Real Life Lessons from Science Fiction

I desperately needed a night of deep relaxation and reflection. A friend and I went to the dispensary to help relieve the tension. On the walk home, I was saying how lucky we are to walk into a store and walk out with bags full of marijuana, even with his fake looking North Carolina ID.

Just a minute after saying “I love LA,” I screamed in panic. My PTSD sent an army of electrical impulses through my body with the message, “SOMETHING IS TRYING TO FUCKING KILL YOU.” This time, it was this tiny little dog that came out of nowhere and started barking at us. Still shaking a few houses down I almost jumped again at the sight of this old woman wearing a nightcap and gown, staring at us while she smoked her cigarette. I fought myself from screaming because I didn’t want to offend her. Then my friend jumped and said “OH MY GOD!…WHY?!” We started cracking up. “We aren’t even high yet and already we’re in the Twilight Zone,” I said.

We took some edibles and started searching for something to watch. I told him I wanted to watch some science fiction that makes you rethink your purpose in life. Finally, we stumbled upon this show, called Electric Dreams, based upon Philip K. Dick’s stories. Other film adaptations of his writing include Total Recall and Blade Runner. We knew we made the right choice after the opening, which shows trippy images such as a flying robot stingray and a pregnant man. The high commenced and we started to sink into the couch. Feeling detached from our bodies, our consciousness stared at the screen, our minds wide open to the universe’s messages.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams Poster

The first episode, “Real Life”, is broadly based on Dick’s short story Exhibit Piece, which begs the question what is reality? “Real Life” imparts a lesson much deeper and more personal than I was mentally prepared for.

The episode has you trying to figure out which character is real and who is a subconscious creation stemmed from a new virtual reality device, which allows you to “vacation” from your troubles. In one reality, Sarah, played by Anna Paquin, is a lesbian supercop suffering from PTSD ever since her colleague was killed. In the other reality, George, brilliantly portrayed by Terrence Howard, is also tormented by trauma and sorrow after the brutal murder of his wife.

The show was only 50 minutes but it felt like hours we were consumed by attempts to differentiate reality from delusion. George and Sarah both doubt their realities and start to wonder if the “vacation” is real life. When Sarah’s girlfriend starts talking about guilt and what she thinks she deserves, I said “Oh God, are they really going there. Is this going to be about self-abuse and victim mentality? I just can’t handle that right now.” Then Sarah lays down and slowly puts on the virtual reality device. I start to cry somewhere deep inside.

“Is she gonna off herself?” my friend says in an overdramatic voice, “What the hell is going on?!”

I pretend to scream, “I don’t know what’s real anymore!”

*Spoilers Ahead*

We then find out George was having an affair on his wife when she was murdered, and therefore decides to destroy the headset that would allow him to go into his virtual reality. He says he deserves to be punished. After he crushes the headset, the screen shows Sarah flatlining in a hospital. In the alternate reality, she justified her guilt by making up the affair. Her girlfriend says,

“We all want to be punished, even if our sins don’t exist.”

Suddenly I felt overcome with guilt for my guilt. We all do this to some extent, some more than others. This message has been coming to me in many forms lately, STOP PUNISHING YOURSELF. I have suffered countless traumas in my life, but THEY ARE OVER. No one is hurting me now, no one but myself. I survived those voices telling me I’m not worth the air I breathe, and I escaped them, but they follow me, and now those voices have become my own.

I have this overwhelming fear that things will never get better, that others will always sore above me and leave me rotting in ashes.

The only one who wants me to fail is me. I am getting what I think I deserve.

I do deserve happiness. I deserve success, I deserve to reach my highest potential. I deserve to be recognized for my attributes. I deserve love, true love. I deserve to be loved the way I love others, with my entire being. I deserve a family, a family who deserves me. I deserve wealth and I deserve my health.

We always make things so complicated. We make excuses for our failure, “It’s because I have no money, it’s because I have no support. I can’t do that until this happens.”

All you need to get what you deserve is truly believe you deserve it. The virtual reality system in “Real Life” is a symbol for the power of the mind.

So push every negative thought out, let go of every lie you’ve been told about yourself and continue to tell:

You can’t.

You aren’t.

You won’t.

And replace it with the truth:

You can

You are.

You will.

Because they are the things holding you back, more than society, inequality, your health, or your finances. They and they alone are what divides you from your destiny. They are what will destroy you if you give them that power.

You are your worst enemy, you are the only one holding you captive from your dreams, from living a life you a proud of. The life you deserve.

“Hope is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all -”

-Emily Dickinson

 

Going Out West II: What Happened in Vegas

We didn’t make it to our campsite in Yellowstone National Park, since we were in South Dakota at dusk. Nothing was going quite as I had planned, but Ari and I were enjoying the views. The enchanting mountains, the endless green, the eerie isolation. We had made it to the majestic west. People travel thousands of miles here, just to take a deeper look inside themselves.

The charcoal sky and the monstrous mountains were battling for the title of most terrifyingly beautiful. The roads kept winding and climbing, chasing those mountains. My fingers were clenched tight around the wheel for the first few hours, but slowly loosened as I got comfortable driving on the edge of obliteration.

We stopped at an overlook in Big Horn National Forest. I stood right on the edge of oblivion. I’ve never stood so high, one step away from falling so far. Gazing into the abyss of what could have been if I never left New York.

When we arrived in Yellowstone, they handed us pamphlets on what to do in bear encounters. Bison and elk roamed the meadows on either side of the road. We had traveled back in time, to the age before humans had conquered, where nature ruled. I’d never been so immersed in the wild, so close to peace. The silence was healing, hypnotizing.

“I thought hot springs were supposed to be hot?” I said when we got out of the car. It was freezing, and of course I had thrown out all of my winter coats since I wouldn’t need them in California. I definitely didn’t think I’d need them in July, but I guess I had forgotten that lesson in elementary school about colder temperatures in higher elevations. Neither of us had ever been above 4,000 feet, we were now above 7,000.

Little did I know, the hot springs were incredibly hot, so hot they could melt through your boots, your skin, and your bones. The first place we stopped, Norris Geyser Basin, was home to the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Yellowstone, 459°F. We trekked along the boardwalk, over electric blue springs, completely ignorant of their deathly properties. The sulfur reeking air hissed out a warning, but we did not listen.

There were signs everywhere warning you to stay on the trail. The hydrothermal features make the earth very thin. Many people have broken through the ground and fallen into the boiling springs below. I had no idea the earth you walk on, the foundation that everything lies on, could be so fragile. Its dangers where what made it so alluring. Surrender all your power, your need for control, you have no authority here.

The more I learned, the more I realized I knew nothing.

Norris Basin Geyser, July 2015

Due to the rain, and possible snow, we could not camp the second night I had booked either. Finding a hotel proved rather difficult since the whole park was a dead zone for cell signal. We stopped at a lodge to grab lunch and ask the staff for help. The woman at the front desk gave us a map, and highlighted directions to towns in Idaho and Montana that might have hotels.

At the lodge, there was one bar of signal that would come and go but it was enough for Ari to receive crazy messages from her boyfriend. He did not believe that we had no service and accused her of cheating on him and hanging out with guys, when I was the only person Ari had spoken to in days.

The sky won the war for most terrifying beauty and overcame the mountains. Blackness covered everything. Every now and then you’d see the silhouette of a giant off in the distance. Besides that, all you could see was the road as far as your headlights could stretch, bending and twisting around darkness. You had no idea what the darkness held, but you assumed it was eternal voids. One mistake, and you’d fall forever.  

I thought to myself, how could such a wondrous place, feel, look, and smell so much like hell?

My body had been pooling with anxiety since Minnesota, which was now starting to overflow. We made it to Montana and parked outside a tavern, which looked straight out of the wild west, to try to find a hotel. We called several which were booked, but finally we found one. In the morning we drove on the same road as the night before, mocking it for failing to defeat us. The snow-capped mountains mocked us back, for our utter ignorance.

