My Dog Has more Kidneys Than Me

If you’ve ever seen me before a big talk, you’ve probably seen my forefingers jam my ear buds in my ears as my whole body sways to the music. 

I jam out immediately every time I hear the Mighty Might Bosstones’ best single “The Impression That I Get.” And by “jam,” I mean look like I’m mildly convulsing from left to right to left as I try to follow the ska beat. Or, maybe you see me at the end of the song where I can visualize the music video and every band member comes in for a hug – gdi, that gets me every time. 

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This is my jam. It’s always been the song that gives me the …chutzpah? to go through a tough time. I mean. The video releases confetti! Defending the thesis proposal? Mighty Mighty Bosstones. First day of school? Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Divorce court? Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Math talk in a foreign country to a room full of math pds? Mighty Mighty Bosstones. On repeat. Loud. Jamming the tunes in my ears as far as they can go. 

Today. Letter from the hospital from my kidney recipient’s mother? Mighty Mighty Bosstones. 

And, maybe, today’s the first day I really ~heard~ the lyrics. It’d always been the upbeat tune that got me the courage to walk through the door, do the scary thing, and pretend all confidence. 

Have you ever been close to tragedy

Or been close to folks that have?

Have you ever felt a pain so powerful?

So heavy you collapse?

Damn. 

My fingers ride the creases of this letter. My eyes study the handwriting. My ears lose the song. 

Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high 

You need a strength most don’t possess? 

Has it ever come down to do or die?

Fuck. I say, as I remember women’s kidneys don’t take as well as men’s do. 

And I try to remind myself the contents of this letter don’t change the outcome. But “do or die” just feels so concrete. HOW IS THIS SONG UPBEAT AGAIN. 

Well I’ve never had to knock on wood 

But I know someone who has

Which makes me wonder if I could

It makes me wonder if I’ve never had to knock on wood 

…I have no thoughts…

And I’m glad I haven’t yet

Because I’m sure it isn’t good

That’s the impression that I get

… well good for you! Now, I’m officially mad at the one song that had been known to consistently improve my mood. 

I’m not a coward I’ve just never been tested

I’m not a coward either!! 

I’d like to think that if I was I would pass

me too

And then I hear it:

I’m afraid of what I might find out

Never had to knock on wood

But I know someone who has

Which makes me wonder if i could 

And my fingers slip under the envelope’s seal. 

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Waste lines

This is one of those stories that might be what my high school literature teacher called “undeveloped.” It could change theme at any moment, fail to have one altogether, or a variety of other literary fails. But, I need to get the thoughts out. And now. 

When you sign up to donate a kidney, you’re told a lot of things that you’ll need to consider before you are deemed eligible. They range from the obvious like “you’ll have scars” and “it might hurt,” to the tougher things like “what if the person dies before it even gets there” and “what if it’s dropped on the floor and never arrives.” 

You have to grapple with all these ideas – and have responses – before you get the all clear to even start your medical/physical clearance. 

What’s your motivation? Are you suicidal and this is your last act? Do you have support and what does it look like? Who knows and who doesn’t know? 

And that’s all just with your social worker. Your psychiatrist gets into the crazy stuff and, yes, asks a lot about your childhood. 

But, the point is – it’s all centered around you. Not the recipient, not your family. You. Why do you want to do this. What are your feelings on this or that. Sure, other people may factor into your answers, but they are not the focus. 

Especially for me as I chose to be “non-directed” which means I didn’t know my recipient. A computer algorithm chose what body to put my kidney inside, not my emotions or circumstance. 

And that’s where I left it – what body. 

Sure, I care about this person in the sense that kidney disease sucks, dialysis sucks, being sick sucks, etc etc etc. But that body was one in thousands upon thousands and their particular situation didn’t really matter to me. 

The “what ifs” about surgery and transport and the recipient’s recovery or rejection …they didn’t particularly matter to me. 

About two things mattered to me: helping someone and my own recovery. 

And, to be honest, that’s all I really care about now. 

Why does this come up today? Why do I feel the need to process this right now? 

The hospital emailed me. The mother of the recipient has a letter to send. 

Now. I’m only about four months post-surgery. The hospital had always told me that when we hit the one year mark, we’d each have to decide if we wanted to meet or get to know what happened. The donor and the recipient. And. That was fine by me and I procrastinated the shit out of those thoughts. 

But fuck me. Why do this eight months early. I don’t know if I want to know. 

And I feel awful about it. 

I’m just NOW getting some feeling back at my biggest incision. I can actually feel that part of my stomach when it’s touched. I feel it now every time I lean into a counter like the sink when I brush my teeth or do the dishes. I feel it now each day my belt is on for more than a few hours. I feel it when I have to pee so much my pants are a wee tight in the belly or when I eat too much. I feel it when I’ve just sat in a car or plane all day. The numbness is fading but a new part of my recovery is appearing. 

And. It feels like the most and least selfish thing to not want to know what this mother wants to say to me. I care for her. I care for her child. I hope this situation took away some pain and fear and sickness for both of them. I hope they are better. But, I know that if they aren’t that I did all that I could. 

