Category Archives: disaster

Lessons in Compassion: A Weekend Experience In Three Parts.

It’s 2 am on Sunday night/Monday morning, depending on you schedule.As a chronic insomnia sufferer, I see this as Sunday night.  Your results may vary.

This weekend, I attended, in an official capacity, the Curve Nation Expo held in Orlando, Florida.  I was there along with the Editor in Chief of POSE Magazine, Tiffany Jones Keaton, as the media sponsors of the event.  When I got there Friday afternoon, the hotel check in was one big cluster f*ck.  Nothing major or radically life altering, mind you, just the silliness we have all experienced when checking into a hotel that is not necessarily prepared for a huge influx of customers ranging from your average traveler, to one of several family reunions in attendance, along with multiple conference attendees.  “Guaranteed” 4pm check in time at the International Palms Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida on International drive turned out to be more of a “suggested time” as opposed to a guaranteed time.  I didn’t get my room until 5 pm and due to lack of  communication by the staff, I was never called (as promised) by the front desk when my room was ready, nor did I get my luggage brought to my room until 6 pm.  Again, nothing earth shattering.  More of an annoyance if anything.  However, it seemed to foreshadow what would end up one of the worst experiences I’d ever had in any hotel in my 48 well-traveled years of life.

DISCLAIMER: I want to STRONGLY clarify that what you are about to read has NO REFLECTION on Curve Nation whatsoever. They are not responsible in the slightest for the events that unfolded. That blame is squarely on the hotel and hotel staff. The staff of Curve Nation are comprised of a group of AMAZING, caring and benevolent people who probably saved my life and my faith in human beings as a whole. This goes for the attendees of the expo as well.

I had a wonderful time Friday afternoon and Friday night, gathering with all these beautiful plus sized ladies and gentlemen.  I made some really great connections with fabulous people.  Numbers and hugs were freely exchanged during this early stage of weekend solidarity.  Vendors were shopped.  Glasses were raised.  Dancing and hilarity ensued and I was truly geared up for a weekend of not just work, but fun and friendship.  I was privy to watching these gorgeous women walk the runway, preparing for Saturday nights fashion show event.  I learned so much watching these confident beauties strut their stuff.  I was mentored by a woman who is a staple in the plus size pageant circuit. Ms Plus America 2004, Debbie Shannon, on how to walk for shows.  I got to engage with some of the models and we partied as though we have all known each other for years, because for many of us, we have known each other for years either as professionals or acquaintances on Facebook, Twitter and various other social media platforms.  Instagram memories were made and already, the promise of a fabulous weekend was in place.

Saturday morning, I attended a lecture by plus sized model,actress and event hostess Rosie Mercado, who shared with us her back story on all the trials and tribulations she went through before achieving the success and fame she has now.  I got to hug up on the Mogul Diva herself, Ms. Gwen DeVoe, Founder of Full Figured Fashion Week in NYC, who I had just interviewed for POSE Magazine only a couple of months earlier. (Click link to read the interview!)  She gave a fabulous seminar as well that had all of us laughing and raising our hands and voices in testimony.  I met amazingly talented photographers, bloggers, models and designers; all who embraced me immediately as the new Feature Editor of POSE Magazine.  I met the Double Divas themselves, Molly Hopkins and Cynthia Richards of LiviRae Lingerie.  You couldn’t ask for more down to earth people.  What you see on their television show is completely unscripted.  They are exactly who they are in real life.   And of course, the entire staff of Curve Nation, CEO Devine (who I stupidly referred to as “Dee-Vine” as opposed to “Dev-in-nay”, which is the correct pronunciation…proving that I, too, can be a real idiot on occasion) and his other staff members who were so gracious and wonderful hosts.

Basically, I was in plus sized heaven…until lunchtime.

Saturday afternoons horror story began with a simple text from Tiffany that merely said, “lunch!”  Yes.  Downtime.  We were going to have a break.  A lovely buffet was set out and of course, I partook.  The food was unmarked…meaning, there was no explanation of what each food item was, let alone a description of ingredients.  Having severe food allergies, I inquired if anything contained nuts, specifically, a pasta dish which looked to me to be penne pasta with an alfredo sauce.  A woman behind me inquired of one of the bus boys who was bringing out the dishes, what each item was.  I eavesdropped cautiously, listening to him tell her what the items were.  I even forewarned another woman that I knew had a shellfish allergy, that I had heard the stuffed mushrooms contained crab meat and told her to forego that dish.  But, when I went to help myself to some pasta alfredo, I noticed that there was what resembled perhaps minced garlic in the pasta.  I asked the busboy, what is in this dish.  He said, “pasta and cheese”.  The woman behind me said, are there nuts in that?  Of course, I listened attentively.  “No, no.  No nuts.  Pasta and cheese.”  Okay.  So I took a scoop and proceeded to join Tiffany in the banquet room with several other conference attendees and some staff of Curve Nation.  I took a bite of this dish and instantly, I felt that old familiar itching in my throat that I feel when I come in contact with an allergen.  I drank a sip of water after swallowing the food…and felt fine for the moment.  Then, I took another bite, just as my throat started to close.  I immediately whispered, hoarsely to Tiffany…”Nuts.  Are there nuts?”  That’s all I could manage as a spit that second bite out of my mouth, drank some water that barely got down my throat.  The wheezing began.  I felt light headed, faint, dizzy.  My body started to get covered in big red hives.  I pulled out my epi pen (never without it!) and my inhaler.  Immediately, the women around me recognized I was in serious trouble.

