The In Between Times by Lori R. Keeton

Around this time a year ago, I was at brunch with a friend of mine enjoying bottomless mimosas and anticipating just how amazing 2012 was gong to be.

Maybe it was the mimosas-and specifically their “bottomlessness”- but let me tell you, we believed it.


Suffice to say, we agreed last week that we need to pick a new spot for our 2013 New Year’s brunch because 2012 fell quite short of amazing.

I hesitate to admit that because I have a job, am healthy and have a place to live and food to eat. And I know that those things alone make me incredibly blessed. I think there is this part of me that fears complaining under these circumstances because I don’t want God to pull a “You want me to give you something to cry about?” a la my parents in the 1970s when we were causing a scene in public. (For those parents looking for an effective remedy to shut down their children’s meltdowns, note that this one sentence is HIGHLY effective.)

Nonetheless, I have talked to enough people who seem to identify with how I am feeling so I am going to talk about it and take my chances on the wrath part….

I think what scares me most about this past year is how totally unprepared I was for it. If someone had held a gun to my head and asked me to predict what was going to happen, I literally would not have predicted a single one of the major events of my year.

And this is my life. So it is sort of implied- I think- that I should not be continually surprised by what is happening in it.

But the truth is, I have been.



And because I have spent so much of the year in more or less a state of surprise, I have not had much time to think beyond the “Wow. Really? What the f*ck?!” phase of it all.

But, as we reach the end of the year and I have had a little time to breath and process it all, I realize that much of my disappointment over 2012 lies not in what happened per se but in comparing “what I wanted” versus “what I got.”

And as I work on letting go of what I wanted and think more about what I got, I find myself feeling grateful for all the good that the bad unwittingly brought with it.

The moment I knew that Cathy Riley would be my best friend for life happened at a Chick-Fil-A in the mall in Gainesville, Florida in about 1996. I had been dumped by my first “true love.” My heart was broken– so we went to Chick-Fil-A of course.

As all good Southerners know, the best cure for grief is food. (For the record, I just don’t understand these girls who cannot eat when they are sad. I have no room in my life for these people. They are annoying (probably because they are hungry) and should limit their friends to those equally annoying girls who “forget to eat.”)

Cathy and I were standing in line as I did my best to keep my tears at bay until we could get our food and return to the safety of our car where I could start my blubbering all over again.

A random stranger cut in line in front of us.

Not a big deal on a regular day.

But it wasn’t a regular day. And Cathy was having none of it.

All of the sudden sweet, beautiful Cathy became a different person- a person I had never seen. Her voice was loud and authoritative. Her expression serious. “Do you have any idea what she is going through? And you are just going to cut in line in front of us as though it doesn’t matter? I don’t think so.”

As that poor man skulked away (after apologizing profusely), I knew that Cathy was a keeper.

And the great thing is that whenever I think about that break-up, I don’t think about that (stupid (now bald)) guy that I dated or about what he said or did. Instead, I think about Cathy and about that poor stranger at Chick-Fil-A– and I laugh.

When I suffered another broken heart years later (are you seeing a pattern here?), my dear friend Jami showed up at my door with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a spoon (are you seeing a pattern here too?) within 30 minutes of my frantic “we broke up” phone call. She didn’t say anything- she didn’t have to say anything. She just handed me the ice cream and hugged me- really tightly.

I can still feel that hug when I think back on it.

When my stepfather died and my entire family was numb with grief and totally unprepared to even think about putting together a meal, we came home from his funeral to find a huge box of food at the doorstep that was a complete meal for my entire family compliments of my best friends from Charlotte.

I am not sure there has ever been a moment in my life where I felt more grateful for my sweet, thoughtful friends.

And the trying events of 2012 brought the same sort of unwavering support with them.

It is pretty incredible that these people’s acts of love and friendship were able not only to bring comfort to me in painful times but also to alter my entire perception of these events so that the memories are less of the losses and more of the amazing support that followed.

My favorite scene of all time from Grey’s Anatomy is when Cristina Yang is explaining her friendship with Meredith Grey to Preston Burke- “She’s my person. If I murdered someone, she’s the person I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor. She’s my person.”


And Cathy and Jami- and Nancy and Debbie and Julie and Jessica and my mom and my sisters and…. well, they are my people.

They may think I am acting like the biggest idiot in the world. And rest assured, they will tell me that when the time is right. I would expect no less from them. But no matter what, they have my back- and I have theirs. Period. End of story.

And while I certainly don’t welcome bad times, it is those times that remind me of my amazing support system.

It is those people whose friendships remind me that whether I stay single or get married, I will never be alone.

And that knowledge doesn’t just make me feel safe- it makes me feel brave.

It makes me feel like I can write a book, have a fulfilling relationship, be respected, be loved, be… incredible.

It makes it easier to walk away from things that hurt me.

It makes it easier to get up and try again when all I want to do is quit.

It makes everything easier- and so, so much sweeter.

And as far as my “what I wanted” versus “what I got” list, there was not a single thing on the “what I wanted” list that is more valuable to me than the love and support of my “people.”

The other thing I am realizing is that the only thing sadder than scars is the absence of scars.

