The friend I never had

“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” –Anthony Bourdain

Like so many, I am reeling from the loss of another brilliant light from the Earth this week.  I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain, nor did I really keep up regularly with the details of his life, but I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend. From the posts I’ve read from others, it seems as though many people are feeling the same.  Anthony influenced people’s careers, he inspired us to travel, and shamed many when they marginalized others.  My attraction to Anthony was through his candor; I admired his writing.  He didn’t sugar coat anything, but he didn’t belittle it either.  He was storyteller in the most endearing of ways – not too verbose, not too flowery, just enough to draw you in.  His style of writing could make you forget time.

I am grateful for his ability to show us the world.  He brought light to cultures through food, making the world seem a little less intimidating.  Through his travels, he showed us our humanity.  I loved how he could dine in a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Paris one minute, and a food truck in the middle of nowhere in Thailand the next, all while treating each meal as sacred, with self-effacing humility, that never felt forced or fake.  He was unabashedly genuine, and we are the lesser, now that he is gone from the world.  It breaks my heart that was he in so much pain, that depression tricked him into thinking he was alone, to not letting him see what we see, and his mind fooled him into believing this was the end of his road.

Having faced my own battle with depression, I know how unforgiving she can be.  Depression does not care if things in your life are good, or bad; if you have money, or not; if you have family, friends, or seemingly everything life could ever offer.  It is a disease of the mind, that feeds on the our worst beliefs of ourselves.  When faced with my own questions about suicide, or why you might be thinking of ending a beautiful life, the answer that tends to bubble to the surface is that you are just tired.

Although that seems simple, it isn’t, but it is the answer that you tell yourself.  Contrary to what some may think, people contemplating suicide often consider the impact on others, and they do weigh the consequences of their actions, but they decide that they just need to stop the pain, the endless anxiety, the sleepless nights, the restless thoughts.  They have gone to battle with their mind, time and time again, and they are utterly exhausted.  They are tired of fighting.  Life’s challenges can make that conversation seem easier with one’s self, as well.  In times when life throws every curve ball imaginable, depression can be more convincing and suicide contagion is real.

“If people who have it all can still end up taking their own life, what about the people who have less?” the mind will repeat.  When depression moves in and takes over your life, it’s hard not to believe the poisonous thoughts that scroll on, endlessly through your mind.  They leave a sticky residue that can be damn hard to wash clean.  Even when you think you’ve healed from the illness, the old stains can seep through, sometimes years later.  I’ve had moments where the impulse pops up, when things are going well, when there’s no sense of hopelessness, when I’m not sad, and it’s incredibly unnerving, to say the least.

People tend to refer to depression as “demons”.  Although, I’m sure this is well intended, because the thoughts that arise when you are depressed are frightening, this type of language infers that if the depressed person had only performed some sort of exorcism, they’d be “fine”.  Depressed people have been to the proverbial battle with the enemy within, and they are tired, so I’m not sure that waging war on one’s self is going to provide a solution.  For me, I didn’t start to heal until I treated myself with compassion; until I forgave myself for all of the the negative thoughts, the harmful visions, and the unrelenting anger.

The work of shedding the layers of resentment takes time, and the constant observance of thoughts, with mindful attention to not become attached to the story that plays out in your head.  We must be endlessly loving towards the demon, in order to calm the storm.  That is hard, never ending work.  In Anthony’s case, he did the work, he did the work for years.  He was a student of human nature, and he probably survived the disease longer because of it.  So many of us wished he had reached out, wished that we could have told him what he meant to us, but you don’t have wait for your loved ones to reach out to tell you they are struggling.  You can always let someone know how much they mean to you, how grateful you are that they are in your life, and remind them that you are there to listen (just listen) to them, no matter what moment they’re in.

If you love someone, know someone, struggling with depression, remember that you aren’t there to fix anything or say something to “make it all better”.  You are there to sit and listen without judgment, to hold their hand, to let them know that you are there to bear witness to the struggle, and that they are not alone.  And if you are the one struggling, remember that the thoughts are not real, that this moment (as with all moments) is temporary, that without darkness, there would be no light, and that there will come a time when the light will shine.  Once you find the light, I can’t guarantee that it will always be there.  Having had depression, I can say that there are still days when the clouds move in and blur my view of the world, but to hold my center I remind myself that the clouds will pass.