Each woman at that table, under Tiffany’s cool and calm delegation ran for specific things.  One woman, Talya, ran for ice water and ice.  Another ran for the hotel manager.  A third ran to her room for HER epi pen (should I need a second dose), another still ran for some Claritin and another still (whom I believe was Devine’s mother) ran to locate some Benadryl.  A fifth woman ran to find out what exactly was in the food I ate as different allergies need to be treated specifically.  As I was slowly losing the ability to breath at all, a man came in and the women all shouted, FIND HER SOME BENADRYL QUICKLY!  He ran out, well, rather, walked out…and came back shortly empty handed.  “We don’t have any benadryl.”  Simultaneously, the group of women screamed at him, “YOU HAVE A GIFT SHOP!  GET HER SOME DAMN BENADRYL FROM THE GIFT SHOP.”  He disappeared again.   The rest of that moment was a blur to me.  I was losing the ability to breath rapidly.  My eyes were swelling shut.  My lips were bloating to Angelina Jolie proportions.  What I do remember is Devine’s mother grabbing whatever packet of Benadryl this man finally did retrieve out of his hand and running it to me, quite irritated by this man’s lack of urgency.  The Benadryl packet was expired, but I took them anyway.  At this point, the front desk manager, Sarah, came in…again, the same lack of urgency, casually saying, “Someone told me that someone can’t breathe in here?  What’s going on?”

At this point, Tiffany (Tip) took over and demanded to know who Sarah’s boss was and to get them on the phone RIGHT NOW as they really dropped the ball allowing this young woman, the front desk manager, to be in charge of the entire hotel while the general managers were no where to be found.  I didn’t get to hear all of the conversation as I was in and out of a state of awareness, but I do know that Tip gave her a very calm but extremely firm mouthful about how this entire situation was handled, rather, a lack thereof.

NOBODY called 911.  No one.  This was the STAFF’S responsibility as the women were far too busy taking immediate care of my situation, placing ice packs on my swelling throat, dispensing my medications, retrieving my inhaler, trying to keep my calm.  When Sarah DID return, it was with a lecture on how they are not allowed to dispense medications to the customers.  Honey, no one asked you to dispense…we just asked you to GET SOME.  However, what she DID manage to do was hand me an incident report form and casually stating that I would need to fill this out.  Sister, I’m dying in front of your eyes.  Are you seriously handing me a FORM to fill out?   The chef never came in to tell us what the allergen in the food was.  The busboys proceeded to bus all the tables surrounding us, but never once coming to where we were to offer cold water, a cool rag, ice packs, SOMETHING???   The lack of compassion from this hotel was abhorrent.  2 hours later, my wheezing had stopped.  At some point, the members of Curve Nation’s team had located two nurses who happened to be attending the conference.  These women stayed with me the entire time, keeping a watchful eye on my breathing, my swollen face, my ability to speak, etc.  They regaled me with funny stories to keep me calm.  Other people from the conference came back often to check on me.  I was feeling better, although my left eye looked like I had taken a punch to the face from Mike Tyson.

swollen eye

However, I attempted to be a trooper and try to attend the 3 pm conference given by blogger Kelly Glover of “Big Curvy Love”. (If you aren’t reading her blog, you should be. She’s HILARIOUS!)  By midway through her conference, I started to feel sick again so I left.  I went to the front desk to speak with Sarah and tell her how disappointed I was that NO ONE from the hotel staff seemed remotely concerned that one of their customers nearly dropped dead in their banquet hall and that her show of concern merely consisted of making sure I filled out a liability and insurance form.  At the moment I approached the desk, she was apparently giving report to the night manager, Kenny.  The look of alarm on his face when he saw mine immediately gave me the impression that had HE been in charge during the day, I would have been substantially better cared for.

Her reply to me was “Well, you were definitely a learning curve for us.  Next time, we will do much better.”

NEXT TIME????

My reply?  “Is that what you think I want to hear?  How NEXT TIME you will do better?  How about, labeling the food that it may contain nuts or other allergens?  How about, when you ask kitchen staff if there are nuts in a meal, that they know to ask the CHEF who made it, instead of just asserting that it was just “pasta and cheese”?  How about the bartenders who were standing RIGHT THERE offer me a bottle of water?  How about you doing something more than handing me an insurance claim form?  How about the fact that it takes merely common sense to know that you should call 911 immediately, ask questions later.  My 5 year old granddaughter could handle that?  How about you show some concern and stay in the room, at very least?”

She replies, “Well, what can we do to make you more comfortable now?”

“Well, for starters? You could have asked that question about 3 hours ago.”

The conversation was going no where very quickly…and I recognized that.  This girl could give Malificent a run for her money when it comes to being an ice queen.  Not an ounce of compassion.  Nothing but a big wide eyed stare at me.  At this point, Mr. Kenny, the night manager about to adopt this nonsense into his lap looked at her and said, “Well, it’s not much at this point, but perhaps we can offer Ms. Cher for her stay to be comped.  Ma’am, is there ANYTHING else I can do for you, right now?  Some cold water?  Some food?  What can we do for you?”

