The Reconnect

I have been visiting with My Former Life these last few days.  Going back through my stories of various people and places, wrapping them about myself like a warm blanket to keep me company.  It is comforting to me to reconnect with people who were so incredibly significant in my life at a certain moment in time.  In some cases, it is the only place possible to do so.

In other cases, this blog has motivated me to reconnect with people from my past.  I’ve done so most recently with one of my former high school teachers.  Mr. V.  He was probably my most significant influence during my senior year of high school.  A year so full of torment and drama that I actually attempted suicide a week before Christmas that year.

To be honest, if it weren’t for Mr. V, things could have gone very differently for me during my final year of high school.

His class was a favorite of pretty much every student in it.  To earn his praise was the highest form of compliment, and earned you respect from every student in it:  even those who didn’t care much about school cared what Mr. V thought.  He pushed us.  He was tough, had high standards.

But he also cared.  You knew he cared.  You knew he was paying attention.

He was one of the first adults in my life outside of my family to truly believe in me.  I take that back, there were probably a great many that did.  There was something about his method, his way of letting me know that:  through quiet comments in my papers or my journal, through conversations after school, through his lessons that not only taught us about prepositions and sentence structure but about life.  His affirmation, his respect, when everyone around us respected him so highly, was huge.  It made a difference.  It put me on a different path.  He helped me finally start sowing the seeds of my own self confidence and belief.

Someone had mentioned him in passing on my Facebook page and I thought about him again.  I did a quick internet search and it wasn’t long before I found his Facebook profile, full of the same passion and energy about world events and life that he gave to us in class.  I thought about it for about twelve hours and then in a fit of reckless abandon, I sent a Friend Request.

I immediately regretted it, but somehow couldn’t pull it back.  I didn’t see any mutual friends in his friends listing, so I worried.  He probably didn’t accept former students into his circle.  Was it weird to think that he would remember me?  That he wondered where my life had taken me?  What if he didn’t accept it?

Days passed by and my fears seemed to be coming to fruition.  Nothing.  No acceptance.  I resigned myself to understanding that I wasn’t that different from every other student.  He might have been a standout for me, but after thirty years of teaching it was foolish for me to think I’d been a standout to him, who had taught thousands of kids, all with struggles and challenges of their own.  I wasn’t that different.  I wasn’t special.

And then, four days later, the notice came.  He’d accepted my request.

Just like that, reconnected.  With someone who made such a difference in my life whom I have always wondered about in the twenty six years since.  Reconnected.  Knowing all of the unknowns.  Knowing that he did remember me, that I made a difference, somehow to him too, all those years ago.

I’ve been enjoying my walk backwards these last few days.  Back through time.  It’ll pass, as it always does, but for now?  Having that one more piece of my lost puzzle of my former life back in place?  It’s priceless.

600 Posts

I started this blog nearly five years ago, in January 2010.  I was approaching my 40th birthday and I felt adrift.   How did I end up here, I often thought.  Who am I and how did I become this person?  I would find myself talking to myself in the mirror, having the conversations that I couldn’t have with another single soul on earth.

Then I started this blog.  This blog helped me.  Helped me figure out, if not the answers to those questions, at least find some peace in the journey I’ve been on.  When I look back on the way I felt then, the sadness that often permeated my days, the insecurity I felt, it is nearly embarrassing.  I’m not that person anymore.  I’m not the person who needs others for validation, for them to like her.  Who needs to always know everyone’s opinion of her and change it if it is negative.

Some of that is age, but some of that is the introspection this space has allowed me.

I journeyed through time here, taking the time to sort through the stories of my past.  For most of my life, I’ve felt like a victim of the tragedies that have befallen me, the rotten luck I’ve had or the lack of closure I’ve felt.  I don’t feel like a victim anymore.  I feel strong.  I feel like a fighter.  I feel like someone who has taken the blows and come back swinging.

I was able to meet again the characters that lived in my past, in my head, in the stories I told myself late at night.  And in some cases, upon reexamining those long ago events, I discovered that I wasn’t, in fact, blameless for the mishaps that befell me.  It wasn’t always my dumb luck or the world out to get me.  Sometimes it was me, and my own actions that brought about this thing or that.  Not an easy pill to swallow.