What I can say is that you need to go easy on yourself, be gentle with the “demons”, and surround yourself with people who are willing to help you find the light again.  Know that we will help you when you tired, but forgive those who chose differently.  You don’t have to walk the same path that Anthony chose.  It is a brutal one, and the world is better with us in it.


News Flash: Gun Reform does not equal Prohibition

Since its inception, the Constitution has been modified 27 times. The document was written to provide the original framework for a government in which all states felt they were given an equal voice with respect to laws established by a national congress. During its ratification process, the states also demanded amendments to the Constitution that protected the individual liberties of white men. The government was established to represent the voices of the people, the people being only reflective of those who wrote the document – many of whom were slave owners – rather than of the entire population the government represented. In 1791, the first 10 amendments, our ‘Bill of Rights’, were ratified. The additional 17 modifications made over the years, vary from adding greater protection of individual rights, to prohibiting (then again allowing) the sale of alcohol, to prohibiting the ownership of another human being as property, to establishing that it would be the Vice President who will assume command should the President die during their term in office.

Over time, each amendment has gone through intense scrutiny and changes to its legal application have been made, as warranted by changes in societal culture and viewpoints. The Supreme Court has heard over 210 cases involving the First Amendment in just the 20th century alone, ruling on a multitude of provisions and exceptions to the amendment that have defined acceptable speech, even if that speech is offensive or hurtful, versus unacceptable speech, such as defamation of character or inciting violence. Rightfully so, words that incite violence, or personally attack an individual (fighting words), are not protected under the First Amendment. If you don’t believe this, try yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and see what happens. Since the early 1800s, further changes to the amendment include the view on what is obscene. Words or pictures that were once considered unacceptable, therefore restricted by the government, are now more widely accepted by society. Thus, earlier bans became obsolete, and had to be legally removed.

We have grown as a nation, beyond the idea that slavery was ever an acceptable practice, thanks to the passage of the 13th Amendment. In its original context, however, this amendment was inefficient in its protection for any person from a ‘minority’ group to be treated fairly by an employer, school or landlord. It took the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, 1960, 1964, and, 1968 to legally secure the same rights for all ethnic groups that white men have always enjoyed. Today, that battle for equal rights continues with the introduction of the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act”, proposed in each Congress since 1994, for equal protections for the LGBT community. Although courts have recently ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, there is still no codified law that expressly does so for the entirety of the LGBTQ community. To date, the ENDA is still awaiting passage into law by Congress.

The Constitution did not originally offer women equal rights protections either, so Amendment 19 was written to secure our right to vote in 1920. From there, it has been an uphill battle for women to be treated fairly in the workplace. Even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women still do not earn equal pay for equal work today. Starting in 1936, we won the first battle for reproductive justice, when it was no longer considered obscene to send information about birth control through the mail. Roe v. Wade was a landmark Supreme Court case that gave women the right to choose whether or not to early-terminate a pregnancy for personal or medical reasons. This court decision has actually saved more lives than those who oppose our right to choose would like to admit.

The overarching theme is that none of the aforementioned rights were accounted for in the original framework of the Constitution and history has shown that our Constitution was not authored with the intention that the document should be forever set in stone. It is a living record to be modified, with laws reflective of the needs of society at present time. Presently, we need to discuss changes to the Second Amendment, based on the needs of our society today.

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.