I thanked him, profusely, for even the gesture…and let Sarah know, these are the things you say to someone who has just been through a very traumatic experience under your leadership in this hotel.  No, I don’t need anything else, but I truly appreciate that you asked me.

From there, I went to the hotel gift shop to purchase eye drops, Benadryl (the non expired sort) and a box of Claritin.  I paid the $40 in medication and as I was walking out, Mr. Kenny was walking past.  He said to me, “did you need something?  I am so sorry about this.  I am so sorry no one took care of you.”  His eyes showed nothing but compassion and concern.  This lifted me tremendously.  I told him, no, I’m okay now…I just went to go buy some medicine so I have it upstairs with me, in case I have trouble later.  He looked genuinely appalled that I had purchased all this medication on my own dime and said, let’s give that receipt to Sarah for reimbursement.  There is no reason that our hotel caused this to happen to you and you should be responsible for these purchases.  Again, money can’t fix it…but the GESTURE in compassion once more lifted me.  

Around 6 pm, I started to get up from a nap, only to realize I was experiencing what is known as biphasic anaphylaxis, which means, my symptoms had actively started up again.  Now, both eyes were swollen shut.  I was wheezing profusely again.  I attempted valiantly to try to get dressed to fulfill my obligations to Tip to be there as her social media person and get to the Fashion Show to do my job.  By 7:30 when the show started, I had to admit defeat. I just couldn’t do it.  My feet were so swollen I could barely walk.  My eyes were slammed shut.  Every move I had made to dress caused my respiration to slow down again.  I took some more Benadryl, some Claritin, readied my second epipen just in case, put drops in my eyes and sent Tip a voice mail apologizing profusely that I simply could not be there.  Again, she was understanding, loving and told me to rest…but please, if my symptoms got worse, get myself to a hospital and text her that I was going.  I went to sleep.

At 10 pm, I heard a knock on my door.  Tip had gotten locked out of her room, her phone was dead, she needed her charger to continue working and photographing the fashion show (my JOB!) but her key card was not working.  The engineers could not get into her room.  Our room in the tower suite was very far from the main building where the new key cards could be made, but even after the engineer showed up with a new key card, she was still unable to get in.  I gave her my cellphone and told her, just go back to the fashion show.  I will wait her until your door gets opened, get your charger, charge your phone up for you.  When it’s done, I will get it to you.  I waited outside her room for an additional 20 minutes beyond the 20 minutes that SHE was waiting for someone to show up and let her into her room.  Mr. Kenny ended up showing up at her room and looked perplexed at what I was doing there.  I explained what happened.  He looked so visibly upset that this new situation involved me as well…that I tried to put him at ease by making a joke.

“You know, out of ALL the people staying in this hotel…you guys managed to knock out the only TWO people who were here in an official media sponsor capacity for this fashion show.  You really should have been in Vegas this weekend, Kenny, because those are some CRAZY odds.”

Despite himself, he laughed.  Shortly after I got Tip’s phone running, Mr. Kenny returned to my room at the behest of my husband who called the front desk from Tampa (he had to work over the weekend and could not attend the conference with me) asking him to please, send up some ice water to my room.  Not only did he show up with the ice water, but also with a bucket of ice and a turkey sandwich that he assured me was prepared by his own hands, NOT in the banquet hall’s kitchen, but rather, in the deli area, safely away from any cross contaminates that could have harmed me.  I was so grateful, that I think I probably would have cried (mind you, I had not eaten a THING but those two deadly bites of pasta, one which never even made it to my stomach) had my eyes not been swollen shut.  I told him, “You know, on Monday, I am going to read the General Manager of this hotel the riot act for what happened here, but, that said?  I am going to sing your praises so loudly because out of everyone in this entire hotel…YOU were the only one who showed me an ounce of compassion.  And, you weren’t even here when this happened.  I appreciate you so much, Kenny.  I really do.”

There was a moment.  A palpable moment that you could feel between two human beings, strangers, who genuinely were concerned with each other.  He, for my health.  Me, for his job…as it seemed so inherently unfair that he adopted any of this situation at all because Sarah had dropped the ball.

Part two of this story?  The manager above Sarah, but below the GM, Vicky, comes to my room for a conference at the behest of Tip.  She said, “You know, you owe my friend Cher and her husband an explanation as to WHY these events unfolded the way they did.  You owe that to her, her husband and her children.  They almost lost her.”

The statement Vicky makes in front of us at that point will make your jaw drop.

To be continued in “Lessons of Compassion Part Two: More than Words”.

Stay tuned.

Getting through…

My friend, Robin, pointed out that I wrote a comment  on a blog post regarding the death of my friend, Derek.   The comment was “Why do people come into our lives if it is only their intention to leave?” She said that comment shredded her, as she often feels the same way.  I tried to back my thoughts up to five years ago, in reflection of why I might have said that.   It was a comment made in the midst of grief, but it is a question for the ages.  Why do people come in, allow us to get attached to them and then, suddenly, they are erased from our lives?  Death, estrangement or just a simple case of growing in different directions.  People that you love just sometimes…go away.

