Carnage

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Photo: MSNBC

I couldn’t fall asleep last night. Lack of sleep (ironically) and frayed nerves left me too wound up to drift off. I lay in bed thinking, Okay, if I fall asleep now, I’ll have five and a half hours of sleep…” And then I had an idea…I would post on Twitter about how I’ve got so much weighing on my mind and asking if my followers could reply with something funny or cute. I imagined waking up to fluffy kittens, prancing puppies and chuckle inducing jokes. I figured with a little under 6,000 followers, someone would respond. I actually fell asleep before I could post, probably because thinking about that let my mind stop racing for a moment. I forgot all the bad stuff in anticipation of something positive.

When I glanced at my phone this morning, I remembered my idea last night. I got on Twitter and was going to ask for something positive, anything, to start my day and mitigate the sense of dread that was already enveloping me at the crack of dawn. And then I saw it…another mass shooting. And my problems, though substantial, paled in comparison. It was a reality check and a perspective check. The fourth shooting in two weeks; at this point, it’s not even shocking. There was the white supremacist, anti-Semite and the violent misogynist, both of whom shattered peaceful moments in a spot that should be a sanctuary from the outside world and the day to day grind. Oh and there was the racist who gunned down two African-Americans wanting nothing more than to buy food.

And now college students out for a night of fun have been cut down in their prime (as the mother of a college student myself, this terrifies me), violently robbed of their potential by a psychopath who should have never had a gun. It was a gut punch. All of the people who have been killed were doing mundane, but important, acts of self-care…praying, buying food, doing yoga, drinking and dancing. These were all positive moments that were destroyed.  And all of the gunmen were white, home-grown terrorists who gave off plenty of warning signals that they were at risk of a violent melt-down. (But, let’s definitely keep worrying about a caravan of those fleeing violence, many of whom are women and children, still one-thousand miles away. When will people understand that the risk is inside…the classic the call is coming from somewhere in the house?)

Every single one of these murderers legally owned the weapon he used to rain carnage down upon the innocent. Now that the Democrats are in control of the House, will hope and prayers finally give way to common-sense gun legislation? Or have we not learned anything? There must be some way to get guns out of the hands of those who are likely to use them, even if they were legally obtained. If someone is spewing hate on social media, threatening people; if deputies are called to your house and find you “irate and acting irrationally,” as was the case with Ian David Long, the Borderline shooter, in April; if you’ve been discharged from the military for assaulting your wife…you should get your guns taken away, plain and simple. All of those scenarios fit shooters over the past year.

There have been 307 shootings in 2018. 307. I specifically used numbers, rather than writing it out, as I usually do, because it has more visual impact. 307 is an insane amount of shootings. The only reason for the government not to try to control the bloodbath, is if the NRA is more important than innocent lives. I’m not saying that the second amendment needs to be abolished. I’m not saying that all guns need to be confiscated. I do believe in responsible gun ownership (say the owner of a store in a crime-ridden neighborhood keeps a gun under the counter as a safety measure). That’s okay. But, to bestow every person who wants to pull the trigger the right to do so is madness. And until our government gets out of bed with the NRA and acts in the best interest of Americans, who are rightfully terrified of leaving their homes at this point, the bloodshed will continue.

The Back Burner

calendar.jpgRaise your hand if you put yourself last. I can guarantee that hands shot up for at least two-thirds of you, maybe more. You may have kids to take care of or perhaps aging parents. Or maybe it’s work that you put first. It doesn’t matter what it is, we all do it. We all find other things that absolutely need to get done, before we can get to self-care. But, what’s the price we pay for that? What’s the price we pay for putting off doctor’s appointments when we don’t feel well, but decide we’ll tough it out?

I dropped my phone on my foot two weeks ago. Immediately, I said that it felt broken, but my husband said, “Your phone can’t break your foot!” (Spoiler…it can.) And I had a million things to do all week. Finally, a week later, my middle son, Joshua, who’s quite good at diagnosing injuries, insisted that it was fractured, and I needed to see a doctor. I texted him a photo after my appointment of my foot, wrapped in an ace bandage, in a surgical shoe, and told him that perhaps he should pursue pre-med when he heads off to college next year. So, the price I paid for that was some discomfort walking around with a fracture for a week. I survived, though. I’m pretty tough when it comes to broken bones, as I’ve had more than my fair share…

That wasn’t a huge deal. But, the spider bites I had this summer may have been a bigger deal. My husband was traveling. My mom and my sister were recovering from a bad car accident, and needed my help. My other sister was recovering from life-threatening surgery. By the time I saw a doctor, I looked like I had been hit in the face with a baseball bat. After two rounds of antibiotics, the nasty case of cellulitis was better, albeit with a scar left on my forehead that looks disturbingly like a wrinkle… At the same time, I put off something else that still has the potential to be more serious.

In late June I was told by a radiologist before I even got off the exam table that I’d need surgery to remove something that looked benign, but could be cancerous or precancerous. But, here’s the thing…I didn’t have time for a two week recovery. I was the only one left standing in my family, besides my brother…and he lives an hour away. So, I pushed it to the back burner. And to be honest, the thought of general anesthesia, a day spent in the hospital during the summer, three or four days completely laid up, and two weeks of no fun summer activities, left me less than anxious to get it taken care of, especially since my doctor didn’t even call me with the results, even though the radiologist sent them to her right away.

