Coming Home

A dragonfly hovers over the white rose bush as a lone cricket begins its evening song. The cool, end of summer breeze drifts over the front porch while Ella sits at my feet. She stares out at the road, her nose twitching as she sorts out the smells in the air. A rock and some pieces of mulch lay beside her. Only minutes ago serving as chew toys, they now lay forgotten due to her always changing interests. She currently has one thing on her mind. Her mom coming home.

The setting sun softly touches the pages of my book, turning them orange. Traffic seems to pick up, and the hum of the neighbor’s air conditioning unit now drowns out the crickets. I look away from the words in my book and glance at Ella as she watches a man walking a dog down the sidewalk. He’s wearing an orange sweatshirt and carries a small Bluetooth speaker in his pocket turned up as loud as it will go. Rap music blasts throughout the neighborhood as he passes. 

As he walks behind our lone standing tree in the front yard, the music fades, and I notice a single branch has turned red with color. Leaves once full of life now wilt with the first signs of autumn. 

The sun sinks lower behind the house and shadows arc long and dark across the grass. Ella grows with a familiar restlessness knowing her mom will be home any moment. 

Finally. I smile as the Jeep slows in front of the house. It turns into the driveway, its headlights shine onto the porch and Ella’s tail begins to slice the air with pure excitement. An amount of excitement I’m pretty convinced no human has ever experienced. She stands up. Her tail begins to spin in circles, faster, like a helicopter taking off from its pad. You can hear a door slam, muffled by the walls of the garage. Ella’s mom is home from work. 

As soon as Erica rounds the corner of the garage, Ella can no longer contain herself, and she sprints off the porch and down the walkway to say hello. Erica bends down, her face slathered with puppy kisses. 

Usually we can point to our mouth, tell Ella, “kiss,” and she will give a quick lick of acknowledgement, but when her mom gets home, there is no stopping the rush. 

After a minute of kisses, petting, and more tail wags, Ella bolts out into the yard and runs in a handful of circles. Erica joins in and they chase each other, only stopping to flash a quick smile for the camera. A smile that says it all. I am happy you are my mom, and I am happy you are home. 

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The Paper Anniversary 

Our relationship, having started with a short note penned on a piece of paper, is now five years into its two-hearted love story being lived out between book covers. I remember when we first met how nervous I was to talk to you. So, leaving you little notes here and there was my way of getting to know you until I gained the courage to talk to you more in person. Paper is the essence of communication, and communication is key to a strong relationship. So it’s only fitting that, traditionally, the first marriage anniversary gift is paper. 

It’s without a doubt that this first year of marriage has been one of the best of my life. We continue to build each other up and our relationship’s roots have grown deep. Proof that it can withstand any storm that may come our way. 

I love nothing more than coming home to you at the end of each day and sharing everything we have to talk about. Every moment we spend together means the world to me, and I’d gladly give up all my possessions if it meant making more memories with you. 

The profound respect I have for you as my wife and as a person will never fade. Your hopes and dreams are also mine, and I know you are capable of fulfilling each and every one. I am so thankful that I get to be right beside you throughout all of it and that I can be your biggest fan. 

Thank you, from the very bottom of my heart for being all that you are. I can not express how grateful I am for having you in my life. And thank you for an amazing first year of marriage. You’ve surpassed all expectations I’d ever had, and I hope my vows to you, written in word on paper one year ago, still and always hold true in your heart. Never forget how much I love you each and every day. Happy first anniversary! With many, many more to come, you are and always will be my truest love. 

Our first date took us to the Clare County Fair where we rode a few rides, played some games, and walked through the animal barns. Although I’ll never forget any of it, what sticks out in my mind most was the funhouse. Stepping in, you could tell we were both a little nervous. Neither of us wanting to fall or get turned around looking like a fool in front of the other.

But once inside, we grew more comfortable around each other as we encountered many different obstacles ranging from uneven, moving floors and an overwhelming maze of mirrors, to a revolving barrel known in funhouses as a “barrel of love.” As we reached the end, we also came across a few of those familiar curved mirrors. And like everyone does, we stopped to admire the strange, unrecognizable shapes our bodies reflected by moving closer or farther away. The whole time we stood there, the only thing that didn’t change shape was your smile and the shine in your eyes. Right then as I watched you, I fell deeply in love, and I knew I would love you for the rest of my life. 

That day in front of the funhouse mirror, I made myself a promise. I promised that I would love you fervently, honestly, and with all the kindness you truly deserve. And today, I make the same promise to you. As we nervously, yet comfortably, go through another funhouse together called life, I will be your balance when the ground becomes shaky and uneven. If you become overwhelmed, I will be your support and motivation. And should you happen to trip in a revolving barrel, my arms will be there to catch you. Even though life can be difficult, it is meant to be fun, and I promise you that you will always be my best friend. I will be there to always make you laugh and to share and enjoy all the little moments.

And there will come a day when our children will have moved out all grown up with families of their own, and we will stand together in front of our mirror. We will stop to admire the strange, unrecognizable shapes our bodies reflect from age, the only things unchanged being your comforting smile and the same bright shine in your eyes that you’ve had since that day you first told me good morning. At that moment as we stand in front of the mirror, I will love you more than I did on our first date, and even more than I do today. I promise you as we grow old together, my love for you will also grow with us. Never changing, but always strong and always infinite.