I told her, people come into our lives to teach you lessons.  Lessons that are either great or small.  Everyone has an expiration date in the lives of others.  Whether it is due to physical loss or emotional detachment, we all run our course.  There are friends I needed long ago that I just don’t need any longer.  They were there for their reason at the time.  To support me, to love me, to be by my side while I went through something or for me to be there for them.  People I thought would be in my life forever suddenly vanished.  But, when I look back on it…it was a moment in time that bonded us.  Something we shared.  Something that we related to and we needed each other to figure out the equation.  Once the problem was solved…it was time to move on, for both of us…or just one of us.

But when one is not ready for that sudden absentia, it leaves pain in its wake.

And questions.  Lots and lots of questions.

I am no stranger to loss.  I have lost a great number of people in my life from death.  I have lost a parent.  I have lost a child.  I have lost friends who I thought I could never survive without.  I have lost pets who were like children to me and I grieved them more ferociously and vehemently than I have some actual human family members. 

It’s never an easy process.   Ever.

I have become nearly superstitious when it comes to death.  I won’t let any one leave my house without saying “I love you” before they go.  We could be in the middle of a heated fight…and if they leave my home without a hug or a kind word, my stomach always knots up.  I think, I am going to lose them now.  Now that we parted harshly, those words will be the last words we ever speak to each other.  I think this is because my last words to my friend Derek were “I’ll see you tomorrow…” when he asked me to please come out and hang out with him, and then, tomorrow never came for him.  Or, perhaps because the last words I ever said to my father were “I hate your fucking guts.  I never want to speak to you again.”

Guess what?  I didn’t ever get to speak to him again.  He died a week later.

So, it has become a life mission of mine to make sure that I never part harshly with any one.  I don’t think my heart could take another memory of someone leaving this world with the last thing having been said between us being something cold or hateful.  It’s a huge burden to live with and a bigger one to die with.  I find myself apologizing and justifying constantly to people who no longer walk this earth. 

“You know I didn’t mean that, right, Daddy?”

“I should have come out to see you, Derek.  I should have found a baby sitter.  Maybe you would still be here, if I had.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you goodbye, Snoop.  I’m sorry I was too busy to kiss you goodbye.”

I keep hoping for validation in a situation where I know I will never get any closure.

Of course my Dad knows I didn’t mean that.  I was a teenager.  19 years old.  I was angry with him because I needed help with something and, in form with the lousy father he was, he didn’t come through for me.  I think now…who really owes whom the apology?  Why aren’t YOU sorry that you didn’t do what I needed you to do for me?  Why was I constantly put in the position of begging you to be my father?  Why am I making myself feel perpetually guilty for saying such a terrible thing to you before you died.  I didn’t kill you.  YOU killed you.  YOU chose to get into a car, loaded up on drugs and alcohol, careening into an oncoming truck, potentially robbing the driver of that car of being a good dad to HIS four children.  He was probably a great dad, just out for the day, driving to or from his job so he could get home to his wife and kids that he valued.  YOU, Dad, were the bad guy in this scenario…so why am I feeling guilty?

Because words spoken cannot be unspoken.  Simply put, you can’t un-ring a bell.

And of course, Derek has forgiven me a million times for not having a baby sitter to go out on other nights.  So why is this one eating me up…getting the best of me?  Because this particular night…he killed himself.  How could I have possibly known that your request for my time was to be spent talking you out of ending your life?  You were a drug addict.  You put those drugs in your body.  You chose to take more than your body could handle.  You died.   I have to continue living knowing that if something would have changed that night, it could have altered the course of your life.  You might still be here. 

Then again, you might not.  And, as I always said, you were dying since the day you were born.

Only this time, you took my heart with you.

Why am I angry with myself, when you chose to make me walk in the pain of losing you over what I will only ever believe could have been “fixed” had I just been there.  Why shouldn’t I be mad at you, Derek, for causing me this never ending grief and turmoil over those last moments?

Why?  Because you’re not here.  I am.  And you can’t blame something that no longer exists.

So, how do you get through the guilt?  You don’t.  No matter how many times people say, “don’t blame yourself”, it’s hard not to.  It’s hard to gloss over the obvious…that the last things you said to these people are what you are going to have to live with.  It’s strange.  Most of us don’t even recall on a day to day basis what the last thing someone said to you was.  But, let that person die…and suddenly, you have no recollection of anything else but that.  I can scarcely remember any other words uttered between Derek and I, or my father and I, save for those last words.

Why do I only dwell on the fact that the day my precious dog, Snoop, passed away, I was too busy with work to give him a little pat on the head before he went to the kennel?  We were leaving for vacation that afternoon…and I was so busy playing catch up, I just yelled out, “Bye Snoops!”   I never got up from my desk to give him a hug and a kiss. 

And now, he’s gone too.

I can flip the switch on this, you know.  I can remember my best friend Norman dying.  I held his hand.  I kissed his lips, dry and cracked as they were, as he lay in a hospital bed while the leukemia ravaged his already small, frail body. He knew I loved him desperately and he said to me, “I’m not afraid, you know.”  I said, “I am.”  He said, “Don’t be.  It will be grand.  Gay pride day in Heaven, can you imagine?”  The vision he conjured in my mind of angels in rainbow wings and gold lame loin cloths made me laugh out loud.  He laughed too, and that laughter is what I remember.  That, and my husband leaning in to kiss him goodbye.  I will always remember those moments when I think of Norman. 

