The God of Now

“I’ve decided to unplug,”

she said.

“Unplug? Where are you going?”

“Oh, I’m not going anywhere; I’ve decided.

I’m just not going to do anything.”

“You mean…but you’ll die that way.”

“I know. I’ve decided to unplug.”

We’d just heard the news a few weeks ago. Wait. Weeks?

It has felt like weeks. I mean days.

For months, she had complained of feeling “off”, “unwell”, “out of sorts”.

She couldn’t pinpoint it,

so to me it sounded like nothing.

She’s dying of cancer.

Her belly full of writhing, replicating balls of free radicals.

Her ovaries deteriorating.

Betraying her.

We anticipated,

and she prepared us for,

liquid metal to be dripped into her veins.

For her to plug into the magic,

the alchemy,

of science.

Of medicine.

Hail to the chief.

The God of Now.

But she retreated, after while.

They’d caught it earlier,

but it wouldn’t change the outcome.

She knew it, and we did, too.

But to hear her desire to “unplug”

was a painful exercise in anticipatory grief.

What’s best for you not being best for me.

A rejection, a “break up” of sorts.

I knew I respected her, immensely!

But the grief,

and all its components of ugliness,

remained.

I wanted to be present for her

to give her the love she deserved,

but being present meant bringing the anger, too.

The fear.

I grew quiet with my thoughts.

I never had to make that choice.

The cancer was no match for

The God of Science

when it ravaged me.

I know there would be a battle, but

the troops were on my side.

I’d purchased dragons.

I had the wildfire.

Alone, I stood on that battlefield,

and The Lord of Light defeated

Death.

Not today.

But she knew, with her troops surrounding her,

that she must be sacrificed.

And so, strong and sure,

she prepares us all,

to trudge along without her.

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Cancer

Brittle

Fragile

her bones.

Ravaged like winter wood,

Drying out for spring

Warping, writhing

hollow, under the surface

We never knew

they’d snap.

Missed Connections

I believe a teenage girl lives inside all of us. Someone waiting to be chosen. Longing for recognition. Longing to be loved and cherished and admired. And seen. Anxiously waiting for this to happen and waiting, on baited breath, for validation. Even if we don’t want to admit it, a teenage girl is there, at the core.

I’m young. I’m fortunate enough to say that I have achieved professional recognition. I’m a leader in my field, a master of my craft. I love my career, and I’ve received a wealth of recognition just from following my dreams.

Then there’s the place where the rational and the teenage brains meet: love. I’ve been rejected a fair amount by people in my life: men, women, friends, lovers, family, mentors, foes. I’ve been abused and damaged. I still hurt. Mostly, I hurt by those I believed from whom I should have received unconditional love, as well as by those whom I’ve loved unconditionally but lost tragically. Both forms of rejection continue to be unexpected, long after the blow was dealt.

Recently, I’ve been seeing someone romantically. It’s been some time since I’ve dated, since I’ve softened my heart enough to get shy around someone. It’s a difficult exercise for me, but with this person, I want to keep doing it. Every time I ask for what I want, I am rewarded by being pulled in, by his turning toward me. At this point, when he turns toward, I want to leap into his arms. I’m beyond smitten and am falling. Deeply. And I don’t want to stop. Some days I think I should, when my doubts and self-criticism creeps in, but most of the time, stopping this inertia is farthest from my mind.

We met in an odd way; on an online app where you match with one another within certain proximity. Yes, I’m talking about your run of the mill dating app where you swipe in a hot or not scenario, but both of us have no purchased features, so we need to be within proximity, age range, and also like one another’s faces and profiles. I’ve never matched with anyone on this app, and I’ve been fine with that. I was not seeking a partner.

This seems like a mundane way to meet these days, so why are the circumstances odd? My proximity setting was within a 1-mile radius and the only time he was in that radius was for the hour or two he was at a meal with friends. Otherwise, he lives 300+ miles away from me. And yet, we connected. The chemistry was immediate and electric, in every way imaginable. So much so that he attempted to reject me early on, only to reconsider. Things, feelings, were moving too quickly for the circumstances.