But the thing that made this so easy for me to do was to focus on the little bit I could control. I could control my hydration. I could control my diet. I could control my schedule. I could not control my kidney function, my blood pressure, my disease risk or complications. I couldn’t control the success of the surgeons or the transport of my kidney to Atlanta. And being able to separate my focus in those ways helped me understand and control my thoughts and reactions. Because, after all, I was the focus. 

This isn’t to say I don’t feel stable about the outcome. Even if this person died or the kidney failed, I’d do it again. 

This isn’t to say I don’t care about this woman and her thoughts and feelings. 

I just care about me more. 

Right now anyway.

 

I prepared to die this year

I prepared to die this year. 

And my best friend was no where to be found. It’s something I haven’t really had time to grieve. Until today, I guess, when the memories, disappointments, fears, and angers came rushing toward me all at once. 

Of course, the chances that I would die were slim. But that didn’t stop me from carefully thinking through how to organize my life, my belongings, and prepare list after list for those I’d leave behind. 

I did all of this as calmly and as quietly as possible. When Jimmy wasn’t around, I made sure to stack clothes in the appropriate piles: one for women’s shelters, another for friends, and more for ranger caches and goodwill; it wasn’t obvious nor, were they in labeled containers. But, if you had a list after my death, you’d know what to do.  

Then there were the small containers under the bed I prepared  for my sister so she could have the last of daddy’s things. Another list was prepared for my books and my gear. 

It may have been cryptic, but it felt necessary given that my soon-to-be-husband wouldn’t have a clue how to deal with the more pressing tasks let alone this. 

It felt like it needed to be hidden. I didn’t need or want to scare anyone. My death was highly unlikely. But I couldn’t risk the additional pain my loved ones would feel having to decide what to do with meaningless items. 

Most days, I coped just fine. One list here or there. One item at a time. It wasn’t too much. But, there were times I did need a confidant. 

At first, my best friend’s chill attitude was refreshing. It made the tasks less scary. It made everything feel like it was spring cleaning or moving, and not my impending mortality. 

But as time progressed and I chose to eliminate things from my diet so I’d be less likely to die on the table from thin blood, she seemed to remember less and less what I was about to do. Her carelessness in asking if I’d like to go to drinks the night before surgery really stumped me. 

Could someone so close to me really care this little? Had she even heard all the times I talked about my preparations? 

But, in the interest of self-preservation, I ignored it. All of it. More than I dare to mention. This body, these organs, that kidney didn’t need a single extra ounce of stress. 

So, I ignored. As best I could anyway. But, as the days drew nearer and the carelessness grew, I couldn’t take it anymore. An out-lash of emotions drew me to cut ties and I uninvited her to the surgery waiting room – something I most desperately wanted since my husband’s family couldn’t be there to support him. 

And then she just said it. “It’s not a big deal. You’re probably not going to die.”

These were the first words to which I woke remembering after surgery. 

Instead of looking for my loving husband, instead of asking doctors if it went okay, I just cried and heaved and cried and said, “I’m so mad at her.” 

Being told I probably wasn’t going to die is high up on the list of most hurtful things ever said. And, while, she was right that I probably wouldn’t die, it was a big deal. It was a big fucking deal. 

I’m recovered now. The lists have been tossed. The piles disheveled. But those haunting words still linger each time my incision sites feel sore and I remember she was never around for any of it. 

I entered survival mode when I got the call there was a kidney match. I did everything I had to in order to be mentally prepared and calm. Then, my focus was entirely on my recovery and regaining my life with each new day of strength. 

Today, though, my brain has finally had a chance to stop and mourn the loss of that best friend. 

Cheers to the good times and here’s to working on letting you go. 

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Overqualified

CA932558-5F2F-46B0-ABC6-76043A08F335I got rejected, kindly at least, from a potential job recently due to being overqualified – even though my cover letter, note to the hiring official, interview, and references all proclaimed it was a job I could do and would do well. And, frankly, I’ve been over qualified for every job I’ve ever had. But this felt different. Perhaps because it falls on the heels of rejection after rejection for hundreds of jobs I’ve applied to in the last six months. Which, finally, brings me to some personal reflection. 

My life’s work, if you will (and we will because I’m the author here and I want to be melodramatic), has been to teach math. And “teach math” is something I’ve done and done well. For reasons not quite within my grasp, I realized is also something I’m done with. 

However, of the nearly 250 jobs I’ve applied to this year, 50 or so have been focused around teaching – things like student support, advising, or professional development. So, it begs the question: why? What is it about education that makes me want to stay near it, but at arm’s length? And, why am I asking that question now?

I think each of those have to do with the job that decided I was “overqualified.” It’s an amazing, non-profit organization, with incredibly successful statistics, in helping students graduate from college. And, despite losing an opportunity to work for them months ago (when they decided I was underqualifed for a position), I kept creeping on their website looking for more success stories and more job openings. 

