Category Archives: grief

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.

Sleeping With the Enemy…Revisited.

I can’t watch this movie.  I just can’t.

And yet, I do.  And I am.  Right now…as I am typing this post.

It was a long time ago, a world far away that I was a victim of domestic violence.  Yes, I know you are not supposed to say “victim”.  It’ s not empowering enough for most feminists.  It makes you sound weak, pitiful.  Yet, when you are going through it, you ARE a victim.  You can pretty up the words all you like, make them sound less pathetic, but the point is…you are still a victim until the moment…you’re not.  That’s when you can change your moniker from “victim” to “survivor”.

Or, the moment they place you six feet under and you become what your headstone says you were.

When we talk about women who died at the hands of their lovers, we don’t call them survivors.  They didn’t.  They were victims.  They succumb.  I will always consider myself a “victim” of domestic violence in some aspects, despite the fact that I survived, because of movies like “Sleeping with the Enemy”.  Because the scent of “Polo” still makes me significantly ill.  Because being in my home alone, I am still plagued by the inability to sleep peacefully.  Because I still feel my breath catch in my throat when I hear a certain type of gruff male voice.  Because certain songs can still make me break down and cry (I’m looking at you, November Rain).   I can’t wear red lipstick.  It reminds me of bloody mouths and bleeding noses, broken teeth and cracked jaws.

It reminds me of 33 broken bones in just under 3 years.

Yet, when I watch the part of “Sleeping with the Enemy” where Laura “dies”, (This is not a spoiler and that aside, the movie is 23 years old.  If you haven’t seen it by now, well…not my problem) I realize that the funeral scene could have just as well been mine.  The irony of all this is that the release of this movie came the same year as MY release from this relationship that has scarred me for life.  Maybe it’s not irony.  Perhaps coincidence.  I never get those two right and neither does Alanis Morrissette, so I don’t feel too badly.  The ironic part really is who I first saw the movie with.

Yes.  My abuser.  The love of my (then) life and the enemy I slept with.

We saw SWTE in a movie theater in Suffolk County, Long Island, shortly after its release date in February, 1991.  We had a good day that day.  No fighting, no arguing, no yelling, no throwing things.  It was what I would come to call a “safe day”.  I never put a time limit on those days.  The morning could start one way, the afternoon could end another way and the evening could bring us back to the “safe day” status once again.  I lived moment to moment with him.  I counted every breath with him.  Measured.  Careful.  Always concerned about not changing my facial expressions too often.  Never looking left, never looking right.  Straight ahead, always.  That night at the movie was no different.  As I watched Patrick Bergin beat Julia Roberts, I kept the hand to popcorn to mouth ratio well timed.  Counting my breaths…in 2…3…4 out 2…3…4…

I wouldn’t dare give him the clue that inside, I was terrified, watching my life play out on the big screen in front of me.

I felt like everyone in the audience was staring at me.  I felt that familiar hand squeeze from him.  He was putting me in check. His way of saying, “Keep it together, CP. Don’t you dare betray our dirty little secret.” I sat up a little straighter in my seat.  I crossed my legs casually. I leaned my head on his shoulder.  [LOOK AUDIENCE WE ARE A VERY HAPPY LOVING COUPLE THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN OUR HOUSE YOU BELIEVE US RIGHT]  My body was giving me away.  My breath was giving me away.  My silent count in my head was not working.  I inhaled deeply, the scent of the popcorn nauseating me.  I dared to glance sideways, to see how he would react to this man on the screen beating this beautiful, gentle woman.

He kept eating popcorn as though it didn’t matter at all.  And I suppose, to him, it didn’t.

When we left the theater, I couldn’t gauge his mood.  His affect, as always, a blank canvas.  Over two years into this bloodbath of a relationship and I still could not read him.  We drove home in silence when suddenly he says, “I’ll never understand how a man could hit a woman like that.”  If I wasn’t so exceptionally trained in controlling my facial expressions, I would have given away the “are you fucking kidding me” that filled my mouth, but never left my lips.

“Mmm hmmm,” I said.

“Well, I mean, he basically hit her for no reason.  You know what I mean.”

“Uh huh.”

“You know that when I lose my temper, it’s because you provoked me.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied.

“But I love you.  I always love you.”

