Category Archives: on change

63 and other numbers

I had obscenely long hair growing up. It was super thick, stick straight, and cut in a straight line across my extreme low back where it’d technically reached my rear end. It was so long I didn’t know what to do with it, and I never really learned how to tame it, even in its maturity. It was so long that my mom had to help me tie it back to help me avoid straining my neck. It was so long that while my soccer teammates were having their hair braided in dreadlocks for tournaments, my mop took double the amount of time of others with multiple hands on deck for me to get the same look for team spirit. It was so long that I had to then tie all of the dreadlocks back in a supplementary ponytail because certain referees didn’t like that the little braids became sharp weapons if I turned my head too quickly. It was so long that showers took way more hot water than it would for most to get all of the shampoo and conditioner out, and drains clogged far more quickly than the norm. It was so long that I didn’t even bother with styling products since it was already heavy and hopelessly unruly with a mind of its own. It was a total annoyance, but I liked my mom brushing and braiding it, so the very long hair remained very long.

For as long as I can remember without the help of old photographs, my mom always had the exact opposite hairstyle. Apparently, there was a point in time when my mom was my age that she too had super long, stick straight, dark brown hair. And then she chopped it, permed it, and eventually shaved it all off. My memory of my mom for the longest time ever was with her signature shaved head. My soccer team rubbed it for good luck, and she was a charm. She was so kind to everyone she met that warmth and beauty radiated from her face, and it would have been a sin to have her hidden behind hair anyway. She was so beautiful regardless of what was or wasn’t on her head because of the good on the inside that beamed out.

At some time in junior high school, I’d had enough of my hair after straining my neck one too many times. Chopping it off was liberating, but the new ‘do gave me a weird, naked feeling. I could feel the chopped end without being a contortionist or spinning my head like an owl for the first time in a long time. On the bus home from school one day, a horrible, little girl in the popular crowd made a horrible, little comment about my mother. She made fun of her and her hairstyle and said how I should have given my long hair to my mom and glued it to her head like there was something wrong, sub-woman, or subhuman about her without it.

She said she looked like a patient with cancer.

She said it without knowing her story. She could have had short hair due to brain surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy like she did for the 21 months before she died. She could have had alopecia or maybe some trauma. The girl didn’t know or perhaps didn’t know better, but she was unnecessarily mean anyway. I didn’t have the confidence to speak up for her at the time, but at some point between then, my mom’s diagnosis, her passing, and now, I realized that I am my mother’s daughter and speak up for the underdog even if I can’t find it in me to do that for myself.

To the girl who said it, I’d like to say that you should be ashamed of yourself.

DSC_4145

it’s just hair…

My mom was the person who did cartwheels on the sidelines of my soccer games and taught me that being silly is the first step of having fun. She attended every single game, every single track meet, every gymnastics meet, every single dance class, and every single ballroom competition without fail. When I lived at home, she stayed up late with me while I worked on homework past midnight after sports and other after-school activities just to be with me. She read every essay I wrote to give me a thumbs up when I didn’t have the confidence to decide whether or not it was good enough as is. She told me she was proud of me every day, wished me the “humongiest, happiest, healthiest, luckiest day” every day, and told me she loved me and meant it every single day. When I was away at college, we talked daily and she talked me off a ledge often. She dropped everything and drove the two and a half hours to Connecticut to simply be with me during way too many nervous breakdowns. She was always there. Always.

She let me feel loved and tried to overfill a cup that was cracked by another. She treated her students and her friends the same way. She was everything and made sure you knew you were worth love.

And then she got sick. Her diagnosis of glioblastoma came with a life expectancy of 12 months if she was lucky. She had brain surgery to remove as much of the bastard as possible that left a hoof-shaped scar in her head. Then radiation and chemo made her lose her more hair. She didn’t bother with a wig or head scarves. Actually, she wore a wig one day and decided she didn’t look like herself or like it very much. Instead, together, we shaved off her remaining hair to beat the side effects of her treatments to the punch.

The first night we shaved off her hair, she made a hilarious newspaper contraption that was meant to be a smock to cover her body. It was basically a giant newspaper tarp with a hole for her head, but she was pleased with herself and the end result. She sat in the middle of the kitchen with her newspaper smock on a short chair and gave me the reigns with the electric shaver.

I was terrified. I never told her that, but I was terrified.

The hoof-shaped scar in her skull was still healing and there were still stitches poking out of it.

The electric shaver was shaking, and my hand probably was too.

I was freaking out that the blade would rip out her stitches and make her bleed or that the vibration from the shaver would disrupt the healing inside her brain. I convinced myself that any remaining tumor might jiggle around with the vibration, break loose, and spread more. I thought I would be the cause of making the cancer worse and her die quicker.

My mom wasn’t afraid though. She wanted to get rid of it. It was just hair. So that’s what we did–gently, carefully, and completely. We got rid of it all and she looked like herself again.

Hair is dead, you know. Maybe my mom knew that she didn’t need to hold onto something dead or unnecessary. Maybe she knew she could be better without it weighing her down.