We drove through Yellowstone one last time. We stopped just in time to see Old Faithful erupt. It was incredible, but we were too overwhelmed with stimulation to fully appreciate it. Then we left this mystical place and continued our journey, through the Tetons, over the continental divide, to Colorado. Rising and falling, rising and falling. My car started to shake whenever I hit the brakes. I called my mechanic back in New York, and he taught me about low gear, so I didn’t have to be so heavy on the brakes. The mountains humbled me.

I had booked a campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park for the next two nights, but because of my brakes, we were afraid to make that trip. Instead, we stayed with my good friend from college and his girlfriend. Ari had been fighting with her boyfriend since Wyoming, so she didn’t mention we were staying at a guy’s house.

We had finally caught up with my original itinerary when we made it to our appointment to go white water rafting. I was excited for the level five rapids, but since it was summer they were only level three. Ari loved it, but I longed for a greater risk.

Next, we headed to Utah, my car trembled with every tap of the brakes. I was felt disoriented from being so high for so many days, and not just on the recreational Colorado weed, but on the mountain roads which kinked and curled in an attempt to kiss the sky, who kept turning her face away.

The blue and green mountains faded into the red and brown desert. We had left earth and traveled to another planet, certain that aliens hid behind the sandstone asteroids. We took a short detour to see Arches National Park, but couldn’t get close to the sandstone formations because we were short on time. We had to rush to Las Vegas to meet another one of my friends from college who was driving from LA to meet us.

We finally made it to Vegas at about 10 pm and met up with my friend, Fluffy. I got a nice suite for the three of us at the Venetian; I thought it would be a relief after four nights of camping. As soon as we got into the room, I popped open a bottle of wine and announced, “I’m getting shitfaced! It’s the last night of my road trip, and I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’m getting wasted!”

Ari was not allowed to drink. On her birthday, a guy spoke to her and she laughed. Her “friend” pointed this out to her incredibly insecure boyfriend, so he forbade her from drinking. I told her if she wanted to stay in the room she could, since Fluffy and I would be heavily drinking all night, but she decided to come.

When we walked out of the hotel, we saw a gondola in the canal. I started singing in Italian to the driver, and he yelled back at me “You’ve got a job here!” My anxiety had escaped me. I was free at last.

We took a cab to Fremont street and walked around, the neon lights danced around us, casting their spells. Everywhere we looked we saw dazzling busts of picturesque women. Everyone had a role in the show, we played our parts as well. Fluffy and I both chugged drinks which were half our size in sync, then went to the bathroom and puked, also in sync.

We met a bunch of really cool people at this one bar. Among them an Amy Winehouse look-alike and her gay best friend who were high on cocaine, and a couple of wild Australian boys. One of them was trying so hard to get with me. He was not cute at all, he was scrawny and short, with big bushy eyebrows and bucked teeth. He called himself the “Plumbdog Millionaire” because he was a plumber but said he made really good money. I kept laughing at him but resisting his advances. Fluffy said, “You can fuck him if you want to.”

I said, “I don’t!” Then I thought, do I? After all, this is Vegas.

The six of us were sitting on the floor playing Giant Jenga, and Ari was sitting at a table by herself, text-fighting her boyfriend. Plumdog wanted to buy me a drink so we went inside and got a drink, then took a pic in the photo booth. He looked at it and said, “It looks like we’re in love.”  When we went back outside, Ari was gone. I asked Fluffy where she went but he said he didn’t know. I called her several times but she didn’t answer.

We stayed at that bar until they kicked us out at dawn, then went back to Caesar’s where the Aussies were staying. In the cab, Plumbdog was confessing his love for me. He goes, “Who has a ring?” My best friend had left her engagement ring in my car the day before I left for my trip. I had been taking pictures of it everywhere I went, so I had it in my purse. I gave it to him and he proposed and put it on my finger.

Fluffy and Plumbdog’s friend were having a blast together. They were running around the hotel in their underwear. One of the employees stopped them, “You can’t do that here.”

Fluffy told her, “WE JUST WANNA HAVE FUN!” and she just walked away and let them continue.

Plumbdog and I were making out all the way to the room. He started to whip his dick out right there in the casino and I tried to put it back in his pants, but it looked like I was jacking him off, but no one seemed to notice or care.  I love Vegas.

When we got to the elevator he lifted me up and pressed me against the wall. His cock was already out, I lifted up my skirt and slipped him inside me. A few seconds later the elevator bell dinged, and we scurried to act normal before the door opened. No one came in, so he lifted me up fucked me, until the bell rang, and again no one was there. “Maybe we should just wait until we get to the room, but I think we can both check elevator sex off our bucket lists,” I say.

Art by Kim Kyne

When we got to the hotel, his mate was sleeping in there. So we filled up the jacuzzi tub and fucked in there. From what I remember, the jacuzzi sex was just as bad as the elevator sex.

I slept for maybe an hour and woke up from my Vegas dream in a panic. My phone was dead so I charged it. As soon as it turned on, it blew up with angry messages from Ari asking where I was, and from her friends saying I left her alone in Vegas. As I remember it, she left me, but she said she thought I had left when I went inside to get a drink, although Fluffy was right there. If she had told me she had to go or answered my calls, I would have given her a hotel key and called her a cab, but she didn’t. She walked back to the Venetian by herself and slept outside the room. We did not sleep in any of the hotels or campsites I booked for the entire trip. If I couldn’t even plan a road trip, how the hell was I going to pull off uprooting my life from one side of the country to the other? I felt like a failure.

I asked Plumbdog’s friend where Fluffy was and he said he was down by the pool. I found him asleep halfway in the pool, the other half incredibly sunburnt. I warned him that Ari was pissed and he was about to face some awkwardness. He tried to comfort me, saying “She shouldn’t be pissed, she left us. Don’t feel guilty because you wanted to have a good time.”

We got back to the room and found Ari waiting outside. She didn’t even want to talk to me. She told me she booked a flight from Vegas and was going home today. I would have to do the rest of the trip alone. I felt sick to my stomach, not just because of the liquor, but because I was boiling over with anxiety.

I felt like everyone hated me, most of all I hated myself. Not only was my best friend pissed at me, but her family and friends thought I left her alone in Vegas to go fuck some stranger. I know I’m not perfect, but I thought I was better than this. I’ll admit, I have gotten blackout drunk before and left my friends to go fuck a guy, but that wasn’t me anymore.

What was I supposed to do? Walk around looking for her? Go back to the hotel, wait for her, and let some man I hardly know dictate my life? I still felt like a piece of shit, like a whore, like a no good friend. I started to regret everything. “I should have never left New York. I can’t do this.” I told myself.

I had come so far to escape my problems, but I couldn’t escape myself.  

Ari and I stood in silence, waiting for the valet to bring my car around. I stared at the mural on the ceiling because I could not look at her. Every now and then a mist would come down on me, providing absolutely no relief from the hundred and something degree heat. She said she didn’t want a ride to the airport, so I hugged her goodbye, got in my car, and drove away, never looking back.

The last four hour stretch of the road trip felt the longest. Either vomit or a panic attack was seeping up my esophagus, about to erupt like a geyser. I pushed it down, along with a billion doubts that kept popping up. What was I going to do? How was I going to pull this off? I’m jobless. I’m homeless. I’m worthless. Should I just turn around now?

I saw the “Welcome to California” sign and momentarily forgot my misery. I cheered, “I made it! I’m here! Home at last!” I was mesmerized by the Mojave desert. My first California sunset was over these magnificent trees I later found out were all named Joshua. At last, I had made it to Los Angeles. My road trip was completed, but my journey had just begun.

“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.”-Wallace Stegner

Afterward:

Ari wrote me when she got home and apologized. She said she knew she made a mistake as soon as she boarded her plane. I apologized to her as well and we are best friends to this day. I guess her boyfriend told her if she didn’t leave the bar that night, and if she didn’t fly back home the next day he’d break up with her. I’ve dated guys like that, so I understood she was being manipulated. Even the strongest, smartest women can fall prey to animals like him. They broke up a few months later after she found out he was cheating on her.

As far as Plumbdog goes, we met up again in Venice Beach. We had regular bed sex this time, and it was also horrible.

Going Out West: World Class White Trash

“You’re gonna die!” Grandma yells. “It’s too dangerous! Two girls, alone on the road?!” She gets upset often these days. “Why?! Why do you have to go?!”

