Tag Archives: self-help

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

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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.

property lines and personal boundaries

The neighbor’s dog attacked us tonight. Us as in my eldest fur child and myself.

my goofball, monkey-dog child who i birthed. obviously

my goofball, monkey-dog child who i birthed. obviously

I got home from work to bring the sleepy Coconut outside. She was excited to see one of her humans and presented a toy like always. She wiggled her butt and tail side to side as always. We went through the garage door and to a small patch of grass like always. Coconut was still excited about the rope toy she seemingly rediscovered upon my arrival and oblivious to her surroundings. A naive pup, happy as a clam, like any other day that quickly turned into anything but any other day.

Ray and I live on a corner lot in a quiet, placid neighborhood next to an owner of a demon dog made of pure evil. We’ll call the dog “Evil” to de-identify him.

The first time we encountered Evil, Coconut and I were playing in the yard and Evil started charging ferociously and barking at Coconut right in front of his owner who didn’t do a thing to stop it. Coconut ran away while Evil chased her; Evil was bearing his teeth and undoubtedly trying to hurt her. Coconut ran to me, I scooped her up instinctively, and Evil’s human mom made fun of Coconut for being too passive and just needing to socialize. I walked Coconut inside and made a point that if Evil was outside, we would not be, as Evil’s owner struggled to regain control of her beloved, hateful little horror.

Yes, perhaps Coconut can be timid around some dogs but not always. For some reason she follows Labs and German Shepherds around like a weird groupie, so this doesn’t happen 100% of the time. She’s not hugely social, but she’ll mingle with other dogs that she feels safe with. But then there are dangerous dogs like Evil and the ignorant owners who don’t hold Evil back.

There’s a difference between playing and attacking. There’s a difference between consent and crossing boundaries. There’s a difference between foolishly leaving yourself in harm’s way and knowing when to walk away. Evil’s human thought his pure aggression was totally endearing and playful. It didn’t matter. He crossed the line, terrified Coconut and myself, and Coconut was smart enough to trust her instincts, protect herself, and remove herself from the situation.

Contrary to Evil’s human’s skewed belief, it wasn’t “play” the first time or the next time he charged at her growling. It wasn’t play the third time or when he tried jumping through his owner’s car window to hurt Coconut either. And it definitely wasn’t play this afternoon when Evil sprinted down the street from the opposite direction of his house with no owner in sight, directly at Coconut who was simply sitting in the yard oblivious to the thing about to get her.

I sternly told Coconut to come to avoid alarming her and to get her out of Evil’s way. She ignored my first command and stayed there with her rope toy until I said it again and she turned her head to see Evil running straight at her. She cowered after she saw Evil and ran to me in time to scoop her up before he got to her, but I was too far away to get to the damn door in time.

Evil turned his efforts on me to get to his target. I’ve never had a dog charge at me, so I didn’t know what else to do. He got me backing up as he came at me, as close as a foot and a half away from us. He was growling, barking, and terrifying. I screamed bloody murder at him repeating, “No! Stop! Stay! No!” and felt pure panic as Evil would not leave us be.

Something distracted him. I think he heard something because he turned his head to his house, then sniffed Coconut’s rope toy, and just left. I don’t know why he came at her or why he continues to attack her, but it made something that I have been obsessively thinking about and trying to understand make perfect sense today.

I don’t have a human child, so I can’t say, “I know what it’s like,” but I imagine the same goes for healthy parents and their children: you protect your babies and do anything in your power to get them out of harm’s way. Healthy people don’t hurt people and want the best for their young, other people, and all living creatures, really.

Evil can maul me as I cling to Coconut in my dead lifeless arms before I ever allow him to touch a hair on her head. I won’t let him hurt her. I can proudly say I protect her to the best of my ability, especially when she doesn’t know how to defend herself.

These are things I know, but I have obsessed over trying to figure out why Evil would try to hurt her. Why would you try to hurt another being? Finally, I get it.

It doesn’t matter why Evil exists or whatever made Evil, well, Evil. All you need to know is that if Evil is trying to hurt you, you protect yourself and walk away. Perhaps you shrug off Evil as having a bad day and let it go the first time, but when Evil makes a pattern of aggression and attacks, you walk away and you never look back. No excuses.

I finally get it. You cannot change Evil. You don’t even need to understand it. You never will. All you need to do is protect your babies and protect yourself by knowing when to walk away. If other people chastise you for that decision, they do not care about your well-being.

But you must.

Tori

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

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