SlutsUnlimited

Just a dirty girl from the dirty south…co-parenting a baby boy in New Orleans.

Three cigarettes in the ashtray.

My mother’s family had an annoying habit of attaching their own meaning to an already defined word. To my mother, you “had the gris-gris” or you could “put the gris-gris on someone”, which meant you either had clairvoyant abilities, or you could put a spell on a person. Just as she would often use the word “death” to convey a person who couldn’t hear. “That poor girl, she’s death in her left ear.”

My mother used to tell me that my Maw-Maw, her mother, had the gris-gris. She always knew when my mother would skip school as a kid or when she was lying. She said that something could be perfectly functional, but if her mother made a comment about it, it would break. “Patricia, you really should secure the latch on the screen door better, before a gust of wind pulls it open and shatters the glass.” The screen door latch had never given anyone a problem in years, but the night Maw Maw made her observation, my mother woke to the sound of shattering glass. Or at least this is how the stories go. My mother was also a liar, not necessarily a malicious one, but we all had grown weary of her “true stories.” Nevertheless, she used to tell me, “You know Lori, you’ve got the gris-gris too.”

A few weeks before my mother took her life I went to lunch with her then ex-girlfriend Julie, our mutual friend Lark (who was the equivalent of my Godmother) and a good friend of mine. We met at a sushi place out on Veterans Highway and it was here that Julie told me that she was in love with Lark. I didn’t need the gris-gris to figure this one out. It had been painfully obvious to me for a while. I was the person who had introduced Julie to Lark. Forcing Julie to accompany me to one of Lark’s record night parties where a bunch of people would show up and choose records from her massive collection. We would drink wine, smoke pot, talk about politics, art, sex and take turns playing with the spirograph set. Julie was like my cool step-dad and she and my mother were living together but their relationship had ended in most respects. Although I loved my mother, I took Julie’s side on most things. My mother was a very difficult woman to be in a relationship with and she was abusive and tyrannical to most of her partners. With that being said, Lark was a straight woman, and I did not expect them to fall for one another. But it didn’t surprise or bother me when it happened. Everybody deserves a chance at happiness.

At the sushi restaurant, over tepid bowls of miso soup Julie and Lark beamed at us from the other side of the booth and said, “we are seeing each other and we are really happy.” I smiled and said, “You better hope Trish (my mother) doesn’t find out or she’ll kill you both and herself. But I mean then she would finally get a Lifetime movie made about her life. Who would you want to play your part?” We laughed about this and decided on Rosie Perez for Lark, and the actress who played the lesbian on the Facts of Life for Julie. We even joked about Jonathan, my young nephew, playing the role of himself as a way to break into acting. We all laughed at my unmistakable gris-gris.

When Wilder was a newborn, I lost my mind. I suffered from terrible post partum anxiety that was accompanied by intrusive thoughts. My brain would play out scenarios of all the ways my tiny, helpless newborn could die. I couldn’t control these thoughts. If it rained hard, I was terrified a tree would fall through the roof and crush him in his crib. If we went for a walk I was certain a drunk driver would swerve out of nowhere and strike us both on the sidewalk killing him, a dog across the street might break free and maul the infant so snugly strapped to my chest. Everything seemed dangerous, the world felt like it was waiting to steal him from me. I would write in my journal each day, gauging my love and attachment to him, wondering if he were killed that day, would I be able to go on. I don’t know how many days old he was when I decided that if something or someone took his life, I would end my own. I never told my co-parents or even my close friends that I was suffering this way because I was sure they would deem me unfit and take my son from me. I suffered for months before finally admitting that I needed help, when too much cortisol had nearly destroyed my body. I was not only dealing with extreme anxiety but I also had weight gain, arthritis, problems sleeping, acne, no sex drive, mood swings, unbelievable sugar cravings and constant fatigue. It was a fucking nightmare, and in those moments I wondered if my mother had lived her life feeling this way.

My relationship with my mother was never an easy one. My strongest memories of her consist mostly of her criticizing me. “You better marry a prince” was her favorite phrase for me. She also threatened to send me to fat camp more times than I can count. I knew at times that she was proud of me, but only from overhearing her talk to others when she wasn’t aware I could hear. My physical looks were very important to her and I was always either too fat or too thin. I truly can never remember a time when she thought I looked good. We fought a lot when I was a teenager, so much that when she and my father divorced, I lived with him. When I would visit her for holidays and summers, she worked as a cocktail waitress, and spent little quality time with me. My brother and I would take LSD and go to laser light shows at the planetarium. When he would tell me to fuck off, I would spend my time watching The Real World on MTV, eating steak, frozen twice baked potatoes smothered in Parkay and toaster strudel (the only food she always had), or giving blow jobs to the neighborhhod boys. We never talked about anything serious. “Sit up straight. No one is going to love those stretch marks. Close your legs. I can see your cellulite when you wear those shorts.” These were our discussions.