“We’re going to see so many incredible things.” I try to reassure her. “A cross-country road trip, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

“Yeah, I took a road trip to California. I came back with five kids! Why can’t you just watch TV like everyone else?…Ariana! Why?! Ariana! Ariana! Please.” She pleads.

I planned this trip for months. I booked every hotel and campsite along the way months in advance, but I waited until the last minute to pack everything I owned into my car. Eventually, the car filled up, and I had to decide what I had to leave behind, which it turns out is quite mental breakdown provoking at two in the morning when you have to leave at five in the morning to keep your itinerary.

We left as dawn broke and drove all day through western New York and Ohio. Our first stop was Chicago, an enchanting city, filled with artists and creatives. We stopped for Chicago style pizza. While we were waiting, this good-looking gentleman said hi to me. I looked around to see who he was talking to, and after I realized it was me, I pretended I didn’t hear him. I didn’t know what else to do, I was not used to strangers small talking with me. We’re not in New York anymore, I thought.

It was late when we left Chicago, the trains were sneakily trying to hum us to sleep. We still had a couple hundred miles before we got to our hotel. I guess I figured we would make better time. I forgot that we both drink a gallon of water a day, and didn’t account for neither of us sleeping the night before. We took caffeine pills, but they didn’t help.

I have serious trust issues and a paranoia of people falling asleep while driving. My ex would literally be snoring while driving my car, perfectly in the lines I might add! I’d yell “Wake up!” He’d open his eyes and say “I wasn’t sleeping!” I was hanging over the edge of my seat, staring at Ari. She goes, “What are you doing? Stop looking at me like that! You’re freaking me out! I’m fine!”

Eventually, we gave up and got a hotel still about two hours from the hotel I had already booked. We did get a nice suite for cheap since it was the only thing available. We awoke to the smell of hay somewhere in Wisconsin. We were behind schedule so we were now in rush mode, which we were already in being New Yorkers.

Somewhere in Minnesota, 2015

We drove what felt like a week itself through nothing but corn, cows, windmills, and more corn. The panic kicked in somehwere around Minesota. My mind raced around in circles, like a tornado it picked up every negative thought and bounced it around my head. What the fuck did I just do? I quit my jobs. I left my home, my family, my friends. I’m homeless. I’m unemployed. I’m fucked. Miles and miles of nothing. All that unused space made me nervous. The road kept going on forever and nothing ever changed! The road never turned, it just kept on going, straight into forever. I could see a storm forming hundreds of miles ahead, it gave us hours to anticipate it. What would it be like when we got there? Would we make it out the other end of that storm? …Or get lost in the tornado of our minds?

Ari loved it, said it was her favorite state. Ari and I have always been opposites in a lot of ways, but we also have a lot in common. A mutual friend, Nikki, introduced us when she was 10 and I was 12. All three of us had tragic childhoods in different ways. Ari and I never met our dads, and Nikki’s dad sexually abused her. We all shared stories of CPS and police at our houses every other week.

All three of us lacked supervision. We would always sneak out, and get high and drunk. Ari never drank or got high, but never judged us. She promised her mother, who passed away when Ari was only 13, that she would never do drugs, and she kept her promise. I’m sure it was especially hard since so it seemed everyone she looked up to was an addict. Even as a teenager she upheld a strong moral code, and displayed extreme discipline. I always admired her for that.

After her mother passed away, she lived with her stepdad, who didn’t know how to be an authority figure, her older brother, who never left his room, her older sister, who was never home, and her two younger sisters, who argued constantly. A few years later, when Ari and her two younger sisters moved in with their grandmother, Ari was left to move a five-bedroom house alone. In her brother’s room, she found mounds of clothes, dishes, and when she opened a perfume box, she found over a dozen used heroin needles.

Living with Grandma had its own set of challenges, but Ari appreciated the little comforts Grandma did provide, like food on the table every night. Her stepfather spent his money supporting Ari’s Godmother’s heroin addiction.

Ari and I had weird things in common like our mothers had the same first and middle name, Sarah Elizabeth, and they were both nurses. Whenever I called Ari, Grandma became upset.

“Who is this?”

“Grandma, it’s Vera, is Ari home?”

“Who is this?! This is not funny! Why does it say Sarah Elizabeth? You’re not my daughter! My daughter’s dead! This is a nasty trick! Who is this!?”

Sometimes she wouldn’t answer and when Grandma called back, my mom would answer. The first time, my mom had no idea who it was and was very confused why a strange woman had called her just to yell at her. My mom was so sad when I told her it was Grandma, because the two of them had worked together for many years.

Once I came to pick Ari up, to get out of the house for a bit. Ari came outside and ran into my car, like she had just finished a heist and I was the getaway driver. I thought maybe she was running to escape the cold weather, but then Grandma came out after her, naked, screaming, “Ariana! Ariana! Get back here! You can’t leave me!” Her little sister came outside and tried to cover their grandma up with a towel.

By the age of 15, Ari was not only raising her two younger sisters but taking care of her grandmother as well. She cooked, cleaned, and tried to keep the girls in line and Grandma happy. She took care of everyone who was supposed to care for her, and she never complained.

Grandma had a decent amount of money, but they still struggled financially because her alcoholic son was stealing her checks. He was would pop in every now and then for food and beer, after hiding from the cops in the woods for days, and then disappear again. Ari’s uncle, aunt, and cousin lived with them for a while. One night, her uncle got so drunk he fell down. Ari and her aunt tried to sit him up, but he kept falling limp, so they left him there snoring away and went to bed. Ari woke up to her little sister and aunt panicking and crying, “He’s not breathing!” They tried to keep Grandma in her room and not tell her what was going on, but she barged past them and found her youngest son lying dead on the kitchen floor.

I watched as that little girl, selflessly surrendered her youth. We both grew up too fast. Even though she was younger than me, she became a woman before me. That girl was tough as nails, let me tell you. She put on a cold front, she didn’t let a lot of people in, but should she find you worthy, she shall be constant and faithful until you both fucking die. When no one, not even my own family, was there for me, she was. When I fucked up, she let me know, but she never left my side. That is one loyal bitch. She always seemed more confident than me. She was never afraid to speak her mind or be herself. As you may know, people don’t always like it when you are honest and true to yourself.

My ex never liked her. He’d say she was loud, obnoxious, and liked to gossip. He’d talk shit about all of her friends, how they were all dirtbags who lived in trailers. He’d call her trashy because of her tattoos and the “bitch” bumper sticker that was on her car when she was 17. One time she came over and there were some crumbs left where she was eating, so he started calling her a slob. I’d get so offended when he’d talk about her like that.

“You don’t even know her! She’s one of the best people I know! How can you judge someone based on such superficial, exterior shit?”

He’d say, “Why are you so mad, it’s not like I’m talking about you?”

“One, because she’s my best friend. One of my only friends. Two, you kind of are talking about me! I have tattoos, I’m a messy eater! I lived in a trailer! And I had a similar upbringing to her, when you call her trash, you’re calling me trash too, just like your mother.” His mother screamed at me, “Get out of my house! You’re fucking trash! White trash!” when we told her we were moving in together. She’s a real classy woman.

Everyone was getting under my skin with these labels. White trash. Trailer trash. Was I branded these labels at birth, and must wear them until death?

I stopped talking to Ari for a year because I wanted to dissociate from everyone who reminded me of who I was and where I came from.  I told myself I was ashamed of her when really I was ashamed of myself but too cowardly to face it. I convinced myself it didn’t happen, I was cured, that I wasn’t me, that I cleared the browsing history of my body, that I’d been born again as someone else, someone luckier. I thought if I just show up and play the part, pretend I’m poised and elegant. If I just douse myself with education and culture, they won’t notice the imposter in the room. But they always notice. The damage has been done, it’s hanging off my shoulders, busting through the seams of my dress. My trauma shines like a diamond at a crowded dinner party. You can hear it when I open my mouth, the way my voice trembles with doubt. Like hounds, they smell my fear. I don’t belong here, and everyone knows it.

