A New World

I wake up with the sunlight filtering through the venetian blinds, leaving shadows on the ceiling and walls. I have a strange sensation—not sure if it is good or bad—but something feels different.

Suddenly I bolt awake, sit up and look at the clock. OK, it says 7 am so that seems about right. What is it then—what feels so foreign and misplaced? Things feel wrong! I look around the room and at first glance everything seems in order—the furniture, pictures on the wall, the color of the room, the bedspread, so I start to relax, thinking that maybe I just had a bad dream. Yet I begin to notice some strange alterations. The pictures have changed some how—yes, they are animated—my self- portrait is actually talking to me and it seems perfectly natural. I go over and gaze out the window, at the huge glowing chatoyant sphere in the sky, changing shape and form—not a normal sun—almost like an eclipse. I turn on the TV, waiting with anticipation and dread for the latest negative installment of what has become a reality show day after day. It appears that there is no news on The One Who Shall Not Be Named, almost as if he is not even the Commander in Chief anymore, or ever even was. I change channels and cannot find any mention of this person almost as if he never even existed. I look on the Internet and find nothing but good news—no mention of ISIS or terrorists or investigation or collusion.

So now I begin to think that I must’ve died and I am living in Heaven—whew, thank you God. I wonder if they have IPhones in Heaven and what version—are they up to at least 7 yet? Six would be OK too, but come on—if they are operating only on the 4 or 5, this must be the other place—the place I always assumed I would end up in. Much to my relief, Heaven has kept up with the latest technology and they are operating on a new IPhone 8 and I get to use it even before those poor Earth bound creatures do. This also confirms that I am indeed blessed. But wait, shouldn’t I be seeing relatives who have passed on or Sweetie, or Parky (my sweet pet budgies)? Oh no, now an uncomfortable thought occurs to me—maybe this is NOT Heaven after all. So, then where am I anyway? Maybe I am in a sort of in-between world, like Purgatory, where I am being tested to see if I am worthy of moving upwards? I go back to my self-portrait in my bedroom, and start asking her what is happening and where I am. She says I am neither in Heaven nor Hell and there has been a shift since I went to bed last night. I am now living in another world which resembles the old one, but without all the drama and horror. I ask about my children, friends, pets, and she says they are also in this new world, but better. I am not lonely, my son is well, I am happy at last—that empty pit in my gut, which is always there has been filled. I look at my contact list and see that it is basically still the same, but I see my son’s name has been miraculously added. I call him and we have an amazing conversation about how well he is doing, and that he is spending the weekend with his son. He assures me that he will be coming to visit soon and we hang up with “I love you.” I call some strange name on the list which has been added and discover that he is my boyfriend and we are on for dinner tonight, at which we will be planning a world tour—one which we don’t have to worry about being bombed, shot, run over by a car, or knifed at the airport. That anxious, sick feeling that haunts me day in and day out is amazingly gone.

But wait, I ask my self-portrait, “What is the catch—there must be a catch? There has to be something I must do to have this perfect life—so what is it then? Oh please tell me, my other self!” She smiles and proceeds to tell me what I must do to stay in this utopia. I must be totally unselfish and not self-centered; I must not have to have the last word; I must get rid of all jealousy and envy; I must be grateful for what I now have, even if it isn’t perfect; I must accept things as they currently are, not how I wish them to be; I must look in the mirror and love what I see, regardless of imperfections; I must be non-judgmental and practice tolerance and acceptance of others. My Alternate Marilyn assures me if I practice these simple principles in my life from this point on I can stay in this perfect world. Marilyn tells me that I have a week trial-period and if I cannot change after a week I will simply wake up, things will seem the same, but my world will return as before and sadly I will not remember. Now I am frightened because I just cannot fathom my life the way it was—all that time, just thinking there was no other way to live. I know I can do this—I am determined to change everything.

I wake up it seems the next day, I turn on the TV and there is yet another investigation of our President, there has been a bombing in the UK with dozens killed and ISIS has claimed responsibility. The world is back to the usual chaos and I blindly accept it with a sigh and resignation as I drink my morning coffee because I don’t know any better. I don’t know what could’ve been because I am back in the old reality—the old world. My self-portrait looks almost the same except for the small tear running down her right cheek.

Dream within a Dream

Someone just sat on the edge of my bed. I know this because I can feel the depression of the mattress but I don’t know who it could be considering I am alone. I am paralyzed by fear and afraid to open my eyes because I just know it is a ghost—a friendly ghost, like Casper I hope. But I am also incapable of moving my limbs as if I am pinned down and I have a sense of helplessness. This is so vivid that it almost seems real, but it is a dream—a dream that I want desperately to wake up from.

Then, as if by magic I am awake and not afraid at all. I am with a friend, telling her of my harrowing experience with the supernatural being in my house. But this is different—somehow I innately know that I am actually still dreaming, although in this dream, the fear is gone and I feel serene.

Suddenly I am aware of a newfound power where I can control the course and temperament of my dream and I can have anything I want in this alternate reality. What a freeing feeling I have, for in this dream, I get to have do-overs—my son is mentally healthy, I am happily married, and I am young again. I can fly if I want, why not, this is my dream—in my new world anything is possible. I have no more money issues. I am enjoying the best day of my life and I can summon up friends and loved ones who have passed over. I am outside in a beautiful field taking pictures that automatically transform into gorgeous images right in front of me. I am having the best food and sex ever and know this is the way it will remain. I am joyous and free, oh yes, I am happy for once.

But then the theme of the dream dramatically changes, as if something ominous and vile is inserting itself into my perfect dream. The dream is gradually becoming dark again, and I am hearing thunder in the distance. My brain desperately wants me to continue dreaming but it is no use—the booming thunderclaps become louder and louder, making it impossible to maintain my sleep. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, I am thrust into total consciousness. I lay there, realizing that I am now awake, seeing the lit up room from the lightning bolts. It is morning and I reluctantly get out of bed with a heavy heart. The depression is palpable because this time I know for sure, I am back in the real world and my lovely dream is over. I desperately want to return to the utopia of my subconscious—maybe I can go back tonight, but I know it is gone and reality is back.

Someone I Used to Know

I dive in after my little boy who has fallen into the ocean, frantically calling out to him, “Baby, baby, where are you?” I spot him underwater, slowly sinking, and I swim toward him, extending my hand, “Baby, baby, grab my hand. PLEASE GRAB MY HAND!” He stretches his arm out toward me but doesn’t quite reach me and continues his slow motion descent further and further down. I call out to him again, “Baby, PLEASE GRAB MY HAND”, and he makes one last try, and almost makes it but just as his fingertips barely touch mine, he slips away. As I watch helplessly as he descends deeper and deeper into the ocean depths, a sense of hopelessness and total remorse engulfs me, realizing that I can never save him. Then I wake up.

I am attached to my son. I am he and he is me—we are one and we always were. We are attached surely as if our livers, or lungs, or hearts were in the same body. I feel him and I cannot separate myself. I know for sure that I will not survive if one day I get the phone call that I have been dreading for so many years. I will cease to exist, if not physically, but spiritually—my soul will surely die and time will stop. I wonder why God puts people in the world for suffering while others live a charmed life. I go through each day, trying to become a “Lasagna noodle” and I am sometimes successful. But, alas, that serene state never lasts because I cannot get the vision out of my mind of my child, being shunned by everyone, alone, and looking like the Unabomber, hoody, sunglasses, and surgical mask, trying to navigate the world—running from all the entities chasing and trying to kill him.

Mental illness has taken his soul just as if he were a victim of a Body Snatcher—for he kind of resembles himself, but his essence is gone. He has become “someone I used to know” but don’t anymore. I can fool myself on some days and sometimes when I am at Church I can pretend in my daydream that he is sitting right beside me, worshipping God and feeling the rhythmic beat of the Christian Rock band. I can daydream that he is OK now and that he is back in his right mind. A sense of peace and serenity surrounds me and for a short period of time I can actually believe that anything is possible and I have hope again. But then reality creeps back into my world and I know I am powerless.

Today I have come to the realization that I can never save my boy—only God can. Unlike when he was a baby, he is a grown man and I have no control in his life. Although I had that dream so long ago, I can still remember it because it never felt like an actual dream—more like a premonition. I can pray and hope that one-day the stars and the moon will align and somehow he will be saved. But realistically I do not feel that will ever happen although I still hold out hope; when you lose hope that is the end and I am not ready to accept that yet.

Testimony

This is my Testimony that I wrote a number of months ago. It has actually been 3 years and 4 months since my surgery but I wanted to post this because I had not done so before:

Recently, I started thinking that almost 2 years ago I had a life changing surgery. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was actually almost 3 years. I couldn’t believe that time had just slipped by so quickly. So, on March 1st 2016 it will be 3 years since I was released from a living hell of a crippling illness. Everyone knows HOPE is everything, but sometimes no matter how you look at it, HOPE seems to be nowhere. After having lower back surgery, I inexplicably began to have trouble walking. I had a severely dropped foot, constant nerve pain, and a partially paralyzed leg. HOPE began to slip away after exhausting all tests and follow up MRIs, even 2nd opinions, only to be told, “We just don’t understand what is wrong with you. We have never seen something like this before.” Each morning I would awake with hope that a miracle happened and somehow I was getting better. But as soon as the realization came that nothing had changed and I was even worse, an incredible despair and hopelessness would engulf me. There were so many days that I wanted to just give up but I kept saying, “Maybe things will be better tomorrow. If you are thinking of offing yourself, put it off until tomorrow and see.” By employing that tactic, I managed to stay in this world to see a miracle happen. I have no doubt that this miracle was from my persistence and constantly not taking NO for an answer, a doctor who actually sat down to think about my symptoms, and God. I don’t think I would have gotten better if all of these factors were not aligned. By God’s grace one of my doctors ordered another MRI and found the culprit, a benign spinal tumor compressing a portion of my thoracic spine. Faith is a beautiful thing and when life is going well, it is easy to have it. The true test of faith is when life is life—when you feel that all hope is gone and you cannot see your way out. So many people are waiting for a white light and burning bush to prove the existence of God, when He is there all along. I believe my horrendous experience was necessary to bring me to my knees and start believing. I do not think this was an accident and that there are no coincidences in God’s world. God was working in my life for a long time before I noticed it, even meeting Joyce and Bill, who introduced me to their church. If my son had not had the breakdown, I never would’ve met them. I think God was patiently waiting for me, only I needed the experiences I endured to discover Him. I still pray and pray for my boy, and sometimes, when I am in a bad space, I wonder if God is really listening. Then I remember I must have faith, which equals hope, which equals life. I do not know what the future holds, and I must remember that I am not in charge. It is when I turn things over to Him that I achieve that elusive gift of peace and serenity that I am constantly seeking.

Jane – A tribute

Dear Jane,

It is Friday night and I keep thinking I’m going to pick up the phone and give you a call. You are one of the only people who understand about my son’s difficulties because you have been through it too. You are my go-to person for life’s injustices, life’s tragedies, life’s funny moments and I can talk to you about anything on earth and you to me. I’ve been there through all your hospitalizations, through your difficulties with your family, and you have been there for me in kind. Yesterday I pulled out my old wedding album so I could remember you as the maid of honor, happy, young, and vibrant. It is so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I will not see you again, except in Heaven, God willing.

