I’ve been meaning to write about some big life stuff, but Rilly got sick and then something happened today that has had me in a self-reflective mood. So, I’m gonna write about it. I’ll talk about the other stuff, eventually, and will talk about Rilly and how he’s doing once I have a better idea of how he’s doing. That is still something we’re waiting and seeing about.
Before I get into all of the things I’m going to talk about, I feel it’s necessary to talk about some of the back story–because otherwise–a lot of what I say may not make sense.
I’ve talked a lot about my Daddy over the years. Mostly as a way to make peace with the life he led, the impact it had on my life, and to move forward. I try very hard to be vulnerable and–more than anything–honest about my experience of him as a father and about the impact he had on our family. But more than anything, I try to be fair and empathetic when talking about his life and who he was. It’s taken me a long time to get to that point, and it’s honestly a very big part of my healing.
You know some things. Other things, I haven’t shared much about because it wasn’t my story to tell, or I didn’t know the full story. Or it was stuff I was processing. At this point in my life, I’ve felt confident in the fact that–in spite of my father’s MANY secrets–I mostly knew his heart. I knew the good, the bad, and the most ugly bits of him. I even started to know the whys–though some whys are forever lost with the corpse they buried in Fort Logan.
His life was hard, and my life with him was difficult. There are scars on my body, that most people never see, that are from him caring for me. There are many, many more scars you can’t see–scars that live on the broken heart of a child that lost him too soon.
For years, I’ve felt grateful, though, that my father died when I was six. My Mama did, too. We were relieved that he was safe and not hurt somewhere. We were relieved he was no longer suffering in all the ways he so acutely suffered. But mostly, we were relieved for us. Because we could finally live our lives without the anchor of his addiction. Except it never quite works out that way, does it? Addiction is the anchor that keeps on drowning.
I didn’t grieve my father until I was in my mid-20s, and essentially, every day since then, not a day goes by that I haven’t grieved him in some way. Some days are easier than others. Some days, all the grief really is? Knowing he never got to see who I am. More about me than him. But the grim reality is that he might not have cared who I was. At least not enough. And he certainly never would have shown up in any consistent manner. And I may not have made it out alive or intact or me. I live with that every day. The contradiction of missing a man who–to me–is part myth–some story I made up about who I wanted him to be–and some other thing that was the man I adored. And then all his thorns. Some combination of the biggest boogeyman of your existence and a man who taught me how to be that me I so desperately strive to be.
He still shows up everywhere, whether I like it or not. The ghost of him left waves I still find myself navigating. Today was one of those days.
My father was an alcoholic. It was all I ever knew him to be. All he ever strived to be. And he was damn good at being that. Because he was damn good at everything he never even tried to do. He finally succeeded in drinking himself to death when I was six, and for most of my life, I tried very hard to not be anything remotely him. I never wanted to hurt people the way he did me and my Mama. What was scary about it was how easily he did it–how unintentional I believe it was. So, I was always the girl with the biggest intentions and the follow-through–who kept her word at all costs. Mostly because he never kept his word to me.
But no one is black and white. As much as I disassociated from the pain of his loss and removed myself from feeling any version of vulnerable–these things catch up to you, and eventually you have to face it. For me, it started when I was 10. I would write letters to him that were actually poems. And that is how I started healing. And that’s also when I first learned I was like him. Sometimes, uncomfortably so.
In my mid-20s, I did a lot of inner work because I had to. If I didn’t, I probably would have died. I was lucky to be supported by someone who pushed me to be vulnerable. And that began a big journey of healing that eventually led to me being this version of me. I’ve gone from hating my Daddy to forgiving him and finally acknowledging the him in me. The most important thing for me in all of this has been truth. Me speaking my truth–no matter how uncomfortable–and me owning the fact that he was not some demon. None of us are. Just a deeply flawed man with very little tools and lots of dysfunction–who did lots of good and lots of bad and died too soon.
That’s the simple part. The reality is? It’s much more complicated. The layers of all of that are so complex; it makes my head spin. Every time I think I’ve got a handle on who he was, I find another secret. Most of them, I come to expect. But, sometimes, you get clobbered again. And it doesn’t change much, but it kinda changes everything too. If only your understanding and what you believe.
Since both of my parents are dead and most of my family is not around, over the years, I’ve become fairly obsessed with Ancestry.com. Friends would gift me subscriptions for birthdays and holidays. That’s how obsessed I was. I even got the DNA thing done. For me, it was about understanding who I am and where I come from. For someone without family, this is something I’ve craved. The hope that I would somehow reconnect with them just through more knowledge of their lives has been fascinating and inspiring. But it’s also been full of landmines. A lot of them related to Daddy.
I’ve found hidden marriages. I’ve learned details that made other things make a lot more sense. Odd coincidences. And stories of generational inheritance that are shocking and sad. It’s all pushed me to seek more answers, but it’s also motivated me to share these stories in a bigger way. Eventually, I’ll work more on these things and you’ll be able to see them too. That’s kind of a big part of my goals for the next few years. Using story to heal and transform.
Anyway. Years ago, I set up family trees on Ancestry. Through the years, I’ve been contacted by people who knew various family members or are somehow related to me. I once got a message from a guy who was left on a doorstep and thought he was related to someone in my mother’s immediate family. I never figured that one out, though, so that’s a story we’ll never know.
I no longer have an Ancestry membership, but my profile is still up and so are the family trees. And I’ve filled in information about my parents and some of my extended family members–including uploading photos. I think–secretly–I’ve wanted to connect with people who knew my parents at various stages of life…especially since I’ve found hidden marriages that potentially could have produced children. The idea that I might have actual family out there is at once cruel and amazing. Cruel because the idea that I’ve lived life alone for so long–never knowing there were people that were mine that existed? Well, that’s hard. But amazing because there are people that are mine. And all of that is actually pretty terrifying too.
Last night, I got a message from a woman, claiming to be connected to my father. I remember she had connected to my family tree before, but I never thought anything of it.
I was so tired from Rilly coming home yesterday that I initially misread her email–thinking she was claiming to be my niece. But today, I realized she’s not actually related to me by blood.