I’ll never be like them, but I’m not total trash either. I am something entirely different, I am me. Ari is who she is. Take us or leave us, make no difference to us. At least for the time being, we get to decide who we want to be, no matter how much society tries to predetermine our destinies.

I felt bad instantly, my self-loathing had hurt someone else besides myself, someone who’s never done me wrong. It took me several months to swallow my pride and apologize. When I finally did, she acted like she wasn’t even phased and we took up right where we left off, as best friends do.

Ari was still taking care of the girls and Grandma, only now she was in another demanding relationship with a man, working, and studying criminal justice on top of it. Imagine you have a friend over your house, and when she walks in your grandmother is sitting there and suddenly starts screaming at you, or just calls your friend a whore.

Grandma only got worse over the years. She was able to do less and less for herself as her pain got worse. She relied on Ari for everything but treated her like the devil. If you’ve ever taken care of the elderly or worked with someone who has Alzheimer’s, you know this dynamic is common. It’s also not unusual that she would be screaming in agony for Ari to come help her because she can’t move one minute, and chasing her around the house with a broom the next.

Once she got in one of her moods, nothing could stop her. She would scream at the girls for hours. She would say horrible things to them, especially Ari. She would get in their faces, antagonizing them, “Come on, you piece of shit, hit me! I’ll call the cops on you!” She would tell Ari that no one liked her, and blame her for the death of her uncle.

They would hide from her in their rooms and Grandma would bang and kick the door until it opened. Another thing Ari and I had in common, there were always broken doors in our homes. If you’ve ever lived with an abuser, you can probably remember the custom doors in your homes too. You can imagine having to force them open because of the custom broken hinges. They’re decorated with personalized kicking holes. Sometimes they’re missing entirely because someone decided to rip it off and set it on fire.  

Ari was not allowed to have a life independent of Grandma, Grandma needed her all of the time. The rare times I did see her, I would go over and talk to Grandma too. She’d be super pleasant with me, until I’d say “We’ll be back soon.” Then she’d start screaming how Ari never does anything for her, how she hasn’t eaten for days (right after lunch), and list all of the things she needs right now. Before I knew it, I’d be hiding from a screaming Grandma trying to break the door down too! I’ve seen a lot of scary shit in my life, and I gotta say, Grandma on a bad day is easily in the top 10.

I watched that woman sacrifice her entire youth to take care of Grandma. Grandma gave up the freedom she had just attained after raising six kids for the rest of her life to care of her grandchildren without a second thought. Ari never doubted that she would take care of grandma as long as she possibly could. She never treated her task as a burden, though it certainly was. She just knew it was something she had to do, and she did it. Ari was 25 when it became too dangerous to keep Grandma home.

Everyone told her to do it sooner, to leave, to take care of herself.  I can’t imagine what living like that for all those years does to a person, being told you’re worthless so many times that you start to believe it. I don’t know a lot of people who would do half of what she did for those girls and for Grandma.

If that selfless woman, is what you consider trashy, then I’d be honored for you to call me that. But I can think of a lot of other things to call a woman of her caliber, besides white trash.

We finally caught up with the storm, it was all the way in the hills South Dakota. All that anxiety for nothing, the storm had already passed. The remnants of this particular storm were so unique. The road was just wet enough to reflect the sun’s last rays of the day, to savor the day’s warmth a little longer. We drove up into the hills and into the sunset. This road would take us to our futures, the road to liberation.  

We drove through a small mountain town, similar to the one in New York that we had left the day before. I was pumped full of caffeine and being goofy. I announced in a professional voice, “Welcome to Mount Rushmore, you’re about to have a patriotic experience which will change your life.” A few minutes later we saw a sign that said something to the same extent, and we couldn’t stop laughing.

Mount Rushmore, 2015

I don’t think it was the men’s faces carved onto the mountain. It was the mountain itself and the energy it holds. It was “Grand Old Flag” pulsing through the stereo. It was the people from all over the world, from all walks of life, all together, all equal. At that moment I fell in love with America. Yes her crown has been corrupted, but her foundation stands strong. Her foundation is people like us. Two girls like us, from a small town in New York, who escaped their poor, toxic families and made it all the way to the Mount Rushmore, by ourselves. We have many obstacles ahead of us, as lower class women, but if we have a chance of reaching our potential anywhere, it is here.

“Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy”-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Born to Fail

I wanted to be a psychologist since I was a junior in high school. One day, the therapist didn’t show up for a group therapy session at the mental hospital I stayed at for a month, so I ran the group. My time at that hospital was the first time I realized that I was not alone, and my optimism was helpful to others who were hurting. I decided then, that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping fucked up kids like myself.

I graduated a year early because I was bullied and bored, and started college at the age of 16. At 18, I started interning at a mental institution, a homeless shelter,  a child abuse prevention center, and even worked alongside the woman who counseled my mother at a domestic violence agency. I was a great counselor and advocate to all of my clients. I gave them unconditional love and I never judged them, because I had been them. I graduated at 19, with my associate’s in human services, and started working on my bachelor’s degree immediately.

I’ve come to accept life as cyclical, segments of peace and chaos. My life had been 16 years of chaos. I had two years of peace during my associate’s degree, followed by four more years of chaos. 

Since childhood, I’ve had an array of physical health problems, in addition to the gallery of mental problems I display. Just like everything else about me, my problems were not typical. Doctor after doctor had no idea what was wrong with me. They would simply attribute any physical problems I had to my mental ones, or purely side effects of the antipsychotics and mood stabilizers. Then, they’d take out their prescription pads, and subscribe a solution.

Turns out, the medications were making me worse, since the problem was in fact physical. At 19, I was diagnosed with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease, also known as the mimic disease, can feel like every mental and physical illness all at once. The Lyme causing bacteria, called spirochetes, seize every park of your body, from your heart to your joints, your brain, and everything in between. I could write an entire book explaining how those damn bugs drilled into my cells and took over my life. In summation, it’s fucking horrible.

To add insult to injury, there was a scandal involving Chronic Lyme Disease. There is an abundance of literature and a film, called Under Our Skin, about how the corrupt health care system caused the Lyme epidemic by withholding information from doctors. Why would they do this? Let’s just say, it’s a lot more profitable to treat someone for Schizophrenia or Multiple Sclerosis for the rest of their lives, than to treat someone for Lyme with three weeks of antibiotics. To this day, doctors disagree about how Lyme manifests itself and if Chronic Lyme even exists, and patients desperately in need of answers and relief from their agony are coming up empty. Doctors do not know how to read the blood tests correctly, so as in my case, the results are false negatives. While the pockets of America’s Most Crooked fill up, brilliant minds and healthy bodies are being hollowed out and chewed up by greed.

Getting the diagnosis was only half the battle. Once these little bastards invade, they’re impossible to evict. The treatment was even worse than the disease itself. I spent my entire junior year of college on antibiotics. I’ve never had chemotherapy, but I imagine the symptoms of long-term antibiotics are similar. My entire immune system was wiped out. I spent most of my time in bed or in the bathroom. So much shit and vomit came out of me that year, I’m pretty sure I was empty inside. I had migraines and couldn’t think straight. My blood pressure was so low that when I sat up everything went black. I had no energy; I felt so heavy I couldn’t move sometimes. I obviously didn’t make it to class as much as I needed to.

In between antibiotics treatments, I did alternative treatments. They weren’t as bad as the antibiotics but still gave me wicked migraines. After all, they were ripping toxins out of my brain. Taking time off from work was never an option, but in hindsight, I probably should have taken some time off from school. But I had momentum, a momentum that I feared would abandon me if I stopped for even a moment, and there were deadlines on every dream.

When you’re young, you’re in a hurry to become somebody, but you neglect the fact that it’s the journey that makes you who you need to be.

 

As I learned about my unique conditions, Lyme disease, with a hint of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), served with a side of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), I became interested in neuroscience.  Dr. G., the neuropsychologist who helped me finally get the correct diagnoses, became my biggest inspiration. He had co-invented a treatment and diagnostic tool which can map a brain’s electrical activity more accurately than an EEG. My tests would all come back slightly abnormal, but after running more tests, the doctors would all conclude it was nothing severe. Dr. G. showed me the scars carved into my brain by the physical and emotional assaults I’ve faced in my life and explained how they cause my mental problems as well. He gave me answers, he gave me hope that I will not have to suffer for the rest of my life.

