11 Months, 9 Days Revisited (published in Thought Catalog)

A little ‘light-hearted’ reading to start your weekend. Okay, it’s not light-hearted, but it might have something to do with that general area.

Hope it at least makes you feel…

Living With a Shattered Heart

Eleven months and nine days

He walked in and sat down at his desk, glancing up at her and then back down.

“Well that doesn’t look good”, he said nonchalantly.

She didn’t bother responding.

“How long has it been bleeding like that?” He asked, still not looking up.

On and off for eleven months and 9 days.

“And it was broken, correct?”

Yes.

“How badly?”

Shattered

“Oh.”

Oh?

“Well, that just makes things…”

He glanced over at the instruments spread out on the tray beside him.

Makes things what? I mean, you can fix it, right? 

He shook his head.

“I’m afraid not. That’s like asking me to fix a shattered window. Your only option is to try and let it heal the way it is, and then wait and see. It will most likely function again, on some level, but just not like it did. The good news however, is that the pain will eventually go away and you probably won’t feel anything at all”.

What do you mean, ‘won’t feel anything at all’?

“Most times in these cases, it just goes numb when the bleeding finally stops. But that’s a good thing, right? I mean if it feels as bad as it looks…”

She slid off the table and made her way to the door. She couldn’t even look at him, suddenly feeling an overwhelming sense of shame that she had let this happen.

He offered her something to take that would numb the pain more quickly.  She paused, considering it.

No. I guess if this is the last thing I’m going to feel, I should ‘enjoy it’ while it lasts. I mean, it can’t last that much longer, right?

“It’s hard to say. But to be honest with you, yours is in pretty bad shape, so it could be awhile. The good thing though, is that no one will know but you. All you have to do is keep a smile on your face and the world will think you are completely normal.”

She closed the door behind her just in time to hear his final words echo down the hall.

“Remember to smile”, he said light-heartedly. “People might think your heart is broken.”

shattered

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The Send-off : the Democratic Republic of Congo

I received a request from another one of my favorite bloggers, the Modern Leper, to post some more pictures of my time in the Congo (you can get a taste of it here: Life in the Congo).

I always intended to post more, but trying to do it there would literally take days. On the rare occasion that we did have internet, it was only for a few hours during the day, and it was excruciatingly slow. Just posting a blog took a significant amount of planning, hence the reason why there are so few. Even if I wrote them ahead of time on a separate document, the likelihood that we would even have electricity was slim, so I was always trying to ration my time on all things electric. All this to say, to even get a blog to post was a day’s long, sometime week long endeavor.

By the time I got back to the states, to be honest, I was a bit traumatized and just didn’t feel like revisiting the Congo. Yes, the experience as a whole was life-changing, but some of the times and memories that made up that experience were anything by comfortable or fun or even humane (see The New normal).

But the chimps. Those extraordinary, crazy, sometimes terrifying chimps undeniably and forever touched my soul. I fell in love with all 54 of them, each with his or her distinct, funny personality and sometimes annoying quirks. (Goma immediately comes to mind, a cantankerous, yet playful little guy (okay NOT little) who without fail, no matter how deep into the forest he was, would suddenly be sitting in the same spot, within perfect range to dowse us with spit as we made our way into the sanctuary. It didn’t matter if we sprinted or ducked or tried to shield ourselves, he would always hit his target, meeting our gaze with a look of triumph before he proudly disappeared back into the trees.) But even Goma maneuvered his way into my heart, gripping it tightly with those long, dexterous fingers and filling it up with awe, reverence, heartbreak, and love.

They were (and hopefully still are) ornery, silly, loving, intelligent, shameless bundles of joy who taught me the extent to which animals actually feel emotions and love and pain. I witnessed this firsthand, seeing tiny Manoya arrive, skin and bones, starving, dehydrated and so traumatized she would cry non-stop when she had to separate from her caretaker. Every time I would check in on her, the look she had on her face was beyond emotion, it was sheer and utter heartbreak.

We didn’t find out much about the details of Namoya’s rescue, other than they found her stuffed in a tiny crate going through customs. Most likely, she had seen her entire family slaughtered and had been stuffed in a bag, tossed around in the back of a car, and then crammed into whatever contraption could best be smuggled onto a plane. Each chimp at the sanctuary had a similar story (see Casualties of the Trade). All had been through horrific trauma and tortured in some way or another. But despite all of this, or maybe because of it, it was amazing to see how they embraced each other (the majority of the time), accepting each new-comer into their mismatched, chaotic, not-so-functional family…just as they did me.