I finally called my doctor a month after the test that found the (hopefully benign) mass, only because when I went to the same testing center for my mammogram, they chided me for not have it removed yet. I said to my doctor, “It can wait until September, right?” assuming that if she didn’t feel it was important to call me, there wasn’t any urgency to taking it out.

Her answer made me realize that putting things on the back burner when it comes to your health, is not the smartest move… “It should be done right away, because it could be abnormal.” But, I couldn’t do it. We had vacation planned less than two weeks after the date I was given. I pushed it off until September 13th, because my calendar was packed until then. And then, I pushed it off another week, because that day was back-to-school night.

So, here I am the night before surgery I have pushed off for three months, thinking, Was this a mistake? Six years I saw my mother and sister’s gynecological oncologist after some concerning blood work results. That doctor told me my blood work was fine, but my family history was problematic. Being that he saved my mother and my sister’s lives, he would know. He looked me right in the eye, and said, “Why wouldn’t you just get everything out? You likely have nasty stuff waiting down the line for you that will likely kill you.” His bedside manner and proposed solution of a radical hysterectomy left me in tears.

I promptly went for a second opinion at world-renowned cancer center, Sloan Kettering. That doctor referred me to the gynecological oncology geneticist on site. At my first appointment he saw something on the ultrasound and performed a biopsy right then and there. It was the start of what seemed to be a cascade of biopsies. I’d gotten used to getting used to those, though…those little snips in the office to check for cancer, in and out in an hour. This is a bit different though. It’s more than a little snip, and it’s general anesthesia in the hospital. To be honest, I’m annoyed that my doctor never called me with the results when it was something that needed to be taken care of, which doesn’t put me in the best frame of mind to have her perform surgery on me.

So…here I am, up way too late when I have to be at the hospital early in the morning, blogging for the first time in ages. I blame my superstitious tendencies… I always wrote a blog post before biopsies, until the biopsies became such a regular occurrence that I was worried my readers would sigh, “Again…” with each new post. But, I’m still superstitious, so I’m tapping away. Will it change the results? No? Will it perhaps make another tired, overwhelmed person think twice before putting off a medical test, doctor’s appointment or surgery? Maybe, and that would be worth the bleary eyes in the morning…

 

Resilience (Book Talk)

blogspl3I usually get book talks down on paper pretty quickly—they’ve always been about one book—the one I’m signing that evening…And I go through the nitty gritty details of that book’s journey—from inception to publishing. I found this book talk, which I gave at the Syosset Public Library for the Local Author Showcase, a bit more challenging. For one thing, I had limited time—just five minutes, since there were 11 authors speaking. An economy of words was very important. And I was signing both books. So…I decided to focus on one aspect of the writing life…resilience. “More than just speaking about a book’s inspiration,” I said at the outset, “I hope this can actually inspire you…”

Here’s the rest…

“You don’t need to be an author for resilience to be integral to your success and happiness. (Of course, if you’re an author, it’s a requirement.) Here is the one nugget I’ve learned being a writer for more than half my life…Don’t give up. My creative writing teacher in college inscribed this message in my class journal: ‘To be a writer is a truly honorable thing. You will be ostracized and rejected, but when success comes—and it will—it will be sweet.’ I memorized those words decades ago and have kept them close to my heart. The journey from being a college student dreaming about getting my words out into the world to being a published author finally at just shy of 47 was long and arduous. I had dozens of bylines as a music and arts journalist, but I wanted my fiction out in the world, not just my profiles of other people living their creative dreams.

To be honest, there were more times than I can count that I nearly gave up. Believe it or not, though—some of the rejections kept me going. There was a page-long one from an agent who counts among her clients famous best-selling authors. She wrote: ‘…your work is fabulous, your energy is terrific, and this story will find many readers!’ So, I kept plugging away, sending my book both to those who requested it and to those with whom it would sit in the slush pile. Exactly 2 years later, almost to the day, my first book, A New Life, an ebook novella’ about new parents trying to reclaim their passion, was accepted for publication by The Wild Rose Press. I sent it to just one publisher, and it was accepted right away. Of course, I had written it 15 years earlier in an amazing workshop I took with two literary giants—Jill McCorkle and Elizabeth Cox. That acceptance infused me with renewed energy and determination—six months later Goddess of Suburbia, a story about a tired PTA mom embroiled in an Internet scandal whose life implodes when she’s suddenly hounded by the paparazzi, was accepted by Booktrope. Less than a year after that, my second novella, You & Me, a sweet second chance romance with dark undertones, was picked up, again by The Wild Rose Press—after I pitched it typing furiously on my iPhone while standing in a towel, dripping wet—a first for me.

But, even after I had 3 published books under my belt, there still came a moment when I felt like giving up—when Goddess of Suburbia’s publisher, Booktrope, closed its doors a month before the release date for my second book with them. The moment my first novel disappeared from Amazon felt like a gut punch. Waking up the next morning realizing my publisher, and my book, were both gone, was much like waking up the day after a bad break-up, realizing the empty pillow next to you will stay empty.

But, just like a bad breakup, no matter how hard it is, you have to pick yourself up and keep going. You need to keep the good times stored in a little compartment in your heart and kick the bad stuff to the curb. I’ll always remember the thrill of Goddess of Suburbia hitting best seller and other amazing moments with Booktrope (a fun blog tour, a fancy dinner in Manhattan with the head of Booktrope, upper management and other writers). But, I knew I needed to move on. My novellas still had a home, and I would make sure Goddess of Suburbia and Boys, Dogs and Chaos, a book of essays spanning twelve years of my parenting journey, had the same, even if I had to create it myself.