My mother was a lesbian, but she was what they called a “lipstick lesbian” at the time. I now think this was just a nice way of saying a closeted lesbian. She was raised in a Catholic household and she was certainly sexually repressed. I can remember her spending time in a psych ward when I was very young. Back when the DSM-5 considered homosexuality a mental disorder. She was diagnosed as a manic depressive but refused medication her whole life. She was both mesmerizing and terrifying to me as a child, and I can’t say that changed with time. She and my father were married for 13 years. When they split, my brother and I stayed with him. While they certainly had a rough go of things, my father refrained from talking badly of my mother. He never condemned her homosexuality or treated it as if it was something to be ashamed of. “If they aren’t fruits, nuts or whores, I seem to have no interest in them” was his explanation about the women he loved during his life. My mother officially came out to me at my high school graduation, and I think that was the moment that I was most proud of her. But she never came out to others. At her funeral over half the people there had no idea that she was a lesbian or that one of the women she had killed was her ex-lover.

When I was in my early twenties, I left my boyfriend, the guy I was sure was “the one.” He was charming, intelligent, handsome. We had met at Tulane and we moved in together. My parents had even met his, which I thought was a big step. I loved him. He made me very happy but he was also an alcoholic. He would work overnights at a swank hotel and then spend 6-8 hours drinking at the Avenue Pub afterwards. This was long before the place was a craft beer bar, but back when they were finding the bodies of dead prostitutes in the abandoned lot next door. He would stumble in as I was getting ready for school, trying to acquire my pre-med requirements, and he would be an absolute mess. He was careless and would leave the stove on, or the front door open, or a trail of fresh spinach leaves from the kitchen to the bedroom. When I would try to talk with him about his inebriation, he would get defensive and mean. One morning after a particularly upsetting conversation I called my father from my car. “I’m not telling you what you should do, because it’s your business in the end. But that’s an awful lot of bullshit to put up with when you’re as young, smart and beautiful as you are. If you were in your mid fifties and that motherfucker was rich, my advice might be different but you know you can’t change anyone who doesn’t want to change themselves.” I tearfully agreed and drove straight to my mother’s house, where I remained on her couch for two weeks, until he fully moved out of our apartment. Those two weeks were probably the closest I ever felt with my mother. I was heartbroken and lovesick and would call her while she was working as a housemom at a gentleman’s club on Bourbon Street and beg her to come home and hold me. She did leave work once and she let me lay my head in her lap and cry while we watched some shitty Lifetime original movie. The other nights she would hand the phone to one of her girls, who would regale me with tales of their own horrible ex-boyfriends. I don’t know if I would have had the strength the leave if she hadn’t been there to assure me I was doing the right thing. I don’t know how things would have turned out if I hadn’t left.

It’s an interesting conundrum when I consider that if my mother had not died, I would not have our son Wilder. It is an impossibility for the two of them to exist together. Only through her death and the subsequent events did I become who I am today. But there are times that I allow myself to imagine the possibility of either her, my brother or my father getting the chance to meet our son. It is a bittersweet thought that always brings tears to my eyes. I think it is also very hard for me because no one talks about my family. So few of my contemporaries ever met any of them,  especially my mother. No one calls me on her birthday, or the day she died. Her ashes are in a hope chest in my closet, along with my brother and father. There is no grave because I would be the only one to visit it. Sometimes these thoughts destroy me.

I was the one who found their bodies, but I knew before I arrived at the house my mother and Julie shared that they were all dead. I don’t know how, but I just knew, I guess it was the curse of the gris-gris. I had even phoned a friend that morning and said as much, but he thought I was overreacting to not being able to reach anyone for the last day. It was July 12, 2005 and it was hot. When I walked into the house something smelled wrong. Not bad necessarily, but not right. There was low music playing and I walked through the area of the house that I knew no one would be in first. I was alone. I felt like the kids in Stand By Me, wanting to find out what the fuck had happened but also feeling absolutely terrified. When I walked into the kitchen I could see my mother’s back and the back of the rocking chair she was seated in. She was slumped over, and as I walked up I could see the livor mortis in the skin of her outstretched arm. Her .38 Smith & Wesson was a few feet from her on the floor. I walked up slowly, but couldn’t bring myself to lift her head. I was afraid she might have shot herself in the face, although the back of the chair had been damaged from where she had shot herself through the chest. I was no doubt in shock but also knew I was going to find two other bodies due to the vehicle that were outside. As I walked up to the side of my mother’s body I spotted Julie’s body on the ground, just a few feet away. She had been standing in the entrance to the den, with her back to the sofa. This is where she always stood when having a discussion. It was her spot. She was crumpled on the floor and I stared at her for quite some time, marveling at how such a strong person could die so easily. Lark’s body was by the back door. I think she was probably trying to get out of the house when she was shot, but no one alive knows that for sure. I know I saw her body, because moments later I reported it in the call I made to 911, but for some reason I can’t remember seeing her. I stood in that room for quite a few minutes, afraid to touch anything but looking around for anything that would help me to make sense of what I was seeing. I remember two distinct thoughts I had. One was that there were several cigarette butts in the ashtray on the counter and at least one had been Lark’s,meaning they had been there for a little while before my mother shot them. The other was that I was so thankful for air conditioning.