I will never forget the first day I met Kongo or the last day I ever saw him. I was immediately smitten, and I’m still convinced he was, too. (I know, he’s a chimp, but humor me here and read on).

We quickly established our almost daily ritual of accompanying each other around the perimeter of the forest, learning each others’ faces, expressions, and body language. I learned what his favorite foods were, what type of leaves he preferred and where his favorite tree was. I gradually discovered who his favorite chimp buddies were and which ones avoided him at all costs. I got to know his different moods- when he was grumpy, in good spirits, or apathetic and bored. I shared my snacks with him and told him about my challenges with Carmen (SOS will give you a sense) and how much I missed my boys at home (husband and puppy). I counted down to him the months, weeks, and days until Eric came to visit, and then the months, weeks and days until I got to go home.

And eventually it came- the day before I was going home and the last time I would see him. As crazy as this seems, he knew I was leaving. It was immediately obvious when I walked through the gate. He wasn’t there to meet me like he had done every day before. I waited, a bit worried, and then started down our normal path. I searched for him in the trees and down in the brush. I did my best version of a chimp call (which is pathetic, I might add). But nothing. My heart sank as I worked my way back to the entrance, and there he was peering out from just inside the forest. I sat down and waited for him to come out. He just sat there, staring at me and then disappeared back into the trees. Then I just got pissed. Seriously, this is how you are going to end it? I waited a few more minutes, then stormed out, slamming the gate behind me. Realizing that I had literally just thrown a temper tantrum because an ape didn’t come say goodbye to me, I decided I would act like an adult…or maybe just a human, and go say a proper goodbye, even if he didn’t come out to do the same.

I opened back up the gate, and there he was, sitting in the same spot where we always met. He didn’t even look at me before he started down the path, finally stopping to make sure I was following, but never letting me catch up. When we turned the corner of our last stretch, he finally sat down, but with his back to me. I couldn’t help but laugh. He was clearly not going to make this easy. I rummaged through my bag, pulling out a handful of peanuts and slid them under the fence. He pretended not to see, and waited until I sat back down to casually reach over and grab them. Next was some slices of mango. He loved mango, but still acted like it was ‘just peanuts’.  I let him finish and waited a few minutes before I pulled out his favorite, anticipating what might happen.

He finally turned around to face me, looking at me intensely, then looking down at my bag, and then turning sideways to avoid eye contact.

I launched into my good-bye speech, lying and saying I would be back, reminding him that there would be another ‘save the world’ type who would take my place, feeling ridiculous when my eyes started filling up with tears. I finally slid a larger than normal portion of figs under the fence. He immediately got up, grabbed as many as he could, turned his back on me, and disappeared back into the trees.

That was it. That was goodbye.

I finally left and headed back home, stopping one last time to see if I could spot him in the trees. I couldn’t help but laugh. There was Goma, head cocked back, staring down with what I swear looked like a smirk on his face. Just behind him and further up, I saw some leaves start to rustle and then a flash of black drop down, catch a limb and then soar across to catch another and then another. Within a matter of seconds, the whole forest turned into a circus, chimps flying from tree to tree, leaves shaking violently as the limbs tried to rebound from the weight of one chimp after the other slamming down on them, gaining momentum to fly to the next. Goma quickly plunged into the madness, instigating a cacophony of screams that made even the staff members stop and look up. I had seen these displays countless times, but this, THIS was sheer bedlam. I watched until their screams died down and the leaves became still. They were all perched up high, some grouped together, some alone, most of them looking down. I like to think that was my send off, and I have a good idea of who was behind it.

I waved, turned my back on them, disappearing behind the old colonial buildings that led me back home.

*by ‘forest’, I mean the large, fenced-in area meant to replicate what used to be the expansive jungle that they previously called home.

*The number of chimps has grown from 54 to 72 since I was there in 2013.

