When Women Talk

There’s a reason we’re so often interrupted.

I just saw the most profoundly simple and yet the most intensely complex movie I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a movie that could change us all if we let it.

It is based on the true story of a group of Mennonite women and children as young as 3 in Bolivia who have been tranquilized and brutally raped by their men and boys for years. I’ll have much more to say about this in my next blog post. First, though, let’s concentrate on this incredible movie, entitled Women Talking.

I know that discussions of this type of brutality can be triggering for some, and might make them want to avoid this movie. Let me reassure you that the abuses themselves are not shown. Just as the women in Bolivia did, the characters in this film wake up, confused, bruised, and bloody, knowing something horrible had happened, but not knowing exactly what.

For a long time, they are not believed. (The hysterical woman trope will plague us for centuries.) Then one night one of the rapists is caught, and he gives up the name of 8 others. Never having had to deal with such horrific crimes before, the colony leaders decide to give these criminals to the government for prosecution.

It appears that justice will be served. But based on their religious beliefs, the women in this colony know they will be expected to forgive these heinous acts if the men confess and repent. They are expected to look the other way and not speak of the violence that has washed over them in bloody waves. And they have a 2 day window in which they are expected to make this adjustment.

So, while the rest of the colony men are dragging the criminals into the city, many of the women and girls gather together in a hayloft to decide how to move forward. They are faced with three choices. Do nothing. Stay and Fight. Leave.

Soon, it becomes quite clear that they cannot do nothing. One woman points out that her 4-year-old daughter was one of the victims. What woman could stand by and do nothing under those circumstances? And the fact that domestic violence and incest run rampant in the community as well can no longer be ignored.

Do they want to stay and fight and build a colony that’s more equitable, that allows women to have a voice, that provides them with literacy and an education and gives them the opportunity to say no, or do they want leave everything they’ve ever known and go into a strange world plotted out only on maps that they have never even seen?

The debate becomes more complicated as the movie progresses. Do they raise their small boys in the shadows of their violent fathers, or do they teach them a new way? At what age do boys become potentially dangerous? 10? 13? 15? Is their freedom and the ability to keep their children safe more important to them than tradition and family and the comfort of the things that they’ve always known? How will they support themselves when they can’t even read?

In addition, until now they have never had the words to speak about their bodies and how they should be treated. Can they ever be silenced again? Many of these women have fallen pregnant due to these rapes. Will they be able to love these children?

I won’t further spoil the movie for you, but I urge you to see it. Even though these women live vastly different lives than most of us do, the movie’s themes will still resonate with most women. Especially the central theme, which is that women are discouraged from talking in general.

There’s a reason why we are so often interrupted, ignored, discounted, dismissed, overruled, and left out of the discussion entirely. Women talking, especially to one another, gives us strength, determination, knowledge, insight and courage. Women talking allows us to see possibilities that we’re often too busy or too undermined to contemplate on our own. Women talking equates to power, and many elements of society are very threatened when we access this power in any way.

Do you ever wonder why women make up approximately half the population of the world, and yet we are the oppressed minorities, to one degree or another, in every single country? In my opinion, it all boils down to two things: childbearing and communication. The powers that be actively work to take control of our reproductive rights, and more subtly, keep us separated as much as they can.

Some countries and religions would prefer that we have as many children as possible whether we like it or not. From their emotionless standpoint, children are valuable commodities, as they become our future workers, soldiers, and consumers. Our wombs are the factories in which these commodities are produced.

There’s also the societal “side benefit” that pregnancy, to a certain extent, incapacitates us for 9 months each time. Yes, it’s possible to still work and carry on with life in that condition, but let’s face it, most of us would not be running any marathons in the third trimester or building houses or winning any fights should we be forced to defend ourselves. And afterward, it’s really hard to become a captain of industry when you have a toddler in tow. Meanwhile, a scary percentage of men  don’t provide the child support that they should, which forces many women into a level of poverty that they should never have to endure.

Other societal factions go to the opposite extreme and attempt to prevent us from having children even when we want them. Perhaps they have concerns about overpopulation. Maybe they view certain women as being unfit to reproduce. Eugenics is alive and well, as is forced sterilization.

We don’t discuss any of these topics nearly as often as we should. Even so, most women know that the struggle with these issues is worldwide. It is the ultimate power play to make our voices go unheard.

We Americans are taught to believe that we have more freedom than any other people on earth, but that’s a lie. Our health care system is abysmal for starters, which undermines this country’s very foundation. And the illusion that women’s rights are taken seriously has been challenged by the fact that there is such an insane pay gap between genders, and to make matters worse, Roe vs. Wade has always been under threat and has now been overturned. We should not overlook the fact that men’s bodies are not restricted in any way by legislation, and they never will be.