And that’s exactly what I did, starting my own imprint, Gold Coast Press when Booktrope closed. Boys, Dogs and Chaos was almost ready to be published, and my team from Booktrope stayed with me to help me get it into the hands of readers on my own. My proofreader, publisher and even the head of production all played a part in getting it into the world just months after its original release date. I’ve published two other books under the Gold Coast Press imprint—Goddess of Suburbia in ebook format and a very short story—Girls’ Night Out. In the future I’d like to publish other authors. It felt amazing to take control of my destiny—to say, ‘I won’t let this setback define me, and I will succeed on my own terms.’ No more waiting to hear back from agents and editors, no more languishing in the slush pile.

Writing is the thread that’s woven through the tapestry of my existence—from childhood through today. At the tender age of eight I decided I wanted to be a writer. My desire only grew over the years. I was traveling on a plane in college and had to close the book I was reading, Beaches, because it was making me cry, and I was embarrassed. Instead, I picked up my journal and wrote, “…I hope I can do that—make people cry on airplanes. I want to write things that make people feel. Things that make people have to swallow hard and close my book when they’re on mass transit.’

Not long after I found the journal with that entry, I met a reader who loved Goddess of Suburbia. We were chatting about the book, and I told her what I had written so many years before in that journal and how writing words that make people feel, and hopefully even cry on mass transit, is still my goal. She looked at me and said, “You’ve already done that.” That was one of the best things anyone has ever said to me about my writing. To know that my words make readers—or even just one reader feel—is a gift. It’s a more important measure of success than money (let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t become a writer for the money…). It makes me feel all the roadblocks I’ve hit, all the struggles, are worth it.

So, I’m saying to you…even if it seems like you’ll never get to where you want to be, even if it seems like the road ahead is so daunting—surely paved with rejection—don’t give up. You just need one yes, and then every no you’ve ever received won’t matter. And sometimes, that ‘yes’ just needs to be from you, from inside—you just need to believe in yourself and take the leap.”

This was a very different book talk for me, and it was a bit nerve wracking, because I found myself comparing my words to the other ten authors who mostly described their books. (Full disclosure—I added in the book descriptions here, I completely forgot them during my talk!) I didn’t know if I made a mistake veering off, but I knew that I couldn’t possibly talk about my books in any persuasive manner in two and a half minutes each, so I took a different tack. (As I mentioned, I added in a few embellishments for this—no time constraint in a blog post.) I second-guessed myself as I walked out of the theater. But, after my talk my normally reticent, almost 20 year old son came up to me, hugged me and told me I did a good job. And that’s enough for me…

The Sign

 

Time still unfurls after a loved one passes away, the days spinning into years. And yet, there are moments the wound can still feel fresh. One of those times is the anniversary of your loved one’s death. It’s almost a shock to the system to realize that days stack upon one another and turn into years. And while the intense grief is tamped down with time, there is always a hole in your heart that doesn’t quite seem to narrow. Looking back at Facebook “On This Day” memories, it seems like there couldn’t possibly be so many years of posts marking both the day of passing and each subsequent anniversary, but there are.

It was seven for me this year, starting on May 1, 2011. Seven posts…the first one opening with, “This is a status I never wanted to share…” In each year following I posted a photo and perhaps an anecdote. One year early on I wrote that I felt guilty that I didn’t go to the cemetery, because I had my youngest son, Aidan, home sick, and I had to take him to the doctor. At eight years old, he was too small to stay home alone.

This year, I had Aidan home, as well. There was a violent threat at his school scrawled across the mirror in one of the bathrooms. It was too much of a bad luck day for me to send him. I told the school the truth about him, even if I didn’t mention my trepidation. He had a stomachache and anxiety, and they know he battles obsessive compulsive disorder. Some of his friends were staying home and we went back and forth, but in the end, I decided I’d rather be overly cautious, than sorry.

He could have stayed home while I went to the cemetery; he is thirteen and a half years old now, after all. But, he really wanted to go with me. I’m so glad he did. If he hadn’t, I may have thought I was going bonkers. And even if I didn’t think that, anyone I told what you’re about to read may have thought it, without another person as a witness to back me up… (Of course, I’m aware some of my readers may still think I’m bonkers – this isn’t for them, this is for those who take comfort in thinking that maybe loved ones who have passed somehow remain a part of our lives.) This may be my most personal essay yet…

“You’d be proud of Joshua, he really turned it around and is getting an award from school.” I said this to my father’s grave, so I added, “I don’t know if you can even hear me or know what I’m saying. But, I just wanted to tell you.” I paused. Aidan and I looked at each other. We smiled. “Send me a sign if you can hear me,” I said.

“Yeah, a crane fly or a spider,” Aidan added.

“Or a ladybug.” I paused. “But, I don’t know if that can happen,” I told Aidan. “How can a bug just appear?” There weren’t any crane flies nor spiders around us. And being that there weren’t any plants that aphids congregate on, I doubted we’d see a ladybug. A few large black flies buzzed around, I guess sensing a place of death and decay.