We were good friends when we were teens up until our thirties but, as life took us in different directions, we somehow lost contact. We reconnected and again lost contact—this time I was sure our friendship had run it’s course. But one day, out of the blue, you called me and as if no time had passed at all, our bond was still strong and became stronger in the years that followed. I have shared so much of my travails about my child, my inexplicable crippling illness and subsequent recovery upon discovery of the cause (a benign spinal tumor), my ups and downs with my son, and everything in between. Sometimes I would call you and we’d have a marathon talking session about everything, including movies, Stuyvesant Town, old shows, friends, medical issues, family, politics—-you name it, we talked about it. You have been one of my greatest support systems and I feel that I filled that role for you too. I honestly don’t know what I am going to do without you.

To say I was shocked to learn of you passing was the understatement of the year. The last time I spoke with you, you said, “Call me anytime.” So, last Friday night I called to get my weekly dose of love, friendship, laughter, and wisdom from you. When you didn’t pick up I left a message. Three days later I called again, and again, and again, for days and days. At first I was annoyed, then I thought that maybe you were in the hospital again, although you had been doing very well lately. Everything seemed under control with your MS, which was in remission, and your diabetes, which didn’t seem to be an issue. I had no reason to believe that a tragedy had occurred. In my heart of hearts I was frightened and would not even entertain the idea that you had passed away. It was unfathomable to me so I dismissed it for days. But, yesterday something told me to call your brother’s number, which you had given me a few years back just in case. When I spoke with your sister in law, and she said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Jane passed away”, it felt like there was an explosion in my chest, and a punch to my gut—then the tears and disbelief came.

Jane, you had a very hard life, and a lonely existence up in Lockport, with no real support system. But you became a strong advocate for yourself and still managed to accept some of the seemingly unfair blows life dealt you with characteristic grace and dignity. About a year ago you said you were sitting on the couch watching TV when you saw your mom in the dining area. I asked if you were asleep and you said, “No, that was her.” I asked if you were scared at all and you said, “No.” I believe that your mom appeared to let you know you were loved and she was waiting for you to come over soon. I do not know the exact cause of your demise, but I suspect that it was peaceful, in your sleep. Although I am grieving this loss, I am happy for you at the same time, because at long last you are loved in a way you were not in this physical life. You are, as I write this, in God’s loving arms and with your mom. Your body is healed from your MS and you have no more physical or emotional pain—nobody can hurt you now. You are walking, running and laughing freely and finally at peace. I know you are looking down on me now and thinking of all we shared and how we could sometimes find humor in the strangest places. I prayed to God last night that you appear in my dreams to let me know you are indeed OK. But, I somehow know that you are. Sweet dreams in eternity. You will never be forgotten. Godspeed. Call me anytime!

Love Marilyn

Little Desk

Little Desk

The room is so bare now, except for that little lonely desk.
That desk is old and worn with nicks and imperfections, but with a new finish, it has new life.
That sad little desk sat, unused, in the closet for 16 months gathering dust.
That little desk has been through so much, but it is still standing.
That little desk sits all alone and forgotten in that empty room.
That little desk was about to be sent to the dump or Salvation Army, but it is still fighting to be useful.

A house is not always a home if there is no love.
This house has ghosts—memories that linger in every room—ghosts of an ex-husband, ex-lover, and son.
This house collects pieces of each person—games, tennis rackets, pool sticks, clothes and toiletries, and sadness and loss.
That little desk stands alone in that little room waiting to be loved.

Luck

Luck can be either good or bad and sometimes you can put a spin on something that starts out as horrible luck but becomes good luck. A perfect example of that is being in a catastrophic car accident, but surviving. It was unlucky that you were in an accident, but lucky that you survived. Sometimes something unlucky can result in meeting the love of your life. If you had not been there or gone through what you did, if you had not been in that hospital, or that building, then you would not have been in that exact place at the right time. You’ve heard of the wrong place at the wrong time but there is also the right place at the right time. Maybe one day you decided to just go another direction on your way to work and avoided getting killed. Maybe you woke up late one morning and missed your flight, only to discover later in the day that that was really the luckiest thing that could’ve happened to you because you missed the crash. I was sure lucky that I decided to go on vacation during the 9/11 tragedy since I worked there. Luck and bad luck are fluid—they are constantly changing because what you consider to be an unlucky event may turn out to be the luckiest day of your life. But is it really luck or divine intervention? It all depends on what one believes but I like to think that all good luck is a blessing and something to be thankful for. Then there are some people who always seem to be lucky, or so you think.

You know those people—the ones who are lucky in love, winning money, or great job. You get those people who win the lottery more than once but can’t handle the consequences and responsibilities of having more money than they are equipped to handle. They change, start living above their limits, destroy relationships and end up broke, and alone. I do believe that luck is not just some random thing—you make your own luck. I hear people described as lucky when they win an award, but in reality they have been working hard to earn that reward. That is not luck—that is skill, talent, and tenacity. To me, pure luck is when you have done nothing to earn your good fortune—lottery, horse racing, or betting on anything. But there are also many people who chase luck as in the case of compulsive gamblers.

My Dad was a person who believed in luck so much that he would spend most every Saturday at the “track” betting on the horses at either of the two racetracks around the NYC area: Aqueduct (the big A) or Belmont. Sometimes he was lucky and would come home as the jubilant big shot, ushering my brother, mom and I out the door to a nice steakhouse. But those were bittersweet memories because even as we were enjoying our night out, I knew that the next weekend could be a totally different scenario. I could never predict what type of mood he would come home in because it all depended on his luck that day. Oftentimes on Saturday evenings, after losing his shirt at the track, he would come home drunk, belligerent, and looking for an argument—it was always a roller coaster. My Dad’s quest for luck sometimes resulted in me, a little girl at the time, fielding phone calls from creditors and telling them my dad was not home when he was standing right near me. I became a liar because of my dad’s unlucky forays into the world of horse racing. My Dad’s obsession with hitting it big required him to have two jobs to support us. Luckily (or rather smartly) my mom held the family together with her job as a legal secretary. I so vividly remember hearing my parents arguing about money through the thin wall of our bedroom at night when my dad came home from his second job. Unfortunately those arguments laid the groundwork for my lifelong phobia of never having enough money and going broke. But it also made me the fiscally responsible person that I am today although I still struggle with a fear of “losing it all”.

The sad part of all this was that no matter how much money my dad won on any given day, he would throw it all back the next week in pursuit of hitting the big one. My parents were always one step away from divorce, but as was the case in those days they just stayed together. Even when my dad no longer went to the track to bet, NYC came up with a new way for people to feed their obsession—it was called OTB (off-track betting) and he just walked down the street to place his bets. Sometimes you have to practice acceptance and just stop fighting and in my mom’s later years that is what she did. She knew she could never change him and just stopped trying.

Faith

Recently, I started thinking that almost 2 years ago I had a life changing surgery. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was actually almost 3 years. I couldn’t believe that time had just slipped by so quickly. So, on March 1st 2016 it will be 3 years since I was released from a living hell of a crippling illness. Everyone knows HOPE is everything, but sometimes no matter how you look at it, HOPE seems to be nowhere. After having lower back surgery, I inexplicably began to have trouble walking. I had a severely dropped foot, constant nerve pain, and a partially paralyzed leg. HOPE began to slip away after exhausting all tests and follow up MRIs, even 2nd opinions, only to be told, “We just don’t understand what is wrong with you. We have never seen something like this before.” Each morning I would awake with hope that a miracle happened and somehow I was getting better. But as soon as the realization came that nothing had changed and I was even worse, an incredible despair and hopelessness would engulf me. There were so many days that I wanted to just give up but I kept saying, “Maybe things will be better tomorrow. If you are thinking of offing yourself, put it off until tomorrow and see.” By employing that tactic, I managed to stay in this world to see a miracle happen. I have no doubt that this miracle was from my persistence and constantly not taking NO for an answer, a doctor who actually sat down to think about my symptoms, and God. I don’t think I would have gotten better if all of these factors were not aligned. By God’s grace my doctor ordered another MRI and found the culprit, a benign spinal tumor compressing a portion of my thoracic spine. Faith is a beautiful thing and when life is going well, it is easy to have it. The true test of faith is when life is life—when you feel that all hope is gone and you cannot see your way out. So many people are waiting for a white light and burning bush to prove the existence of God, when He is there all along. I believe my horrendous experience was necessary to bring me to my knees and start believing. I do not think this was an accident and that there are no coincidences in God’s world. God was working in my life for a long time before I noticed it, even meeting Joyce and Bill, who introduced me to their church. If my son had not had the breakdown, I never would’ve met them. I think God was patiently waiting for me, only I needed the experiences I endured to discover Him. I still pray and pray for my boy, and sometimes, when I am in a bad space, I wonder if God is really listening. Then I remember I must have faith, which equals hope, which equals life. I do not know what the future holds, and I must remember that I am not in charge. It is when I turn things over to Him that I achieve that elusive gift of peace and serenity that I am constantly seeking.

Fifty Things I Hate About the South

A while back, I was at my hairdresser’s and I was complaining about the way drivers in Augusta take 15 minutes to make a turn into a driveway. We were laughing and then I said, I was going to write an article entitled, “Fifty Things I Hate about the South.” That was an exaggeration, and I do not hate the South. But, as a transplanted Northerner, it has sometimes been challenging fitting in.

How did a nice Jewish girl from the NY/NJ area end up (not a good choice of words) in Augusta, GA you might ask? Well, through a series of fateful events I moved here. I had been working at the WTC, and a year after the 9/11 attacks, I was laid off along with hundreds of others. After wracking my brains about how I would survive, it came to me; I’ll move down South. So, I up and sold my Townhouse and bought one here.

I was familiar with the area since I had been visiting my friend’s family for 8 years on vacation. But visiting and actually living here was a totally different story. With all the uncertainty in my life, the initial reason I moved here was financial; let’s face it, it is cheaper to live in Augusta. Since moving here, I have taken risks and reinvented myself many times over but it has still been a rocky ride at times. In the beginning, I wondered if I made a mistake because I missed my family terribly and some of the differences were very stark to me. As a liberal Northerner, it is sometimes hard to swallow some of the political leanings of this area. I missed the day-trips to Camelback, PA to go skiing too. I cannot escape the question of “where do you come from” (as if I’m an alien from another planet) due to my New York accent. I also cannot fathom why, when asked my name at Starbucks, my coffee comes with the name “Maryland” on the cup. Even when I tell people my name, they still say, “Maryland?” I get junk mail addressed to “Maryland Botta.” Maybe I should change my name to Washington, DC. The names down here are different too. I discovered that Melvis is an actual name, which took me by surprise because that was a made up name my brother and I used for my cousin Melvin and his wife Phyllis. You also don’t find the variety of ethnic restaurants here that you find up North, and I miss that sometimes. The first time I was asked what Church I belonged to, I was taken aback; that would be considered rude up North, and nobody’s business. But in the South, it is commonplace and acceptable. Living in Augusta often means that everybody knows everybody (a la Peyton Place)—you always run into people you know, or people that know who you know; that’s life in a small town. But when all is said and done, despite all these differences, the South has grown on me, even when I wasn’t even aware of it. Here’s the thing—for years every time someone would ask me if I like it in Augusta, I would say, “Eh, it’s OK.” I could not make up my mind, but one day, while driving down the street on a really lovely spring day, it suddenly occurred to me that Augusta has become my home. I have made some friendships, and have established a life of sorts here. I have come to appreciate the South, even though it is not perfection (but no place is). So, the next time someone asks me if I like it down South, I will say, “Yes, I do and I think I’ll stay.”