I walked outside and calmly called 911. They told me to stay on the line but once I was sure they had the address I hung up and called my father. I blurted it out the minute he answered and his reply was, “That crazy motherfucker finally did it.” I suppose we all expected her to do something crazy one day, but none of us knew how tragic it would be. My mother was an excellent shot, she had taught firearm safety training classes. She killed Julie, Lark and herself each with a single bullet which pierced each respective heart with precision. Heartbroken, hearts broken.

“Two cigarettes in an ashtray

My love and I, in a small cafe

Then a stranger came along

And everything went wrong

Now there’s three cigarettes in the ashtray” – Patsy Cline

 

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Reprehensible in retrospect.

The other morning I was driving Wilder to school and in an attempt to snap him out of his foul mood I put on the toddler pandora station. From the back seat an excited voice said, “Mommy please sing. I love it when you sing to me.” In that instant I realized the last time someone said this to me, it was my father. Occurring years ago, before Wilder was even a thought, before my father became sick. I was filled with such a mixture of sadness and joy. I believe the only thing larger than the saudade I feel for my father is the love I have for my son.

I’ve said it before and it might as well be my epitaph – I struggle with allowing myself to be vulnerable. I can more easily send a nude than tell a person face to face when I’m feeling sad or afraid. If I do open up, it will generally occur in a text message, where I can control the flow of information, or in a nonchalant public forum, so that I know any real chance of intimacy is unlikely. I certainly know it is easier for me to write about my difficulties than to engage, even with my partner. There is something safe about being able to edit and curate what I allow the world to see of me. But with that safety comes emotional exhaustion.

Sometimes I feel like an impostor. In these instances I suffer from an underlying discomfort in my own home, in my own skin, in simply being me. I feel as though I am playing the role of being Lori, but that I am not truly committed to this character. I can go through the motions. I can follow the schedule. But sometimes I am afraid I’ll be discovered. Not by just anyone, but by my true self. After Wilder is asleep and the house is quiet, sometimes I will doodle pie charts, trying to decipher what percentage of me is a true essence, and which percentages are chemicals, hormones and societal expectations. I smile and hug the gracious people who tell me how wonderful I look, and how they are inspired by my confidence. But I really want to lovingly whisper in their ear “It’s all smoke and mirrors. I loathe my body most of the time. I spend a good five minutes a day staring at myself naked and counting my flaws. My thighs are consistently covered in fingertip bruises from me unconsciously pinching them. I’ve spent a disgusting amount of time debating if whether or not my happiness quotient would increase by 20% if I could reduce my body mass by that same amount.” I can imagine the nervous laughter that would follow.

I worry that I’m not a good mother. I try to remember the sound of my own mother’s voice and I realized I’ve forgotten it. I think about pulling out old home movies just to see and hear her, my brother and father. But I’m afraid if I hear their voices something inside of me might break that I am unable to fix. There is so much happiness that has come from being a parent, but it remains tinged with a melancholy undertone of loneliness. As I witness people I love lose their parents to death, I am reminded that time is the most precious thing we have. I worry I don’t have enough time with Wilder, but what truly is “enough” time. I know I can’t be there for every moment, but I also fear how fast they seem to be going by.

Before my father died he suffered from dementia. It was torture. I watched him go from the man who I loved and respected most in the whole world, to a sick, powerless and confused stranger. I wish I could say that I handed this with empathy and grace, but that is very far from the truth. I fought against his illness. I did not want to accept that he was rapidly becoming less of my father with every day that  passed. I felt as powerless as he did. During his lucid days we would plot ways for him to kill himself, but he would forget before he could go through with it. In the end I fought with him more than I should have. I martyred myself over the burden of being left to deal with his tragic illness. I acted reprehensible in retrospect. At the end of his illness it took my father over 48 hours to die in the hospital and I stayed with him the entire time, mostly alone. I held his hand and asked him to forgive me for being such a selfish child. I told him stories and jokes and begged him to let go. It was very surreal to beg the person you love most, to die. I reminded him of how he always said that if he had the choice, when it was time to go he would love to take a bunch of morphine and holler “Adios motherfuckers!” He was hooked to a morphine drip at the time and I surely hope somewhere in the ether, that wasn’t lost on him.