Example of brain mapping

Not only did he help me get my Lyme under control, he taught me that there are other treatments for my mental problems. I got to thinking, there have to be more treatments that haven’t been discovered yet, treatments for people like me, where medication does not work and actually makes things worse. Treatments that were more effective for everyone, treatments with fewer side effects. I wanted to help make those treatments. I wanted to discover the physical cause of mental illnesses and neurodegenerative disorders, and find a cure. We’re allowed to dream…aren’t we?

Two weeks before my 21st birthday, and the start of my senior year, my sister’s long-term boyfriend, who was like a brother to me, commit suicide. With one phone call, my life came unraveled. I spent the next two years battling PTSD, depression, and alcoholism. I also struggled financially and lost two other people very close to me tragically.  Eventually, I got back on my feet, and I graduated. I fought tears my entire ceremony, with every cheesy speech the lump in my throat grew. Words cannot possibly contain my pride. I understood how David must have felt, standing above Goliath’s corpse, as he glanced at the empty sling in his puny, trembling hand, a little confused, and shocked at what he’d accomplished.

I applied to behavioral psychology and investigative psychology graduate school programs in California. When I opened my rejection letter, I wasn’t surprised at all. I almost expected to fail. Taking into consideration all of the things I was dealing with, I obviously didn’t have a 4.0. I didn’t have time or energy to put in the extra effort I always had to make as a lower class, disabled woman, working two jobs and an internship on top of it. Still, my GPA was the bare minimum for most grad schools.

I also didn’t have a great experience at my university, to put it lightly. It was a good school for research, but as a result, I felt a lot of teachers didn’t want to be teaching. I had a professor hide from me in his office, during his office hours. My neuroanatomy professor literally just wrote equations on the whiteboard the entire class, he never even turned around to call on all of the raised hands.

Then there was Dr. Sanchez. Lovely, brilliant, clinically insane Dr. Sanchez. I interned in her behavioral neuro-endocrinological lab, in non-nerd terms, we studied how hormones affect behavior in rats and mice… by chopping their heads off and examining their brain. I’m pretty sure Dr. Sanchez’s interest in hormones came from her own imbalances. She was a narcissist and verbally abused her staff on a regular basis. We were all on edge every day. The air was so thick with tension, you practically had to claw your way through it. I feared one of the other lab assistants was going to commit suicide, Dr. Sanchez was especially cruel to her. I still felt confident I was doing a good job. I worked twice as many hours as required, to show her how serious I was. I loved what I did there, minus the hostile work environment, to put it lightly. In the end, I didn’t get a reference letter, class credits, or a co-publishment for the work I did during those six months, which would’ve made me a more competitive candidate for the programs for which I applied. She was fired a few months later.

All that said, the main reason for my rejection was that according to my GRE scores, I am an idiot. The GRE is like the SAT for graduate school. I studied for two years for that test. I bought a GRE practice book.  I practiced each type of math problem and made flashcards for every ridiculous vocabulary word, such as skulduggery and vituperative. The only time I’ve ever heard half of these words was when I was with my ex-boyfriend’s family and their acquaintances. Both of his parents were lawyers. His family was one of the families in my town who were descendants of affluent English settlers. The wealth disparity between our two families goes back so far, my ancestors were stowaways on his ancestors’ boat.

The day I took the test was a damp, stormy day. Because of my neurological problems, I get horrible migraines when it rains. My head was pounding. It was autumn in New York, and nearly dark when I got to the testing center at 5:00 pm. My stomach was gurgling acid; I couldn’t tell if it was because I hadn’t eaten since noon, and had to rush from my last class to the testing center, or anxiety. On average, women have higher amounts of test anxiety, and I have more anxiety than average. Plus, this wasn’t just any test. This was the test that would decide the rest of my life, determine whether I’d wasted four years getting a useless degree because you can’t make a decent living in psychology without a master’s degree.

I was having flashbacks to taking the SAT. I had just gotten out of the mental hospital. I had diarrhea from the food, a staph infection on my ass so it hurt to sit, and diabetes insipidus from the Lithium which was slowly shutting my kidneys down. Plus, my brain was flooded with performance reducing drugs, and I still scored average. I know that I am intelligent, I always wondered how intelligent I’d be if I hadn’t been drugged my entire adolescence, and bombarded with stress my entire life. But I do know, drugs or not, I’m still smarter than a lot of people I know who did well on the bombastic GRE.

I ended up scoring about average on the verbal section, below average on math, and ironically, I scored in the 8th percentile on the writing section! That means I scored worse than 82% of people who took the test! If you’re reading this post, or if you’ve read anything I’ve written, I think you’ll agree the GRE is an inaccurate indicator of academic abilities. Even if you disagree, science doesn’t. The GRE, like other standardized tests, is biased. A Nature article says that graduate schools relying too heavily on GRE scores prevents women and minorities from entering the sciences. The article also says:

“According to data from Educational Testing Service (ETS), based in Princeton, New Jersey, the company that administers the GRE, women score 80 points lower on average in the physical sciences than do men, and African Americans score 200 points below white people. In simple terms, the GRE is a better indicator of sex and skin colour than of ability and ultimate success.”

It certainly didn’t predict my success in the field of psychology, since by the time I took the damn thing I had already worked in the field for six years, and helped so many people. So why the hell is it still used to determine our futures when it’s been proven, for decades, that it does not correlate with success, but rather with race, sex, and socioeconomic status? 

Although not surprising, my rejection was still devastating. I fell into a deep depression. With one letter, my future vanished. What was I going to do? Work for minimum wage forever? Maybe I should have never gone to college in the first place since I’d make the same amount, work the same jobs, but at least I wouldn’t be buried in student debt. Even worse than the money I wasted, I wasted my youth! Six years of my life chasing a dream only to be shot down by some numbers on a piece of paper which supposedly reflect my integrity, intelligence, and my ability to impact others.

I could take the GRE again, retake classes to get my GPA up, or volunteer in a lab again, but all of those things cost money or take up time that I didn’t have because I was working three jobs just to pay my car payments, rent, and default on my student loans.

I always knew, because of my handicaps and disadvantages, I had to work twice as hard to get half as far as more “prosperous” people, and I always said I would, but I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I had reached my mental limit. I was beaten down, my energy to fight had fleeted. I had been defeated.  I had given up on dreams, given up all hope that I would ever amount to anything that I could look back at the end of my life with pride on.

I beat myself up over what I could have done differently. Maybe if I applied to more schools or different programs that weren’t as research stressed, I would have been accepted. What if I picked an easier minor than neuroscience because those difficult science classes brought my GPA down? What if I had taken a GRE prep course, instead of just doing the books? I wanted to, but I couldn’t afford a $500 prep course on top of the $200  I already paid for the test.

Maybe if I retook the GRE now I’d do better, after spending the last two years preparing impoverished, first generation, English learning Latinos for standardized tests that are biased against them. Perhaps if I had mentioned the reason why I took two years off or explained that I was a victim of child abuse, have brain damage, and deal with chronic physical and mental illnesses, they would have judged me as an average student with average grades. But they would have seen me as the remarkable student that I am, who should have never even made it to college in the first place, who persevered through hardship after hardship and graduated, despite all odds stacked against her…But I didn’t tell them…because I didn’t want to seem like I was looking for pity or making excuses…because this very blog post is the first time I’ve ever been able to call myself disabled, and not feel ashamed.

I imagine we’re all running a race, and we’re all forced to carry different loads. My load is particularly heavy, but there are many who carry far more weight than I. The people with the lightest loads are obviously ahead of the rest of us. I might be last to the cross the finish line, but I will finish, and by the time I get there, I will be much stronger than the ones who finished first. Who is the true winner? What is more important, the meaningless competition, the shiny trophy, or becoming your best self?

What I’ve learned from this is to have a backup plan. Have back up plans for those backup plans, and always trust your intuition. Perhaps the universe has other plans for me since it’s kept me from psychology twice now. But I can take a hint, so I moved to California anyway, but to focus on my true passions: music and writing.

