November 7th, 2003

Grief, Uncategorized

It has been quite some time since I wrote a post about grief.

I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it’s that I’ve had so many things happen recently that I’m too distracted to think about my dad. Maybe it’s because I typically write during downtime at work and am unwilling to go there. Maybe it’s part of getting older and distancing myself from my dad’s death. Don’t get me wrong – I miss him often. The Eagles Super Bowl, my brother having a baby, my nephew’s music career taking off… but it has been awhile since I’ve felt true grief.

Today I’m breaking that streak.

I’m writing a book about the year my dad died. All of the time I’ve spent on the book so far has been on the events leading up to his accident. The weight of replaying his death was pushed aside as I reveled in taking a walk down the path that led me to my 8th grade friends. It stung a bit when I talked about the ways my dad and I didn’t quite see eye to eye but I’ve made peace with a lot of that.

Maybe I’m more of an optimist than I give myself credit for because I didn’t think it’d be hard to replay the days right before his accident. I thought that since I replayed them in my mind hundreds of times, writing them down would be no different. Oh, how naive I was mere hours ago. Because as I started to write about the last time my dad picked me up from school, I had to choke back tears and fight to keep myself together until I got to a good enough stopping point to grab my stuff and head back to my apartment.

I know writing this book is ultimately good for me. It’s helping me realize things about myself that I truly didn’t know existed. It helps me process my thoughts and gives me some sort of control over such a horrific part of my life. But sometimes it reveals parts of me that I wish didn’t exist.

My guiding light is to be as truthful as humanly possible when writing about events that happened fourteen years ago. The whole reason I’m writing this book, aside from my own selfish desire to record my life and prove that I went through it for something greater than pure pain, is that I want other kids going through similar situations to know they’re not alone. I would have given anything to know a story like my own when I was a teenager. I would have loved to be told by someone who has been through it that it’s okay not to be okay. That I’ll never fully have it all figured out but the good days will eventually outweigh the bad and at the end of the day, the worst year of my life would also hold some of the best days of my life. So I’m not masking how I feel, which I’m coming to find is hard as fuck.

The chapter that got me today is called November 7th, 2003 and is about the last time my dad picked me up from middle school. He called me out on wearing a skirt that my mom told me I couldn’t wear to school and I was irritable. He took me out for ice cream and our conversation was forced. He was trying to reach me and I just wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be reached. I was a pissed off teenage girl who just wanted to be anywhere but with her parents.

I told him that he needed a new car. I was embarrassed because we had an old car and I was now going to a school where a lot of my friends were more well off than we were. He told me the only way he could afford one would be if someone crashed into him. I secretly hoped it would happen. I didn’t want him to be hurt, or anything like that, I just wanted the car to be banged up a bit so we could get a new one. That’s not what I’m having a hard time with. I understand and accept that it was an uncanny remark that ironically foreshadowed what was to come. While I was convinced at first that those words caused my dad’s death, I didn’t live in that ridiculous theory for more than a day or two.

The part that haunts me the most is what came next. My dad parked in our driveway and sat for a few seconds in the driver’s seat. I wondered why he wasn’t getting out. I followed suit and allowed the awkward silence to float over the car. After a few more seconds he looked at me and said the sentence that I wish I could erase from my brain.

“Sometimes I feel like you don’t love me.” 

“Of course I do!” I shot back. But despite my best attempt, I don’t think I convinced either of us. He smiled at me, got out of the car and headed into our apartment. I remained there and felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Because the truth was, I couldn’t find it within myself in that moment to love him. I wanted to. I knew my dad was one of the best around and that even our recent inability to see eye to eye couldn’t erase that.

I sat in the car for a few minutes eating my ice cream between sobs. I wanted so badly to be able to tell my dad that I loved him and mean it. I searched and searched for the love I knew he deserved but kept on coming up empty. I wanted so badly to be able to run up to him, throw my arms around him, and tell him that I loved him but my broken thirteen year old heart had been through too many changes in too short of a time and I blamed him for all of it. In the moment, I couldn’t tell him that I loved him. And I knew I couldn’t fool either of us.

I felt like the worst daughter in the world. I knew my dad was a good man and that I was lucky to have him as a father. I wanted so badly to say that I loved him, I knew deep down I did, but I didn’t feel it in my heart. I couldn’t help but wonder – What was wrong with me? Why was I so broken?

