Houston, We Have a Problem.

[Warning: Anger and Profanity Ahead. Lots of profanity. If my mother is reading this, she should probably stop right here.]

Another school shooting yesterday. That makes how many this year?

Oh, that’s right. 18.

EIGHTEEN SCHOOL SHOOTINGS.
IN THE FIRST FORTY-FIVE DAYS OF THE YEAR.

That’s one every 2-3 days. Following that estimation, we’re due for another one tomorrow since the third day is a Saturday.

But according to this country’s administration, half of the internet, and gun enthusiasts everywhere, we don’t have a problem. No, not at all. Not even a little bit. It’s perfectly okay that children are dying in horrifying ways at the hands of their peers.

How is this NOT a problem? How are our children’s lives so fucking insignificant that we can’t admit that there might be a little bit of an issue?  What’s it going to take for our lawmakers to finally admit just how wrong this is?

Now I don’t normally open up my big, opinionated mouth and fly off the hip about anything (yeah, right…y’all know me better than that), but right now I’m hurt, angry, and scared. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is let my daughter go to school this morning. After she ran off toward her classroom, totally oblivious to danger, I got back in my car and I cried for an hour. Even now I keep wondering if this morning’s hug could be the last one.

But I’m done worrying about stepping on toes. Fuck all y’all who say we don’t have a problem.

Ahem.

So the first thing gun nuts did after this happened was to start screaming about their second-amendment rights. Let’s review, shall we?

AMENDMENT II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,
the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

First and foremost…most people squawking right now aren’t part of a militia. They’re individual citizens who think it’s okay to own an AR-15, Uzi, or other assault-grade weapon for fun.

Now, I agree with part of the above statement — taking away the right to defend oneself is going too far. The solution is not to remove all firearms. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me explain something, first.

There are currently two firearms in my house – a pistol and a .45 muzzle loader. Both belonged to my father. The pistol is a six-shot revolver, by the way. Simple, but effective. There’s also a box of hollow-point bullets to go with it locked safely away. I, personally, have never fired either. I know how, mind you, so if you come into my house without asking you take your life into your own hands because (1) you don’t know where in the house they are, (2) you don’t know where I am, and (3) you don’t have a clue if I’m going to be in a bad mood or not.

You see, my Daddy was a huge hunk of Grade-A, USDA Certified Country-Boy Meat, and he taught me well when I was very young. Though I haven’t used that firearm knowledge in years, it doesn’t mean I don’t still have it. I have great respect for firearms, and to a certain extent I fear them. They are capable of causing great damage in the hands of the wrong people. They can save lives as well as take them away. I get that.

I live in South Carolina, so weapons registration isn’t a requirement. My guns aren’t registered. However, they can and will be very easily if the PEOPLE IN CHARGE so decide that it needs to happen. I don’t have any problem at all taking them in for registration. If that’s going to save even one life, then it’s worth it to me.

Back to my point.

In a perfect world where they could all be gone in the blink of an eye, yes…I’d love to see guns go away for good. But this isn’t that world. It’s the real world.

So no, I don’t think it’s fair to remove firearms from the hands of law-abiding citizens completely. I do, however, feel that some change is necessary. And not all of it has to do directly with the right to bear arms.

Now for the part of this that’s gonna piss people off…

NO CIVILIAN NEEDS AN ASSAULT WEAPON. Period. End of discussion. They were made for the specific purpose of killing PEOPLE. And it seems, more recently, CHILDREN.

Someone told me one time he uses an AR-15 to hunt because he has coyotes near his house. You can kill a coyote just as easily with a single-barrel shotgun. If you’re a bad enough shot that you need high capacity rounds, then you probably don’t need to be playing with a gun. If you have a “collection” of weapons (as in three or more on display), that collection needs to be under supervision and locked away from the hands of those who don’t own them.

BUT.

But… but there’s more to it, yes. Registering weapons and limiting the availability of certain types only solves part of the problem.

Yes, people kill each other with more than just guns.

If you want to keep people from killing each other, you’re probably going to have to just kill everyone on the planet and be done with it. If I so choose, I can kill a person with a pillowcase. Or a frying pan. Or a car. Poison. Kitchen Twine. A toothbrush. A bomb. A brick. A baseball bat. A spoon. My bare fucking hands! The possibilities are endless. Human ingenuity is an amazing trait. We, as a species, have the ability to manufacture tools from common objects to get any job done. That’s how the industrial age started.

Did you know it takes 5 psi to crush a windpipe and effectively suffocate someone? My mother could do that one-handed. Yeah, it’s THAT easy.

