My Heart, Your Heart, Her Heart

HEY! I wanna talk to you. Yeah, I got something to say. How come for my whole life does everything I do get compared to everything you do? Huh? How come when I have a problem it’s one you’ve already solved? How come-how come do you always have it worse? How come when I, you know, when something happens to me, how come mom says, “Well, when your sister…” Huh? Huh? HOW COME?

Whew. 10-year-old Olivia needed to get that off her chest. It’s the plight of every little sister. It’s nothing we can control or something we can change. Moms are worn out by the time we come along. They’ve just about given up and you, little sister, you are the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Two weeks ago I called my mom just to talk. I’d been suffering from a bit of anxiety, which can really get me down, and just needed to know that I wasn’t dying, that I didn’t have a heart murmur, I wasn’t going to be broke forever, I’m not a bad person, that I can be loved, and it’s not the end of the world. You know. The usual doubts. I told my mother about flatulence that’d been trapped in my rib cage for weeks at which point she said what every little sister dreads to hear, “Oh, you don’t have to worry honey. Just think of your sister….Who had cancer. And went bald. And was sick for a year. Remember? She was bald. Her breast is-“

ALL RIGHT! All right. Yes. I remember. She was bald. And with that my mother goes back to discussing the shop and her latest tiff with gram, whose shout of defense I hear in the distance. “Well, we love you and everything will be fine. Just pray.” Click. Dial tone….

I sit up from the back of the car, where I’d hidden, to find Fil in the garage grinning because he found a snorkel and mask. “Wanna go look at logs?”

I sat there staring into nothing. That stare when really you’re basically just looking at the inside of your own eyeballs. I felt as if nothing in my life was of any importance to anyone else. And after my mom brought up cancer, I started to wonder if anything in my life would ever be important to myself let alone anyone else. When would my life not be compared to yours? When would my problems not be overshadowed by yours? Now that you’ve had cancer everything seems so minor. If my appendix burst right this minute my first thought would be “at least it’s not cancer.”

How are any of us supposed to have a bad day when you beat cancer? How is any life changing event supposed to change anything when you could have died from cancer?

I can’t find a full time job. At least you don’t have full time cancer.

My friends are all in New York. At least your friends don’t have cancer.

My cat pooped over the side of her litter box. At least she didn’t poop cancer.

I mean, come on already. What do I have to do around here to get some sympathy?! Well, you could get- SHUT UP!

And here’s the thing, the entire time I’m writing this and I know the entire time you’re reading this, we’re laughing. What on earth do we have to laugh about? That I’m slightly jealous of your cancer and you’re slightly jealous of me not having work every day?

If there is anything that mom taught us and taught us well, it’s that there is ALWAYS something really funny in everything. And if it wasn’t for that, well, we’d have nothing.

For every little sister who feels ignored, for every big sister who’s always had to help, and for every tired mother who refuses to choose, your problems, your worries, and your disappointments are never yours alone. We share it all. We share a laugh. We share a heart. 10339640_10152464146028092_5578394802688100569_n

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Time

Don’t start. I know it already. It’s been too long. I’ve been slacking and I’m not proud of myself. When I started this blog, I wanted to try my very best to make it the one thing I stuck with from beginning to, well, there really is no end. And that’s what brought me back here today, Sunday, July 20, 2014.

On August 31 you’ll celebrate your one-year anniversary.

This September 10th will mark a year since Fil and I made the move to Portland, ME.

And on October 2nd I’ll sit down at the table for my morning coffee where I sat a year ago and cried after mom called to say, “I have some bad news.”

I was sitting there, Fil wasn’t quite home yet. I had just gotten off the phone and Butch, our maintenance man, arrived to fix our stove. I offered him water and though I thought I could hide it, when he saw the tears in my eyes he sighed and said, “We’ll get ‘er fixed, hon. Won’t take long.”

Once Fil arrived, we sat at the table and held hands while Butch fixed our shitty little stove. Thinking it over, I wonder if Butch really thought that’s what I was crying over. It would explain why he’s so quick to come switch the breakers each time I blow a fuse.