I haven’t felt like an American citizen since that moment when my right to choose was stripped from me, and I doubt I ever will feel like one again. Women, in general, are only tolerated if they can be controlled. And what better way to restrict a woman than by taking control of a bodily function?

Keeping us from talking to one another is a part of that control. We don’t seem to notice it as much as the reproductive rights issue, but it’s still pervasive. Men still hang out. They go to bars, they watch sports. It’s much less accepted when women do those things. Instead, we’re kept so busy that we barely notice that we don’t get together very often. We’re expected to stay home and make sandwiches and change diapers. At work we are pitted against one another, fighting over what few breadcrumbs the men see fit to toss in our direction. This, too, is a form of control.

It is important for each one of us to think about the things that tie us down and the things that allow us to fly. We could fly a lot higher if we were more cohesive, but ultimately, each woman has to choose her own path and remember that as she does so, she is also forging a better path for the young women of the future. If things remain as they are, these changes will be so incremental that we’ll barely notice them in our lifetimes. And it’s quite obvious that we’re more than capable of backsliding. We must remain vigilant if we want to make any progress at all.

I won’t tell you what the women in the movie decide to do. You’ll have to see for yourself. I will tell you that the real life women in Bolivia have made entirely different choices. I’ll discuss that in the next post.

I urge you to see Women Talking. I was disappointed that it didn’t win an Oscar for best picture, but it was up against some stiff competition. As with life, timing can be everything.

I will leave you with this: The last sentence in the movie, spoken by a woman to an infant, is, “your story will be different from ours.” It is up to us to determine whether that will be good news or bad, but I’m choosing to look at it as cause for hope.

Three cheers for differences.

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How Can This Be Happening?

America is failing its women and girls.

Warning: Please be advised that this post might be triggering for some people. It discusses sexual abuse, rape, and abortion.

This is a picture of me, a few months before my 10th birthday. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to be turned upside down. I was on the brink of being uprooted from everything I knew and loved in Connecticut, only to be trapped in the heat and poverty and ignorance of rural, cockroach-laden Florida, a state that kept me in its vise-like grip, despite my best efforts, until I finally managed to break free at age 49.

When I look at the girl in this picture, so vulnerable, all legs and arms, I want to scoop her up and rescue her. Even back then I was prone to depression. I can see it in her (my) eyes.

But things would be exponentially worse a year from then. I’d be living in a tent, constantly beaten up by classmates in my just recently desegregated school, and my stepfather would start sexually abusing me at age 11. That sent me into such a state of dissociation that I barely remember the two years that followed.

Another thing I can see in that poor little girl’s eyes is the very faint, distant realization that something was not right with her stepfather. He stared at her a lot. He made her uncomfortable. He had begun to tentatively groom her for the abuse to come. Even if I had had a clue what grooming was, I was too young to be able to articulate that there was danger looming on the horizon, and my mother wouldn’t have allowed herself to hear it anyway. Denial is a toxic family trait.

This little girl believed that when people weren’t looking right at her, she ceased to exist for them. She was convinced that if her feet didn’t stick out of the blankets at night, she would suffocate when she fell asleep. She still refused to eat bread crusts because her mother once told her that they would give her curly hair (under the mistaken impression that that would be an incentive.)

This little girl was a sitting duck.

I can’t be certain, but this could very well be the last remaining photograph of me as someone who still had innocence. This girl still believed that adults had her best interests at heart, and that they could be trusted. She deserved for those things to be true.

I thought of that girl as I read about the 10-year-old who recently had to go out of state to get an abortion after having been raped at least twice. She must have been like me. All legs and arms. Clueless about the horrors that lay ahead. As you read this, she has yet to lose all of her baby teeth. Do you think she still believes in the tooth fairy? I hope so, but I doubt it.

From an adult perspective, I can’t imagine doing anything to put such a child at risk. It astounds me that there are so many people in this world who are hellbent on shattering the innocence of childhood. That innocence is fleeting enough without having politicians and pedophiles rushing it toward the exit.

I certainly can’t imagine turning a little girl into a brood mare for an unwanted fetus that would grow inside her, all but ripping her little undeveloped body in half, and, if she managed to survive that, turn her into an adult too soon. I could not force that child to gaze upon the face of her rapist every time she looked into the eyes of that baby. Especially if it’s only to make a political point.