I’m a writer. I know these things.

BUT IT HAS NO BEARING ON GUN VIOLENCE. None at all. Apples and orangutans. I can’t go into a school with a baseball bat and a sword and do the same amount of damage as I would with an assault rifle. I might injure a couple of people…even manage to kill one if I catch an artery. Even then, the other sixteen are still alive.

But there’s a bigger problem than the gun nuts and their impinged rights.

Our Government.

The assholes driving this flaming shitshow don’t care. Not even a little. They got paid already, and they have no conscience. And that useless, lumpy bag of dicks we’re supposed to call a president has exacerbated the horrors of a corrupt government with every breath he’s taken in the last 16 months. That idiot never should have been given the kind of power he has, and the sooner it’s taken from him, the better.

Our legislators – so far removed from real life so not to be personally affected by any of this – offer empty condolences, pretend to pray, and go right back to quietly stripping the people of their basic rights while waving a red flag in front of things that should ultimately be non-issues.

Who the fuck cares what bathroom someone uses or what color my neighbor’s skin is or what direction he faces when he prays? I certainly don’t.

We all bleed red.

Case in point: CHLDREN ARE FUCKING DYING AND YOU’RE LETTING IT HAPPEN, YOU IGNORANT TWATS. Those children and their grieving families are innocent. They’re not to blame for going to school and trying to become something more.  They aren’t in the wrong for being young and joking with their friends. They should be worrying about history tests and prom, not lockdown drills and final messages to their mothers from a closet.

They’re cattle in a killing field right now because our lawmakers are uncomfortable with the truth.

That truth is ugly…lax laws lead to massacre and the NRA fighting against protective regulations lines it up to land squarely in terrorist territory.

No, we can’t stop all gun violence in this country right now. But doing nothing isn’t gonna make it better. Inaction perpetuates the violence. Using black market trading as an excuse is a stupid argument. It’s a cop out, and even suggesting that illegal activity begets inaction means you’re a fucking idiot.

One more time for the people in the back: SUGGESTING THAT ILLEGAL ACTIVITY BEGETS INACTION MEANS YOU’RE A COMPLETE FUCKING IDIOT. Do with that what you will.

Yeah, people still commit crimes. But by this flawed logic, the police should sit in the station playing canasta because their presence isn’t a deterrent to thieves. Hospitals should shut down because people will always continue to get hurt.

Which is insane.

Now, the solution… we take baby steps. There has to be common ground before real change happens. Forget the loudmouths at either end of the spectrum. They’ll still be standing on the sidelines screaming offense no matter what you do.

Here’s how this should go down:

  1. Both sides take a breather, have a glass of water and a sandwich, and CALM THE FUCK DOWN. ‘Kay? Can we do that? Good.
  2. Find the source of the problem, be it mental health, firearm education, more stringent acquisitions, limitation of allowable firearms, or a combination of these and other factors yet to be decided.
  3. Civilized discussion. Again, it’s a stretch…but it’s what needs to happen. Whether we agree with the opinions or not, they need to be heard and taken seriously on all sides. Being civilized is the only way to reduce the risk.
  4. Accept now that both sides have to compromise. In order to make this work, we have to come together as a community and sort out what portions of the issue need regulation and what can go on as is.
  5. Write regulations that are fair to both sides – which allow the retention and use of firearms but protect innocents from slaughter. Create education programs. Tighten up acquisitions. Limit availability of assault weapons.

The one thing both sides need to remember going into this is that firearms are powerful. They’re a huge responsibility, and not everyone is qualified to own and operate them. You don’t get a driver’s license without first exhibiting your ability to operate a motor vehicle. You can’t fly a plane without proving you won’t crash it. You can’t practice law unless you KNOW the law. You aren’t a surgeon because you want to be; you’re a surgeon because you train extensively for it.

It’s going to take time and effort, and those of us who know change is necessary continuing to loudly demand change. The solution will not be instant, but it’s there, waiting to be discovered.

And don’t talk to me about arming teachers as a solution. Those poor souls have enough on their shoulders without having to worry about a handgun in a kindergarten classroom. That’s one more burden they don’t need, and makes the classrooms LESS safe. Besides, when the guy with the AR comes through the door blowing everyone to shit, the teacher is going to be too busy herding the kids into a dark corner or closet to unlock a box, flip the safety, and go find the bastard doing it. That’s ludicrous and you’re an idiot for thinking it.