You see, they don’t just help any student that wants to go to college – in fact, they start with those that probably don’t know college is an option. The group started years ago and targeted students in their middle school years that came from homes with drug use. They then give those students extra support and guidance throughout high school and college to ensure they are successful and feel, truly feel, the support that success entails. It’s amazing. And it’s a group I would financially support, that is, if I had any actual income of my own. 

But, I don’t. So, I applied to be their Office Manager – a job that doesn’t sound too glorious or as “prestigious” as college professor, but it was a job I truly wanted. It would enable me to help champion this organization and their students by providing what I believe is crucial clerical support in day-to-day and future operations. But, students? I wouldn’t have to deal with so much. It seemed perfect. But I had to desperately plea to get an interview since they saw multiple masters on my resume and nearly a decade of teaching experience. But, I got one and nailed it and slam dunked their little Excel test and my references knocked it out of the park. Their hang up – they still just didn’t “get” why an overqualified person like me wanted to sit at a desk and, moreover, they didn’t think I’d stay. While I wish this group all the success in the world, I still think they made the wrong choice. 

When the director called to let me know they had chosen someone else for the position, he was adamant that I’d be a good fit for the group and asked if I’d like my resume to be considered for any future openings working with students. My stomach sank, my face sneered, but my voice said “I’d consider it” all the while knowing that my take on the word “consider” is that to scream no you have to think about the question and therefore all things are “considered” (given this was my exact logic when a boyfriend once asked me if I’d consider marriage while I was still a year into my divorce process!) 

So, why? Why hold such high regard for this group and not have any excitement in working on the front lines for them? 

Because the front lines are exhausting. Because I’m exhausted. And because emotional labor is real. 

You see, I’m one of those students from a drug-ridden household where college didn’t seem like an option. And half a dozen college graduations later, I can tell you first hand that it’s hard. It is so unbearably hard. My alcohol-induced, ever so often fighting parents managed to burn down my house in elementary school. Their drug-ridden pasts appeared shortly thereafter when Hepatitis C appeared to flow rapid through every vein. Their care for my studies declined as their dependence on drugs, some prescription and some not, increased. Their colored pasts appeared right as my motivation faded away. I started failing math tests in fifth grade, then in sixth. I skipped recess to get berated by my teachers and told I’d never learn to divide. I struggled and fought. It took two years to win a battle with math. But by the ninth grade, I was nearly failing math again. By tenth grade I was sick of drug paraphernalia and late night parties not even being hid in the house anymore. I called the police. My parents were livid, mostly because they tossed the drugs down the toilet. I moved into a halfway house where kids go when they and their parents need to “cool off.” But I didn’t need cooling off, I needed a drug free house. My parent’s solution was to put me on anti-depressants. I tried to overdose, but failed at any real reaction. It was a fucking mess. Slowly, I realized school was the answer. School made me feel good. And I kept every bit of my home life a secret from school, advisors, and teachers. I went to community college that summer and each semester of eleventh grade to make up for my math deficiencies. And, I did. I graduated high school with a world renowned diploma and a year of college under my belt. But I did so living on friend’s couches, sneaking into my boyfriend’s house late at night to shower, and sleeping on benches in parks instead of going home. The last semester of my senior year, I don’t think my parents ever noticed I had already moved out. I came home, time to time, to cook them dinner and clean the house – mostly to check they were still alive. Which was likely considered barely since drugs ravaged my mom and the hepatitis ravaged my dad. The next year, they divorced when my mom realized she couldn’t juice any more drug money from my disabled dad. I worked a few jobs and went to community college to help him pay the bills, but all he did was drain his retirement to buy drugs and new boobs for my mom. He wanted to die that year she finally left him, but he managed to depressingly hobble along another year before dying by suicide. I’d racked up my associate’s by then and got my bachelors a semester later. I started to realize school truly was the way to not be my parents and enrolled in graduate school and never looked back. 

Until now, I guess. Not really really look back anyway. I can roll these facts of my life off my tongue, or in this case through my thumbs as I type this on my phone. I do so easily. But the thought of being the “adult” on the other side of the desk to students just like me – it’s too much. I want the best for them, I really do. But I’m also selfish because I can’t keep giving myself to this profession. 

Emotional labor is one of the truest “buzz words” I have ever encountered. It was present every single time a student asked “but please, I need this” when they wanted a grade boost. It was present every time a coach said the same. It was present every time I saw a student not “reaching their potential.” I wanted to kick every one of them in their ass out in the hall. My heart broke every time a student’s heart did. And it seemed to break more with each one. Successes came, for sure, but not without hard work that never quite equaled the pain it took to get them all there. 

That’s not to say I didn’t love the job. It’s not to say I didn’t do good work or touch lives. I know I did and I know I did even when the outcomes weren’t favorable. But, I know I’m done. I won’t be a self-made martyr (because those are the worst kind, amiright?) Moreso, I’m not sure I can imagine my life outside trying to help students, even if just from the sidelines. I love students. I loved being one. And, I’m pretty sure it saved my life, multiple times. 