After calming myself down, I made my way up to our apartment. My dad, resilient as ever, already outwardly moved past what must have been one of the most heartbreaking exchanges of his life. He was all smiles when I walked in, as if nothing had happened. Looking back, I’m sure I hurt him. Every parent fears the day their child resents them. While they recognize that it’s the natural way of things, and that it’ll pass, no one enjoys the moment it knocks on their door.

And I know every teenager goes through a period like that. But not every teenager’s dad gets in a car accident the next night that would eventually end in his unexpected death.

That’s what’s so cruel about losing a parent at thirteen. You don’t get to grow up and apologize for how selfish you were as a teenager. On the day you finally realize everything your parent did for you, they’ll be long in their grave. You don’t get to look back and laugh at the way you acted and you don’t get to make up for your mistakes.

With my mom, I was able to have that conversation where I tell her I see how much she sacrificed for us and she tells me it’s a mother’s job. Where I tell her that I’m sorry for the way I treated her and she reassures me that every teen is like that. I didn’t get to do that with my dad.

And yes, I know he knew. I’ve been told every single comforting phrase from every single person in my life. He’s watching over me and knows. Everyone is like that as a teenager. He would never want to see you beat yourself up. He loves you and you love him and that’s what matters. I’m a good person.

But there’s a difference between the closure you get when you can have that physical conversation with someone and trying to read the mind of a ghost.

No matter how much I’ve tried to forgive myself, or how many times I’ve been told that he knew I loved him, I’m sitting here fourteen years later with the same pit in my stomach and hole in my heart. And honestly I don’t think it can be repaired. The only way I could ever patch it is if I had been able to have a conversation with my dad about that day. That opportunity is just something that can’t happen.

And that’s okay.

We all have sharp, broken pieces. We can smooth out as much as possible, but there will always be some holes. It’s part of being human. We try to ease our suffering as much as possible but there will always be some things that hurt as bad as they did on the day we got those wounds. And we will spend so much time trying to twist them and pretend they’re not there. We’ll search for any words from friends, family, therapists, teachers, books… anything to try and fix it. Our loved ones will try and patch it up for us because it hurts them to see us hurt. But at the end of the day, we can’t fix everything. And that’s one of the most beautifully human things about us.

I don’t hate myself and don’t live every day regretting what happened on November 7th. It’s one unfortunately timed day out of a million wonderful moments that made up my relationship with my dad. It wasn’t the defining moment. My worth isn’t defined by that single exchange and I can live with what happened. Most days I forget it even happened.

But sometimes it creeps up, or you decide to rip it wide open by writing a book about your life, and you want to crawl back into your thirteen year old body and hide away in you reading teacher’s classroom or group therapy room or behind your stack of books. Those nights are hard, lonely, and unable to be smoothed over with good intentions or reassurance.

I’ve been down this road before, and know that at this point in my life, it ends with waking up tomorrow feeling fine. But tonight I’m sad. And that’s okay. Because my dad died as the result of car crash when I was thirteen and that really fucking sucks.

That’s what grief is.

It’s ugly, it’s uninvited. But it’s real, and it’s the truth.

Teens these days.

Uncategorized

(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

To the girls in my life.

Life Lessons, Uncategorized

Girls,

We usually communicate through snapchat and dance parties, cards and sleepovers and many, many jokes and laughs. I think about you more than you may realize and try to live a lifestyle that does right by you. I’ve watched you grow up into young girls, preteens and teenagers and I am so proud of who you are.

I’m usually the comic relief. The cousin coming home from Chicago for a party or celebration. The babysitter who lets you mix sour punch straws with popcorn because I’m just as curious as to how it tastes. The bridge between my generation and your generation… in return for me making sure that you don’t set the house on fire, you serve as as a distraction from the bleakness of adulthood.

I was looking forward to you seeing a female president so early in your lifetime. When I was your age, I didn’t think women could be president. I don’t mean that I didn’t think they’d be able to be elected, I mean that I genuinely thought there was a rule that women were not allowed to be president. I’m happy you won’t be as ill-informed. I was elated at the prospect that for some of you, you would only know a black president and female president in your lifetime, and ready for the task of helping you understand the historical significance of that feat.

Instead you have a president that does not respect your body or mind. One that is racist, islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist. I hope you learn what those words mean and then how to fight them. I hope you get bossy and fight back for any of your friends that may fall victim to the bullying or violence that your president elect’s words have incited. I hope you understand the privilege you have and stick up for those who don’t. I hope you are taught history as it happened instead of a PG, whitewashed version.