I was in the car with Shannen today, heading to the Yarmouth Clam Festival. Yeah, that’s a thing here.  I could tell Shannen was out of it. She’s usually upbeat and chatty. Today she just wanted to ride, so I let her. I cranked up the country and we drove.  An hour in the wrong direction to be truthful.  After a while I asked Shannen what was up. How she was feeling?

“I feel like I’m in limbo.”

“Limbo?”

“I feel like I’m not going anywhere. Nothing is happening for me.”

I thought about it for a minute. I’m getting better at holding onto my thoughts and articulating them when the time is right.

“Shannen, I think we’re all used to things happening very fast in our generation. And I think we might be at a spot, you know, after high school, after college, when things might start slowing down for us. And I think it’s okay to let it slow down.”

She shook her head, not really satisfied, but I was. I took that hour drive going the wrong way to really think about the passage of time.

Just yesterday mom told me, “Fil will be home before you know it. Everything just goes so quickly anymore.” And that was really telling. Momma has come to a point where her life is picking up pace again. She see’s her eldest daughter married with a baby girl and her youngest living ten hours away and teaching. Gram and Pap are getting older, though Gram would hate that it’s in writing now, published for anyone in the world to see, but it is true. We’re all getting older, but it’s mom, it’s gram, it’s pap who see it. Why? Because one minute they see a bald, chubby little towhead and the next minute Paige has flipped her Barbie Jeep from driving too fast.

Time. It’s a tricky little bastard, huh? Some days it feels like it’s not moving at all as you stare at your ceiling fan, wondering if you’ll ever pass your permit test and how the hell did Jeri get her permit before you when she’s like seven months younger, and if you don’t pass it, how will you ever leave Martinsburg??? And other days you’re sitting in your apartment with your cat and your things and your bills and wondering how in the hell will you ever pay for new tires so you can get back to Martinsburg???

Time. That bastard.

It won’t feel like a year ago to me. I’m not sure it will ever feel like it’s in the past. Cancer isn’t an old boyfriend.  Well, except for that one Italian guy. He was a real tumor, but that’s another story…

Cancer will never be in our past. It will never be history. We will never talk about it in terms of “remember that time you had cancer?” Not you, mom, or I. It will always be part of our present. We will always be on the watch and there will always be that tiny bit of fear. Yesterday I was  reminded to schedule my yearly OBGYN appointment and this year I will be requesting my first mammogram, really making breast cancer a part of my own present.

This week mom will have the BRCA test and we will finally know whether or not this was a coincidence or simply fate. And if it was fate, if it is fate, we will be ready this time.

October 2nd will mark the day you were diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago and the day my stove broke. Things have never been quite the same since, but I’ll tell you one thing….

This morning I made one mean BLT.

Love,

Liv

 

 

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Home and Happiness

“I hate it here. I absolutely hate it here,” said my thirteen-year-old self, staring my mother straight in the eye. This certainly wasn’t her first round with an angst-ridden teenage girl. I can recall sitting ringside for a few fights between her and my sister. “In this corner, Aubrey, weighing in at 115 lbs, who just threw out an entire jar of mayonnaise. Annnd in the other corner, Momma Glo, weighing in at 130 lbs, who bought said mayonnaise and is madder than hell.” I’ll give it to my sister, her jabs were sharp, direct, and though she was quick tongued, Momma, master of the bob and weave, usually ended the fight with a knockout blow of “Go to your room.”

But this fight between my mother and I was different. I didn’t so much care about expiration dates in the refrigerator or going to the really-awesome-everyone-else-is-going-I’ll-be-a-loser-if-I-don’t birthday party, at least not yet anyway. This fight was caused by my unadulterated, persistent dislike for my hometown, The Cove. As many of you know, having grown up there yourselves, The Cove is a small, often forgotten valley containing four boroughs: Roaring Spring, Martinsburg, Woodbury, and Williamsburg. We have a grocery store, Giant Eagle, referred to as Big Bird by locals, two ice cream stops, Ritchey’s or Stock’s, which no one in Cove history has vocally expressed preference over one or the other. That just wouldn’t be right. And we have cows. We have a plethora of cows, readers. So many cows that everyone’s child’s first word is cow, and your first word was cow, and your daddy’s first word was cow, who was taught the word by your grandaddy, whose first word was cow.