Andy and a dear friend of mine were there with me when my father passed. They had come to relieve me and I started telling funny stories about my father. We all began to laugh at one point and that was when he died. I know he held out to hear my laugh one last time. I have so much guilt and shame about the way I handled his illness. I know his reaction to this would simply be, “Don’t be so uptight over all that bullshit. I love you and that’s all that matters.” Still, I have a hard time forgiving myself. What does it say about my true essence if this is how I treated the person whom I loved most in the world?

I feel like I have a track record of acting like a selfish asshole in my last interactions with my loved ones. The last words I said to my brother were angry shouts over him waking me up when I had a final the next day at Tulane. He died in his sleep just a bedroom away from me, within a few hours of that exchange. The last time I spoke with my mother she called me while I was at a fucking ski-ball party and I blew her off for acting so weird on the phone. She killed two people and herself within the next 24 hours. I don’t remember the last moment my father was lucid but if I had to bet, I probably acted like an asshole. I think this is certainly why I strive to be very empathetic and aware these days. I’m partially motivated by guilt.

I used to think that one day I would just “get over” my losses. It’s been over 4 years since my father died. I have come to realize there is no expiration date on mourning.

I dreamt about my father the other night. I was in a barroom with him mid conversation and he asked me, “What would you change about yourself to make you happier?”

“I would have more patience. I would be more focused. I would figure out why I often feel so lonely.”

“You would forgive yourself, baby.”

“Yep, that too.”

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Happy 3rd Birthday Wilder

November 6th 2016

To my amazing son Wilder for his 3rd birthday:

We have made it another year and I can honestly say that things keep getting better every day. Parents will often be warned of the “terrible twos”  and while this past year has not been without challenges, each one has been accompanied by grand accomplishments. It has been unbelievably inspiring and an honor to watch you grow not only physically but also emotionally and intellectually. Your willfulness and my reactions to it have been a learning experience. There is no doubt that you have inherited some of my best and some of my worst traits. You have been a mirror to me, which has allowed me to contemplate not only who I want you to be, but ultimately who I want to be as well.

When it comes to “milestones” you knocked it out of the park. At just over two years of age you were able to spell your name. You learned early how to manipulate your parents, which was demonstrated  when you told your Poppa at 25 months “Mommie gives me candy.” I was at work and was shocked to read the text message asking if that was true, since I am probably the only parent who doesn’t give you candy. You have shown a penchant for memorization and became borderline obsessed with states and their capitals. Before you made two and a half years of age, you knew all of them. You would take me by the hand and say, “Let’s do capitals.” I think Clint was instrumental in helping you develop a love for geography, since he has one as well. He helped you learn many of the countries and their capitals as well. When asked you will say, “I like South American countries.” Although I’m not exactly sure why.

You traveled a lot again this year. Mostly with your Daddy who is lovingly dedicated to showing you as much of the world as possible. You went to Texas, New York, Florida, Mississippi and Oregon. Each trip was punctuated by events where you became the star – visiting backstage on Broadway with your Nanny, acting as the “flower girl” in a wedding and of course being the apple of your extended family’s eye. On the trip to Oregon your Daddy took you to Mount St. Helen because you had shown a lasting interest in volcanoes. When you returned I was so happy to see you and the first thing you told me was, “When the lava came down the mountain, not all the animals could get away and it made me sad.”  I couldn’t beleive that was most forefront in your mind, but was so proud of your empathy.

Some of my favorite memories of the past year include the following: Your love for singing and dancing and how you would take my hand and say “Mommie dance.” Once you heard Daft Punk, we had many dance party nights. How right around 26 months old, you became fixated on flowers and if you saw any, you needed one for each hand. When you went through your brief “Mommie, mommie” phase and wanted me to do everything with you. (Side note- you have also gone through a Poppa, Daddy & Clint phase over the last year.) When you began to ask me “What’s hers name?” about anyone we would see or meet, thinking that I must know the name of everyone in the world. Also how you refused to be confined to normal gender pronouns and continue to refer to people not only as “her” and “him”  but also “hers” which can represent either gender. How you often refer to yourself using ambiguous gender pronouns, although no one has taught you that. I have been challenged by your strong personality and your disdain for being told what to do, but it has been instrumental in making me address my own control issues and truly dedicate myself to being a good mother to you and what that means to me.

Your fathers have been so instrumental in your happiness and development. Poppa is the one who puts you to bed every night when you are at our house. Even when I am home, you still ask for him. He is the one who creates and maintains family traditions with you. He is so patient and is dedicated to making sure you get a lot of outdoor play time. Poppa is very popular at the park with all the other parents there (particularly the moms). Clint goes through periods of being your favorite, as you have told me as much. He is always so happy to see you, and takes you to play dates and film premiers. You and Clint have the same sleep schedule as you both like to stay up late and sleep in. As far as your Daddy goes, there is hands down no one in the world like him. He loves you endlessly, as does his entire family. He has given you a gift that none of us have been able to, which is the love of his family. He has made it a priority to take you to see the world and introduce you to all the people that he loves, so that they can marvel in your charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.