And yet, this has progressed. We’re in constant contact, at least daily (if not multiple times daily), despite not getting a lot of face time with one another. Our friendship and connection has deepened just through texting, calls, and FaceTime, and we make time to connect. I have noticed, at times, that he doesn’t share everything with me yet, nor do I, and while that bothers me a tad, I understand it. The anxiety isn’t there like it has been in the past with other potential partners. Perhaps it’s because I have matured and perhaps it’s because I notice the effort–to be honest, it’s probably both things, but I can’t be sure.

This gets me to thinking about connections. Those I’ve had in the past, those with whom I’ve had a stronger bonds and still have fizzled. What makes these things different?

I used to believe that the connection was everything. In 2010, I met, what I have called, the “great love of my life”. We met, quite serendipitously, in an airplane. It was the perfect “meet cute”, the perfect beginning to a romantic comedy. I wasn’t supposed to be on that plane and actually had switched seats only to stumble upon the person I spent years with sitting next to me. We both believed we were going to spend our lives together. Until, one day, years into the relationship and after much talk of marriage, he realized he wasn’t able to stay committed. I, loving and respecting him, understood, and let him go. My heart was broken into pieces, pieces I believed to be irreparable. This was my great love after all!

In the nearly four years without him, in the relationships I have had with others since him, and, most importantly, in the relationship I’ve had with myself since our parting, I have learned the best lesson:

Relationships are only part connection. They are built and sustained on action. Not only is there a space component to them, there’s a time component as well. If both parties aren’t ready, aren’t in the same time in their lives, no connection, no matter how strong, will keep them together.

No connection is ever really missed, just out of place.

My body, the battlefield

In 2005, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While the treatment was difficult and the time was trying for both me and my then-husband (and our families & friends), the scars and the side effects were all internal. To the naked eye, one would have thought I was fine–that I never had cancer. That I had it all together. To the naked eye, most would have thought my marriage was fine and that we had just weathered a storm. Perhaps a hurricane. While I had lost my ability to bear children and I suffered from an immense amount of scar tissue buildup inside my most precious female organs, I simply looked like a woman who had gained a bit of weight. While I suffered from crippling depression and anxiety, most people thought it was just a side effect from my troubling past, from previously existing traumas.

I carried around the semblance of normalcy until 2015, when I was again diagnosed with cervical cancer. This time, though, I was not as lucky as before. I needed more treatment, invasive and exhausting treatment, that caused visible symptoms. I lost 40 pounds. I lost my hair, everywhere. I gained a skin condition that permanently discolored my body. I lost a labia, and then a surgeon crafted a new one. Medication provided after treatment ended bloated me, giving me a “muffin top”. Vaginal reconstruction weakened my core. My teeth eroded from chemotherapy. My groin dotted with tattoos I needed for radiation.

My body, and my relationship with it, has changed in so many ways. Some days, I look in the mirror and remember that woman I once was, seeing her in my eyes or in my crooked smile. Others, I try to think that this moment, where my body feels and looks weathered, is when I am bursting from my cocoon. Messy but necessary to get to my final destination–a butterfly. But most of the time, I sit with angst, in despair about what others think when they see me. About what I think when I see me. To what expectations people compare the reality in front of them. Many days, I just see the cancer, even after it’s moved on to ravage someone else. My body, the battlefield.

I have a sordid history with my vagina. Much of my past trauma comes from unwanted sexual advances, assaults, and the aftermath those experiences caused. I have been trying to determine what a healthy relationship would look like with that part of my body for as long as I can remember–I never did have a healthy sexual experience before having unhealthy ones. I have sought the assistance of counselors, trauma therapists, sex therapists, and body workers to help connect me with The Sacred Feminine. I work to connect to Her on a regular basis.

But things just aren’t that easy.

In some ways, I find my post-cancer approach to my body to be more respectful than it once was. In college and after my divorce, I often gave my body freely to anyone willing to give theirs to me, without giving a second thought to who should have rite to entry. I did so soberly and consensually. Even after sexual assaults in adulthood, I attempted to “stay normal” by continuing this practice, like nothing had happened. Like it didn’t matter that I had been violated. If I just kept up appearances, then maybe, just maybe, those violations would matter less. Now, after undergoing vaginal and labial reconstruction, I am more careful about to whom I grant entry. It’s not that I don’t condone these practices–they’re great!–but I was never doing them for the right reasons. I was never a free spirit. I wanted control over the past–and I never gained it. Now, I am discerning. I respect this body that weathered the storms life threw its way. I expect that people touching or enjoying it also respect it. Because it IS The Sacred Feminine. And it is mine. I have a lot less sex (with others), but the quality is much higher. And, most of the time, I don’t shrink with shame afterwards.