The woman in question told me that her mother was my dad’s ex-wife. An ex-wife I actually heard a lot about when I was a child because she stole part of my dad’s pension from us after he died–which made our survival much more precarious. To say my mother loathed that woman might be the understatement of the century. Daddy had apparently told Mama a whole lot about her, too. I remember, as a child, my Mama saying that he married her after his first marriage had failed, immediately after the war. His first marriage ended in an ugly and tragic way. No one got out whole. His children wanted nothing more to do with him, and my dad was a shell of a man–sinking deeper into his addiction than ever before–also suffering from his experiences in war. I always got the impression that it was a dark night of the soul sort of time for him. It was the 1960s, too, so things were a bit out of control. His ex was an even worse alcoholic than he was, supposedly. From my dad’s accounts to my mother, this woman was a raging liar who cheated on him repeatedly (though he had room to talk, honestly), and eventually he had enough. That’s when he decided to to do his vagabond thing that eventually led him to North Dakota and my mother, years later. He drew the line when she cheated on him with his best friend and gave her money to get a divorce–leaving immediately. She, of course, never did–which is how she was able to steal the pension years later.
The one saving grace, my dad always said, was that children were never involved in that marriage.
But today, I learned that wasn’t true.
The woman who emailed me said she was the daughter of that former wife, and that she was the step-sister to the son they had together. The son being my half-brother–if true. This was fairly shocking, but again, not completely surprising because I’ve suspected there were hidden children with the hidden marriages. I just didn’t expect it from this wife.
When I read that, I immediately wanted to know who he was. Where did he live? He’d be much older than me. My parents were older when they had me, and my father was 10+ years older than Mama, so this guy would be in his 50s maybe. Even more–are there others–children, cousins…? I had this urge to know what he looked like.
I’d met my father’s children from his first marriage when I was in my mid-20s, after Mama died. Sadly, they’re dead now. My half-brother who shared his name looked exactly like Daddy. My half-sister looked exactly like me. Photos of her and me as children were basically the exact same face. It was like looking at a twin. Kind of unnerving. She was older than me.
The relationships were difficult. For reasons I’ll mention in a minute.
Anyway, I wondered if he looked like him. And I kinda wanted to meet him. But I kinda didn’t.
I asked if he was still alive–where he lived–where she lived. California–as close as outside Fresno. But she was estranged from him, for some reason she didn’t get into. I googled his name and couldn’t find much. He was as enigmatic as my father.
She then shared something she thought might scare me off–maybe I wouldn’t respond back–but it seemed like she needed to share it with me.
She had been 11 when my dad became her stepfather. And she was home sick one day, and he had touched her boob. She told her mother right away, and then she went to live with her dad in Illinois. She spoke fondly of my grandparents. Then she said that both her mother and my father were blind drunks and that he was very talented. But that they had this awful relationship that ran in cycles where they would fight horribly and he would beat her mother in front of her other brother–who would fight my dad off and chase him away. She said she came back to live with her mother when she was 15, and my dad was gone. They never talked about him again. She then said she hoped I hadn’t been hurt by him. It was as if she needed to make sure I was okay.
Now, some of this–I’ve heard before. The reason my father’s first marriage collapsed was mostly his drinking and cheating–but in the divorce, his ex wife claimed he had inappropriately touched her daughter in the same way this lady mentioned. My half-sister was about the same age.
I guess my father always denied this and had claimed his ex wife had coached the girl to say this because she knew it would hurt him deeply and she was pissed by his cheating. I remember my mother eventually connected with his first wife, and they actually became friends. And she had told my mother this, after my father had died. I remember Mama point blank asking me if Daddy had ever done anything. I was maybe 8, and I was so angry that anyone would say that about my Daddy.
I never really knew what to believe about that because what my Dad said seemed plausible. And it just hadn’t ever been my experience of him. Quite the opposite, actually. He had never touched me. I’m pretty sure of this. And believe me, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my dad and Mama were abusive in lots of ways. But not this way. If he was, I must’ve completely blocked it. I just don’t think I was. I did experience various levels of inappropriate behavior from other men as a kid–but never my dad. In fact, he was the one who taught me not to accept it and taught me how to fight if someone did do that to me.
When I met his first wife and my siblings, it was this elephant in the room. I didn’t believe or disbelieve them, but they really wanted me to endorse their experience…and I couldn’t. So it was a tough relationship, always.
But now that I’m an adult, and now that I’ve heard this woman’s account–I’ve got to say it: I believe them now. It’s too much of a coincidence that the girls were the same age. Same scenario. Same behavior. And, in hindsight, I wonder if he may have been grooming my best friend for something like that. He definitely tried to win her affections and would pit her and I against each other for his love when I hurt him by saying I hated him for drinking. I know men like that tend to groom their victims.
I wonder if I was just lucky that he died before I was that age. Maybe he was only into pre-teens or teens.
I’ll never know. But I do believe her.
The thing that is harder to accept is the violence. This was a man who saved my mother from an abusive relationship where she would probably have been killed. My father definitely had a bad temper, and my Mama definitely sparked it a lot. But I vividly remember he would throw dishes and leave immediately if he ever got really angry. I inherited the leaving part.
Thinking about it, though, a lot of what I wonder about is–was this a man who fucked up spectacularly in this pit of despair he was in…grew up a lot and did a lot of soul searching…and then met my mother? Maybe when he got to us he had genuinely changed. Maybe he was aware of his demons and was trying not to be that person anymore.
I believe that. I know–for my entire life–that man was in rehab. He was constantly trying to get a handle on his addictions and constantly failing.
Maybe he taught me to fight because he knew intimately what other men were capable of. Maybe he saved my mother as some way to save himself.
It’s a hard thing to hear something like that–even if you’re not totally surprised. Nothing really surprises me about him anymore. I’ve accepted that my father was a man of secrets and he took most of them to the grave with him. But it does make me question my memories. It does make me wonder what would have happened to me. And I’m left again with that deep gratitude that I never had to find out what a life with him would have been like.
But it makes me conflicted, too. Because how can I still love him? And why does this not change anything for me about who he was and how I regard him?