Today, on what would have been my mom’s sixty-third birthday, what I’m trying to say is that the length of your hair, like the length of your life, doesn’t matter. My mom’s was cut really short. Painfully short, if you ask me. But no number of years or millimeters could place a value on the human or the heart underneath. Maybe she knew that. The love and the thoughts and experiences underneath are what count in all of us.

Instead of celebrating surviving another year once a year on our birthdays, perhaps instead we should celebrate every single day for being alive. For getting another chance. For being able to dance and laugh and live because we still can. We should celebrate the lives of the people we love on more than just one day a year. Because one day, they won’t be there.

Today, on what would have been my mom’s sixty-third birthday, what I’m trying to say is stop waiting. You, dear reader, are only guaranteed right this very second. Not tomorrow. Not the day after. You’re not guaranteed the vacation you hope to take one year from now. So celebrate now.

I still wish I could wish my mom a happy birthday today. I wish I could get her cupcakes, make a big deal out of today for the sake of celebrating her existence, and be there when she makes a wish and silently says it as she blows out a candle. But I hope more than anything that she knew how much I loved her every other day of the year.

That’s my wish.

Tori

P.S. My hair is way too long again and long enough to donate. It’s being chopped off this weekend! It’s dead weight anyway.

an unhappy birthday card

“I tried to write her something. I’ve tried to for weeks, but I can’t think!”

“Tori, you’ve been thinking so much about all of this, your brain can’t do anything else.”

“But I didn’t do anything for her!”

“What are you talking about? You did your whole life.”

I’ve written and rewritten and deleted and scrapped more words and sentences that never made sense than I’d like to acknowledge. I’ve desperately tried to write a good, thoughtful, coherent essay for my mom on her birthday, but all I can put together is the disjointed set of words and punctuation marks that follows. I apologize in advance.

Grief that refuses to lift has a funny way of making it extremely difficult to make sense of the world around you and the things going on inside your own head. My grief-ridden brain that probably needs therapy is like mushy oatmeal. The bland kind of oatmeal that’s sticky and sad-looking, one without cinnamon sugar or maple syrup or fruit. My brain is bland, mushy, oatmeal and all of my thoughts are stuck in it in no semblance of order or organization. That’s not writer’s block. That’s depression.

My mom would have turned sixty-two today. Two years ago, I threw her a surprise party. Last year, I hugged her in her hospice bed. This is the first year I’ve had to acknowledge her birthday in her absence, and it’s a really odd, bittersweet feeling to celebrate the birth of someone who no longer lives. Am I supposed to get her flowers? Do I light a candle for her? Maybe I’ll just go home and hide in bed. Ray will probably drag my body to the car and bring me to the beach to be, because he cares more about me than I care about myself, and I will probably protest but know he’s right and go anyway. (Raymond, thank you for being you.)

My mom passed away a week and a half after she turned sixty-one, so the one-year anniversary of her death is rapidly approaching and makes today even harder. I don’t know how the past year went by so quickly, because I feel like it all happened yesterday. It still feels that raw. For the past year, my mind has retreated into the oatmeal-brain that now exists in my head to self-preserve and hide away from all the hurt and bad things that happened. The oatmeal has been like a sticky cushion that’s protected me from the bad stuff but also blocked out a lot of the good memories.

I’ve struggled remembering who I am for the past year without her existence to remind me that I am my mother’s daughter. I think know that I was a good daughter and that I took damn good care of her as she got sicker and until the day she died. I did my best to keep her happy and keep her safe. I know these truths about myself and can go to sleep, rest easy, and die knowing I did my best. She did everything for me when she was well. So doing everything for her when she was sick only made sense. When she was here, maybe I wasn’t living for me, but I was happy knowing that she was happy. That was enough. And then one day she wasn’t here, and I lost my purpose.

When she was here, I had a vague but specific purpose for every single day despite my running on fumes. Wake up, please wake up, hug her, call her, ease her concerns, listen to her, help her, keep her happy, tell her everything she needs to hear in case today’s the last one you get with her, do not let her fall, drive home before you fall asleep, focus, please stay awake, okay, now please fall asleep, seriously, go to sleep now. Maybe, somehow, some part of that formula would save her for just a little longer even though nothing could. Maybe one extra smile would suffocate the damn tumor a little and let her live. But then, one day she wasn’t here and my fumes ran out. They disappeared into thin air. I disappeared. I felt like a shell with nothing left in the middle except oatmeal-brain. I still feel that way.

I’ve struggled remembering the really fun things that we did and the great conversations we had. I’ve struggled thinking, as demonstrated by the nonsensical number of drafts of this essay that still doesn’t feel good enough. I hope it makes at least a little sense or gives you a little insight. Without the clear purpose of taking care of her, I’ve honestly forgotten what I’m doing or why I’m here. But there’s one thing I haven’t forgotten.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her. Even if she’s not here, her kindness and words and mannerisms and quirks are a part of me. On the days I’m most depressed – like today – with the ugly tears and snot that the dog tries to lick up and the guttural wailing from my soul, my mom is the voice in my ear that says, “Please, Victoria. Please don’t give up. Please don’t cry.” And somehow, I’ve made it through the past year without her.