It’s been years since I finished writing my life story, one memory at a time.  I still keep this blog, to write in sometimes.  But mostly it is like a warm blanket I can wrap myself in when I need it.  If I want to go back in time, all I need to do is click a few times and suddenly there I am, in a room with my son’s father again.  I can give myself permission to love him again, to think about the funny way he used to smile or the way he would visit me at the drive through window when I worked at Burger King, his car spewing oil smoke so thick my coworkers would shoo him away.  It is 1988 again, and I haven’t made all the mistakes yet.  I’m in love, and I’m happy, and the world is my oyster.

Or it is 1992, and I’m in a hospital room with my mother.  I can allow myself to remember not only the beauty of caring for her while she was ill, but also the hard parts, the angry parts, the parts where we argued.  It’s OK for me to remember that it was a hard thing to do, to care for her alone in addition to my 2 year old son.  I’m there again, remembering the nights we cried together before she died.

Or it is 1999 all over again, and I’m standing backstage at a Rick Springfield concert.  He is telling me that he wants me to work for him.  I’m scared and excited and sweaty and not sure how I will be able to do this, and I’m also trying to quiet the thirteen year old girl screaming inside my head.  It hasn’t gone south yet.  It’s still fun.  It’s still amazing.  He still looks at me like I’m the best thing for his career that he is trying to reignite.

Or it is 2004 and my beautiful blond boy, my silent, stormy, sweet boy hasn’t been diagnosed yet.  There’s still hope, there is still the idea that maybe we are just like everyone else.  Even though I know we’re not.  Even though I am already hoping someone will tell me what to do with this child to fix him.  Because for every problem, I think, there is a solution.  There’s a problem, and you fix it.  That’s how life is.  Right?

Going back through my blog here allows me, even just for a moment, to imagine.  To dream.  To allow myself the fantasy of the paths that I didn’t end up traveling.  But it also gives me the thing that I wanted, always.  It gives me peace.  It lets me know that I made these choices.  I wasn’t a victim.  I was an active participant.  For each thing that happened to me, I reacted.  I chose.  I forged a path.  I decided what came next.

It hasn’t been an easy journey.  But it has been my journey.  And all in all, even with all of the pain and the heartache and anger and sadness, there has also been joy.  And truth.  And discovery.  I know who I am now.  I used to need someone else to tell me, to validate me, to let me know that I was good, smart, strong.  I don’t need anyone else to tell me those things now.

Because I know.  600 posts later, I know who I am.

Why I Felt Robin Williams’ Loss So Deeply

A lot of my friends are talking about Robin Williams today.  They’re all talking about the sadness, the loss,the iconic man that he was, a man who made others happy but couldn’t do so for himself.  Many of us are commenting on how this celebrity passing is touching us in a way others haven’t.  Sure, Michael Jackson was a major influence that we all grew up with too; but there’s something about Robin Williams, the depth and breadth of his work and talent that has made us all feel like we’ve lost a family member. 

I feel it too, though quite likely for reasons that very few of my friends would understand, and one that I don’t really ever talk about.  Sure, Dead Poets’ Society is one of my favorite movies, a huge reason why I ended up becoming a teacher (the idea that I could change one, even just one students’ life in the way Mr. Keating did….).  But it wasn’t that movie in Robin Williams’ filmography that made the most impact on me and my life.  It wasn’t Good Will Hunting or Patch Adams or Good Morning Vietnam, although I loved all of those movies. 

It was The Birdcage.

I know, right?  How could that be the most impactful of his entire body of work?  The hilarious comedy about a gay couple and their son and the frantic antics they engage in to pull off the son’s marriage into a conservative family. 

I’ll tell you why.  Because I’m the child of a gay man. 

That’s right.  I don’t say it out loud that much.  It’s not that I am ashamed of it.  It is just that we never, ever really talked about it when I was growing up.  My parents got divorced in 1977.  I was seven.  I found out later it was because my mother, who had long suspected my father was having an affair, had her suspicions confirmed.  He was indeed sleeping with someone else.  Only it wasn’t another woman.  It was a man. 

The world was very, very different in 1977.  My parents never told us that my father was gay.  When my father moved in with another man we were told it was because they were going to be roommates.  They maintained separate bedrooms.  I actually found out about my father from my sister, who let it slip one day while she was talking to a girlfriend within my earshot.  I think I was 12. 