I guess because I feel like I do know his heart and I do know he was a complicated man and that nothing was as simple as it appeared. And no one is a boogeyman. I’m sorry for those who were hurt by him. And I hope they find a way to heal, too.
It’s 3 am, exactly, and since I’m awake and not really all that tired, I thought I’d write a bit.
If you follow me, at all, on social media, you probably already know what I’m going to write about. Mostly because my brain has been absorbed with fixing the situation since it started on Sunday.
One of our boy cats, Rilke (Rilly), started acting a little strange on Sunday. He was running back and forth from the litterbox all day and was licking himself quite unapologetically. Which is not altogether unusual for Rilly, but given that, I thought maybe little bud had the runs. Which is unusual for him, but he also has a history of tummy troubles. His nemesis is chicken, in all its forms. I’d been feeding him salmon mostly, lately, as that was what he was most happy eating–knowing it would likely switch back to turkey in a couple days. Rilly is super picky about food and only eats one thing for a few days at a time before finally refusing it and then doing the hokey pokey till he’s sick of that thing and the old thing becomes new again.
He’s a barfer because of this. Always high strung. A sweet cat who likes to sleep on me and swats at everybody (including me). He’s my naughty kitty who is always singing for his supper, trying to get at the birds in the trees, or trying to climb walls. He’s silly and funny and basically the best little bud.
The litterbox issue was odd. He’s never ever done any of that before, so I took notice of it, right away. Rilly is very clean and good about using his box with as much dignity as possible. We were having an exceptionally lazy Sunday. I fed them their brunch and we were all sleeping for most of the day. I was wiped out from work and allergies, watching murder shows and playing Harry Potter.
Then, all of a sudden, I hear this horrendous noise. Now, Monkey (Mumford, his brother) has been known to make a similar noise when he’s barfing up a hairball. It doesn’t happen often, but it sounds like he’s being murdered. It was almost mechanical sounding and seemed to come from under the bed. Foggy was sleeping on her monkey pillow. Monkey was under the bed. Rilly was on a blanket under the window. I was immediately alarmed. I just knew it was not right. I looked at Rilly and he looked back at me with Sinatra-like swagger–like–“What, Mama?” So, I thought it must be Monkey. I looked under the bed, expecting to see a massive hairball. But instead I found Monkey–looking innocent and concerned–meowing at Rilly. Then I saw Rilly run under the bed. Confused, I thought–maybe it was something outside?
So I go back to napping and then hear it again. Only, this time, I see Rilly emerging from under the bed–slow motion walking towards the blanket where he had been napping. It was so weird, and I was like, “What’s he afraid of?”
I scooped him up, and he’s growling and yowling. If you’ve ever heard a cat in severe pain–you instantly know the difference between that and normal crying. Was he just pissed off? Aggressive? Was there a fucking mouse in my room? *_*
I petted him and tried to reassure him he was okay. But he just kept acting aggressive. I decided to look him over to see if something maybe was wrong physically. My first thought was maybe he was constipated or maybe his butt was sore from pooping too much. His tummy and back end are jet black, so it wasn’t exactly easy to see anything, so I gently felt around his tummy–and he immediately started crying louder. That’s when I noticed a single drop of liquid near his little penis.
My boss’ cat had a urinary issue earlier this year, around the time Fogg was sick, and I remembered her saying how scary it was because it came on so fast. For whatever reason, that stuck with me. I let Rilly go and called my roommate immediately to see what he thought–am I being paranoid? Should we rush to the vet?
(I don’t always trust my instincts on stuff because, after all of Fogg’s problems, I’m a bit of a worry wart).
He told me not to Google anything–knowing I would and that would freak me the hell out. (Of course, I did anyway). He thought we should just keep a close eye on him and think about bringing him in the next day (Monday) if he was still off. Maybe he was just spooked by something. It was almost 8 pm at that point. I agreed that it was a good plan–and googled–not having much luck–and then went to the bathroom. Rilly loves to follow me into the bathroom. It’s his thing. And so, he followed me, and then he fell over. Then, he got up and went to the litterbox. I hurried to finish my bathroom business and walked over to see if he was constipated or what was happening. And that’s when I realized he was straining to pee. And couldn’t. He was straining so hard that he fell over in the box and was yowling so loudly. I texted my roommate–saying–we need to go to the vet now. I locked him in the bathroom and he vomited. And fell down on the floor again. He was crying in pain and didn’t want me to touch him, so I knew I’d need help getting him to the vet.
Long story short, we took him to the emergency vet we’d used for Fogg last time. They took him into the back immediately as soon as we told them the issue and then took us into an exam room to be debriefed while the vet looked at him in back.
It was very clear he had a urinary obstruction. We probably caught it pretty early, but cats can actually die from this within 24 hours, so had we waited till the next day, he would have likely passed. Basically, neutered cats have very narrow urethras. Sometimes, they get clogged up. Usually, they’re clogged up by crystals–which causes inflammation and mucus. It also causes them to spasm. They lick a lot, trying to unclog themselves–except they can’t. Eventually, the kidneys stop producing urine and phosphorous builds up. This also causes extreme nausea. The blood isn’t filtered. The kidneys can be damaged and it can actually cause damage to their hearts and can kill them. It’s a true vet emergency.
The treatment was clear and straightforward. Put him under briefly, unblock him, insert a catheter, and flush him with fluids for a couple days till the crystals were flushed out. After that, he’d likely need to be on special food and should recover with antibiotics, pain meds, and anti-spasmodics. At minimum, he’d need to stay until Tuesday night. And it was going to suck, financially. Hospital stays are always the worst, but yea–it was the worst timing since we had just paid rent and it was what our rent is for the down payment. (Don’t get me started with how angry the business of animal care makes me).
