Christopher

I always sleep with my phone on Do Not Disturb. Some days I wake up and there are 5 TikToks that one of my girls sent at 3 a.m., some days I wake up to a Land’s End email because once a year I buy a turtleneck for my mom, and one day in August of 2020 I woke up to news that Christopher had taken his life.

Christopher was the youngest of the three kids that I lived with when I was in high school. The night Christopher died, he was 21. I mean, legally an adult and able to drink, sure, but I get to still think of him as a kid, right? As having more life ahead of him than behind, as being capable of taking on the world and growing into a man? I kept thinking useless thoughts when I first found out like, “wow, I held him when he was a baby and now he’s gone.” I thought the other things you think when you know someone who dies of suicide. Shoulda called more, shoulda loved more, shoulda been more and saved more and forgave more and showed up more and.

Chris’ dad, Michael, called me a few days later and asked if I would officiate the service. While I am technically a registered-online reverend, my past few years with the church didn’t exactly make me feel like Officiating Material. But I love this family so deeply and have always marveled at how seamlessly they let me into their home and made it feel like my own. And I was a teenager at the time! Such a mess and always inviting my grungy friends over to eat all of their food and swim in their pool and jump on their trampoline and Michael and Hope just embraced this crew of theater kids and Christopher just joined in on our fun and our jokes and our bursts of energy and it was family when mine felt so far away.

So I recorded voice memos on my phone while I drove back to FL of what I would say. I thought a lot about suicide and the thousands and thousands of questions I had for Chris. I kept thinking of how much of a gaping hole a split-second decision in his life would leave in the forever of ours. I was pissed and sad and brutalized and wished I could grab him by the shoulders and shout some sense into him.

I called his friends while I drove and talked to them about Chris. They told me stories of an adult him I wouldn’t get the chance to know as well as they did.

I got to Orlando late the night before the service and turned my voice memos into typed words. I felt strongly at the time that I wanted to first and foremost honor Christopher’s life and not lean too far into how he died. So that’s what I wrote, that’s what I said, and that’s what’s down there.

In the months since, I’ve spoken a lot about how Chris died when I present for Everytown or when I talk about mental health awareness. I write a lot about it, too, ’cause the gaping hole when you lose someone to suicide isn’t one that easily mends.

But I think for now I want to keep honoring how he lived by showing off his grin and simply acknowledging how he died in the volunteer work I do, the conversations I have with loved ones, and this small little reminder that you’re all right and to trust me when I say the people in your life need you to make it to the other side of this split-second. And the next one.

Trust me, I promise, I know.

Continue reading →

february

My original plans for February 5th were ones I was so stoked for I had even gone so far as to excitedly share them with my best friend. I was going to go to EOD, have a few drinks, check out the food truck (tacos and tots?? OK I’M IN), grab a bottle of rum from the merch shop and come home to listen to one of the records she’d let me borrow. I pictured a relaxingly tipsy evening of rum and good music.

I ended up doing some of that but when I was heading home from EOD I got the urge to call my parents. See what they were up to. We ended up talking for a full hour, laughing and catching up and even talking about how we were really grateful that our core family of four — my parents, my brother and I — always told each other that we love each other. I can’t even remember a time where it was not the norm for us to go downstairs and say, “goodnight, I love you” before bed or to end phone calls with a love-you reminder.

And so of course that hour long phone call ended with three hearty and natural, “I love you”s and I went to sleep that night grateful for meaningful time with my parents.

The next morning, and in the days after, that gratitude for a phone call ending with an I love you deepened, morphed, took on new meaning, and became a pillar I leaned on and a well I returned to.

On Saturday morning, I was putting on my shoes and mentally debating between walking to Port City or Folks for breakfast. My right shoe was on and I noticed that my podcast had stopped playing. I peeped at my phone and saw an incoming call from Brother. Eric has never called me without warning before 9 a.m. on a Saturday. I knew it wasn’t good and as I paced around my apartment in only one shoe, my mind went into shock, my body went fetal, and my heart ached at Eric’s, “if he wakes up” and the idea of mom being alone drinking hospital coffee on an empty stomach.

I know for some of you reading this, you’ve heard me relive this morning from my perspective plenty of times — usually once I get one too many in my system and am weirdly transported to that grueling 9-hour drive and the mental gymnastics I did to not fixate on my fears. But what I imagine many of you don’t know is that in the days after my dad’s heart-attack, he asked me to write about it from his perspective.

