Praying for the Enemy

I spent a good part of dinner talking about a person who irritated me, who set my teeth on edge, a person whose head I wanted to smack upside until it bounced like a bobble. I was completely justified in my irritation, but that didn’t make me any more fun to be around. I was annoying myself—I can only imagine how annoying I was to everyone else who doesn’t love me as much as I love me.

Someone said, “Have you tried praying for them?”

I thought: No. Really? Maybe. Really?

I thought about praying this person got the life I thought they deserved because I was, at that moment (honestly, there have probably been way too many of these moments) auditioning for the parts of both judge and jury of the whole wide world (which is different than the World Wide Web in several ways, the most important of which is the capitalization*). I’d already elected myself the Diva of the DMV, (Too slow to merge? Afraid of changing lanes? Not signaling when you turn? Not turning your signal off after you do? No driver’s license for you! Doomed to a life of public transportation.) so judge and jury of the known universe was not exactly a stretch

I thought a little bit more. I wanted this person to know how much they irritated me and why. So, I tried it. I prayed for their life to be filled with compassion, kindness, and awareness of their effect on others. I’ve done it for a few days in a row now.

I don’t know if they’ve changed at all. I don’t know if prayer works that way— changing other people or events or things at all. What I do know is that the chip on my shoulder slipped off somewhere along the line.

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*There will be grammar. There will be Oxford commas. I cannot guarantee there will not be pop quizzes.

Stand Up.

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Every day I wake up, scan the news, Twitter and Facebook and every day there are new stories of:

Every day I see the rights and lives and safety of women and people of color disregarded and crushed by white men in uniforms and white men of influence and white men with academic *futures*

Our police system is broken. Our justice system is broken. Our prison system is broken. Our education system is broken.

White non-Hispanics make up only 63% of this country, down from 80% in 1980. Folks of color are on their way to becoming the majority.  There are already more women than men here. Standing together we can fix what is broken, alone we become targets in ways we have not seen for decades.

I don’t know how this gets fixed, but I believe it can be.
And I know that answer isn’t silence.
Or protest votes.
Or looking the other way.
It is in action, not reaction.
It is standing up for what you believe in.
Standing for what is right for the world, not just for myself.
Standing for what is right, not just what is easier.
And standing up for the rights and lives of total strangers.

You must stand for something! It does not have to be grand, but it must be a positive that brings light to someone else’s darkness. – Anthony Carmona, President of Trinidad and Tobago

#911Memory

505428_holding_handsFifteen years ago I was on the phone with my then boyfriend, when he said, “Hold on, I think the boiler just exploded,” and put the phone down. After a few moments, he picked up again. “I gotta go. There’s body parts and plane parts all over. I gotta go.” I was still saying What they hell are you talking about when the phone went dead. He worked at the Marriott Hotel opposite the World Trade Center and it was early and the story hadn’t hit the news yet.

Then we heard. And it still didn’t make sense.

Then we heard that a plane had crashed at the Pentagon, and I didn’t believe it.

When the towers started coming down, crumbling, and imploding everyone started leaving work. Everyone in the whole city was leaving work and going home or leaving their homes and going somewhere else. Everyone was just leaving. People had barely started their day when they left.

Except me. I stayed. I didn’t want to be on the streets with thousands of frightened people. I didn’t want to be trapped underground, crushed in a subway car filled with people who were panicking. I stayed and listened to and watched to report sand videos online, all day. I sat in an empty office for seven or eight hours and when I finally walked out at 5:30 pm I walked out into an empty city.

I walked across midtown Manhattan via 34th Street, up Broadway through Times Square, into Hells Kitchen. Like an abandoned movie set of NYC, traffic lights still blinked red, yellow, and green; walk or don’t walk. And there were no cars to care. The light of neon signs already starting to be obscured by ash. I don’t remember seeing anyone on the street at all, although I’m sure were a few.

I walked until I got to the west side men’s shelter where I had a speaking commitment for the 12-step group I was in. It had never occurred to me not to go – I had nowhere else TO go. Here was a room full of men waiting to welcome me, to listen to my experience and hope and my fears, and then to share theirs. And I did, and they did, and I don’t think we talked about the attack at all, we talked about ourselves because no matter what was happening we all wanted to keep whatever sobriety we had. We held hands and I walked out into the empty streets and down into the now empty subway and rode home.

A Lesson in Loss: On the Death of a Friend

A friend of mine died this week. The older I get, the more often I’m going to find myself saying that. It’s sad to lose someone you cared about. To realize a child will grow up without a parent. To watch a parent lose their child, a friend lose a friend. But there’s more than that, more than loss and grieving. There’s the lesson.