It took a lot of doing and multiple cards, but my roommate and I were somehow able to come up with everything. We came home, and the vet called about an hour later letting me know she had cleared the blockage and placed the catheter. He was on pain meds and an IV. He seemed much happier. We knew he wasn’t out of the woods, but it was a big relief to hear he wasn’t in as much pain–though it was still going to be pretty painful for a while.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to visit him while he was in the hospital. A vet we never met was responsible for his day-time care and called me with updates 2x a day. The first update was good. She mentioned his values were high, but that was expected, given his ordeal and that they were trending back to normal. He still hadn’t eaten anything–but, again–normal given the trauma. Second update was okay. His values were almost normal, but he was still not eating and was “being shy.” Um–Rilly is not shy. And he’s obsessed with all food. This concerned me quite a bit. She said they would try to remove the catheter today, depending on his urinalysis results and would put him on an appetite stimulant (which I hate) if he still hadn’t eaten anything. She said he may not come home Tuesday night. It might be Wednesday morning. Usually, they don’t want to send the cat home until it has peed and is functioning. And that could take a while, especially since Rilly was not eating and not his normal self.
This is when I got more nervous because if he needed more time in the hospital beyond that, we were probably going to be struggling to come up with the money. I started low-key panicking and plotting other options. Luckily, I was able to find a plan b–but it would mean–if he got to a point of needing more care–we’d have to transfer him to another vet that would accept a financing plan with monthly payments. Y’all this is no easy thing to find. But somehow, the new vet I had picked for Fogg’s aftercare after we fired her previous vet was in their network. That was a relief. I was upfront with the vet here that we were on a tight budget, so please try to keep costs down and let us know if we were close to the high end.
This morning, she had intended to remove Rilly’s catheter, but when she looked at it, she saw he was still bleeding quite a bit. Blood is bad because it clots and can obstruct the urethra–causing this whole thing to happen again. So, she opted to leave it in and keep fluids in–hoping to try again this afternoon. We definitely couldn’t bring him home based on that. She said it was not typical, but he may just be an extra sensitive guy and this all might be very traumatic for him. Which–yes–Rilly is a sensitive fellow.
I was super sad and worried all day. I have missed him terribly. Our other two cats have also (even if Fogg won’t admit it). They’re constantly looking for him. I wondered if he wasn’t doing as well because he thought we abandoned him. No lie–it sorta broke my heart thinking he thought that.
Tonight, the vet called around 7 pm, saying she had just removed his catheter. The bleeding had stopped finally. She said they had given him an anti-anxiety med and an appetite stimulant, hoping he would eat (he hasn’t eaten since Sunday afternoon). It didn’t work. She shared that she felt he was super anxious there–with all the other cats and loud noises and new people. He hadn’t bonded to anyone yet, and even though they kept him in the quietest kennel, covered up with blankets–he was still very shy and stressed. Given that, rather than keep him there till he could pee, she felt it would be best to let us take him home. We could pick him up any time. She advised that he would have a big chance of recurrence, so I’d need to monitor his urination activities and keep him away from other cats for a couple days while he was still recovering. She said a small, quiet room would be best to keep stress low and make it easy for me to get to him if something went south. I didn’t have any supplies for this, and the stores here closed by the time she called, so I suggested we come by in the morning. So, that’s what we’re doing. I ordered some stuff from instacart for delivery in the morning, and she will call me after she does rounds to confirm we can still bring him home. Luckily, this will give him time to pee (hopefully) and if there are any complications with recurrence–we’ll know and can act.
We’re all hoping he’ll finally eat when he gets home. However, I’m going to try to syringe feed him if he refuses. Luckily, I have the supplies from when Fogg was sick. I just need the prescription food. I’ve cleared out the bathroom for him.
I’m really hoping he does well tonight, but clearly I’m a nervous wreck–terrified of what could happen, worried sick, and excited to see his sweet face. I know, after three days of not eating, his little body is at risk for fatty liver disease (which is really serious itself, having dealt with that with Cleo and Fogg when they were ill). I’m sure he’ll be so skinny, and I’m so sad about that. But hopefully, lots of TLC and being home with us will help him get better.
I’ve done tons of research on food options and am even contemplating making my own cat food (WHAT?). I don’t know if it would be a good idea to do it for Fogg–because her insulin dose is very dependent on diet and we don’t want to mess that up ever. But maybe it would be good for the boys. Monkey is doing well (knock on wood), but you better believe he’s going on the same diet and will be insured as soon as I get some more money in my pocket. I also plan on insuring Rilly (though this will now be a pre-existing condition). I don’t know if insuring Fogg is even worth it, given how many things are wrong with her. But maybe it would be good to do, just in case.
In any event, if you were like me and listened to financial experts who said pet insurance was not worth it–unless you have $5K always sitting around in your bank account–please please please get your pets insured–even if they’re perfect and healthy. Rilly has been my buddy since he was 6 weeks old. He’s six now and has never been sick until this Sunday. It can happen over the course of hours, and you can lose your friend. The way vet care works, if you can’t pay, you either let your pet die or surrender them to a shelter where they may be euthanized anyway. Please don’t be in that situation. It’s so so so scary and stressful. It’s literally $40 a month for a middle aged cat. Worth every penny if you need it, and we will all eventually need it.
Anyway, that’s my soapbox of the day. Please send all the warm vibes, healing love, and prayers that my little friend is back to his nutty, naughty self in no time. Do some happy pee dances and full belly dances. We need all the love to get this boy back to his adorable self. The world is a sadder place without his crazy.
When Mama died, I had my sights set on teaching as a career. It made sense, inspired me, felt right in every way, and was something I felt I could dedicate myself to–without losing my soul…unlike the day job I had at the time. I worked hard, got into a pretty coveted program called TFA, jumped through all the hoops, and leapt–only to find out it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.
I ended up leaving the program early–after facing daily panic attacks. I’ve only experienced something like this once since that time–when I was finishing my grad program for nonprofit management.
At the time, I realized a lot of it was about TFA itself. While I supported their mission and overall goals, I really disliked how it was executed. I didn’t have any support whatsoever, and I felt like the entire program was harming children. There was a whole lot of other factors that went into my decision to leave, but the gist was–I really couldn’t add to suffering.
