Posted in Changes, grief, Lessons, People, The Barista

living canvas

Bleary-eyed in the predawn darkness as I got ready for work, I caught sight of my new tattoo and shuddered into wakefulness. This piece, long anticipated, was now stuck on my body forever. The vivid ink taunted me, the black strokes glistening from my formerly unblemished skin. I was exposed, permanently opening myself up to lines of questioning I might not be willing to answer. I had tattooed my soul onto a living canvas and given permission to the world to ask probing questions.


Less than a year later, I got my second one.


Very few people have ever commented on my marked skin. Some look at the cyclic structure of the caffeine molecule on my arm and think I’m a scientist. Some wonder what the funny numbers on my leg are supposed to be. Most nod approvingly after hearing the elevator pitch and the conversation shifts, my small markings a mere aside in the greater world.


I sought after the ink, but watched it sit on my skin as though resting there. Absorbing it into part of me was a much longer, much more detached process. I know they are a part of me and I instantly rub sunscreen on them when I’m exposed, but nowadays I mostly let them be. I don’t stroke them absentmindedly during a movie, I don’t admire them in a mirror when I catch my reflection in a store. They simply are.


On rare occasions, someone will dig deeper. Probe just a bit further.


“Those coordinates – is that Denver?”

Surprised, I described how a little village in Europe which started my travels a decade prior was the actual location mapped on my calf.

“Ah, I was thinking west, not east…”

And then it moves on again, but this conversation is just a fraction more beautiful. Do you truly speak my language? Does this mean something to you, too?


I’m starting to realize grief is an awful lot like a tattoo.


Oh, yes, you know intellectually that you will lose someone important at some point in your life. But when it does happen, you wear it with anxiety and see your grief with every glance in the wrong direction. You feel as though it is the only thing others notice when they look your way: how can they not see this message written permanently in your eyes? Your shoulders must reflect the colors of loss, it must be impossible to ignore it!


But like the tattoo, it becomes a part of you. It never truly goes away. It just becomes a part of your reflection, as noticeable as the freckle by your eye or the bumps of your collar bone.


Oh, with time it will fade a bit. But you’ll still catch sight of it when you’re making dinner and the lump will gather in your throat. Some mornings it will seem so bright against your coffee that you can’t imagine how you didn’t notice it the day before. Sometimes weeks will pass before it pricks in your eyes and reminds you that it is still alive and well.


I wear my grief like my tattoos: easy to hide, but also easy to display. Not on purpose, like I did with the ink, but because that is where it chooses to lie. It chooses to wait for me to turn my wrist and remember how little sense it all makes. I am a living canvas, and I can’t hide from myself forever.


And oh, the conversations it generates. As with your tattoo, your grief will be reduced to pat answers. “Yes, he died. Thank you for your condolences, let’s move on, shall we?” 


Because you don’t know the stories. You’ve never heard of a riverbend in Poland, nor do you care. You don’t understand the marriage of art and science, nor do you care. You never knew the sparkle in his eyes of my renaissance man, nor do you care. You comment to fill the silence, and then it is over. There’s nothing wrong with that: they are my stories, after all.


But there are those rare moments where the conversation doesn’t stutter over my scars. Where instead you hear the message I’m trying to convey, and your eyes reflect the grief in my own. Your understanding helps me absorb it a little more into me: to accept it as something real rather than a nightmare someone else is living. 


You see my tattoos, both of ink and spirit. You understand me just a little bit more, in this permanent state of flux. You speak my language and understand me. And then we move on together.


Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, Lessons, Love, Time, Wishes


My blog is named “Simply Eliska”.

These days, it feels like nothing is quite so simple.

Several months ago, I told a friend Eliska represented my new identity after a very intense growing period, but that I felt like anything painful that I’d felt since I’d pushed beneath the surface to Allison. I then confided that it felt like Allison was becoming unburied, and I was going to have to deal with all that dolor at once.

Then my dad died.

Two weeks ago, I was moving away from Colorado. I called my dad to tell him I was at his sister’s place for the night. It was so brief, maybe 15 seconds. “Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

Two hours later, he was gone.

My dad lived for 22,725 days. I was alive for 9458 of them.

People keep telling me that we’re handling his death well.

I don’t really know why.

Sometimes I’m sitting still and realize that tears are slipping beneath my chin, unbidden. Sometimes I’m laughing. Sometimes I feel nothing but absence. Sometimes I swear I hear Dad walking up the stairs.


My Dad slipped from this earth without warning.

I’m at the first place I called home. And suddenly, I’m not “simply Eliska” anymore. There’s no one in this county who calls me by that name.

I’m not even “simply Allison” these days.