And so, I’m at a loss for moving forward. Each job these days finds me “overqualified” to be at arms length from the classroom and the unbearable toll it can take. I try my best to convey that I want their position, I’ll do the job well, and I want to be close to that world. But, nothing happens. My resumes get lost in the cloud of the internets. And not a goddamn one of these hiring officials reads the truth in my cover letters. Maybe enough beers will make me send them this instead. 

 

Can we just stop and be decent?

On my drive home, a person died tonight. A person with a family, maybe some good friends, probably a favorite story or two, maybe even a few gripes – a person just like you and me. It was, and is, sad. And I cried …and I’m still crying. 

I’ll bet that last dollar in my wallet that everyone reading this has either been in or knows someone who has been in an accident on the road. It’s horrible, even when you aren’t injured. And it’s horrible when you weren’t even there but you get the call about a friend. 

So, if we can all agree that it’s horrible, then can we also agree to show people respect as they sit on the side of the road? 

Tonight, as I hugged the twists and turns of a tiny rural two way backroad, I saw what I thought was some yahoo-kid playing with fireworks too early for the fourth of July, but as I slowed down waiting for a child running wild with lighters and fireworks, I realized it was a flare – followed by more flares and another turn revealed a firetruck completely angled in the way of my lane. I heard sirens in one of those curves somewhere behind me. I pulled onto the shoulder and stopped my car. Ahead of me, two cop cars whizzed past as deputies ran from their cars into the ditch where it was clear a body was down. A human body. 

The road ahead of me was a blind curve with double yellow striping and a few cars pulled over with people crying. They could have been witnesses or loved ones of that human lying there, being fiercely worked on in the ditch ahead. 

With no flaggers or safe passage forward, I turned off my car. I cried. I waited. I realized that whatever it was I was doing – it wasn’t more important than that human body lying in the ditch. 

Others, behind me, weren’t so observant. They whizzed over the double yellow, past the red and blue blinding lights and firetrucks, and barely skirted the danger of oncoming traffic. 

As a person laid in the ditch dying. 

I can’t imagine that something I’m doing in my life is worth driving past a scene in such a reckless manner where humans are desperately trying to save another human. 

I get it, people are busy and time is money. I delivered pizza – for tips and my livelihood- for nine years. Trust me, I get it. You’re tired and just want to be home. I drive nearly 1,000 miles a week on windy, western, mountain backroads in one sitting with the same album on repeat five times over. Trust me, I get it. 

But I also get human decency. 

Every time I see those lights or hear those sirens, I realize someone is having a worse day than me. And that person deserves the tiniest bit of respect I can give. So, I pull over and I wait. I don’t always do so patiently or without biting my fingers or staring at the clock playing scenarios of how late I’ll be. But I fucking wait. 

Tonight, I waited until it was safe and the first responders turned into road flaggers. And then I cried. Because those people helping me safely cross into the other lane, those people that made sure I could continue my journey home safely – they just lost that patient. But they had to get up out of the ditch and grab a stop sign so that us impatient drivers didn’t cause another wreck. So, I show them some fucking decency too as I nod my head and wave and give a “thank you” smile because I can’t imagine the night they’re having either. 0782FD54-A71D-4C0B-B985-2837BAD61B3E

It has to be said

I was honored to be asked to speak at an awards banquet at my old school. And I was fucking livid when the college president didn’t show up. So, on the heels of not enough sleep, too much driving, and what could be defined as heavy drinking, I wrote an op-ed to the local paper.

(For context, read a kind of terribly written piece on a recent vote of no-confidence in the college president: https://www.craigdailypress.com/news/colorado-northwestern-community-college-president-faces-vote-of-no-confidence/ )

“What’s wrong with you?” A question I often wanted to ask the administration in the time I spent working for Colorado Northwestern Community College. Ultimately, I never hit “send,” not because I feared retaliation or being insubordinate, but because, while the administration was behaving unprofessionally, I felt two wrongs didn’t make a right. But now, as I sit in the sidelines, I can’t help but think it’s time to finally ask. 

I was disappointed when I read the Craig Press article that a vote of no-confidence of President Granger by a Moffat County Board failed. And, no, my disappointment wasn’t because the vote failed – it was because even after two years this President and his Cabinet have yet to find their stride. In his first year, the faculty discussed, at length, a no-confidence vote of their own. However, when the lines of communication opened slightly, the faculty gave benefit of the doubt and became hopeful that change would come. It appears they’re still waiting. 

If it appears I’m a disgruntled former employee, it’s because I am.  While I may have left the college, my dedication to young adults’ ability to obtain a well-rounded, quality higher education remains. The promise of community that’s used to lure students to CNCC is broken when a vision and presence by administration is repeatedly missing. While I maintain that these notions were hidden from students in my classroom, I also maintain that faculty successfully lead students in developing strong critical thinking skills; as such, students know when they see something is missing and the college is rife with disconnection.