Some days, especially when the body shame and self-doubt creeps in, when I’m meeting someone new from whom I’d like physical adoration, I gaze longingly over my shoulder. I compare myself to the “cool girls” and free spirits, and I wonder why I have become the prude. But it only takes a moment for me to run my fingers along the scars lining my edges to remember that, in place of someone trendy, stands a warrior for truth. Stands a woman reclaiming her leg hair and body hair. Learning to receive pleasure from herself, to give clear boundaries to others. Stands the captain of her destiny and a dreamer of dreams.

A survivor stands where a girl once did.

Never Say Never

I remember now the moment I fell in love with you. 

It was faster than I anticipated, 

occurring through my fear and pain.

I had a panic attack, and you,

You sat down in front of me, 

Your hands on the sides of my face,

Demanding my eye contact,

Teaching me to follow your breaths.

“Slow inhale, and hold.

Exhale. Let the tears come. Let the pain in.

Calm down those nerves, my darling.

Breathe in. Expand your container.

Breathe out. Empty it all.

I’m here, you’re held.

Never alone again.

Breathe in, composure.

Breathe out. There’s a smile!

See. You’re okay.”

With that, love. 

Expansive, all consuming, 

Forehead touching,

Transformational love. 

With those breaths, I fell farther

Down the rabbit hole that is your heart.

Never alone again.

And I believed you.

Every time you said it, I did.

Until the very end. 

Until the day you left,

When you looked back, saying,

“Never say never.”

No matter how far you are, 

I still feel those hands,

Soft and strong, 

calming my nerves. 

When I need a friend.

I still smile when I think of yours.

“There it is!” You’d declare.

They are the moments where I continue

To fall in love with you

Even still.

On suicide

When I was a child, my mother used to allow me to wander the library unattended. She is a genealogist, and for the most part, the library is where there were computers or other machines that connected to archives. I tagged along, happy to be left alone to explore my wonderland. 

I remember the moment I first laid eyes on that spine in the philosophy section. At first, I was drawn to the idea of a German female author (Emile Durkheim) talking about suicide. Little did I know it was a Frenchman postulating on the reason why people turn to suicide. I sat in the aisle, my back to the shelves, searching for answers. Turning the first page, I realized this book, this crisis, this epidemic of existential proportions, was older than me (1897!) I wasn’t the only one searching for answers. I had not come up with this concern myself. 

I was twelve years old. 

A year earlier, I had spent hours in the same library, reading my summer book list from start to finish, at times tagging along with my mother, and other times persuading my friends to come with me. To explore the library, full of possibility and knowledge. I rarely read non fiction, rather traveling through the young adult classics and fantasy sections, save for my time spent reading biographies of the greats: novelists, classical musicians, architects, artists. I was obsessed with the world’s beauty. I longed to be part of a world where beauty and luxury existed. I believed it was possible. 

At twelve, I experienced loss from suicide. She was 14, a girl I more than loved, a familiar. My tribe. My heart.

Sitting there, alone, tearing through Durkheim, I searched for the answers no one could give me. Why? How? What does this mean? Can I catch it? Is all hope lost? What happens to her now? To me? Why does this hurt so much?

The answers in this book puzzled me, frightened me, excited me, angered me. Mostly, they left me pondering more often how suicide happens. I was searching for answers and it just prompted more questions. 

That year, I began to tempt fate myself. It wasn’t like playing Russian roulette. I was alone and in pain. I was searching for answers, for comfort, and I found nothing. I’m convinced that my obsession to solve the puzzle of how pain turns into death, how people die in pain, has kept me alive. 

At 14, I became involved in group therapy where other survivors of suicide came together to communally ask the questions I found in the book. Some weeks I went to every group offered. It was then when I came to the realization that the pain that causes a suicide is transferred from the victim to survivor. It creates a link that perpetuates pain, and the only way to relieve it is to discuss it, in community. 