The irony is I’ve wanted to be a singer since I was a child, and as passionate as I was about psychology, music has always been my true passion. When it came time to choose a major, I chose the safe route because I figured it was less competitive and more likely I’d have a job as a psychologist than a singer. But I found out the hard way, nowadays, there’s not just starving artists, but starving scientists too. Everyone wants to study psychology. No one wants to study opera, and as great as I am at psychology, I’m exceptional at opera. And luckily, they care about how you sing, rather than how well you regurgitate information and color in the correct bubble.

I berate myself, “You should’ve just studied opera to begin with! If you had only believed in yourself, you could have been successful by now!” Now I’m older, and I’ve grown weary, with a mind that’s not as fertile for sprouting knowledge as it once was. But I have learned so much working in psychology for 10 years now. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, I’ve held their hands, I’ve wiped their tears, and I’ve felt their gratitude. I’ve looked every facet of the human condition dead in the eyes, and what I’ve seen will certainly aid my success in opera. These experiences gave me something to write about. I haven’t found my purpose yet, but these are the experiences make me into the person I need to be to reach my potential. When I become that person, my destiny will find me. Until then, I suffer with dignity, with certainty that all of this pain will amount to greatness. Because of my torment, others will flourish.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried”-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

 

Ophelia’s Revenge

There once was a precious, courageous, little girl. Her big blue eyes never missed a bat. She could see farther and deeper than most adults. When she would outsmart them, from deep in her belly would roar an innocent, high-pitched laughter.

Unfortunately, her laughter and her wisdom were so often muted. Her tiny toes tiptoed around the dark, treacherous place she called home, cringing with every creak, anticipating his next attack. The man who dwelled in her mother’s bed, not entirely a man, but part monster.

This little girl was a soldier. She had a sworn duty to protect herself and her younger siblings from the monster. Her mother worked long hours and a lot of overtime just to pay the bills, so she was in charge of taking care of them. She wasn’t the “typical” nurturing little girl who liked to play house. She was an awful cook, and she’d rather read a book than play with dolls, but they all survived, thanks to the little girl.

This was no easy task, mind you. The little sister seemed to rattle the monster no matter what she did, and then a whirlwind of anger would wreck the home, breaking everything and everyone in sight. Once, the beast had the sister by the throat, snickering “I will kill you!” The little girl called the police and the beast never tried that again. Something about the little girl frightened the beast, perhaps he could sense her strength…or maybe it was her crazy father.

When the little girl went to her father’s house it was like an escape, from one hell to another. Her grandmother didn’t relish children, she was cold toward the girl and her father. As an authoritarian German woman, she pushed her to do well in school. It was so much responsibility and pressure for one child to bear.

The girl was smart though. She had a way out. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer since she was five years old and her parents were divorced. The path to a better life began with school. School was predictable. The rules made sense, they were fair. There were kind, loving adults who praised her good work.  

She lived in a small town on the Hudson River, about two hours north of New York City. Beautiful Victorian houses and large farmhouses decorated the valley, and hidden in its grooves, under large pine trees, were tiny houses and trailers, like the one her family lived in.

She went to a decent school. Many of her peers came from normal homes, with two parents, without scream fests and mind games. Their parents were doctors, professors, and lawyers. Some of her peers were even ancestors of the wealthy settlers that came to the town long ago.

She was never first-chair in the band because her peers got private lessons, but often second because she spent so much time practicing. Her peers had access to better technology and materials for their projects.  Some of her peers had parents who taught at a renowned private school nearby, and they got to sit in on their lectures. They didn’t have to go home and live in terror every day, and she still competed well with them.

Of course, there were bullies too. Mean girls would make fun of her non-brand clothes. Teachers asked her how she would be a lawyer and a mother. There were scheduling conflicts and counselors urging her to take easier science and math placements or justify why she wanted to take such challenging classes. Questions that boys were not asked.

Nonetheless, she persevered, she survived childhood and she graduated salutatorian from her high school. She held close to a 4.0 average in college and passed the bar at the age of twenty-four. Her first job post-graduation was in retail, since she didn’t have any family connections, and after her law school was sued for skewing numbers on post-graduation employment rates. She eventually landed a  government job in worker’s compensation with a starting salary of 40,000, not even enough to pay the interest on her student loans.

   Now she works as a hearing officer, making 80,000, still not as much as her male co-workers in litigation. Litigation lawyers have the highest salaries and biggest bonuses at her firm, and they are all men. The females and minorities are at the government jobs with significantly lower salaries. At the litigation dinners, she is the only woman. The air smells of ego and cologne. Loud brass voices and puffy chests tower over her. She sips her drink and listens to them rating the female lawyer’s attractiveness. She feels so out of place, so violated, but she nods and smiles.

This is the status quo in her field, the delicate tickles on her wrist, the unwanted hands on the small of her back, as to escort her into a room. As if she didn’t know the way. As if she didn’t get this far without them helping her. As if she hasn’t fought more battles than they could imagine, and won, on her own! Once after winning a hearing, she hears one of her co-workers loudly professing that she had only won because the judge thought she was cute, not because she had a better argument.

She did everything she was supposed to and more. She conquered beasts in her home, in academia, and she continues to fight them after she accomplished her dream of becoming a lawyer. But she will never back down, she will never tire. She has fought all her life and will continue to fight until the battle is won. She has penetrated the walls of the patriarchy and is dismembering them from within. I am the little sister who angered the beast and Lord, I aim to be again.

This is just one woman’s story, but the more we share, the more we’ll find this is every woman’s story, and the infection runs deep, carved into the veins of society. Until the remedy is found, let our voices continue to echo out, beyond the borders that have silenced us for so long, causing a crack that will eventually tear down that wall.

Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia, in Hamlet

“Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be”-Ophelia

 

Feminism for All

I’ve always considered myself a feminist. Over the years my ideas, as well as society’s, about what feminism means has changed greatly, but I still proudly profess my feminism.

As a young girl, I was fixated on boys. I wanted to date boys, marry boys, make little baby boys. When I had a man, I was loyal to him, I took care of him. I thought about getting married a couple of times, thinking that would be the end of my problems. I would have someone to help me out through life, keep me safe. Like all little girls, I believed the patriarchal propaganda getting shoved down my throat since birth.

From “Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster”

As a young adult, I always considered myself a strong, independent woman. I only let guys pay half of the time, I wanted to be a doctor. I always had a boyfriend, though. My boyfriends and I would talk shit about all of my single girlfriends who were slutting it up. I’d say, “Feminism isn’t about acting like a guy, becoming emotionally inept, power-hungry, horndogs. Women should still act like women, but be pure and nurturing mothers or professional career women if they choose. And men should act more like women if they want. To hell with gender roles.” Not realizing that I was doing what women are “supposed to do,” gossip and talk shit about each other, fight with other women, and agree with men.

Nearly a decade later, half of it spent single and exploring my identity and my sexuality, my views of feminism have clearly shifted once again. I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way to define feminism. The way someone practices their feminism is contingent on his or her unique experiences navigating the world. Lately, however, I have been feeling many people trying to force their ideas of feminism on me, and spurning me if I disagree.

Ever since women were recently granted the right to think for themselves, there has been a division amongst us. Now that she has some autonomy, how should she behave? Now that she can work, what should she be allowed to make? Does anyone else wonder why teachers and nurses are so underpaid for the imperative jobs they do? I don’t think it was women making these decisions, and it still isn’t. Because the decisions we make are based on ideologies instilled in us by our fathers.

If I laugh at rape jokes, can I not say #MeToo? Even though I was a victim of sexual assault? If I objectify myself for a living, can I not call myself a feminist? Even though stripping empowers me? Even if it helped me succeed in life more than my college degree did? Am I “a part of the problem” because I didn’t vote for Hillary? What about the women picketing outside the abortion clinic, because of their religious views? Aren’t we all victims of inequality and injustice?

Dave Chappelle

I didn’t want to bring up my political views on the blog originally because I didn’t feel the communities I write for would agree, and didn’t find it relevant. I also believe people’s need to label everything and everyone has consequences. But politics, religion, sexuality, race, and gender are all different building blocks to an individual’s identity and belief system. To ostracize someone because of any of these beliefs is to attack their personal freedom.