While finger pointing and establishing blame are easy, so is loosing your footing when you constantly feel you’re treading water. What’s harder is swallowing pride when you know something’s not right, and so is stepping up and asking for discourse when you know you’ve made mistakes. I look forward to the Board’s continuance at applying pressure in constructing policies and visions that are mutually beneficial to CNCC and the counties in which it resides as well as Granger’s assertion to take these meetings constructively going forward. 

But that’s not enough. Students are called out when they don’t show up and they don’t put in the work – and Granger and his administration should be held accountable when they don’t show up or put in the work. Furthermore, presence and work can’t just be done in Board meetings or closed offices. That sense of community the college name implies must be seen in the front lines. Students, faculty, and staff must see a supportive administration walking campus, in the halls, in the crowds at a game, and at their special events. 

While integrity may very well be what one does when no one is looking, believe me that our students are always watching and it’s only a matter of time before one asks, “what’s wrong with you?”

 

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Yes, mornings are this challenging for me

I had an incredibly discouraging morning. I mean, I guess in some ways it was my fault – but I have this unbearable urge to share it with you anyway.

I just moved to a new city – how exciting, right? They’ve got three shops dedicated to donuts, seven small-time coffee shacks, and even a coffee chain that started right here in this very city. Mornings should be encouraging, delicious, and caffeinated! But, I also believe they should be stress-free (within reason) and sustainable too.

I tried going a new donut shop. But, I missed the turn (discouragement #1). I fashioned what may be a moving violation in this new state of mine and used a parking lot to get to the parallel road and made it to the shop! (Okay, maybe this is getting better, I thought.) As soon as I walk inside, I see locals are frequenting and I get immediately
nervous about the whole ordeal. (Honestly, I think the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld has scarred me for life.) “Hi. Good morning. A glazed and a sugar raised, please.” She didn’t know what I meant by sugar-raised and I have to point. Dammit. I knew this would happen – me, making mistakes in front of all these locals. I just want to fit in. 90 cents, she says. I’m confused at how cheap it is, but pay. Scramble to the car. There’s only one donut (discouragement # 2).

Now, I know you’re wondering why I’m telling you this. What could it possibly have to do with you? Well, I’m getting there. I just think you need the proper framing of my morning.

Now, I made it a goal of mine to go to any coffee shop other than your own. I need new experiences and to become a patron of local businesses, dammit! (A sentiment I hope you can understand, looking back on your own humble beginnings.) …but the donut shop ordeal really shook me a little. Plus, I never wash out my reusable mug and I’m not even sure what’s in it and if I go to one of those drive-thru coffee shacks I’m not sure they will rinse it for me – moreover, I’m not sure I want to ask them because I want to make a good first impression. So, I didn’t realize my goal (discouragement #3*, *because I should make more attainable goals) and I decided to go to you.

I waltzed right on into those double doors. The comfortable, familiar decor immediately easing my earlier tensions. I walked right on up to the counter, even made a funny face when I opened my reusable mug to find its contents incredibly displeasing, and before I could ask, the cashier offered to rinse my reusable mug. It was delightful, unassuming, and nonjudgmental. “Thank you,”I said to her and went on with my order.

And then it happened. The most discouraging part of my morning. My name was called, I stood up eager to finally be caffeinated and free from my groggy mind. And I saw it. The barista poured my drink FROM A ONE-TIME-USE CUP into my reusable mug and then she THREW AWAY THE CUP, after all, it’s called a one-time-use cup.

Let me be clear here. Yes, my nervousness about how gross and dirty I keep my reusable mug would have absolutely drawn me to decide to get a one-time-use cup from another coffee shop. But, I went to your store, specifically, because I didn’t want to make that waste and I felt okay with being a gross and dirty reusable mug owner at your store. BUT I AM NOT OKAY with your personnel USING A ONE-TIME-USE CUP FOR MY REUSABLE
MUG!

Just let that sink in.

Asinine isn’t even a strong enough word for this. It’s extremely ridiculous that an employee be allowed to waste a cup for a patron that’s trying to be more sustainable. Furthermore, I find your ten cent discount for such behavior egregiously belittling as I can now only assume it is a farce for encouraging conservation practices you can’t even follow.

Luckily, I have a chance for a better morning tomorrow. But you can bet your ass it won’t be at Starbucks. It’s time for me to fight my anxiety and be a local patron!

Just a little chaos

I had my first, real therapist in 2007. I mean “real” because she wasn’t one of those state-appointed people I had to see from domestic disputes gone awry. I sought her out myself for my own “big girl” problems.

I was just about to graduate with my bachelors. I was getting divorced. I’d cremated my dad a year before. I was twenty. Like just about every other time in my life, I sought the advice of my teachers for what to do. Kessel gave me a book and Bennett gave me a card.

The book had some long title, but the gist was about loss. I read it in two nights, finishing each exercise and “homework” assignment with more diligence than I ever actually did for Kessel. The book made me realize how much loss I was really experiencing and, though I’d experienced loss before, I hadn’t had it coming from all sides like this before. I realized school was ending and that was a loss in its own right. I realized that a year wasn’t enough to digest the loss of the only father I’d ever known – plus, I’d finally said goodbye to my toxic mother in that time; while that was a good thing, that was still a loss to reckon with since it meant a host of life events would have no parents to help guide my way. To that same tune, I left an emotionally abusive husband who constantly called me “gross and disgusting,” but it also meant I was losing my home, my dogs, my mode of transportation, my insurance, and, what felt the most damaging, the last of my pride. So, like I said, it came from all sides.