Haunting Melody

It’s funny how a song that you haven’t heard since you were a teenager, can suddenly bring you back to a moment in time, good or bad. A while back, I was in Starbucks and I heard a haunting melody that sounded familiar. Upon listening more closely, I realized what I was hearing and I was suddenly transported back in time to the age of 16.

When I was a kid, my friends Janet, Mark, and Billy met the charismatic Richie M. hanging around Playground 12 in Stuyvesant Town. He had two friends, Pat and Tommy and the 6 of us somehow formed a sort of click. Richie was very tall (6’ 3”) and good looking, had dark hair and wore glasses. Conversely, his sidekick and best friend, Tommy was very short, had a pug nose, a big mouth, funny teeth, and was in general not very attractive, although he was a really nice guy who we all loved. I think they had a symbiotic relationship and he lived vicariously through Richie. It was such a contrast—kind of like Mutt and Jeff. But more than Richie’s appearance was his personality—he just had that special “something” that attracted people, mostly girls. The group eventually grew to include others, the sisters who Janet and I privately referred to as “The Bozo Girls” because of their bushy red hair, and a number of other peripherals who came and went. But there was no question who the leader was and that was Richie. I was a total innocent at that time, a good girl, and had never even had a boyfriend. So, naturally I was flattered that the fabulous Richie wanted to hang with us. At first, we were all platonic, but as always happens with males and females, sex gets into the mix. Every other day, it seemed that Richie had a new adoring girl on his arm and I just assumed that I was not “worthy” of Richie’s greatness—I had to be content to worship him on the sidelines like everyone else. So, one would think that since I was lacking a boyfriend, I would jump at the chance when asked to “go out” with someone. But I guess I was still selective, even at that stage in my life. One day, Tommy asked me out and I said I’d think about it—not a good sign. I remember going home and weighing the pros and cons: Pros-He had a part time job at a theater on Broadway and could get me into shows. He made some pretty good money, even at age 17 and could treat me. Cons: I just could not for the life of me picture myself remotely kissing him and unfortunately, that kind of goes with being somebody’s “girlfriend.” The next day I gave him my answer, “NO” and then said those dreaded words that nobody wants to hear, “But we can be friends.”

Then out of the blue, the next day, and unexpectedly for me, Richie asked me out. My answer was an immediate YES, YES! I remember being so shocked but feeling like I had reached the mountaintop and felt “on top of the world.” I literally looked in back of me to see who he was really talking to—it could not be me, of course. But it was and I drifted on top of a cloud when I went home that night and almost had to pinch myself to see if I was indeed awake. Of course, I had no idea what it even meant to be a girlfriend of anyone, let alone a girlfriend of the most sought after boy in Stuyvesant Town. I felt remotely guilty about turning Tommy down the day before, but the guilt didn’t last very long.

Since we lived near the East Village (of Greenwich Village), we would sometimes go over to a discotheque called the Electric Circus, which catered to the younger crowd because they did not serve liquor. One night I remember scrounging around to get the $4 admission fee and we arrived with Richie leading the way. We were all dancing together as a group, and having a great time while colorful amoebas splashed over the walls accompanied by the rhythmic psychedelic music of that time. Suddenly, a slow song came on, and Richie asked me to dance. The name of the song was, “I love you more than you’ll ever know” by Blood, Sweat, and Tears. I almost fell into a trance and for the duration of that song it felt as if there were only two people on the dance floor and in the world. Since he was so tall, I hung onto his waist, with my head leaning against his warm chest, feeling his heart beating, and was only aware of that haunting song and the flashing psychedelic lights across the ceiling and walls. At that moment, I loved him with all my heart and soul, just like the words of that song. Richie was indeed my first love, and my first broken heart because unfortunately that moment in time did not last. But for that night, my dreams came true.

The Bomb

I was reminiscing with my friend last night and she reminded me about what it was like during the time when a nuclear holocaust was a very real possibility. I guess today we worry about mass killings, terrorists, and ISSIS. But back in the early 60s, annihilation of our world as we knew it by the Bomb was the main cause of anxiety. Childhood should be a carefree time of innocence, but as children growing up in those days, the Bomb loomed large in our consciousness. During that time, everywhere you looked in Manhattan, was the ubiquitous bomb/fallout shelter. In Stuyvesant Town, where I grew up, each building was equipped with a carriage room where we kept bicycles, carriages, and things of that sort. However, during the paranoia of the Cold War, our carriage room doubled as the official fallout shelter, complete with the circular, yellow and black symbol promising survival; never mind that the walls were not designed to protect us from a nuclear attack and it was not equipped with any long-term survival gear or food and water. I guess this was the only place in our development that would at least semi-meet the requirement that all buildings have such a “safe place.” As a little girl, I remember being outside in the playground, or on the street, when suddenly the loud blare of air-raid sirens would usher us indoors to whatever building we were near. It became so “normal” for this to happen periodically that it was just an annoyance and nothing to be concerned about. Then an all-clear siren would signal us that we could come out of hiding and resume our activities. In school, we had “bomb drills” where we would huddle under our desks as protection from flying glass—not even thinking that we would all be incinerated. My brother and I played a game of “what would you do if?” We would ask, “What would you do if you found out that the USSR launched missiles and you knew you only had about 5 more minutes before they hit?” I would answer that I would hide in the bedroom closet, knowing full well that it would be over for all of us. These childhood games were born of pure FEAR about the future of our world—something that children should not have to think about. I vividly remember opening the front door to my best friend, Janet, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and seeing her worried face reflecting exactly what I felt—namely that we might all be doomed. That feeling of pure helplessness was something I’ll never forget and the fear I felt that day is still palpable for me

The fallout shelters provided people with a false sense of security because in actuality, the city would have been flattened and we’d be liquefied. If anybody were “lucky” enough to survive the initial attack, the radiation would slowly take its toll. But, as humans we wanted to believe we had some measure of control and these shelters met that need.

As the years rolled on and the Cold War lessened, those bomb shelters and signs gradually disappeared giving way to a tenuous sense of security. Unfortunately dangers still exist wherever we go and we cannot escape them. But what made that time period different from the world crises we currently face was that the very existence of the earth and our species was threatened—that life on this planet would cease to exist, and that horrible fate was in the hands of mere mortals.

Guilt and Love

I have come to the realization that no matter what I do, no matter how much money I send, it will not be enough. Kind of like alcohol for the alcoholic, there is never enough. But last weekend something came to me, something that my friends had told me for quite some time, something that I knew in my heart of hearts—that I just could not keep giving him money above and beyond what we agreed to. Initially, it started out with $100 a month, but that was not enough. Then his dad agreed to $200 a month to be doled out incrementally by me as I saw fit. Of course I would have saved money by giving him large chunks at once, but I knew the money would be gone within a week or two. However, it is usually gone by early in the month anyway, then the incessant, relentless, phone calls start—multiple in one day. Then last weekend I just stopped taking my boy’s calls, not listening to his messages, and deleted them. This has been very difficult to do this, but I know that the minute I listen to him or hear a phone message, my resolve will crumble. In speaking with my wise friend, Janet, she made a good analogy. When I told her that my giving him money relieves the fear, guilt, and anxiety. She said giving him money is like an addiction; the anxiety and apprehension build up and is relieved only when I send him the money he requests. It is a tremendous relief, and I feel better temporarily, but it starts to build again, and the only relief is when I send him money again. Although there is an overwhelming sense of relief, I also have a sense of tremendous resentment, which equals anger. Then the cycle starts again, over and over. Just like an addiction, I needed to just stop this cycle because it is no good for him because he will never get the help he needs and no good for me because I am continually being drawn into his chaotic world. It is a symbiotic, sick relationship. I have to be strong, and I pray to God that this is the right call and will not result in a tragedy because I will never forgive myself. I just have to trust in the Lord that He knows what I don’t and will some day lead my son out of this never-ending maze to a better life.

Jamaican VBS Trip 2015

My 2015 Jamaican VBS Experience

Since I am new to the bible, church in general, and West Town Community, when I saw that there was a VBS trip to Jamaica I questioned whether or not I was qualified to go. I didn’t think that I had anything to contribute, but Joyce said that was not true, so I jumped in, even with lingering doubts. I figured although I couldn’t really share my biblical knowledge, I could at least document the trip in pictures. So, that was my contribution. I believe that everyone on this trip had a unique talent, that when taken alone would not have been enough, but together each one of us contributed in our own special way. It made for a united front and a great team.

We arrived Tuesday, July 21st with no incidents and were warmly met by Bernard and Kingsley. Although Kingsley was our van driver, he is also a pastor. After getting settled into the hotel, Kingsley brought us to a local fast food restaurant for some Jamaican fare. Creature comforts such as air-conditioning were basically absent in most places, except in our actual hotel room. But, we became acclimated pretty quickly—we had no choice. I was a little nervous about sharing a room with two other ladies, but my trepidations were quickly allayed—we had no problems at all. Each one of us automatically adjusted to a morning schedule: I was the early riser, Joyce showered the night before, and Sheree waited for me to finish. I totally enjoyed sharing deeply with my roommates about very personal experiences in my life. I think we bonded very well and that was a blessing. Joyce was the peacekeeper and our liaison when we questioned certain decisions we were not sure of and averted any problems. We simply voiced our concerns to her and she would, in her very diplomatic way, bring them to the powers that be, with good results.

Wednesday was the beginning of our interactions with the VBS children. Unfortunately the VBS supplies that were sent off to Montego Bay somehow never arrived. But, I was so impressed about the way our team handled that challenge and rose to the occasion. One would never know that they were basically making it up as they went, with amazing results. Our team was very resourceful and just made do (without complaints) with the few supplies we packed into our luggage. Regardless, the children had a wonderful experience due to the team’s commitment, as evidenced by all the smiles in the pictures. As I took the pictures I saw over and over again, how each team member instinctively knew what to do. I was very impressed by how well Ellie and Taylor interacted with the children by not only face painting, but by just playing with them. Jacob was such a blessing and helpful too with whatever activity he was required to assist in. He basically kept his eye on the children and was the “enforcer.” Somehow, our team knew when to switch off from indoor crafts and bible study to outdoor activities, according to the age groups. I do feel that the VBS at West Town model was a good guideline and that was very helpful. That night, our plan was to have dinner and attend Kingsley’s church to hear him preach. Of the restaurants where we ate dinner, I most enjoyed this particular local place recommended by Kingsley. He brought his daughter, Grace Ann, who was on her own vacation from medical school. The food was presented family-style at tables outside. We all ordered a variety of yummy Jamaican food such as Jerk Chicken, Jerk Pork, sausages, breadfruit, Festival, and other specialties. It all came to the table in foil and we just shared the abundance of delicious dishes. After dinner we attended Kingsley’s church to hear him preach very passionately. The service was vastly different from what we are used to—much singing and fanfare.