There were no gay people on TV then.  People weren’t talking about gay pride back then (at least not that I knew about).  Gay people were stigmatized.  My father and his partner maintained separate bedrooms all throughout my teens, and while it eventually became clear to my father that we all knew about him and Steve, it was something we simply did not discuss.  They were not “obvious” and Steve hardly ever came to any family functions.  They were both firmly in the closet at their respective jobs.  I didn’t tell anyone but my very closest friends about my father.  It was like a shameful secret.

The Birdcage came out in 1996, the same year I got married.   And in it, for the first time, I saw so much of my life depicted.  The awkwardness of having to explain your father and his “friend”.  The impulse to lie because it just is easier.  The anger and frustration that you feel when you realize people can really just be jerks.  That being a kid of a gay person does not mean you are destined to be gay yourself.  And the slow realization that these two people, these are just people in love just like anyone else.  My father and his partner are more married than many heterosexual couples I know, even though they are not legally allowed to marry. 

The Birdcage took all of the crazy stereotypes that people have about gay couples and truly just turned them on their ears.  Through Robin Williams wit and comedy, that movie made even truly conservative people stop and think about their prejudices about gay people.  By going to the most crazy level of stereotypes about gays and transgenders, he showed that in the end, there are a lot more similarities than differences.  That moment when Calista Flockheart says in a choked voice, “I really would have loved to have been part of your family.”  Because gay or straight, at the end of the day, that three person unit was just that.  A family.   Something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

And now, nearly 20 years later, the world is a very different place.  In 1996, my father’s partner wouldn’t attend my wedding, no matter how much I begged, because he didn’t want to be a spectacle.  Last year, he attended my son’s wedding and my father proudly introduced him as his partner.  The world is changing, for the better.  We still have a long way to go.  But we’re headed in the right direction. 

So when I think of Robin Williams and his direct influence on my life, I think of the Birdcage.  And I thank him for finally showing me and the world that being the child of a gay person isn’t something to keep a secret.  My family may look different than yours, but that doesn’t make it wrong.  It just makes it different.  And if someone can’t accept that? 

To quote Armand Coleman:  Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I’m a middle- aged fag. But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that. Fuck the senator, I don’t give a damn what he thinks.”

Rest In Peace Robin Williams.  I hope you find some measure of the peace you were able to give me through your gifts. 

Outside My Comfort Zone Is Where I Need To Be

Well, it’s over.  The big race is over.

If you want to read the blow by blow of how the day went, you can visit my fitness blog.  It includes all the geeky details that people who routinely attend races and things like that might be interested in.

In the last paragraph of my second post about the day (two 1000+ word entries were enough, right?) that the event was life changing for me.  Overstating?  Maybe.  Then again, maybe not.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had that kind of direction or a goal.  Honestly, since 2004, when I stopped working for Rick Springfield, I’ve never had a situation where I felt that all of my skills and knowledge were brought to bear to make something happen.  And this event pushed me very, very far outside my comfort zone.

Right from the start, I had to make contact with strangers.  This would surprise people who knew me personally, except those closest to me, but I truly hate “cold calling” people I don’t know.  Soliciting them for something, asking them for something.  Is it fear of rejection?  Is it shyness?  I’m not sure, but I’ve never liked it, never felt good at it.  It’s why I like email better than phones.  It’s easier to sound composed and poised when you have the ability to backspace.  I put off making the nearly 40 phone calls and in person visits until I literally had no choice any more.

Then there was working with the people who had previously worked on the race, some of them for the last 20 years.  They were all strangers to me, and most of them significantly older than me.  Again, my insecurity came into play here.  Would they like me?  Would they be willing to share with me how things usually went?  Would they think I was some kind of interloper who was traipsing all over their turf?  I like to be a leader, certainly, but it is usually with a group I have chosen and assembled because I know them and their skillset. Would these people support me or back out, leaving me in a real lurch?

But as the months have gone on, I’ve slowly gotten better at both things.  I got to know my committee members, added a few new ones, and communicated with them regularly (still mostly by email, but I learned who needed to be dealt with on the phone, too).  I’ve gotten better about the cold calling, to the point where I might put it off still but I don’t dread it the way I used to.