Then, there’s my grandmother.  I can remember stroking my grandmothers hair just a mere few months ago, her telling her that she loved me so much and patting my cheek.  I knew at that moment, I would likely never see her again.  She was so sick.  The dementia and the Alzheimers were eating her mind and body away slowly.   But I was there.  I held her.  She knew she was loved…and she was able to let go.  She usually asks me when I leave, “are you coming back soon?” to which I always reply, “Of course I am, silly.  I love you!”  But this time, she didn’t ask me.  She just smiled at me and went back to sleep.  Maybe she knew she was leaving…maybe I did.  I pulled a flower hair clip from my own hair, and put it in hers. 

Maybe that was our goodbye. I don’t know. 

The mind chooses to remember what it chooses to remember.  Sometimes it is terribly cruel.  Other times, it is graciously merciful. It shames me to say, I barely remember my son, those last moments before I had to hand him away.  I barely remember his face.  I don’t remember the smell of his hair or the feel of his fingers wrapped around mine.  There was no time to remember.  No time to ingrain that moment into my memory.  And, ironically, I find that to be both cruel and merciful. 

So, how do you get through the anniversaries of the deaths of those we love?  How do we stop the self fulfilling prophecy of relegating yourself to a life of wallowing in guilt and anguish for the things we did or did not do while that person was still alive? 

The truth is, we don’t. 

We make mountains out of molehills in our minds.  And, on the opposite end of that, we make molehills out of mountains…just so we can cope.  We have to force ourselves to cope in the best ways we know how.  For some, it helps to allow yourself a day of grief.  It almost feels contrived.  I felt great yesterday.  I will feel great again tomorrow.  But, right now?  Right now all I feel is pain, devastation, anxiety and the ever looming fear that I will add something else I said to that list of regretful final words. 

It’s truly a source of anxiety for me.

The other night, on Facebook, my son wrote a status:

“I don’t think I can deal with this.  Please tell me this isn’t happening again.”

I read it at 3 am and immediately, I flew into panic mode.  To hear your teenager say, “I don’t think I can deal with this…” conjures up every news article we have ever read as parents of teens taking their lives over things that would scarcely disrupt the life of an adult.  I knew from that statement, something had happened between him and his girlfriend.  Did she break up with him?  Did she cheat on him?  Hurt him in some way?  Is he REALLY not able to deal with it?  Am I going to go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning to a phone call that he was found hanging in his closet, a note to his girlfriend on his bed and his Facebook page open to a status that says, “goodbye”?  Sleep was done for me at that point.  It wasn’t going to happen.  I was FAR too afraid that if I go to bed, when I wake up in the morning, I will hear those words that no mother ever, ever, EVER wants to hear.

I’ve already heard them once before.  I couldn’t live through it a second time.

Admittedly, I panicked hard.  I called his fathers house, where he was staying, at 3 am and crying into the phone, begged my ex husband to please, go check on him.  Make sure he’s asleep. Please watch him.  Please keep an eye on him. 

Because in my heart, the terror of “last words” looms large.

It is terrible to be a slave to what if’s and what could be’s.  Yet, I still find myself scared to death of those last words before someone leaves the house, hangs up the phone or walks away from me.  It is my own cross to bear, my own personal problem that I have made into a much bigger monster than it honestly is.  But, when you are living a life that includes a lot of loss, you can’t help but feel that way sometimes.  Especially after a fight with someone. 

So, ridiculous as it may be…I make sure that I tell everyone how much I love them.  It’s really something we should practice any way, the fine art of letting the people in your life know how much they mean to you.  It should not take estrangement or death for those words to finally find their way to your mouth.  It should not take fear.  Instead, it should be part of living.  Nothing is more important in this world than the love we take and the love we make.  Nothing.  Mistakes become regrets very quickly and while I know I can’t walk around 24/7 telling everyone what they mean to me, I can make sure that the people who are in my life daily know how well loved they are…so that if their time should come, or mine…we all can remember that our last words were “I love you”.

They say that there are some things that should just go to the grave with you.

“I love you” should always be one of those things.

song inspiration
“it’s only love. it’s only pain.  it’s only fear that runs through my veins…
it‘s all the things you can’t explain, that make us human.

RIP Derek Wollen, the inspiration for this post…and the pain that accompanies it.
August 25, 1980 – November 15, 2007  i miss you so much.  so, so much.

And to Debra Wollen, who left to find her son on November 24th, 2007. 
A mothers love leads to a mothers death.  i pray you both found each other…and peace.

Focus 52: "Celebrate You"

In order to celebrate me, the current prompt of the Focus 52 project, I am going to donate my blog space to celebrating someone else.  Destiny is the 11 year old daughter of my friend Melia.  Destiny recently lost her life last week in a tragic car accident that also put her 15 year old brother Riley in a coma.  He still remains in a comatose state today.  Melia was in ICU with bodily injuries that included a broken clavicle, some bleeding on the brain and various lacerations and bruises.  While she is recuperating in one hospital, her son is across town in another, fighting for his life.  Her eldest daughter, Hailey, who was not in the car at the time of the accident, is left alone to run between the two hospitals where her brother and mother are currently staying.  A devastating position for an 18 year old child who is grieving the loss of her baby sister to be in. 