It must be said that our trip was greatly enhanced and helped along by Philip’s amazing travel and life experiences. He was definitely our MacGyver—the “go to” guy who could solve almost anything. I felt such a level of safety and security with Philip on board; he really kept the trip safe and us in line. In addition, our seating was upgraded which was wonderful.

Thursday was a similar VBS day, but I especially enjoyed it because the activity level was not so structured. Each day I needed some alone time to simply transfer the days’ pictures from my camera to my laptop, thus making room for the next day. There were no time constraints so I sat by the pool table, where the Internet was strong, and downloaded my photos. I even had time that day to edit a few pictures and post on Facebook. After this, Joyce and I did some exercise (Yoga and walking) then leisurely prepared for dinner at The Pelican, an upscale restaurant. Kingsley showed us a $1000 Jamaican bill, which was actually worth about $10 in American currency. Strangely (it seemed to me) that the picture on the bill resembled George Bush, which made me laugh and laugh at that. I enjoyed this day the most because it was so relaxing.

Friday was my birthday and it was the best to date. Of course everyone wished me Happy Birthday and then we left for Church. But what made it amazing and unforgettable was, while sitting in church waiting for the day’s activities to begin, the beautiful children suddenly surrounded me and broke out into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, complete with hugs. It was a total surprise, very moving, and almost brought me to tears. I think that was actually the highlight of my trip.

Friday afternoon, after VBS, we took a trip to the Straw Market to buy some souvenirs. I picked out a lovely blue elephant necklace, and was about to pay, when Joyce just said, “This is your birthday present.” How nice was that! Then I bought a pair of earrings with the Jamaican colors, negotiating a lower price, of course. I was told that bargaining is actually expected and part of the process. Usually a fair price is actually ½ of the original asking price.

In the evening we went to Pizza Hut, of all places, but couldn’t get in—there were absolutely no tables. So, Joyce, Sheree and I went back to the hotel where Sheree treated me to the delicious Jerk Chicken served poolside with breadfruit. When the rest of the gang returned with the pizza Joyce informed me that they wanted us to go up to the top floor to have some. When I got there, another Happy Birthday was sung and frosted cupcakes appeared. I just had to have some pizza and cupcakes too, which were really moist and good. Even Joyce partook of the cupcakes and pronounced them excellent. I had not had so many Happy Birthdays in forever. What a memory.

Each morning, Joyce, being the first one out the door, would bring us our coffee. Then once outside we would have more coffee and toast poolside, before we left for the VBS. We became friendly with the two ladies (Woneeta and Tadesha) serving us and I took a group shot.

The Jamaican food graciously served to us in the church basement each morning and afternoon was incredible. Every day before the activities began we would go down the stairs and be fed an amazing array of typical Jamaican foods. I had heard of breadfruit but I actually tasted it on this trip. The selection was incredible and every morning it was different. The first day, they served a traditional American breakfast—bacon and eggs—but subsequent days were more adventurous. The lunch was just as delicious and varied from day to day. One of my favorite dishes was Ackee and salt fish; amazing. Ackee is actually a fruit but one would never know it because of the way it was prepared. The graciousness of the kitchen staff and the Jamaican people made this trip so memorable.

Another observation was that there was no “rushing” the way we have in the States. The attitude seems to be “whenever we get to it.” That took some getting used to for a Type A personality like myself, but by the end of the trip, I think I adjusted as much as I was capable.

I must give a shout out to the “Walmart” of Montego Bay, Mega Mart. All I can say is WOW! I could’ve spent my vacation perusing the isles in this store, which offered a multitude of every food imaginable, from traditional American foods to Jamaican specialties. In addition, as with Walmart, they sold everything under the sun one could possibly want. The selection of foods was even better than I’ve seen in the States. They even took American dollars, and so we didn’t really have to change over our money. They did give you change in Jamaican currency. It was so funny to see $400 for an item (in Jamaican money) but was a fraction of that in American dollars.

There were many pranks perpetrated by the kids, and adults as well. I cannot speak to that part of the trip since, luckily, I was not the recipient of any of them.

Saturday we had a free day, and went to a luxurious beach and hotel resort called Sunset Beach. We immediately boarded a glass bottom boat, where you could see all the sea life by looking at the bottom of the boat. Unfortunately, I got very seasick but luckily had not had much to eat yet and it worked out. I just stopped looking at the swaying bottom and looked out over the horizon as suggested by our guide, Jerome. Our captain also had very strong political ideas, which he unabashedly voiced while navigating the choppy waters. Our co-navigator, Sleepy, just ignored the outspoken Jerome and didn’t say much. Woody, Tim, and Philip jumped overboard and swam in the water and under the boat. After that we had an unlimited, decadent feast for about an hour. Joyce, Sheree and I swam in the ocean, relaxed, walked the beach, did some tubing, and finally met up with the rest of the team. We were exhausted going home, but still found time to go swimming at the hotel. All in all I had a great day.

Sunday was a different experience attending church where the VBS was held and the children and adults were in their Sunday best. Services in a Jamaican church are quite different from our own. There is much singing, praising and hand clapping and the passion is palpable. Unlike West Town where we can basically dress as we want, there is a strict dress code—jeans and shorts are not allowed at all. Woman must wear a skirt or dress and men must wear long pants. I noticed that many of the women (especially older ladies) wore hats too. Of course, there is no air-conditioning, which presents its own challenges. We sat by the windows and overhead fans, which provided some relief.

When we returned, I told everyone that I wanted to take a few group shots with me included at about 3:15. I wanted us to at least be in our dress clothes. I set up the tripod and we took a few regular shots and one goofy one, which is really my favorite. We were all scheduled to go to the 2015 Youth Congress that evening, but Jacob had an ear infection from swimming, which required his dad, Steve, and Philip to get some medical attention for him. We agreed to pick the boys up at the hotel, after the ceremony. So only Pat, Woody, Tim, Joyce, Sheree, Taylor, Ellie, and I attended the ceremony, which turned out to be an amazing celebration of youth in Jamaica. The opening songs by the Youth Choir were so inspirational and a delight to the ears. I have to admit that, although I was tired from the day and I really didn’t want to attend, I was happy that I did go in the end. It was an experience that I would not have wanted to miss.

We finally went to dinner at the Pelican again. I had their version of Ackee and salt fish and thoroughly enjoyed my last real Jamaican meal for a while with relish. We finished packing most of what we could and went to bed. What a busy day.

Monday, July 27th, our departure date arrived and I could hardly believe that the week went by so fast. We got up early, finished all the packing, went for breakfast by the pool, and bid a goodbye to the hostesses. We arrived at the airport and said a fond farewell to Kingsley. Everything went smoothly thanks to everyone’s cooperation as a team and Philip’s watchful eye. When we finally arrived at our final destination in Atlanta (after going through an abbreviated version of Customs, thanks again to Philip), Joyce and Philip were surprised to find their family there to greet them. Bill took both Sheree and I back to West Town, where we had some American food.

In conclusion, it was a great trip and I loved the way we came together as a team despite a few glitches early on. We worked any potential problems out, overcame some real obstacles (no supplies), and adjusted accordingly. I’m pretty impressed with us.

Aging

When you’re a kid you think you are invincible and the thought of “growing old” is not even in your consciousness. When I tell childhood stories I sometimes want to describe people as an “older person” but then I have to pause and think, “Everyone seemed much older than they probably were”. So, I really don’t know if my description is accurate. Who knows, they might have only been in their 30s or 40s, but to a child that is pretty old. But it ‘s funny how your definition of “old” changes as you rapidly approach the age you considered old. I remember being so depressed when I turned 26 because I had passed that magical number of 25, which meant that I was closer to 30 than 20. In my mind, 30 was officially a “real adult” and, although I was a mother already by 19, I still thought that I was a kid. But, when I passed 30, then 40 became the new “old age” for me. Each decade, I raise the bar on what it means to be “old.” Since when did 40 become “young?’ How about 50? To me that is now “young” or at least still “young.” How many times have I heard myself saying lately, “They’re not that old”, referring to someone in their 70s. The fact remains that the world is geared to youth and no matter how “young” you think you look, feel, or act, you are not young, and you are often treated as such. People say that age is just a number, and you can remain “young at heart”, be active, athletic, keep yourself in shape, but time is rapidly advancing, and it seems the older you get, the faster the years go by. I remember endless summers, being the playground champ, spinning tops, playing Skelly, melting bottle caps on manhole covers, eating Good Humor sold by old man Joe, the ever present ice cream man. Then, going home for dinner only to go out again in the evening. I was athletic and that was my life during those magical summer days and nights. It seems almost as if those days were just yesterday, and I sometimes wake up and think, “how the hell did I get to be this old and when did this happen?” I remember hearing about “the Golden Years” but I have recently found myself thinking that is such a fallacy. Often the “golden years” are fraught with age-related illnesses, even if you think you are healthy. With aging often comes a gradual betrayal of your body. There are exceptions, and I believe that if you keep yourself in good physical condition, taking care of what is so precious, you may skip the extreme decline. But the thing about life is that unless you have a crystal ball, or a link to God, you don’t know what the future holds. I am a firm believer that we should live NOW, and not look too far into the future. The media is famous for preaching about the evils of retiring too early (taking your Social Security too soon). I laugh when I see these dire warnings because I know from experience that life is very fragile and you should take your happiness now, if you can, rather than later because later may never come.

If Only

The world of “If Only” is a fantasy world I sometimes live in. It is a very dangerous place and nothing good can come from visiting, especially if I stay too long. If Only is a close cousin to Regret so I try very hard not to say those two toxic words. Yet I still find myself thinking, “If only I had done…..” or “If only I didn’t do such and such, or “If only I were rich”…..—you can fill in the blanks and any way you look at it, you end up with remorse over some missed opportunity, or a regret over something you did that you are sorry for. It’s too bad that we can’t just turn the clock back or hit the undo button on a decision we’ve made. We are all human and sometimes we don’t always think things through when we decide to embark on a journey. A case of the “If Onlys” can also lead to envy and jealousy especially when you cannot afford some material item that your wealthy friend can. Then you say, “If only I had married better” or “If only I had not been so stupid to divorce my husband so quickly”. The thing is that whatever is done or was not done, you have to live with the consequences or live with the reality of a situation you cannot control. Acceptance and the Serenity Prayer go a long way when I am living in that fantasyland of “If Only.” My options are to “accept the things I cannot change” and “have the courage to change the things I can” and to “have the wisdom to know the difference.” Since we know we just cannot press the delete button on bad choices, the sooner we realize we cannot change them, we can move forward and create a better life based in the reality of now. “If only” keeps you mired in the past or keeps you in a perpetual state of jealousy, depression, regret, and remorse. Either way, you are stuck and personal growth ceases.