In everything you experience, every single thing–good, bad, or somewhere in-between (where most of life falls) is a lesson. The trick is to get the lesson the first time it comes around, to find the opportunity in the chaos. Broken hearts. Death of a friend. Lost job. Major illness. There are lessons in there, and we each have to figure it out for ourselves.

When Adam died, there was something vaguely familiar about it. Not because it was the same “rare” cancer that killed the love of my life three years ago. That just reminded me how fast it would happen, that will-to-live meant nothing to this cancer and there is no way around this one. No, it was the turn-out of support, the mass of people who contributed on the GoFundMe page to raise money for a last-ditch I’ll-try-anything-cure. Collecting almost three times what they’d asked in less than a month. The flood of posts and well-wishes that filled the Facebook feeds, the Twittersphere.

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Everyone always says “Oh, she was so special,” or “There will never be anyone like him,” but the truth is in the pudding. It’s in who shows up, who speaks up, what’s said and why.

And that was what was familiar.

A few years ago another friend died. No one saw it coming, no one was prepared. Is one easier than the other? Losing someone suddenly or having time to prepare? Can you really prepare? I think all you can really do is use that time to say a proper goodbye. Big Daddy Addy was lucky that way. His friends and family were too, even though it didn’t feel like luck at all.

Chloe Dzubilo died suddenly at 50. Violently. She died alone.
Adam Roth died slowly, peacefully, and surrounded by friends. He was 57.

10608786_10152817636030625_8912646138906773135_oThey were both performers, musicians, and stylistas. He went through dozens of hair styles, colors (oh, that frosted stage…). So did she, leaning more towards the peacock colors.  East Village icons and stalwarts. First generation Punks. He was dapper, a mod, a rocker, always dressed with intention. She, identified warmly by a friend as the “trans Courtney Love,” wore vintage lingerie and silks mixed with rock t-shirts and tight pants.  Both had struggled with addiction and gotten past it. One battled anxiety, the other, depression. And both were met with an ear-splitting roar into the abyss when they passed. A roar from the huge crowd that loved them. Huge. Crowd.

A sign-up sheet had to be created for visitors when Adam went into hospice at his parent’s home. Without it, the room was swamped, his family overwhelmed, himself, drained.

Judson Church overflowed with Chloe’s memorial and it felt like we were hundreds who marched in her honor down to the Hudson River.

Adam brought his sober-and-wicked-cool musician-funny-as-fuckness with him to work with at-risk kids via Road Recovery.
Chloe took her HIV+ transgender fierceness to help with the first HIV prevention programs for transgender sex workers.

And that’s the thing. The thing that made them each so special. That attracted crowds. The lives they lived. The love in their heart and their ability to open that heart, not just in the doing, but in their daily lives.The impact of their lives spreading like a pebble dropped in still water, they radiated outwards.

Adam was a high-energy, rapid-fire, snappy-dressing dynamo who could get a party started or be that guest you wanted there that kept it going. And he was your biggest fan.
Chloe tended more toward the soft-spoken, sometimes raunchy, often Southern-belle-ish delicate flower,  and earth mother. She was your tender and constant support.

They  made you feel seen. Heard.

She  spoke in a  Monroe-like whisper and you leaned forward to hear, and suddenly the two of you were in a silver bubble, an intimate conversation in the center of a chaotic city. And you felt beautiful, important, trusted. She shared her heart with you.
He drew you in, dragged you along wherever the party was, was sincerely happy to see you. Sincerely. He made you feel special–like you were the funniest, prettiest, smartest, somethingest. He shared his light with you.

They knew there was enough for everyone. Enough love, enough light. Like a moon reflecting the light of the stars and suns, sometimes you were the moon, sometimes you were the star.

So, the lesson? They were so loved because of who they were. Because of how they saw you, opened themselves to you, stood aside to make room for you. They were loved because in all their frenetic activity, talent, insecurities, battles, human-ness they made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room. Big open hearts. Hearts that were honest. That wanted love, wanted to love and be loved.

I was out with my “brother” (family of choice, related by hair) the other night, and we talked about how we are, he and I. How we are not that kind of people. We are the kind of people who don’t allow you to get close to us. We are afraid we will be crushed by all that love, that it will break us.

The lesson?  My lesson in the death of my friend? Love doesn’t break you. Love makes you larger than life.

Photo of Adam Roth courtesy: Jeff Smith~ReflectionsNYC

Trigger Warning

My grandmother made the best pork chops, but that recipe died with her. She also made the worst hamburgers I’ve ever tasted, and that’s a recipe I know. When I miss her, I make them. It triggers all those warm, fuzzy, grandma’s kitchen memories and feelings. But the madeleine moment of those lousy burgers are not what I’d call a trigger in a trigger warning sense. The burgers evoke, awaken, arouse.