Pennsylvania roads

Pennsylvania roads

At thirteen all I wanted was to move away from The Cove to New York City, where I would be on Broadway, live in a brownstone, and eat a fresh bagel every morning with my mocha-choca-yoyo-leroy-brown-bada-bing latte. I lived and breathed New York. When playing MASH with friends I would only give one option for PLACE TO LIVE, New York. When playing Barbies, mine was always visiting  from New York. When given Christmas money I cut a whole in the lid of an old UTZ Pretzel jar and declared it my fund for New York. All I ever wanted was to leave The Cove for New York and when my mother finally confronted me, asking why I was so desperately unhappy all of the time, why I didn’t want to go outside, why I watched the same Liza Minnelli movies over and over again, why the show Friends was more important to me than actually making them, I looked her dead in the eye and said, “Because I hate The Cove and I can’t wait to leave and never come back.” I listed my reasons, I gave her my five year notice, and promised that I’d be out of her hair just as soon as I found an apartment for $20 a month. My mom stood still for a long time, looking out at the backyard her and my stepfather had worked so hard mulching that day. The  dog was sun bathing with the cat, kid’s laughter rang through the air from the park, and the smell of burgers and garden zucchini drifted by. She crouched down, eye-level to me, pushed back my sun-bleached hair and said,”There’s no sense waiting for happiness, Olivia. A place is not going to make you happy, a person is not going to make you happy. You have one job and it’s to be happy. If you can’t do it here, I’m not sure where you will.” And with that she patted my head and went inside, the dog and cat close behind with a “Hmmph, yeah, what she said.”

That moment comes to mind so often anymore. From my first night at SUNY Purchase, five hours from home, where kids listened to Johnny Cash as a nouveau-hipster trend not because “Walk the Line” is considered a hymn in their homes, to my first apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where I met my first cockroach family, learned the meaning of “hot and humid,” and cried myself to sleep.

My four years in New York went by in a flash and I honestly did everything I set out to. I attended Broadway shows, met some amazing playwrights, took on a big internship, wrote my own play, wrote a short film, lived in Brooklyn, learned the subways, had a mocha-choca-yoyo-leroy-brown-bada-bing latte, and fell in love. Wait, no. Nope, that last one wasn’t in the plan. I’m pretty sure I didn’t save all of my lifeguarding money for you to move to NYC and fall in love with a Russian. WHAT? Hold on, wait a minute. The only man you were supposed to possibly fall in love with in NYC was a deeply disturbed creative, who would set eyes on you and find that you and only you were the muse he’s been searching for all of his life, and you and only you could release him from his artistic shackles that have bound him to mediocrity. Hello! A Russian filmmaker? Simmer down, thirteen. You weren’t exactly listed under “Winning Best Cinematography” on his “When I Grow Up” plan either. But, believe me, you couldn’t be happier and you realized it about five days ago.

Last Friday was the first day in the last few weeks that Fil and I kept entirely to ourselves. We woke up late, made breakfast, worked on a puzzle, drank beer, and made Pad Thai. It was absolutely perfect and will hold as one of the best days of  my life. It wasn’t because I was in a big city or because we achieved fairytale status, certainly not. It was because there with cheap beer, a mean little tabby cat, and damp clothes hanging on our windows and chairs because we ran out of quarters, it was there when I realized exactly what my mother meant 11 years ago. Nothing and no one was going to make me happy until I found my happiness myself and I have. I find it everyday in my writing, my students, my cobblestone streets, my neighbor’s laughter, my friends, my family, and I find it when I think of being back home in The Cove, sitting on the front porch, letting time stop.

I still have a ways to go when it comes to happiness. I can’t be happy every day. There are times when I miss my mom, dad, Dan, and my sister so much that it hurts. Just last night I thought of my family and couldn’t help but cry. I miss them so much. I miss The Cove, I miss Hemlock Hill, and at times I miss the past, but for the first time I’m missing it all and still completely happy. I wouldn’t change a thing.