Hope

When I was a child in school, I heard a poem that stuck with me throughout the years, called Richard Cory. Somehow I always remembered it for the message. It was about a man named Richard Cory who was a pillar of the community, rich, handsome, refined, a gentleman, dressed impeccably, and seemed to have the world by the tail. Everyone would see him floating through the town, greeting everyone graciously, and envied him for his wealth and happy life. But the end of the poem is what struck me, even as a child for it seems that one fine Summer evening, he went home and put a bullet in his head. Somehow (and me included) people seem to think that just because you have acquired “stuff” you will be happy. Whenever you hear of a celebrity committing suicide who seemed to have it all, you scratch your head and wonder why. But even if you think you know someone, you never really know the inner workings of their mind and the demons they may be grappling with. Sometimes suicide may seem like the only way out of a seemingly hopeless situation. I think more people than would want to admit it have considered (even fleetingly) at some point in time, that the world is no longer a place they wish to inhabit. But my theory is that it takes more courage to keep on living than to take the easy way out and end your existence. Upon interviewing surviving POWs, who spent years in a virtual hell, imprisoned by the enemy, one thing became clear—that hope and a positive attitude got them through. The people who lost hope died. I know for myself, in my darkest days, if I get even one smidgeon of hope, it will carry me through another day. It is that “one day at a time” concept, so popular in all 12 Step Programs, that keeps you looking for the rainbow in the midst of never-ending rain.

Remembering 9/11

As another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come around, I find myself remembering that fateful day. It has been 13 years since that horrific day that will be forever etched in my mind, and the minds of anyone who was old enough to remember it. It was especially emotional for me since my office was located in One World Trade Center, the building that was attacked first. Although I was not physically there on that day—choosing to go to Augusta, for a fall vacation—it was nevertheless very traumatic. People always ask me why I moved to Augusta, and if I am being honest, I have to bring up the WTC, because that is part of the story. Inevitably, they ask, “Were you there that day?” and I say NO, even though I want to say YES. People seem to think that if you were not physically present, you have no right to be traumatized, but that is not true. Many people sought counseling to cope with the unbelievable and horrific events, including my brother, who didn’t even work there. But, just the fact that my office was there, watching the 2nd attack and buildings collapse in real time on TV, wondering if my coworkers got out, losing a friend, and realizing that by the grace of God I was away that day, is traumatizing. I cried for 6 months each time I thought about Angela, or when I saw pictures of the twin towers. I kept thinking, “Why was she killed and not me? Why was I not there that day?” I had “survivors guilt” for a long time, thinking, “Angela was such a wonderful person. It should’ve been me instead.” I thought of all those people I used to see in the elevators each morning, some disabled on crutches, and wondered if any of them got out. I think of the bravery of Alex, a security guard who lost his life at 36 because he chose to go back into the building over and over to help people. I think of Abe, a religious Jew, who lost his life because he refused to leave his wheelchair bound co-worker and friend, who happened to be Hispanic. I had been thinking of moving to Augusta for a while, but when I was laid off a year later with hundreds of others, that sealed the deal. I then decided that I would embark on a new chapter in my life. I started something called the “Layoff Log” just to cope with the insanity and bitterness that ensued after being let go from a job that was my “identity”. This journal documents that tumultuous time in my life, and gave birth to the writing I do today. The following excerpt from The Layoff Log begins with the few days leading up to the 9/11 attacks, which ultimately resulted in the massive layoff. This was written in 2001:

Events leading up to the attacks:

September 7 and 8th 2001

I have been working in the World Trade Center for about two years now. I am scrambling to finish the medical policies and send them out for review before I go on vacation to Georgia. I am feeling very stressed and am keenly aware of all the filing that I have piled on my desk that I MUST finally do when I return in two weeks. I e-mail the policies to Carmen so she can send them out to the appropriate people with hers as well.

September 10, 2001

I am finishing up some last-minute packing before my friends pick me up to take me to the airport. I am happy and excited in anticipation of seeing my friend and her family again. I arrive uneventfully and enjoy a relaxing dinner at Macaroni Grill with Janet, her husband Bill, and daughter April. I am feeling very mellow and can’t wait until the next day when we will be heading to Hilton Head for a few restful days.

September 11, 2001

My world and everyone else’s is changed forever. The Twin Towers are attacked and thousands are killed. It is approximately 8:46 and I am blissfully running that morning in Georgia, when I hear on the radio that there is “something going on at the North Tower of the WTC.” They were not sure but thought that there was a fire or some sort of terrorist activity. I quickly try to think if my office is in the North or South Tower and pray that it is not the North—later I realize it is. I am shocked and almost get run over by a car when I cross the street. I am on my way back anyway and race to the house. Janet is descending the stairs and I tell her to turn on the T.V. We watch in horror as we see the gaping hole in Tower One, my building, and I almost lose it. I note that the hole is high up and hope that my co-workers will be able to get out. I think of my ex-husband who works there too. Then we see the second plane hit the South Tower and I turn to Janet and ask, innocently, “Were there people in that plane?” She says grimly, “Yes.” Before long, we watch in disbelief as the South Tower collapses. We are crying and shocked. Then about a half hour later, Tower One collapses too. I pray and pray that my friends got out. I then realize that I have not told my parents that I am on vacation—they must think I am in the building. I am frantic and Janet takes charge, calling, calling, calling, and finally gets through to my Mom, who is crying on the other line. She said she and my Dad thought I was dead. Janet finally gets through to Mark who says he didn’t even go into work that day—he had a doctor’s appointment that morning. He said he didn’t know anything about other friends in the building and he would contact me later in the day. We sit and watch all day long, shocked and numb, but yet unable to tear ourselves away from the T.V. The disbelief is palpable and I feel that I am in a dream state. We cancel the trip to Hilton Head. We finally decide to go out to dinner and wherever we go, we cannot escape the horror. It is all over the T.V. and I am totally amazed that some people seem to be going about their business as if nothing has happened. I feel compelled to tell people that I used to work at the WTC. I eat but barely taste the food and feel guilty that I am even able to eat at all.

Mark calls me later in the evening to tell me Angela, our friend, his close friend—did not come home at all and nobody can get in touch with her. Elliot thinks she is dead. I am shocked and sick, sick, sick. I go to bed and pray but, in my heart, I know she is gone.

Rage

Sudden outbursts of rage have always existed in society and I know that. But, it just seems that I am hearing more and more about this. Maybe it is that it is reported more due to the News literally being 24/7 or is it that people are just in a constant state of frustration and anxiety due to this insane world we live in now. The most recent outbursts have occurred on airplanes due to people being inconsiderate by sitting down and immediately reclining their seats onto someone’s knees or people putting a device preventing them from reclining at all. When I rode the NJ Transit bus from New Jersey to Manhattan every morning, this would happen every so often. I was annoyed but I simply quietly asked the person in the seat in front of me if they could please just move the seat up a little bit because it was hitting my knees. Most of the time they just moved it up and that was the end of the story; incident averted. Conversely, I would do the same if I were the person reclining the seat (although I never put it back where it would hit someone’s knees). But, now some enterprising individual has invented a device that attaches to the seat in front, thus preventing the seat from reclining at all. That is ridiculous because everybody who buys a plane ticket has a right to be comfortable and I think most people are polite enough not to slam the seat back. But, I was not surprised when I heard that a fight broke out severe enough to divert the plane the other day. Then recently another one was reported as well. At first I thought that this was a gross overreaction to something that could’ve been fixed diplomatically but I think the cause is just RAGE; that this was “the last straw.” We live in a society where we often feel like victims of some sort. Most of the time we have no control of situations concerning bureaucracies such as the Healthcare Marketplace, Insurance companies, or other large entities where they call the shots. An example of this is with my own Medical insurance which was inadvertently cancelled last week. Trying to reinstate this has been a monumental chore, having endured endless arguments over the phone and no matter how much cajoling, threatening, crying or whatever I do, nobody can expedite the process without the required red tape. Years ago the famous scene in Network where Peter Finch yells out of an office window, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” still resonates with most people. In the movie, when everybody opened the windows and started yelling out the same thing, I wanted to scream, “Right on.” Every day the average person is bombarded with life’s little indignities, and are often forced to just accept the injustice of it all. But I do think that most people are like “sponges” and can only absorb just so much before the inevitable slow leakage occurs. The media only covers the horrific acts of violence such as mass killings that are often the result of years of “just taking it”, as with bullying in school. But what gets overlooked are the average Joe or Jane, whose years of “just taking it” are manifested in high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and mental health issues. Most people have an edit button that prevents them from perpetrating violence (and there are degrees) but some don’t. How many times have we heard people being interviewed after a hostage or mass shooting situation where they say, “I don’t understand it; he was such a nice person. I never even expected this.” The thing is you don’t know what is boiling under a person’s skin. I think that with all the recent insanity in the world (beheadings, ISIS, plane shootings in the sky, HAMAS) and all the little indignities we face in our own lives, it is not unreasonable to expect to recline your seat in a plane and enjoy the solitude away from LIFE for a while. So when an inconsiderate passenger adds yet another measure of indignity to something that should have been pleasurable, we just explode and in our heads we simply say, “Enough is enough. I don’t have control of the world, or my health insurance, or my job, or much else, but I sure as hell have control of whether or not I can recline my seat.” So, I cannot blame the woman who went ballistic at the inconsiderate oaf who decided that he was more important than she was and took that one little pleasure that day away from her.

Letting Go

Letting go of old letters or in my case, old journals is not always easy. I’ve been trying to decide what direction I want to take with my Blog. I met with someone from my writer’s group last week and I mentioned that I make no money on my Blog, probably because it is about what I WANT to write and not what everyone wants to read. He said (and I’m sure he didn’t mean to upset me) that if I were going to just write for myself, I might as well just write in a diary (or journal). While I was out running/walking the other day a light bulb went off in my head—write what you know. OK, I know a lot, and I DO write about it, but I’m not “successful” in the way I want to be. Then I thought, “OK, why not take those gut-wrenching, insane, journals you used to keep (just to keep me sane) when I was out there”. That sounded like the answer—yes, people could relate to that and this will keep their interest. All my recent writing and journaling is done on my computer, but years ago, everything was hand-written in notebooks. So, I pulled them out from the top of my closet and started reading. Wow, what a revelation—some of it is so crazy and ridiculous that I literally want to just chuck it. I found myself saying, “Oh, pleeeeeese!” There is something to be said for looking back fondly at old times, but my old times were horrible and I do not even recognize the person I was then. They say “youth is wasted on the young” and I believe it. What a waste my life was and thank God I matured. It is almost as if these heart-felt words penned by me (when I was 18 through about 30) were from a different person, and they were in a way. There is no resemblance from that pathetic, lost soul that I was then to the woman that I have become. Yes, lots of those feelings are still the same, but the way I handle life has changed. It is called maturity and wisdom; and I’d like to believe that I have acquired some amount of both throughout the years. In some ways it is helpful to re-read these journals because it shows the transformation that has taken place, and it keeps my “memory green” as they say. I had to ask myself if I really wanted to revisit those years and the answer is a resounding NO. The question is if I want to throw the books away or keep them for my grandchildren to discover. I’m leaning toward the former. I could not have even considered that a few years ago and that is evidence of personal growth. I have had lots of hard times in recent years from extreme physical debilitation to unbelievable heartache with my child, but I could never imagine myself using the same coping mechanisms that I employed back then. Life is life and I still “journal” for my own sanity, but I have changed and I now know I am ready to let the past go.