Of course, this is going to be piss off a rather large group of people who worship their “super amendment” rights above all others. Gun Control: these two words cause many Second Amendment proponents to enter into a diatribe about government infringement upon their rights, or their need to prevent tyranny from the state, or restricting guns won’t prevent gun violence, or, or, or…..the list goes on and on, ad nauseam. On one hand, the government is obliged to uphold an individual’s rights. On the other, they are obliged to prevent crime (and protect the Republic). After all, a portion of our tax revenue goes towards law enforcement and crime prevention, nationally, state-wide and locally. Not to mention, a substantial portion of tax revenue goes towards our well regulated militia, at the state and federal level.

c35380ff95fe01d9650f8dc92621a0c7In 2001, a Federal Court of Appeals, in United States v Emerson, recognized “the people” had an “individual has a right to keep and bear arms (whether or not they are part of the state/federal militia)”. Then, in 2002, a different Federal Court of Appeals ruled, in the case of Silveira v Lockyer, that “the people” only “have the right to bear arms in the service of the state.” The issue came to Supreme Court in 2008, in the case of the District of Columbia vs. Heller, affirming that while “individuals had the right to possess a firearm for the purpose of self-defense in their home”, this did not grant individuals the right to an indiscriminate amount of weapons. Further, the court ruled, this was only applicable to rights granted at the federal level, and States still had the right to enact legislation that restricted gun ownership at the state level. It wasn’t until 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of McDonald vs. City of Chicago, that the Second Amendment applied to State and Local governments as well, but didn’t necessarily say that legislation still couldn’t restrict upon the types of guns citizens were allowed to possess or carry. If the government can’t even agree that we, as individuals, have the right to own any gun, how is it that so many Americans believe that, somehow, this amendment is the most sacred of all of our individual rights? And if the government has a duty to provide law enforcement, what could they have done to also prevent the heinous crimes committed in Parkland Florida, Santa Barbara, Newtown Elementary, Virginia Tech, or any of the other 270+ school shootings since Columbine?

As a writer, I deeply revere the First Amendment. Contrary to other countries, I do not have to live in fear of torture or execution for communicating what I think or how I feel (so long as it isn’t a flagrant fabrication of the truth or downright hateful). As a woman, I am equally grateful for the 19th Amendment, because I deserve the same rights as any man (including the right to earn equal pay for equal work). As a human being, I understand that these rights come with the agreement to be responsible with and accountable for each right while exercising them, and that these rights come with the burden of fighting for those who do not share access to equal protections under the law.

Naturally, it pisses me off when my rights are modified, or restricted, because some asshole(s) can’t act responsibly. I think we can all agree that it only takes one idiot to ruin it for the rest of the village. Sadly, when it comes to guns, there are have been a lot of idiots who have ruined a lot of villages, yet we still can’t seem to agree on how to rectify the problem. Due to this complacency, this conundrum has now become even more endemic.  Mother Jones compiled the statistics of the 97 mass shootings that have occurred over the last 35 years and one thing is clear – mass shootings are on the rise.

Image Credit: Dallas Morning News

There is a real problem with the ethical foundation of our country when children are being murdered in droves, yet gun owners somehow try to make us all believe that guns are not a problem. If the belief that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” rings true, then explain how 69% of all US homicides in 2014 were committed with a firearm, instead of a knife or a rock or a roadside bomb? I have tried to reason that someone’s right to own a gun is just as important to my right to free speech, but I also understand that we we need to create some semblance of responsible gun ownership – just as we have for what constitutes responsible speech. The need for self-defense against a home invader is important, yet Constitutional experts believe that the Founding Fathers centered the Second Amendment with the intention of arming the States against the potential threat of Federal tyranny, not individual citizens. Gun owners who continually use the excuse that they have the right to defend themselves against the government, however, probably need to check in for a moment with reality.

US citizens own roughly 270 million guns while the government, military, and law enforcement officials only posses around 4-Million. The difference is staggering, and also quite misleading. To offset the imbalance, the government stockpiles a healthy artillery of nuclear weapons, combat drones, heat-seeking missiles, F-22s, tanks, helicopters, more aircraft carriers than any other country on the planet, and on and on. Anyone who wants to wage war on their own government, and shows up with a few AR-15s, can probably kiss their sweet ass goodbye. Let’s stop spreading misinformation about the AR-15, by calling it a “sporting rifle”, while we are it. In the 1950s, the “ArmaLite Rifle-15” was designed solely for military use. During the 1960s, the Air Force dubbed this same weapon as the M-16, but when the patent expired in 1989, manufacturers began producing ta civilian grade version for mass market. The primary difference between the M-16 automatic rifle, and the civilian grade AR-15, is simply that it is semi-automatic (unless you found the loophole license, that is). Today, the AR-15 is still employed by militaries around the world and it is called the AR-15 (nor was it ever intended for civilian purposes).