“But now isn’t the time to talk about the laws…”

Fuck that noise. Right now is exactly the time to talk about it. While emotions are high and it’s fresh in everyone’s minds. While we all know the horror of wondering how many CHILDREN survived that unimaginable atrocity. While we remember who we’re fighting for.

But “don’t tread on me”!

I’ll stomp all over your motherfucking face if it means my daughters stay safe. And when I’m done, you’ll beg me for more, bitch.

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In Memoriam

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Last week, the world lost a truly special soul.

I had the good fortune to have Brenda in my life for fourteen years. My only regret is that we didn’t become such good friends sooner than we did. She had the biggest heart, and I am so very honored to be able to call her a friend.

Her funeral was this past Tuesday, and there were so many things I wanted to say – things I wanted to tell her family – but I couldn’t do it. Just the thought of voicing everything in my head and heart brought me to tears. It’s hard to express in words how much I love her and how much I’m going to miss her.

I’m also not much for eulogizing. But these are things that need to be said. So bear with me. I’ll try not to be too long-winded.

*

The first thing I was told when I came to work here was simple: “Don’t trust Brenda.”

But nobody could tell me why. I was young, and at the time we had split factions around here. It was kind of a warzone and I was stuck in the middle, everyone hanging around to see which way I’d fall.

I don’t play those games.

Over the years, Brenda and I became friends. Tentative at first, but friendly toward one another. Most of our conversation was superficial, and then one day we had a real conversation. You know, one of those conversations where you really get to see who someone is.

Then one day not long after that, we were good friends. Somewhere in those light conversations about movies and comic books and music, that trust grew. It happened without my knowledge

One afternoon I took her home – this was before I became her regular ride – and we got into a really heavy discussion. I don’t remember what the context was exactly, but it had to do with some racial issue. I made a comment about fair being fair regardless of what someone looked like or what they believed. Brenda just looked at me, and after a minute she said, “You really believe that, don’t you?”

Something changed that day, and shortly thereafter I stopped thinking about her as a coworker, or even a friend. She became family. She and my mother grew into a very tight friendship. She gave my mother the unconditional love she never had from someone outside our family, and though they only had a couple of years together, I’m thankful for that time.

She had this light about her. You always knew exactly where you stood, but even when she was telling you to get the hell out of her office, she was doing it with a smile. She made everyone’s day better just by being in it.

As it turns out, over the years I found she was one of the very few people up here I could trust, and I did so implicitly. She was my rock at work, a beautiful friend with a big heart and a lot of love to give. It never mattered what was going on with her; she always wanted to know what was wrong with us. She took care of us.

I tried to take care of her. As I write this, I feel like such a failure because she’s gone. I know, logically, there’s nothing I can do for a massive heart attack. But I tried. I wanted her to be here so much longer.

I can never remember a time when Brenda wasn’t here. She’s always been a quiet constant in the next office. She had a true passion for her job, and she loved this place. It’ll definitely be an adjustment, and one I’m not looking forward to.

In the Shadow of Death: A #HoldOntoTheLight Post

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Last year, I told a very painful story, one I wish for the whole world to read, then read again. It’s hard, so please forgive me if this post carries all the tact and diplomacy of a sledgehammer through a plate-glass window.

I’m still hurt, still angry. Still seeking vengeance. Still praying that by shoving Angie’s story down the throats of anyone who will listen, her tragedy might open some eyes…might save someone else’s life.

AngieOn November 6, 2014, I lost a good friend to domestic violence. She died sixty feet from where I stood, face-down in a parking lot, four bullets neatly in the back of her head at the hand of her estranged husband. This was the climax to a three-week long horror story wherein he burned their house down, tried to turn their children against her, stalked her, tormented her, stalked me trying to get to her, and then blamed her when his sorry ass lost his job for not showing up to work. Then the son of a bitch turned the .45 and put it in his mouth before any of us had a chance to see him properly punished.

I know what you’re thinking.  You want to know why I’m being so selfish and conceited, right? Why I think my thoughts and opinions should matter.

Simple. Because I’m still here. And because I hurt, goddamn it. I LOST SOMEONE I LOVE.

I miss her.
I love her.
I’m lost without her.

But I’m not the only one. Angie left behind two sons – two handsome, well-mannered, intelligent young men who are now orphans. They’ve been left to fend for themselves at the mercy of their father’s family…the same family who has tried desperately to canonize the murderer they call son and brother. And you know what? I understand that. I can accept their need to rationalize his behavior…because you never want to admit someone is capable of cold-blooded murder. It’s hard for them.