For some reason, I looked down at that moment to pick up a small white rock to place on my father’s headstone, even though we had already left rocks we brought from home.* And we even picked up more than a few at the cemetery, placing them carefully on the gray granite already crowded with stones left by my siblings and my mother, as well as my family, over the years.

When I reached down for the rock, I noticed another one out of the corner of my eye. It was in the shape of a heart and had a triangular base that lifted it up out of the dirt. “There’s our sign,” I said to Aidan. “Look at this – it’s a perfect heart.”

But then, something else caught my eye. A small spider quickly scurried up the side of the headstone, and quick as a flash crawled over the rocks. “Look, quickly – a spider!” I implored Aidan.

“Do you see that?” I asked. He did and broke into a huge smile. But, when we tried to follow it’s path as it went over and under the rocks, it simply disappeared. We checked the back of the headstone, and it wasn’t there. I peered under rocks. Nothing.

“That was definitely a sign,” Aidan said happily.

I couldn’t help it, I started to cry. I mean, a spider suddenly showing up out of nowhere on the headstone and then simply disappearing? Crazy as it may sound, it sure seemed like a sign to me too. I never really believed that the dead could communicate with the living. I figured once you’re in the dirt six feet under, that’s it. You can’t know how life has gone on without you. You can’t feel anything, and you certainly can’t send your loved ones messages. But, after my father passed away, I started experiencing signs that he was closer than I thought. You can read about that here.

Aidan said, “Okay, we’ll know it’s really a sign if we get in the car and there’s a song that relates to him somehow.” He said this, because right after my birthday dinner we decided to make an unplanned stop, and on the way back from there (at a time we wouldn’t have still been in the car) a song came on that meant so much to me, “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Middler. I had danced with my dad to it at my wedding. It’s not a song that’s on often, and I got a bit teared up, thinking it was a sign from him on my birthday. Aidan remembered that.

At that moment, I looked down at the gray cotton cardigan tied around my waist. A black ladybug with two red spots had landed on the sleeve, a type I had never seen before. (A little digging around told me that these “twice-stabbed ladybird beetles” disappeared from the New York area for thirty years and first reappeared in a Brooklyn park just six years ago.) “A ladybug!” I exclaimed. And an unusual one at that.

“Another sign,” Aidan said. I agreed, especially when this tiny creature crawled into my sleeve and also simply disappeared. I opened the sleeve and peered in – nothing. I shook it slightly. It was empty. I didn’t want to put it on and accidentally squish it, so I checked carefully. As Aidan and I pondered what all this meant (“Can he hear us right now? All the time?” he asked), I felt something flutter against my upper back, above my tank top.

I swatted at it and asked Aidan, “Is there a bug on my back, I feel something.” He looked. There was nothing there.

“You know it’s Papa,” he offered. At that point, I was starting to believe that it could be him putting his hand on my back for guidance or even comfort. And I suddenly felt a sense of comfort – as if things would be okay. If he really was communicating (and I wasn’t crazy), then perhaps the wall of separation that immediately goes up at a loved one’s death was more permeable than I thought. Stuff could somehow get through…signs.

We lingered a bit longer, and then said our “goodbyes.” I slid into the car and turned on the radio. Aidan and I waited breathlessly to see if another sign would show up. I gasped… The song on the radio was “Daughters,” by John Mayer. That was pretty much a sledge-hammer sign. No subtlety. The next song was “We Stay Together,” by Andrew Galucki. This was all on a station I don’t listen to often, Coffee House. Somehow, something made me land on it when I turned on the radio. My mouth fell open when I heard the lyrics to “We Stay Together.” I had never heard the song before. Here’s a snippet:

“…The hours and days
The memories we made
Are yours and mine
The highs and the lows
The long winding roads
Are yours and mine

We stay, we stay together
We stay, we stay right here
We stay, we stay together
Oh we stay right here

Seasons will change
We will remain
Who we are
Simple and true
The old and the new
It’s who we are…”

At this point, we were still sitting in the car on the narrow road near his grave. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I was practically bawling over the song (well, maybe a little embarrassed). It was more than a sign, it was an abundance of signs and it continued with every song that came on for the ride home. A cover of “Yellow” I had never heard came on next. I never noticed the overtones of death in the song until listening to the spare accoustic arrangement.

I felt better returning from the cemetery than when we left, which was pretty miraculous. But, what happened later on in the evening was even more miraculous… As many of you know, Aidan battles severe obsessive compulsive disorder. One of his great escapes, maybe his only escape, is playing hockey. He joined a “Dek” hockey league in March, and his championship game was that night.

While totaling about three or four assists during the season, he hadn’t scored a goal. Usually, he’s not a starter. But this game he was, and on his first shift – the very first shift of the game – he scored to put his team up 1-0 and on the path to a championship victory. After the game, despite his usual intense fear of touching any object someone else has touched (he wears a plastic baggie on his hand in school to open doors), he lifted the “Stanley Cup” over his head in celebration…after others had already done so.

After the celebrations died down, in a quiet moment as we were walking out, he said that he felt Papa was with him, helping him score the goal. I agreed. And as we pulled out of the parking lot he confided that he had a feeling that would happen…or at least he hoped it would. I turned on the radio, and Aidan and I started laughing.

“Yup, Papa was definitely with you,” I said, amazed. The song on the radio? “The Sign,” by Ace of Base. The next song was “Calling All Angels,” by Train. I had been singing that quietly at the cemetery when I asked for a sign… “I need a sign to let me know you’re here…”

I got the sign – we got it – and more. And although the anniversary of my father’s passing will always be a difficult day, this one was made a little easier.