I had two years after that to decide to go back, and although I felt very pulled, often, I ultimately chose not to. Mostly because of those reasons. When I left the program, I found myself on a very strange path. I didn’t want to go back to what I had been doing for years–mostly because I’d worked hard to get away from it and the idea of going back was soul-sucking. I started working in higher education–which was a crazy path that was sorta painful, but led to lots of insights and growth I wouldn’t have found had I not done it. I ended up working as an admissions counselor for a for-profit school that specialized in education–helping teachers get doctorates and Master’s degrees. They did other things, too, including helping service men and women earn degrees while deployed. I ended up earning a Master’s degree myself in adult education from their program (training, specifically–mostly because it was way discounted and I’m a sucker for education). I ended up quitting that job only to end up working for one of my alma maters–a job I didn’t want–at all. I worked in the English department as their HR rep, though I was a master of a lot of things. I ended up being laid off because of the recession and so began one of the more challenging years of my life. I ended up going back to admissions counseling at that school from before–only to be laid off from there–and then going to work for the Pharmacy school at my other alma mater–only to be laid off from there–all in the same year. That was my cue to stay the hell out of academia!
It was one of the scariest times in my life, honestly. I had no money–had to get a roommate to make my bills–and literally sold everything I owned to survive. As someone who has no safety net, it was basically my worst nightmare. I’d taken a big risk, and man, I was paying for it. But that whole painful experience really helped me. I had to face my fears of failure–which WHOA–and I had to sit in my heartache about my work life and a relationship that ended during that time. I also had to process Mama shit. During that time, I really found myself again. My drive and my passion. I almost lost myself too. But I held on to something that was sparked at that school–when I was an admissions counselor–listening to people talk about their dreams all day, every day. I really liked supporting people, and as I thought about what was wrong and right about teaching–I realized that even there–I was counseling. I always had been.
I decided to go back to school again–once I’d completed my training degree. This time for nonprofit management–all with the goal of starting my own nonprofit. The bigger goal was being a therapist and doing therapy from that nonprofit. But I figured a nonprofit degree would be faster and easier. Boy was I wrong. It took me forever, and I realized part-way in that I really couldn’t sustain myself in that world. I also realized my idea was Godzilla and probably better suited as a social enterprise. I didn’t give up–but I doubted myself quite a bit and it led to a self-worth spiral when I tried to finish that degree.
Having survived all of that, looking back on it now, I realize that teaching wasn’t wrong. TFA was. But teaching wasn’t right either. Not exactly. But it was closer to right than what I’ve been doing since then. That tough time in my life matured me quite a bit, and a lot of my ungratefulness was essentially kicked out of me when I hit the pavement. I lost my ego–well, most of it. I had a lot of arrogance in me, still. But the biggest thing about why TFA didn’t work–well, it was because I was grieving MAJOR losses in brand new ways I never expected. Teaching was jumping into the deep end of my past and making myself responsible for saving the world when I was drowning. I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t.
I know this now. But I saw it then as some massive failure–some personal flaw of mine. That I must be this awful, selfish, bad person. And it didn’t help that the person I loved most seemed to think that, too. I was so disappointed in myself, and so I crawled inside myself and lost myself for a good long while.
That year of forced nothing–where I couldn’t overwork and distract myself was really just what the doctor ordered. I was able to find love and joy and passion. I was able to write and explore. I reclaimed the me I lost in that relationship and in that massive failure. And when I went back to where I came from–that thing I thought was so soul-sucking–I found a lot of perspective. The whole thing changed me forever.
Now, since then, while I appreciate the work I do every day–I do know it’s not right for me, long-term. I wasn’t completely wrong about that either. But it didn’t have to be absolute. I’m so black and white sometimes. Pursuing counseling was a goal I held onto–my lifeline on the really rough days…and there were many. Part of moving out to California was that I wanted to expand my choices for school. Only when I moved out here, I hated it and deemed everything here not right. There were so many obstacles, and things that made these things not right, that I started questioning if any of it was right. Maybe this was the universe saying–“Nope–not it.” Or “you’re not ready.” Maybe both. Probably both.
Earlier this year, something changed though. It’s called healing. And I started having major shifts forward. It’s odd how, when you’re ready, things show up without much effort. I just happened to come across a school that someone I’d taken a workshop with had attended. I had somehow completely missed it when researching options. It was a good school–fully accredited–with the exact programs I’d been looking for. Best of all, I didn’t have to go to school every day. It was a low-residency program with the majority online and still in California–in Santa Barbara. It didn’t require massive amounts of volunteer work, the GRE, or a previous degree in psych or pre-reqs of psych courses like the other programs I’d loved. It was actually a program suited for someone just like me. And the approach to learning was very much me. I felt at home listening to students talk about it. It was a big deal. All the doubts I had melted away. I didn’t need a huge plan. I just knew I needed to start this thing and the path would find me. I was all set to apply and go on my merry way–but then I saw the price tag.
Money has always been such a limiter in my life, and coming from a background of extreme poverty, it’s a huge deal to me. A huge stress and a huge trigger of my trauma. I’ve never been one to shy away from doing whatever it takes for my education. As such, I’ve wracked up some student loan debt. I’d paid for half my nonprofit management degree out of my own pocket–which is why it took me so long to finish. I was literally taking a course at a time because that’s all I could afford. Luckily, my school allowed that. This program required at least 3-4 classes every semester. There was no way to piecemeal it. If I could do it one at a time, I would have been okay. So, I felt pretty defeated and angry that–once again–my past was going to sabotage me. It was a real dark moment and spurred a lot of depression. It came at a particularly hard moment for me when work was overwhelming and my heart was a bit broken.
But I’m not one to give up. I fight. So, I decided I was just going to figure out a way out of this job I’m in and I was going to save my pennies till I could make this happen. I wasn’t giving up. I went about making a lot of plans. Yesterday, I was telling my therapist all about it. I had made some big decisions in the past few weeks. I decided that switching jobs just to continue on in this career wasn’t worth the hassle. I have a lot of respect and advantage built up here. I could make a lot more elsewhere, but it would come at costs I don’t want to make. I decided–rather than quitting–I was going to use this time to support the rest of my life. I could get another job internally or try to get my current one to be more fulfilling. I’m in the process of doing that. The money shit is always going to bug me, but I either need to accept it or leave. Since I don’t want to leave and pay that price–I’m accepting it…as much as I can. Creative work has always filled my cup, so I decided it was time to get over my pompous artistic integrity nonsense and stop giving away my work. It was time to ask for support and to do the damn thing.