I smiled.  He was staring at my side profile looking for that smile.  The smile that says, it’s okay, this thing you are doing to me.  I’m fine with it.  He reached over, squeezed my knee, patted my thigh before stroking it, firmer, higher.  Oh, okay. Right.  Sex.  Got it.  The way you right the wrong.  The way you remind me you are still in control of this thing.  The way you pretend that I’m okay with all of this.  Sure.  We’ll have sex after we get home.  It was his version of the “reboot” button for us.  Anything that happens prior gets erased, thrown in the recycle bin and permanently deleted.  But, it also means I will have at least 5 hours of peace and quiet once you fall asleep…to shower you off my skin.  To brush my mouth clean of your kiss.  To throw up.  To cry.  To take my makeup off and assess the damage from earlier in the day.

And it was also during those moments of sweet repose for you that I would plan my getaways.

Watching the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” alongside him, I knew my nights of plotting and planning would be forever destroyed.  There would be no more squirreling away of funds.  No more leaving clothes in hiding places.  No more hiding the spare key to the car in the back of the toilet.  He would now be forever aware that women definitely do plot to escape their abusers.  Even though he didn’t see himself in that light, I knew the lesson wasn’t lost on him.

I spent that night in terror.

When he wakes, will he start the scavenger hunt in our home?  Will he find the coins in the kosher salt container (It had that pull up lip that you could slide change and dollars into easily.  Plus, it was made of cardboard, so it wouldn’t rattle like say, a coffee can.  Yes, these were the things you had to think about) or the key in the bathroom?  Would he realize that in our car, where the spare tire used to be, there were spare clothes instead?  Would he look in the bottom of my daughters toy box and find copies of our birth certificates, medical records, anything I would need on the fly for when we fled?  I debated whether to start finding new place for all these things.  No.  No, I won’t.  I will leave everything the way it is.  To start moving things or getting rid of them means I no longer had a safety net.  I needed that safety net.

It’s all I had.

When this movie came on my television screen, just now, 23 years later, I watched only the beginning.  I only paid attention to the fear, not the inevitable victory.  I don’t need to watch that part…her transition from victim to survivor.  I don’t need to watch Julia Roberts get paid millions for a role I lived.  Julia lived happily ever after. (Now, that’s a spoiler, Folks. Sorry.)  But sadly, just like in the movies, sometimes real life comes with alternate endings. This is not the reality for many women and it certainly wasn’t mine.  My story of morphing from “victim” to “survivor” would include hospitals, three months in a bed, a brain now laden with epilepsy, physical and emotional therapy and the inability to remain in safely in New York state.

Still, my outcome is better than those who died at the hands of their abusers.  Now, all these years later, I have a different reality.  I don’t sleep with an enemy, but my best friend.  I am safe in my home.  I am safe in this life I have made for myself 1300 miles away.  And, despite knowing this, I still can’t watch this movie til the end.  I still can’t listen to those songs.  I still get queasy from the scent of Polo cologne.  But, I am alive.  Divinely alive.  Happily alive.

Phrase it any way you’d like, but I will always be a victim who survived.

I can live with that.

Brotherly love.

My brother and I were never particularly close. 

Close in age, certainly.  We are less than three years apart.  In the photo above, that is me on the left.  My brother is the chubby baby in the Giants onesie on the right.  We are two years and nine months apart, yet you can never imagine two people so different.

My brother and I were brought up in a very abusive household.  Our parents, well-meaning as they might have been, were a non stop source of stress and strife in our little lives.  They fought constantly, every single waking moment of the day and night.  She was a shrew, my mother.  Nagged to the point where you could no longer stand the sound of her voice.  (It still makes me cower a bit when she raises her voice.)  My father, the man I have come to call “the sperm donor”, was a self-absorbed, egotistical hippie type who never quite grew up enough to understand that you no longer get to be a “free spirit” once you make the commitment to having a wife and children.  Sure, you can be an individual, but you do not get to live your life as one.  There are three other people in the picture.  Three other people who matter, who count on you and who you need to give thought to before doing the selfish things that stop you from being a part of that family unit.

My father, in something so cliche it embarrasses me to mention, left my mother for his secretary (cringe) back in 1973 when I was merely 7 years old.  Not that this was his first affair, mind you. This was merely the one that “stuck” and the one that finally took this man out of his home and into hers.  There was a part of me that was so grateful when he left.  For years, I had endured listening to their fights that would end up with punches thrown, furniture being flipped over, disgusting and vulgar things said right over my head and the endless tears that my mother would cry each and every time he walked out that door and away from “this bullshit”.  I came to feel that I was a part of the “bullshit” he needed to walk away from and, as every child does, began to blame myself for my father leaving.  This was further confirmed when my mother, in moments of distress and uncertainty of her future would say thing like, “he never wanted any kids to begin with.”

