What 2017 Taught Me

I swear I was just on a plane to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a shy little Specialist Amanda Ridder straight out of airborne school traveling to her first unit, unsure of practically everything you could imagine. I blinked and here I am: Specialist Amanda Ridder about to become Specialist Amanda Baker, a young woman open to a new chapter of her life once again.

2016 was the year I graduated basic, AIT and airborne school. Before joining the army, I was a 25-year-old college graduate living at her parent’s house waiting tables. I took the leap and joined the 1%, and no regrets ever since. And I’m just getting warmed up.

After the whirlwind of 2016, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be ready for 2017! I had conquered my biggest fear yet by volunteering to jump out of five perfectly good airplanes! I set the bar pretty high for myself.

In 2017, I grew to understand that time would open my eyes to even bigger challenges that I never predicted; that Google never told me; that a manual could not teach me. I fell in love and got engaged. I am planning not only one, but two weddings: one here in Washington in 18 days and another in  Missouri on my fiance’s family property next year. This alone goes to show how blessed I am. And yet again, I have set the bar higher.

I can only imagine what 2018 has in store.

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Thoughts with my younger me

If I could transport back in time and speak to my younger self, my seven-year-old self, I’d tell her how beautiful she is and to never lose that imagination. She loved pretending to be Pocahontas and run on the front lawn barefoot as if dashing through the forest. She played in a kiddie pool with her neighborhood friend. She loved dancing in her backyard to her boom box that played Britney Spears CD’s.

I would travel back to middle school and whisper to thirteen-year-old me that I shouldn’t insist that dad buy those boots that I’d never wear to the school dance.

To my seventeen-year-old self, I would tell her that her boyfriend would not be the man she’d spend the rest of her life with and to thank the heavens for that. I’d tell her that she will spend the next ten years of her life with all of the wrong boys.

“The man you’re going to spend the rest of your life with,” I’d say, “is with the wrong ones, too. Be patient, and continue on. He’ll find you when God knows you’re both ready.”

If I could check in with the woman I was five years ago, I’d tell her to be prepared for her life to take a giant turn.

I’d tell her, “The storm will come in and it will be fierce. But like everything, it will die down and you will find an even greater strength within you. You will be braver than you have ever been.”

Checking in with the woman I am now, I am telling her not to crumple up this page and throw it away. I am telling her to keep writing and believing in herself, because I know my seven-year-old self would tell twenty-six-year-old me to do what I love and get my feet dirty.

Seven-year-old Amanda is my guide as much as I am hers. She reminds me to embrace the imagination within me, dance when I think no one is watching, and stay in touch with old friends. Thirteen-year-old me whispers, “Dad will always have your back.” She tells me that in his eyes, though, I don’t need boots in order to be beautiful. Seventeen-year-old Amanda is on the verge of finding love and tells me to never give up on it when I have found the right one. I reassure her that I have indeed found him.  Twenty-one-year-old me reminds me that every day is a gift. Live it as though tomorrow won’t come.

Time collapses upon itself to reveal an untold story: the one I am living now and the one I will continue to live. I honor what me at seven, at thirteen, at seventeen, at twenty-one went through to get here.

This is where I am meant to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bravery

My father smiled sitting there in the Starbucks at a small wooden table across from the regional manager who would promise to put in an emergency exit sign on the back door.

“And the store needs to close an hour earlier,” I said glaring at the corporate weapon in his black uniform.

He continued to nod his head, asserting his submission and concealing the doubt.

“She’s a fighter,” my dad said. “She’s not backing down.”

The manager laughed in relief. My armpits were sweating, my mouth full of cotton.

I used to drive past that Starbucks on 3rd and Market, seeing the red letters ‘EMERGENCY EXIT’ on the door.

Yes, I was a fighter, I think to myself. But I was a coward.

How can I be proud of myself for those red letters? I ran away like a scurrying rat, taking workers comp with me.

If I could relive that night again when the man robbed us, I would.

In that moment, I had two choices: do as he said or not. The thought even crossed my mind to grab the gun and aim it at him. But we weren’t trained to react. Baristas were trained to be brave by not reacting, giving away the money and going back to work the next day.

I wasn’t brave.

I just wanted to fight.

Those co-workers of mine who were there that night, they went back to work the next day. No tears or complaints. That’s brave – to clock in, put on an apron and smile like nothing happened the night before.

I don’t know if my fighting and resistance helped to make that Starbucks safer. I doubt it.

My mother, the teacher, hugs me warmly and says that I did the right thing.

“You learned so much from this,” she encourages.

I used to sit at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, soak in the Riverside sun and watch businessmen and women stride around downtown.

A young musician with her guitar strummed in front of the antique shop. The homeless, belly exposed, wandered erratically. Elegant women strolled across the street in their heels toward the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa.

What have they fought for?

I want to say that I’m as brave and as passionate as that young musician playing her soul on the sidewalk with her open black guitar case. I’m as grounded as the trees methodically planted within the pedestrian mall, and as steady as the chiming bells echoing from the monument on Mission Inn Avenue.

Maybe I’ll forgive the corporate puppets one day for doing their job and reminding me the compliant employee I could have been. Unlikely.

My brother was the first person I told after the robbery happened. I was almost compliant. I was five seconds from closing my bedroom door and going to sleep, planning to wake up and going back to work the next day.