And yet, here we are. At first, Republicans (and, to my horror, even journalists) tried to say that this little girl didn’t really exist. Then, as the evidence mounted, they tried to get us all to shift our focus from the tragic girl’s need for an abortion and move it to the pervert who impregnated her in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that pathetic excuse for a human being is now in jail, but saying that he should be the only focus implies that this little girl, who has been turned into a political pawn, is some rare unicorn, and that things like this never happen and therefore shouldn’t be considered as a plausible exception in Republican efforts to destroy women’s rights.

In fact, in 2020, 1 in every 5,000 American girls between the ages of 10 and 14 got pregnant. A girl that age cannot give consent under any circumstances. These are rapes. According to RAINN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), every 9 minutes, child protective services substantiates, or finds evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse. It’s happening to a girl right now, as you read this. And then when you consider the number of child abusers who go undetected, and the number of these children who are abused over and over and over again, that’s a lot of sick violence that should be the real focus of rage for anyone who claims to care about life.

Two true stories for you:

First: When I moved to Florida, there was a girl in my school, a 5th grader, who got pregnant and didn’t understand what was happening to her body. Apparently, no one in her family even noticed. Her teachers didn’t notice, either. That, to me, indicates a horrifying level of neglect and the kind of invisibility that no child should be subjected to.

When she went into labor, she was, predictably, all alone, and didn’t know what was going on. She was terrified by the excruciating pain, no doubt. Then this thing (from her perspective) came out of her body. Can you imagine? She took it and threw it over the hedge into her neighbor’s yard. The infant died on impact. Her classmates never saw the girl again. No adult ever talked to us about it. Not even once. That, in itself, sent a message.

Next: In my 20’s, I was an eligibility specialist for the State of Florida. I was the one who processed the paperwork for people applying for food stamps, Medicaid, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. That job gave me a very cynical view of humanity.

Before your mind wanders down that Republican “they are all welfare queens”  back alley, let me explain that the average welfare recipient is a white female whose deadbeat baby daddy refuses to pay child support. If anybody is a welfare queen who benefits from this country’s largesse, it’s those white guys. That, and when I was working back then, in Florida in the mid to late 80’s, an additional child only increased your check by 53 dollars a month. You couldn’t raise a child on that. Any “welfare queen”, if she existed, would quickly discover that having more babies was not the best of get-rich-quick scams.

There is a lot of need out there. My cynicism sprang from the fact that there is a yawning pit of poverty at the very heart of our society that most of us refuse to acknowledge. And a lot of that poverty is tied directly to the fact that the increasing hostility toward women’s rights pushes women and girls ever closer to that pit, and that benefits no one from a societal standpoint, not even those who are doing the pushing. Anyway…

One day, one of my clients called, wanting an increased check because there was a new addition to the family. It wasn’t her baby. No. It belonged to her 11-year-old daughter. That little girl had carried the baby to term because her grown-ass, neglectful mother didn’t protect her from that fate, and didn’t believe in abortion. To say I was horrified is putting it mildly. Child Protective Services got involved. Personally, I blamed the mother for, well, a lot, including the fact that she wasn’t sure who the father of her grandchild was.

Two years later, when the child was 13, she popped up in my caseload again. And she was pregnant again. She was receiving benefits for the baby she had when she was 11, and now she wanted to document this pregnancy so that the baby would have medical coverage as soon as it was born. She was trying to make the best of her situation, at least. After conferring with her social worker, I processed the paperwork, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness about the effed up world in which we live.

And then I got a call from the girl’s mother. The girl had died in childbirth, and the mother wanted her two grandchildren added to her welfare check posthaste. She didn’t sound the least bit remorseful that she had allowed her daughter’s little body to be treated in such a way that it had finally said, “Enough.”

Dead at 13. No chance. All doors to her future slammed shut, never to be opened again. Her choices were never her own. And now, that same thing can be said for every female in this country. We are choiceless. So much so that the number of women choosing sterilization is already increasing, because even that is better than having no agency over one’s life. No one should have the right to take our health decisions and our options from us. And we shouldn’t have to consider mutilating our bodies to avoid such injustices.

And now, the Republicans are trying to go after the doctor who helped that little girl and didn’t do anything illegal in the process. At a bare minimum they are attempting to destroy that woman’s reputation. Republicans, along with their Fox News lackeys, also want to divert our attention to the rapist’s immigration status, as if the streets of America weren’t already lousy with rapists who are citizens.

For every thousand rapists, 975 of them walk free. You probably walk past several rapists every single day, unless you don’t get out much. But do the lives of their victims matter to the pro-lifers? If they had their way, that little girl would have been subjected to never-ending trauma. And all because they think life begins at 6 weeks of gestation and that no other type of life matters.