Triggers, on the other hand, are always about the bad things, unpleasant memories, feelings you were never able to process.

More than thirty years ago I was kidnapped; both my stupidity and a pair of rust-colored corduroy jeans played a big part. I escaped and didn’t think much about it until the same man murdered two friends of mine and the police let him slide. I’m told I got out of my mind angry over that, but I don’t remember the angry. I don’t remember having any feelings about it all, other than the unfairness of the imbalance in whose lives mattered and whose didn’t back then. Not that much has changed and that continues to fuel my righteous indignation in defense and support of women in general, and sex workers in particular. Perhaps I forgot to mention that I, and my two friends, were exotic dancers / go-go girls / strippers / sex workers / women.

With the exception of when I’m writing about that time or telling the story of the kidnapping (perfect when dinner conversation gets dull), I rarely think about that man or those women. Only one friend I still know today remembers any of them.  When we talk, I’m prepared to remember any number of things that would give a normal person nightmares and it’s as if we were talking about an episode of Transparent or OITNB. Good stories, but we don’t have a lot of feelings around them.

This no feeling thing, it’s part of a thing called dissociation, and I’ve talked about that before here and here and here and even all the way back here. Apparently, I have lots of feelings about my having no feelings. What I also don’t have, is control over these feelings I don’t have. Because they’re actually there. You know that. My under-brain know that. It’s just my front brain, my awake-brain that doesn’t know it. Until something accidentally flips the switch and feelings I didn’t know I had come rushing out, wrap a plastic dry-cleaning bag around my head, and try to suffocate me.

It’s why people often put a trigger warning before an article or story they think might do that to someone else. Stories about hard things like rape, kidnapping, or suicide. But, if I know I’m reading a story about some teenager who gets raped by his kidnapper and then commits suicide, if I know that going in—and you can usually tell by the headline or pull quotes—then everything inside me is hyper-aware, fully armed and ready, and all the feelings stay on lock down.

It’s the stuff you don’t see coming.

Like when I’m with someone who knew my friend Lyle before he passed away twelve years ago, I’m ready to hear Lyle’s name and it won’t upset me. But when someone random mentions him or repeats something he used to say, it’s a punch to the gut and all the wind gets pounded out of me. My feelings barrier wasn’t up and those missing him feelings weren’t prepared to be called on. They’re like an ADHD, over-sugared, over-caffeinated kid when that happens. Sometimes I have to leave the room in a self-imposed time-out.

I have to be on the lookout for the thing that doesn’t look like an emotional shoe-bomb.

IMG_6844Such as the rust-colored corduroy jeans at Old Navy that tried to kill me today. The original pair were a gift from the man who would later that night turn out to be my kidnapper. I don’t know how much he paid for them, they were from a rack of clothes that had “fallen off the back of a truck” and they fit me like a second skin at a time in my life when that was a flattering look. The pants that stopped me dead in my tracks today, in the middle of Old Navy, some thirty years later, were $34.99. I didn’t see the price tag right away. I couldn’t see anything right away. It felt like I’d been transported back in time, and I was standing in a Times Square pimp bar called “The Pork Pie” watching younger me eyeballing the pair of jeans she’d just been gifted, but with the knowledge of what was to come and no way to warn younger me. At the same time it seemed like those jeans had been transported forward in time—meaning there was a tear in time, and anyone or anything could come through and no one was safe—fuck no one—I wasn’t safe from anything or anyone from my past. If thought I was tough enough back then and turned out to be wrong, I am in no condition now to know how to handle the people and things that could come back looking for me if that tear was real.

I walked away from the counter where the jeans were stacked, and dodged into the dressing room for safety from the ghosts, and to try on a couple of pair of regular blue denim jeans. The sales-girl in the dressing room was folding some leftover clothes. Specifically, she was folding a pair of the rust-colored corduroy jeans. I couldn’t speak. Or take my eyes off them. I couldn’t move. When I finally did, I was grateful for the lock on the door to my little dressing cubicle. I guess I did have feelings about that night. About that man. About who I was then and what happened.

I’m a big believer in don’t worry about finding your feelings, they’ll find you when you’re ready to handle them. These feelings were only there for a few minutes, maybe seven minutes all told. I’ve lived perfectly well without them for over thirty years and while I may be ready to handle them it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to or even need to.

For a moment, I considered buying the rust-colored corduroy jeans. But I wasn’t sure what else I’d come back with once I stuck my arm through the rip in time.