But I’ve also made it through the past year because of her. I am my mother’s daughter.

If I can still hear her, maybe she can still hear me. If I cry into the universe loud enough, maybe it’ll find her. The truth is that no essay will do this justice anyway.

Happy birthday, Mom. I miss you beyond words. I’m so sorry I’m so depressed. I’ll try to be stronger like you were. I hope you have the most beautiful day up there with the rainbows and birds, with wings, and without pain or fear. I love you the mostest. (And I hope you can hear me.)

Your forever devoted daughter, Tori

one, two, or none of the above

When I was in pharmacy school, I loathed multiple choice exam formats that went something like this:

Question #3: Pick the best answer. There can be more that one right answer, but to get any credit here, you have to pick the “best” answer which is subjective. Get over it.

i) Pharmacy school is hard. ii) Pharmacy school will be worth it. (Predict the future here.) iii) You are extremely confused by this point. iv) Time is on your side.

Is the answer A) i and iii; B) ii and iv; C) i, ii, and iii; D) all of the above; or E) none of the above?

The only way to nail these questions was by process of elimination since there could be more than one right answer. One by one, I’d think to myself, “Nope, that one’s definitely wrong. I rock! This is going so well! And that one sounds right. Wait. Shit, I knew this last night. How did that weird song I made up to memorize this go? Yeah, that one’s right. I’m not sure about that one. It could definitely either be answer A or C. Time is not on my side, so there’s no way it’s all of the above. Wasn’t that a song by the Rolling Stones? Victoria, focus. Is this really worth it? Maybe it’s not C, because maybe this is a trick question and I’m not going to be successful if I can’t figure out the damn answer. Why did I want to be a pharmacist again? I wanted to be a writer! Screw it. I’m just going to say A.”

Every question on every exam for six years went something like that. It was exhausting. And in retrospect, it was worth it, although I didn’t predict that at the time. I met Ray because of pharmacy school and was able to help my mom through her diagnosis and treatment because of it too. So maybe the answer was C after all. I don’t know.

My first year of college, I got to take an elective that had to fit certain criteria set by UConn, but it was still mine to pick and it didn’t have to do anything with pharmacy school. So I chose something as far from and as different than science as I could. “Feminism and the Arts” is a class? Hell, yeah.

I was already a liberal upon going to college. My mom loved everyone of every color, culture, religion, gender, sexuality, age, ability, disability, and difference with complete and utter equality, and I wanted to be just like her. It was too beautiful of a notion for me to disagree with. “Feminism and the Arts” just gave me more fuel for the fire with examples of adversity and the proper terminology behind it all.

One of the most important things that I learned is that there are three distinct things that some people have somehow mushed into one: sex, gender, and sexuality. They’re different, and they really don’t have anything to do with one another. A person’s sex is based on the chromosomes and body parts they’re born with, and it is not limited to only male and female. Some folks are born intersex. And some folks ultimately take hormones and have surgery and identify as transsexual. A person’s gender is how they internally identify and outwardly present themselves. It can be fluid and changing. It does not need to match the sexual parts they were born with. Some folks identify as transgender but are not transsexual. Some folks are both. A person’s sexuality is based on whom they are attracted to. They may be gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, questioning, asexual, pansexual, and so forth. This is an extremely brief overview, but obviously, it’s not straightforward like some people out there seem to think. It’s confusing, overwhelming for some, and very complex like the multiple choice exam questions they threw at us in pharmacy school.

There’s no right answer. But there’s no wrong one either.

I know how I identify, and my gender happens to match my sexual parts, and my sexuality happens to be straight. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it must be for people to feel like they were born in the “wrong” body with the “wrong” parts, or to have society tell them they love the “wrong” person or people. That’s got to feel incredibly lonely and scary. Why can’t we as a society make it a more accepting and safe place?

It seems like nowadays, people as a whole are a lot more open-minded about LGBTQ equality. (Thank you, SCOTUS!) Transgender and transsexual people seem a lot more accepted, or perhaps it’s because people are being more vocal about it.

So what I don’t understand is that with all of the fluidity, ambiguity, and variety of sexes, genders, and sexualities out there, why are “gender revealing” parties even in existence? And wouldn’t they really be “sex revealing” parties since sex is the biology you’re born with and gender is how you identify?

A lot of the people I went to school with are having babies now. Some of them don’t care if their baby was seen to have a penis or vagina on ultrasound. But some make a party out of it. Why?

With all of the fluidity, ambiguity, and variety out there, why are people reducing their unborn children to one of two buckets: pink or blue? Who said that the baby you have brewing who looks like it has a vagina on ultrasound is going to be and identify as female? Who said it will even like the color pink? And why are you thrusting that upon them? What if “she” identifies as male, is attracted to both men and women, and has orange as his favorite color? What then?