Moving

At least once a week, I get the “moving” bug. I constantly get these emails saying how my life will be transformed into a living paradise if I move to Mexico, Costa Rica, or Equator; how each morning I will wake up and have no worries or cares; how I will be surrounded by loads of smiling, friendly locals and how I will have many new expat friends to socialize with. They describe the beautiful beaches, and extol the virtues of just relaxing in a café, or strolling the local markets, picking up fresh produce. But, I know that sooner or later, I will be bored out of my skull. When I lived in NJ, after my divorce, Saturdays were spent roaming around, maybe going to a movie, going to Costco or the bookstore, but I was very lonely because I did these things alone. My husband was an extrovert, and we had a group of friends we socialized with. But when we broke up, and my new boyfriend was gone too, I was alone. I am one of those people who actually enjoys my own company, sometimes more than being with people. This does not always work to my advantage because left to my own devices, and being the introvert that I am, I tend to isolate. Now that I am not “officially” working, I have virtually no social interaction except for the gym, or Starbucks, which doesn’t really count because these are not personal relationships. I am surrounded by many “acquaintances” that I would call friends, but nobody that I would socialize with regularly. Basically, everybody seems to be attached by the hip to someone else or they’re busy with their own lives. But, the bottom line is that wherever I go or wherever I live, I bring myself, and unless I undergo an extreme personality change—maybe a lobotomy—I will have the exact same issues as I had in NJ and now in Augusta. If I am looking for a geographical cure, it won’t happen because I will still be me, afterall. Yet, no matter how unrealistic, the lure of moving away to a quiet and serene life, where it would be cheaper, with a group of new friends like you see on TV, keeps me dreaming.

Gratitude

Every so often, I find myself getting impatient with someone ambling across the street with a cane. It’s so easy to forget that less than a year and a half ago, that was me. Sometimes when I quickly get up from a seat, and stride very briskly to the other side of the room for something, I find it amazing. Unlike most people who are not impaired, I am acutely aware of how well I simply “walk” and never take it for granted. I know that just plain “walking” without losing balance, fear of falling, or having to hang onto the walls is a gift. Sometimes I become aware that my feet, belly, legs, and back are no longer numb and tingling. I look at my right leg, which was withered as if I had polio, and see a nice, plump muscular leg again. I know that not having my crutch parked beside my bed for help in the middle of the night, is something I never thought I would experience again. Just like anything, it is human nature to not appreciate what you have until you lose it. Things that I thought I would never do again, such as running (a run/walk now) I am doing. I was a prisoner to my disability, never being able to just pick up and go, and I will be forever grateful for that miracle bestowed upon me. OK, if I had not persevered and kept insisting that something was wrong with me, and not just accepted a life of an invalid, I would not have had that “miracle.” So, it all went together and my tenacity was in itself, divine intervention, I believe. When I remember to practice gratitude and appreciation for how I was literally given my life back from the brink, I have a better day. When I focus on the same old petty, annoying, neurotic insecurities (which I will probably never totally lose) I am lost. I know that I have been given a daily reprieve and there are no guarantees in life, but for now, my life is infinitely better than it was, and I cannot forget that.

Five Minutes to Live

The alarms are blaring outside and the TV has the shrill piercing beep and a warning to take cover immediately—that North Korea has launched missiles that will reach the U.S. in less than 5 minutes.

I’m so scared that I am almost in a catatonic state, finding it hard to believe that this is the end for us all. For weeks we have been getting dire predictions that war is imminent but like everyone else I did not really believe it. How could that be? How could any rational person let the rhetoric get so out of hand that here we are. But when you have so many lickspittles in Washington not willing to stand up to this administration, it was inevitable. When you have an unbalanced President who stokes the fires and provokes, and thinks it is macho to use the nuclear weapons at his disposal, it is bound to happen. I go through the motions of grabbing my birds and jumping into my bedroom closet—the safest place. But, as I am doing this I know there is no safety anywhere and I am doomed. Well at least I will die fast.

I close my eyes, think of my children and feel so sad that I will not be able to say goodbye. I harken back to when I was a child and I used to play the game of what if: what if the Russians launched a bomb and we were told it would hit us in 5 minutes? I remember saying that I would hide in the closet with no other thought of what would become of us. I remember hiding underneath the desk at school for our bomb drills and cannot believe that this is it and all that practice was for naught. However, I take solace in the fact that at least I won’t get any older, and that maybe I will see my boy in heaven, all healed and beaming. A feeling of peace and calm comes over me as I pray. Those sweet parrots of mine know something is wrong and instead of squirming and squawking they are quiet and strangely attentive, just sitting with me. I think of all the things I wanted to do and never did. I oddly worry about my computer and laptop, and my beautiful camera equipment. I think that nobody will ever know I existed because all traces of my life will be obliterated with everything else. I wonder if by some chance I do survive the initial impact, how long will it take for the radiation to travel and how us survivors will die a slow and agonizing death. I think back on the movie, “On the Beach” where survivors who lived in Australia waited for the inevitable. I remember the ominously preternatural TV movie, “The Day After” and try to remember how long it took for Jason Robards to die of radiation poisoning. I think of my friend whose entire family moved to Australia during the cold war, only to move back to New York a few years later. I wonder who will succumb first—me or the birds? I think that if only I had taken my phone into the closet I could at least say farewell to my son, but in my haste I left it outside on the counter. I wonder if anybody will be posting on Facebook or the Kardashians will post doomsday selfies, maybe burying them in a time capsule to let the future inhabitants of the world know who the beautiful people were. Will my pictures or paintings survive? How about my IRA—will I have money to live in the new apocalyptic world. Will I lose my hair and where will I get my hair done in the new world if I don’t die, knowing full well all these thoughts are totally ridiculous?

Then during my foray into the dire future or lack thereof, I suddenly become aware that the sirens have stopped and there seems to be some announcement on the TV. I wonder if I am just dead already. I listen carefully and decide to venture out of the closet only to hear the amazing announcement that a miracle of sorts has happened—the U.S. has intercepted the missiles and the strike has been averted. We will live—I will live—my children will live. The announcer is saying that the threat is over and during my rejoicing and relief, a cold and dark shadow appears to pass over me making me shiver and I sigh and say, “For now.”

Changing Your Life

All you need to do is change everything. But that is easier said than done and it takes so much hard work and I am not sure I want to put in the effort.

What does changing everything mean anyway? I have been grappling with this damn drug addiction for how many years and I cannot, for the life of me so far get a handle on it because maybe I am weak. The draw to obliterate consciousness—to wipe out all negative emotions and painful thoughts is too tempting. But, I will try—yes I will try yet again. I will try to get clean for my child, my family, but most importantly for me. If I don’t get clean for myself, there is nothing.

Well, what is the first step to take? How about changing people, places and things. OK, people—all the people in my sphere are druggies—but they are my friends. How am I supposed to just eliminate them from my life? Well, I tell myself I must do this if I want to get any amount of clean time. How am I supposed to tell my friends that I can’t see them anymore—I just cannot do that, no way. I love these people and they love me, at least I think, or thought they did. Well, what happened when I OD’d last year—who took me to the hospital and dumped me there to die and just by chance was found before the end. If I think that’s true love I am delusional when I look too closely at it. Addicts are just out for themselves when getting a fix, just to ameliorate the dope sickness. The merry-go-round keeps going over and over until that change is made or you die. Do I want to change? Am I strong enough to recognize that the futility of life without any hope or future is all I have to look forward to if I do not take the necessary steps to change? The question is whether or not I want to get busy living or get busy dying—it is my choice.

How the hell did a nice upper middle class kid ever get mixed up in the seedy underground of the drug culture? How did I go from a good girl, with hopes and ambitions, and good grades to a drugged out shell of a person with absolutely no conscience, doing anything to get what I want. How did I become a person with no moral code who would sell my soul to the devil or leave my child just to get my high? I did not have a terrible family; I didn’t have any horrible tragedy befall me, so what is my excuse? But, just like so many other kids in that nice Atlanta neighborhood, I got bored. I needed something to occupy my mind and having so much privilege I became a follower, just looking for the next high. Nobody thinks when they are young, “I want to be a drug addict when I grow up.” It was so gradual that I almost never even saw it coming, a pill here, a pain pill there—trips to the pill-pushing doctor to say how I was sad and couldn’t sleep or cope. The doctor was all too ready to prescribe the latest pain med. But pain pills are so damn expensive and even buying it from the other kids was becoming a drain on my budget. It was just so much easier to graduate to the big H—so easy to get—the greatest high known to man. There is nothing like it—the euphoria is totally unimaginable and I will do pretty much anything to get it—to chase that high to the ends of the earth, only to come down and start the chase again. Logically I know there is no good ending that will come from the life I have chosen, and I did originally choose it, but I am now a prisoner with no choice.

So, what is the way out of this maze I am in—just existing until the next fix? What do I have to live for—the reason for changing must be for me and not anybody else or it won’t work. I know just detoxing in jail or a detox unit is not a solution because it is more than a physical addiction, it is a deep soul sickness and unless I commit to changing my thought process, I will never be free and will remain a slave to this disease. I hate my life the way it is—I have seen my friend OD, my boyfriend die, done morally reprehensible things, and I wonder why them and not me. I can only surmise that they were collateral damage put into my life to guide me in a divine way—to save me. I must pay attention to these spiritual experiences and learn from them because these are gifts from God. If I don’t I am a fool and will be one of those expenditures used as an example for someone else because I just wasn’t willing to take a chance and change.

I Apologize

I apologize to all the men and women who have sacrificed their lives during wartime for this great country fighting what is just and right. I apologize to the brave soldiers who were traumatized and bore witness to the worst of mankind during the liberation of the concentration camps—grown men who cried during interviews, even 50 years later. Those are images they could never erase from their minds and haunted them the rest of their lives. I apologize to all the Jews who lost their lives in concentration camps during the Holocaust as well as being gunned down and buried in mass graves by the Nazis. I apologize to all the innocent African Americans who have been lynched at the hands of the KKK in the name of “White Nationalism.” I apologize to all of us who have been the victims of racism and anti-Semitism in the name of White Nationalists, the KKK, and other Alt-right fringe groups. I apologize on behalf of this great country of the United States for the insensitive, hurtful, unprecedented, and frankly dangerous stance taken by the President by not calling out these hate groups for what they are—hate filled anti-Semites and racists. I apologize to the brave people in Charlottesville who came out to protest the blatant Nazi, White Supremacy agenda who have been lumped together along with the “good people” “peacefully protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee” when we can see Nazi flags, swastikas, and Confederate flags waving proudly. I apologize for statements such as, “Don’t let Jews take our jobs” and calling out the President for allowing his daughter to be “taken” by Jared Kushner, who is Jewish. I apologize to the young woman who was mowed down and killed by a Neo-Nazi follower, who probably believes that she was just collateral damage. I am saddened that this sort of language does not seem to bother the President whose own daughter is now Jewish, as well as his grandchildren. I am frightened by the vehemence of these insane beliefs held by these previously fringe groups, that are now proliferating throughout the United States because of the lack of condemnation and frankly defense of these White Nationalist groups and the KKK. I am shocked, but not surprised at the belief that these sick cowardly groups feel they have a friend in the President. I am horrified that the formerly grand wizard of the KKK, David Duke, praised and thanked the President. I am disgusted at the spineless lack of strong response and condemnation, and any real action from the Congress. Words are meaningless unless followed by action. The good citizens of this country need to unite against hate groups and not let them become part of the mainstream fabric of this Country. Join me in the condemnation of hate groups before our beautiful, free, country becomes a fascist state. Open your eyes and see history for what it is; see what took hold in Nazi Germany, and how it started out in small ways. See how during the 1930s anti-Semitism began to take a foothold, with many people burying their heads in the sand and refusing to believe what was happening, all the while people were quietly losing their businesses, being denied basic rights, condemned without cause, culminating in the death of millions. Open your eyes everyone, no matter what your religion or race, and take a stand for what is right and just in this world because this affects us all.

