, supposedly impossible things that God is going to do over the course of this next year. I’m just glad to be along for the ride.

To everyone reading, thanks so much for keeping up with everything that I’ve written and everything that I’ve experienced this past year. I wouldn’t have made it through without Jesus and without a lot of you guys.

the suicide letter i never wrote

I've debated for a few days now about whether or not I was going to write this post, even before I wrote my last one. Is this reaching too far? Are people going to think that this is just to get attention? Is this even the right thing to do? After thinking for a long time, I decided that this post was indeed necessary for several reasons. It's not pretty, but it's reality. And people need to hear these kinds of things. But most of all, I think that this post needs to exist, because depression and suicidal thoughts are still so invisible. As I wrote in my last post, most people are pretty good at hiding their emotions if they want to, and in a lot of cases, you would never know that someone is contemplating ending their own life. Most people would never have pegged me as someone to have been suicidal, but I was.

That's why this post needed to be written. It might be uncomfortable for some. In fact, I know that it's going to be uncomfortable for some. So, this is your disclaimer. These are not easy things to read; these are dark things, but they are things that need to be said. 

And finally, this post is necessary, because I want to tell anyone who might be reading that if you are in a place like I'm about to describe or if you ever find yourself in a place like the one I'm about to describe, I'm here for you. I understand. You're not alone. Don't forget that. This world is better with you in it. Don't buy the lie that you're better off gone. You are loved. And remember that if things aren't okay yet, then it's not over, so if you're even thinking about questioning that, please talk to me. Your life is worth living to the very end. It's worth it. I promise you it's worth it.

So, this is the suicide letter I never wrote:

Dear Someone,

It’s been a long time. We haven’t talked in quite a while, and I sincerely hope you’re well. It’s been, what, six years after all, and a lot of things have changed since then. I’m graduating college next semester, I’ve adventured around the world, I’ve learned another language, I’ve had boyfriends break up with me, and I’ve even had friends die, so I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t even know what this is about.

This letter is something that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, and I think I’ve finally decided exactly how I want to say everything that I’ve been holding in for so long. And as a result of how long it’s been, it doesn’t really matter to me if you respond to this at all, as long as you read the whole thing because this is something I need to do to finally lay this chapter to rest. This is your copy of the suicide letter I never wrote. I’m going to be blunt. You played a large role in that.

Did you know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US? Did you know someone dies by suicide in the US every 13 minutes? That’s a lot of people. And most of the time, it doesn’t look like it does in the movies.

Sometimes it’s a million little things that build up. It’s the teasing. It’s the joking. It’s when you know they’re laughing about you. And it’s when your friends don’t do anything about it. It’s when they tell you to man up or not to take everything so seriously. It’s when you start to feel like a joke, so then you wonder if anyone would miss you if you just disappeared. And then you start thinking about just how you’d do it.

You think about the knives in the kitchen drawer. You look up with veins you’d have to cut and how long it would take. But that might be too messy. So you wonder, what about pills? But you want it to be fast and you definitely don’t want to get sick in the process and risk it not working. What about car exhaust with the garage door closed? You’ve seen that in crime shows before. What about just a plastic bag? Those are the kinds of things that start running through your mind when it all starts to reach its boiling point.

But obviously I’m still here.

Still, that doesn’t mean that everything just goes away because you couldn’t do it. The depression stays. And then the anxiety attacks start. After all, if he was like that, why not everyone else? You start waiting for people to betray you, to drop you just like he did, to just all of a sudden be done with you. And then there goes your ability to trust people, especially other guys, because you’d never want to relive that all over again. You even start to wonder if your complaints and concerns are “valid enough” to be entertained. That’s how most people who’ve reached that point feel, you know. You feel like you should’ve just toughened up a little more. You wonder why it hurts so much, why it matters so much. And then you start to wonder why it was even such a big deal in the first place.

But those are lies. It was a big deal, because the places you’ve been are darker than any you could have ever imagined, and the demons continue to haunt you even after you’ve stepped into the light. They return to torment you in every moment of darkness, every moment of fear. And every time they come, you fight like bloody hell to cast them out again, because you know that if you beat them once, you can do it again this time and the next time and the time after that.

That’s what it looks like, or rather, what it doesn’t look like. Because all of it is unseen. The battles, the wounds, the scars, they’re all invisible, just like the would-be blood on your hands and the hands of others. That’s what it looks like.

That’s what the last six years have looked like.

Actions have consequences and these are the results of yours. So, I don’t care if you say you didn’t know or you didn’t mean to. You don’t get that privilege. You never get to tell the bruised and battered, the survivors, that you didn’t hurt them. Because it’s not about you or your pride or your feelings. It’s about theirs, their struggles, their tears, their pain, not yours. It’s about their life.

And that’s why letters like these are necessary even if they might seem to be the epitome of selfishness. Because letters like these are the result of lives made into hell. Because the survivors don’t get to just graduate high school and move on with their lives. The survivors don’t get to forget about everything that happened in blissful ignorance. No, it continues to follow them everywhere and some remnant of it may continue to follow them for the rest of their lives.

So, yes, perhaps letters like these are a little selfish, but that’s irrelevant and anyone who’s gone through the same things will without hesitation say that they don’t give a damn. Because sometimes letters like these are what it takes to fully heal, to close a chapter of life so riddled with darkness and pain, to finally be able to tell those responsible what kind of part they had in all of it. So, if letters like these are what’s necessary, if letters like these are what survivors, what I need to purge the rest of the darkness, then so be it. Because all I want to do is get rid of the last of the shards of this that are still lodged deep inside me, so I can finally leave that behind.