Gun technology has become incredibly advanced since the late 1700s, and the “right to keep and bear arms” no longer bears the same relevance as it did during the time that the Bill of Rights were written.  It’s also clear that the general populous is severely “out-gunned”, so maybe we can give up the dream that some “good guy with a gun” is going to heroically defend the rest of us against Big Brother, should the Apocalypse come calling.  For the benefit of public health and safely, we should stop arguing over banning guns and focus on preventing further massacres from occurring, which requires regulation.  While the NRA would have you believe gun regulation means the government wants to revoke the Second Amendment, it intends to provide a framework of accountability for citizens to own and carry guns in a manner that does not infringe upon anyone else’s right to their life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.

Admittedly, I do not believe in owning guns, nor am I an advocate for violence of any kind, as a means to resolve conflict.  But, I am also capable of understanding that there are exceptions to every rule.  However, I am tired of watching grieving parents lay their babies to rest when, we as a society, could have done more to resolve the issue.  I am also tired of seeing schools torn down and/or rebuilt because too many children have been marred for lifetime-upon-lifetime after some sociopath with a gun ripped their innocence away from them.  It is absurd that all citizens should all be expected to carry the financial burden that this senseless violence places on society (you can add the cost of never-ending wars to this rant, by the way).  It’s high time that gun owners collectively take accountability for their rights and bear the sole burden of those costs.  As Stephen King once said, “If you want to play, you gotta pay.” 

Former General Stanley McChrystal, who led the war in Afghanistan for 10 years, came out in support of the assault weapons ban in 2013. To his point, “the number of people in America killed by firearms is extraordinary compared to other nations and…we need to look at everything we can do to safeguard our people.”  Many law enforcement officials agree that getting heavy artillery off the streets would make their jobs less dangerous, but these groups have been demonized by gun rights activists in the process.  Considering that the gun rights faction has outspent gun control activists by a factor of 15:1, over the past decade or so, I would say that Washington is not likely to impose meaningful regulations on gun ownership. Nor will they be taking away anyone’s rights (or guns), any time soon.  After all, we know it is money, not morals, that rules The Hill.  Unless the gun control lobby is able to locate another $28-million dollars in political contributions this year, I would like to request that the gun rights groups stop broadcasting mass hysteria and negative images into our collective psyche. 

After all, it isn’t an individual’s rights that the NRA has in mind as they wage their war against well-regulated gun ownership.  In truth, guns are a hefty business in the United States.  The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) annual report highlights the economic impact that the legal US firearms and ammunition industry estimates for 2018.  

During the 1990’s, the industry was in decline, but 9/11 changed all of that.  The 2008 recession further propelled the industry forward, and according to the Washington Post, the Obama administration was the best thing to happen to gun industry thus far.  According to industry analysts, the NRA funded PR campaign successfully increased people’s fear that Obama “would take their guns away”; enough to send industry sales skyrocketing by 169% over the course of his administration.  What the NRA and the NSSF didn’t want their members to know, however, was that regardless of his public statements, according to his track record, Obama had no interest in “taking people’s guns away.”  

While Obama has always supported the Second Amendment, he also supported the reinstatement of the 1994 assault weapons ban (which expired under Bush in 2004) because, contrary to what the NRA would have you believe, it is indeed possible for these two ideologies to co-exist.  To be clear, gun reformists have never suggested the removal of handguns, rifles, or shotguns from law abiding citizens…..let’s repeat…..No one wants to take your guns. Gun reformists have requested a ban on all new sales of military grade weapons to the average citizen, and better oversight for the current system as a whole.  Despite all this fear and paranoia the NRA has so effectively instilled into much of the American public, the government has not actually been able to pass a single, meaningful piece of gun control legislation since 1999.   