The People Downhill

I am thinking evil thoughts—thoughts that a sane human being should not even be considering. I am trying to ignore the incessant howling, barking, and whining downhill from my bedroom but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so and I am getting blindingly angry by the minute.

I am so disturbed because no matter how many times we ask nicely, threaten, put notes on their door, that animal is still out there at all hours. I am most upset because by them ignoring our complaints they are essentially saying, “screw you!” Who are these people anyway and who the hell do they think they are to disturb a whole community? The next day, I go outside my back door and look down hill, beyond the pine trees on my property to where I think the barking might be originating. Suddenly the dog lets lose with the barking as if he is saying, “Here I am.” I take a picture with my phone and send it out to the board members and lo and behold, they say that these people live right next door to them and give me an address. I’ve been out there at all hours, screaming at them into the night to, “Shut that damn dog up or I’ll call the police” and in it goes only to return the next night to haunt and harass me—personally it seems. I wonder if others are as bothered by this as I am or is it just me.

I do research and find out that the owner of this property is deceased so I have no idea who actually lives there—are they renters or squatters?—nobody seems to know. I interview people living next door and find out that they leave the house at night, dump the demon dog on the patio for hours, and slink back just before dawn, following in the leader’s umbra. One by one, they enter the house, take the dog in, and do not reappear until the next night. That sounds suspicious to me. At this point I just want to eliminate that dog—maybe they are vampires but who cares as long as they don’t mess with my sleep.

My head is spinning with many unanswered questions and ideas. Maybe I can get rid of two menaces—I begin to fantasize about murder—but is it murder if the object of your hatred is the undead? What if the dog is not among the living either? Do I need a silver bullet to kill it and where can I even get a silver bullet anyway and would I need a special gun? Can you kill someone who is already dead and remembering True Blood, I know that you can by staking it in the heart or using a silver bullet to achieve the Final Death. On this night I have homicide in my heart and start planning how to rid myself of these tormentors—I cannot take it anymore.

The next day I decide to consult the Internet since everyone knows that is the most reliable source and everything is true. I Google “how to kill vampires”—then, “how to kill a vampire dog”—then, “how to get a gun”—then, “how to get silver bullets”. I start thinking of how the whole community will hail me as a hero when the deed is done—“Marilyn the Vampire Slayer” has a nice ring to it. I could even start a business or star in a new reality TV show. Who would’ve thought that this terrible situation would open the door to boundless opportunities?

I find many websites giving detailed instructions on how to deliver the Final Death to a vampire. I decide I will use a combination of wooden stakes and silver bullets to make sure these monsters will no longer walk the Earth. I look through my garage and find one long sharp wooden stake, but what about the others? I’ll have to go to Lowes and ask if they have any vampire killing kits. I have another problem because I’m not sure who exactly inhabits that townhouse, since it appears to be musical tenants (or whatever they are) that change every other week. I don’t want to be outnumbered and risk being turned too (although that might not be a bad idea either, because I will be immortal). But what would I do with my two parrots—can I turn then into vampire birds? I decide I do not want to become an undead unless I can take my birds into that world too. I may have to enlist the help of others but whom do I ask—who would believe me? How about putting an ad on Craig’s List that would read, “Vampire slayers wanted. Call Marilyn.”

The more I think I have a solution, the more questions arise which lead to even more until I am overwhelmed with fear and I am getting cold feet. The What Ifs are starting to outweigh the benefits of riding the world of these bloodsuckers. Then a thought comes to my mind—why not call Animal Control in Richmond County and file a formal complaint? I had been told that they really take these complaints seriously and achieve results. I put my murderous plans on hold in favor of a more sane, less dangerous solution. I go on their website and record my complaint, including all the recent evenings that creature has been out. I also include the strange comings and goings of the occupants of this dwelling, leaving out my suspicions that they and the dog are indeed vampires.

It has been two weeks and all is quiet on the Whitney Place front, although I am still waiting for the “other shoe to drop” because it seems too good to be true. Although I still think they are vampires I realize I should not share that with other people. I’m still watching them and if this remedy proves untenable I’m ready with my gun, silver bullet, and special vampire killing kit. I have received numerous inquiries to my ad on Craig’s list so I am prepared to strike at a moment’s notice. I will wait and see how it goes.

Springtime

I still feel guilty for murdering my little friend so many years ago. The sadness pops up periodically out of nowhere, and I have to push it back down to keep from crying.

It was finally Spring in Stuyvesant Town—the yellow daffodils had finally started to poke their way out of the soil, the pink buds on the bushes outside of my building were about to bloom, and the grass was turning from Winter brown to a beautiful deep green. I began to dream of long, lazy school free days where I could indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, digging in the dirt, burying ants and other bugs, and watching them burrow their way out, only to be buried again. Maybe I was a little sadist but it was weirdly fun.

One day, I discovered a large bug, and not being squeamish the way I am now, began to play with it. He crawled up and down one hand then the other and I was delighted. I put it in a little jar and kept him and fed him worms. One rainy spring April day, my friend Janet and I could not play outside, so we decided to play in the main hallway where I lived. I brought out my little friend and allowed him to crawl up and down my hands, when suddenly my mother was standing beside me with a look of disgust on her face. She said, “What are you doing with that big bug, that’s terrible. You shouldn’t be playing with it.” At this point, I considered this creature a pet of sorts and could not understand why my mom did not like him. She went back into the apartment and suddenly I decided to extinguish the life out of this little innocent thing. I placed this poor little guy on the floor and proceeded to smash the life out of him—the crack of his hard shell sounded calliopean to me, although I’m sure nobody else heard it. Then I discarded him as if he was nothing at all, when he was, after all, my little buddy. The feeling of remorse and guilt immediately flooded my little girl mind and I just kept thinking, “Why did you have to do that. You could have just let him go.” I tried to continue on with my day, as if what I had just done was meaningless; as if I had just killed a nameless roach, not my friend, but I couldn’t keep from thinking of myself as a murderer.

All these years later, when I relive that moment I am inexplicably brought to tears. I don’t understand it, but I know that sometimes friends come in all different packages, and I know he is in bug heaven and he forgives me.

My Mystery Diagnosis, Faith and Forgiveness

There was no lightening or thunderbolt or exact period of time or date but it came on very gradually—so gradually that I actually did not even notice the change in my body.

I was still an avid runner living in Augusta in 2011. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we all have 20/20, but at the time, I couldn’t even fathom that something devastating was brewing. Looking back, I remember running my regular 6-10 mile route when I began to “trip.” At first I attributed this to just being clumsy, which I never was before. It is amazing how the human mind can deny and deny something that is so obviously wrong. Running, previously my most enjoyable past time, began to be fraught with anxiety about whether or not I would trip and fall. Each time I ventured out, I would lecture myself on “lifting my right foot up.” When I did trip, I would chide myself by saying, “What’s wrong with you—PICK UP YOUR FOOT, IDIOT?” But invariably no matter how much I tried, my right foot would not lift far enough off the ground, resulting in tripping. One day, after a very frustrating and anxiety-ridden run, I checked the tread of my sneakers and I saw that the toe of the right sneaker was almost completely worn down, while the left sneaker was fine. Yet I still thought I was merely clumsy. A few days before Thanksgiving, I went to Kroger to buy food for a dish and took a huge fall in the parking lot, spilling my grocery bag. I quickly got up and tried to figure out what had happened. Apparently while getting to my car, my right foot did not clear the curb—more like dragged—and down I went. Fortunately or unfortunately I seemed to be walking normally so this pattern continued until August 2012.

As an obsessive runner I had multiple knee surgeries over the years for a ripped meniscus. In August 2012, I underwent one more surgery on my damaged right knee. I had every confidence that I would recover as I had before, although I was told I should not run anymore. I accepted that and I was just grateful that finally I would be pain free. However, my knee never got better and continued to be so painful where I could walk only with a marked limp. I tried all kinds of shots in my knee but it would not heal properly.

In addition, for a while I had bad lumber pain, especially in the morning. I thought I just needed a new mattress and, no matter how many mattresses I tried (I drove the mattress store employees crazy) my low back pain persisted. But it was not only lumbar pain—my whole body hurt and my toes were numb. I went to my internist, and after doing a cursory exam he concluded that I didn’t have any disc involvement and put me on an anti-inflammatory medication. I asked him if I should at least get an MRI, and he rejected that idea due to the cost. I emphasized to him that MY WHOLE BODY ACHED, but nothing was ordered. I finally decided that I would “self-refer” to a neurosurgeon. I went to the Neuroscience facility on Steven’s Creek Road and saw Dr. B, an osteopath, the first person before referral to a surgeon. He ordered a lumber MRI and it revealed spinal stenosis, pretty common in someone my age. We decided on a course of epidural steroid injections, which proved to be mildly successful for about a week. Then after two courses of this treatment, the pain returned and he finally referred me to one of the neurosurgeons (Dr. S) in that practice. My surgery was scheduled for Election Day 2012 and I had high hopes of becoming pain free again. At that time I was a massage therapist, and it was very difficult to practice my occupation and bend over, trying to relieve others’ pain, when my back was killing me. I went home from the hospital the next day with a plan to do lots of walking and get myself back on track for a quick recovery. However that was not the way it played out. Within a week, I was having balance trouble and within two weeks I was reluctantly using a cane to get around. My right knee was just as painful as ever and I could not walk without a limp and cane. I began to have nerve pain that I almost could not identify because I had never experienced that before. I frantically searched the Internet for some type of explanation and came up with “failed back surgery” as the culprit because I read story after story of patients who never recovered from lumbar surgery.