So, Momma, dust off that New York City fund and send it on up here. We have to buy new tires. :D

 

 

 

 

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Boob Post

Readers, we’re talking boobs here, so if you can’t handle le boobée sujet (sorry, Ms. Wilson, French was not my strong suit), then don’t you dare speak, just forever hold your peace and get off this blog.

This coming Monday you head back to Pittsburgh. It’s not for a check up, a decision, or chemo. This time it’s the beginning of the end, what all of this has been leading up to; the first of a double mastectomy. Monday morning you’ll wake up with both of your God given, got-‘em-from-our-momma breasts and that evening you’ll rest soundly, a little closer to peace.

When I told you I was starting my “boob post,” you asked if it would be about fake breasts. Well, no. I don’t have a problem with fake breasts. I’d quite fancy a pair myself, but Fil assures me it is unnecessary. Just as I have assured him that dating James Franco is not a necessity. Ah, the gives and takes of love. You then asked if it would be about the “hype” of them. Well, no, again. I, as anyone, applaud a great pair of boobs. I applaud a small pair of boobs. I applaud my own boobs. All boobs. Let’s have a round of applause for boobs!

This post isn’t a criticism, a personal essay, or an opportunity to express how unfortunate it is that nature should give me, a woman, breasts that heterosexual men, by nature, should admire. None of that. Nada. You know me. I don’t have time for it. This post is to make you smile. That’s all it’s ever been meant to do. Hell, I think that’s all I ever wanted to do. To make my big sister smile or laugh has been a life ambition since the day I knew I could. And you know something? I’ll never achieve it because I could never make you laugh long or hard enough. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. And the fact that we have the same laugh…yeah. That makes it 10 times better.

These operations have been looming over us for some time now. You’ve been battling for months and your troops are wearing thin, but hold out. Hold out just a little longer. Long enough for a healthy recovery, long enough to come back bigger, better, and stronger (not your boobs, you.)

I can tell you’re tired by the way you refer to it nowadays. Rarely do you mention it, if ever. You’re worn out and it’s okay. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. It’s okay if you’re sick of hearing, “a friend of mine went through the same thing…” Yeah? Well, we are one big happy club, huh? It doesn’t have to be a part of your every day. It doesn’t have to be a part of you and after Monday, it won’t be.

I’ve never been that worried about you, you know that? You’ve always held your own. I was the delicate one. I was the one mom worried about when it came to love, life, and the real world. Not you. You were in the real world before the real world knew you were real. Always matter-of-fact with life. Just like today when I asked, “Are you getting nervous?” “No. I don’t think about it. Gotta do it to keep it from coming back.” “Oh. Yeah. That makes sense. Uhm, so…how’s the weather?” I mean, you really leave no room for discussion sometimes. But, I love that about you. I’ve always loved how you just roll on. Life is what it is. You never get too worked up about it, but you sure as hell know how to cherish it.

No, I’m not worried about you. Not at all. The only thing I ask is that a few days from now, when you’re alone and see yourself for the first time, for the first time without your left breast, tell the woman looking back at you how incredibly gorgeous she is and always will be. Tell her how strong she was through all of this. Tell her how happy she makes her husband and how proud she makes her little girl. Tell my big sister that she’s my hero and my best friend.

During my mystic boob research, yes, mystic boob research, you read right, I found that there were two sisters who ruled the Amazons together: Lampedo and Marpesia. Together these sisters formed an army of women after their men were killed off by Scythians. The widows of both tribes merged together and worked for peace, but raised their daughters to be warriors, usually binding the right breast for archery. This is where Amazon, “A” meaning “without” and “mazos” meaning breast, comes from. I love Wikipedia.

After reading that, I realized you are my Lampedo and I am your Marpesia. Together they raised a tribe of women who met the demands of life with ferocity and took no prisoners-well they would mate with men once a year, but you get the idea.

You, sister, are now among the Amazons. You’re a queen. A goddess. Your strength matches any army’s and I am so honored to be always by your side in battle.

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Much love,

Liv

 

 

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Your strength…

A few months ago I wrote a post addressing the fears you may encounter and the fears you already have. Today I want to acknowledge the courage you demonstrated that eased our fears. 