For years, I’ve shared things for free–never asking for anything back. I thought being paid would compromise the work and make me hate doing it. But there are ways around that, and I realized the act of creating is worth it to me. But why not ask to be paid? Why is it I support other people being paid for what they create, but I can’t do it for myself? I realized it was that poverty mindset and self-worth shit showing up again. So, I had some plans–I would start creating stuff. I would sell my photos, create written wares, explore my love of crafts, and use it as a way to fuel my self-care. I’d use this money to pay for school and for things like therapy. It would be a thing I did on weekends, so it wouldn’t interfere with work and having it tied to my dreams and self-care would motivate me to actually do it instead of procrastinating or making excuses.
Then I heard about Patreon, and it was basically exactly something I’d love to do to fuel writing projects and even my documentary ideas. This was huge. So, I figured, between all of that and teaching myself UX/UI, I’d feel a lot better about life and earn enough to eventually go to school and eventually get the hell out of the day job. But it was going to take a lot of time. And that was still frustrating.
My therapist and I talked quite a bit last night about creativity and all the hang-ups I have about it. It came with major revelations that I never linked up before. Namely, that my creativity is intimately linked to my father and that it also has played a role in my romantic relationships. This is something we’ll be unraveling for a LONG time, probably.
We also talked about counseling as a career path for me, and my therapist was so supportive and excited. She knows the program and says it’s basically made for someone like me. She liked that I didn’t have a strict plan in place–just an intention that I’d make it happen.
The thing is–something in the last few months has changed in me. I’m not living in a trauma response as much anymore. Grief shows up, still, but even my therapist said she could literally hear the difference in my voice when I was talking about my Mama. It’s normal stuff, not the kind rooted in PTSD. Looking back now, the struggles I had were all about trauma. It wasn’t me failing. It was me being unsupported while in the midst of a psychological crisis. I wasn’t in any position to help anyone. I just needed to save myself. I’ve healed a lot of the guilt and shame I had about all of that too. But I feel so much better, and I know I’m just going to get better as time goes on. So all my doubts about whether or not counseling re-creates patterns? It’s not accurate. I chose how to cope because of who I am. There are patterns, but I can heal the wounds those patterns are based out of, and I can find a path within this one that doesn’t re-traumatize the whole thing. The important thing is to–like I said before–be like water. Let my life and my healing guide me. The more rigid I am, the more difficult things are. I know things will reveal themselves when they need to.
So, anyway, get this…
You know how I was planning on going to school this fall? Well, I’d planned on paying out of pocket–but took a chance and applied for financial aid–even though I was fairly convinced that was not happening. Well, it somehow did happen. And not only that, I discovered a new funding source because of it. I thought I was totally out of options. It’s a game changer, too, because I can basically fund my counseling degree now. And possibly an MFA if I want to go there. Which I think I do. But counseling first because, Goddamn, it’s been a long road.
It’s kind of crazy because I had let go of all expectations for this degree and really was just keeping the faith that I’d figure it out. Now, it’s suddenly this thing I could actually start next year. I literally just have to apply and get in now.
I’m truly so excited and grateful for all of it. I feel like things are finally paying off, and I can see such a great life for myself. The best part is that it feels like all the things I’ve done will only help me along the way.
I’m about 11. It’s a summer of Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, and Milli Vanilli. My best friend and I spend our days attached to our walkmans, walking the quiet streets of Westwood in search of penny candy–waiting for the pool to open. We lip sync and dance around, getting high off the cheap sugar of the place with the Coke phone, until the local college kid tells us to get our quarters ready.
We line up, hand him our coins, and head for the showers. Strip down to our modest one-pieces and run to the pool. I stick to the edges, holding on–careful never to get close to the deep end. I can’t swim. But I watch and try to teach myself. Mostly, my friend and I ogle the college kid watching us.
We are the biggest fucking nerds ever. When the pool closes for the afternoon, we shower off, put clothes on, and walk home. Sometimes, stopping at the library–mostly because I’m a dreamer.
We lug my stash of books home together–mostly biographies and mysteries–taking the long way. At night, we lay in my front yard after hours of running around barefoot and hiding from each other. It’s so peaceful. If I close my eyes, I can still smell Denver summer–clear as day–and hear the crickets.
We’d talk about God, sometimes, while looking at the stars. Talk about if my father talked to him much now that he was with him. I talk about rainforests and monkeys and how Daddy’s going to help me get to Costa Rica. One day.
I spent a lot of that summer numbing out. I would watch one show after another…mostly Trading Spaces, What Not to Wear, and Anthony Bourdain.
I had just leapt off a few cliffs–and fell on my face. Hard.
I questioned everything about myself that summer. Who the fuck was I? Was I like him? An adult who left? An unreliable person who couldn’t cope. Was this some fulfillment of my DNA?
I spent most of my free time in bed like that, ignoring my boyfriend–who hadn’t been living with me long. I didn’t have the vocabulary for the grief I felt. I didn’t know how to ask for support or how to offer it. All I could do was survive the pavement. And surviving is what I know how to do–though it usually doesn’t make for happy endings.
I guess that’s what I was looking for in the shows I watched. You’ll notice–these three shows–which I watched nonstop–they’re all about adventure…transformations…and story.
Tony Bourdain was one of the few things my ex and I connected on at the time. We both referred to him as Anthony Fucking Bourdain–an homage to that ultimate badass…our personal Chuck Norris. It meant much more than that, but I didn’t know it at the time.
But when I watched back then, those shows were places I could feel–even as I was so desperately numbing out. In an odd way, this was me re-parenting myself–teaching myself who I was. Rebuilding. But I didn’t know that and couldn’t explain.
In particular, Tony Bourdain’s world felt familiar. I connected with him immediately because he saw the world the way I did. He and I were made of the same cloth.
12:30-something, June 8th, 2018
It’s been a day. Already. And it’s not over yet. Not even by half. I’ve been meeting myself coming. It’s been a morning of conflict and uncomfortable conversations that are not mine. Me bearing witness–lending support–feeling conflicted. How I spend most of my workdays.