This year has had its ups and downs. Poppa and I became engaged last February when I asked him to marry me. Clint pulled off another successful year with the Film Society. Daddy has been focusing on his art and costume design, procuring a few wonderful jobs in both theater and film. Poppa has continued to run a successful bar, and also hone his skill in stand up comedy. The streetcar finally arrived on St. Claude Ave, which will no doubt bring many changes to our business as well as the city. I started a new job at Ace Hotel and love it. You completed your first year of nursery school and didn’t really enjoy summer camp, so we pulled you out early. My health has dramatically improved and I completed my second half-marathon at the end of October. I reunited with my nephew Jonathan, who is one of the most important people in my life. You had to get tubes put in your ears, which not only improved your hearing greatly, but also prevented you from having reoccurring ear infections. The hardest thing that happened this year was the passing of your Mal Mal, Cornelia. She was an amazing woman who loved you like no other. So much of who your Daddy is and who you are is tied to Cornelia. She will be greatly missed by all of us, but she lives on through you. We will all be sure to keep her legacy alive by telling you about her adventures and taking you to her property in Texas.

You experienced a few challenges this year as well. You had to give up your beloved “binkle” and it was not easy. You also learned how to use the potty like an adult, many thanks to Daddy who took the initiative and had the patience/resolve to get you potty-trained. You had to learn what “no” means, although your new phrase is “Mommie, you don’t tell me ‘no,’ you only tell me ‘yes’.”

Thank you again for another year of being your “mommie.” There is no doubt in my mind that parenting is one of the most intense things that a person can choose to do, but it is also by far the most rewarding. You continue to inspire me to be a better person, to take risks, to find the love and joy that exists in every day, to be present in the moment, to believe in myself and to check my expectations. I couldn’t be the parent that I want to be without the amazing fathers that you have. Without them, our family wouldn’t exist. I am so excited to watch you grow and become your own person, hopefully guided by the love and support of all of us. I love you more than anything in the whole universe. More than books, more than stardust, more than flowers and art, and sunny days at the beach. And yes, I absolutely 100% love you more than cake.

Xoxo,

Mommie

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One Decade Down.

October 4, 2016

Today marks the ten year anniversary of the night I was raped by someone I trusted. Ten years certainly seems like a very long time. Some may say, long enough to bury the hatchet, or move on. Certainly long enough for many trends and social movements to change. “Slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” are now a normal part of our collective current vernacular. There are more and more people of all genders speaking out about and against sexual crimes. The level of support and understanding that many victims of sexual assault are now receiving did not exist at the time I was raped. I’m grateful that has changed.

I can’t truly remember the first time someone called me a “slut,” but I do remember my brother calling me one to my face when I was fourteen. It hurt. It made me feel ashamed for basically doing the same things with boys that he was doing with girls. But it didn’t stop me. I learned pretty quickly what many boys wanted from me, and what they would call me once they got it. Regardless, I moved through adolescence and into adulthood with a strong sense of self. I’ve always been rather forward. I’ve never been prudish or timid when it comes to sexual relationships. I laughed at the nickname “Whorey Lori,” and more often than not found myself in the company of men- as friends, lovers and confidants.

It wasn’t surprising to me that my first “real” job was working as a cocktail waitress in a strip club on Bourbon Street. I was studying at Tulane at the time and the money I made there afforded me to live the lifestyle that I desired. I liked the strip club scene as well, I learned more from that job then I did from the 4 + years I spent in college. It only made sense to me that I would continue working in the clubs, even if it was only part-time.

After a certain period of time at any job, a person becomes desensitized to situations that may at first have caused some concern. Just as nurses probably feel overwhelmed when they see their first patient die, it can be the same for walking in on your first customer getting a BJ. But just as the nurse slowly acclimates to the sickness and death that are integral parts of her job, the employee/independent contractor in the strip club does the same with sexual situations. This is not to say that all strippers (or exotic dancers, if you prefer the term) are engaging in unsafe and/or illegal activities, as I have personally known many who are strictly (legal) business. Yet, by the time I was 27 years old and found myself in the position of manager at the second highest grossing strip club in New Orleans, there were few things I had not been witness to.

Picture it, if you will. I’m 27, I’m a strip club manager and in all honesty I was a binge alcoholic. What does this mean exactly? I would go several days without drinking but if I had a night off I would drink until I was blotto. I wasn’t in the best physical health. I am sure I wasn’t in the best emotional health (my mother had killed two people then herself in July 2005, then the storm…). But if I was anything, I was a fun time. I was popular at work. When I closed the club I worked at, I would often go to one of our sister clubs and drink and entertain my fellow managers and their team. I did some stupid shit. I bartended topless and barefoot for a club full of Bourbon Street sanitation workers one morning when they were considering a strike. I was nearly arrested for telling a female cop that “technically I am not exposing my nipples on the street because my hands are covering them.” I hightailed it inside when she went to cuff me explaining that then my nipples would be exposed. One night when one of our clubs was featuring an all male review I was asked to help the guys complete their independent contractor paperwork. I wore plastic gloves because they were all naked and covered in oil. After several guys got aroused while completing their paperwork, I was given the nickname “Fluffer”  which stuck for months. All of these things seemed perfectly normal to me. In a sense I felt like I had found my people.