* As mentioned in Casualties of the Trade, between 5-10 chimpanzees will be slaughtered in the process of trying to capture one baby chimp, at which point, after seeing his/her entire family massacred, she is stuffed into a tiny cage or shipped off to other countries to live out the rest of her days locked up in primitive version of a zoo or chained up to be a private pet for an ego-driven, selfish person with too much money who wants something to display, just like he would display his gun collection or one-of-a-kind antique whatever that makes him feel important…don’t get me started..

*Goma and I eventually made a truce, and I was allowed safe passage, if and only if he was presented with a handful of peanuts upon my entry.

*Oh, and I got to spend the day with Jane Goodall. 🙂

Here are some links to documentaries about the plight of the chimpanzees (first one is what inspired me to go to the Congo):

‘Project Nim’: A Chimp’s Very Human, Very Sad Life

Real-life ‘Planet of the Apes’ thrives on Monkey Island

Jane Goodall on Chimpanzee Experimentation

You can get more details about the Centre de Rehabilitation des Primates de Lwiro (CRPL) at https://www.lwiroprimates.org/crpl-s-primates

Warning. Proceed with Caution.

As some of you might have picked up on, I’m struggling a bit with all of this. Believe it or not, I am not referring to the whole ‘life thing’. I think we are all clear that I don’t quite have that down yet.

No, I mean this. Writing this. It is the thing that brings me the most joy these days, but I can’t help but wonder, am I killing you? Are you so over hearing me bleed? I know I am. But shit, I’m still bleeding a little bit.

So I admittedly went into publishing mode, which I certainly don’t think is a bad thing. It makes me happy to see my words out there in a forum that can reach more people. I love seeing people’s comments, even if they aren’t positive (okay, I don’t like seeing those, but I guess it means that I made them feel something enough to take the time to write about it). And I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty fucking cool to see my bio hanging out down there below an article published in the Washington Post. I’m only human.

I did get a bit consumed with that whole process, though, which is a crazy ride, to say the least. I actually thought I was exposing myself on a level that surpassed insane. But almost without fail, every time I have submitted an article, I receive an email requesting the following:

Dear Ms. Breazeale, thank you for your submission. We would like to publish your article, but could you please send us your actual heart? This is good, but it appears to be just a superficial sketch meant to represent your heart. Nobody really wants to read that shit, to be honest. They want to see your actual heart- ripped out, broken, bleeding and beyond repair.

Right, got it. Because I haven’t already turned myself inside out and exposed the darkest, most horrific, humiliating parts that I never wanted anyone see?

Dear Editor, thank you for taking the time to read my submission. Please find my heart in the attached- ripped out, broken, bleeding and beyond repair.

But the reality is, they were right. I get the most reaction from the stories that hurt the most. I’m learning that it provides comfort and reassurance to know that someone else is messy, and a little fucked up, or maybe not so fucked up, but they fucked up pretty badly. Maybe the fact that I did, and I that I don’t have it all figured out somehow lets people know that they are okay and they are going to be okay, and their lives will someday get back to happy. I hope they do, anyway, and I know they will.

But then I come back to this, to you: this community that has grown into something akin to a family, kindred spirits who offer me brief glances into your lives. I get to learn your beautiful stories, one post at a time. It feeds my soul on a daily basis. And your writing!! It blows my mind, and I can’t believe you actually want to read mine. But now, I have this crazy fear you’ll stop wanting to. Because god dammit, I’m tired. I’m tired of being sad. I’m tired of writing about being sad. And I can’t help but think that you have to be tired of reading about sad. But I haven’t quite arrived at happy yet, so what the hell do I write about?

On a side note, for you poor souls who think going on a second or third date is a good idea, I have discovered a full proof method to ensure that we definitely won’t. Just say something to this effect:

So I think you should write about…I don’t know, something happier, like your travels or maybe how you are getting through all of the pain…something that might inspire people, maybe give them hope…

Really? You’re joking, right? Because I seem to recall you telling me that is why you loved my writing in the first place. ‘It’s so honest, raw, engaging, bold…’.

Regardless, I’m just not quite at a place where I’m ready to conjure up my favorite memory from childhood, or from Spain or France or Colombia. I will someday, I have countless. But until I’m in the mindset to write about those memories with the same authenticity and passion I can about the not-so-happy parts, then they will remain unwritten.

In the meantime, I have a bit more bleeding to do.