The week has been rough, starting with tears when I learned about Kate Spade. Inexplicable tears. An accumulation–an avalanche–maybe–of grief I don’t quite understand. And then I remember her daughter. And the joy I felt every time I looked at her work. How she always managed to delight with her simple, clean lines. She was a lot of what I wanted to be. Strong, but feminine without being ostentatious or fussy.
As always, this whole week, I searched for a why. Because this is what I do. I’m like a detective that way–on the hunt for signs. Hints. Things others missed. Can I see it with my intuitive brain?
Because, if I could somehow see something no one else did, maybe I can predict my own losses better next time.
I recognize it immediately as a trauma response and close my laptop.
Fast forward to this afternoon. I am still coping, but moving forward, after some disappointing personal news that turned into something that shook up my world a bit. I have been frustrated and angry–shaking my fist at God–seeking ways out.
Fighting some imaginary voice in the back of my brain that says nothing ever works out. The system is rigged. Why try? Nothing will ever change.
I tell myself it isn’t true, but then I realize it actually kind of is. And maybe I just have to accept that. Maybe I just need to cut myself out of it–accept my losses and do something else. I want to–so much–but I see no exits that go anywhere good. I just see stuck.
And while the morning was busy enough to distract me from that perpetual feeling of being a caged animal in a shitty pet shop, I am depending on the weekend to help me crawl out of the despair I keep fighting against.
I mutter to myself: It’ll be okay. You’ve gotten through worse. Keep going.
I push off my two laptops and grab my third, personal one to catch up with friends–opening Facebook before email. And I read a post that says, “I don’t know why, but this one is affecting me more than the others.” I see Anthony Bourdain’s name and sad face emojis in the comments.
It says everything about the world we live in–but my first thought is–“If Anthony Bourdain’s involved in a #metoo event, there is no fucking God.” Sort of like when I found out about Morgan Freeman.
I turned immediately to Twitter for more and see #RIPTony trending.
Immediate, heavy tears. Denial. No. This isn’t true. This is another fucking insensitive rumor. It can’t be true. He wouldn’t do that.
The news, though, is swift and direct–like the man it’s about–hung himself. Found by Eric Ripert. I can hear Ripert’s voice in my head. I cry a little more–for him–and then for his daughter. Another daughter left.
I text my roommate, go to Facebook–express that I don’t even know how to process this. But that I knew I would be writing about it. And all day, between my tears and sucking it up to finish my work day–I processed what all of the feelings I had meant. I actively didn’t get into a fight with a chronically suicidal friend who chastised us who grieved because our grief was some kind of proof that we didn’t get this kind of suffering. I ranted on Twitter about it instead–a raw, real anger that I didn’t quite understand. Until I did.
I may not have ever slashed my arms like my ex–or contemplated pills like my friend–never been to a psych ward or been anything other than “strong” to my friends–but death and suicide have been my constant companions since I was six…and actually since I was born.
There hasn’t been a day in my life when ghosts and darkness didn’t follow me. It’s an intricate part of my trauma. And while I’ve never come close to a physical ending, my way of dying is much more complicated.
I am the daughter who was left. And my father, when he finally succeeded in dying, passed down his suffering to me. So, I know all about the weight of that life.
I thought a lot today about why Anthony Bourdain’s death hurt so much. Beyond being that daughter someone left, it was more than that. Way more.
Tony Bourdain was a lot like my father. He lived in my father’s world. Blunt, a lot of fun, witty as Hell, and smart. Both were chefs. Both addicted to things they never quite overcame. Both wanderers and seekers. But Bourdain was also a lot like my Mama. A storyteller, a person who saw details and humanity. Ballsy.
And all of that? Me.
Watching Tony Bourdain, all those years ago, helped me start to forgive them both–mostly by reminding me of my connection to both of them. The best parts of them and me. It helped me feel closer to both of them.
He was everything I wanted to be–that I was so capable of being–and when I thought of my life and what I wanted this next chapter to be–he was a mentor–without having ever met me. I wanted to do what he did–but further–in my way.
I always saw a melancholy in him. I recognized it as the same world weariness that existed in me. And truth be told, he inspired me every single day to get out of my comfort zone and live–because there was so much to be thankful for–and it was an honor just to witness it.
He taught me that you could be a layered, deep, tortured person and still find joy every single day. And that your ghosts made you lucky because you still had a voice, and you could speak for others.
When I was about to move to San Jose, I was having a lot of misgivings and almost told my roommates I wasn’t going to do it. That would have been a HUGE deal at the time. But I was absolutely terrified (rightfully so, it turns out). I remember during that really terrifying time, I watched one of Tony’s shows about San Jose. He was in my now neighborhood–just down the street–and I could see my new apartment building in several of the shots. It made me excited about this place and reassured me that anything I did would be okay. That I could make it okay. But I had to try.
And it’s been super bumpy, but the road was the right road. He gave me comfort knowing that–whatever happened–life would work out. It’d be okay.
There’s so much to grieve here today. But Tony did good. He left the world a better place because he was in it. The world is sadder without him, but how we choose to carry on is up to us.
For my part, in honor of Tony, I will nurture and honor the things inside me that most connected with him. My dark humor. The things I notice that no one else sees. My eye for the underdog. My wandering, adventurous spirit. My propensity for telling the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. But mostly, my gratitude and appreciation for all this life offers–in spite of…and often because of…the melancholy.
I hope Tony and my Daddy are enjoying a beer together somewhere only they know.
I think I may have mentioned, however vaguely, that I’ve been up for two promotions at my work. One is a project manager role supporting new client implementation and the other one was a team lead role on my current team.
When both of these were announced, I was in the midst of applying for things, so I could get the heck out of here. Our account was getting more and more unsustainable for me, as far as workload, and honestly the pay here has always been insulting. But with more work on top of it and me living in Silicon Valley, where it’s very realistic for someone like me to make 5x as much as I do now, it was a no-brainer. A hard no-brainer, but one I really couldn’t refuse.
So yea, I had a few interviews locally that went well. Got a couple offers. And turned them all down.
Well, that’s simple and complicated all at once.