I became very good friends with one of the male managers who worked at one of our sister clubs. We had a lot in common. We were around the same age, liked the same music and films, struggled with similar family problems and had the same general outlook on our job. We would hang out often. Once a week we would watch movies together. It was a flirtatious friendship, but nearly all my friendships are. We were not sexually involved, my mother always taught me “don’t shit where you eat” and I wasn’t interested in him that way.

In retrospect, there were warning signs. Once he and I had gone out with some mutual friends and gotten extremely intoxicated. I’m talking polishing off a bottle of Grand Marnier drunk. One of my dearest friends got upset when we were bar crawling because she said he tried to forcefully kiss her and she wasn’t into it. I honestly laughed it off, saying “He’s just drunk. We’re all so fucked.” She agreed and dismissed it, and I still feel bad about that.

Ten years ago tonight I was at home in bed with a sinus infection. I was sober and the only drugs I had ingested were tylenol cold & sinus. I received a call from him but didn’t answer because I felt like shit. When he kept calling though, I picked up. He was incredibly intoxicated and not making much sense. I was able to deduce that he was at the Three Legged Dog. I hung up on him and called the bartender there and told them to only serve him water and get him some food and I would be over as soon as possible. I didn’t even bother to change my clothes. I left the house in my pajamas, congested and annoyed. He lived across the street from the bar, and when I got there he was already making more sense. He had a shitty day. He was morose and sincerely sorry he had called. He borrowed a movie from the bartender and begged me to walk him home. I obliged and half-followed, half-boosted him up the three flights of stairs to his apartment. I put the movie on and told him that I would stay and watch it until he fell asleep, which I figured would be very quickly.

I have replayed the events that follow a million times in my head. I have weighed every second to determine who is truly at fault. I dream about this scenario more than I like to admit. Even when I think I have worked past it, it still affects me. The movie was playing. He leaned over and tried to kiss me, and at first I rebuffed him. I told him I was sick. I playfully gave him shit for making me leave my house. But he was persistent and I foolishly went for it. I remember thinking “maybe if I just kiss him, he will leave me alone.” It had the opposite effect. Before I could understand what was happening, he was on top of me. He was pulling down my flimsy pajama pants. I wasn’t wearing underwear. He had my shoulders pinned down and was still trying to kiss me. I was saying “no” sternly but I wasn’t screaming it. I wasn’t doing much of anything, because I was shocked. I remember thinking “this can’t actually be happening.” The entire ordeal ended as abruptly as it started. He got off of me and I ran into the bathroom that was next to the bed. I threw up immediately. I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I splashed water on my face and made a plan. I exited the bedroom, grabbed my keys and ran out of the apartment building. He was calling after me. I got to my car and threw up again, this time all over myself. Then I started to cry.

I felt so ashamed and angry with myself. I thought I was such a strong woman. I figured that if I was ever in a situation like that, I would fight. I would defend my honor. I would kill a motherfucker before I allowed them to hurt me. But I had not fought. I had not screamed. It was not an epic battle where I left with my honor intact. I had been a deer in the headlights. I had been what I thought was weak. I couldn’t believe that someone I trusted, dare I even say loved as a friend, would have done this to me. I felt I couldn’t trust myself any longer. I hesitated with what to do, with who to tell because I wasn’t sure that they would even believe me. I was closest with my father, but I didn’t tell him because I knew he would have the guy killed. Keeping that secret from him is one of the things I regret most now that he is gone, because it changed our relationship.

I didn’t press charges because of my shame. The thought of having to tell a room full of people what had happened was too much for me. I didn’t go to the hospital that night either. I regret both of those decisions.

He kept trying to talk to me. He called me and he texted me repeatedly acting as if nothing had happened. One day after a manager meeting that we both had to attend, he confronted me. He was pleasant and nonchalant “What’s up, are you ignoring me?” My voice was shaking, “Do you remember the other night? I didn’t want to have sex with you. I told you no.” He laughed, “What are you saying?” Then a pause, “Are you saying I raped you?” And just like that he made me feel like the accused one. He walked away from me shaking his head. I think those were the last words we spoke to one another.

In the days and weeks after the rape, I did confide in a few people. For the most part, I did not receive the support I was looking for. No one lost any sleep over what I had told them, and it seemed that sexual assault was just another thing that people in the business were immune to. I was trying to put the entire incident behind me, but there was a problem. I was pregnant. Now you might find yourself wondering who in the fuck could be so unlucky, and I too have pondered that many times on my life.