There were also things that I really liked doing on this race that I haven’t had a chance to do in a very long time.  I designed a new logo for the race, giving a nod to the events in Newtown.  That was extremely important to me, and since I was in charge, I could do it.  I redesigned the entire brochure, using my graphics skills that have been quietly growing cobwebs.

By the time race day grew near, I had gained a confidence that has been missing from my world for a long time.  My committee not only seemed to be supportive of me, but they seemed to genuinely respect the work I was doing.  These strangers became friends.  They were helpful, friendly, wonderful new additions to my world.

Other than a few minor glitches during the event, it went off without a hitch.  Nearly a thousand people descended on our local park that day.  Nearly 700 of them ran or walked the 5K.  Another 225 kids ran the kids’ race.  We had about 50-75 people volunteer doing everything from putting the after race food and refreshments together, to pointing people in the right direction on the course, to helping with parking.  It was just a tremendous feeling to watch it all come together and know that each of those tiny little details was something I’d made happen.

I can’t wait for next year.

Yay, Me

(I posted this on my fitness blog, but I feel kind of strongly about this….so I will share it here, too)

Today is race day for me.  I don’t normally race two weekends in a row, but last week’s race was a postponement from a few weeks prior.

But here’s the kicker:  you know what I caught myself saying yesterday to myself?

“It’s only a 5k.”  Whoa.  How far I have come, my friends.

I haven’t run a 5K race since November’s Veteran’s Day race.  After that I did a 5 mile Thanksgiving Day race, a 10K in early January in NYC, and then last week’s 4 mile Sweetheart run.  How is that for freaky?

Although I have been running since September 2011, I let myself fall out of training over last summer, due to heat and travel and frankly, laziness.  It’s hard to get yourself up out of bed at 5am to run, which was the only time good runs were happening in my world.  By September, I was so far off the grid that when I ran a totally flat 5K on 9/9, I struggled just to finish.  I didn’t walk any of it, but when I crossed the finish line it was at 40:03, my second slowest ever (my slowest being my first 5K, which included three monster hills….so this was probably on par).

I knew then that I had a choice.  I could either let this running thing go, or I could not.

And I chose not.

A few weeks after that, after some regular runs and a little more commitment on my part, I attended FitBloggin’.  That totally re-energized my commitment.  I had been thinking things like I was too fat to run.  That this was silly, my slow 12:25 miles were for losers.  That I shouldn’t bother at all because I was so slow and so chubby.

But it was at Fitbloggin’ that I realized runners come in all shapes and sizes.  That it didn’t matter sometimes if I was dead last.  Because dead last means you finished.  And finishing is a damn sight better than all of those who don’t even bother to try.  I was inspired by these women who looked like me who were conquering all sorts of amazing fitness goals.  I learned that it didn’t matter how long it takes you to get to a healthier place, but that every step along the way is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you move a little backwards.  But as long as you’re moving mostly forward, it’s good.  It’s life.  It’s good.

So today I will run a 5K with 2500 other people in New Haven.  I will enjoy every minute of my in the back of the pack race.  And at the end, they’ll hand me a beer, which I will use to toast myself.  Because I did it.  I finished.  And I will keep finishing again, and again, and again.

Yay, me.

Anonymity

It has been three years since I started this blog.  Three years!  I can hardly believe it.  According to my WordPress dashboard, that’s 567 posts about my life, past and current, that I’ve written in this space.

And hardly anyone in my day to day life knows about it.

My anonymous blog.  Why is it that still, after three years, I cringe at the thought of people from my Real Life reading my innermost thoughts, when I put them out there for total strangers to read.  Why is that?  Why do I hide my thoughts?

This situation came to a head this week.  My previous post here, Open Letter to Those Who Would Doubt Sandy Hook, was featured on BlogHer this week.  And I’m not just talking featured in the Interesting Posts down at the bottom.  Here’s where my post is on their site:

That's my post way up there near the top, OMG!

That’s my post way up there near the top, OMG!

The news came to me via an email from one of their editors.  In the email she asked that I go onto my Facebook, my Twitter, all of my social media and shout loud and proud about my content being featured on their site.  Which was superawesome and why wouldn’t I do that, right?

Except.

