Life’s A Bitch And Then You Die.

Life’s a bitch and then you die. My dad always said this. While it may sound like the epitome of pessimism, it was just his dose of reality. His way of reminding us that we all have the same fate to look forward to. It’s how you live your life and treat others that matters.

Life is compiled of moments of happiness so tangible you’d swear you could reach out and touch it coupled with pain that takes your breath away. In the end, we all end up in the same place. You take those moments and you tuck them away to revel in or learn from as needed.

In my experience, those who suffer from death are the ones left behind. The ones left to our own devices, being swallowed up by our memories. Those who leave us aren’t hurting. They’ve done what we’re all meant to do. Mission completed.

Today, I visited my cousin Kathy. She’s battled cancer for a while and her time card on this planet will soon be punched. She knows this and appears to be content. As everyone around her dabs their eyes, she’s the same no-nonsense woman I’ve always known her to be, fanning herself dramatically as the attractive hospice nurse takes his leave, “That’s my future ex-husband,” she jokes.

Her sister sits with a large glass and they begin to fight over its contents. “You done drank that whole bottle of Crown. Are you fucking kidding me? That ain’t how you cope.” Kathy says. “It’s only my second glass and my birthday is tomorrow,” is her sister’s reply. Kathy fires back, “Bitch, that’s tomorrow! Don’t make me get up and jack slap you cause I’ll fucking do it. ”

Her sister breaks down. “This is how I’m coping. OK? I can’t handle this shit. They’re saying you’re dying and I’m just supposed to go on?” “Yes,” Kathy says calmly. “How?” her sister asks.

“You have pictures and memories and I’ll still be around,” Kathy says. Several minutes later they are hugging as Kathy continues her role as the comforter.

This is when I start to break. Here is my cousin, exuding strength and love when she has every reason to be angry as fuck. She’s 45-years-old and is going next week to plan her funeral. She has kids and a husband who adores her but none of that matters when your body decides to betray you.

She mentions a medicine that could dramatically improve her quality of life during this time but it’s $4,000 a month. It may as well be a million. I wonder how this process is for wealthy people. I know money doesn’t cure cancer but is the transition easier when you can buy the end-of-life comforts that are out of reach to folks like us? Do you pass easier knowing that your burial isn’t depleting someone’s life savings?  

Our conversations drift from family and the good times to those who are no longer with us. If I look to my right, I see the bedroom where my Uncle Gary took his own life not that long ago. My mind reels with the weight of it all. Why does it feel like death comes in waves?

My Aunt Tammy remembers that she just saw a great picture of my dad and pulls it up on her phone. It was a photo that I took of him during one of our adventures. We were at a brewery in Tampa and I was trying to convince him of the wonder that is craft beer. He has a pilsner in his hand, his cane between his legs, and a smile on his face. I love that picture. At the end of the day, he still preferred Yuengling Lager.

As we get ready to leave, I give Kathy a hug and tell her how much I love her. I think about all the times she’s lifted me up. She’s read pretty much everything I’ve ever written, sharing it on social media and sending me words of praise. Those moments have been priceless to me.

For the next few hours, my mind races with a million thoughts. I let myself enjoy the fact that my mom is in the driver’s seat and I got to spend the day with her. We travel across Lake Pontchartrain where my dad’s ashes were spread less than a year ago.  I think about all of the young, healthy people that are gliding along in life and will still not outlive Kathy because of car accidents and gun violence and whatever other bullshit it out to get us.

I admire my cousin’s faith and courage. She seems so peaceful and regal, even. If you didn’t know about her condition, you’d think she just had a long day at work and fighting the day’s fatigue. She’s a badass in the very best way. I think about what my impact on the world will be.

Life’s a bitch and then you die. My dad was on to something. All you can do is live the best life you can and leave those who are left behind with a little bit of your goodness to spread along their path after you’re gone.

I love you, Kathy. There’s a spot for you in the book that I will one day write about this crazy thing called life.

An Interview With St. Nick


Yes, I am personal friends with the Big Man up North – Santa Claus. We go way back. So when I asked him if I could interview him, he was more than happy to oblige. I’m not going to lie – scoring major “cool points” with my nieces and nephews was a motivating factor in getting the scoop on St. Nick. I mean, how many aunts know Santa Claus! 

In this hard-hitting interview, I asked the questions that everyone is wondering. Read on to learn more (including how to make it onto the Nice List).

AG: What can kids do to get off of the naughty list and make it to the nice list?
Santa: Oh, it’s really not hard to get on the nice list. All you have to do is show respect for and be kind to other people. Even those who don’t look like you, sound like you or dress like you. And remember that being mean to somebody that is smaller, weaker, or just isn’t as “cool” as other people will get you that lump of coal you’ve heard about. Except, I don’t do coal anymore as I ’m trying to move away from fossil fuels entirely. I just use rocks painted black to look like coal.