But it’s also partially his family’s fault. With multiple family members in law enforcement, he used bullying tactics to keep Angie at bay. Her attempts at a protective order were blocked. He was a good guy, just ’cause he was someone’s brother in the department.

That, my friends, is a disgusting misuse of authority. I blame his family for her death as much as I do him. They could have stopped him, but they enabled his behavior, enabled his abuse. Because they didn’t want to see him as something capable of unspeakable evil.

But back to those boys – they’re both adults now. Thankfully, despite the trauma of their loss, they’re okay. One is in the military and the other is making a good life for himself out of college. I still think about them, still worry about them all the time. I want to be there for them since she can’t be…it’s the least I can do.

So the point I’m trying to make here… Domestic Violence hurts more than just the victim. It hurts everyone involved. Angie left behind two beautiful children. Her mother and brother – estranged from her or not – were devastated by her death. All of her friends, our coworkers…everyone that knew her. We all still hurt. There are still days, even two years later, where I pick up the phone to call or text her, but then I remember she isn’t there. Her number is still in my phone, no doubt passed on to someone else by now. I have a recording from a commission meeting that took place about two weeks before she died where she filled in for me. I still listen to it from time to time just to hear her voice. As long as I can hear her voice, she’ll still live on in my memory. I wouldn’t trade that ten-second soundbite for the world.

You would think after two years, the tears would have mostly stopped by now. But they don’t. They keep coming. It’s hard to see the screen as I write this because my vision has blurred almost to the point of blindness.

In closing, I ask this of anyone living in an abusive situation: Take Angie’s story to heart. GET HELP. Get away. Go to the police. A shelter. A friend. Just leave and don’t look back. Have children? Take them with you. Save their lives and yours. It’s okay to be afraid. But the longer you stay, the harder it is to cut those strings.

He only hit me once, but he apologized. That’s how it starts. It ALWAYS escalates. By the time you’ve had enough, you’ll be well on your way to dead. I don’t want you dead. I probably don’t know you, but I’m here for you. I’m in your corner.

He’s connected to the law. SO? Report his ass anyway. Then go to a neighboring jurisdiction and report him again. Then go to a shelter and get a lawyer.

He’ll try to kill me if I leave. Possibly, but he WILL kill you if you stay. Shelters and counselors are equipped to handle this kind of situation.

Angie left and she died anyway. And let me tell you why… Our staff panicked when he showed up. She went outside to keep him from killing all of us in the office. She protected us. She sacrificed herslf to save us because she knew he wouldn’t stop until one of them was dead. Her situation escalated to an unstoppable conclusion. Yours doesn’t have to.

Don’t stay. Leave while there’s a chance. Tomorrow might be too late.


there is a way out

SC S.T.O.P. Domestic Abuse Program

Rock Hill Area Safe Passage

Safe Harbor Domestic Abuse Center

About the Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Give and Take: A #HoldOntoTheLight Post

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I’m a Giver.

I’m the type of person who doesn’t know how to say no, who thrives on making people smile, who will run herself into the ground trying to do everything without asking for something in return. We take care of the unwell. We volunteer for all manner of unsavory tasks. We’re fixers, problem solvers. Nurturers. We’re natural-born victims, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

We do it all at our own expense. We don’t know how to say no. Seriously…if something is asked of me, my first inclination is to say okay, to take on yet another task or project (even if I’m already so backed up I’ll never see light again), and try my hardest to accomplish it not on time, but early. This mentality leads to emotional drainage and breakdowns.

givetakeHence my comment about natural-born victims. We aren’t abused in the standard “you suck and you’ll never accomplish anything” way. We smile and nod and even though we’re dying inside, we continue to take on everything, because we live in fear of letting someone down. We allow ourselves to be abused.

Enter the Takers.

The Takers are the ones who give the orders, who make the requests, who feed on our emotion without returning the investment. They’re predators. Parasites. Many people don’t even know they’re takers. They don’t realize what they’re doing, that even though there’s a “thank you” attached to the back end of the request, it’s still a burden which has been placed on someone else. They don’t realize they aren’t giving back.

Some people are just selfish. Those kinds of Takers are the ones who generally inflict the abuse on the Givers. Takers will take until there’s nothing left, just as Givers will give until they’re empty. Takers – the chronic abusers – don’t care who they have to stomp on to get what they want. Don’t get me wrong, Takers can be generous. They can be extremely generous, but it’s done in such a way that it gets them something in return. They give just enough to get it back tenfold. They know how to work the system, to keep the Givers coming back, even if they do it unconsciously.

Takers feed on the energy of Givers to fuel their own selfish desires, to fill their own souls. Some of the closest friends I’ve ever had have been Takers. Those friendships flare bright and burn out fast.