As a child, I remember going to play with a friend whose room was filled with beautiful Barbies. In fact, she had many of the same Barbies that I had. But mine looked like they had been through a war…. My Barbies had worn more outfits, been to more weddings and gone on more trips, swims, and outings than I ever will. Her Barbies, on the other hand, resided on a shelf and had never even been taken out of their boxes.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I always felt sorry for her Barbies. Sure they had their long blonde hair still in tact-ditto their earrings and shoes. But for what? My Barbies may have been banged up, but at least they were enjoying their dream house, pink corvette and swimming pool.


I realize now that it wasn’t her Barbies that I felt sorry for- it was her.

Though I have lost contact with her over the years, I cannot help but wonder if she lives her life as her Barbies did- safely tucked away on a shelf in an effort to avoid any possible damage.

And we all know people like that. They see life as an endurance contest more or less. They have a hundred excuses for why they can’t have the life- the job, the relationship, the future- that they truly want- but none of them are all that convincing- not even to them. They consume a steady diet of “enoughs” and accept mediocrity in exchange for safety.

One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Hunter Thompson. He said that “life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!'”

And he is SO right.

My scars of 2012 (and 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.) hurt. A lot.

But they are also reminders that I tried.

I put myself out there.

I did not choose safety.

I did not give up.

I did not settle.

I gave it all I had.

And that’s a hell of a lot better than sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust.


I had drinks with a girlfriend of mine a few weeks ago. I had not seen her in quite some time, but I knew that her “mountain” over the past few years has been a tall one…. Three small children. An unfaithful spouse. A younger girlfriend(s)- now wife. Financial challenges. You get the idea.

And when it all came tumbling down, she was justifiably angry. Really, really angry.

So when we met for drinks, I expected to hear about her ex and what a jerk he was and about all he had done and not done to make her life miserable. It would have been totally justified. Instead, however, she brought me up to date on her life, her career and her children. Her focus was not on what she had lost but on all that she gained as a result of what she lost.

When the night was coming to an end, she summed it up by saying “It couldn’t have happened any other way, you know?”

That is a pretty strong statement when you think about it.

And I think the best any of us can hope for is to look back on our lives and be able to make that exact proclamation.

And when we are in the “in between times” like I am now, we just have to have faith that we are heading in the right direction.

Faith that what we think we want will prove far inferior to what we get.

Faith that what we lose is a painful but necessary step on the way to our amazing.

Faith that we can survive the scars with a little (or a lot) of help from our friends.

Faith that one day we will sit with our people and reminisce about our scars and laugh at all the time we wasted mourning the loss of what we wanted because what we got turned out to be so much better.

Faith that there is an “amazing” out there with our names on it.

It just couldn’t happen any other way, you know?


Dairy Queen, Lipstick, Puke and Post-It Notes by Lori R. Keeton

“Why aren’t you married yet?”

I heard that question for about the millionth time at a party last night.

It is amazing to me how many people (so many of whom are totally miserable in their marriages by the way) have the… nerve?…lack of manners? to ask me that question. And it is usually people who do not know me very well which makes it even weirder.

Of course, they always add a jellyfish compliment to the end of their inquiry to somehow “soften” the question (i.e. “I mean you’re such a catch- why hasn’t someone snatched you up?” or some other similar b.s.)

(If you are wondering, it doesn’t really soften the question.)

And each time I am asked, I shrug and look away- unsure of what to say.


But rather than shy away from it, I decided that maybe I needed to answer the question once and for all for anyone and everyone who wants to know….

I am not married because of Dairy Queen, lipstick, puke and post-it notes.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

But it is the truth.

Perhaps I should explain.

I am a child of divorce. I have parents that you look at and wonder how on earth they ever ended up together. It isn’t a matter of one being good and the other bad- but just of the two being terrible together.

And there is no doubt in my mind that growing up that way impacts you. It shapes you. It confuses you. It hurts you.

I think somewhere deep inside, all children of divorce wonder if the two people who made them cannot love each other, then who can?

But ironically, that isn’t the chapter of my life that has stopped me from getting married. That would be the obvious choice I know. But I hate the obvious choice.

It is the next chapter that got me- it is the next chapter that I keep going back to and rereading.

You see, it wasn’t seeing two people who didn’t love each other fall apart but rather watching two people who adored each other fall together that left a permanent impact on my soul….

I think the first time I realized that something odd was going on with my mother was when I was around 12, and she got so excited (downright giggly in fact) because she was meeting a “friend” for coffee at Dairy Queen.

Not a steak dinner at Sullivan’s or an exotic trip to the Caribbean– coffee at Dairy Queen.

My mom and Dean (which is what I always called my stepdad because he was dean of a law school when he met my mom) would meet at the Dairy Queen near the school where she taught whenever they had time in their busy schedules.

I am pretty sure the coffee sucked.

I am equally sure that neither of them ever noticed.

My mother was 38 and was (and is) gorgeous and charming and generally amazing. Dean was 53 with silver hair and was handsome and powerful and brilliant.