But I am curious, are your requesting happy because it makes you more comfortable? Is it because, if we did actually start dating, someone you know might read what I write and question why I’m still so sad and heartbroken if we are dating? Shouldn’t I be ‘over it’? Shouldn’t I be happy because I’m with you?

Or maybe you really do just want to read something happy. I totally get it. My favorite new blog, The Incurable Dreamer, is my favorite precisely because it makes me laugh. The author’s writing is honest, raw, engaging…and it’s hilarious. I laugh out loud. And I also cry. Because parts do make my heart hurt, mainly because I can completely relate to her, and because she writes so brilliantly that I feel like am her, in the place where she is, seeing what she sees, and feeling what she feels.

I love it precisely because she does what I so want badly to make others do….she makes me feel.

So apologies if this comes across as bitter, or if it makes you uncomfortable. I want you to feel how you feel, and I want to know what that is, even if it isn’t always what I want to hear.

I won’t, however, write what you will always want to read. And in my defense, I try to set a tone, even throw out a warning in the beginning, to give you a head’s up if what I wrote is going to be especially brutal.

Summary: For those of you interested in a second date, not to worry. I stopped dating altogether, so feel free to offer up any advice you have. And for those of you who are weary of me being sad and writing about it, please know, I am too. But this present state will eventually subside and give way to the me who almost always has a smile on her face and a positive spin on shit situations.  She’s still here, you’ll see glimpses of her in even the most tragic posts, but you have to look a little closer sometimes. And you might actually have to feel something…

So, you have been warned.

proceed

Sneak Preview: Salsa, Heartbreak, and Redemption (or something like that)

Thought I would give a taste of why I have disappeared for a spell. I have no idea where or if this will be published, but I thought I could try to spread a lil’ hope for those of you in the thick of ‘rebounding’ from a heartbreak in the absence of a rebound, at least in the traditional sense….

“Burdened no more is soul for whom life flows through dance like breath.”
― Shah Asad Rizvi

He grabbed my hand and slid his arm around my waist, pulling me closer. Our lips were close enough to kiss. My eyes lingered on them as they made their way up to meet his gaze. He smiled playfully, “Relax. Try not to think, and just let yourself  feel. ”

The music started. A cacophony of horns and percussion thrust us into motion. I knew I was tensing up, and the only thing I could feel was my heart racing. He let go of my waist and slid his hands down the length of my back, letting them rest firmly on my hips. He paused for a second, teasing me like he always did before he sent me spinning. I threw my head back, laughing, as our playful improvisation began, our bodies syncing up perfectly. Without saying a word, he would tell me exactly what he wanted me to do, and I would gladly submit. He had me exactly where he wanted me. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than how I felt, completely immersed in the moment, and deliriously happy. Then the music stopped.

This is how I got over my first heartbreak. I started dancing.

My boyfriend had found someone else. I didn’t blame him. We were going on year four of what had become a vicious cycle of trying ‘just one more time’. I knew it needed to end, but I wasn’t ready to give up. He was, and he did.

So I did what I always do when my heart gets broken; I planned my escape. I sold everything that wouldn’t fit into my suitcase and bought a ticket to Spain. Just over a week before I was supposed to leave, my stepdad called. My mom had been in a car accident.

I didn’t go to Spain; I went to bury my mom instead.

——————————————————————————————————————

I finally stopped rambling when he walked over and motioned for my hand. I wiped it on my skirt, confessing,

I’m kind of nervous

He smiled. Really? I had no idea. 

I feigned annoyance, laughed and offered up my sweaty palm. He led me through some basic steps, which I fumbled through, stepping on his feet more than I care to admit. He finally stopped, stepping back and studying me for a minute.

Not bad, he said, acting surprised. Actually, that was pretty good. You clearly know how to dance; we just need to get your confidence back. But first, there is something more important we need to do.

He had my attention.

I think you’ve forgotten how to feel. And you can’ t dance if you can’t feel. So I am going to try something that I think might help.

He most definitely had my attention.

Close your eyes and don’t open them until I tell you.

I stood there, my heart racing, waiting to see what would happen next…..

 

——————————————————————————————————————–

More to come….   ;o)

 

salsa.painting

 

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Briya produces fashionable bags and accessories that allow adventurous spirits and dedicated change-makers to travel in style while helping women and children to reach their full potential in underprivileged regions around the world.