The adults in this country elected a man that says it is okay to grab your bodies. That criticizes women who do their homework and show up prepared. That has been accused over ten times of assault. That has bullied women for the way they look and harassed them on tape. Who sees us as sex objects or nasty women. And you weren’t able to have a say in it, and for that I’m sorry.

Because someone is an authority figure does not mean that you have to accept their behavior. If a man on the street were to say these things to you, I would have you run as far away as you can from them. Just because the president elect is saying them doesn’t mean you have to support it.

The president elect won’t be the first, nor the last, man to say or do these things to you. I’m not naive enough to think that you will never experience them at school, work or in the world around you. If and when you do, I hope you are bossy. I hope you learn how to say no and that no is the final answer. I hope you scream and yell and seek help when needed. I hope you speak up for other women instead of putting them down. I hope that if you are ever violated, you know that it is not your fault and that those who love you will help you fight back. I hope you never accept limitations and that you promote intersectional feminism. I hope you know that you can love whoever you want to love. I hope you fight like hell to be treated equally, and I hope you win. I hope your generation can be even nastier than mine. You have a lot of fighting to do.

Fight back with intelligence. He’s afraid of your potential. Reclaim the names he calls you. Own being a nasty woman, a bossy kid, an angry feminist. Speak up and work hard. That’s what scares him the most.

Know that there will be a female president. Personally, I hope that our next elect will be a lesbian woman of color. While I’m not sure if it’ll happen in our next election, I know that it eventually will. We just have to work at it.

Work hard, study hard, and don’t let anyone tell you what you should or should not do. Women are not limited. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Please give me the opportunity to talk to you about one of the biggest influences in my life. This was before comedy, college or any concrete dreams. I often talk about her, but haven’t told her story. So please, if you’re any type of fan or enjoy my writing at all, indulge me in the guilty pleasure of reading about one of my favorite people in the universe.

Recently, I came across this article and it made me think of my 8th grade teacher. When I was 12, my world changed. My family moved to a new part of town, which meant that I would have to start a brand new school in 8th grade. While some people may think nothing of this, my world was falling apart. Not only did I have to start a new school, but my cheerleading squad was dissolving and we had to start from the beginning. To an 8th grader, nothing in the world could be worse. That is, until my dad died. To understand what my teacher meant to me, you have to understand where I came from.

On my 13th birthday, my dad decided to throw me a surprise party. He brought my two worlds together (my old friends from my previous school and new friends) and we had a blast. I was incredibly happy. After the party, my mom wanted me to write a thank you note to him. Since I was a 13 year old, I cried and refused for hours until I finally wrote it down. A few weeks later, my dad picked me up from school and took me to get ice cream. After the trip, he told me that sometimes he felt like I didn’t love him. Two days later, I got a phone call at my best friend’s house saying that he was in a car accident.

His injuries weren’t life threatening. He was supposed to be released. On November 10, 2003, my mom and brother went to the hospital vending machines to get my dad a soda. I was left alone with him. His dinner was delivered and since he had bad whiplash, he needed me to feed him. Newly thirteen, and I had to feed my own dad. I remember pleading with God… telling him that if my dad made it out ok, I would be the best daughter in the world. I wouldn’t let him doubt whether or not I loved him for one second. That night, we were told that he was cleared for release the next day. I planned on taking off school to help my mom bring him home. His doctor stopped by on his way out and literally said, “Welp, I hope I never see you again!” We said goodnight and left the room, knowing he would come home tomorrow. After we left, he called me back for a second. He said, “Hey, Bird!” (my nickname). I leaned back to see his face. “I love you,” he said. “I love you too,” I replied. That’s the last time I ever saw him. About six hours later my mom woke me up telling me that he died overnight. To this day, I don’t know why.

Only hours after the news, I was begging to go back to cheerleading practice. I couldn’t wait to leave my house. When someone close to you dies, your entire life becomes mourning. I didn’t like that. I wanted to leave. Finally, a week later, I was allowed to go back to school.

I remember the day I went back. I was standing at my locker in the morning and thought, “Well Annie… you can either be funny or be pitied.” The second someone came by me, I cracked a joke. I wanted to let people know that I was still Annie. I wasn’t about to let that identity go, especially in a new school. My school set up a meeting with our child psychologist. To please my family, I went to the first meeting. After that, I ditched. Every. Single. Time. I didn’t want to be different. In a world that was crashing down, I still wanted to be known as Annie.