I know why pharmacy school made those ridiculous multiple choice questions for exams. Because in the real world, there generally is no 100% correct answer or 100% wrong answer (except with math problems, perhaps). In the real world, it’s complex and fluid and ambiguous.

Beauty exists in the variety. If all of us were the same, we’d be incredibly boring with pink and blue blips walking the earth. What about the rainbow?

Please don’t limit your baby’s world before he or she or ze has even entered it. Celebrating the fact that you’re creating life should be enough.

Tori

the sky on the fourth of july

There’s a song called “Fourth of July” by Sufjan Stevens that has nothing to do with patriotism but everything to do with this very moment. He sings about a conversation that he had with his mom on her hospital bed as she died with aggressive cancer and uses bird-terms of endearment and examples of brilliant light to symbolize life. Needless to say, it strikes a chord and makes me cry every single time but I can’t stop listening to it.

“Did you get enough love, my little dove, why do you cry?

And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best, though it never felt right.”

My mom and I both firmly believed that her dad–my grandpa–came back to us as a bird after he passed away. After my mom passed, I found feathers everywhere I went when I happened to look down, even indoors. And she and I always told each other, “You are my sunshine.” So I’ve let myself believe it’s a song she’s singing to me (even if it’s via the lovely voice of a male stranger).

“You do enough talk, my little hawk, why do you cry?

Tell me, what did you learn from the Tillamook Burn? Or the Fourth of July?”

the fireworks from our beach

the fireworks from our beach

Apparently, the Tillamook Burn was a series of catastrophic forest fires in Oregon starting in the 1930’s. (I had to look that up.) The fires caused massive destruction, but the life of the fire did come to an end. As did the lives of the trees. The Fourth of July blasts hundreds or thousands of fireworks across the sky where they make dazzling colors and inspire some hope and reflection. But within each burst comes a small death that disappears in the sky. After the thirty minute show, they’re gone forever. Their light dies too. What remains?

I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time, but those things are impermanent. We’re impermanent too. That’s the next line in the song, by the way: “We’re all gonna die.” We’re momentary bits of beautiful light across the universe like thousands of tiny suns, we’re flocks of birds across the sky, and we’re fleeting. We can’t fear that. It’s just something to accept, and the sooner we accept it, the easier it feels. It’s devastating but beautiful, because it makes everything mean something.

The second we accept that nothing lasts forever is the same second we can start living fully without the barrier of fear in the way. (I’m still working on the acceptance part.)

My mom was only on this planet for 61 years, and I know that she positively impacted every person she met. She fervently loved her friends and students, and while I don’t think she played favorites, she loved the underdogs a little harder. She fought for them when they couldn’t see their own strength or beauty. She fought for me when I couldn’t see mine. She beamed light from her pores and fingertips and toes and smile. She was a ray of sunshine that made its way through the fog and to our hearts. She was a rare and special cobalt blue firework bursting across the midnight sky. She was a hummingbird fluttering for mere seconds in the catmint in the garden. She was a momentary but magnificent beacon of wondrous things like strength and hope and silliness and kindness, and I thank God or whatever is calling the shots up there that I got her to brighten my life and illuminate my path as long as I did.

“Shall we look at the moon, my little loon, why do you cry?

Make the most of your life, while it is rife, while it is light.”

Last year around this time, my husband and I were driving my mom to her weekend getaway at our house when fireworks went off over the bay. We pulled the car over to watch them for only a moment, but while my mom was in the passenger seat watching them, I was watching her. She was so beautiful inside and out that you couldn’t help but stare in awe.

Use today and especially this Saturday to think of your life like a firework. Live fervently and purposefully, even if your sole purpose is to cast a little light into the world. Leave a magnificent mark across the sky for others. Be an inspiration. Perform random acts of kindness just for the sake of being kind. Love without limits for however brief of a time you get that opportunity.

Start really living before it’s too late.

Tori

you are my sunshine, mom. for always and forever

you are my sunshine, mom. always and forever

P.S. Sufjan Stevens, please forgive me if I’ve destroyed the intended meaning of this song. This is how I understood it. I thank you for your beautiful music even if it makes me cry. And I’m so sorry about your mom.

the thing with feathers

Tomorrow will be Mother’s Day. Specifically, it will be the first Mother’s Day that I have to spend without being able to celebrate my mom’s existence with her. It will be the first without her here. Last year I wondered, “Am I doing enough?” This year will be the first that I question, “Did I?”

So many people have told me, “The first year is the worst.” It’s something you can be sure you’ll look forward to dreading with every holiday stirring up your sorrow. I used to think “looking forward to something” implied something good would happen, like when I used to look forward to holidays. I’d rather skip them now.

A year of firsts and worsts, although I can’t imagine subsequent years getting any easier. My mom left this earth in August, and I somehow got through Thanksgiving, Christmas, a new year, and a non-Valentine’s Day. I spent them hiding at home in a blanket cocoon and avoiding people, but somehow, my heart kept beating and my lungs kept filling up with air, which felt an awful lot like suffocating. I can’t imagine tomorrow feeling much different with the exception that I will leave the house.