Except the post on BlogHer links back to my supersecret blog.  The blog I don’t talk about.  The blog that hardly anyone I know in real life talks about.

So I hesitated to share it.  I certainly couldn’t share it on Twitter, which would have been awesome, but where my husband routinely follows my posts and comments on them to me.  On Facebook, I could share it with a custom privacy setup, where I could block certain people from seeing it.  The people I worry the most about seeing my writing here (my husband and my mother in law, although I don’t write about her in anything but glowing terms).  And then what do you know, eighteen friends of mine shared the BlogHer, using my name, which I am pretty sure everyone can see.   What happens if people I know actually read my blog?  What will they think?

MizFitOnline posed this very question in her blog post this morning.  She comes to the conclusion that it’s OK to be transparent and let the real people in your life see the real you in your thoughts posted online.

Me?  I’m still not sure.  But I’m edging ever more closer to actually not sweating it if any of my friends click that link below my post today on BlogHer.  I thought about removing the link, honestly, from the post on BlogHer.  But I don’t want to.  I have several more Newtown related posts on this blog that deserve readership.   That I’d actually like people to read.  Maybe even people I know.

Maybe the fourth year will be the charm.  The year I take My Current Life in the blogosphere and let those who actually live in it in on the secret.

Maybe.

Newtown

I had just come home from a run and was feeling pretty proud of myself.  I’d run 6.25 miles this morning, in 30 degree weather, and walked another half mile to warm up and cool down.  It was farther than I’d ever run before, in preparation for a 10K race I signed up for in New York City.

I’d planned to spend most of today working on a website, an upgrade to a current client’s site that they wanted done by Christmas.  So I quickly hopped in the shower and got cleaned up before sitting down at my computer to get to work.

My homescreen is NBC News.  On the screen was a red breaking news bar.  They use red for the really big stuff, so I glanced up at it.  “Shooting at elementary school in Newtown, Conn.”

Newtown is the town next door to me.

I frantically clicked on the words, but they weren’t a link yet.  The story was too new.  I ran for the TV remote and turned on the television.

It was true.  It was sickeningly, horrifyingly true.

I called my girlfriend to see if she knew anything.  I couldn’t even get the words out.  I called my husband, out of town for work in Florida.  He already knew via Twitter.  He seemed calm.  Why was he so calm?  This was ten miles away.  This was an elementary school.  This was too close, too awful.

I turned to Facebook for more information.  Friends started posting that our own school district was contemplating a lockdown status.  With the news reports hinting at more than one shooter, I wasn’t surprised when the call came through:  schools on lockdown.

At first, it seemed like a terrible tragedy had been somewhat averted.  For several hours the only fatality reported was the gunman, and the local hospital reported only three hospitalizations.  I tried to work on my site with the TV on in the background.

But then my girlfriend called back.  “27 confirmed dead,” she croaked into the phone, her voice thick.

“No.  That cannot be true,” I answered.  But then I started changing the channel.  Sure enough, some stations were indeed reporting that.  We cried together for a minute, until my cell phone started ringing.

When the out of town calls started coming in, that’s when I realized that this was not a tragedy averted.  This was real.  Those statistics were real.  My seventh grade daughter called home and asked me to come get her; the schools were allowing parents to pick up their kids (but you couldn’t go inside the locked down school).  I ran out of the house and made my way to her.

There were six other parents waiting there when I got there.  My girl reported to me that dozens of kids had already been picked up.  That the school had shut down the wi-fi to try and protect the kids from the worst of it.  The TVs normally running during lunchtime in the cafeteria were switched off.

But it wasn’t until I returned home with my girl that I learned the worst of it.  I wouldn’t turn the TV on to protect her and her brother from the scary images being played wall to wall.  I opened my computer and looked to the Newtown Patch, a site I follow because it is the town next door, a town so similar to our own.

It was then I learned that the children were killed.

Children.  Babies.  Kindergarteners.  Children younger than all of mine.

I cannot process this tragedy.  I cannot find words to express how horrific this all is.  I cannot even imagine what those parents are going through, what this day that started out so ordinary, so typical could have been like.  Just a few miles away from me.  In a school just like my kids’.  I am stunned, saddened, heartbroken, lost.

God bless all of those sweet angels.  Take care of the too many families going through hell this cold December night.

 

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