I feel identifying as a “Spiritual Christian,” libertarian, bisexual is part of the reason I  constantly feeling like a fish out of water. “Spiritual Christian” is just what I say when people ask my religious beliefs. I am both spiritual, as I believe aspects of many theologies and create my own, and Christian, I was baptized and pray to Jesus. Although, some Christians would say I’m “not Christian enough” because I believe in other entities. Trying to date in the LGBTQ community as a bisexual feels like you’re “too straight” to be considered. 

I never caught so much flack as a bisexual libertarian as I did the last election. Gary Johnson wasn’t my favorite libertarian candidate, but I really thought he could get 5% this year, which would allow the party to join the debate next election. I would obviously love for my voice to be heard, but people were attacking me, saying a vote for anyone but Hillary is a vote for Trump, and that I “wasted” my vote. After he was elected, it was like you can’t be feminist or bi and support Trump, or do anything less than despise him. (It’s not that I don’t despise him, just that I despise Hillary too). The LA Pride parade earlier this year became the “Resist March” that was “not supposed to be democratic or republican,” but ultimately became an Anti-Trump march. In my opinion, this divided the community it was meant to bring together. I see moral confusion and abhorrence trickling down from the pinnacles of society, corroding communities at every level.

2017 LA Pride marchers deface Donald Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star

Beliefs are not black and white, there are gray areas. People always tell you, “Just make up your mind! Choose one!” Why must I choose one, when there are so many options? So many combinations of the two, options beyond the two you haven’t even imagined!

Feminism is something unique and personal to everyone, so why are we segregating those who don’t share all of the same beliefs? Don’t we all have the freedom to believe what we wish, without the social chastisement?

If you disagree with someone, feel free to argue with them, provide evidence for your opinions, but at the end of the debate, if they still disagree with you, that’s their right. Don’t shame them, and hate them. Don’t excommunicate them from your community. A community exclusively of individuals with mirrored belief systems will lack adequate size and strength to make a difference. It also sounds to me like a cult because naturally, people disagree on some things!

An informative Washington Post article suggests modern feminism should focus on equality, inclusion, and personal choice.  Anyone who wants to join the fight for equality should be allowed to. Period.

…But to paint a silver lining, if we are strong enough for them to try so hard to divide us, that means we are getting stronger.  

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

LA Eloi

Her glowing, porcelain face protruded from the brick background, then faded into the blue stage lights. Every stroke of her features, handmade with care. She hasn’t been used much, barely taken out of the box. Too afraid of damage, she’s fragile. So fragile, if you bumped into her on the street, she might shatter like china.

You see, even to hold her is to warp her unscathed skin. If she touches too much, her hands will blister and crack. Every step calluses her feet. Don’t you want her to be soft? If she has to worry about anything, or if you make her sad, or mad, crevices will carve themselves into her forehead.  And if she loses sleep, craters will nap under her eyes, endlessly taunting her. Don’t you want her to be pretty?  

She was Weena*, daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and musician. Now it’s her turn to become the star she was primed to be. She stood before us, not as a woman proudly owning her destiny, but as someone who just realized she was naked in front of a crowd. Her bones glued at the joints, she was petrified.

Her voice was beautiful. Her songs were simple but catchy. Melodic runs really showcased her expansive range. We all rocked and swayed to the feel-good beats. But there was something missing, passion.

Passion comes from suffering. What revolutionary painter or poet never had to struggle too much? I believe art has the power to transform the world. How can you heal if you’ve never been torn apart by life’s shrapnel, and then had to lick your wounds, and limp away with your tail between your legs?

Like an Eloi from H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, her environment never presented many challenges. Therefore, she knew how to enjoy life, but not overcome obstacles, endure pain. Poor Weena was paralyzed by her fear: fear of being exposed, fear of looking stupid, fear of failing. The only time she looked at ease was after her set while dancing with her celebrity friends.

Woman in yellow and blue with a guitar, by Henri Matisse

She has the disorienting beauty, decorated in ornate garments, encompassed by the faces of Hollywood’s past, present, and future elite. She even has the voice, but she lacks courage and she lacks affliction.

She has had every opportunity at her disposal, dancing then acting, now singing…but I wonder had she not, would she have the grit it would take an average person?

I always wondered what my life would have been like if I had half of the opportunities Weena has. What if my mom could have afforded the voice lessons I begged her for each birthday? What if I grew up in safe, loving home? What if I wasn’t at constant war with myself, battling the voice in my head echoing “you’ll never be good enough?”

What would I write about without my struggles? What painful memories would I channel when I performed? How could I teach lessons I haven’t learned? How could I help those who are suffering, if I’ve never suffered? How can I change the world, if I am blind to its problems?

Ironically, all of my talents would vanish with my struggles.

Just because you have all of the advantages, doesn’t mean you can cash them in, or even know how to. You may have an audience, power and influence, and nothing to say, no wisdom to share. Or in my case, have plenty to say, but no voice to speak it with, and no one to listen.  But let me just say this, I do believe in the power of passion, and the impact of endurance. 

Given the option, I’d choose adversity every time. 

*The artist’s name has been changed.

“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”-H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Dream Big (Not Too Big)

Every week I drive to therapy in West L.A. I drive down Vine, through Hancock Park, near West Hollywood.  I see perfectly paved streets, no gaping potholes, no trash seeping out of the gutters, no rotting couches or mattresses clutter the sidewalks. Every lawn decoration, every palm, every petal, quintessentially placed. You do not hear the clinking and clattering of the cans the homeless push around. Mothers lull their children in strollers, not shopping carts. They do not fear as they walk the streets alone.

Each home has its own design and character, inspired by different historical fashions. The landscapes of each house are eloquently designed and maintained daily. I see the gardeners working in the yard of a house erected from the colonial South, with its tall, thick pillars guarding the entrance. I can see the horses and the slaves now. Only now it’s a Mercedes and a gardener. I guess not much has changed.

The only cars around me are pristine, shiny and new. Mercedes. BMW’s. Porches. I feel like a pitifully disguised spy, in my dirt-painted 2002 Accord. I see two girls my age getting out of a Mercedes. “They have no idea how lucky they are,” I think.

I’m not saying that they are lucky because they own a beautiful home and drive luxury cars. I’m saying they’re lucky because regardless of how smart they are or how hard they work they will, statistically, be rich and successful their whole lives. As for me, no matter how hard I work, statistically, I’ll be poor, or at least severely underpaid for someone of my intelligence and passion, for the rest of my life.

Michael Carr, the co-author of a 2016 study  showing social mobility has decreased in the last thirty years, said, “It is increasingly the case that no matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end.”  While yes, I would like to live in a home not infested with cockroaches, and a neighborhood where I don’t have to worry about being robbed, I would also like to live in a society where my potential is in my reach, or at least equally as in reach as anyone else’s.

“The American Dream” paints the illusion that anything is possible, for sons and daughters of all castes and creeds, with blood sweat and tears. It just turns out that some of us end up bleeding, sweating, and right out weeping a hell of a lot more than others.

Think about the intelligent, empathetic, hard-working people, who went to college, but still barely make enough to afford their shitty apartments. Many working two or three jobs, working seventy or more hours a week at jobs they hate, because it’s not fulfilling, and the pay is shit. Imagine the tax on one’s physical and mental health. Not only are you stressed about money, about bills and food, about stretching every penny as far as you can, but your life becomes a meaningless ritual. You become stuck in a time loop, watching less equipped but more fortunate people rise, while you sink like quicksand, taunted by the ghosts of your potential.

Imagine the tax on one’s physical and mental health. Not only are you stressed about money and meeting your basic survival needs, but your life becomes a meaningless ritual. You become stuck in a time loop, watching less equipped, more fortunate people rise, while you sink like quicksand, taunted by the ghosts of your potential.