I have a new chiropractor for my scoliosis who I began seeing eight days ago. Upon my initial visit with him, he took a thorough history including my family history. I had to check off the horrid little box on that sheet of paper that said my mom was deceased. The reason? Fucking glioblastoma. I didn’t write the expletive, but I thought it.

He discussed everything I wrote on that piece of paper, including how horrible glioblastoma is. He said how two of his patients passed away with glio this past year too and how he wouldn’t wish it on anyone. He said how being her only child, it must be more than just the loss of my mom but also the loss of my best friend. He knew.

Yesterday, I returned to his office for an adjustment and was greeted by his secretary-wife who said she and my chiropractor were talking about how depressed I’ve been since my mom passed (which I’m fairly certain is a HIPAA violation), and how Mother’s Day must be tough being the first. Clearly, they both knew.

I got settled in the exam room and was greeted by my chiropractor who asked what I was up to this weekend. I said that “we” (meaning my husband and I) are going to Monomoy, a wildlife refuge on Cape Cod known for its birds. I wanted to be with the birds and by the ocean, something I know my mom would love too.

The chiropractor started laughing and blurted out, “You’re bringing your mom?!” I thought briefly that perhaps he forgot what we’d talked at length about and said, “No, she’s…” Yet he squealed, “I know! I know!” Then I realized that the asshole actually thought he was funny and was making a joke about her not being here, that he knew she was gone and was making fun of the fact I said where “we” were going.

I didn’t have the guts to speak up and say, “That’s really not funny.” I mean, during a neck adjustment, he could paralyze me, so I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. I’d save that chat for another time. This same chiropractor later made “jokes” in the form of mocking a gay couple he knows and used the term “ew!” to describe their kissing. I am furious at myself that I didn’t have the nerve to stand up for myself or my friends who happen to be gay. Either way, I’ve lost all respect for that man.

What I didn’t tell him is that “we” (Ray and I) will go to the bird-filled beach tomorrow because “we” (my mom and I) had discussed at length where she and I would meet, and I know I’ll feel her presence there. Each night when she was still here, we’d pick a beach to visit each other in our dreams. Sometimes it was one we’d been to together (Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina was a favorite), and sometimes it was one we’d only dreamed about (I told her I’d bring her with me to Bora Bora). But my mom and I also firmly believed that her dad (my grandpa) who happened to be the greatest man on the planet came back to this earth as a bird after he passed away.

There were too many instances to prove our case. I’m a fan of Buddhism and like the notion of reincarnation, but my mom was a practicing Catholic who decided she liked the notion too. Right after he had passed and I went back to college, a hawk kept me company on my walk back to my apartment when all I could do was cry. I learned that the excerpt I read at his funeral was the same as a song by the Byrds. “There is a time for everything. […] A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Little chickadees hopped up to our car when my mom and I were pulled over and lost while trying to find a farm in Connecticut. Cardinals brought my mom to happy tears. There were countless examples and all of them made us sure that he visited us as a bird and that he earned his wings.

When my mom passed, I looked for birds, certain that she would come back as one too. But it wasn’t birds that I found when I needed her most. It was feathers. Anytime I looked down, there would be a feather at my feet, even when I was in the locker room at the gym. Then there were flocks of starlings dancing across the entire sky above (Hi, Mom). And a giant heron mixed in with a group of seagulls that brought me to tears on my way to work one morning (she stood out from the crowd in the best way possible). I know she’s up in the air and all around now too.

What I should have told that chiropractor is that Ray and I will be meeting my mom down at Monomoy. We (the three of us) will spend the day together by the ocean and with the birds, somewhere my mom would want me to go and the greatest picture of peace that I can imagine. I think it’s what heaven and nirvana look like. I’m not “bringing” her there, but I carry her in me wherever I go, so yes, perhaps I am. We’ll have to have a picnic with her and her bird friends.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You will always be the greatest mom and person on this planet.

I miss you and love you the mostest.

Tori


An excerpt of “Seven Birds”

A white bird
A breath condenses
Even density can be pleasant
Each wall widens its cracks
And retains the call
A height that remains a height
Springs that have gathered the winds of the fields

A red bird
It may have traveled the river in one night
The road may have guided it through the upper layers
I ponder the mystery of its redness
Then forget the sky
That has taken it there

Mohammad Bennis as translated by Fady Joudah

lost socks and butterflies

I have been accused of something terrible by my husband. The other night, I went upstairs to go to sleep to find him folding his laundry next to the bed. He looked at me dead in the eye with a perfectly straight face and said, “You’ve been stealing my socks.”

Wait, what?

Let’s be real here. I have swiped many articles of Ray’s clothing, as any good wife will do. Mostly, sweatshirts. Pajama pants on occasion. Most recently, a fantastic, buffalo plaid, button-down shirt that Ray claims is too small on him, but I know he was just begrudgingly giving me a reason to snuggle up in it. But socks? A sock thief I am not.