News flash. A fetus cannot live outside the womb at less than 23 weeks. And even then, it needs a great deal of medical intervention to survive. What I’m about to say may shock some people, but a fetus before 23 weeks is a parasite that cannot survive without its host. The definition of parasite, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an organism living in, on, or with another organism in order to obtain nutrients, grow, or multiply, often in a state that directly or indirectly harms the host.”

Questions for politicians. How do you look yourself in the mirror when you are knowingly forcing women and girls to be hosts against their will? How do you look at a 10-year-old girl and think, “Oh well, no exceptions for rape or incest!” and then give her no choice but to flee to another state like a criminal in order to take back her life, which she hasn’t even had the opportunity to live yet? How? How do politicians have daughters and sisters and still vote to cast them into involuntary servitude?

No two lives are identical. For every tragedy there is a unique circumstance. That’s why it’s a fool’s errand, and downright criminal, to attempt to legislate morality. Whose morality? Do you really think this situation was God’s plan for this little girl? If so, I’d start shopping around for a different deity if I were you. Posthaste.

Protect your children. Keep them close. Listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Teach your girls, especially, that no matter what the government says, nobody has the right to meddle with their bodies, regardless of real or imagined consent, even if the government decides that the consent is solely theirs.

Please vote.


The Devil Made Me Do It

The ultimate get out of jail free card.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about temptation. I can gaze at my ever-expanding waistline and think about how miserable it makes me, and I can stare at a bag of Tim’s potato chips, feeling helpless, and I know that without a doubt, I’ll be diving head first into that bag of chips sooner or later, waistline be damned. I can resist anything but temptation.

But temptation implies that there’s some outside force acting upon me. It’s sort of a get out of jail free card. It’s not my fault. The devil made me do it. I was tempted by… fill in the blank.

This deferment of responsibility is rooted, I think, in the religious teachings that have been embedded in our culture so deeply that we barely think about them anymore. I passed a church today, and the message on their sign said, “The devil wants us to FALL.”

Many of us are taught that we are weak creatures, prone to sin, and satan is out there, hellbent on making us commit these sins. We must resist. But if we can’t, we should repent and be forgiven.

It’s really rather comforting, having a ready excuse for bad behavior. It’s wonderful to be able to blame everything on some outside source, as if we have no ability to say no. Like we’re puppets on strings. We might be doing the dance, but it’s not our choice.

I have a friend who does not like to watch true crime documentaries, because he doesn’t want those sick ideas put into his head. It’s almost as if he thinks that if he learns the motivations of a serial killer, for example, then he might just become one himself. And, mind you, this is the most decent, stand-up guy I’ve ever met in my life.

Here’s an idea. Just say, “I don’t enjoy true crime documentaries.”

Here’s another idea. Admit that every single food item that I put in my mouth is there because I am choosing to put it there. Every. Single. One.

Here’s yet another idea. Stand up and say, “I chose to start drinking/smoking/doing drugs. Yes, now I’m addicted to this substance, but the process began with a choice I made, and now I can choose to get help and/or change my behavior.”

Granted, you can be tempted by others. But even then, you are choosing to surround yourself with these people. If someone is a bad influence, maybe it’s time to cut that person out of your life, or at the very least, stop participating in his or her negative behavior.

I think it’s time that we grow up as a species, and start taking responsibility for our own actions. It may not be fun. It may not be pretty. We may have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. But we can do this.

I admit it. I have not seen my last potato chip. But at least I’ll know that the choice is my own, and hopefully I will make a better choice next time. I’m a work in progress. But the work, and the resulting progress or lack thereof, is mine, mine, all mine.


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In-Betweeny Times

Keep your options open.

May is a very strange month. Sometimes it gets really warm and you think, “Yay! Time to put away the winter clothes!” But every time I’ve done that, I’ve regretted it, because sure enough, here comes a cold snap. So I think of May as an in-betweeny time, and I try to keep my options open.

There are all sorts of in-betweeny times in life. There’s that uncomfortable stage in your development when you’re not quite a child, but also not quite an adult. Some days you feel more mature than others. (And come to think of it, I still feel that way, only not to such an extreme.)

There are also those times when you take great risks and you feel both courageous and scared silly. That’s how I felt when I drove across the country to start a new life in a place where I’d never been, and where I knew no one. One minute I was thinking, “Dang, this takes guts! I’m proud of me!” and the next minute I was thinking, “Holy cow, what have I done?” I had no idea that adrenaline could pump for 3100 miles and during the first several months of my adjustment to this new life. But it turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done.

I also experienced kind of a weird in-betweeny time when I started this new job. I mean, I had 14 years of experience as a bridgetender coming in, so being a bridgetender in Seattle came naturally to a certain extent. But there were also new policies and procedures and new nomenclature to get used to. It was like I knew what I was doing, but then I didn’t. That rattled my cage a tiny bit.