I started my own group, then found others with whom we started a non-profit. It became the thing I woke up for every day. I developed a peer mentoring program, an adolescent survivors of suicide group, then a train the trainer program that was taught throughout the country to peer mentors in high school and resident advisors in college. I created spaces where people could continue to ask Durkheim’s questions. I was obsessed with finding the answer to this problem through the pain left behind in survivors. 

But when I left these groups, when I came home, I was often in more pain. I was more disconnected. People were still attempting and completing, dying, all around me. Despite the hours logged managing a suicide hotline and teaching others about suicide prevention and self care for grief and loss, I never received the help I needed. 

Lesson 1: Sometimes the helpers need help too. Often, the helpers find little help. No one sees them as having weakness.

When I was 16, after the loss of my sister and grandmother, I created a plan to take my own life. The most serious of my several  attempts landed me a spot first in the emergency room, then strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance, and finally placed in an inpatient psychiatric facility for adolescents. “Why did you attempt to take your life?” A weary nurse asked upon intake, removing the laces from my shoes. I responded that I no longer could be in my family of origin. And, because of that, I had no one left alive who was safe. 

In this place, I had conversations with children and adolescents who had the risk factors and warning signs I used to teach teens when discussing suicide prevention. I was the hypocrite, and all I could think about was studying for AP exams. They were my only hope for leaving my family behind. I craved safety I had only read about in the books from the library. In this place, we openly talked about pain, about anger and loss. We all chased Durkheim’s questions. Alive but dying inside, we collectively pondered how we’d gotten to this point so early. 

Sadly, we didn’t come to conclusions. The majority of those I shared space with for 9 days died by suicide or overdose, or became incarcerated for drugs or violence. 

Lesson 2: Pain is rarely just physical. No substance, legal or otherwise, can lessen its grip.

At 18, i completed my first thesis on suicide, mainly highlighting and applying the works of Durkheim and others from that era to collected experiences from suicide support groups I facilitated and suicide hotline calls I managed. I analyzed themes, still desperately searching for answers. My cerebral approach created distance from my own pain. 

I was surprised when my mother asked to read my paper. 

One evening, after one of our long drives down the coastline, my mother taught me about my family history of suicide. My premature birth was a result of her own attempt following my father’s desertion just weeks before. I was horrified. Upon sharing this with my stepfather, he recounted the many times he prayed when my mother and I would take our iconic coastline drives. She used to write suicide notes, stating she was going to remove us from the suffering. She was going to save me from my future pain. 

Lesson 3: Pain can be genetic. It can be contagious. 

They say “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” In a family or environment where safety is rare, where love is conditional, where trust is optional, and loyalty is constantly questioned, children are never taught to seek community. They do not learn how to ask for help or share pain openly. The pain, suffering, anger, and loss is not resolved, and grief continues to take hold. 

Eventually, if not resolved, isolation, desperation, and paranoia sets in. Hope is lost. The existential noose pulls tighter, the box closing in, and options become limited by the weight of the pain. 

Lesson 4: The only way out is through.

What have I learned now, in my many years of continued research, exposure to survivors and victims of suicide attempt and completion, and from my own treatment for trauma? 

  • How someone dies fundamentally changes your memory of them. 
  • A shared distribution of weight lightens the load for everyone.
  • Pain is only lessened by the reduction of stigma and the increase in open discussion about what brings the pain.
  • Pain leads to shame, which leads to isolation. 
  • Some of the best medicine is community.

I have dedicated my life to making better memories. Only when we talk openly about and process the pain is it possible to remember people, places, and things with greater fondness. Only when we feel safe can we process the pain. 

Safety and community can break the cycle. Safety and community are the answer for which I have been searching. Safety and community, not substances, reduce isolation. Safety and community prevents suicide; it creates and maintains the best memories. It creates a beauty in this world that, too, can be passed from generation to generation. 

Lesson 5: It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to ask for help. 

I am forever grateful for the ones who have picked up the phone or answered my cries for help. There have been many along my path, and I remember them all. Thank you for reminding me that life’s beauty is not just something I can read in the fantasy section. 

And for the hundreds of souls who I have lost along the way, especially my heart, you continue to drive me to search for the answers, to create solutions. We can do better; we must be better. I carry your hearts in my heart. 

In the end, only kindness matters.