Sister, for years you have been hero, my guide, my best friend. You taught me respect and the meaning of love. Respect by way of correcting my wrongs, whether they had been hurting momma, friends, or myself. Love by confessing once that you didn’t know why people love who they do, just that they can’t help it.Today you’ve taught me courage. Today you’ve taught me that life is so much greater than ourselves, our pride, and our fears. I guess you’ve been teaching me that all along.

I’d been filled with anger for quite some time. Maybe I was born with it, maybe it’s a Gunn thing (Dad would blame the Scots.) But, that craving for someone to say the wrong thing, to hurt me or someone I love was starting to wear on me. I’d become suspicious even paranoid of any new face or friend. I wanted something to react to. I wanted something to hurt. Throughout high school and college I wore my heart on my sleeve as bait, hoping someone would take it and wreck it, just so I could wear the badge. But, that never happened. Instead I was the one hurting friends and myself.

I remember one Christmas you calling and raising hell because I had given mom attitude about helping with the dinner. Mom always called you in for re-enforcement when the threat of calling Gram or Dad didn’t work. You were her calvary, her Green Berets. You told me that I’d better knock it off, whatever little crap I was going through, and help mom because you were stuck in Cincinnati and would give anything to be baking cookies with your mom. Today I’d give anything to be holding your hand and hugging you both.

You’ve always put things into perspective for me, showed the bigger picture, revealed how small my current crisis was. You never gave in to gossip or cheap talk, said you didn’t have time for it. I remember calling you one night after a friend said something stupid about my dad, a dumb joke. I had tried to talk to mom, but she didn’t quite understand, so I ran upstairs to my bed and called you at college. I was crying and told you I felt humiliated. You laughed and explained how small that person was to be concerned with anything other than their own. You reminded me how great my dad was and how lucky we all were. I passed that person the next day and I swear they could hear my armor clinking.

Today, when I think back on how frustrated I was growing up in our small town, never really having an outlet, except for the giant plywood board under my bed I used for tap dancing, I feel so ashamed of the self pity. I guess all teenagers are guilty of it. Feeling like you have the WORST parents, you have the MOST zits, you get to do the LEAST amount of stuff, etc., but I don’t remember you really complaining when we were growing up. Sure, you still had the normal teenage angst, but for all that you really had to put up with, you never made a single wave. You’d just accept things for what they were and move on. I guess some would say you held too much in. I’m sure some shrink could find a way of making some “ism” out of it, but to be quite honest, you’re just too tough for that. You were a tough kid and today you’re one tough woman.

When we found out about your cancer, that anger I had learned to burry peaked out of its cave. It’s like that three-headed dog from Harry Potter, slobbering and stinking. Thankfully, with the help of Fil and some plain old growing up, I’ve learned to ignore the barks.  But, when mom called to tell me the news, there wasn’t a song loud enough to drown out that dog. I got so irritated and mad. Didn’t want to talk about anything, got mad when mom would call crying, got mad when Fil would see my eyes watering. Just mad, damn it. Then I started to write this blog and at first I thought it would be for you. I was going to help you through treatments, long days, and nights. Instead this blog was really about me. You all know I can talk an ear off, but ask me what I’m really, really feeling inside and you might as well go talk to a brick wall. I get all flushed and embarrassed. Feelings…oy. Here I’m able to talk to you. Ask you how you’re feeling. Tell you how I’m feeling. Tell you really how much I love you and what you mean to me. Maybe it’s not right, maybe I should be able to say it more, but when I’m talking my words kinda stumble over themselves like people trying to escape a smelly elevator. Writing is my outlet and I am so thankful for you allowing me to write this. 

Your courage has pulled us all through this hell. Not once have you complained. Not once have you stopped. The rest of us could have cried from day one on if you’d let us. “Poor Abby, poor me, poor us.” That would have done no good. Instead you continued to roll on. You were there for your daughter and husband, your mother and father, and you were there for me. Through every treatment and every test, you were there for all of us. Thank you, sister.

One of my favorite books is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read it a few summers ago after my Aunt Patty told me I should. She was right. It’s an amazing book. My favorite quote from it was,”I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.” Steinbeck is talking about you there. He most certainly was talking about you!