The card, I think it said Margaret, but she went by Peg. And she cursed more than I did. It was instant connection. I told the receptionist I was coming in for grief counseling, gave my husband’s insurance information (we weren’t divorced yet so I took all I could) and had my appointment the next week. Peg saw me in fifteen seconds – and told me that. Maybe she really did or maybe she has a damn good poker face, but she convinced me damn good. How do I know it took fifteen seconds? She told me so. I walked in her office, not sure where to sit, how to sit, or what to do with my damned hands. She read my intake file to me and told me to explain grief counseling. I told her my dad died. She asked a few questions. The clock said it only took ten minutes, but it felt like my whole life was spewed in those minutes. Then, she stopped me and said, “it took me fifteen seconds to realize you aren’t here for grief counseling. You’re here for life coaching.” And so it was. She didn’t leave me any room to argue. She emphatically told me that I was “healed from that dead father and childhood shit.” And so I was. She said what I needed was some direction. In my ten minute ramble of the session, I’d apparently spoken of all my schooling endeavors and she was convinced my childhood healing was due to the consistency school played in my life and I needed that now, maybe more than ever. But, I was graduating in a few days. Peg didn’t care. I wasn’t ready for math grad school just yet. Peg didn’t give a shit. “I don’t care what you enroll in, but you’re enrolling. That’s your homework. Come back next session with good news.” So, I did.

Since Peg didn’t care what I took and a woman at work was in what seemed like a pretty easy degree, I applied for a Masters in Higher Education. I enrolled for the next semester. I proudly went back to Peg with my completed homework assignment. Maybe she was proud. If she was, she surely didn’t show that card. She said, “good” and moved right along. She gave homework assignments at the end of every session. I did them all without question. And she never acknowledged that work. It made me work harder at my assignments.

I think it was the seventh session. She said, “now what are you going to do?” I didn’t know to what she referred. “You can’t afford me.” I stared blankly. That insurance I was using only paid for eight sessions. We talked, I guess. I’m not sure what about. I remember not having any idea how to answer her question.

My eighth and final session was cancelled at the last minute because something had come up with her kids. I never rescheduled. At first, I felt abandoned. Then I realized I felt lost. And, then, I remembered our first session. School. School would be my answer.

I have been enrolled in graduate school each and every semester since fall 2007. While it has caused numerous problems on its own, it’s been structure for me through all the other shit. It saw me through the loss of my therapist and all the things I had at that time. It gave me purpose when I got cheated on the first time and when a guy didn’t actually call me the next day and it was something to wake up for with every heart-break in-between. It was always there for me when some awkward conversation came up about what I was doing/did/was going to do whether that was some relative I never really talk to or some stranger at the bar. It gave me consistent chunks of time of my life to manage. Disaster could strike, but it would still be there. It could be a hard, seemingly malicious, relationship at times but I knew how to deal with it. I’d press on through every external event, just like Peg said, with a structure that had been with me my entire life. My entire life. (Save for that one semester I tried to take a break when my dad died and all I really had was a killer tan and a huge dent in my reading list.)

But, just last week, I officially quit grad school. There’s no semester to even finish. No last assignments. It’s done. I typed the words out of the very fingers that type this on my phone right now. There was no arguing. There was no pleading. Just a few short hours later, my decision was “respected.” And that was that. (Well, it is another blog post for another day.)

And here I am. I’m leaving my volunteer time with the National Park Service. More specifically, I’m leaving this new position I think I really like dealing with federal compliance and I’m leaving Death Valley. Sure, I’m going to a place that allows me to breathe through both my nostrils simultaneously (a distant memory only revitalized on weekends I leave the desert), but it’s a loss nonetheless.

And, it’s my first loss without my safety net. Come March 23ish, I’ll have said goodbye to every piece of structure I’ve had – some for a decade and some for just a few short months. I want to say I wish Peg were here. But, I think she is. Or at least the heart of her strategy. It’s not lost on me that she also gave me structure through my weekly assignments. And more so, it’s not lost on me that her intentional lack of praise to those assignments was exactly how life deals its cards.

Only this time, I guess its up to me to make my assignments.

Chosen

There is this moment that plays over and over in my head some days. I’m sitting at the kitchen bar/counter thing in my childhood home – and in these stupid barstools that I couldn’t stand, mostly because my mom wanted to paint our home in Denver Broncos colors (but, muted, of course because she wasn’t a real fan and the bright colors just wouldn’t “mesh”) and she never used the right kind of paint for the pleather and metal so it scratched your skin. It was summer, just before I was to turn 18, so of course I was wearing shorts and the painted fabric scratched me as I moved, nervous to ask my dad a question. (Well, my step-dad, but keep reading.) He was standing, which was a challenge at this point in his life because the hepatitis was really putting him through hell; well, that’s not really true, all the experimental trial drugs were. Anyway, he was standing to my right. I told him how sorry I was for being a complete brat when I was a child and refusing to let him adopt me despite him asking at three separate times throughout my life.