Their membership fails to understand that the NRA is not their friend, nor their advocate. It’s a company, all be it a non-profit one (which for the life me I can’t figure out why they are able to retain such status when they are a political lobby), which employs mass marketing to communicate the value of their ‘product’ in order to benefit the organization.  They have no intent on serving the public’s highest purpose – what company does?  Marketing 101 teaches “know your audience” and the NRA knows their audience makes decisions based on fear, and they play into those fears generously.  When fear is involved, all logic, morality, love, and tolerance go right out the window.  So, it is does no good for a gun control activist to continually approach the issue from an ethical or logic-based standpoint, but rather from an economic one.  

As with any other public health issue, gun violence costs tax payers money.  Between premature deaths, lost wages and unexpected hospital visits, Johns Hopkins University estimated the annual cost of gun violence was hovering close $50 billion in 2017.  This equates to the almost the exact same amount that the NSSF estimated the firearms industry generates in economic impact the same year – something the NSSF leaves out of their report.  When you also factor in the cost for restoration, long-term care, decreased quality of life, victims services (i.e. counseling, retribution, etc.), and court & prison costs, the net total economic impact is more in the range of a $120 billion annual loss. At least half of which is paid for by US Taxpayers.  In a 2013 firearm-related violence study, conducted by the Institute of Medicine, the panel concurs that while many Americans legally use firearms for a variety of activities, fatal and nonfatal firearm violence poses a serious threat to public safety and welfare.

Back in early 1960s, the death toll from motor vehicle accidents had reached unprecedented levels.  The National Safety Council had reported that, out of the 93,803 total deaths in 1960, 41% of them were attributed to motor vehicle accidents.  Understandably, there was public outcry for the government to address the issue.  After much contemplation and debate, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed in 1966, to establish new standards for highway, traffic and motor vehicle safety.  This act created what is now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Over the years, the NHTSA has worked with federal, state and local authorities to create standards and policies that have helped to decrease motor vehicle deaths and increase overall driver safety.

In addition to requirements for vehicles to improve operational safety, the NHTSA implemented better road planning to address ways to prevent accidents, along with driver testing and licensing, periodic vehicle inspections, and increased traffic laws to regulate speed, etc.  In addition, the NHTSA has addressed improving driver behavior through a series of public education campaigns on the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving and texting, the importance of the use of seat belts and child restraints, special precautions for young drivers, and pedestrian and bicyclist safety.  As a result of the adoption and implementation of each of these policies, the country began to see a decrease in the rate of motor vehicle deaths by 1974.  With the exception of a few minor jumps in the early 1990s, this rate has continued to decline almost every year since, proving the program’s success and overall value for the greater good.

Naturally, these programs come with a huge price tag to the general public, which is why we pay such a hefty tax on our fuel.  Initially implemented in the early 1930s for the Highway Trust Fund, the tax has proved to be effective for generating the annual funding the NHTSA needs for these various programs.  In 2007, it was documented that 60% of the Fuel Tax on Gasoline goes to Highway Construction and Maintenance, the other 40% goes to programs earmarked by Congress (some of which aren’t even related to highway safety, but that’s a conversation we should save for another time).  Total US revenue generated from the Fuel Tax in 2017, for example, totaled over $43 Billion.

Additionally, the US Automotive Sector generates another $205 billion annually in federal and state tax revenue through sales tax, income tax, vehicle registration and licensing fees.  In most states, this accounts for 14-20% of their overall annual tax revenue.  The economic impact of the automotive industry is staggering.  The Auto Alliance reports that in 2013, revenues from car sales totaled $730 billion, while the manufacture and sales of parts, repairs and service, account for another $223 billion in economic activity. Thus, automobiles drive more than $953 billion into the economy each year.  In total, 7.25 million people are employed directly and indirectly, in the US, as a result of the manufacture, sale and repair of automobiles, earning a collective $500 billion in compensation, making automotive and transportation policy central to the economic vitality of virtually every state.