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I snapped photos of some of the songs that felt more like messages…

I did some research on spiritual communication and whether it’s a common phenomenon to feel as if your departed loved ones are communicating with you through signs, including music and the appearance of bugs (or other animals). Apparently, both are the most common signs reported. Below are two of the articles I stumbled upon…

https://www.amandalinettemeder.com/blog/signs-from-spirit-a-meaningful-song-on-the-radio

https://www.wisdom-of-spirit.com/afterlifecommunication.html

*Jews place rocks on headstones, rather than flowers, for many different reasons. I wasn’t entirely sure how the custom started, so I also did a little research on this. There are too many reasons to list, but you can click below to learn a little more. My two favorites are that, unlike flowers, rocks last forever and that the stones keep the soul in this world.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ask-the-expert-stones-on-graves/

 

 

 

 

 

#NeverAgain

School_Shooting_Florida.JPG_t1140Here’s the one impression I had about Parkland, Florida before the rampage that left seventeen dead – fifteen children and two adults who tried to protect them: it’s some sort of idyllic utopia in which to raise your children. I formed that impression from eavesdropping on two other moms during a Little League game. Yes, I know that eavesdropping is wrong, but as a writer, sometimes I can’t help it. Plus, we were all in close proximity on the bleachers – if they didn’t want anyone else to hear their conversation, they wouldn’t be having it.

One of the moms said that she and her family were moving to Parkland soon. The other mom said that she would be moving there, as well. They talked about the other families from our town who had moved there already. They both agreed that it was similar to our Long Island hamlet, except with lower taxes, abundant sunshine and a more laid back and affordable lifestyle. One of the moms said that it was a welcoming community with many Long Island ex-pats. Or at least that’s what I remember of the conversation. (Our town does indeed have connections with the community, according to an email from the superintendent of our school district. Our thousands strong local Facebook moms group even sent a banner of support to Parkland, to hang in the school when students return, and collected donations to help survivors.)

I’m sure I was envious as I listened to those two moms chat about their future sunshine-filled, warm and welcoming new home. A punishing winter had just wound down, and the spring was still quite chilly. I was wrapped in layers and a fleece blanket, and I remember thinking, “Hmm…maybe we should look into moving there.”

Of course, we never did. I’m probably just as likely to pick up and move to Florida, as I am to move to Bali, even though my husband travels to Florida often for business and could easily transfer. It’s just an amazing fantasy, especially in the cold, dark days of winter…but it won’t happen (especially now that my son is in college in Massachusetts). Still, as soon as I heard about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I immediately felt a connection, having mused about moving there and knowing that families from our town live there now. I’ve always felt that town (along with the surrounding area) is really like Long Island south.

Of course, being a mother to nineteen, seventeen and thirteen year old children automatically gives me a connection too. Watching the grieving parents on the news was gut-wrenching and left me in tears I couldn’t quite stem. And it left me angry, furious really. Why does this have to keep happening? Why do politicians place the National Rifle Association over our children’s lives? Why do I have to be scared sending my kids to school, not knowing if some monster with easy access to weapons of war will stride in guns blazing?

Two days after the Parkland shooting, the police came to my son’s high school – a student astutely reported an Instagram post by a classmate that featured the girl holding guns, along with a racist threat about using them. I didn’t see the post, but we were kept in the loop immediately by both the principal and the superintendent. It was a relief to know that the school was on top of it, and that a student was smart enough to report it. That’s all the information that was shared. (This is public knowledge and was reported in local newspapers, so I feel that I can share it, as well.)

I heard that the Instagram post was up for a while, and it wasn’t until the school shooting stoked fears that it was reported. My question: why didn’t Instagram report it to local law enforcement or to the FBI? Why isn’t there a safeguard in place that threatening posts, especially featuring guns, are flagged by Instagram internally and immediately referred to law enforcement? Nikolas Cruz posted violent, disturbing images on Instagram, featuring weapons and animals he killed. That should immediately have been flagged by Instagram and not left up to users to report.

Thankfully, someone was alarmed enough to anonymously report the disturbing, violent posts by the student at my son’s school, but if there hadn’t been a tragic school shooting, would it have gone under the radar? It did for some time before. No one knows the girl’s true intentions – if it was for shock value, or if she would have shown up at the school and brandished the guns in her post, and carried out her racist, evil agenda. There has to be some sort of filter on social media – not just Instagram, but all social media – to catch these threats, before they turn into tragedies.

Perhaps more importantly, there has to be a ban on both AR-15 semi-automatic weapons and gun sales to people under twenty-one years old. Nikolas Cruz could not legally buy a beer, but he could legally buy a weapon of war that allowed him to inflict the most possible carnage in the least amount of time, short of a banned automatic weapon. He was known to have received treatment for mental illness, and yet he could legally buy an AR-15, because he self-reported to the gun store owner that he was not mentally ill. What mentally ill person wanting to buy a gun would admit to having a mental illness? Why is self-reporting even allowed? By the way, I have two children who battle mental illness, and I HATE the stigma that the mentally ill are all capable of committing mass murders… It’s NOT true. BUT, I still believe that those with mental illness should not be allowed to buy guns. I also believe that Trump rolling back a still to be enacted Obama-era rule that made it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns leaves blood on his hands for any future shootings, whether or not it would have stopped this one.) Additionally (and unfathomably), Nikolas Cruz was known to have been expelled from school for violence, and yet he could legally buy an AR-15. There were forty-five calls made from his home to law enforcement about him and/or his brother. He pushed his mother into a wall when she took away his XBox. And yet, he was able to legally buy an AR-15. He was reported to the FBI more than once, and still he could legally buy an AR-15. What is wrong with all of this? Everything. It’s no coincidence that this is the longest paragraph in this essay – the one listing all the reasons that Nikolas Cruz should not have been able to legally buy an AR-15.