Flashback: I’m 11. Almost 12. (That’s important, but a different story.) A friend, Kera, from Winter Terrace (we lived on Summer) is FINALLY having a sleep over at my house. I was so excited her parents gave us permission for her to come to my place. We’re in my room doing whatever thing two 11 year olds do on a sleepover; I don’t remember. My parents are drunk, so the door’s closed. Nevermind that, my mom bursts it open, heaving from tears or shortness of breath, I don’t know. Her mascara is all over her face; it makes me hate make-up more. She slams the door shut behind her, sits on the floor, her back to the door. We’re trapped. She decides, in this moment, to tell me that she lied to me my entire life. My dad, the one that fathered me. She lied. He didn’t see me in the hospital room after I was born, barely step out of the hallway, and immediately turn around a leave. (Because, yes, that’s what she told me prior to this night.) No, that’s not what happened. It’s of note that at this point in the story Kera is literally crawling out my bedroom window, fleeing. (We never hung out again.) My mom, she uses this moment to tell me, “you’re the product of a one-night stand. I don’t know who your father is. There were too many for me to know.”

Flashback: I’m 15. My parents are fighting again. I blast Blink-182 in my room from my sweet, sticker-bombed-boombox that’s on the shelf above the freshwater fishtank in the cubby space made by my perpendicular bunkbeds. It’s Enema of the State, an album I bought three times because I kept thinking I lost it and just rebought it (and found it …every time …in the boombox). I was probably listening to “Aliens Exist” because that was my favorite song, but I’m not exactly sure. My mom storms into my room, but that’s easier to do these days since I never closed it and just had plastic hippie beads hanging from the door frame. (Mostly so my mom’s hair would get stuck when she walked through them because that entertained me ever so much.) She tells me we’re going to practice driving, which seems strange but I get up, get the keys, and get in the car anyway; I want to pass my driving class so badly so I can always leave this place. We drive a part of town that I’ve passed a lot as a kid, but it feels like I’d been there before. Like really been there. We park at some white and green house that might have been a trailer made to look more like a house. There’s a small, plastic pool you get at Walmart for fifteen bucks out front with slime showing where it was once full. She gets out and argues with some man at the door for a while. I stayed in the car.

Fast-forward: I’m sitting on the stoop of a portable at school right before my driving class begins. I’m going over and over this letter I stole from my mom’s makeup case. “Zero percent match,” it reads, or something like it. I had absolutely none of the same alleles in common with the man from the house with the pool. My mom? Turns out I wasn’t switched at birth like I had always dreamt. She was my biological mother. Damn.

Flashback: It’s somewhere between the last two stories when I work up the courage to tell my mom, yes, I will go in for the paternity test of this man, David, she thinks might be my father. We go sometime a few weeks later to a set of buildings that no longer exist. (I wonder if there’s some analog there. I’ll explore that another time.) They swab my mouth, and my mother’s. Apparently, a paternity test throws in a maternity test for free. Mother-daughter bonding? I think not. David, he goes at a different time to make sure there isn’t a crossing of paths mixed in with some domestic shouting, I’m sure.

Fast-forward: It’s somewhere between the last two stories when my mom comes to my room and calmly tells me the paternity test was inconclusive and we have to do it again. I tell her I’m so tired. So tired of all of it. Who is or isn’t my father. I’m tired. I don’t want to do it.

Fast-forward: I found the letter. It wasn’t inconclusive at all. It was THE most conclusive a test could ever be. That damned bitch lied to me, about my father, again. And again.

So, there I am, sitting in the scratchy chair. Apologizing for being so torn my entire life about the idea of a father. And, I ask him, for once and all – “would you adopt me before I turn 18?”

I see him beginning to cry and I start to cry. We are both so happy. He wants to, emphatically. It’s just a few short months until I’m an “adult,” so we need to work quickly.

Fast-forward: It’s a week later. For reasons I will never understand, my father let my mother back in the house. They sit me down at the exact same spot. My father standing to my right. My mother across the counter, staring right back at me. He tells me they have some news about the adoption. He doesn’t have that happy look anymore. And, she says, “I won’t allow it. I won’t let you have anything you want in this world, Jessica.” She leaves. Proud, even.

I’m dumbfounded, even though I shouldn’t be. He looks at me and makes me look at him when he knows all I want to do is stare at the ground or run away and not be here, in this moment any more than I have to and he says, “you’ll always be my daughter – no matter what your name is.”

