I’m going to take you on a different journey this week, by sharing the story of another. Another kindred soul, another fierce warrior, and yes – another Hot Mess.
This is a story I find inspiring, humbling, and beautiful; and I feel privileged to have witnessed it unfold – if only from a distance – as well as honored to have permission to write about what I’ve observed.
I first met Jacqie McKenzie in the first grade, and we were classmates until we graduated from high school in 2001. She was someone I always liked and admired; and although we were never the closest of friends, she was definitely much more than just a peer. I felt a certain kinship with her, which I couldn’t really explain or understand, given that I only knew her on a surface level.
From where I stand now, I realize that my intuition was guiding me towards an individual with similar perspectives and internal struggles.
Funny how that happens throughout life, yes?
I remember inviting her to a few birthday parties of mine during elementary and middle school, but she never came. Due to my own insecurities, I concluded that she wasn’t interested in being friends beyond occasionally sitting next to each other in school and exchanging pleasantries. I learned to be accepting of that – I had my other friends and various extracurricular activities, so I was kept fairly active as a child.
More recently, I’ve learned that Jacqie was never allowed to attend birthday parties, sleepovers, or social gatherings of any kind that weren’t school related. Due to the religious beliefs of her family, she wasn’t even permitted to celebrate her own birthday.
Now, I feel compelled to say that I’m not here to criticize anyone’s religious beliefs – I believe in tolerance and compassion, as well as religious freedom. However, when your religion dictates that it’s somehow unholy for a child to have a day dedicated to them, where they are reminded of how special and loved they are, and that they have people in their lives who want to celebrate the day they were born – I’m sorry, but I’ll never agree with that. Children need to feel unique and celebrated – it’s crucial for the development of self-esteem.
Little by little, Jacqie has shared with me how hard her childhood was behind closed doors. Behind the dedicated honor student, who was always well dressed and composed, was a silent struggle of self-doubt and the belief that she was unlovable. A belief perpetuated by one of her parents – as ludicrous as that may seem.
During our college and post-college years, I stayed in touch with Jacqie on MySpace (back when that was a still a ‘thing’) and on Facebook. Through photographs, I watched her get married twice. Her first marriage was to her high school sweetheart, and they had two beautiful sons together.
She has shared with me that this marriage was ‘comfortable.’ She escaped an abusive home, and clung to the loving family that she married into. I doubt anyone reasonable could blame her for that.
As idyllic as that ‘happily-ever-after’ seemed, I learned that she fell into a deep depression. As it happens when you refuse to face your demons, they catch up to you – and when you’re not ready to confront what’s been hiding in the shadows, you end up hurting the people closest to you.
I was admittedly very excited about her second marriage, as it was to another former classmate and friend of mine, whom I knew had been in love with her since high school. This time, it was obvious that Jacqie led completely with her heart – and it was beautiful.
Two years ago, Jacqie and I were both home during the holidays, so we made plans to meet for dinner, drinks, and a long-overdue catch-up. It was wonderful seeing her again after so many years, and I could tell that she had begun to let go of some of her people-pleasing tendencies – a very good thing.
Still, there was something behind her eyes that remained guarded. I could see this, because I’m the same way – at least around people I’m not 1,000% comfortable with.
The conversation flowed freely nonetheless, as well as the laughter, and I loved hearing about her life as an adult.
I should mention that Jacqie is a gifted wedding photographer, and she has worked very hard to build herself a business. Truly, when I get married there is no one else on this planet I’d rather have capture the day on camera… I’m so proud of her. If you feel so inclined, be a fellow witness to her talent at: www.jacqieq.com.
We continued to stay in touch through Facebook, and she confided in me many times that life was hard for her and that she was still struggling with depression. As someone who has been on a multitude of medications, and fought bouts of depression, anxiety – the whole shebang – I more than understood. I knew that Jacqie and I were fighting some similar battles beneath the surface, despite how different our life circumstances were.
When it comes to self-love and acceptance, trusting, being vulnerable and exposed, and letting the world in – this girl and I are two pieces of the same soul.
Slowly though… Very slowly, and subtly at first, I began to notice a shift in Jacqie’s energy. I could see it in her photographs and hear it in her words. She was becoming ‘lighter’ somehow – her smile was brighter, her eyes were shinier, and her spirit was finally starting to peak through.
I had my suspicions about what was going on – she had become the protégé of another photographer, and it was obvious that they were becoming the best of friends. Numerous photos were shared of the two of them – weekends away together, travel adventures, and dual photography sessions. All of it was wonderful, because in every single photo – Jacqie looked HAPPY.
As I mentioned, I had my suspicions, and I was always going to support anything that made my friend smile so beautifully… But I waited patiently, knowing that – like me – Jacqie would share when she was ready.
Sure enough, Jacqie disclosed to me privately a bit later on that she and her second husband were separating. Part of me was a little sad, as I had been really excited for them when they’d gotten together. But if I’m being honest, I’d seen this coming months beforehand – and I knew it was best for her. I also knew it was not an easy decision for her to make.
Once again, I knew there was more to the story. And once again, I waited patiently for her to be ready. I continued to see lovely, illuminating photos with her and her ‘photographer friend,’ and I kept thinking to myself, “Any day now. Any day, she’s just going to let go and let the world in.”