AG: You eat a lot of cookies when you’re delivering toys. What is your favorite?
Santa: Well, it’s hard to pick a favorite. There are so many good cookies out there, you know. Peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and, oh my…snickerdoodles. I love them all!  But I guess if I had to pick one it would be chocolate chip with pecans.

AG: This is your busiest time of year. How do you plan to relax after Christmas?
Santa: Mrs. Claus and I will probably go someplace warm for a little vacation. Maybe to a quiet, deserted beach in Florida. Nothing too exciting, just a deserted beach where I can work on my tan and take naps. I’m partial to the Gulf Coast. The Redneck Riviera, if you will.


AG: Are the other reindeers jealous of Rudolph?

Santa: Not anymore. They were at first – especially Blitzen for some reason, but they’re all great friends now. You see, they’ve all got their own special talent and each contributes when they’re needed. Cupid, for instance, knows exactly how to talk us in when we land on a roof with a very steep pitch. Dasher is a real jokester, he’s great at keeping everyone laughing. And Vixen never ever gets lost. In fact, she’s our GPS. So Rudolph isn’t the only special reindeer, they’re all special in their own way.

AG: Have you ever gotten stuck in a chimney? What did you do?

Santa: I once misjudged a chimney in Holyoke, Massachusetts. I tried to slide out of my coat, thinking that would make enough difference in my girth to get me going, then shimmy on down without it and retrieve it after I got down. But it was too tight! About that time, with me squirming and wiggling in that chimney, all the cookies and milk I had been stuffing myself with released a giant bubble of air and I let out this huge burp! It was so loud, it scared the reindeer! But it made my belly small enough to let me slide on down to the bottom. It was a scary few minutes, let me tell you.

AG: How do you deliver presents to homes without chimneys?

Santa: At one time all houses had chimneys and there was no problem. Even in warm climates, people had fireplaces to cook in. Then people (grown-ups) started building houses with central heat and putting stoves in kitchens.  Suddenly, I had no way to get in! Fortunately, my head elf, Bernard knew of another elf who could make magic keys. He made me a set and I have never had a problem since. I’ve got my IT elves working on these keyless entry systems as we speak.

AG: How do you keep dogs from barking when you’re delivering gifts?

Santa: Oh, dogs know me and know that I’m not a threat to them or their families. Dogs can sense that I love them and want to be their friend. Also, I carry plenty of dog snacks in my coat pockets.

AG: How does Mrs. Claus help you prepare for the Christmas holiday?

Santa: She is a great source of cheer and merriment, which I really need when things get hectic or I just get tired from the long days and hard work. She helps me find answers to problems that come up and tries to warn me when I’m about to do something stupid. I absolutely could not do it without her.

AG: What is your favorite color?

Santa: You’re kidding, right?
Note: I have no choice but to assume that Santa’s favorite color is magenta.

AG: You’ve lived in the North Pole for quite awhile. Do you ever think of moving somewhere new?

Santa: Oh, I’m not saying the thought never crosses my mind but the North Pole is home to me now. There may be places with better weather or more fun things to do but, no place could ever feel like home the way the North Pole does. Plus, I could never abandon Bernard and the other elves, and they would never consider relocating

You can follow Santa on his Facebook  Page:  https://www.facebook.com/bestsantainatlanta/ and ask him your own questions along with where he may be making special appearances this holiday season. 

The Power of Positivity

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I trudged into my local coffee shop this morning for the first time in a while. The barista was wiping down tables in her flower-patterned leggings and flannel top (a look I could never pull off yet she nails it), “Hey, stranger,” she says to me, “how have you been?” I flash a big grin and reply, “I’ve been fantastic!”

I’m not fantastic. Far from it, in fact. I’m scared and stressed and so very tired. It feels like life has taken a special interest in tearing me down these last few years. However, I recently decided that I’m not going to project my circumstances onto others. Being grumpy to the clerk ringing up my groceries or honking at the person in front of me for not driving to my liking isn’t going to do a damn thing to change my situation. I’m going to be pleasant and strive to be a blessing to others whenever possible.

My hope is that by outwardly portraying positivity, it will begin to manifest in my life on a personal level. According to this Psychology Today article, the simple act of smiling actually relieves stress and makes you more attractive (I’ll take all the help I can get in the looks department). If smiling has so many positive impacts, imagine what can happen if you face each day determined to be positive?