I had an abortion. I took the pills. I ended up having an adverse reaction and my co-workers found out about the entire ordeal when I had to leave the club mid-shift on Halloween to go to the ER. I had a pro-life nurse who hurt me with a catheter, because she could. I cried alone in the hospital hooked to an IV and wondering how much this would cost me. $3780.00 roughly in money (not including therapy) and a whole lot more in terms of self-respect and dignity.

When I returned to work a few days later I was told that I needed to fill out an incident report and talk with the regional GM. I didn’t understand why I needed to do this because the incident had nothing to do with work, other than the fact that we both worked under the same umbrella corporation. I obliged and my fears were confirmed when I had to recount the ordeal to several people. At one point, one of the people I was speaking to actually made a fucking joke about how he hadn’t lasted very long. I remember nervously laughing, because I didn’t know what else to do. I still feel sick when I think about that. Once again I decided not to press charges, which was the supported decision. I did however leave the strip club very soon after that and transferred to a karaoke bar that the company partially owned. I have not worked in a strip club since then.

I’m a member of several New Orleans service industry facebook groups, and I will often get notifications when someone posts in one. A few years back I got one of those notifications, but it was my rapist who had posted. He’s apparently still out there and simply seeing his name made me sick. After our encounter, before he left New Orleans, he sexually harassed (and perhaps assaulted, though no charges were made) other women who worked with him. I was told that this is why he finally lost his job and moved away.  I can’t help but feel partially responsible.

After my rape people said the following things to me:

“It might be hard for you to get people to believe you, because you’re always so flirty.”

“Why would he even rape you, if he asked you probably would have fucked him anyway.”

“Why are you having an abortion, I thought you always wanted kids.”

“There is camera footage from the clubs of you acting really slutty, and that could surely be used against you.”

“Are you sure you aren’t just overreacting.”

“Were you drunk?”

Just recently I was celebrating with a friend and we went out of town and took some psychedelics. We were messing around and everything was wonderful. Then he touched me in a certain way (I’m not even sure how) and I physically reacted before my brain could even register what was going on. He was concerned when I jolted away from him and then I had to say something. Maybe it was the drugs, or the familiarity that I have with him, but I found myself telling him about my rape. And crying. A lot. Talk about a horrible fucking date. But it made me consider just how much impact this trauma has had on me. It made me realize just how much power my shame has held over me all these years. I told him how I hated to even talk about it, and wouldn’t let him look at me while I spoke. I felt weak again but in a new way.

I used to fantasize about how differently I would have handled that situation if I had another chance. I still think about crushing all the bones in his dominant hand so that it becomes much harder for him to simply act without thought. I tried to blame the situation on his intoxication at first, but none of my other guy friends “accidentally rape” people when they are drunk. I wonder if he even understands the depth of his actions. I honestly doubt it.

I’m finally finding the strength to allow myself to be vulnerable. That being said, this is the hardest thing for me to talk about, and I’ve got some fucking tales to tell. Thankfully, I feel stronger than I have in a long time. One decade down, a lifetime to go.

 

To Let It Go.

Recently I was pondering the triviality of our actions and how sometimes when we are engaged in the most mundane aspects of our day, somewhere else, something life-changing is also happening. The day that my brother died of an accidental overdose, I had left him sleeping in the spare room of my current home while I traversed the city to take a mid-term at Tulane University. When the coroner’s office estimated his time of death, I knew that it matched the same time that I would have been reaching the Claiborne Avenue Bridge. I would have been singing along to the radio and probably surveying the traffic in front of me. I did not have a pang of heartache, or hear an odd song, or have anything memorable happen. I didn’t know that my brother was taking his last breath. I took my mid-term and only found out afterwards when my boyfriend called me that something had happened. I drove home numb. I later received an A on that test.

New Orleans is a violent city and this past weekend was no exception. The newspaper reported 15 violent crimes in a span of 10 hours. Two 18 year old young men were shot to death around 11:30 am on Memorial Day in Broadmoor. One of them was Faisal Puckett Jr. whom I worked with at Ace Hotel.  At 18 years of age, what did you know about yourself? I didn’t know much. Faisal was a cheerful and kind kid. While I didn’t know him well, he was someone that I was accustomed to seeing, someone I said “hello” to, someone that I never thought would die the way he did. He is a statistic, he was robbed of his future, he deserved so much better.

While these crimes were happening across the city, while lives were being lost, I was gallivanting through the French Quarter sipping cocktails, posting pictures to Instagram and enjoying the day.  I had gotten a room at the Monteleone for Andy and I to enjoy. Andy had improv rehearsal, so I met a friend for a drink and enjoyed his company. When Andy returned we went to dinner then headed over to the Voodoo Lounge. It was nearly 11 pm at this point but I had an agenda. Some friends met me at the bar and we planned to be at Bar Tonique at midnight for the Ramos Gin Fizz competition. One of my dearest friends from Ace Hotel, Melissa Knott was supposed to be competing. She never made it.