Great.  Like I ASKED to be born into this?

For years, I resented my father.  Years. Hated him with a fervor and a passion that no little girl should ever have to know.  When I got stuck having to go to his house on the weekends, I was moody, irritable, out of sorts, angry.  I felt deep venom for my mother for leaving me with this man who obviously did not want my brother and I there and truly made us, or at least me, feel like we were cramping his bachelor lifestyle.  He had a girlfriend (the secretary) named Yvonne.  She was a red head. Tall. Thin. Gorgeous.  And their lifestyle consisted of walking around nude all the time.  It’s just what they did.  And while that’s fine monday through friday, it is probably something that should have been curtailed when your 9 year old daughter and your 6 year old son would come to visit.  They smoked weed.  A LOT of weed.  We were never really “watched” or cared for.  It would make me feel so uncomfortable being in that environment.  I don’t think it effected my brother the same way it did me.  He sort of found it all funny…that he got to see “boobies” at Dad’s house.  But for me, a young girl on the precipice of my pre-teen years, it made me feel out of sorts.  I used to sit in the loft of his apartment and just get lost in books.  Reading for hours on end til my mother and whatever random flavor of the week she was dating at that time would come and pick us up from his place on the west side of Manhattan. 

As I got older, savvier, I learned how to take the train back from Riverside Drive in Manhattan up to Queens Boulevard in Queens.  I would run away from his apartment, letting myself into my mothers apartment with my key.  (Those of you who were “latchkey” kids would understand why a 10 year old would have her own key to the apartment.)  Most of the time, my mother would not be there.  She’d be out, somewhere, with whomever she was dating.  Sometimes, she would be there with her boyfriend and I would get stuck back on a train, heading back towards Manhattan after listening to my mother screech at my father at the top of her lungs about how the HELL he could not even notice his daughter had disappeared. 

Simple.  He was too stoned most of the time to even notice whether I was alive or not. 

“I thought she was upstairs, reading,” he would stammer, trying to stifle his laughter. 

“You’re an asshole, piece of shit,” she would continue.  Blah blah blah.

This was my world.  The world of the broken home. The world of having two sets parents who were so self-absorbed and involved in their own worlds that they never really saw the magnitude of what they were doing to their children. 

Truth be told, I think the divorce took a much deeper toll on me than it did on my brother.  My brother stayed in touch with “bio dad” long after I made the decision at 11 years old to never see him again.  I hated him, all he stood for and his selfish ways.  The last time I saw my father as a child, it was at my 11th grade graduation.  He showed up, after the ceremony of course, with some flowers.  I took a single photo with him and that is the only memory that I have of him that stands out in my head.  I saw him again, when I turned 19, in a chance meeting at a Florida mall while I was on Spring Break with some girlfriends.  We talked.  Ironed out a few things.  Said some things that needed to be said, but by this time, he was older…the age I am now, actually, and it seemed like life had beaten him up so badly, I couldn’t muster up all the venom and rage that 9 year old me wanted to throw upon him.

A mere 6 months after that chance meeting, my father was dead.  Killed by a heart attack caused by cocaine usage.  He was driving on the I-4 interstate when the heart attack occurred. He jumped the median and slammed into a Pepsi tractor trailer going in the opposite direction. 

In my utter distress, in my lack of being able to wrap my head around this…I made a joke out of it.  A morbid joke.  Something to the extent of “this time, Pepsi actually beat out Coke.”  No one appreciated the joke.  I was called “insensitive”, but I had experienced such a disconnect between me and this man that all I could rely upon was a macabre sense of humor to get me through.

Fast forward to now.  Right now.

My brother is having an affair.  He told me about it.  He didn’t need to.  I knew it was going on.  I could tell.  All the tell tale signs were there.  “My wife doesn’t understand me,” he would say.  He sought my advice and was appalled when I told him to go the hell home and work things out with your wife.  He thought I would have taken his side, told him to go…be happy!  Do your thing!  Live your life!  But as I looked at him, all I could see was my father.  He looks so much like him.  He sounds so much like him.  And in that, he represented everything I ever hated about my own selfish father. 

Recently, his wife found out about his affair.  She called me, crying, asking if he could come down here to stay with me for a few days.  He wanted to “clear his head” before making a decision about whether he would be staying with her or leaving her and her three beautiful children for this girl who “understands him”.  Of course, I told her.  Let him come down here.  Let him be with me and my family.  Let him see what a loving family unit is supposed to look like.  Let me talk sense into him.