I don’t think I have to spell out for you what a surreal experience it was for me to, within a few days, go from driving to Lakeland wondering if I’d be attending my father’s funeral that week, to being able to visit him in the hospital (masked, for a very limited amount of time), to him asking me to “ghostwrite” his past few days. I was touched that he asked, intimidated to get it right, and weirdly realizing how strange the term “ghostwrite” is when applied to writing on behalf of a family member who was near-death mere days before. I sat on my parent’s back porch, played my favorite lo-fi playlist, and wrote the below.

I’m tempted to edit it now; to revise it and make it less dramatic or more self-knowing of what the past few months since I wrote it have entailed. I mean this doesn’t even hint at the fact that Eric and I would be hugging dad at home in a couple days, that I’d get to spend the rest of the month in the house being a physical therapist and a food-pusher of more vegetables. It doesn’t include dad’s newfound love of grilled cheese, the hushed bed-picnic mom and I had while dad slept, or the sweet moments I got to witness between him and my mom in those early days of recovery. Those two are so in love.

But. This is how it felt then. And I don’t want to tamper with that. Because where we are today — with great news from the cardiologist, yesterday’s back alley bridge win, and several plans to travel in the coming months — where we are today is all the more incredible when I face where we were then. My one shoe, Eric’s hastened flight, Johanna’s voice of reason, mom’s bag of M&M’s, and dad’s hurting heart. We all get to be here today because this is where we were then.

So many of you have expressed such heartfelt concern and compassion over these last few days — for both me and my family — that I wanted to take a moment to not only say thank you but to share some of what happened for the curious minds.

On Saturday morning I woke up with some chest pains. After about a half hour or so of trying to rationalize the pain as something else, I woke up Cheryl and told her how severely I was hurting. Cheryl made the decision that I think in many ways is why I am still here to be able to share this news myself — she called for an ambulance. I’d be remiss if I didn’t stop here to say that if there’s any piece of advice for you all to take away from what happened it is to call an ambulance if you are ever (and I hope you’re not) in a similar situation to what Cheryl and I endured Saturday morning.

While I don’t remember much of the next few hours after the ambulance call, I’ll share pieces of what I recall and what I’ve been told. I remained stable during the drive to the hospital. However, shortly after I got into the emergency room, my heart stopped. I only vaguely remember what it all felt like, but the standout sensation was a total loss of senses, with hearing being the last to go. I could hear the doctors and nurses talking and working. I wanted to speak, to move, to breathe, but was incapable of any of that. I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that for those thirty minutes I was gone — after all it’s what several very serious and competent doctors and nurses have told me.

We’ve spent the last year of the pandemic heralding medical professionals around the world as heroic and I must say I didn’t expect to see that truth as up close as I did. But the team at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center truly and without any hesitation saved my life. For thirty minutes they tried with all they had to resuscitate me and bring me back to Cheryl. And miraculously, it worked. We owe that team our gratitude for life. In every sense of the word. 

After so long without oxygen going to my brain, the team was understandably concerned that there may have been some neurological effects. But I assure you, I’m still in here and my inclination for great friends, great times, and great lighting is still very much intact. 

As of this writing, I have received three stents in my heart and am recovering nicely. I spent a few days in the Intensive Care Unit and Cheryl, Eric, and Katie have all been able to visit. I even got to watch the first half of the Super Bowl on Sunday. There is plenty of recovery up ahead but I know that I am deeply lucky to still be here today — to be able to plan for a tomorrow is a gift I do not take for granted. 

Thank you all for the kind messages, phone calls, for caring for my family as they have navigated an incredibly strange and hard week. We are so grateful and feel so blessed to be surrounded by such loving family and friends. I look forward to seeing you soon. 

On behalf of the family, we would like to personally thank — Dr. Zia Rab (my cardiologist); Dr. Aung Naing (my critical care pulmonologist); Evelyn Martinez (the charge nurse); my SICU nurses, Jessica Tyson, Natalie Barr, Kassie Deluna, Naomi Parryn, Cindy Maxam; my Cath Lab team, Patsy LaPonsey, Ricky Hughes, Dianna Mendez, Joyl Turgeon; my nurse practitioner from Watson Clinic, Barb Donley; and the emergency room team.

I feel like it’s my turn to say thanks to my people. To say I was operating on autopilot would be a major understatement and I am so so so grateful for the people in my life who showed up during those bizarre and difficult few weeks.