There has to be change. The survivors of the Parkland shooting are the catalysts, and they are doing an amazing job of trying to hold the adults who have failed them accountable. But, as was evidenced by the heartless – and heartbreaking – way the Florida legislators blocked even discussing and bringing to a vote a ban on the AR-15, with Parkland students in attendance, no less; it will take a tremendous and concentrated effort to pry politics loose from the death grip of the NRA. I believe in them – their awe-inspiring behavior and resilience in the aftermath of such a senseless tragedy speaks volumes about the type of town Parkland is and reinforces my first impression of it as an amazing place to raise children.

As an aside…the day that the Parkland students bravely descended on Tallahassee, demanding change, the Republican majority did pass a bill. It was one declaring porn a public health risk, because, you know, porn kills as many people as assault rifles. I’m guessing the porn industry doesn’t pay off politicians to do their bidding.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with a responsible gun owner owning a revolver or a pistol (with the emphasis on responsible). I shot a small handgun once. My college boyfriend had a legally owned gun, and he took me to field one sunny day to shoot cans off a fence – it was actually fun. The next guy I dated also legally owned a gun, but I found that more troubling, since he had possessive tendencies and a jealous streak, even as he professed his love for me. I broke it off after just a few months.

Now, if he had an AR-15, I wouldn’t have dated him at all. Because there is literally NO NEED to own an AR-15, unless of course you want to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School know this. They’ve lived this, and it will stay in them forever, a small broken place, no matter how much they heal. That’s what trauma does; it leaves a little (or big) scar that never goes away. But…it’s what that scar inspires you to do that really matters.

And these students, and others in their generation, are doing something amazing. They will be the ones to effect real change in the ongoing battle to wrest our country away from the NRA and enact common sense gun control laws that will save lives. They will be the ones who will lead us into a time where we can say, “Never again,” and mean it. And if the adults in charge keep ignoring them and keep letting them down…these students will be voting, if not in the next election, then in the ones after that. By 2022, most of this generation so determined to be the change we need will be voting. And they’re coming for every single politician whose pockets are stuffed with blood money.

 

If you wish to donate to donate to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Victims Fund, click here.

 

The Road Ahead

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“He’s like a super hero who can’t use his super power. If you have a super power and can’t use it, it doesn’t do you any good.” These were the words of the neuropsychologist who had recently spent ten hours testing my youngest son, A, to try to unravel the mystery of his sudden downward spiral in behavior, school, and just coping with life in general. Most mornings, I find myself writing a note that A. is late (sometimes over an hour), because he’s battling mental illness issues or suffering from a stomachache. And after making high honor roll for every single quarter possible, my objectively brilliant son was failing most of his classes as last quarter wound down.

I say objectively brilliant, because the results of his evaluation showed that he’s got MENSA level smarts. His IQ is above the 98th percentile for his age. His working memory lands in the 99.9 percentile. And yet, to revisit the superhero metaphor, he’s like a superhero who’s been felled by Kryptonite, or some other substance that cripples super heroes. His intelligence is his super power and his Kryptonite is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), with a side order of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

In a massive stroke of coincidence, or perhaps serendipity, an essay I had written on my first blog eight years ago showed up in my Facebook memories yesterday, the day we met with the neuropsychologist to get the results of A’s testing. It wasn’t the anniversary of the day I had written it, only the day I had reshared it on Facebook six years ago in an effort to raise awareness of mental health issues. The essay, Twice Exceptional, was about my middle son, J, being both gifted and battling mental illness.

I wrote it to shine a light on the fact that although giftedness and mental illness seem dichotomous, they coexist far more often than expected. I also wrote it to let other parents know that they are not alone if their children too embody the sometimes baffling, often frustrating double-sided coin of superior mental acuity and debilitating mental illness. I took it as a sign that I needed to finish up this post, which I started with the paragraph below over a week ago; a sign that I should again try to both raise awareness and comfort those going through a similar hell. I think part of me knew that I’d do a better job though, if I knew exactly what my son is up against. So I didn’t get back on here until I had read through the entire report from the neuropsychologist.

When I first put pen to paper (figuratively), I was focusing more on my shortcomings in missing A’s subtle clues that he may have been suffering silently, until those clues became louder than any of us could ever ignore. I focused on how hard it is to parent two children battling mental illness and somehow not feel as if you’re letting at least one of them down. So, I’ll let the following paragraph (the original opening of this essay) stand, because I think it’s just as important…

Parenting a child with mental illness is an arduous, sometimes soul crushing task. You don’t know what’s ahead of you on the road, and the journey is often littered with emotional minefields that can blow up at the slightest provocation.  Parenting two children battling mental illness is all of that, plus a constant feeling hanging over you, like an impending thunderstorm, that you’re not doing enough for either one.