Currently, the CDC estimates the economic cost to society for motor vehicle deaths, injuries, loss from work, etc. is approximately $63 billion.  Compare that to the annual tax revenue generated by automotive sector, not taking into account the economic impact of the auto industry, and we are at a net profit of $142 billion.  When you compare the statistics, the death and injury rate for fire arms is almost equal to that of automobiles, and gun ownership is almost equal to that of automobiles.  While the cost incurred by society for gun violence is only slightly less than motor vehicle injuries and deaths, the economic impact of the automobile industry is far greater than that of the firearms industry.  In addition, automobiles are designed for a utilitarian purpose; it’s the improper handling of the vehicle that causes harm or injury.  Guns were, without a doubt, designed solely to inflict death or injury.  So, why is the firearms industry not pulling their weight, to offset the net financial loss?  As with vehicle owners, why don’t we require gun owners to be licensed and taxed annually to own their guns?  When automobile manufacturers invested in lobbying against any rules or regulations over the industry, the argument of public health and safety was applied to the automobile industry, in order to bypass political pressure.  The NRA had studied this, so they successfully pressured Congress to strip the CDC of all ability to research gun violence has a public health issue in the mid-1990s.

A similar case can be made for the successful implementation of the Tobacco Tax, which helped generate funds for a public health awareness campaign.  Together with increased cost, and education about the dangers of smoking, the government has been able to work with public health agencies to decrease the number of smokers in this country, as well as the instances of health related issues and deaths caused by the use of tobacco.  Research has also shown that the nominal tax increases on tobacco have resulted in increased state tax revenue over the long term.  Instead of focusing policy solely on “gun control”, liberals and democrats need to apply taxation methods towards this public safety issue in an effort to decrease the compounding financial and emotional burdens that gun violence places on society. 

On February 13, 2013, The Journal of the American Medical Association released a similar theory as to how to Curb Gun Violence, by highlighting how to apply the success from many different public health and safety campaigns to the current public safety issue of gun violence in America.  With taxation, licensing fees, practical safety training, competency exams, and mandatory insurance coverage on firearms, not only could we generate revenue to fund better mental health programs, but we could provide for public education campaigns about the importance of firearm safety, and keeping children safe from guns in the home.  Additional funding could be allocated towards improving the system for background checks and training in the use of non-violent communication as a means to resolve conflict.  And yes, buy back programs create financial incentive to relinquish weapons that aren’t fit for civilian use.

People don’t want their rights infringed upon, but the Founding Fathers understood that right to bear to arms also requires oversight.  They clearly wrote the need for regulation into the beginning of the amendment.  As Bill Maher recently said, “it’s an amendment, not a commandment.” As all other developed countries have done, there are real solutions to address the disturbing increase in mass shootings nationwide, and make our communities safer.  The Congress of today is ineffective, our next best chance is to vote for new candidates, who are not in bed with the NRA and who understand that two ideologies can coexist: protecting the rights of our citizens and regulation for increased public health and safety. I think today’s children would agree, we no longer have the time nor the patience to wait.   

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Bittersweet Grief

Copyright Laura Riggs, 2000

“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”
–Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

I received news recently that a childhood friend had passed away.  We often told people that we’d been friends since the 2nd grade, although neither of us really remember how we met exactly, and most of my memories of him aren’t really clear until middle school.  Apart, we were fairly well behaved, but we were troublemakers together.  We loved to play pranks, mostly on each other, and we thought we were hilarious – although most of our teachers didn’t really find them so amusing.

In 7th Grade, we were part of a glee club of sorts and had a weekend group trip scheduled in Vail, so we were supposed to remain on our best behavior leading up to the trip.  That Thursday prior, we had Biology Class together and I think he had put a grasshopper in my hair.  I chased him around the room until the teacher came back into the classroom.  We were both sent to detention after school and the club leader told us that we would think it over, and decide by Saturday morning if we would be allowed to join the trip.  Afraid that the teacher would call our parents, we sat on the phone together most of the day, tying up the line – since that was before cell phones.  The next day, we checked in for the trip, and were amazingly allowed onto the bus.

By high school, our friendship changed when he was bullied when others perceived him as “different”.  I became his protector, his advocate, and his date to family functions and he was there when I got my first tattoo.  Although he hadn’t admitted it to himself yet, I knew he was gay, and it wasn’t until after we left high school that he finally came out to me.  All I said was, “I know, honey.”  “You did?” he asked.  “Oh, how could you not?” I replied, as I hugged him and whispered, “I love you.”  He squeezed me back and said, “I love you, too.”