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‘Smoke and Mirrors’ (published in writerbeat.com)

A fun request to publish this article in writerbeat.com. Yet another cool forum to discover great reading and writing!

Smoke and Mirrors

Please check out my social enterprise, Briya, and help us empower women and children with education and economic advancement opportunities across the globe.

Briya produces fashionable bags and accessories that allow adventurous spirits and dedicated change-makers to travel in style while helping women and children to reach their full potential in underprivileged regions around the world.

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me.gypsy.fav.cross.legs

Father’s Day: June 21, 1992.

My dad died on Father’s Day.

I can’t imagine how many times I’ve said that throughout my life. It feels like a punch line to a worn-out, twisted joke. It’s not though. I guess it could be the punchline, but it’s not a joke. That is really the day he died.

I can’t remember the exact day we found out he way dying, but I remember the day exactly. It was a school day in early January. But I wasn’t going. I called in sick, because my dad was, and I was taking him to the hospital to find out how sick.

I helped him out of the car and waited until he got his bearings. I casually linked my arm through his so he didn’t have to ask for  more help. His pace was painfully slow. But because he was in pain, or because he didn’t want to find out why?

I just wanted him to hurry. I wanted to get this over with. There was a party I wanted to go to later, and I needed to study more for my SAT exam the next morning. I wanted to see my boyfriend before he left town, and I needed to go by my friend’s house to pick up the jeans she said I could borrow.

I just wanted him to hurry, so they could start the surgery, so we could find out what was wrong with him, so they could fucking fix it.

Three hours later I woke up on the hospital floor, my head propped up on my study guide. They said it would only take two hours. It had been over three. I opened my book back up to the algebra equations, shut it, opened it again, and flipped over to the vocabulary section. I had learned a good trick for memorizing vocab words. You take the word and use it in 3 different sentences, but sentences that will stand out in your mind, like something funny to make them memorable.

Aberration: a state or condition markedly different from the norm

  1. My dad’s health is an aberration.
  2. A 17-year old girl without a father is an aberration.
  3. Sitting in a freezing cold hospital lobby by yourself waiting to hear if your dad is going to die is an aberration.

I laughed. I’m pretty confident that I’m the only person using death as a study tactic, which is in and of itself an aberration.

He snuck up behind me, asking if I was William Breazeale’s daughter. I jumped up, throwing my book up in the air, which sent my notes flying in all directions. We both paused for a minute, watching their graceful descent. I looked up at him, embarrassed, and tried to smile. He didn’t smile back. He just told me, matter-of-factly,  that the surgery went great and my dad was dying from pancreatic cancer.

I slammed the front door behind me. His head shot up. He hated it when I slammed the door. “Sorry, dad!”. Shit, did I wake you up? How are you feeling?”

Why did I keep asking him that? What the hell is he going to say. “I feel amazing. That last can of Ensure you shot into my veins tasted awesome and is digesting perfectly. I can’t get up by myself anymore and have been waiting for you to get here so I can go to the bathroom. Other than that, I feel great.”

He attempted to smile. “I’m fine. How was school?”

“Fine. I have to go back, it’s only noon. I just came home to check on you”.

“It’s only noon?”

“Yeah. You hungry?”

“No.”

“Well, were you able to drink some of the juice I bought you?”

“No. I haven’t felt like it.”

“Dad! You have to eat, whether you are hungry or not! You can’t keep going to chemo if you aren’t doing anything to build yourself back up. Have you looked at yourself? You are literally wasting away!”

I stormed into the kitchen and brought him back a glass of orange juice. He tilted his head forward to take a sip, giving me a look that made me sit down next to him and gulp the rest of it down myself.

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Will you make sure I’m here when you go?”

“I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises.”

“No dad, you have to. You have to promise you won’t leave me until I can get back here”.

“Brooke, I can’t promise that you will be here when I die. But I promise I will never leave you.”

I acquired this slight obsession with our calendar. Every morning I scrolled across the row of days, then down the column of weeks, looking for, I’m not sure what, an aberration I suppose. Which day was it going to be? I flipped to the next month and my eyes landed on the only words on the page.

Father’s Day.

I actually laughed out loud. You’ve got to be kidding me. He’s going to die on fucking Father’s Day?