Thank you to the friends who went above and beyond, the coworkers who took the meetings and tasks I couldn’t, and my parents for building the kind of family that always says I love you.

Anyway, I love you. Take care of yourself and probably go ahead and cut back on lunchmeat.

KTHX KBYE 2020

For what it’s worth, I don’t want to take THAT much with me, anyway.

Just a few things.

The champagne bottle I didn’t know why I was packing in the first place. The way you squeezed my hand when in that one movie (that made me cry A LOT) the friends started talking up the main character’s writing skills. When I was crying on the floor and you paused cooking that really good pasta to kneel down with me. The moment “sipping rum” also became “dance-to-musical rum”. The way we both react every time Phantom Planet starts. The butterflies I got when I saw you’d left a cryptic voicemail. Gringos Locos on my beach towel as the best damn episodes of season three play. The way he insisted on taking the stairs instead of the ramp the last time I saw him. When you called to tell me the news. When I woke up to see you’d texted the news. When you texted me thinking I already knew the news. That fucking Brandi Carlile song. The way we ran around on the last night in Orlando. The tequila shots and the OKOKFINEIHADAFEWCIGARETTES at Ale House. Me finding out you referred to me as a, “once-in-a-lifetime-hire.” The time you FaceTimed me and I was thrilled to know exactly why. The way she chose me the night she didn’t get in. My ten pounds of free potatoes. The selfies all three of them sent with tears in their eyes, the “here’s to the next seven” card, and every single time they call late just to chat. The day we marched. The way she hugged me before I left that day and said I’d always be a part of their family. The day you braved The Things in Seuss. Trying to find the waterfall. The moment we found all the hidden white cheddar cheeto puffs. The way you had your arm around me when we watched the last episode of The Good Place. The way we snuck out of the lobby to get nachos and pina coladas without your mom even noticing. That stupid freaking country concert. Finding out you’d passed the test. The day we saw Barney. That first 80% week when I just sat outside all day and read. The gin night. Woof. All the days I woke up early to write. All the nights I stayed up late to write. The night you were having a great time. Our roadtrip to see them and our 5 hour virtual hangout when we?? started?? showing off all our books for no apparent reason??? The way she told the others about my gift. The freedom we felt running around on our tropical photoshoot. When you taught me how to wand my hair and use white eyeliner. The way I felt when you told me she’d said, “of course — we love Katie”. The way you both just let me be whatever I needed to be the day I found out. The chills I got when I saw what you’d sent. The ways they swooped in. The way she said, “is now the time I remind you that you have a mental disorder that makes you fixate on things?” in SUCH a savage way that I only loved her more. When she venmo’ed her to make sure I had tacos that day. The way you asked for a picture of me in my construction garb. The conversation where I knew had momentum toward something big. The power hour pool day I’ll never remember the details of. The shark attacks. When I made Lin grin. When I saw Barack speak. When I did the damn thing. “Is this fun.?” The days we biked. The days we parked. The days we front porched. The absolute joy of the day we rediscovered Moe’s. The, “wanna just hop in my WebEx?”es and the, “I’m free if you wanna call and vent”s. The time Hrishi unexpectedly was on ReplyAll and I couldn’t stop smiling about it. The drum circle in the park. The time you made eye contact and mouthed, “you OK?” when I was tidying up our table. The absolute freaking bliss we felt observing the older woman hit on the guitarist. The lady that practically collapsed with joy right in front of us. The couple that made small talk with us by the tree while their kid played. The way we danced at midnight on your birthday. “to katie with shingles” Getting letters in your handwriting. When she wrote to me about why she chose my name. The ways they learned me and learned how to love me and didn’t even make it seem like that hard of work. The way we figured it out. The way we didn’t let it slow us down. The way we decided we’d take it in stride, be for each other no matter what, and find any way possible to keep each other close.

Oh, and Succession. Dang that show is good.

Happy New Year.

Ketchup Residue

Every time I think about writing this one, I talk myself out of it because I know just writing again, just posting this to a blog another version of me wrote on, just coming out and saying something again after so long not — I know none of that actually changes anything. 

I used to be so certain that my words and my willingness to share them would change things. That Johnny Finkle would make people laugh, that I could share my hard-earned wisdom through Dolores, that the blogs I wrote about Jesus would resonate, that the features I wrote would honor, that somehow this thing I started doing with gel pens in the second grade could help someone somewhere.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ketchup residue lately. 