Neither of us really knew what we wanted to do with our lives, after high school, but we both knew we didn’t want to go to college (yet, or maybe never), so we found odds and ends jobs, things to keep us busy, but mostly out of trouble.  I ended up going to Cosmetology School first, although he was the one who had a gift for doing hair and making people feel good about themselves.  It became his passion, and his career, for nearly two decades.  Making people feel good about themselves was also his way of hiding his own suffering from the rest of the world.

We went to so many parties together, including the night that I met my (now ex-) husband.  He did my hair for years, including the day of my wedding, but that was only a small facet of how he impacted my life.  We held the reception in my grandfather’s backyard, on a particularly warm September afternoon, and I remember ripping the petticoats off from underneath my wedding dress.  He immediately snatched them up, put them on, and drug me out to dance with him on the makeshift dance floor.  He loved to dance.

After my divorce, we did a lot of dancing and drinking and had more late nights out than I can remember (seriously, there is so much I don’t remember and I’m grateful it was long before the days of social media).  He rode life as hard as he could, and ended up in some legal trouble because of it.  It was sort of a wake up call for me.  I knew being the “life of the party” wasn’t a path that I could walk with him.  At the time, he reminded me that he wasn’t going to live past 40 (it something he said all through high school, too) so whatever he did he wanted to enjoy the hell out of it and consequences didn’t really matter for him.  I was at a point where I didn’t want to beat my body up anymore – I was into life for the long haul, so we started to drift apart.

Then, he had his first heart attack, around the time he was 31 or 32, I think.  I went to visit him in the hospital and asked him to slow it down a bit, to take care of his heart a little more.  He showed no sign of letting things slow him down, or prompt him to get sober, and I couldn’t watch him destroy himself, that and I had my own disaster of a relationship I was dealing with at the time, so I couldn’t focus on anything else.  By his mid-30s, he’d had a stroke, and we no longer kept in contact.  He was one of those people who was going to burn as brightly as he could, for the short time he was here.  It’s bitter sweet to know those kinds of people.  On one hand, you stand in awe of their zeal for life, and on the other it’s painful to watch their self-destruction.

Through the years, he would periodically send a short text, or a note to say “hi”.  It would take me some time to figure out how to reply, because I didn’t want to get sucked back into his sphere.  He had such a warm, loving personality that made it difficult to keep my distance.  There were so many times that I desperately wanted to talk to him, but I knew that he didn’t want to make changes, yet watching him harm  himself would only break my heart.  I had immense pride for the generous human being he was, but I made the choice to love him from afar.

On Saturday morning, a mutual friend of ours called to tell me our brilliant firecracker had fizzled out. He had undergone several heart surgeries recently, and was scheduled for another the following weekend. At 4pm on Friday afternoon, he laid down to take a nap, and passed peacefully in his sleep – his heart finally gave out.  He was 41.  I know this, not because it will be on his obituary, but because our birthdays are 5-days apart and because he had been a part of my life for nearly 30-years.

After I learned of his passing, the first memory that came to mind was the time when he tried to get Bun to smoke a joint.  I laughed aloud because that was quintessentially “him”.  She turned her tail up at him and walked away – smart girl.  He knew Bun, and Missy, and Ginnie…and he knew my family and my friends and my co-workers.  He knew how much anxiety I had when my mom was sick, and I was there when his beloved Grandmother passed away.  It’s a strange thing to go from sharing so much life between us, to hardly thinking of him in the past year, but now that he’s passed away, I am flooded with memories.

No matter how much I wished things could be different, or feel guilty that we hadn’t talked more in the last few years, none of it changes the fact that he’s gone.  The grief of his loss is still felt, and regardless of being at peace with my decision, the guilt of it still lurks at the bottom of my heart.  Until now, I hadn’t lost a friend in my age group and it’s unsettling to realize my own mortality through the grieving process as well.