It’s a tricky dance of administering triage…the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. I got that term – administering triage – from a friend in whom I confided my guilt that my son, A’s, issues simply slipped through the cracks until things got really, really bad, because I was dealing with my son, J’s, eating disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has more than one child battling “alphabet” conditions, just like I do. She shared that you have to “do triage” and help the child with the most pressing issues first, confirming that I wasn’t completely wrong to deal with my middle son, and let my youngest slide a bit, until he became the squeaky wheel.

That was where I stopped, because I was waiting to get results. I didn’t know how bad it was that I let it slide, to tell you the truth. In fourth grade A. was evaluated. When I picked up the report to deliver to the doctor evaluating A. now, I was a bit horrified to discover that he had given him three tentative diagnoses: Anxiety Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD, formerly Asperger’s). They were all “rule out” diagnoses, meaning that he wasn’t certain, and only time and further examination would tell which would stick.

The only thing that the psychologist definitively diagnosed A. with in fourth grade was “Gifted and Bored.” In the absence of sending him to private school, there really wasn’t much more that I could do than I was already doing: sending A. to increasingly sophisticated science camps (the last one at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA lab where Watson and Crick conducted their Pulitzer Prize winning research, which he’ll be attending this summer, as well); buying him every science tome I could find; setting up a professional weather station in my front yard; and anything else I could do to encourage his insatiable curiosity about science in general, and weather in particular.

But, I didn’t do anything at all for the possible ASD. And beyond a month or two of therapy a few years ago, I didn’t do much for the Anxiety Disorder either. But, he seemed to be doing just fine, until he wasn’t. It was sudden – like a light switch turned off. It started during the lead-up to A’s Bar Mitzvah. He was stressed over writing his “parsha” (the essay about his bible portion that he would be sharing with the guests at his bar mitzvah service), along with the increased homework that comes with taking high school classes in eighth grade. I thought his sudden frustration, anger and emerging OCD symptoms (all related to banishing “contamination”) were due to the stress of his responsibilities. But, his OCD behaviors just kept getting more and more intricate and time-consuming (for example: over forty minutes washing his hands, leaving them cracked and bleeding past his wrists), and his grades plummeted, due to missed assignments. His test grades were still stellar, even though he never cracked open a book, but he was missing so many assignments, catching up turned into a Herculean task that sparked anger and frustration. His bar mitzvah came and went almost three months ago, but nothing got better, only worse.

Here’s the thing, I didn’t know during the last few months of hell if A’s symptoms were due to OCD or undiagnosed ASD, and I beat myself up endlessly over it. I pored over ASD websites searching for clues as to whether I did indeed mess up by not getting A. treatment for autism when he had been possibly diagnosed with it. Rereading my essay, The Puzzle, I was horrified to learn that I did plan on following up on the possible ASD diagnosis. But back then, and until recently, he seemed okay socially. While not having tons of friends, he does have a close group. And academically, his teachers referred to him as an “absent minded professor” or “the next Thomas Edison,” just an eccentric genius who didn’t seem to be paying attention, but obviously was, because he aced every test and got high honor roll worthy grades.

At least he earned those grades until this year, or really rather just these past few months. Almost daily, it seems, I get a call from a teacher telling me that A. is falling far behind. His Earth Science teacher informed me that if he didn’t catch up on his labs, he’d have to take Earth Science again next year. He got a 97% on his Earth Science midterm, without even studying. It would be a tragic if he failed the class, because of OCD paralyzing him with fear (he is often afraid that his papers are contaminated, and therefore can’t touch them to turn them in). Of course, ADHD delivers the final gut punch of complete disorganization, so even if he was willing to touch his labs to hand them in, he couldn’t find them.

I went into school twice to clean out A’s locker with him. The second time his Earth Science teacher stayed late and went over every paper we pulled out of the locker too, looking for anything that was due to him. He sees A’s potential. He knows that he has a “scientist’s mind,” as we’ve been told. It’s just a matter of freeing A. from what imprisons him. We are hoping that a combination of intense therapy and medication can release him. And I am relieved that the diagnosis is OCD and not ASD, simply because the OCD symptoms got so much worse just in the past few months – two of which were spent waiting for insurance approval for the evaluation. So, I didn’t let something go for years that could have been treated sooner.

The doctor also recommended several accommodations for A. that, if the school approves them, should help a lot. My middle son, J, has made a lot of strides in school this year, eleventh grade. He still has some issues with attention, but he’s taking several very interesting classes that are more interactive and perfectly tailored to his learning style. He’s pulling in grades in the nineties for those. While he still has challenges in a couple of classes that rely on listening and heavy note taking, without a lot of hands-on activity (an ADHD sufferer’s nightmare), he’s not failing. His eating disorder still rears its ugly head, but an increase in medication has kept his weight stable, if not as high as it should be. But right now, he’s not the squeaky wheel, A. is and the pendulum of attention has swung to him. A. is the one in triage now.

But, you can’t stay in triage forever…it’s temporary until either you’re deemed okay or a plan of care is created, and you’re moved into the next phase of treatment. So, that’s where we are now, ready for A. to embark on a treatment journey. He needs to reclaim his super powers of intelligence intertwined with insatiable curiosity. The neurologist shared that his superior IQ really doesn’t matter, if he can’t use his formidable smarts, because OCD and ADHD are paralyzing him.