And by lately, I mean every night right before I fall asleep since quarantine started. My mind wanders to that little bit of ketchup that stays on the rim of the bottle and hardens if you don’t clean it up.

I hate ketchup residue. 

It is one of the small things my OCD-riddled mind has to constantly find a way to stop concerning itself with, especially right before I fall asleep. I know the residue is there, I know one more day not dealing with it will mean one more day worrying about it, but I also know it’s not really the ketchup residue I’m super concerned about. 

It’s all this. I mean, surely, you’ve noticed all this, right? I want all this to be as in my control as the ketchup residue is and it isn’t. ‘Cause if it was you better believe I’d get up and clean that fucking ketchup bottle. 

In three months I’ve lost three loved ones to some form of suicide. One was a years-long process of giving up on life, one was an oft-resisted urge caused by mental illness, and one was, as far as I can tell, a tragically-followed, spontaneous impulse. Three people who I had known and loved throughout most of my life decided — in different ways and with different sets of circumstances and with different time elapsed between decision and action — it was too much. And they decided to go.

Anyone grieving suicide, I have to imagine, has that same guttural instinct right out of the gate that there was something they could have done. I had forgotten to text her this Mother’s Day like I usually do. I definitely could have kept up more after I moved out. I can’t actually remember if I sent a thank you card or not. 

The guilt feels noble enough, I s’pose, but it’s actually more this thing that we do in lots of areas of life. Grasping for some semblance of control. Or, I don’t know, it is for me at least.

Because if it was something I actually did wrong, I can make sure I never ever do it again. If it was my fault, I can take the blame and the rest of you can move along. If it was on me, I can make the adjustment and you’ll want me around again, right? If it was my mere existence that caused this, my absence would surely fix it, so, I’ll leave you all be. I gotta believe if I had done things differently, this would have gone differently, so I will always always always make sure I do things differently. 

I’ll do all the right precautions and then no one I know will get sick. I’ll listen to all the right podcasts, read the right books, sign the right petitions, attend the right rallies — c’mon, I can stop this injustice, I know I can. Put me in, coach. 

On the day of the third suicide, before I’d known it happened, I was training to make phone calls with an organization that fights for gun control. Mere hours after someone I loved took their life with a gun. 

I don’t really have a point for that one, I suppose it’s just something I’m attempting to find meaning in.

I crave control. If I am in control, so my mind thinks, we might all just end up OK, so I better do these little tasks and get that glorious hit of feeling in control.

I am absolutely addicted to cleaning the ketchup bottle and, as of yet, doing so isn’t fixing a single damn thing. 

So. Here’s what I have a feeling may be true and what I will do my best to believe as I fall asleep tonight. 

My sphere of control is incredibly, ridiculously small. And that is very good news. For me, for you, for him, for her, for them. I couldn’t have stopped those suicides. I cannot end this pandemic (though, I did wish for it every time I blew out candles last week). Things are so ludicrously out of my control and that is so freeing I quite literally just felt my shoulders relax. 

For some of you, this is far from brand new information. And to you I’d say congratulations on being born with logic. I hope you enjoy the money you save on therapy and prescribed medication.

I, however, just learned a year ago that I don’t cause national tragedies with my mind. Magical thinking is a hell of a thing and logic very rarely comes easily to me.

Here’s what is in my itty bitty sphere of control. My own willingness to wear a mask, my ability to hire Black writers, my time calling voters, my time voting, my overly verbose words of encouragement when I think someone could use them, my healthy decision-making, my presence, my empathy, my turns-of-phrase, my ins-on-the-jokes, my words, my love, my hope, my understanding, my celebrating. I can do all those. And I’d like to.

Perhaps my little sphere of control has an even more minuscule sphere of influence. I’m not sure. But on the off-chance something that is in my control can make even one single part of all this just a little bit lighter for literally one someone else?

Yeah, I’m gonna clean the ketchup bottle. I know there’s more residue coming, but, for now, maybe a clean ketchup bottle is just what we need to have something to be grateful for before sleep.

Repulsive

I sat in my car for about 20 minutes and tried to think of all the best excuses I could. And all of the ones that I thought up would’ve worked really well on everyone involved except for me and I knew it and I knew that’s why I would suck it up and do it. Because if there’s one thing that’s gonna drive me somewhere I really don’t want to go, it’s the voice in my head saying “You really can’t hack this? You’re really that fragile?” Continue reading →