So what does this have to do with celebrating ME?

In a word, charity.  Sweet charity.  My one huge passion in life.  If there is ever an attribute that I would want celebrated about myself, it would be the fact that I am enormously passionate when it comes to giving to others in need.  I will donate time, money, material needs until I have nothing more to give.  It is the one area in my life where I feel I truly shine as a human being.  Giving to others in need makes me feel good.  It lifts me to a plane of existence more gratifying than even the most earth shattering orgasm.  Every time I can do something, anything, to help another person in a time of crisis, I feel elevated.  Closer to achieving a sense of nirvana. I am at peace even in the midst of chaos.  It gives me something to devote my ever abounding energy to and provides me with a better sense of self.  And, while it is said that charity should be a selfless gesture, any fool would know that simply cannot be.  There is a certain selfish aspect to it.  There is a certain rush or “high” if you will when it comes to knowing you have done something to potentially change the outcome of someones life.  I enjoy giving.  I enjoy doing for others.  I don’t require thanks. I don’t require gratitude.  I don’t even require acknowledgment.  All I need is to be able to achieve that remarkably warm feeling of knowing that I was able to play a small role in making someones life just a little bit better, if only for a short while.

With all that said, I am inviting you to please visit my “Cause” page to help Melia and her family try to recoup from the tragedy of this past week.  While nothing on earth, any amount of money or gesture, can return Destiny to us, the family is in dire need of financial salvation.  The family is going to need financial help desperately to help pay for the enormous hospital bills, for Destiny’s final arrangements, Riley’s long term care, the entire families living expenses and of course, they will need money for legal fees to go after the repeat offender criminal that stole Destiny’s life.

The family does not have a lot as they just moved across the country in hopes of starting a better life. They need the help of friends, friends of friends, relatives, etc., to get them through this difficult time.

While there are grass root efforts being made in her home state of Arizona, Melia has many friends who know and love her in other parts of the world as well. We are reaching out to the blogging/social media community in an attempt to help rebuild this woman’s life.

Please help in any way you can. Even the smallest of donations are appreciated.

To date, we the members of the Cause have been able to raise nearly $2500.  However, the cost of Destiny’s final arrangements far exceed that.  The need is still great.  Melia will need to be able to stay close to the hospital where her son is now in ICU.  This will cost money.  The family is without health insurance.  Daily bills for the ICU stay run in excess of $20,000 per DAY.  They will both require hospital type beds when they are finally released.  There will be legal fees to pay.  They will need special medical equipment for Riley, such a a wheelchair for him to use while he slowly regains function of his extremities.  The costs are overwhelming and endless.  Even if you are unable to donate yourself, just passing the word around to others and encouraging them to donate will help Melia and her young family to recuperate from this tragedy.

To celebrate me, I am celebrating the life of Destiny.  I am celebrating the fact that my dear friend Melia has lived to see another day.  I am celebrating the fact that Riley has not given up and that his battered body has youth on its side and he is putting up a strong fight for his life.  In fact, I could not think of a better way to celebrate MY life than to introduce you to them.  To be able to remind all of you how precious life truly is.  How to let you all have this serve as a reminder that life can change on a dime.  If this story makes you a little bit more wary on the road, stops you from running a red light (like the person who hit Melia did), makes you hug your children a little bit tighter tonight…then to me, those are small but enormously significant victories.  Little celebrations of life…and in turn, small celebrations of my life as well.

Tonight, I was speaking to a friend and mentioned that it deeply saddened me every time I had to write the words “Destiny’s funeral” during updates to friends.  She said to me, “It is not a funeral.  It is a celebration of life.”  And, she is right.  Melia has chosen to have people dress in every color of the rainbow, Destiny’s favorite thing, in honor of her daughter.  No drab, somber black garb…but brilliant hues.  Greens, yellows, oranges, blues, purples…all as vibrant and alive as Destiny was.

“What an amazing thing for a mother to do,” I thought to myself.

She opted not to dress Destiny in a formal dress and fancy shoes, but rather, a pair of jeans.  A Justin Bieber shirt.  Her favorite DC brand rainbow shoes.  She chose to let Destiny leave this earth the same way that she came into it…with her own sense of style.  A ferociously independent little girl who had the gift of gab, a smile that could start a fire with its brilliance and the eyes of a mischievous angel.

Indeed, this will truly be a celebration of life.  And I can think of no better way to celebrate me…than to celebrate her all too short, but incredibly purposeful life.

Goodnight, sweet Destiny.  Rest well…and remember that every time I see a rainbow in the sky, I will know it is you, asking God to please redecorate the world.

You are loved.

What the fuck is WRONG with people???

We’ve been living in the same house for nearly 3 years. We have a beautiful 3 bedroom, 3 bath house. A large great room and an equally large dining room with a spacious kitchen. It’s on a large piece of corner property in very close proximity to my sons school.

I love my home. Loved it from the moment I saw it.