He came…and it was the worst three days of my life in a very long time.

I have never seen such selfish, self absorbed behavior since my fathers existence on this planet.  He spent the entire weekend texting this girlfriend of his.  He ignored me when I tried to talk to him.  He ignored my kids, my grandkids who he has scarcely seen since they have been born.  All he wanted to do was go out and party.  “What is there to do in this town,” he carried on.  “What’s good?  Where are the clubs at?  Who’s coming out partying with me tonight?” 

And all I saw was my father…and the rage slowly boiled in my blood.

“I thought we were going to have some family time,” I said.

“Yeah.  Yeah, of course.  We’ll have family time.  But it’s the weekend.  So, let’s get this party going!  Where’s the Hard Rock?  Let’s go gambling!  I got a grand burning a hole in my pocket.  Let’s do this.”

Not the faintest hint of moral dilemma in his eyes.  No thought to his grieving wife back at home.  No thought to his three children, ages 9 through 13, who are suffering right now, listening to mommy cry at night as they go to bed.  The three of them acutely aware of what their father did…but having to suffer the consequence of his insanely selfish actions.  There was a lot of arguing between my brother and I. I would try to talk to him, try to get his face out of his phone and off the texting that was going on between him and this random girl (who, incidentally, DOES know my sister in law and apparently, does not care about sleeping with her husband).  I tried to keep my brother focused. 

“Go to the mall with your nephew,” I told him.  “He’s missed you.  Go spend time with him.”

My son reported back to me that Uncle spent his entire time at the mall walking alongside him with his face buried in the phone.  We went out for dinner.  Same thing.  Out for breakfast with family. Same thing.  Went to go visit my husbands family.  Same thing.  Face buried in that phone…no consideration to any one else.

And I finally exploded.

My brother declared he had to “get the fuck outta here”.  Apparently, the whore that he had taken up with was giving him ultimatums about coming home.  He was pacing the floors, gotta go gotta go gotta go gotta go.  Change my ticket change my ticket change my ticket now now now now now now.  It was around then that I released the wrath of 9 year old me all over him.  Everything that 9 year old me ever wanted to say to that stupid, selfish, piece of shit father of mine came flying out of my mouth.  Only now, it was 45 year old me, screaming it at my baby brother…who looks like the man, acts like the man.  We fought ferociously to the point where he was punching the dashboard of my car, jumping out of it in the middle of the highway and me, considering throwing my truck in reverse to run him over and leave him to join the same fate as his father…dying under the wheels of a truck.  All of a sudden, that wild rush came through me…and the fury was too huge to fight.  I couldn’t contain it any longer and in that instant, I wanted him to die…and I wanted ME to the be the one who put him in that box.  I wanted him to suffer for the things he did to me, but it wasn’t him. It was my father. I wanted him to suffer for the things I knew he was about to put my beautiful niece through.  She is now the same 9 year old little desperate girl that I was at the time, and I knew what lay before her.  I walked this road before…and I felt so justified in just removing my brother from this world to spare her all the pain.  Let her father die while she still loves him and still wants him in her life.  Let him just die that way…before she grows up hating him, blaming him for every failed relationship in her life.  Never trusting men ever again because she couldn’t trust the one who gave her life.  I just wanted to hear his body under the tires of my truck as I rolled over him again and again and again.

Fast forward once more.

I am at home.  He is gone, back on an airplane New York bound, on the way to ruin the innocent lives of my precious niece and my two nephews.  On the way home to destroy whatever little is left of my sister in laws self esteem.  He is going home to break everyone’s hearts.  My parents.  Her parents.  All the children involved.  And the last thing he said to me…”This isn’t about YOU, this is about ME!  It’s always been about ME!”

Yes.  Yes, “Dad”.  It was always about you.  And because it was always about you…hearts died in the process.

I turned on the song “Helpless” by Neil Young.  It is off the album “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere” and was one of my fathers favorite songs.  I put my head down and I cried.  I cried long and hard from a place so deep within me that I knew I was no longer an adult woman, but that little girl whose father destroyed her self esteem, her sense of security, her trust and faith and most of all, destroyed her life.  I wept so hard for this broken doll inside of me.  The pain was palpable.  I could feel her within me, so angry for never getting a chance to tell the real man who ruined my life what I really thought of him.  Angry, that now my relationship with my brother, my one link to that time in my life is now irretrievably broken. I cried for loss.  I cried from abandonment.  I cried for the realization that I was left to my own devices by my daddy when I was only 9 years old, the same age my niece is right now.  And wept harder still…because I know now, as a 45 year old woman, that I can never, ever get those moments back, nor can I save my niece from becoming a 45 year old woman who is going to inevitably look back with the same pain, grief and anger.