Another in-betweeny time for many people is when they find themselves in dysfunctional relationships, and can’t decide whether or not to stay or go. These transitional periods can also be the most dangerous for people in physically abusive relationships, because the abuser can often sense when he or she is losing power, and the violence accelerates. I’m grateful I’ve never experienced that myself. It must be terrifying.

And I hate the in-betweeny time when you suspect that there’s a cold coming on, and yet it hasn’t quite hit yet. You feel kind of bleh, but not so bleh that you have a legitimate reason to don flannel and start complaining. You just have to wait and see. How irritating.

And I’m sure that most of us have experienced the feeling of being on the brink of a major decision. Should I take this new job, or should I stay put? Should I marry this person or stay single? Should I buy a house or continue to rent?

In-betweeny times are when we are the most vulnerable, because we all want to make the right choices, but we will never be sure if we did. To this I say, keep your options open, but end your agony and decide. Because the no man’s land that you find yourself in is not a place that you want to remain for long.


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Stop Calling Alcoholism a Disease

Take responsibility. Take back your power.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have zero tolerance for alcoholics. Zero. (I’ve written about this before, and you can find that post here.) I’m also not a doctor, so please don’t consider this post to be medical advice. This is just me fleshing out the unpopular side of a debate that people have been avoiding for decades, to wit,

is alcoholism a disease?

There is no other disease that I can think of that compels you to take an outside substance into your body. No one calls smoking a disease. Smoking can cause many diseases, but it is not considered a disease in and of itself. Alcoholism, too, can cause diseases. Liver disease, for example, and an alteration in brain chemistry that makes it harder to resist alcohol, which is considered by many to be a brain disease. But there is no disease vector on earth that caused you to take that first drink, or even the second one.

Yes, alcoholism can run in families, but that doesn’t make it a disease, either. That speaks to the behavioral aspect of the addiction. You learn coping skills from your family. Unfortunately, not all coping skills are good ones. And yes, your family might be more susceptible to the brain disease that makes alcohol harder to resist, but still, starting to drink was your bad choice. That brain disease couldn’t get in there until you chose to introduce that substance into your body.

The definition of disease, according to the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. is as follows:



a definite pathological process (in other words, an organic process occurring as a consequence of a disease) having a characteristic set of signs and symptoms. It may affect the whole body or any of its parts, and its etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown.

On the other hand, the definition of addiction in that same dictionary is as follows:



  1. thestate of beinggiven up to somehabit or compulsion.

  2. strong physiological and psychological dependence on a drug or other agent; see alcoholism and drug dependence.

So, why does society want to call alcoholism a disease?

Because the hallmark of addiction is an unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. If it’s a disease, then it’s not your fault, right?

But a much more nefarious reason is that calling alcoholism a disease props up the first step of the Twelve Step program. The first step is: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Until you buy into that step, you cannot really proceed to the others.

Yes, I’ll concede that alcoholism can make your life unmanageable. That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? But are you powerless over it? No.

Yes, you are in the throes of addiction. You need help. And part of that help should lie in therapy, so that you can learn how your choices brought you to this terrible point in life, and also so that you can formulate alternative coping skills to use in times of strife. You will also need medical help to get past the withdrawal, and all the ravages that alcohol has caused in your body.

But those are actions you must take. You. No one else. So that’s your power. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t want you to feel power. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry that has weaseled its way into the vast majority of the addiction programs in the world. But their dirty little secret is that, in a good year, that program is only 10 percent effective. (Read more about these scary statistics here.)

If alcoholism is a disease and AA is the cure, and it’s only 10 percent effective, then somebody better get back to the drawing board in a dang hurry.

They also want you to think that you’re an alcoholic for life, so that you’ll continue to grind your way through the Alcoholics Anonymous money mill. But think about it. With most other diseases, there’s either a cure or, ultimately, death.

Alcoholism shouldn’t be considered a life sentence. It should be seen as a problem that needs a solution. You need to attack the behavioral, psychological and physical aspects of it, and there are ways to do that other than AA. But you can’t find them if you’re too busy working on being powerless.

Rational Recovery is the program I recommend. It teaches you to identify your addictive voice and come up with actions or responses that will allow you to be a healthier, happier you. But part of that is taking responsibility and taking action. Take back your power.

The first step is to stop calling alcoholism a disease. No more excuses. Take responsibility. You are not diseased. You are not a disease. You are not powerless. If you continue down the path of alcoholism, destroying your life and the lives of the people that you love in the process, that’s your choice. But stop hiding from the fact that there are other choices.