Remember the Good Patients

I spent two days this last week in a Dale Carnegie: The Leader in You class, led by a phenomenal lady who at one point in her life had been invited to his office and personally thanked by Lee Iacocca for training his directors. We focused on topics such as leadership goals, valuing differences, managing stress, and coaching. On the first day, we also touched upon something called an “innerview,” a way to get to know the people you work with better. After class discussion, we were then challenged to go home and innerview one person of our choice. The only person I’d end up seeing that night was Erica, and I didn’t think Ella would really be up for a longer father/daughter conversation than normal. Of course, after almost five years together, I believed it’d be pointless to have this innerview with my wife because I already knew everything about her. I’m glad that thought didn’t stop me because I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumption. 

Erica is one of the best people I’ve ever met. As a nurse assistant working her way up to one day becoming a nurse practitioner, she has one of the biggest hearts a person can have towards all her patients. Even the ones easily irritable, making sure they all get above and beyond the proper care.

After she got home and changed out of her scrubs full of hospital smells, I asked her the typical question of how her day went. She told me it was really busy and that she didn’t get much time for breaks and rest. The usual strenuous day due to a hospital’s lack of scheduling proper patient-to-nurse ratios. 

After a few of Erica’s quick stories about her current patients, I asked her if she had a patient she’s cared for that stuck out most in her mind and why. To my surprise, even from all the wild and crazy stories she’s told me, she couldn’t think of one. I asked her the question again thinking maybe she needed a little more time to consider it. After a few seconds of silence, she simply responded, “I remember all the good patients.”

 Of the hundreds and hundreds of patients my wife has had in the three years of her working at the hospital, she remembers the good patients. Of all the incontinent, deranged, suicidal, and even murderous individuals she’s dealt with who have criticized her or have been entirely ungrateful of her care, she remembers the good patients. I was in complete awe of my wife. I knew she was a positive woman, but this took my appreciation and love of her to a whole new level. I had learned something new about the woman I spend every day with.

Later that night Erica stayed up studying for an exam she had the next day. I crawled into bed while she was out in the living room, her nose in her studies, and I started my own small homework task to read “Chapter 15: Learning Not to Worry” of The Leader In You for our second day’s training session. A few pages in I came across a quote from singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka that said, “Take each day as a gift. Try to live with the good and the bad, looking more at the good.” At this point my jaw just dropped. Again, I knew my wife was a great person, that’s one of the reasons why I married her. But, I didn’t know she was this great. Here’s a woman who works with some of the worst patients in healthcare, works under the unimaginable stress of a trauma floor, and is only looking at the good of it all. My wife is a true leader, exactly someone I want to be like.

Some characteristics of a great leader

In my two day Dale Carnegie class, we learned some of the characteristics a great leader should have. Erica embodies every single one of these. She sets the bar high in the nursing field where leadership is important. It’s hard to carry criticism with a gentle tone, to manage stress, and to help coach patients through the healing process even when they are mad at the world the way that Erica and most nurses do. So to all the nurses in the field, thank you. Thank you for taking care of us when we most need it, and for lifting us up when we may be at our lowest. You are some of the best leaders In this world. And to my wife, thank you for giving me reason to love you more each and every day and always surprising me with new things. For making me want to be a better person, and for sharing all your amazing characteristics with the many people you come into contact with. 

A Letter to My Wife on Valentine’s Day

I have the privilege of turning thirty this year. I’m not excited about it by any means, but it’s inevitable. My wife turns twenty-two, however, we joke that she’s the older one of the relationship. Her knees are going bad, her eyesight turning more blurry. Even on our honeymoon, one night at dinner, I must have looked the younger one as I was carded by the waitress and she wasn’t. On the plus side, I wouldn’t rather fall apart and grow old with anyone else, and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere but with her on our first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife. We will always keep each other young at heart. 


My Wife, My Love,

          You are one in a million. More so even than that. You are one among all stories of lives written in the history of the world, and I get to be the fortunate soul married to you. Imagine that. Me, married to someone like you, getting to celebrate the most romantic day of the year. Who am I to be so blessed?

          Your vintage and mature individuality challenges me on a daily basis. Pushing me to be better, to strive for perfection in all I do, especially when it comes to loving you. Because you deserve nothing less.

          There is no one else comparable to you. From your wholehearted honesty to the quick wit that helps keep me on my toes. When I was younger, I sometimes tried to imagine the type of girl I’d marry, and tried to imagine how great of a life it’d be to share with someone. You by far surpass all I’d ever hoped for in a wife – and a friend – to share each day with. You are someone my brain did not even have the capacity of dreaming up. Your beauty on the outside rivals the same beauty found within you. It’s as if the last flash of light from each sunset as the sun sinks below the horizon was somehow bottled up and used in creating that unique shine in your personality. Or perhaps God already decided on creating you, and after seeing your alluring existence, you became the influence in His creating the sunsets we sit and watch together. At least that’s what I like to think.

          I love you, today, always. Every bit of who you are. Every smile, every laugh, every little wrinkle found in the corners of the two most beautiful eyes I’ve ever looked into. I love you because you’re you. And I hope that as the years pass, you will always know how strong that love for you is. Being in love with you will never grow old as I will only grow old loving you. 

                                           Always Yours,

                                           Dustin