It’s been two days since my brother left town.

He sent me a text message.  “Left my sneakers there.  Can you ship them to me?”

No apology.  No “I’m sorry” for hurting you.  No sense of responsibility for the devastation he left in his wake.  No regret.  Just concern for his sneakers.

He is, after all, his father’s son.

And I sit here, my heart still torn wide open, trying to wrestle with the fact that I have all these open wounds that I thought were long gone, but realize now they were just scabbed up, waiting to be torn wide open to bleed, to fester, to become infected.  It is a painful realization to find out that what you thought you were so far past in your life, you never really resolved after all.  You just buried it deep down, burned it in a box and scattered the ashes somewhere.

Eventually, the winds of time blow them back at you.  You suffocate in their thickness as they choke you and blind you. You shake your head to clear your thoughts, to gain some sense of vision and clarity.  Then suddenly, you realize.   The game remains the same…only the players have changed. 

And like a lost little child on a subway heading to Queens at 2am…you brave it alone.

Home is only a few more stops away. 

Focus 52: Shadows

I love make up.

I am a girly girl who lives and dies for the sparkle, the shimmer, the gloss, the gleam, the bling, the shiny and all things that are wonderfully and magically feminine.

Lately, I haven’t been feeling so girly.

Since my hysterectomy, it has been hard for me to jump back on the “Sparkle Wagon” as I call it and make myself fabulous.  It’s been a real struggle. A chore for me.  Even showering is a process.  Bending over to shave my legs is a true production as I can feel the incisions in my abdomen tugging hard to the point where they feel like they are going to snap.  Showering usually exhausts me to the point where I don’t feel like going out any longer.

The other day, in the mail, one of my dear friends, a fellow blogger who shares my love of all things make up, sent me a pallet of eye shadows, cheek tints and a nude lip gloss.  Just something to brighten my day and make me feel “gorg” (as she put it) after all the shit I have been through as of late.  Well, I played with those eye shadows in a gazillion different color combinations on my arm til it looked like one big long bruise.

You know, when a bruise is healing?  All those crazy colors; purples, yellows, greens, blues, blacks.

And when I realized that, I scrubbed my arm clean.  It brought me back to a time in my life where I had to rely on cover up, thick, copious amounts of cover up, to cover up bruises that were given to me by someone who claimed they loved me.  As I was washing off my arm, still staring at these glorious eye shadows, I wondered why…why would I be thinking about something so terrible out of nowhere when just five minutes earlier, I was in girly girl heaven?

Then, I realized.  20 years.  This November will be 20 years since someone tried to end my existence on this planet.  20 years since someone beat me into a coma with a baseball bat in front of my 4 year old daughter.  20 years since doctors told my parents that I may not come back from this and if I do, I will probably have severe brain damage for the rest of my life.  The “anniversary”, if you will, of one of the worst moments of my entire life.  I suppose it had been brewing just under the surface in me for awhile.  The night before receiving this wonderful present from my friend, I had had a very restless sleep.  At one point, my husband had to wake me, because not only had my sleep been fitful, but apparently at one point, I ended up flailing about, punching him violently and screaming for whomever I was dreaming about to “leave me alone, leave me alone…stop!”  My husband shook me awake.  “It’s me, baby…it’s me,” he said as he slowly brought me out of my tortured slumber and back into reality.  I stared at him for a minute, still confused and somewhat dazed.

“It’s me,” he said again, softly.

“Okay,” I nodded, understanding that he was reassuring me that I was safe.  “Okay.”

I curled back up on his chest and went back to sleep.

It’s peculiar to me that even 20 years later, the silliest of things can trigger me.  A certain scent.  The sound of a man’s voice when it is particularly gruff and laden heavily with a thick, italian accent.  There are specific sounds that make me jittery, like the sounds of footsteps on a wooden floor, especially if that wood floor creaks.  There are certain actors I can’t watch on TV or in the movies who remind me of my abuser and even if the movie is supposedly “sooooooooooo good,” I will still avoid it like the plague.