I kept up this facade for about a month, until my friend Cristin realized that it was all just a facade. She told my 8th grade teacher, Bevin, that I was struggling. She arranged for me to meet her during lunch because apparently she was “easy to talk to” however, Cristin didn’t know that I wasn’t easy to move. I remember being in line for lunch when Cristin told me Bevin wanted to chat with me. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Cristin had to drag me there.

The first thing Bevin asked me was whether or not I wanted some of her soup. After that, there were no more questions. I was allowed to just speak. I spent two whole periods in that room, and for the first time, I opened up about how much this killed me. About all the impossible guilt I held. About how awful I was to my dad. About how unfair I was. I cried. She cried too… because it was sad. She admitted that she didn’t know much about the subject because she never lost a parent. I told her I didn’t care. For once, I had someone just sitting there ready to listen. She didn’t evaluate me, she didn’t try to diagnose me, she didn’t even try to make me feel better. She just listened.

Do you know how important that is? To just listen and respond as a human? In a world where everyone was trying to relate to me, to understand me, to study me… she just listened. She didn’t have a predetermined script to read from. We had human conversations. My entire life had become professionals trying to read me like a textbook and Bevin was just.. well, there for me.

I went to her at least once a week during lunch, if not more. And it wasn’t until I had a 9-5 job where I realized how big that is. During her “break”, she helped students. Do you know how many times someone has come up to me during lunch wanting me to do my job? I always respond with, “oh.. I’m on lunch. Do you mind coming back?” She never ONCE did that. Her room became the only safe place in my entire life.

When I graduated middle school, our relationship didn’t stop. Instead of lunch breaks, she spent hours after school with me. Why? I wasn’t even her student anymore. She could easily ignore me and go home. But she never did. She was ALWAYS there.

I love her with my entire heart. In a world where I would talk to no one, she was my person. She single handily kept me alive. While everyone commended me on my strength, she looked past it and saw that I was breaking down. She was my rock… the only thing that kept me going until I graduated high school. She never said no to extra hours put in, she never made me feel like I was wasting my time, and she always went above and beyond to make sure I was okay. I feel like there is nothing in this world that I could possibly do to make her understand how incredibly appreciative I am of her love. She’s who kept me going.

But what makes me mad is that the school board doesn’t know this. The administration doesn’t understand. The parents of children who are failing won’t stop complaining. Tests will never reflect the depth of her love and character. She will never be evaluated on saving someone’s life.

I don’t understand it. When I look at how successful I am today, it’s not because I was a decent student. To be honest, I wasn’t a great student at all. Because when you’re a part of a single family home, you are just trying to keep your head above water. You spend so many sleepless nights worried about how much your mom has to work… or heartbroken over how the love of her life was taken from her without any justice. You lay awake paranoid that someone else will die… or that someone will break into your apartment and take your family. The worst thing in the world already happened, so what’s keeping anything bad out? You feel extreme guilt over the death… wondering how things would be different if you were a little nicer. So it reflects in your schoolwork. Deadlines pass without you realizing it, tests come without having time to study and endless lectures are spent with your head a million miles away. So to be honest, I don’t remember the lessons.

I remember the open door. I remember her offering me soup. I remember her crying, saying that she’s so sorry she can’t relate… only to be relived that someone is finally being honest with you. I remember her teaching me to feel through books and express myself through poetry. I remember year long conversations of her telling me it wasn’t my fault until I was finally mature enough to believe it myself. I remember her trying to teach me how to drive when I was terrified to do it myself. I remember her staying hours after school let out to talk to me.. only to drive me home and stall dropping me off because we still weren’t ready to say goodbye. I remember a moment during my 8th grade trip to DC where I was homesick, only to have her turn to me on the bus and ask me if I was ok. I remember going away to college and getting a phone call from her saying she was finally engaged… then married… then eventually pregnant twice… and not being able to convey my feelings of joy over her own dreams coming true. To this day, no matter where this crazy life has led me, I still feel like I’m at home with her.

And when I see that she’s frustrated with the school system these days, I get upset. Because I never want her to compare her success as an educator with a standardized test. I never want her to second guess whether or not she’s meant to be a teacher because of an administration. I never, for a second, want her to feel inferior or doubt her profession. Because if she never found this job, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I owe so much of who I am, and who I will be, to the endless hours in her classroom… well after the automatic lights turned off and we waved our hands to turn them back on.

This is what I want the school system to see.

I’m so incredibly happy in life these days… that wouldn’t be possible if you weren’t my teacher. I love you so much… and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Uncategorized