Over the years I’ve learned to identify the Takers pretty quickly. I’m in a position now in my life where I know I need to distance myself from them, and if someone is only interested in what I can do for him or her, then that person is toxic. I’m learning to say no. I’m learning to balance my emotions with others’ expectations. I’m learning to stop apologizing. I’m learning to just walk away. But it hurts to lose friends, because I genuinely care about people. That’s the rub.

Givers will hold onto a dying situation until their light is fully extinguished. It hurts like hell to see I’ve been unfriended on Facebook, particularly by someone I’ve met in person. I’ve had episodes of emotional drainage that have thrown me into serious depression. I’ve contemplated hurting myself over it. I’ve cried so many tears over people and situations that don’t deserve them. But it’s a long game, and I don’t let it win. I know the rules now and I know I’m better than that, and I know that there are others out there who appreciate what I have to give and are willing to give back.

I love to cook, to test and create recipes, and see the satisfaction on the faces of my test subjects when something is good. I’ve taught myself to make all manner of delicacies and sweet treats because those things bring happiness. Even if it’s fleeting, the taste of a warm, flaky croissant with butter will put a smile on anyone’s face. From time to time I bring hand-made cinnamon rolls to work for everyone for breakfast. I like making people happy.

But I’m a busy woman – I have a day job and two little girls who depend on me for everything. I’m running an administrative office by day and a household by night, so there’s little time for just me. I’m pretty damned tough by anyone’s standards, but I can – and do – break. When writing becomes a chore, I know it’s time to step back and reassess. I’m at that point now.givetake2

Confession: I have not completed and published a new piece of fiction since October 2015, when An Improbable Truth came out. Last year I was very pregnant and very sick for a very long time. Subsequently, I only wrote the two short stories last calendar year, and one of those is currently dying in an anthology that was never really promoted. I love that story, and I’m sad that first publication rights were wasted.

I realized too late I was involved with a Taker. I was invited to submit a story to fill a hole in an anthology he was publishing, and asked to step in as a co-editor for one anthology and the editor of another. I jumped at all three offers, excited to be involved in something again. I solicited work from most of my literary friends. Then when the sickness started, I was offline for long periods of time because if I wasn’t at work, I was either caring for my older daughter or sleeping. I tried to meet my obligations, and for reasons often beyond my control, I failed. I lost touch with a lot of people last summer because of that, but afterward I got nearly every one of them back.

I found out through the grapevine I was blamed for many of the issues surrounding the press. I was used as a scapegoat for a failing business that had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t “pulling my weight”, I was told. Then I discovered one day I’d been unfriended. Now because these anthologies and the press itself have withered away into obscurity, I’m trying to get over the fact that I’ve let my friends down, and I led them into disaster. The unfriending just pissed me off.

Bridge burned.

A little of that guilt has been lifted, though. Another publisher friend has started negotiations on something similar, which gives me new hope and eases the pain in my heart. That offer gave something back to me. This same publisher friend has been a ray of light in my life over the last six months, and he will never, ever know how much I love him for his kind words and off-the-cuff encouragement. I need more friends like him in my life. We have the kind of give-and-take relationship we both need.

In closing, my advice for the Givers is this:

  • Learn to say “no”. It’s okay. It’s your right, and your only method of self-preservation. You don’t need to make the world happy, so stop trying. If you can’t do it, admit it and move on.

  • Stop apologizing when you fail. You’re human. Failure doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re going to lose a friend. And honestly, if it does cause a friendship to end, it means that person wasn’t a friend to begin with and you’re better off without them. It’s hard when it ends, but it’s even harder when you hit bottom and your giving gets gone.

  • Assert yourself. DO NOT LET A TAKER BULLY YOU INTO SEEING THINGS THEIR WAY. It’s unhealthy, and Takers need to be put in their places. Have your own back, because there won’t always be someone there to rescue you.

  • Accept Help. When someone offers, take it. It’s hard, yes, but accepting assistance will help refuel your soul. It puts something back so you can refresh and give more.

  • Just Do You. What we need more than anything is emotional balance. Surround yourself with people who care. Do things that invigorate and inspire you. Put yourself in positive situations with positive people. Enjoy yourself and your life. You are worth it, and you spend so much time making others happy that you deserve your own happiness.

 

About the Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

On Death

Lately it seems there’s death everywhere. Family, friends, friends and family of friends and family, pets, coworkers, coworkers’ families, celebrities… perhaps it’s just the age we’ve reached, but it feels like nobody is safe anymore. It’s also apropos that this would be the topic of my first real blog post on the heels of April, considering April is a hard month for me.