On Ray’s bureau, there were something like 20 solo socks with no partners to be found anywhere. I do handle laundry half of the time, so certainly it could have been something I did. I passed the buck and blamed the dog, who probably blamed the cat. Ray checked the cellar to see if the creatures hid their sock stash somewhere to save for later, but nothing turned up. A bunch of single socks, all vanished in the night.

Ray was, of course, kidding that I was the culprit. The socks are genuinely gone, but none of us – neither the humans nor the furry folk – are to blame, although I’d still bet money on the dog. Perhaps the washing machine chewed them up. Maybe the hotel bed sheets on our latest vacation ate them never to be seen again. But like the loss of the socks, things, stupid things, annoying things, and meaningless things happen all the time.

Things, sometimes, just happen organically, randomly, and magically. Okay, maybe not magically. Maybe the dog stole all of the cat’s toys, so the cat got antsy. Then maybe the cat stole one sock, and the dog swiped one too to be like her sister (that’s two). Maybe the washing machine ate one (that’s three), the hotel sheets ate a couple (let’s say we’re up to five), Ray lost one (six), I misplaced one for kicks (seven), and so forth (like magic, twenty). Maybe the totality of what’s happened was a result of everyone and everything that transpired as things tend to do in life. And now Ray is down twenty or so socks, because of the summation of a series of seemingly insignificant events that caused something greater.

When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian, because I’d get to put my brains to use and help animals, until my mom pointed out that I’d have to put animals down which immediately changed my mind. Then I wanted to be a doctor because I’d get to put my brains to use and help people, until I was permanently scarred by the thought of cadavers and blood in medical school.

From seventh grade through high school, I was bullied and increasingly more anxious just being around my peers and started spending study periods hiding in the guidance library, an empty and quiet room filled with books of colleges, careers, and life after high school. There, I found the resources and answer I’d been looking for. You like chemistry, math, and health? You want a job that’s highly demanded, respected, and paid? You should be a pharmacist. You want to stay local and avoid a high tuition? You should go to UConn or URI. UConn looked nice. Bam. Easy.

I left high school with a clear path which I quickly hated in actuality. I hated pharmacy school and the stress. I hated the choice I’d made single-handedly, but was so far in my mom begged me to finish. I wanted to make her happy even if I wasn’t. I went on sixth-year rotations with no clue what I wanted to do when I graduated, until one phenomenal preceptor said, “You like to write? You should be a medical writer. You have to go to Midyear.” So I did.

At Midyear, I started thinking about fellowships and the future. I was offered my top choice and for reasons I still question, I later turned it down. But in the airport on the way home from this weird experience in California in an attempt to find my future, I did. I met Ray and got seated next to him on the plane. A hop, skip, and a long distance relationship later, I married him.

In the butterfly effect of years of fear-based choices and uncertainty and a little bit of hope, I met my husband. I met him because I wanted to be a veterinarian then a doctor then a pharmacist. I met him because I hid from my peers in a rarely used area of the high school. I met him because my mom wouldn’t let me quit what I’d started, and because deep down, I knew she was right. I met him because I was lost and one preceptor had the best advice (Dr. Effie Kuti, thank you). All along I wanted to figure out my future, and I did when I met him. And I met him because of the summation of a series of seemingly insignificant events that caused something greater.

A little over a year after I graduated with my pharmacy degree, my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor and my world crumbled. And somehow, all of those random events including having Ray in my life made me prepared to help her through her treatment and trials. She wouldn’t let me quit pharmacy school, a fact I resented at the time, but that very fact in turn helped her. Looking back on it all, maybe I didn’t do it to make her proud at all. Maybe God or the universe or whatever you believe in knew what was in store and knew she’d need the help. Maybe the series of seemingly insignificant events caused something greater: peace of mind.

I thank God that I went to and finished pharmacy school. I thank God for every single little thing that made it happen, step by step, inch by inch, butterfly and beyond. And maybe my mom’s passing will be an impetus for something great to happen that hasn’t been realized yet.

Anything could happen. Maybe Ray will find his socks. Maybe he and I will have a child that will find the cure for glioblastoma in my mom’s memory. Maybe I’ll learn that without her, I can still be strong and find happiness. Maybe she’ll come back as a butterfly this spring.

Anything could happen.

Tori

for sonya

“You should write.”

Ray was talking about a book in the future. As though I’d be a respectable author trying to make a name for herself. Not as a road trip vacationer in the passenger seat cradling a small dog in one arm and furiously thumbing the keys on her phone to compose a blog entry with the free hand.

But here we are.

We – Ray, Coconut, and I – are somewhere in the middle of Nowhere, North Carolina. Actually, we just passed a sign for Wilson. Like the volleyball that Tom Hanks’ character befriends and is forced to part with in “Cast Away”.

It’s been quite some time since I last wrote beyond a to-do list here and there. I’ve felt uninspired and empty of words and emotion. Numb, but breathing. But the encouragement from Ray and the fact that I remember writing a one-thumb entry from my mom’s hospice bed far too well have brought me here.