“The Broken Bridge and The Dream” by Salvador Dali. Photo courtesy of http://art-dali.com

Ten years ago, or even two, I would have said, “One day, I’ll own a car like that, a home like that, a gardener like that.” I have quite the unrealistic, optimistic view of the world, but every now and then reality sinks in, making a sieve of my thick skin. When that happens, and I look at these houses and these people, I get angry. I get jealous and depressed, realizing the chances of me even getting invited onto the premise of one of these gorgeous estates, let alone own one, are very low…unless I’m landscaping.

If you asked me where I saw myself ten years from now, when I was sixteen, or twenty, I would have said I’d be a doctor. I would have said I would earn my Ph.D. and my M.D. and be a neuropsychologist. I would have done it by twenty-five, having earned an Associate’s degree at nineteen, and being on course to earn my Bachelor’s in psychology and neuroscience at twenty-one. If you asked me today where I saw myself in ten years, the answer would be that I have no idea, I just hope it’s more fulfilling than this.

What better proof that “The American Dream” is very much alive would there be than the story of a young, lower class woman facing unspeakable horrors in childhood, only to work her way to the top through hard work and perseverance!? Unfortunately, this is not my story. While this is someone’s story, I believe it’s disproportionate to the amount of determined, intelligent, and talented poor people there are in the America. We should be hearing these stories far more often than we do. Why is that? There are many reasons, and one of the reasons I made this blog to start talking about them. But in short…

The game is rigged, and we are all in.

 

“You got to tell me brave captain,

Why are the wicked so strong,

How do the angels get to sleep, 

When the devil leaves the porchlight on.”

-Tom Waits

Revelations

 

I thought I’d start off by sharing the humbling experience which inspired this blog.

I got these new shoes, burgundy, suede heels with straps that tie around the ankles. I just had my hair and nails done. I had been so lonely and horny lately, that I was swiping on Bumble. It’s like Tinder, but filtering out some of the uber-pervs hoping to play out their fetish fantasies on you (myself included).

I found an adorable little rich boy. I typically go for poor, chubby guys, with a little edge, and a lot of baggage, but since I moved to L.A. I’ve had to lower the bar‒a lot.

He was visiting from New York, so it was perfect. Even if the date did go well, which it definitely did not, there wouldn’t be any expectation for a second.

He called me to discuss the plans for the evening.

“Hello,” I answered, making sure to use my smokey phone sex operator voice. “So what should we do tonight?” I asked.

“We can go anywhere you want,” he replied confidently.

“Oh yeah?” I giggled.

“I have a private helicopter.”

“Okay…” I said, not knowing what else to say to that. Even when I did have standards, having money was not one of them. Bragging is actually a major turn-off for me. Especially when you didn’t work for it, you just came out of the right vagina.

He said he was just kidding, but his uncle does have a helicopter.

He wanted to meet up in Santa Monica, but I was like, “That’s too far, the Lyft will be too expensive.”

“I’ll buy you drinks all night, and pay for the Lyft home. It will be worth it,” He promised.

I suggested we go to Hollywood. He said his friend was driving, so he’d meet me there and we could figure it out.

I heard him call “Vera!” and looked up from the artificially lit sidewalk. He was average height and skinny, but toned. He had a narrow pretty-boy face, was well dressed, wearing much nicer shoes than mine. He was only a few years younger than me, but his eyes looked decades.

He opened the door of his friend’s car for me.  I sat shotgun with his friend and he sat in the back with another guy and a girl. He said “I told them we had to get a bottle since there is a New Yorker coming,” and handed me a bottle of Ciroc.

We passed it around the car as he asked me questions about myself. He pretended to be so intrigued by my answers.  Everyone in the car pretended to be interested as well, but you could tell they were the kind of people who weren’t truly interested in anything. I think they assumed just because I was pretty and well-dressed enough, that I was one of them, high class, dignified, and always looking for an excuse to talk about myself.  I felt like an imposter, but also a talented actor.  

He kept mentioning how he was moving here soon (like I haven’t heard that one before).  I could see right through him. He was so transparent, or maybe I’ve just grown wise with experience. He was saying everything necessary to get me in bed. I wonder, if he knew that all it really would have taken is the Ciroq and a cock, that he didn’t have to pretend he wanted to date me because we were both looking for one night stands, would he still have gone through the whole courtship charade.

We finished the bottle and went inside. Needless to say, I was drunk. Impressively, I only tripped in my new heels once on the walk into the club. I paid the thirty dollar cover fee, yes, I paid it. We stayed about fifteen minutes, then he called a Lyft back to my apartment, yes, my apartment.

To give you some background information, when Vera gets too drunk, she becomes “Veeda” (my name but with a rolled “r” and some sort of failed attempt at a German/Russian/Jewish grandmother accent. At this point, Vera blacked out and became Veeda. Veeda is known for puking in Lyfts. Had Vera been there, she would have reminded Veeda of this, and they would have kept dancing a little while before going home, and the night might have ended differently. Unfortunately, Vera had stepped out for the night and would not be in until the next morning.

When I woke up the next morning, naked in my bed and feeling refreshed, I began to piece together the night before. I had several “snapshots” after the club: me feeling sick in the back of the Lyft, the wind belting me in the face with my own hair and vomit, looking back at the Lyft after we stepped out, seeing the epic trail of puke exploding out of the back seat window, and him saying “I’m probably going to have to pay for that,” with this strange, disgusted, clenched-jaw smile.

Then Veeda said, “Oh, it’ll only be like fifty bucks,” stumbling with awful grace.

Art by Kim Kyne

A little more background, I live in a one bedroom in the valley, my roommate lives in my living room, and he had to get up very early the next morning. I know, I’m an asshole…well, Veeda definitely is anyways.

The sex was so unmemorable that I literally don’t remember any of it. All I remember is one moment where I was on my bed, his lean body standing on the edge of it, the condom drooping over his limp dick, his face looking displeased.

Out of nowhere, in the next room, my roommate yells “FUCK!”

Alarmed, he says, “Is that your roommate?”

“Yeah,” I said all nonchalant and started giggling.

I know I was talking dirty to him because Veeda is a freak, but I don’t remember what I said. I was probably saying blatant lies like, “your big cock feels so good.” It was possibly the worst date I can hardly remember. My roommate said he slammed the door as he left, around midnight.

You’re probably wondering, what the hell is the point of this story?!

The point is when I recalled the fool I had made out of myself the previous evening, I really didn’t care. This was not the first time I’d embarrassed myself in front of upper-class men and women, but in the past, I woke up in the morning with a ball of anxiety, regret, and self-loathing in my gut. This time, I just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. I am a joke that I have been taking too seriously.

I was always trying to become someone else, rather than accepting myself as I am. As Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.

Sure, I can look and sound like I have class. I’ve been doing research for this role all of my life, but an act is all it will ever be. Behind the scenes, I will always be my true self. I hate pretending, I’m brutally honest. I like making vulgar, insensitive jokes. I love sex, and I love talking about sex‒a lot. Come to think of it most of the subjects I like to talk about are inappropriate, controversial, or just plain odd, as you’ll soon find out.

I can’t help it. I was born this way for the most part, and the rest I learned.

I grew up in a trailer. My mom, who is either a genius with High Functioning Autism or severely traumatized‒but most likely both, working her ass off to support her four kids with three different men along with her Antisocial Psychotic boyfriend. We have not a drop of aristocratic blood, going back as far as we know from any of my lineages. Yet, I’m still so fucking awesome.

Despite what society says, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be. You just get penalized for being the wrong way! 

Society may not be ready to love me, but I am ready to love myself.

Epilogue:

He texted me the next morning, to my complete surprise, since I expected to never hear from him again. He told me, “They charged me $150.00 for the cleanup, so just Venmo me the money when you get a chance.” I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He asked if I could just pay $50.00. I explained to him how even that was too much for me, as I had rent due in a few days and had to make what little money I had left last.

He said, “Well, I could be an asshole and just send Lyft your information and have you pay the entire thing. I was trying to be nice”.

I said, “You can give it to them, there literally isn’t enough money in my account. I am sorry, but I physically don’t have the money. I am out here completely on my own. I will send it when I can”.

…But I didn’t. 

“ Learning to listen in the bliss of undistracted silence and the comfort of inner humility is required for the gift of revelation.”- Carolyn Myss, Defy Gravity