The first Saturday morning of April, Facebook chose to remind me that four years ago on April 2nd was the last time I heard my father’s voice. The last words I heard him speak were “I love you,” and I’d give anything to hear those words from him one more time. April 2nd was the day I began the three-week journey of watching my father die..

My first real encounter with death came at a very early age. My Aunt Bernice passed away when I was seven years old. I have two very clear memories of her. First, I remember going to her house as a small child with one of my other aunts. She was standing on the porch of her house wearing a blue dress, and I remember thinking she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The only other memory I have of her is from her funeral not long after. She’d been sick and nobody knew it until she died. I went up for the viewing with another of my aunts, and I still remember the confusion, not truly understanding what it meant to look at her in the casket. I was small and it traumatized me.

Three years later, my Uncle Preston passed. His first wife, my Aunt Ida, had passed away some years earlier. I loved that little lady, but I couldn’t have been more than five at the time. Granted I wasn’t much older when he passed, but I was still old enough to understand that death was permanent. I didn’t go to his funeral, but I do remember climbing into my father’s lap and crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. I loved him, and I loved taking trips out to his farm.

The drawback of having a big family is that it means dealing with death a lot. Each of my parents was one of twelve. Most of my father’s family is gone now – aunts, uncles, cousins… and my mother’s family is beginning to dwindle in their twilight years. Not long after my father passed away, my step-daughter asked me to take her to the cemetery. It fascinated her to find that walking through that cemetery is roughly akin to a family reunion. I’m related to almost everyone in that cemetery in some way or another, and there are a lot of people I love there.

When I was sixteen, a friend and classmate was murdered. The official report said it was a self-inflicted gunshot from a game, but those of us who knew him knew better. None of us know the whole story, but we’ve pieced together enough over the years to know it wasn’t an accident. The one thing I do remember from the morning we were told about his death was that immediately after being told the news, Jewel’s “Foolish Games” debuted on MTV. As a teenager I slept with the TV on, and more often than not, MTV was the channel of choice…you know, when they still played music. [Coincidentally, I really miss Headbanger’s Ball.] I still to this day can’t listen to that song without thinking of him.

There have been countless deaths over the years, most of which those of people the world will never know save by the beautiful words written in their obituaries. My father, my grandmother, friends, family members, coworkers… the list is long.

A year and a half ago, one of my best friends in the world was murdered less than fifty feet from where I was standing. Her estranged husband showed up at our office and put four bullets in the back of her head because she said she wanted a divorce. [You can read Angie’s Story here.]

When David Bowie passed away in January, it ruined me. I felt like I’d been gutted over the death of a man I’d never met. My heart broke for the loss the world as a whole suffered. He’s one of my biggest influences and even now, four months later, I have a hard time processing the fact that another of my heroes has left this world. Then there was Merle Haggard – who, by the way, I actually sat down and cried over. And now Prince. Another legend gone. I’ve seen many a discussion in the recent months about why we so publicly mourn the passing of celebrities.

The passing of these celebrities in particular, have shaken the very foundation of music. These are the legends, the ones upon whose shoulders the contemporary styles are built. They’re the trailblazers, the gatekeepers of the magical and mystical. Our heroes. And in some ways, our friends. We know them through their voices and their lyrics. They become part of us. So when they die, we lose a part of ourselves. And we mourn them publicly because we know others are mourning alongside us, because talking about it eases the pain of loss and helps us heal. Because it’s once scenario where we know the other person means it when he says, “I know how you feel.” We mourn because we’re sad and because other people get it.

It doesn’t mean we don’t mourn the less famous. I still grieve for my father every single day, but I don’t talk about it because it’s personal. Because it’s not anyone else’s business. And because the rest of the world generally doesn’t care.

Last month I wrote about a friend taking his own life. That post was my way of making sense of the nonsensical, and of making the point that when it comes to depression, death is not the only answer. It was met with a single comment (which has since been removed due to its inappropriate placement and condescending tone) which essentially scolded me and called me a bully for offering an alternative to death. I don’t like removing comments because I don’t like hindering discussion. However, from the tone of this comment, I quickly realized there would be no rational discussion, but rather a dogpile of attacks. Let me point out that yes, I do understand suicide. Yes, I do understand that suicide and depression are not the same thing. I never implied that they were. Having considered taking my own life at one point in the past, I understand all too well the difference. One is a potential outcome of the other. Death is permanent. It’s the endgame. One and done. You don’t get a second chance if you change your mind at the last minute. There are better ways of handling the hardships of life.