How we came to live here was really incredible. We were living in a substantially smaller house with a landlord who was an absolute monster. Hotband and I were kicking around the idea of moving out for awhile, but never had the funds to do so. One day, my husband was speaking to a friend of his who had recently moved from my hometown to Utah. He was griping that his house in our town was still vacant and how hard it was for him to manage two mortgages. Kidding around, my husband suggested that we move into his old house and pay the rent there…equivalent to what his mortgage payment was.

Imagine our surprise when he LOVED this idea! So, we moved into his home. Everyone is now happy. We have this enormous house in a great neighborhood. We are actually friends with our landlord! The mortgage is reasonable and we drew up papers to rent the house with the intent to eventually buy it from them.

Ideal situation. Worked beautifully…until today.

I get a knock on my front door. A young guy, maybe in his twenties, hands me some paperwork and informs me that my house, my beautiful home…is being foreclosed upon.

What? I mean…WHAT???

Apparently, my husbands “friend” went through a nasty divorce with his wife. Why? Because “friend” is a crack addict and she threw him out. Since the house is in HIS name, Mrs. Crack Addict happily took our rent checks and never mailed them into the mortgage company to further fuck with Mr. Crack Addict. Now, his credit is shot…which is what she wanted, and in the interim, we have gotten fucked as well. All our payments for the past six months have gone to whatever the fuck she used them for. She never told us that HE was now the owner of the home, so of course, we dutifully continued making our payment to her as we have every month for nearly three years.

Everyone has advised us NOT to make any more payments to Mrs. Crack Addict. That’s obvious. Surely I am not going to support her with OUR money. So, I am setting up an escrow account with an attorney come Monday to make our rent payments to. You know, so we are showing good faith.

Who we are showing this “good faith” to, however, is unbeknownst to me.

I have twenty days to let the bank know what our intentions are with regard to the house. Do we intend to buy it or are we moving?

Well, shit. If I had known that I was going to have to buy this house outright from the bank, I would have stopped paying that rent a long time ago and parlayed it into our own mortgage. We aren’t financially in a position to put a large downpayment on the house.

“Don’t worry,” people have said. “It takes anywhere from six months to a year for a foreclosure to go through. You can live there rent free in the meantime.”

Right. Sound advice coming from a bunch of morons. I am so sick of listening to everyone try to find a silver lining in this mess.

We were not prepared for this. Caught us completely off guard. Blind sided us. I wrote the following message to Mr. Crack Addict on Facebook:

You’re a real piece of work, (Insert Crack Addicts Name Here).

When exactly were you going to let us know that you were letting the house fall into foreclosure? We are going to be evicted out of here by the bank. We pay our rent religiously every month. Where has it been going, because it sure as hell hasn’t made it to the bank.

We have CHILDREN, (Insert name here). A family to take care of. How could you be so insensitive to another family who has only supported you and your ex wife in friendship and kindness? Tell me, how do you sleep at night???

CP.

I know it isn’t going to mean shit to him, but it made me feel better writing it. Moreover, I didn’t use the words “douchebag”, “asshat”, “cocksucker” or “crackhead ball sucking dickwad”.

I am proud of that.

Anyway, Mr. Crack Addict got my message on Facebook and called the hotband.

“Dude, I am SO sorry. I had nothing to do with this. This was all Mrs. Crack Addict. I trusted her to make the mortgage payments even though the house was in my name. I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you guys get to stay in the house.”

Really, fuckhead? Like what? Get us a mortgage? Find us a nice fat downpayment hiding under a rock? Really. What the hell do you think you are going to do for us at this point in time.

My husband convinced him to write us a “recommendation” letter for the bank, stating that we have been good tenants and have always paid our rent on time for the past three years. Yes, thank you for that. That and a piece of toilet paper will wipe my fat ass.

Douchebag.

I am so glad there are NO PILLS in this house right now…because MAN, would I love to do some and just go away for awhile. This is the time I miss doing drugs the most…when shit like this comes up. Instead, I have to put myself into “pitbull” mode and just start barking up every tree and see what comes down. I am really trying NOT to freak out. My mother is a real estate agent and knows the ins and outs of a short sale on foreclosure homes. My father is a mortgage banker and is going to do what he can to get us in a more eligable ready position to take on a mortgage. It’s going to be a bitch because I am not working. We can’t count any income from me at all. However, I have good credit. My husband on the other hand makes an excellent salary…but his credit sucks ass. And it’s not as if the banks are handing out loans with this shitty economy. Short of me sucking some banker dick, I don’t see how we are going to pull this off.

I am hoping Dad can pull a miracle out of his hat.

I am hitting an NA meeting first thing in the morning. 7am…just to be able to get all this off my chest. I gotta release some of this steam I have building up.

I hope I am never in Utah. I would feel compelled to fuck up some Crack Addict ass.

Where were you…

on September 11th, 2001?

Perhaps you were home, getting ready for work. Maybe taking the kids to school? Or, like me, were you already at work?

I think there are very few people in the United States that cannot remember where they were on that fateful day. Some of you were actually in New York City when the atrocity took place. Others, like myself, call New York City home despite living 1200 miles away. I grew up in New York City, born and raised in Queens and Manhattan. I lived on 14th street and Riverside Drive, right across the street from the park. It was an amazing place to live, rich with culture and excitement.