Tom Hanks had to say goodbye to Wilson. I had to say goodbye to my mom, and a friend from high school just had to say goodbye to her mom who lost her battle with cancer as my mom did. It’s brought back painful memories of the past that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

But it’s just that: the past. And one day, it’ll be her past too. Even if it doesn’t feel like this hurt will ever pass.

Assuming time moves forward like this car traveling 70 miles an hour down the highway, one day we’ll all have to say goodbye to every other thing that crosses our paths. We’ll get past the hard times, we’ll be forced to say farewell to the great ones, and we’ll move further and further away from the ones that we almost didn’t notice like the way my left arm went numb a few minutes ago from holding a dog while my right one was too busy writing. Some of them will leave us largely unchanged, but others will leave us stronger.

We’ve now passed Wilson, North Carolina. We’ll probably never be back. It’s in the past and a memory that will become a more distant memory with each passing mile.

To my friend who just lost her mom: this will pass, I promise. It will never be easy, but it will get bearable. You will have bad days, but let the good memories outnumber them. You will never have to endure the passing of your mom again, and you can rest easy knowing that you have somehow survived it. And she would be proud knowing you kept breathing.

As for your mom, she is no longer in plain sight in front of you, but she’s not really behind you either. She’s in you and all around. She was with you when you picked out her flowers. She’ll be in your passenger seat when you’re driving by yourself to work.

And when you whisper or maybe cry, “I wish my mom was here,” I promise you she is.

Just keep moving forward and hold on tight.

Tori

on curves and strength

Here’s a little known fact about me: I have pretty bad scoliosis with three distinct curves in my spine that try to keep each other in check by pulling each other in different directions. Like an “S” that got too wide and had to hook around once more again to keep itself upright. Or maybe it just wanted to be an asshole. The thing that’s supposed to hold your body straight up and down like a flagpole decided to make itself a nice 30-degree deviation from where it should be, like it was driving along and found a huge pothole in an icy road at the last minute and swerved, fishtailed, fishtailed some more, and then got back on course. The thing (apparently I call my back “The Thing”) has been X-rayed, cracked at the chiropractor, massaged, strengthened at physical therapy, strained, and sprained by movement that I probably self-inflicted too many times. It’s been braced by a horrible plastic girdle thing-a-ma-jig that was specially fit for my scoliosis that I was supposed to wear daily but I bargained with the orthopedic specialist and he let me just wear it at night. At some point, he wanted to put a rod along my spine, which I also refused, because I like dance, yoga, and backbends too much.

What’s my point besides telling you, Dear Reader, that I am a horrible, stubborn patient with a curved spine? I wanted to tell you that there’s a perpetual giant knot next to my left shoulder blade that just sits there trying to pull the worst curve back where it’s supposed to be. It just sits there holding on for dear life. And that sucker hurts perpetually. It’s always there and it will never go away. Like a nice little knife that decided to wedge itself in there and take permanent residence.

Okay, so seriously, what’s my point?

My point is that sometimes, life throws you curves that you did nothing to deserve. They hit you out of nowhere and they cause irrevocable changes you can’t undo. Sometimes those curves will cause you deep, stabbing, gnawing, raw pain that may never go away. You were going happily along a nice, normal, little path and then, bam. Pothole. Car accident. Natural disaster. Terminal diagnosis. (Clearly, I’m not lumping my scoliosis in that last category, because I was only using it as a metaphor to get to this point. It’s trivial by comparison.)

Things happen every single day that weren’t supposed to happen. They’re not fair. I find myself talking about missing my mom and saying to my husband on an almost daily basis, “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” regarding her diagnosis of glioblastoma and subsequent passing. And his response, which was possibly the most comforting thing he could utter was a simple, “I know.”

Good, kind, wonderful, vibrant people are supposed to be on this planet. They’re not supposed to die. But they do. Sometimes when they’re 21, sometimes when they’re 61, sometimes when they’re 101. And at some point, it will happen. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. And for whoever is caught in the vicinity, the knot – but this time, the knot in your stomach – will ache and it might always be there. Like the namesake quote from this blog states, “It’s supposed to hurt. That’s how you know it meant something.”

I’m not trying to be morbid or pessimistic, but this, Kind Reader, you must know: Go live your life. Really live it, with no worries or regrets. Do not fear the future, because crap will happen that is entirely out of your control. It will happen. That’s actually the First Noble Truth in Buddhism: “Life contains suffering.” Regardless of your creed, you know that bad things happen. You could encounter a pothole tonight. A family member might get bad news from the doctor tomorrow. Anything worse is fair game at any moment.

But fearing the unknowable or the inevitable doesn’t get you anywhere. And living in fear leaves no room for living in peace. I need to remember this truth just as much as the next person: Deal with the curves when they arise.

You might get a strong, little muscle when they do.

Tori

thanks for giving

I am currently boycotting the holidays, as it’s too tough without my mom here. But I know she’d want us to make some good no matter what. She was always able to be there for others, no matter how sick she got. So no matter how sad I may be, I’d like to make her proud.