 

 

Death is not the only answer. There are alternatives, and as with any important decision, each person has the right to explore EVERY alternative before choosing one so final.  The reason may very well be selfish, too. I’m tired of grieving. I don’t want anyone else to die. I don’t want to lose another friend or family member or pet or person who makes my life better just by being in it. We’ve seen more than our fair share of tragedy these last few months, and I’m ready for a change.

Stay With Me

[Note: I started this post over a week ago, but couldn’t quite find the right words until now. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to unlock thoughts. It’s a long, rambling miasma of thoughts, too, so hold on tight.]

Depression is real.

It, like so many things we don’t take seriously, is a disease. It’s a terrible, crippling disorder that, if left untreated, can destroy even the strongest person. When a person suffers from depression, there are two possible outcomes: get help, or die.

It’s treatable. It can be overcome. It can be beaten. Friends, family, doctors, and medicine can help. Doing nothing…well, we all know how that turns out.

The indie literary community is struggling this morning. We’re still reeling from the sudden and very much unexpected death of Logan Masterson Tuesday evening. One the surface, he’s just one more in a shockingly long list of creative types who have succumbed to this beast. To the world. he’s just a statistic now.

Fuck you, no he isn’t. He’s a person.

Upon learning of his passing, I had my own moment of weakness. We weren’t as good of friends as I’d have liked – we only met in person once – but I cried for him, for his struggle, and for his loved ones. He was a kind-hearted, gentle person with a beautiful smile and kind eyes. He was soft-spoken, but intelligent, and a damned fine writer. And he gave great hugs. A few of my coworkers questioned my emotion, and the first thing out of their mouths, each one of them, wasn’t a word of condolence, but a question:

How?

We’re so desensitized to violence that we don’t understand the gravity of death anymore. It doesn’t matter how he died. What matters is why.

He died because he was tormented by his own mind. He believed he was worthless. He couldn’t see himself as the gentle, beautiful soul he was. Because he cried out for help and none of us saw it for what it was. We, the outsiders, never believe a person is capable of the unspeakable until it happens. It’s human nature. Even when we ourselves struggle with the same pain, we don’t see that final cry as the one.

This is a problem. A big one. When you’re depressed, you can’t be strong. You can’t just suck it up and move on. You. Can’t. Forget picking yourself up off the floor; it takes all of your energy just to breathe.

Imagine, if you will, a constant, nagging voice just behind your left ear. You wake up with it. You go to bed with it. All day long it chants its horrible mantra: You suck. You can’t do anything right. Nobody loves you. You’re a terrible human being. You suck. Nobody cares about you. You destroy everything you touch. You’re wasting your time. Your life is a lie. You suck and you’ll never be good enough. No one will miss you when you die.

Most people would tell you to ignore it and go on. “Don’t worry about what others think,” they say. And it’s true…what others think shouldn’t be important. Other people’s opinions of you have no weight when it comes to who you are.

Now imagine that voice is your ownNo matter how hard you try not to, you’re always going to listen to yourself. Your own voice is inescapable, and with enough taunting, you’re eventually going to convince yourself there’s no point in trying anymore. Your voice will always win, and there is nothing you can do about it. And you have to suffer the torment alone. It’s hard to believe you can be totally alone in a crowd of people, but when your own psyche is working against you, it’s very much possible.

Which is why those of us who suffer from depression need help. We have to learn to manage it. It’s never going away, regardless of how much we do, but we can take control back from ourselves. We can get help.

I know the desperation and desolation that drove our friend to end his life. Desperation makes people reckless and irrational. It makes them do things against their nature. I’ve been there a time or two myself. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s true. I’ve listened to my own voice too much in the past, let myself get into my own head and screw myself up. It’s easy to fall into that trap because you’re supposed to be able to trust yourself, trust your instincts. But sometimes instincts lie. I got lucky when I figured that part out. I also have the benefit of having two small children who need me, and the last thing I’d ever want to do is let them down.

Many people over the last 24 hours have referred to Logan’s struggle as “losing the battle with the beast” or “losing the war”. Those are beautiful, poetic terms for the situation, and in light of how many of these situations we’ve faced in the last six months, I’m tired of the niceties. I don’t want pretty, flowery words because goddamn it, this situation IS NOT PRETTY. It’s harsh and it’s ugly and it’s cruel.

In a single act of desperation – a way of making the pain and the voices stop – our friend took his life. He committed suicide. No matter what words you use, it amounts to the same thing: he’s dead and he isn’t coming back.