The thing is–when you put an intention or an honest prayer out into the Universe, the Universe WILL answer. I’ve learned this countless times. That sounds very Pollyanna, I know, but it’s something that I’ve learned to trust. It’s something I also have a hard time trusting because I was taught, from a very young age, that the Universe was kind of a cold-hearted bitch. And well, she can be, if you fight her. And my people are pretty much the definition of fighters. People who like to control things rather than go with the flow. So, you see the conflict.
And I am a fighter, too. In my heart–a survivor. Which is what they were. They taught that to me. But I’ve learned that walking the path of the survivor tends to attract things to survive.
Which is really not fair, right?
So, part of my healing has really been trying to stay open and learning to be more like water. To go with the flow. To pay attention to the obstacles in my path. To question why things are going the way they are and to fucking surrender sometimes.
As a control freak/perfectionist (in recovery), this shit is HARD. Maybe the hardest thing in the world, other than losing people. Trusting that things will just work out and not having to contort or manipulate? Well, shit.
But here’s the thing: it works. And I know it does. Because when you just surrender, things just sort of show up. I’ve learned that what is mine really does know my face. The things that were right in my life were never things I had to force. Even if they eventually failed, I never regretted them. Relationships, cat adoptions, and yes–even this very job I have now. So, as hard as it is, I don’t say no when presented with random opportunities and I also don’t force anything. Well, I try not to.
So, when I made that decision not to take those offers, and these two internal jobs just randomly showed up in my inbox–I applied. I’ve worked for this company for over 3 years, and this was the first time I was even interested in applying to something else. The PM role would take me away from what I’ve done for so long, but would use it in new ways and allow me to grow. It would let me be my geeky self, and I really liked the team. I finished a second interview yesterday, and I’m still waiting to hear back. The team lead role I was a little less enthusiastic for. Truth be told, I wasn’t quite sure about it. But I applied, basically because I’m doing at least some of the work already without being paid for it.
I almost didn’t. Why?
Anyway, I did the second interview yesterday, and it went really well. I think my original interview with my immediate boss didn’t go as well, but that was because I consider her a friend and it was super awkward to go from talking about cats to her asking me about contract understanding. Ha! In any event, I felt really good about it when it was done.
I knew I’d be hearing back from them today, but I wasn’t really sure if I’d accept the offer if it was extended. I felt that conflicted about it. I mean–I wasn’t conflicted about the pay bump, but there were lots of other things–which I will get into later. In the end, I didn’t get the job. And I was relieved. So, that’s how I know it wasn’t the right thing. But going for it was the right thing. I think the Universe sent me this job and this process to help me understand myself and what I need–long-term and at this company. It also opened up some conversations that will hopefully make my current job less annoying to me.
My boss broke the bad news, but I wasn’t sad about it. She said I was the runner up and that it was so close that it literally came down to a very minor thing. Since it was a big question from everyone I interviewed with, I’m assuming it was because I live in California. I’m the only one on the team living in the West. Everyone else is on the East coast, so that meant I’d either have to start my day at 5 am or they’d just have no one for the first 3 hours of the day. I’m guessing that was the dealbreaker. Especially since my boss mentioned that we are going to be taking on our client’s global operations–not just the US (like now)–in the future and there will be other leadership opportunities. To me, that said they’d be expanding the team so it wasn’t so East coast centric.
I know I was the most qualified and probably the most capable of the work. So there is a part of me–that wounded part of me–that’s rankled by this news. I’ll admit that. It’s the part of me that struggles with self-worth and that feeling that I’m never good enough and that good things never happen to me. Or that people just want to use me, but not reward me. Even though I know that’s bullshit. My manager worked hard to emphasize that they value me and want me to do more. I’m supposed to talk to her when she gets back from vacation to come up with a career path for me at the company so I can get what I need and do what’s right for me. It was interesting to hear her reiterate what she felt were my strengths and to hear some of her ideas on how I can do more of that. But I did feel annoyed that it likely wouldn’t come with a pay bump–so doing more, but still being paid insultingly low. It does mean I’ll get raises faster, but my challenge now is to explain that I need them to work with me on salary if I’m going to be doing more leadership things.
Looking over it, I’m pretty sure I know who was selected. She’s one of my best friends at work and someone I’ve known for a long time. I love her to death, and I know how much she wanted this. She’s been working for this for a long time and deserves it. So, I’m happy if she got it. She’ll do a great job–maybe better than I would have because she cares about it so much.
Honestly, for me, I am a bit burnt out on what I do. I’m burnt out on this client. The salary was just the easy lightning rod. The whole thing really highlighted that for me. Being even more embedded with the client would have been pretty awful, and I think that’s why I was relieved. I love being a consultant way more. I don’t want to be someone’s mouthpiece. I also discovered just how much I love being an advocate and how I really want to help my coworkers and use what I know to support them. I think that’s where I already contribute the most. People come to me for advice and guidance. Even today, a colleague came to me to talk about something and asked me to bring it up to our manager because he wasn’t comfortable doing it. And I’m not one for the spotlight. I like being behind the scenes, making things happen–which is odd for a Leo. I’m a good leader, but a quiet one. I like to be appreciated and seen. I like to make other people shine. And that’s what I’m good at.
So, I’m hoping this means I’ll do more to help with trainings on our account and will help mentor people more. Though I’m already mentoring 4 people inside the company–on other accounts.
And honestly, with going back to school this fall, it’s probably good that my work stays a little same old, same old. Luckily, the out-of-control workload we had last month has lightened a little, so I’m finally able to breathe again. I’m still frustrated about the money stuff…but maybe this means I need to stop looking at this job as a way to make my dreams happen. Maybe I need to use my other gifts–writing, art, photography–and help that fuel the next chapter. That I can completely control. But that is also hard when working a full-time job and full of things I’ve always fought a bit. Maybe I need to ask myself if I’d rather wait or sit on my artistic high horse. And also paying for that dream is probably the best motivator for getting my other work done–which would help alleviate a lot of stress because these things are the things that heal my spirit. Just by doing them.
So yea. I’ve got some planning to do and thinking to do…but I think the Universe is showing me paths and opening the doors I need open while closing the ones that aren’t meant for me. These are good things and at least I’m working on the important stuff–even if I’m not there yet.
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