Now my 4 month long nightmare began in earnest. I went back to the Neuroscience practice and spoke with the surgeon’s very unsympathetic physician’s assistant who said, “give it time” and that the “nerve root needed to heal.” So, I tried to do just that, but instead of seeing improvement, my symptoms became worse and worse. At this point, I had severe burning and tingling nerve pain from my waist to my toes. I had a mysterious pressure on my abdomen and back whenever I stood which was relieved only when I sat or lay down. My right leg was cold to the touch, beginning to atrophy, and I could not lift it properly, much less walk without a cane. What made this so nightmarish was that NOBODY BELIEVED ME. Each time I went in for a check up, I was told over and over, “Well, this is so unusual. We’ve never seen this before”, as if it must be psychosomatic in nature—that was the implication. In the meantime, I was so debilitated at this point that I had to keep crutches and a cane by my bed so I could get into the bathroom at night. I actually drove, but with my heart in my mouth because my right leg, which was partially paralyzed, didn’t function properly. I had so many close calls that I knew God had to be traveling with me each time I ventured out. I had to lift my leg up with my hands to get it in the car and my biggest fear was that I would kill a person or family while driving. When I went shopping I would try to park as close as I could to the store, sometimes abandoning my mission because it was too far to walk. Everything that we take for granted was an effort and it gave me a great appreciation for what disabled people deal with on a regular basis. I asked the physician’s assistant if she could take pity on me and write a note for me to get a disabled car tag, but she refused stating, “Those are only given to people who are totally paralyzed” which is untrue. I ended up getting one from my orthopedist instead.

I went in for another LUMBER MRI because they wanted to see if the surgical site gave them any clues, which it didn’t. I was suffering, both physically and psychologically and I began to lose hope. But I soldered on and each day I would wake up with HOPE that maybe the nerve root was finally healing and maybe, just maybe, I could at least walk a little better. Some days I would fool myself into believing that there was a tiny bit of improvement and my mood would be bolstered. But that positive mood was dashed the next day when, upon waking, it became apparent that I was not any better, and in fact, probably worse. We all know that HOPE is everything, and I had none. So, at this point, I began to consider suicide every morning, even planning the method. I believe that what kept me going was that I employed a 12 step program tool of thinking in terms of “one day at a time.” I would think, “OK, whatever you want to do, you can put this off until tomorrow” and that kept me going in the world for another day. On days that I was so depressed, I would force myself to go to the gym, and although I didn’t go into the regular gym because I was embarrassed by my debilitated state, I went to the disabled pool. It was there that I would find some gratitude because, although here I was, withered polio-like leg, ambling into the pool with the use of my cane, I saw people far worse than me—quadriplegics with happy expressions in the pool. I saw wheelchair-bound people and said, “Thank You God.”

I continued going to the Neuroscience practice for checkups, only to be shuffled back and forth to various departments. All the while, they were baffled by my deteriorated state. One day they decided to perform an EMG and I was so hopeful that finally they would find the reason for my crippling condition. It was New Years Eve of 2012 when, while sitting in my car, I received a call from the nurse stating that, “The EMG showed nothing but an old radiculopathy.” In English—nothing new and nothing that would account for my deterioration. That day was significant in that I just sat there, totally numb and disbelieving, my last hope dashed, and thought that I could not bring myself to go on in the world. A friend of mine happened to see me, and asked if I was OK and suggested we go to Starbucks, which saved me for another day.

The next person to see me at that practice was the pain management doctor who gave me the news in an abrupt manner, that he could not help me. He prescribed Lyrica and Neurontin for nerve pain, but all it did was cause me to fall because it made my muscles weak, so I stopped that immediately. I was so angry at his lack of empathy and bad bedside manner but it turned out to be the best thing that happened because he referred me back to the original doctor, going full circle. Dr. B, the osteopath, sat and actually thought about what might be going on and what my options were. He treated me as a person and his kind, thoughtful manner was appreciated. The new plan was to embark on yet another course of epidural steroid injections, but suddenly a thought occurred to him—what if we order a thoracic MRI? After the MRI I went back to his office with no expectations, but maybe a little hope. As soon as he pulled up the MRI on the screen, his eyes lit up because the MRI revealed a small benign tumor (meningioma) pressing on T3 of the spinal cord. Boom—my world exploded in a good way. He excitedly said, “Here’s your problem. This meningioma is pressing on T3, causing all your symptoms.” It was as if God came down from the heavens and blessed me—I was so ecstatic that words cannot describe it. I am brought to tears when I think of that moment. He quickly referred me back to the original surgeon, Dr. S, who was shocked and humbled. I actually did not want to use the same surgeon, but I realized she knew my case, and I could get this done very soon. Just prior to surgery I discovered an article from a Japanese case study that said, “If a patient is not recovering from lumber surgery, the surgeon should consider the possibility of a thoracic meningioma.” I sure wish I had seen that article months before, but at least it was finally correctly diagnosed. The spinal surgery, scheduled for a week later, was rough but successful. Right out of the recovery room, I clearly remember me lifting my right leg, unaided, and being elated. After a hard 5 days in the hospital, in severe pain, I was released. A home care nurse was ordered for 2 weeks and I dismissed her after a week. My walker went into the garage along with my cane and crutches. I am athletic and I began to recover so quickly due to my previous good shape and I began going to the gym again. I had to be careful that nobody slapped me on my back for a while, which would send me to the moon but other than that, it was fine. My damaged knee began to heal, and my atrophied and cold right leg began to warm and plump out, looking normal again. Here’s the thing, I was bitter at first for all the doctors who I felt failed me starting initially with my internist and I even considered hiring a lawyer to sue. But, I then began to think about gratitude and forgiveness and by the grace of God, a solution to my suffering was found. I began to think that maybe my travails helped me be more empathetic to the disabled, an experience I never would have had otherwise. On March 1st it will be 4 years since I got my life back. But, each time I perform an otherwise unremarkable feat such as walking briskly across the room, or climbing stairs unaided, I am in awe. Sometimes I am merely in Walmart and I marvel at how fast I can walk, or in an airport, briskly passing people on the way to my connection. It is amazing and miraculous and I will never stop being grateful.

Misfit

I am a misfit. I do not fit into any particular group, nor do I even try anymore. I have never been a “click” person, preferring to be a loner, unless someone wants to engage me on a one-on-one basis. I really don’t like people all that much, although there are exceptions.

Growing up in Manhattan, I went to Stuyvesant Day Camp, out in Staten Island. Each day I would leave my house, stand on the corner of 14th Street and Avenue A with my canteen and lunch and wait for the bus to pick me up. Since all the counselors were liberal hippy types we’d sing Negro Spirituals all the way there.

I was always the person who somehow attracted the outcast, or oddball (you know that person that everyone basically rolls their eyes at, or ridicules behind their back). Although I was never the object of derision, the groups I was associated with engaged in it. All through my life, starting in day camp, I was somehow a person who the misfits looked to. I never understood why and whenever the poor person who was bullied by the popular kids, befriended me, I wanted to say to them, “Why me? Please leave me alone.” I believe that, although I didn’t speak up, I never took part in the actual bullying and what they saw was a person who was different from the others in the group—someone with a certain amount of, not only compassion but empathy. I believe I didn’t just feel sorry for them, I identified with them because I also felt like an outcast. I truly understood their plight, not because I was the nerd, but I was an outcast masquerading as “normal.” I just wanted to fit in. As children, any kid who is not white bread, any kid who is different, is in for a heartbreaking childhood.

When I was about 11 and in day camp, there was a girl named Lorelei who was the object of cruel jokes, mostly because she was different—a very free spirit—and did not wear undies. That was noted when we changed into our clothes after swimming and she was relentlessly teased by the other girls. Sadly one of the mothers even wrote a song about her that became a chant every day. Since I did not sing the song nor did I take part in the jokes, she gravitated to me. One day she asked me over to her house for a sleepover, which was mortifying to me. I didn’t want anyone to know lest I become the object of the popular girls’ wrath. I put her off for as long as I could and asked my mom who said, “Just go over there. It will be nice.” I was hoping she would tell me not to go, but she didn’t so I bit the bullet and said I would go. She was SO happy that she had a “friend” but I wanted to keep it a secret. The day came for my sleepover and I reluctantly went over with my mom. I discovered that Lorelei was very wealthy and lived in a gorgeous townhome in Manhattan. Her dad, an older gentleman with gray hair, was a widow so she had no mother to pattern her behavior after. He also walked with leg braces and was very debilitated, but very nice. I think he was over the moon that his daughter actually had a friend over for a sleepover. I was determined not to have a good time and kept wanting to call my mom to pick me up, but I figured I’d stick it out. But something interesting happened that evening—I began to actually enjoy myself. Lorelei was actually a fun person and I have a good memory of playing with her parakeet, putting him under the cover and watching him burrow himself out. In spite of myself, and against all odds, I gave in and laughed and enjoyed the night. I remember thinking, “Ok, I’ll go over and get it over with. Then I will make an excuse and never come back.” So, although I had a good time, I still figured this was a one-time thing. Then, the inevitable question was asked, “Can you come over again next week?” I wanted to say NO, but I just couldn’t hurt her feelings so I agreed. Again, the next time I went over, I had a fun time. But, somehow the popular girls got wind of my fraternizing with the enemy and their rebuke was swift. My friend Denise said, “You know if you continue to be friends with her, you will not have any more friends.” At that point I decided not to listen to her and basically ignored her warning. I don’t know what would’ve happened in the future, but I never had to make that decision. The problem was solved because one day Lorelei stopped coming to the day camp, and I literally never knew what became of her. But that taught me a lesson that you shouldn’t be so quick to try to fit in. As the years have gone by, and as I have gotten older, I don’t care anymore about fitting in or being popular. I am who I am, and I am not a social butterfly—I often have to force myself to be in groups and interact. Do I care?—sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t.

Picking Our Families

If only we could pick our families. We could go online to a dedicated site named Design Your Family or Pick Your Family, and plug in specific criteria such as physical characteristics, temperament, personality, interests, etc. There would be almost unlimited choices and we could mix and match until we achieved the perfect combination of traits that would satisfy us.

The possibilities would be endless—parents, siblings, children, spouses, and maybe even friends too. For those who are not computer savvy, Walmart would offer a specific department where there would be a Kiosk. If you did not want to use the Kiosk, you could just find a limited selection on the wall being sold at a discount. Here you would have instant gratification and pay right then and there and take your new family home with you. But, the problem is what do you do with the old models—the parents, siblings, kids, spouses who drive you crazy? I guess you could trade them in for newer, more efficient models—with energy ratings. You can take your old husband who never satisfies you, trade him in, and depending upon how much you want to spend, can purchase the model guaranteed to induce an orgasm every time. No more family resentments, squabbles, or problem children either—all that would be replaced with a blank slate for you to muck up all over again. The beauty of this is that you can trade in your family members again and again so you never have unresolved lingering issues; just trade them in and start from scratch. This service can be expanded to EBay as well. But, an issue is what would happen to the models that don’t get sold, like those poor sweet lonely Christmas trees that are still waiting for a home by Christmas Eve. Where do they go? It is so sad to see them crying out, “Please BUY ME, PLEASE,” and you know they are unwanted.

Maybe that is what would happen to these discarded family members. And how about me—what happens if I get traded in? We’d all live in fear that we’d be sold in Walmart for a discount. Am I so perfect that my family would want to keep me; I think not? The more I consider the logistics and consequences, the more this idea needs more work and may have to be shelved, but can be revisited in the future. So, for now, I guess I will muddle through with the family God has given me. But maybe I need to get in on the ground floor of this innovation before Amazon picks it up and Jeff Bezos makes even more millions on my idea.