Sugar coating it makes it seem like it’s an okay option, that there’s a beauty in that swan song, but it isn’t. This was avoidable.  This was treatable. This was a complete waste of a beautiful life. Could any of us out here in Internetland saved him? Who knows. Maybe. Maybe what he needed was that one person to call and say “hey, tell me what’s wrong. I’m coming over.” Or maybe not. Maybe he was too far gone to see reason anymore. Maybe there were other circumstances behind his actions that we don’t know. We can sit here and speculate all day long on the what if and the why. But it won’t change the fact that it is.

And it happens all day long, every day. A person dies by their own hand roughly every 13 minutes. That’s more than 110 people per day. That’s over 40,000 people per year. Granted, not all of these people suffer from Depression. Many of them have other reasons for doing the things they do. But do you know why so many take their own lives? It’s because most people don’t want to seek treatment. There’s a social stigma against people on mood stabilizers and psychotropics. There’s a belief by the general, “healthy” contingent that people who needs those drugs are all nuts and deserve whatever they get.

Bullshit.

The people who need those drugs are you and me. Normal, everyday people who can’t battle their demons alone. We need to put this stigma to rest. We need to embrace our friends, neighbors, and strangers. Those of us who can need to help even if we don’t understand why our friends are struggling. It’s up to us to save their lives because they don’t always know that they can save themselves.

I’ve been battling depression for the last four years. Losing my father nearly destroyed me, and I’m still learning how to be me again. My battle has been nowhere near as severe as Logan’s was. By no means am I comparing my fight to his. But I do understand the pain, the sense of hopelessness, the guilt for breathing air best suited for someone else. The difference is I know what I’m facing because I’ve overcome it before and I learned how to control that negative voice in my head. I got help. I know how to focus my anxiety into something constructive and work through it. Not everyone is as lucky as I am. Not everyone can do that.

It doesn’t help that there’s inevitably some asshat waiting in the digital wings to pile on and abuse us because doing so makes them feel big. Those people are the true monsters. Those bullying sadists are the reason for so many deaths. Those people are the reason our friends are suffering in silence until they make the decision to stop the pain.

So to all the bullies, the internet trolls, the liars, the users, the abusers…I say this: the next time you open your big mouth to destroy someone for daring to have a thought or opinion, just remember that person’s death may be on you. It might be your fault that the trans girl you just ripped apart overdoses on sleeping pills. It might be on your conscience when the depressed young man who just lost his mother puts a pistol in his mouth because you were the insensitive asshole who told him to “buck up and don’t be a pussy”. YOU are the one who needs to sit down and shut the hell up. I’m tired of you and your ilk, thinking you can run the world from the anonymity of your computer chair without suffering the goddamned consequences of your actions. When you hurt someone, you become responsible for that person. You need to leave.

To everyone else… pay attention. Please. If you see someone struggling, reach out and say hi. Offer a hug and a friendly ear. It may be the one thing that saves your friend’s life. Let them know they aren’t alone, even when it feels like it. But know this – you won’t always know until it’s too late. Some people don’t show signs and symptoms. Some don’t reach out. Some just do it.

And finally to those suffering… you are not alone. You may be wandering in the darkness, but all you have to do is reach out. Someone will be there. I’ll be there. I’ll be your friend. Your shoulder to cry on. Your sounding board and your whipping post. Tell me your troubles, and we’ll work through it together. If you don’t talk to me, just talk to someone. Please. Get help, then use your story to help others.

Logan’s family needs help with his final expenses. If you can, please donate to their GoFundMe.

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Let’s Talk about Diseases

In my first post of the year, I mentioned that my husband has Crohns Disease, and that he’s fighting a flare-up. This has nothing to do with books, writing, or any sort of literary process, but it’s my blog, damn it. I can talk about what I want. And this means something to me. It’s my life, something that I deal with on a daily basis, that affects every single decision we make, both as people and as a family.

There have been a lot of commercials lately that talk about Crohn’s Disease treatments. They talk about managing symptoms and regaining control of your life, but those commercials are essentially bullshit. This isn’t something that just goes away with a shot and some antibiotics. It’s a chronic illness that grows in intensity with every single flare-up.

It’s a disease that’s rapidly growing in awareness, but for those that don’t know what it is, let me explain:

“Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
It usually affects the intestines, but may occur anywhere from the
mouth to the end of the rectum (anus). Ulcerative colitis is a related condition.”

– National Library of Medicine

Continue reading “Let’s Talk about Diseases”