What if I hadn’t told my brother? What if I was persuaded back to work? How different my life would be.

What if…

I would have been owned by corporate. I guess a part of me still feels somewhat owned by corporate, by a system, out of fear and self-preservation. Especially now more than ever that I am in the military.

My guard is up more than ever after going through basic training and finishing AIT. But I reflect on that moment when my father called me a fighter. I keep that with me when I feel owned by my fear and regret.

From my mother, I remember that I have learned more about myself, and I owe it to myself to keep learning and changing.

This is also something I carry with me as I write my story.

Live and learn

I don’t know how I managed to delete everything from the draft I was using to write my book, but it happened. All of my brainstorming somehow didn’t save on my WordPress draft.

There was no recovering the intricate and detailed notes I typed out in the previous weeks, except from what I have stored in my own memory. 

But it’s okay, because I’m smarter this time around. I rewrote a “behind the scenes” page on Google Docs that has the bulk of important ideas for my story.

Save, save, save. The most important lesson I was taught years ago, and yet I am still learning.

 

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Starting from scratch is actually a good thing in this case. All of my previous thoughts weren’t serving the story. The ones I’m using now are more clear to the plot.

My silly mistake was a blessing in disguise. 

The story is still in its drafting phase, anyway, so messing up early on isn’t a big deal. As I go along, though, I’ll be mindful to keep everything well kept.

Live and learn.

 

That sweet night

French fry napkins on dark jeans,

I’m the messiest eater you’ll ever meet.

Could always use more coffee,

massages, dark chocolate, and retail therapy.

Wish I knew more about art,

but art museums are boring.

I aspire to collect typewriters;

but only for admiring.

Candid and frozen

like a sunset of trees,

well lit and learning

to not grow gently

into that sweet night.

New Method of Writing

Publishing my book in parts on my blog has been so useful, not to mention rewarding. It helped me stay focused and disciplined, and I was able to draft the first 10 chapters within 2 weeks. Knowing that my readers were waiting for the next part was the kick in the butt that I needed.

However, my method of writing a book is changing ever so slightly. I don’t want to give away the entire story, honestly. So I’ll continue to write the book using Google Docs which has pretty cool formatting techniques and editing options.

Where is my blog going from here?

I have some interesting short stories and poems to share, along with documentation on how the book-writing process is going. (Hence, the previous random short story post). I’m pretty excited to share them with you!

 

The Day I Went Blind

I groaned and rolled over to my left side of the bed. The warm blankets invited me to rest a little deeper, but I decided to crawl out and get ready for work.

I opened my eyes, but still could see nothing. Darkness remained. I leaned over and turned on the lamp. The heat from the light warmed my skin. I shook my head from side to side and rubbed my eyes with my knuckles. Once again, no sight. My head moved around spasmodically in panic and frustration.

I extended my arms in front of me, waving them all around to find something. Anything.

My heart pounded in my chest. Uncontrollably, my breathing shortened as I attempted to stand, stumbling over a sharp piece of wooden furniture. Pain shot through my right calve. Gooey liquid trailed down my bare, unshaven leg as I tried standing up again and grabbing the nearest wall I could find.

I followed the wall to the bathroom, limping as the blood dripped down my leg. I found the medicine cabinet and reached inside, knocking over an avalanche of toiletries. I couldn’t find eye drops. I turned on the ice cold water and splashed my face, hoping that would wake me from this nightmare. I fell to my knees, grasping my aching calve. And then I heard it… motion. Stirring. In the other room. Two sets of heavy footsteps pounded towards me, echoing down the hall.

I sat up and blurted through my sobbing, “Who’s there?”

A deep menacing voice whispered in my ear, “You bloody well know.”

Wind knocked out of me as a large boot kicked me in the rib. A loud cry escaped my lips. I huddled in the fetal position, not understanding what the hell was happening or who was attacking me. Every muscle in my body contracted, causing me to shiver.

“Don’t play dumb, Sarah.”

I shook my head, curling into a tighter ball. Sarah? He just said my twin sister’s name. They think I’m her.

“We’re going to slaughter you bit by bit!” He shouted in my face, the stench of his hot breath burning my skin.

They did this to me. They blinded me.

I felt numb and powerless, nearly naked on that cold bathroom floor. It was hopeless.

Then something miraculous happened. My tears shed were washing away the darkness. I could barely make out the white tile floor I was lying on. I forced myself to cry harder until I could see clearer.

I opened my eyes wider and saw that the attackers had vanished.

Gone.

Not even a sound of their exit. My sight was still blurry, but I could see shapes and colors.

I took a deep breath and walked out of the bathroom, cautiously looking around the apartment.

“Hello?” I called out. Silence.

In a quick decisive action, I ran to my phone and almost dialed 911 when I noticed that my leg wasn’t bleeding anymore. It was entirely healed, as if nothing happened. My side wasn’t in pain.

Then I saw my badge and uniform hanging on the closet door. I’m a police officer.

I remembered the investigation. My twin sister’s death six years ago. The reason why I became an officer. The light on my nightstand shined a spotlight on Sarah’s photograph, a picture taken of us together a year before her murder.

We never caught them. They haunt me. Taunting me.

I took a deep breath. I walked back to the bathroom to get ready for work, bringing my .22 with me into the shower.