The day after I got my friends gift, I went back into my bathroom, and played in front of my mirror again, combining golds with peacock blues and and lush, rich purple shadows.  And it became fun again.  The joy was restored because those other shadows, the kind that hover over you and wake you from restful slumber…the kind that haunt your thoughts and dreams, the kinds that are long, tall and ominous?  They eventually go away.  And they are replaced by 16 pots of beautiful eye shadows sent with love from a gret friend.  A silly soap opera palette called “The Balm and the Beautiful”…with names like “The Other Woman”, “The Drama Queen” and my personal favorite, “The Perfect Man.”

However, I think I will steer clear of the one called “The Coma Patient” for a little while.

Hits a little too close to home.  😉

Focus 52: "Line It Up"

 The prompt for this week was “line it up” and this being Memorial Day, I thought what better than to show a bunch of soldiers lined up, doing what they do best…protecting our freedom.  I knew that I wanted to find a touching photo online, perhaps a somber looking sunset with a flag at half mast while the silhouette’s of soldiers lined the bottom of the photo.  But, as I was perusing Google Images for ideas, I saw this photo.  I tried to find out who the original photographer was, but to no avail.  This, for me, was a beautiful way to endorse the prompt, salute Memorial Day and remind everyone that at the very basest level of any soldier is their heart.  Their ferocious, lion strong heart.  They are brave, true enough, but they are also tender, putting their job above their personal needs, the needs of their family and friends and above all, their own lives. 

In my life, I personally have not been effected by the loss of a soldiers life, but a friend of mine lost her beloved husband last year, a mere two weeks after turning 30 years old.  He was a baby.  A child himself, practically, with four little ones of his own.  Beautiful little ones, the oldest who may some day have faint, distant memories of his daddy…and the youngest, barely old enough to ever remember what her father looked like.

This is Sgt. Keith Adam Coe.  He was the beloved husband of my friend Trina, a girl I have known since she was barely out of high school herself.  I had not heard from Trina in years, though my best friend was still in touch with her here and there over the years.  Last year, my bestie told me that Trina lost her husband, Keith in Iraq.  He was killed in action.  I tracked Trina down on Facebook.  We talked.  We shared photos of Keith and her children and, we cried. Keith was killed by a roadside explosion in Northern Iraq on April 27th, 2010.  He was a dedicated and loving husband and father by all accounts.  My heart broke having to hear my friend of over a decade relay the pain and anxiety she was now feeling with this loss.  Scarcely thirty years old herself, she now finds herself widowed…the ultimate sacrifice of war.

I think about Keith and his friends, the fact that Keith did indeed die a hero while rescuing a friend.  It makes me both mournful and prideful.  He died doing what he loved and a job he was proud of.  He gave his all to protect his country, our liberties and our freedoms.  I find myself realizing, as I get older, that Memorial Day is more than beers and backyard barbecues.  It is about the men and women of the military giving the ultimate all to provide for their families and protect this country.  No matter what your politics are, no matter what side of the war fence you sit on, it is so important that you support these men and women who are merely doing their job.  You may not like the fact that we are at war. I sure as hell don’t, but I am not naive enough to believe that every soldier fighting in that war believes that they should be there fighting it either.  However, they have a job to do, no different than any of us.  They do their job even if they don’t necessarily agree with the politics behind it.  They do what needs to be done, sometimes at the expense of their own personal values.  There is honor in that.

On this day, for this F52 project prompt of “Line It Up”, I choose to line up a group of soldiers in the shape of a heart and hope that Keith Adam Coe knows how much he was loved and is missed by his family every single day. I truly hope to never have to hear that any of my friends have lost their spouse to this war ever again.  It hurts me, unbearably to the core, to know that Trina’s little ones will be growing up without their father.  But, if I know Trina as I do, she will make sure that their daddy is incorporated into their lives.  She will do fun things with them to honor him.  She will keep photos available to her babies and, as they get older, she will share the more intimate details about their father with them.  And, they will grow up to admire their father for his ultimate sacrifice, for his giving, loving heart and for being so very brave. 

God bless you and rest you well, Keith Adam Coe.  And to all the spouses, significant others and children of the men and women who serve so diligently…God bless all of you as well.  May your loved ones stay safe always.  May they always be protected, loved and most of all, supported by their fellow Americans.

Happy Memorial Day to all who have served.  And please, if you come across a soldier in your travels today, offer him a handshake and a thank you for a job well done.  It is the very least we can do for those who make incredible sacrifices so that we may enjoy our freedom.