Of course I didn’t tell anybody this. How morbid and sad. What was even more so was that I actually felt relieved. I had a date. This was going to end at some point, and it was going to be soon. I started planning the things I would do after that day. I could leave the house again without having to find someone to watch him. I could go to parties with my friends without worrying about him or having to leave early to go take care of him. I wouldn’t have to give him morphine shots anymore, or clean up after him when he didn’t make it to the bathroom, or sleep outside his bedroom door hearing him moan in pain, crying myself to sleep because there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.

I wouldn’t have to do any of those things anymore. Because on June 21st, my dad wouldn’t be dying. On June 21st, my dad would be dead.

I spent the morning with my best friend and his family. I reluctantly agreed to go to church with them, cringing at every forced metaphor reiterating the importance of celebrating ‘the father’.

I asked if I could stop to buy him a card before we headed to the movie and spent longer than I should have picking it out. He obviously wasn’t going to read it, but I wanted to read it to him, and it needed to be perfect.

We made it to the front of the line just before the previews started. I grabbed my ticket, and then turned to his dad and told him to take me home.

I closed the front door behind me, making sure not to slam it. I nervously peeked my head into his room to see if he was still breathing, and then plopped down next to him to sign his card. The pen was out of ink. Of course it was out of ink. I went into the kitchen and started digging through the drawers, and then stopped for some reason.  I heard something, like a moan or a whisper. But I kept digging. He’s ‘fine’, he can’t be in pain, he has a constant stream of morphine going and he hasn’t made a sound for days. I grabbed a pen, then dropped it and sprinted to his room.

He was dead.

“No, no, no, no. Dad, NO! You promised! Did you seriously just wait until I left the fucking room to leave me? I sat down next to him, studying his face for some sign of anything. There was nothing. He was gone.

I just started yelling at him. “I came home for you. I made everyone miss the movie for you. You were supposed to wait for me to get back, that was the deal. We made a deal!”

The tears I had been stuffing down for months unleashed. I was actually grateful I was alone, but I was furious with him, with myself. He was leaving me for good and he couldn’t just give me this one thing. He couldn’t just let me say good-bye. But maybe he did? Maybe he finally worked up the courage to let go, and I then I left him?

I felt something, a gentle squeeze of my hand. I stopped crying and quickly looked back up as one final tear made its way down his cheek.

That was 25 years ago. Yes, it was terrible, but it was so long ago, I don’t really even think about it anymore. The reality is, I haven’t had a dad longer than I had one.

Now that I see my friends worrying about how badly they are fucking up their kids, I wonder what issues of mine are directly linked to him. My dad was an amazing father, but not always a great one. He, like all of us, had many demons, which he never quite figured out how to conquer. Whether he was drunk or sober, wealthy or broke, in love or lonely, I just never felt like he ever really found happy.

I’m sure this negatively impacted me somehow I’m sure all of it did, But it also what made him and our relationship beautiful. I’m not sure if he was truly happy, but he made sure everyone else was. His life could be in shambles, but he would make sure yours was going to be fine. He could be reckless and stubborn, but he was the person you went to when there was nowhere else to go. He was patient and kind and generous. And although he was guarded with his words, you never questioned how he felt about you. I say ‘you’ because he wasn’t just my dad. He was my friends’ dad and my neighbors’ dad, and he was everyone’s friend.

Now, for me, Father’s Day is just another day. But for the first time in decades, I actually felt a twinge of guilt when I realized what day it was. I  haven’t thought about him much lately, not at all, really. I kind of just feel like he isn’t a part of my life anymore. He’s just gone.

This actually made me laugh. Was I really that far gone that I couldn’t see what was so blatantly obvious? My dad has never been so present in my life as he has over the past few months- in the people who have come into my life, the beautiful places I have landed, and the books that have ended up in my hands; in a smile that made me feel, or a word that made me hope, or a sunset that assured me this pain was going to stop.

I truly believe he thought he was going to lose me, so he immersed himself so fully in my day to day that there could be no doubt in my mind. He was going to wait until I came back… to remind me that he never left.

Please check out my social enterprise, Briya, and help us empower women and children with education and economic advancement opportunities across the globe.

Briya produces fashionable bags and accessories that allow adventurous spirits and dedicated change-makers to travel in style while helping women and children to reach their full potential in underprivileged regions around the world.

http://www.briyabags.com