When I was just 8 years old, my biological father, Stephen, took me to the World Trade Center, shortly after they were erected. He had an office there. I helped him paint the walls of his office at the stock brokerage firm where he worked. And while I made more of a mess than I did help, it was a memory that was locked in time and preserved within the walls of the Trade Center. It was always a part of me, long after my father was killed in a car accident. It was a place I could return to that made me remember that innocent time of my childhood.

That place is gone forever.

I remember getting up and having the hotband drive me to work that morning. I worked in Downtown Tampa at the time. I was in the middle of a surgery when my husband called the office where I worked. He said it was urgent. My heart pounded rapidly, thinking there was something wrong with the kids.

“Babe,” he said. “I’m at Best Buy. Something terrible has happened.”

“What? What happened? Are the kids okay?”

“The kids are fine. The Twin Towers are under attack. Airplanes. They used airplanes to crash into the building. The north tower, I think.”

“Oh my God, honey,” he said. “Another plane went into the second building. Babe, we are being attacked. Someone is attacking New York!”

I held my breath. My parents. My brother. My aunts and uncles. They all live in close proximity to the city. My uncle was on 2nd avenue with a view of the Towers from his window. Are they safe? My mind was racing.

“The tower, babe,” he continued. “It collapsed! It’s laying in a heap on the ground. Baby, people are throwing themselves out of windows from the 74th floor!”

Time stood still. How could that building collapse? I didn’t understand. Even if a plane crashed into it, how could that mighty structure fall to the ground? I was confused, shaken. People choosing to fall to their death rather than succumbing to the blazing fires. I was sickened.

“Come back, baby,” I pleaded. “Come back to my office. Please!”

I ran into the surgical room and told the Doctor what was going on. He instructed us to turn on the television that was in the room. We turned it on just in time to see the second tower collapsing. I turned pale, ran into the bathroom and threw my guts up. This is when we started hearing about the other planes. Flight 93 that crashed into a field somewhere up North…the other plane that rammed into the Pentagon. The details were sketchy at the time, but one thing was for sure.

This was no coincidence. We were at war. We were under attack.

For the next 72 hours, I was glued to the telvision set. I couldn’t reach my family in New York. Phone lines were down or busy due to a heavy congestion of calls. I cried so much in those 72 hours. I remember the husband and I fell asleep in front of the television, waking up only moments later to be met with those horrific photos and live film of the airplanes hitting the towers. No one knew what the death toll was at that point, but it was believed to be in the thousands. The buildings were too volatile to start a rescue mission. At this point, it would be a recovery mission. Every time another person was found, it made CNN. We would rejoice, another life spared. I still couldn’t reach my family. They were still unaccounted for.

The devastation reached my home in Florida and was brought right to my front door. It was now inside my home and there was nothing I could do about it. Helpless. That was the feeling that loomed in my heart and mind. I was helpless to do anything about this. We waited for our President to decide what would be done in retaliation, to find out who was responsible for this heinous crime. We looked to Mayor Giuliani to guide us through this tragic event. What do we do? Where do we begin?

It took a years time, perhaps longer for the wreckage to be cleared. My husband and I went to Ground Zero and paid our respects to those who were lost on that fateful day. I cried, heavily and mourned the loss of all the lost souls in the buildings, on the planes and for all the families who had been destroyed. I loved the fact that everywhere you looked, there were American flags being raised. People had them on the cars, on the houses, in the windows of their stores. It said “We will never forget” and it made my heart swell with pride. We were rebounding in the face of tragedy. We were coming together as one. One community, no more racial lines or distinctions. We were all Americans going through this together.

It is eight years later.

The flags are gone. 9/11 is just another day for most people now. Sure, it’s sad in retrospect, but what can we do? Life has to go on. We have work, school and the rigors of daily life to distract us. Sure, we think about the day and recall it, perhaps even reflect upon it. Some don’t remember it at all. Just another day.

It begs the question, are we alright now? Have we healed? Are we safer now, or simply biding our time until the next attack? Are we still holding our breath with wonder or has time resolved it for us?

In my heart, in my head, there will never be enough healing. The people responsible for this transgression have yet to be caught. Instead, we have taken out our aggression and frustration on another country. We are engaged in a pointless and senseless war, bringing more frustration to the American people and more devastation to a country that didn’t ask for our help. We needed to lash out at someone and Iraq was just as good a place as any. We felt good about it at first. Yes, retribution for the crimes committed upon us. But now, do we still feel so good about it? Why are we still there? Saddam Hussein is dead and our children are still overseas, fighting a battle that was won a long time ago.

We are still losing children in the name of September 11th, 2001.

This is why the memory cannot fade. We are not finished yet. It won’t be over until our men and women come home. The point has been made. We will not tolerate terrorism in any form ever again. This is the last time these acts will be perpetrated upon us. There will be no more retaliation or retribution. We are Americans and we are tired of the battle. Weary, in fact.

In essence, we are over it.

Still, I imagine that there isn’t a soul alive who cannot remember where they were and what they were doing on that fateful Tuesday morning. I recall it as clearly as I recall the birth of my two children. I cannot forget. I won’t forget. We can’t forget. Not ever.

I ask each of you to take the time to reflect upon that day and know that those people did not die in vain. The flags have gone away. The memories must survive. They were heros, all of them…the survivors as well as the victims.

They don’t deserve to be forgotten. Ever.