Here’s my plan for “Project Positivity”:

  • Every morning, I’m going to resist sleeping it. My goal is to wake up each day with purpose. This includes having a healthy breakfast, meditating and reflecting on my blessings.
  • Throughout The Day I’m going to smile dammit! I’m also going to practice patience and extend kindness whenever possible. I recognize that there are plenty of people who would love to have my problems because theirs are so much worse. Putting my life into perspective is going to be key to getting through each day while I figure out my next chapter.
  • I’m going to fill my time with quality people. I really do have amazing friends and family who build me up and I’m going to let them. There is nothing wrong with self-care and letting people who love you be a source of comfort is a great thing when you’re feeling down.
  • At the end of each day, I’m going to focus on what went right that day instead of dwell on what could have been better. Tomorrow is a new day with new opportunities. Looking ahead is a hell of a lot more productive than looking back.

I’m not expecting all of my problems to disappear just because I’m high-fiving strangers when I want to be punching a wall. I am, however, hoping to cope with my circumstances better and look forward to a brighter future. Wish me luck!

If you have any tips on how to stay positive through the dark times, feel free to share. I’ll take all the help I can get.

Today, I made lemonade.

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My day started off pretty crappy. I was headed to work only to find that my car wouldn’t start. Not even a little bit. I’ve been needing an oil change but money has been tight which has made easy for me to keep putting it off. The absolute worse scenarios started running through my mind. I was convinced that my procrastination has done irreparable damage or, at the very least, enough damage to cost a small fortune to fix.

I called my mom crying and began the 1/2 mile hike to the nearest train station aggravated that my day wasn’t going as planned.  It was blistering hot and I’d have to make a transfer. Why does everything have to happen to me! (OK. I’m being a bit dramatic, I know.)  By the time I got on my first train I had composed myself and accepted my fate. When I sat down there was a folded up piece of paper on the seat next to me. It didn’t seem to belong to anyone so I picked it up. Inside was a picture drawn by a child with the caption that read “Me and my suster we play outside with my frend.” It made me smile.

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There were two women across from me with a little boy. It seemed to be his first time on the train and he was amazed by everything he saw from his window. I began to think that having to take the train wasn’t so bad.

On the second train I began a lengthy conversation with the older gentleman next to me. He was headed to work and while we started off with casual banter about the weather, things became more meaningful. He told me about how his dad was killed in Vietnam when he was a kid and his mother had to take on the role of both parents. She passed away in October at the age of 83 and it has been hard of him. Unfortunately, I can now relate to the pain of losing a parent and we both agreed that no age is ideal to lose someone so special. I loved making such a connection with this stranger and wished him  a great day as I departed.

Aside from my pleasant conversation with a stranger, I saw a young man who give his seat up to an older lady and the couple sitting next to me were radiating love as they held hands and laughed at each other’s jokes. I was beginning to wonder why I didn’t take the train more often. For me, It was a great reminder of the humanity that still exists in a country that seems to be moving away from its founding values.

On the train platform I noticed an elderly women who didn’t speak much english trying to get directions from the conductor. They both seemed frustrated so I offered to help so that the train could get moving. The lady showed me a screenshot on her phone of a nearby Senior Center. I put the address into my Google Maps and walked her to the front door. She was so grateful to have someone go the extra mile and I was happy to make her day just a little bit easier.

I used to take the train every day in college but quit when it was no longer my most convenient option. However, my day was so enriched by the happenstance that I encountered. I learned a lesson today and think I’ll be taking public transportation more often.

Depression, It’s A Thing

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I wasn’t sure how to title this post. I was going to put “I’ve Had Depression” but upon further reflection I wonder if past tense is the correct verbiage. Do I HAVE depression? Does it ever fully go away? I feel fine today but know all too well that may not be the case tomorrow.

Let me first begin by explaining that I’ve never been formally diagnosed with depression. For some reason, making myself vulnerable through writing seems much more bearable than talking to a doctor about how I feel. The thought of trying to explain the sporadic despair and hopelessness that is my world to someone with a clipboard just isn’t an option.

My depression is interesting because anyone who knows me knows that I am an extrovert times 100. I’m happy and funny and all those things that no one would ever associate with depression. That’s that thing, everyone wears it differently. I’d like to think I wear mine well.

I’m going to try to explain my experience as best I can with the hope that  either someone reads this and finds hope or someone reads this and reaches out to a friend, family member and/or acquaintance.

Here it goes.

Sometimes I feel empty and alone. Sometimes I feel anxious. Sometimes I feel really tired. Sometimes I feel all of those things simultaneously.

Other times, I feel perfectly fine for days and even months. There is no rhyme or reason with depression.

I’m getting better at knowing that with every fall a rise is just around the corner. That wasn’t always the case.

There was one period in my life where I truly felt like I couldn’t continue. I felt like I was dying and my body just wasn’t catching up. It was inevitable and I wondered how much longer would I have to suffer before I’d finally be allowed to escape. If it would just happen already then maybe I’d find peace. I had a plan and wrote a note. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t manic. I wasn’t anything.