Congratulations, sister.You did it!

I love you,

Liv

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Polar Dive For Children’s Cancer

Hello Readers!

So about a week ago Fil and I decided we would jump into the ocean to celebrate our 2 year anniversary, which is today. Just last night Fil was informed of a Polar Dive that benefits Maine Children’s Cancer Program, so we’ve decided what better way to celebrate??? We have exactly 1 day to raise as much money as we can!! We will be jumping for Abby! Pictures will be provided tomorrow!!! Wish us luck! The link is above if you wish to donate!

Much love,

Liv

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February 14, 2014 · 11:10 AM

My sister’s cancer…

I woke up this morning wrapped in blanket after blanket, looking like a nibbled corn dog with my round face peering out. “I’m sick,” I groaned as Fil snuggled close. After a night of Nyquil ramblings, this was something he’d already assumed. “I was at a fire last night. Whole house burned to the ground.” “Mmmm.” “I’m making an apple cobbler for breakfast.” “Mmmm.” “I’ll be back.” And off he went to the store, leaving me to fight the common cold.

“My head is stuffy,” I texted momma, hoping for more than an update of last night’s headlines. “Oh no. Well, your sister has a sore throat and a cough and is burning up inside and she can’t get cool and her skin is getting dry and rashey AND your niece wants a unicorn valentine box.” And with that I rolled over and shrunk back into my cornbread coating.

The single most impressive event of my day will eclipse all others, leaving me campaigning for it up and down my social block, but I’m almost always shocked when no one else seems remotely affected. “I’m sick, Bagheera,” and with the glare of one eye she’s back to sleep.

“I’m sick, mom.” “Cancer.”

“I’m sick, Fil.” “House fire.”

“I’m sick, self.” “Me too.”

This Thursday my sister goes in for the BRCA test, which will determine which operation she will undergo. Momma has been thinking about it a lot the past few weeks. It’s really all she can talk about, which doesn’t bother me, only I feel so detached from the whole thing.

I don’t see my sister’s bald head. I don’t see her dry skin or the bags under her eyes. I don’t see the hot flashes and sleepless nights. Instead I just hear from her and when we’re texting back and forth, it’s usually not about cancer. She likes to hear about the articles I’m writing or the bars where I’m drinking. I hate to say it, but I’ve kinda gotten used to the idea of my sister having cancer, it’s never really news to me. Please, don’t freak out! I’m not saying that cancer is something you grow accustomed to like aunthood, the snow, or an antique barrel turned side table (ehem, Filipp,) but when you’re an outsider looking in, when you’re the shoulder, the friend, the chemo partner (We love you, Brandi!), no matter how affected you are by it, it’s not your cancer. It’s your friend’s cancer, your wife’s cancer, your daughter’s cancer, my sister’s cancer.

I really doubt my sister feels territorial over it, and by no means would she pull a, “Well my cancer’s bigger than your cancer,” but with all the fuss we’ve made over it: the blog, the newsletter updates, the Facebook posts, and the easy conversation topic (yes, I’ve used the cancer card, don’t you judge me!), you really would think it was everyone else who had cancer.

Here’s an update for all of us- it isn’t.

It’s my sister’s cancer. It’s Abby’s cancer. Abby lost her hair. Abby can’t sleep at night. Abby has to call the doctor at the inkling of a damn itchy throat.

It is Abby’s cancer, but she isn’t Cancer’s Abby. She doesn’t belong to it and it can’t claim her. She is ours! She is Chad’s wife, Momma’s daughter, Paigey’s mommy, Linda’s niece, Gram and Pap’s grandbaby, Brandi’s best friend, and my sister!

We all fight for Abby because not a day goes by that the thought of her doesn’t exceed the best or worst moments of our day. There is nothing today that could be as great and wonderful were it to happen when Abby is cancer free. That was a mouthful. What I mean is that every good thing that occurs will be twice as good when the cancer is gone and every negative thing that happens never feels as bad as first hearing the diagnosis.

Here’s to my sister’s cancer. Thank you for making light of my common cold, my event, my moment.

I’m off to the craft store. I’ve got a unicorn valentine box to build.

Much love,

Liv

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