I know this post will probably ruffle feathers, but it has been boiling up inside me for a long time, and I had to get it out there. I wish more people would speak up.


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The Anatomy of a Traumatic Experience

It was an unremarkable day. In retrospect, that was one of the strangest things about it. I was walking across the bridge to get to work, as I’ve done thousands of times. The sun was out. I had no plans, really. Think “status quo.”

And then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned, just in time to see the guy hit the water. He had jumped off the next bridge over. There was this big splash, and that’s when time stopped for me. I think I will always carry with me a static image of him hitting the water, the splash and the waves it caused frozen in place. Because at that instant I knew he was dead. I knew it just as sure as I’m alive.

Needless to say, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at the body with my mouth hanging open. My mind started to bargain. “You didn’t really just see that.” “It’s not a body. Someone must have dropped something big and heavy off the bridge.” “This is not happening.” “No. This can’t be happening.”

Then I saw two boats race out from the rowing club. They tried to drag the body out of the water, but they couldn’t. Then the Harbor Patrol came screaming around the bend in the lake, and they were able to pull him out.

Somewhere along in there I had walked woodenly to the drawbridge tower where I work. (The sequence of events is forever hazy in my mind.) I climbed the stairs. “Did you see that?” I said to my coworker.

“See what?” She had been looking the other way. Time had been moving at a normal pace for her. And then I changed that, probably. She went down and talked to the officers on the scene, and then she left, after urging me to call our supervisor.

I talked to the supervisor for a long time. This is not the first time a bridgetender has witnessed a suicide, and it won’t be the last. She offered to let me have the day off, but I didn’t feel up to the commute. I was already there, and I could be traumatized at work just as easily at I could at home. She also strongly encouraged me to contact our Employee Assistance Program and get some counseling, because this was a big deal.

How right she was. I had never seen anyone die before. I’ve seen dozens of people consider jumping, but then get talked out of it. That’s upsetting enough. I’ve seen a few dead bodies, after the fact. But I’ve never seen anyone die before. It changes you.

I spent the rest of the shift feeling stunned and sad and sick to my stomach. I didn’t accomplish much. I kind of stared off into the middle distance a lot of the time. I thought about the jumper, and was heartbroken that he had felt so much pain and despair that he made that irreversible choice. I was heartbroken for the people who love him. I was upset for all the other witnesses, including the ones at the waterfront restaurant who were expecting to have a lovely salmon lunch, as I have on more than one occasion, and instead got an awful memory.

The weird thing was that I could see that life was going on all around me. Boats were happily floating over the spot, unaware that someone had just died there. People were jogging. Cars hummed their way across the bridge.

The waterway had always been kind of a sacred place for me. Now it had been violated. By the jumper? By the boaters? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

I talked to several people during the course of the shift. My crew chief stopped by. He offered, again, to let me have the day off. He reminded me about the Employee Assistance Program. He told me a few stories about things he’s experienced, and how it made him feel. It was really nice of him to stop by. I kind of felt detached, though.

I also called my sister, who was predictably horrified and sympathetic, and a few friends, who were sorry and tried to be comforting. I even spoke to my therapist. But I felt… it’s hard to explain. I felt like I was in a different reality. A different place, where I couldn’t quite reach them, and they couldn’t quite reach me. I could hear what they were saying, but it was like I was at a high altitude, and my ears had yet to pop. At a remove. Alone.

At the end of the shift I expected to go home and have a really good cry, but the tears never came. As of this writing, they still haven’t come. But I can feel them on the inside.

When I got home, I hugged my dog, and then fell into a deep sleep. I was really afraid I’d have a nightmare and wake up screaming with only my dog to comfort me, but that didn’t happen. I don’t even think I tossed or turned. I barely even wrinkled the sheets. It was like I had been in a coma.

When I woke up, “it” was my first thought. But oddly enough, I felt calm. I felt rested. I was in a good mood. Could I have gotten past this so easily? It felt like I had been given a “get out of jail free” card. What a relief. Tra la la.

Okay, yeah, maybe I’ve gotten past this. Woo! What an adult I am! This is awesome! Just in case, though, I did look into sending a condolence note to the next of kin. I spoke to the Harbor Patrol Chaplain. Naturally, he couldn’t give me a name, but he might be able to forward the note on for me. I thought that would be a nice little bit of closure.

I also spoke to the Employee Assistance Program, and set up some counseling sessions, even though I was feeling great. Way to go for practicing self-care, Barb! I felt really mature and well balanced.

In fact, I spoke to a couple of professionals who thought I was probably over the worst of it. But my therapist told me, cautiously, that I’d probably experience ups and downs for quite some time. There’s a reason she makes the big bucks.