So at the end of the day and at the end of this difficult letter, I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you, that I’ve forgiven you for all of it. It was absolute agony what happened. I reached a point of feeling like life was no longer worth living, but I’m better from having been goaded to that place. I’m stronger. I’m kinder. I’m wiser. And I’m a survivor.

So, I’m not thanking you for what happened, because I descended into hell and back, but it didn’t destroy me. It didn’t break me. It made me strong. Because sometimes you need the darkness to be able to see the light.

Regards.

here now (survival + renewal)

Today’s post is coming at ya in honor of both Thanksgiving drawing near (stateside anyway) and the fact that we’ve officially passed the 20 day mark in the countdown to our departure from Spain (cue the ugly tears here). This post will probably also be a bit longer than some of the more recent ones, just as a disclaimer. #themoreyouknow For the books, we’ll be departing from Madrid on Friday, December 11, so we really only have 19 days left in Spain, since that last travel day doesn’t really count. It’s really quite soon, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve already spent close to 3 months living in a completely different country, in a different language, with families that were strangers to us not too long ago. So, everyone back home, prepare yourselves. We’ll be back to terrorize you with endless stories, suitcases full of European clothes, and flubbed uses of English in no time.

But anyway, for the majority of this post, I wanted to write about some of the things that I’ve been reflecting on as Thanksgiving approaches, namely: survival + renewal as the title of this post suggests. And what those things mean may surprise some people, because while I like to think of myself as an open book, these aren’t the things that immediately bubble to the surface.

So let me start here:

When I first left to come to Spain, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had just come off of an incredibly difficult summer of having to face a lot of demons from the past. I was all sorts of bitter, angry, and most of all, exhausted. I was ready for rest, and I kept praying that Spain Term would give me that. After all, I was taking the bare minimum number of classes and was going basically for the heck of it, since my Spanish minor was already done. Little did I know that over the next 90ish days I would not only get the rest that I needed, but also go about tackling each and every skeleton that was left in my closet, some of which were trivial things that just needed to be finished off and some which were a great deal bigger.

The biggest thing I want to focus on and something that a lot of people might not know about me is that I’ve been suicidal twice in my life. The first time was towards the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, largely provoked by one specific person, but also by others, that I won’t name here. And the second time was just earlier this year when I was struggling to reconcile who I was with the various futures before me. That’s vague, but those are long stories for other blog posts. Regardless, I’ve tended to pride myself on the fact that you would never know about this part of my life if I didn’t tell you, but the fact of the matter is that over the course of this semester, I’ve learned that those periods of darkness have weighed more heavily on me than I thought. They’ve caused fights and arguments with people that I love as a result of my inability to fully deal with them, and they’ve affected the way that I see the world and the way that I see other people. I’ve slowly chipped away that the darkness from these events, but I think that being 3,000 miles away from home finally gave me the space that I needed to take a hard look at them and put them to rest for good.

Living in another country, in another language, away from friends and family allowed me to take a step back from things that I had held close for so long. I was in a new place, in a new time, and for the most part, no one knew who I was or the things that I had gone through in the past. And I think that sense of being a blank slate this semester really magnified the extent to which some of these things continued to affect my life. I realized that I was still subconsciously trying to impress someone that had thrown me away a long time ago, and I realized that the defense mechanisms that I created in that space were still active in relationships that no longer called for them. But I think the biggest blatant call out that I received the whole semester was when we had to write our (sort of) final paper for one of our classes. The paper was supposed to consist of a letter written to the one person that, in our opinion, has influenced our life the most. It was then that I realized the magnitude of the impact that some of these things had on me, because as much as I wanted that letter to be written to one of my parents, or one of my siblings, or to my best friend, it couldn’t. And I ended up writing the letter to that guy from high school who pushed me to the brink of suicide the first time, describing everything that happened and the impact that it had. It took me four days to write that letter, a lot of them just staring at my computer screen or my notebook trying to figure out what to write.

And again I realized the kind of mentality that all of those years had left me with. I was constantly questioning what I was going to write, because after so many years of having it diminished or invalidated or not taken seriously, I felt like I had to defend my right to my pain, and if my argument didn’t hold up in that twisted court, my case would be thrown out. I had to force myself out of that mentality and tell myself that at this point, it was okay to say that it was his fault for doing it, my teachers’ fault for implying that I should just toughen up, my friends’ fault for seeing it and not doing anything, that it was anyone’s fault but mine. And something else I learned while writing that letter, something so fundamental, but at the same time something that I had to be told, is that with real pain, no one has the right to tell you that they didn’t hurt you.

After having turned in that paper, I edited the letter a little and actually sent it to the person it was addressed to, for my own healing and my own closure surrounding it. I haven’t gotten any response of substance, but that doesn’t even matter to me at this point. To me at least, I’ve discovered that just putting things out there matters more to me than how people choose to respond a lot of the time. Like, having finally told this guy everything that I wanted to say was more important than how he responded. Or telling this other boy that I liked him was more important than whether or not he felt the same way (he didn’t, in case you were wondering). Or any other example like that.

And, thus, we’ve caught up to the present, where I’m feeling a strange blend of restlessness and peace, peace because after six years, every demon from my past that has haunted me has finally been laid to rest, and restlessness because my mind just doesn’t even know what to do with the blank slate that it’s been given. There aren’t any dark secrets left to hide. There isn’t any more bitterness to swallow. There’s nothing left unsaid. There aren’t any more what ifs. The only thing left is a new chapter of life at a time when the possibilities for what’s ahead are nearly limitless.

And as Thanksgiving rolls around in the US, I’m thankful for this, and continuing to grow more and more thankful for the difficult times that cause us to grow the most. They might not be fun, and they might stretch us to the point of breaking, but those hard times always refine us more than we know at the time.

So, here’s to metaphorical fresh starts, to survival, renewal + being thankful.