I can say two things that were completely true during that time (and this is what I want people to understand) 1) I honestly felt like suicide was a viable solution 2) I was not myself

I can’t fully explain what I mean when I say that I was not myself but I’ll try; I did not recognize myself. My body and mind felt foreign as if they were being inhabited by someone (or something) else. I felt disposable. I felt as if I were a dark spot on everyone’s otherwise bright and sunny lives. I envisioned a storm cloud walking into every room with me.

Please understand that everyone experiences depression differently. This is my story but there are so many more out there to be told.

What kept me from ending my life? Reasons. I had very tangible reasons; watching my nieces and nephews grow up, sparing my parents the pain of losing a child. If those reasons had not been then there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t be here today.

That’s not to say that people who commit suicide didn’t have those same reasons, people that they loved dearly. I don’t doubt that for a second. There were many times when my reasons seemed far away, just beyond my reach. Those times were dangerous for me. I’m fortunate to have escaped the talons of depression during those times. Again, no rhyme or reason.

I was watching something on TV awhile back about suicide.  I can’t remember if it was a documentary or news show like 20/20 or Dateline but it mentioned a study that revealed that something like 90% of people who attempted suicide and failed were happy that they survived. They were happy for the second chance.

That statistic touched me because it meant that they were happy to not have taken away their option of life. That’s what suicide is, it’s taking away the option for things to get better.

I don’t judge anyone who takes their own life. I’m sad that they lost their battle with a very powerful sickness. A sickness that manifests turmoil so gut-wrenching that you’ll never understand without experiencing it firsthand. No one who struggles with depression is immune to its wiles.

I take steps to manage my depression. I see a therapist regularly and take medication. Both are helpful but it took me years to reach this point. There are still tough times but I now know that it will pass.

I say all of this to encourage you to be kind. Offer encouragement. Reach out to old friends. Don’t judge the actions of others if you don’t understand what’s driving them. Depression is a bitch.

If you’re experiencing depression ask for help. Talk to someone. Don’t take away your options. Even though they seem few and far between one is just around the bend. Trust me please.

Disclaimer: This isn’t my most eloquent work but this topic is tricky to convey to others. Depression can feel like a jumbled mess of emotions and while I tried to not have that come through in my writing I may not have succeeded.

 

 

 

I Am Not An Underdog

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I am not an underdog. Statistically, perhaps I should be. I was born to a poor 16-year-old girl and 19-year-old boy. We lived in motels and projects and rundown homes. At times, we relied on food stamps and donations to get by and boiled water for hot baths. We were looked at with pity and even disgust. There were whispers that we were worthless, that my siblings and I would be a product of our environment.

Our destiny was written by for us by others. My sister and I were to be teenage mothers, just as our mom was, struggling to rare the next generation of scourge; my brothers – unfortunate misfits. These aren’t exaggerations. We heard the satisfactory way these predictions were made. Us failing demonstrated the world order. It just made good sense.

But here’s the thing; we were never underdogs. I was never an underdog. I was raised to believe that I was a bad ass no one better ever mess with. Not because my mom or dad would swoop in to save me but because I was strong and powerful and could handle it.

Both my mom and dad gave me traits to not only survive this world but to thrive in it. Humble swagger, that’s what I have. I’m confident and compassionate. Empathy hits me so hard that it physically hurts at times. I hold my head up even as I’m being knocked down because I know I’m getting back up.

am a product of my environment. An environment of unconditional love, and perseverance. An environment that embraced being unique and different and interesting. An environment that took every roadblock and knocked it out of the fucking park.

These are the things that I’m holding on to as I struggle with my dad’s death. He is in me and that makes me fierce. Man, that makes me fierce.  His words echo in my head telling me to keep moving. I don’t have a choice. His standards were too high.

My dad never offered to fix a situation for me although I knew he would if I needed it. He cheered me on as I tackled it, telling me that I could do it. At the end he’d say, “I never doubted you for a second.”

Once, I was on the train in Atlanta and two men began fighting. After a punch was thrown one of the men got off at the next stop. The man that stayed on the train, held the door open and attempted to provoke the other back on.

People were scared. An old lady trembled in her seat and people were huddled together at one end of the train car. I got angry and stood nose to nose with the man, looking him in the eye. “If he gets back on this train I’m going to help him kick your ass,” I said,” Get off or let the doors close but you’re not finishing your fight on this train.” He let the door close and sat down, apologizing.

I called my dad later that day and recounted the story. “He didn’t know who he was messing with,” was his response.

Another time, while I was in Switzerland,  a man passing by touched me between the legs, chuckling to his friends. I turned around and kneed him so hard in the groin that he was struggling to breathe as I walked away. “That’s what he gets for fucking with my baby girl,” my dad said later.

He had this confidence in me that made me feel exceptional and even invincible. Both of the aforementioned stories could have turned out much differently and maybe one day one will but I don’t shrink and I don’t run. I am my dad’s daughter.

I’ve never been an underdog. Not for a second.