But they could not have been more different. My mother drove an ancient Mercedes that had red nail polish stains on the gear shift where she had spilled it while trying to touch up her nails on the way to work (now do you people see why I text, apply make-up and read in the car??).

Dean would not have a wrapper from a straw in his car on his worst day.

Was he horrified by the nail polish? Of course not. Because it was hers- and thus it was charming and funny.

When they went on one of their first dates, my mother was an hour late as she was primping (to go out on a boat…).

I learned later from my stepsister that Dean- a former high ranking military officer- freaked if anyone was five minutes late. But, of course, that rule did not apply to my mother because she was worth the wait (According to my stepsister, that was the day she KNEW he was in love.)

And yes, they fell in love.

And yes, they got married.


And we became a non-traditional family of five with me being the baby, my sister the middle and my stepsister the oldest.

Rest assured, it wasn’t always easy. My stepsister would be the first to tell you that she got the shorter end of the stick as she was an only child who “inherited” two younger sisters (and while I am amazing, my sister can be a real pain when she wants to be (HA!)).

But by and large, we made it work and grew to love each other.

There are so many funny and wonderful and memorable things that happened during our journey together, but there are three events that I think about the most (If this were a movie, this is the moment where my sisters would chime in about how absurd it is that I think of everything so logically and in numbered order whereas Dean would applaud my organizational way of thinking)….

1. Whenever my mom and I would go to run errands, she would always reapply her lipstick on our way home. For years I thought it was the oddest thing. Who puts on lipstick to go home rather than to go out? I am not sure how long it took me to understand that she did it because she wanted to be beautiful for Dean. The person that mattered most to her wasn’t outside our home but inside our home.

2. When I was in the 7th or 8th grade, I got sick one day at summer school and called Dean to pick me up from school. He had a brand new Cadillac that he kept immaculately clean (i.e. no nail polish stains in that car). Once he picked me up, I think I started puking before we even left the school parking lot…. and continued to puke the whole way home. Did he yell at me? Did he get annoyed? Nope. He rubbed my back and reassured me and got me home as quickly as possible so he could take care of me. I never heard a word of complaint about how I more or less destroyed his car that day. Never.

3. Throughout their courtship and marriage, Dean left my mother sweet notes all over the house. Sometimes they were the mushy gushy Hallmark cards with flowers on the front, but more often than not they were plain yellow post-it notes written in his distinctive block handwriting. “I love you.” “Have a great day.” “You are the love of my life.” “Thanks for all you do.”

They were affixed to the coffee pot, the mirrors, the car- everywhere.

When he died, I found a huge stack of those love notes that my mother had saved. I pull them out from time to time- not to read them because they are not mine to read- but just to remind myself of what true love actually looks like.

And there were so many other things….

He always took her car and filled it up with gas as he would not dream of her pumping her own gas- especially if it were cold outside.

He bought her a Rolex one Christmas because she had always wanted one even though he thought watches should be purchased from the drugstore and cost no more than $10.

He made her coffee every morning.

When my grandmother got older and her health was failing, he went to her condominium every single day to have coffee with her and visit. He became her best friend.

And I do not mean to suggest that it was a one way street- she loved him every bit as much.

She made him his favorite meals.

She supported his career and helped his law school obtain accreditation.

She went fishing with him regularly and stayed in horrible, gross motels during these trips (If you ever met my mother, you would understand how big of a deal this is. If you know me, then you in essence know my mother and understand how big of a deal this is….).

She moved to Florida because it was his dream.

She scratched his back every night.

In April 2005 when we all gathered at Shand’s Hospital in Gainesville for him to undergo surgery, I walked in the cafeteria to find the two of them drinking coffee with him draped in a blanket that my mother had gone and bought at the gift shop because she could not bear for him to be cold while they ate lunch.

And when that surgery was over and the surgeons broke the news that he would not likely wake up and even if he did, he would be more or less a vegetable, my mother did what was probably the hardest- and the greatest- act of love that any of us can ever be called upon to do- she let him go.

And in the days that we waited for him to actually pass once the machines were turned off, she laid in the hospital bed curled up next to him and held his hand and combed his hair- refusing to leave his side for even a moment.

For better or for worse…. In sickness and in health….

So, you see, this amazing love story has proven to be both the greatest gift and the biggest curse that my parents could have ever given to me because–

I want Dairy Queen and post-it notes.

I want blankets when I am cold.

I want someone who loves my friends and my family as much as I do- in spite of puke or whatever else may arise.

I want someone who will cook my favorite foods.

I want someone who will keep vigil at my bedside when I am sick- and who will love me enough to let me go when that time comes.

I want amazing, big, important, unconditional, sweet, brave, forgiving, unbreakable love.

And I won’t settle for less.

Each time my heart is broken, I go through a period of mourning where I swear I will never love someone so much again– I tell myself that I will never again give someone my blankets and Dairy Queen and “puke forgiveness” kind of love.

But, after a while, I think about those damn post-it notes- and I soften. And before you know it, I am willing to try again because I am absolutely convinced that it is worth it.

So, for anyone who is wondering, I am not married because of Dairy Queen, lipstick, puke and post-it notes…. And I am actually really proud of that.

Thank you Mom and Dean.