Again, that night, I slept well. I was rested the next day, but a little subdued. Nothing major. Just kind of bleh.

And then that afternoon I started to shake uncontrollably. I wasn’t cold. I was just suddenly overwhelmed. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had several semi-urgent things on my to-do list, but it was painfully obvious that I was in no shape to deal. I just… I shut down.

I kind of checked in with myself, and what I got was: I’m afraid. I feel out of control. Everything feels so fragile, like a soap bubble. I’m so exhausted that the air feels like the consistency of chocolate pudding. Everything takes more effort than normal. I just want to be left alone.

Which is kind of good because after that first day, most people stopped following up with me. They were over it. It was an awkward conversation. Life goes on. But I still felt, and still feel to this day, that I need someone to hold me while I cry, and that someone can’t seem to be found.

Yes, there’s therapy in my future, and yes, I’ll learn to cope with my new reality. I know this because it’s not the first traumatic thing that’s ever happened to me. I hope it’s the last, but I kind of doubt it. I am also well aware that things are cyclical. I’ll have good days and bad days.

Perhaps it’s the awareness of the cycles of life that have always prevented me from making the horrible choice that the jumper did. No matter how bad things get, even when the loneliness is so bad it’s physically painful, I know that eventually the pendulum shifts in the other direction.

That, and I could never put someone through what that jumper has put the witnesses, the first responders, and his loved ones through. Never. Not ever.

Having said that, though, I hope he has found the peace that seems to have eluded him in life.


Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Rant About Smokers

I’m sure that the very people who need to read this the most will be the very people who will not do so, but I feel the need to get this off my chest. I hate smoking and everything about it. I’m tired of soft-pedaling that attitude simply because it’s an addiction.

I’m quite sure I’d be just as addicted to nicotine as the next person, but here’s the difference: I chose never to start smoking. If you did not make that same choice, it’s on you. Own it. Yes, tobacco companies tend to target youth, who are more apt to make stupid choices, and heaven knows none of us are the same people we were at 14, but even so, you made that choice. Take responsibility. Stop making excuses.

And for God’s sake, stop throwing your saliva-soaked cigarette butts on the ground. It’s disgusting. I used to love to walk in the rain. It makes the world seem so fresh and clean. But the last time I did that, I had to wade through about a thousand soggy cigarette butts, and it left me dry heaving. I’d rather look at dog poop. Yeah, you’re addicted. But that doesn’t give you license to be a pig. And any smoker who tries to say they’ve never thrown a butt on the ground, not even once, is lying to themselves and everyone else. And as one of the unfortunates who has to clean up after your lazy ass, know that I’m cursing your name with every butt I have to pick up.

And then there’s the stench. You are so used to it that you probably don’t even smell it anymore, but trust me: you reek. Your house stinks. Your car is even worse. When you sweat, it oozes out of your pores. It clings to your hair and your clothes. (My mother died 26 years ago, and her raincoat, which I inherited, STILL stinks.) And if you leave ash trays around, that disgusting odor permeates the room. Many of us believe that you render yourself unkissable and undateable.

Growing up, the first sound I’d hear every morning was my mother’s smoker’s hack. Do you have any idea how terrifying that is for a child? It’s awful knowing that something is wrong with the person who is supposed to keep you safe. Sure enough, she died of cancer when I was 26.

And I suffered from chronic bronchitis because she chose to expose me to that secondhand smoke at a time when my little lungs were still developing. That’s one powerful addiction if you choose it over your child’s health. Shame on you. And don’t even get me started about women who smoke while pregnant. Would you inject rat poison into your own placenta? No? That’s what you are doing to your unborn child.

And if I hear one more smoker complain…actually have the nerve to complain about not being able to smoke anymore in restaurants or on planes or in other public places, I hereby reserve the right to slap the shit out of that person. Even heroin addicts have the sense not to gripe about these things.

The worst part about all of this is that you are an unbelievably selfish human being. You are killing yourself. You know it. Everyone knows it. You are committing suicide in the slowest possible way. And that hurts the people that you love. That leaves the people who depend upon you vulnerable. That in turn puts an unbelievable strain on the economy and the health care system.

You are shitting all over the incredible gift of life that you have been given. And because of that, while I might like you or even love you, I have zero respect for you and your effed up life choice. Zero.

End of rant.

smoking rant.jpeg

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Pick on Someone Your Own Size

Of all the collateral damage caused by our Grand Poobah, I have to say I feel the most sorry for Barron Trump. If he’s not being criticized about being sleepy at 3 in the morning, he’s being called “Poor Little Rich Boy” or being accused of mental health issues.