Last weekend, Ray and I threw a Friendsgiving Dinner for the friends who have become family. Providing the food, we asked our friends to help us support the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless with their Food Pantry and Holiday Fund. Here are some photos of the loot we’ll be donating tomorrow for the holidays! Pantry items for everyone and gifts suitable for teens, the population the PAC specifically asked us for help with. So excited with the outcome!

DSC_0439

like emeril, bam! tons of pasta, cake mixes, canned goods, and cleaning products!

DSC_0440

some books, games, and sports stuff. i picked out the rockin’ soccer ball!

Before my mom passed, she had bought 16 seasons tickets for the Providence Performing Arts Center, to Cirque Dreams Holidaze, a magic show, and Blue Man Group. She used to buy the tickets every season and then sell them to friends so everyone could sit together, but when the tickets arrived in the mail, I didn’t know what to do with them. I decided to mix it up. I do admit that I gave the tickets for the Cirque show to friends of my own to keep a little tradition.

However, the magic show tickets are all going to Special Olympics Massachusetts, an organization my mom and I volunteered for together for years so it holds a special place in my heart. I’m hoping some special families get to enjoy the show together!

second and third row seats!

second and third row seats!

I was hoping to give the Blue Man Group tickets to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, and after contacting them, they found an organization for me that is somehow more perfect. My mom would have loved giving these to children in need, but they’ll be going to the Tomorrow Fund to benefit children with cancer and their families. My mom would be giving a big “thumbs up” to all of the above.

My mom was the most generous and selfless person I’ve ever known, and I am so thankful I got her as my mom and role model. I honestly feel bitter without her, but I was lucky for however short a time she was on this earth. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Before I break into a panic attack thinking about her, I’ll get to the point of this post. Go do some good. Go do something for others who might not have the means to do it for themselves. Even if you’re struggling too. Give your time, give your funds if you can, and give your heart.

“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart, give yourself to it.”

Happy Thanksgiving (even if I’m boycotting it) and thanks for giving to whatever charity feels good to you!

Tori

perspective – part deux

Ray and I are officially home from Paris and the trip was heaven. Seriously. Heaven. It only intensified my love affair with the city.

bonjour

i mean seriously, come on. bonjour, beautiful.

Everything I’ve ever seen in photos was a million times better in person. I couldn’t get enough of the Eiffel Tower, the beauty of the French language and entire freaking city, the value of fresh flowers and good food, and beautiful, interesting people. That means I lurked and took lots of photos of strangers. They tell a story better than I ever could.

artists

artists

walkers

handsome couples

lovers

lovers

and people that wanted to kill me

and people that wanted to kill me with musicians in the background

Anyway, per my last post, I hoped to find something in Paris – specifically up upon Montmartre – that I’d hoped to find my whole life. I never knew what that something was. Just that it was up there for me. Talk about pressure.

We found “my staircase” – it’s not mine, really. I think Brassaï made it most beautiful in a black and white photograph he took, but I tried to capture the same angle. So happy we found this puppy.

rue foyatier

rue foyatier

But here’s what I’m most happy about. Ecstatic really, but in a bittersweet way. The church up upon Montmartre is named Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It’s the very special thing at the top of the hill that I thought perhaps housed the thing I was always looking for. And then my mom passed and I thought that dream was a load of crap, but Ray thought we needed to go to Paris anyway.

i've loved this church for years without ever seeing it. it's so much better in person, as life always is

i’ve loved this church for years without ever seeing it. it’s so much better in person, as life always is better firsthand

When we entered the church, I wanted to light a candle for my mom. Had to. It was obligatory in an OCD kind of way, because it wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t. But I had to find the right spot to light the candle. That would mean that I had to find the right patron saint to honor. We started towards the left, and nothing felt right. My mom and I lit a candle at the very back of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, so perhaps that would be the same spot at the Basilica. Nope, didn’t feel right. So we circled back around in our counterclockwise loop from the entrance and distance was running out to find the right statue. Found the second to last statue and it still didn’t feel right. And then we walked up to the last statue. So really, the first statue in the Basilica that you’d see if you started towards the right. And it was saint Maguerite Marie. French for Margaret Mary. My mom’s name, and the patron saint she was named after.

We lit a candle for my mom at her patron saint’s statue, the first statue upon entering the Basilica of the Sacred Heart up upon Montmartre. Like my mom is right there, at the top of the hill in Paris. Boom, bonjour.

marguerite marie otherwise known as margaret mary

marguerite marie otherwise known as margaret mary

While that didn’t bring me perspective, it brought me peace. And that’s the thing I probably always needed to find these years I’ve been dreaming of Paris. It didn’t bring me closure, because I’m not okay that she’s not here anymore. But it did bring me a profound sense of peace knowing she’s there.

Paris can be my heaven. Maybe it’s hers. She would have loved it. She’d have loved the chocolate eclairs and croissants. She would have loved the picnics in the Tuileries garden. She would have conversed with Parisians beautifully with her perfect French accent like the locals. She would have loved power-walking up the hills and stairs in Montmartre to that final, profound resting place.

Bonsoir, Mom. Sleep tight.

Tori