Chosen

There is this moment that plays over and over in my head some days. I’m sitting at the kitchen bar/counter thing in my childhood home – and in these stupid barstools that I couldn’t stand, mostly because my mom wanted to paint our home in Denver Broncos colors (but, muted, of course because she wasn’t a real fan and the bright colors just wouldn’t “mesh”) and she never used the right kind of paint for the pleather and metal so it scratched your skin. It was summer, just before I was to turn 18, so of course I was wearing shorts and the painted fabric scratched me as I moved, nervous to ask my dad a question. (Well, my step-dad, but keep reading.) He was standing, which was a challenge at this point in his life because the hepatitis was really putting him through hell; well, that’s not really true, all the experimental trial drugs were. Anyway, he was standing to my right. I told him how sorry I was for being a complete brat when I was a child and refusing to let him adopt me despite him asking at three separate times throughout my life.

Flashback: I’m 11. Almost 12. (That’s important, but a different story.) A friend, Kera, from Winter Terrace (we lived on Summer) is FINALLY having a sleep over at my house. I was so excited her parents gave us permission for her to come to my place. We’re in my room doing whatever thing two 11 year olds do on a sleepover; I don’t remember. My parents are drunk, so the door’s closed. Nevermind that, my mom bursts it open, heaving from tears or shortness of breath, I don’t know. Her mascara is all over her face; it makes me hate make-up more. She slams the door shut behind her, sits on the floor, her back to the door. We’re trapped. She decides, in this moment, to tell me that she lied to me my entire life. My dad, the one that fathered me. She lied. He didn’t see me in the hospital room after I was born, barely step out of the hallway, and immediately turn around a leave. (Because, yes, that’s what she told me prior to this night.) No, that’s not what happened. It’s of note that at this point in the story Kera is literally crawling out my bedroom window, fleeing. (We never hung out again.) My mom, she uses this moment to tell me, “you’re the product of a one-night stand. I don’t know who your father is. There were too many for me to know.”

Flashback: I’m 15. My parents are fighting again. I blast Blink-182 in my room from my sweet, sticker-bombed-boombox that’s on the shelf above the freshwater fishtank in the cubby space made by my perpendicular bunkbeds. It’s Enema of the State, an album I bought three times because I kept thinking I lost it and just rebought it (and found it …every time …in the boombox). I was probably listening to “Aliens Exist” because that was my favorite song, but I’m not exactly sure. My mom storms into my room, but that’s easier to do these days since I never closed it and just had plastic hippie beads hanging from the door frame. (Mostly so my mom’s hair would get stuck when she walked through them because that entertained me ever so much.) She tells me we’re going to practice driving, which seems strange but I get up, get the keys, and get in the car anyway; I want to pass my driving class so badly so I can always leave this place. We drive a part of town that I’ve passed a lot as a kid, but it feels like I’d been there before. Like really been there. We park at some white and green house that might have been a trailer made to look more like a house. There’s a small, plastic pool you get at Walmart for fifteen bucks out front with slime showing where it was once full. She gets out and argues with some man at the door for a while. I stayed in the car.

Fast-forward: I’m sitting on the stoop of a portable at school right before my driving class begins. I’m going over and over this letter I stole from my mom’s makeup case. “Zero percent match,” it reads, or something like it. I had absolutely none of the same alleles in common with the man from the house with the pool. My mom? Turns out I wasn’t switched at birth like I had always dreamt. She was my biological mother. Damn.

Flashback: It’s somewhere between the last two stories when I work up the courage to tell my mom, yes, I will go in for the paternity test of this man, David, she thinks might be my father. We go sometime a few weeks later to a set of buildings that no longer exist. (I wonder if there’s some analog there. I’ll explore that another time.) They swab my mouth, and my mother’s. Apparently, a paternity test throws in a maternity test for free. Mother-daughter bonding? I think not. David, he goes at a different time to make sure there isn’t a crossing of paths mixed in with some domestic shouting, I’m sure.

Fast-forward: It’s somewhere between the last two stories when my mom comes to my room and calmly tells me the paternity test was inconclusive and we have to do it again. I tell her I’m so tired. So tired of all of it. Who is or isn’t my father. I’m tired. I don’t want to do it.

Fast-forward: I found the letter. It wasn’t inconclusive at all. It was THE most conclusive a test could ever be. That damned bitch lied to me, about my father, again. And again.

So, there I am, sitting in the scratchy chair. Apologizing for being so torn my entire life about the idea of a father. And, I ask him, for once and all – “would you adopt me before I turn 18?”

I see him beginning to cry and I start to cry. We are both so happy. He wants to, emphatically. It’s just a few short months until I’m an “adult,” so we need to work quickly.

Fast-forward: It’s a week later. For reasons I will never understand, my father let my mother back in the house. They sit me down at the exact same spot. My father standing to my right. My mother across the counter, staring right back at me. He tells me they have some news about the adoption. He doesn’t have that happy look anymore. And, she says, “I won’t allow it. I won’t let you have anything you want in this world, Jessica.” She leaves. Proud, even.

I’m dumbfounded, even though I shouldn’t be. He looks at me and makes me look at him when he knows all I want to do is stare at the ground or run away and not be here, in this moment any more than I have to and he says, “you’ll always be my daughter – no matter what your name is.”