I’m a grieving daughter. I’m a sister. I’m part of 130 years of history on this farmstead. I’m pulling my family into the world I had crafted independently for myself – here, Mom, let me add you to my AAA. Here, everyone, let me put you on my cellphone plan instead. I’m the answer to “Where are you these days?” and one of the rare times where people are 100% genuine in asking “How are you doing?”

I am not a barista. I am not a nomad.

Not these days.

These days I’m the scribbler.

I scribble thank you notes. I scribble the dates and notes from meetings as we take note of how to settle the estate. I scribble text messages to friends who have gone through similar situations, asking, “Did you feel… Did you do… Why?” I scribbled my Dad’s eulogy. And now I scribble here. I scribble because right now, it feels like the only thing I actually know how to do. It feels like the only place that still makes sense. I scribble because in my words I can begin to process this new version of normal that I wasn’t prepared to enter.

There’s very little simple in my life right now.

I got into the tractor a few days ago, and when I turned it on, I heard music playing softly in the background. I turned it up.

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

I wept, as I listened to a song that felt like my Dad was reaching across eternity to talk to me one more time. I wept for all the conversations I wanted to have while I was home. I wept for all the things my Dad will never be a part of as my life continues forward, and all the things I wanted him to be there for. I wept for my Mom, that her other half who looked at her with such adoration and cared for her so gently, was gone. I wept. I weep.

I was so lucky.

I had a father for almost 26 years who loved his family, and whose kindness and intelligence spread throughout the community.


I’m selfish.

I want my Dad back.

I want my parents to continue to live the American Dream.

I want to be a whole, complete family.

So today I scribble.

Today I write, and remember those 9000 days with my dad, and the stories of the years before I was born.

Life isn’t simple right now.

But I’m going to be simply Allison, the farmer’s daughter.

“Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”



Posted in Changes, Growing Up, Musing, People, Wishes

Let’s talk about depression.

I often write as a means of processing, of discerning if my concerns are valid enough to form a coherent message.

Right now, I want to talk about something that I don’t like processing, something I don’t like even acknowledging exists.

In middle school, it was an angsty sadness.

In Slovakia, I was drowning.

In Des Moines, I was angry.

In Iowa City, I was apathetic, lethargic.

Weeks, months, semesters, I’ve gone through many episodes of depression.

I discovered in Slovakia that I was a fair-weather fan. After a sexual assault at a New Year’s Eve party ripped away any version of naivety, the sun shone on the first day of 2009. For the next four months, I could count on one hand the number of times I felt sunlight on my face. Those were the only days when I felt like I could go on. At a ski lodge in April, a panic attack brought everything to a head, and I walked out to my friends ready to be alive again.

Iowa City was far, far different. In the middle of autumn, bright cloudless skies highlighting the brilliant foliage couldn’t lift my soul from it’s empty state. I stopped coordinating Supper Club. I started binge watching Netflix and ordering pizza several times a week. School, work, sleep, repeat. No desire to do, or to be. I felt nothing.

If there is one good thing to come out of losing May’s, it is that I didn’t spiral into another episode. I grieved, deeply. I’m homesick for my coffee shop even now. But I did not become depressed in the months following the loss of my baby.

Just before I moved to Denver, my mom asked me if I knew what caused these fluctuations. I wish I did. After a year and a half of therapy, I’m no closer to an answer of the reasons why my brain will suddenly decide that it doesn’t have the strength to be normal, why a social being will suddenly grow weary of even the idea of human interaction, why these states last for the periods of time that they do.

I don’t know.

But here’s the deal.

There are people struggling with depression all the time.

I could give you the spiel, but frankly, if you’re aware at all, you know how many forms there are. You know that no one’s experience is the same. You know that it isn’t something you can just “think your way out of” – trust me, I was fighting it tooth and nail.

So why am I bringing this from the back of my mental cupboards now, putting pain on display for the world to see?

Because today as I was driving home, feeling the warmth of the sunshine, I was thinking about depression. I was thinking about how you can hide away bits and pieces of you and manage to forget they are there, and then sometimes someone comes and reminds you it’s okay to put yourself back together again. That it is okay to feel alive.

Then I got home, and a dear friend texted me, because she was falling apart on the inside too.

I’m 24 years old.

I do not have my life put together.

I’m a college graduate.

I do not have my life put together.

I moved to another state on a whim.

I do not have my life put together.

But you know what?

That’s okay, too.

Dear friend of mine, hurting. It is okay. It is okay to not have your life put together. It is okay to not understand why you feel what you feel. It is okay to be conflicted. It is okay to struggle. You are so dearly loved, cherished, and wanted. Any maybe those words don’t mean all that much right now. But someday, some day they may. We can grow together. We can cry together. We can mourn, we can laugh, we can pretend the world doesn’t exist for a while.

It’s gonna be okay.