Childhood is hard enough without being bullied by the internet trolls and the comedians of this world. We all have scars from the cruelties we experienced growing up, but there’s absolutely no excuse for this. Give the kid a break. There are some lines that no one should ever cross.

Barron Trump did not ask for any of this. He didn’t choose his parents or the paths they decided to take in life. He had absolutely no say in the matter. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be him. He will never experience the luxury of a normal life. His father is fair game, but he isn’t.

Satire is fine. Criticism is often necessary. Opinions have a right to be expressed. You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t have to agree with you. But direct your slings and arrows at the adults of this world. Pick on someone your own size.

Say what you will, but at the end of the day, this is just a 10 year old boy. And he’s a 10 year old boy who gets to look forward to experiencing puberty under public scrutiny. Can you imagine?


A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

Age Hath Its Privileges

Many years ago, I was standing with my niece and nephew in their Missouri kitchen. As we talked, I got the orange juice out of the refrigerator to pour myself a glass. Just then my brother-in-law walked in and snapped, “Who left the refrigerator door open???”

The tension level in that room was palpable. My niece and nephew fell nervously silent. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I did.” Then I finished pouring my juice and calmly put it back in the refrigerator and closed the door. He turned and left the room.

I thought, “What’s the matter, Buddy-roo, can’t you pick on someone your own size?”

I found this doubly amusing because this was a man who thought nothing of leaving the lights blazing continually throughout the house, and he was worked up about the energy consumption of an open refrigerator for the 5 seconds it took me to do my thing. But it was kind of sad that he “had to” let it drop because the perpetrator was full-grown me. If it had been one of the kids, he’d have probably caused a massive stink.

It seems you have the least amount of patience for the ones you love. Perhaps because deep down you know you can get away with bad behavior with them. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the opposite of the way it should be.

When you find yourself being harsh with someone, you might want to ask yourself if you would react the same way if that person were an 80 year old total stranger. If not, perhaps you should re-think your tone. If you are capable of reacting with more respect, you should do so.

Similarly, I’ve worked with people who are absolute bullies to their subordinates, but are obsequious to their superiors. That makes it even more shameful, in my opinion, because they clearly know how to be polite; they just choose not to be when they can get away with it. Given the choice, I prefer people who are equal opportunity offenders.

Bullies are a pet peeve of mine. If I see you taking advantage of someone who happens to be more vulnerable, I will take you down every time. This often puts me in awkward situations, but the buck has to stop somewhere. Why not here?


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Write Your Own Life Story

It’s not as though young people are beating a path to my door, asking me for advice. In fact, I don’t really know any young people. We move in entirely different circles. But given my rich inner landscape, I have a tendency to carry on conversations in my mind that I’ve never really had. This is one of them.

I have this fantasy that 30 years hence, some university asks me to speak at their graduation. Who knows why. But graduation speeches are the perfect forum to share what you’ve learned about life. So here’s what I’d say in this speech of a lifetime.

I stand here near the end of my life, looking at all of you, who are at the beginning of yours, and I am very excited for you. I suspect you are feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities for your future. There are so many paths you can take. How do you choose? Terrifying abundance. What a gift!

Embrace that feeling. Lean into it. And allow yourself the first-world luxury of feeling this abundance for the rest of your life. One of the worst mistakes you can make is letting yourself feel trapped. You always have choices. You may not choose them out of a sense of obligation, a fear of failure, or the comfort of the well-worn path you find yourself on, but those choices are still there, waiting for you. Therein lies your freedom.

Never forget that it is entirely up to you to write your own life story. No one else can do it for you. Every single person on this planet will take a different journey. That’s more than 7 billion unique journeys going on right this second. Isn’t that amazing? So make your journey your very own.

At least once a day, stop what you’re doing and look around you. Really, really look. You’ll be amazed at what you see.

Don’t let your family dictate your career, don’t stay married only for the sake of the children, don’t remain in a job that you hate because people are counting on your paycheck. If you do, you will have regrets. Regrets are your brain’s way of telling you that you just didn’t listen to it.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just make sure that the mistakes you make are all yours. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life, and so will you. Most of mine have been because I didn’t follow my gut, I worried about what others thought, and I allowed myself to be talked into things that didn’t feel right. But in the end, my mistakes were just another part of the journey, and they often taught me much and sent me down paths I’d have never discovered otherwise. It’s all good. It’s life.

So live your life. Yours. Make it unique. Make it a work of art. And give others the space to create their own masterpieces.

The only other piece of advice I have, and this is very important: take a picture of your butt now. Someday you’re going to miss it.