I was right.
Last June, Jacqie finally revealed that she is romantically involved with the person she calls her ‘Adventure Soulmate.’ And, this person also happens to be another woman.
Personally, I was cheering for them both, and crying tears of joy that she had finally allowed her wall to come down – at least enough. The situation was complicated on both ends for reasons I won’t go into, but the love between the two of them was so palpable – so intense – I had no choice but to be in their corner. And I am, wholeheartedly.
Jacqie tells me that she identifies as ‘pansexual,’ which by definition is: “sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional involvement towards people of any sex or gender identity.”
In my mind, I see this as being drawn to a person’s spirit, while being blind to their gender.
So I asked Jacqie, what was it about this individual’s spirit that changed everything for her?
She told me:
“She’s a fire, like me. She’s so strong and has experienced so much, but she is also humble. The original attraction was her confidence, compassion, and sense of adventure. But she’s so complex and just a really awesome human being. Not to mention, she pushes me like no one else. I don’t listen to anyone, really. I do my own thing and live in my own head. She’s the only one I let bring me back to reality.”
Can’t really argue with that. Isn’t that what a true soulmate should be for us? That ONE person who forces our soul to grow the most?
It’s important to realize that love finds us in the most unexpected places. No, really – where we LEAST-fucking-expect it. When I’ve really fallen in love – hard – it’s always been with people I’d never have expected at first glance… A classmate I initially couldn’t stand, an old friend I’d known since early childhood, a goofy coworker at a job I couldn’t believe I’d been reduced to working… Truly, it’s never been predictable – and that’s how it should be.
So in a way, an overly sheltered girl who grew up in a repressive home, who married two men, yet never quite felt the happiness she craved, falling madly in love with a woman? It all makes perfect sense to me.
A few months ago, I asked Jacqie if she was happy. Her response, as follows, was simply amazing:
“Yes. So fucking happy. I cry a lot. I whine some. I push. I fight. I argue. But that’s me. I don’t take anything at face value, and I am challenging. I also love a challenge. It’s a good and happy thing. I’m happy being me.”
It doesn’t get more genuine than that.
So much beauty is released into the universe when we make the decision to stop hiding who we truly are.
When you fully reveal the complicated, messy masterpiece that is uniquely YOU, your inner-light will shine through, stronger and brighter than ever before… And that, my friends, is the light that sets the world on fire.
I saw that light in a photograph of Jacqie, taken last year by her girlfriend, Christin – who is also extremely gifted.
In this particular photo, Jacqie is standing barefoot on a beach, where the water meets the sand. Her soft, pink dress is the same color as the sky, and she is facing the immensity of the ocean with her arms raised above her head, as if saying, “Here I am. No more cages, no more pretending, no more falling on my own sword for people who don’t care. My spirit is finally free.”
By the by, those are her words – not mine.
What makes this photograph so special, in my eyes, is how clearly her personal freedom shines though. She’s this very tiny person, facing the enormity of the ocean – and yet her spirit is bigger and brighter and stronger than anything this world could place before her.
It’s a photo I’d like to have hanging on my wall, reminding me every single day of my own brightness, my own strength, my own unstoppable spirit.
It’s been so inspiring for me, to watch this journey unfold. I feel like I’ve witnessed real magic. I don’t have the same hidden pieces that Jacqie did, but I definitely hide a great deal of myself from most of the world. Not necessarily because I’m afraid of being accepted by others… But because I fear the responsibility of owning who I am – with NO filter. Who I am, is pretty damn intense. And I worry about it being too much for me to deal with, let alone the people in my path.
So. Who I am, beyond what I’ve already revealed in this blog – is a story for another time. This is Jacqie’s tribute, and she definitely deserves to be celebrated.
I asked her to tell me, in her words, how she sees herself:
“I’m a carefree person who loves fiercely and gives openly, but I’m fighting a constant internal battle for self-love and acceptance. I see magic in the world, and good in people. I feel everything – colors, sounds, the emotions of people around me… I FEEL it all. And, I’m active. I would rather ‘do’ than sit around and talk about doing. I don’t look back – I make a decision, and I do it.”
I crave that certainty; that conviction. I crave adventure and magic and insane, ridiculous, inconvenient, blissful love. Jacqie and Christin give me hope that it’s out there – even for the Hot Messes of the world who make it SO much fucking harder than it needs to be.
To my sweet, beautiful, BRAVE friend – thank you. Thank you for allowing me to write about your magic. Keep being the most authentic version of you. Keep being vulnerable, and fearless and perfectly flawed; and remember that the right people will LOVE those shiny, new pieces you’ve shared and continue to discover.
Remember that you are now, and you have always been – lovable. You just needed to fall in love with yourself.
For people like us, this can sometimes be a daily struggle, I know… But in those moments when it hurts to breathe, and you see only darkness, and there is literally NOTHING holding your demons at bay… Remember the girl in the photograph. Remember her strength, and her spirit, and just breathe. You don’t have to win every battle to be a warrior.
In addition to wishing you continued self-love and acceptance on your journey, I’m wishing for you to someday have that farm in the country, with the five children you hope to have… Keep reaching for the stars, for therein lies the thrill of adventure.
Fly free, Jacqie – now and always.