The road ahead won’t be easy…I know that from experience. There are storm clouds hanging over us, but I have to believe that with the right treatment, the sun will shine again.

Note: I took the photo above this essay as we drove into a thunderstorm in Arizona back in August. I snapped the photo below the next morning…sunrise after the rain cleared. I chose these particular photos to remind myself – and others – that the storm always clears and the sun comes back up, even if it takes some time…

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Feel No Evil Sneak Peek

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I posted a sneak peek of this novel in progress back in 2014. Since then, I’ve had five books published, and I’m almost done with a screenplay adaptation of Goddess of Suburbia. So, this book ended up on the back burner – but it’s my heart book and the hardest one to write. It’s no coincidence that it keeps getting pushed to the side by easier projects. It’s a different world now than when I first started writing this about nine years ago. It’s a different world now than it was even a few months ago. The floodgates have opened and women are coming forward, owning their stories of sexual assault , but there will always be women like Kate who push it down, until it nearly kills them. The journey of bringing it back to the surface is ardous, but necessary…

Warning – 16+ only. While the violence isn’t graphic, it can be harrowing…

2:21. 2:22. 2:23. All I could see were the digital numbers of the clock. All I could hear was his menacing voice, “Is it going to be hard or soft?” All I could say was, “Please stop. Please don’t.” See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. They forgot feel no evil. All I could feel were his hands pushing down on my shoulders and the searing pain ripping through my core.

I close the journal—the flowers on its cover faded; the paper almost silk-like from age. It has been over twenty years—twenty-one years, to be exact—since I wrote those words. I wish that they were fiction from a long ago college creative writing class, but they aren’t—they’re real and every year on the anniversary of my assault I pull out that journal and read that entry. After I read it, I put the journal back in my old leather briefcase on top of my closet and drink a glass of wine. It’s my way of marking the anniversary and moving forward. My husband, Alec, keeps our kids downstairs or even takes them out for a slice of pizza or ice cream, so I can read it alone, in peace. So I can shed a tear or two.

I know that it might seem odd for a forty-one year old woman to still think about something that happened so long ago, but if you’ve ever been assaulted, you know that the fact of what happened never really goes away. It just sits like a rotten little bit of food in the back of the refrigerator. The smell will eventually take over the whole thing if you ignore it, so every year I pay attention to it—I take out that rotten bit of food, throw it in the symbolic garbage and try not to think about it, until it starts festering again a year later. It’s an odd ritual, to be sure, but one that works for me or at least it did work, until this year.

It’s a cruel joke being raped on tax day—for months before commercials remind me that the day is coming. “Don’t forget, April fifteenth is right around the corner,” a voice ominously intones. It’s everywhere, warning people of the day of doom. For me it’s the lead up to reading that passage. I know I’ll pull down the briefcase, I know I’ll open it to the same page and I know that I’ll put it back and lock down any thoughts of that April fifteenth so many years ago for another twelve months. But, as I put back the briefcase, I know that this year is different. This year I might not be able to lock it down. This year, the person who destroyed my life, Vin Merdone, just popped up on Facebook as “someone I might know” three days before April fifteenth and I realized that while he damn near ruined my life, his life just went on as happy as could be.

With morbid curiosity I had clicked through his profile pictures. There were pictures of him smiling on a beach; swimming with dolphins; lazing on a lounge; emerging from a pool and one of him holding up a beer, no doubt saying “cheers” to the person taking the picture. He looked happy and tan—and, quite honestly, had a slight menace about him, muscles bulging beneath the tattoos covering his arms—in all of them. The worst photo by far was the one of him kneeling next to a large shark lying in a pool of blood. The smile on his face was broad and satisfied, a cruel glint in his eye. I quickly moved on, the knot in my stomach tightening. One glance at his About told me that he now makes Miami his home. It didn’t look like he had a wife and kids, thankfully, but it did look like he was living a dream life, happy as could be.

The shock of seeing his face after all these years cut right through me—sure, he was older, but the set of his jaw remained, the curl of lip was the same. He still had a full head of hair—slicked back in most photos, giving him a look of smarmy intensity. When I clicked on our mutual friend, shock morphed into anger. The thought that my old friend, Sean, the friend who introduced us that fateful night, the friend who apologized so profusely and swore up and down that he didn’t know Vin was violent, the friend I thought I loved was still friends with this person, even on Facebook, filled me with a feeling I couldn’t quite name—rage, surprise, despair. Or perhaps it was all of those rolled into one.

I quickly “unfriended” Sean and started to block Vin. Only I couldn’t. It was like passing a car crash on the highway—I just had to look at it. I had to try to make sense of the man he is now, so maybe I could understand the boy he was then. Staring at his grinning face, once again I berated myself for only filing an anonymous police report—one that went on his record, but didn’t get him arrested.

Even worse, looking at those pictures, I spun back to that night. I had been drinking—I always admitted that, but I would never agree that drinking made me a victim, that anything other than violence made me a victim. Sean was hosting a party in his dorm room and Vin was there. After we talked for most of the party, Vin asked me to take a walk. Up until that point in my life, my sophomore year in college, I had only encountered people with good intentions. Even the drunk guys who hit on me at parties, took a “no” in stride and moved on to the next girl. If I did go home with someone, they too took my “no” in stride and were content to just fool around a bit, before I went back to my dorm room. I had never slept with anyone at college and I was proud of my ability to stand my ground. That all changed on an early spring night when I was twenty years old…