Although I have made peace with my decision…it’s more that I am just sad….obviously that he is gone, but sad that his relationship with his family wasn’t better, sad that I didn’t really know him in the end, sad that we have been estranged, sad that he knew every facet of my life, yet we hadn’t spoke for years before he passed, sad that he didn’t feel he could reach out, sad…

In the end, though, I hope that he had been happy.  I hope that his partner was good to him.  I hope that he had made some peace with his demons.  And I hope that he was free from suffering.  I know that even if any of these weren’t true before his passing, they are true now.  For now, he is free from harm, free of pain, free from suffering and I bid his soul peaceful rest.

So, goodnight, sweet Jim, and thank you for 30-years of a beautiful, joy-filled friendship.


Sweet Bun

Sweet Bun (July 17, 2000 – August 30, 2017), pic taken June 2016

Over the past few days, I’ve thought about what to write, and came up with a million wonderful things to share about you, about how much of an impact you had on my life, but none are truly sufficient.  To a certain extent, I’m in denial that you are gone, and there’ll hopefully be that one time when I put the key in the lock and I will hear you trotting for the door.  In reality, all of the light you brought to my life is suddenly missing, and the house is now painfully quiet.  I’m not sure how to adequately express my gratitude for how much you enriched my life, but I hope you know how much you were, and still are, loved.  You were my best friend these past 17-years.  Not once did you ever cause me pain…I don’t think furbabies ever do.  You were there with me through most of my 20s, all of my 30s, and the start of my 40s – you saw so much.  And, you got me through so many painful moments, with the utmost care and concern, and above all unconditional love.  Oh, dear Bun, how I miss you.

I miss your meow. I miss your smell. I miss our snuggle-time. I miss you laying with me while I worked. I miss when you would head bump me at 3am because you wanted breakfast. I miss how pokey your paws were when you walk on my back, when I didn’t get up and get you breakfast until 4am.  I miss you reminding me at 6pm it was time for dinner. I miss that you would get mad when the suitcases would come out. I miss you running to the door after I got home.  I miss you dragging out every single one of your toys and carrying them to me, one-by-one.  I miss how much you hated the car.  I miss you loving cheese and summer sausage and croissants and tuna and bacon and salmon and ice cream and radicchio (who knew?).  I miss you wanting to be carried over my shoulder.  I miss you standing on the side of the tub, talking to me while I took a shower.  I miss you pawing at me when it was time to be done working on the computer for the day.  I miss you sticking your head in between me and the screen of my phone because you needed attention (and Instagram most certainly does not).  I miss you sitting under your orchids.  I miss you batting at the ornaments on the Christmas tree.  I miss you wanting to curl up under the covers with me in bed.  I miss how you loved everyone and wanted to chew on their hair products.  I miss the sound of your purr and how soft your fur was.  I miss your green eyes, and your sweet little face.  I miss how worried you were when I would cry.  I miss you watching the birds from the window.  I miss you curling up in the sunlight.  There are so many more things I miss.  Each memory comes to me in the middle of the night, or while I am getting the mail, or when I’m at dinner with S and I cry….wail, actually.  While I know that you are no longer in pain, you now only live in my memories…and I am afraid because memories fade with time.  You were too good of a friend, so I will do my best to never these beautiful memories fade.

After we lost Ginnie, a friend told me, “When they get old, or when our beloved pets get sick, we’re urged to do the right thing. [We are] told they are depending on us to do the right thing. So, we do it. It’s a selfless and merciful thing to do, but dear GAWD the pain of it to ourselves is searing!”  She was unequivocally correct.  This pain – the pain of having to walk you (and Ginnie and Missy) to the door, sears my soul.  There is massive void left in my life, now that you are gone – a void I don’t think can ever be filled – so I will cope with this gaping hole and do my best to walk through this transition, knowing that you trusted me to free you from suffering.  And so, my dear Bun, you will shine on in my heart, until (with hope) I see you again one day soon.  I love you, little one.  I love you will all my heart, for you have my whole heart.

Hymn: A New Poem by Sherman Alexie

(c) 2012 Laura Riggs

The author’s new poem addresses the hatred currently plaguing the United States.

“But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist

To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.

I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.

I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.

I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.

I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.

And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.

I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.

We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.

We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.”

©2017, Sherman Alexie