When I started at Ace Hotel I was a bit intimidated. I had bartending and bar managing experience but not craft cocktail experience. I would come home from orientation and exclaim to Andy, “What if I’m not good enough?” He would laugh at me, and assure me that things were going to be fine. I felt like the new kid in school. Melissa was one of the first people to truly include me. During our training she had a small get-together at her house where I met her sweet husband Jeff and adorable dogs. Some of the other bartenders came as well and we sat around and shot the shit in a way that immediately made me feel comfortable. Melissa and Jeff had an amazing home bar, and while they were incredibly knowledgeable and talented, they were also extremely down to earth. There was a lot of laughter and no bravado. I felt better because of her.

There is a wise rule at the hotel that you cannot sit and have a drink at the bar you just finished your shift at. That was never a problem for me because I would simply walk across the lobby after clocking out and sit at the bar in Josephine Estelle. While I can honestly say that I enjoy all of the staff there, Melissa was my favorite. She would often make me an Aperol Spritz and it was in my opinion the best in the city. We would chat about life. If she was having a rough day she would tell me,  “I need a Lori hug.” Together we coined the phrase Caturday, in which we would always wear something cat related on Saturday. Her locker was right by mine, so many times we would cross paths, always stopping to ask how the other was. Always caring about the answer to that question.

The people you work with often become a second family. If you are lucky, you are able to love and appreciate them. I spend more of my waking hours with my co-workers than I do with my son or any of his fathers. While the majority of that time is spent behind the bar being “on” there are countless moments behind the scenes- pre and post shift, during breaks, and sometimes actually out at other places. I have gotten to know many of my co-workers. I’ve been lucky enough to share in their joys and attempt to comfort them in their sorrows. I can’t tell you how many times a day someone asks me about Wilder, or gives a hug or makes me laugh. But I know these things far outweigh the times I feel frustrated or upset. In the small time that Ace Hotel has been open (a little over two months) a family has been created, for better or worse, and that has been very evident over the past week.

Last Thursday I was in the break room with Melissa when she excitedly told me the news that she and Jeff were going to be parents. She asked me about doctors and hospitals and told me that we needed to make a dinner date so she could have some one on one time for all her inquiries. She was beaming with happiness and I was thrilled for her. I imagined that she would probably be serving cocktails until the day she went into labor. I went home and wrote about her pregnancy in my journal. I envisioned themes for her baby shower which would include Star Wars and whiskey. I was happy to have another friend join the parenthood club, which comes with unbelievable joys and challenges. I saw Melissa again on Saturday as my shift was ending and hers was beginning. I gave her a hug in the locker room and she told me that she was feeling very tired. I joked and told her that would be the new normal for a very long time. She smiled and we parted ways. That would be the last time that I saw her.

I didn’t think too much when she didn’t show up to Bar Tonique because I figured she was too exhausted to be out.  I almost sent her a playful text, goading her about not making it to the competition which I ended up being one of the judges for. But I didn’t want to disturb her if she was resting.  The next afternoon one of my managers called me and first broke the news about Faisal. I was reeling from that when he told me that Melissa had passed away as well. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I kept saying, “But I was supposed to see her last night.” I was crying and probably sounded like a broken record. I felt so much heartache for Jeff and her family. I had so much empathy for my managers who were trying to call everyone personally to break the news. I hung up the phone and fell apart.

That day Jeff posted the following on social media “I don’t really know how to start this or what to say, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. This morning my loving and beautiful wife, Melissa passed away. We hadn’t widely broadcast anything yet, but she was pregnant. Yesterday afternoon, there were complications and she had to go to the emergency room. The doctors did everything they could but after two surgeries could not get the bleeding to stop. They described it as a one in a million situation which is very fitting since she was in fact, one in a million. My family is here with me and hers is coming in tonight. We will try to get everything planned as soon as possible so you will all know what can be done. As for now I just ask for your respect for us and for her most of all.”

Grief is different once you become a parent. It’s harder in ways that cannot be adequately described in a few words. I can’t begin to imagine the anguish that her loved ones must be feeling.The finality of death has the potential to destroy those left behind. Thankfully the community that Melissa and Jeff have built is a strong one. The outpouring of love, support accompanied by beautiful photographs on social media is a reminder of how loving and kind Melissa was. She touched so many people’s lives in such a short time. I feel honored to have been able to cross paths with her in this lifetime.

The family at Ace Hotel has been mourning all week. A few of the staff members created a beautiful altar for Faisal and Melissa where friends could leave notes and tokens of their love. Today they had a moment of silence followed by a time for people to gather and care for one another. It was touching and teeming with love and vulnerability. As I have mentioned in other posts, I often struggle with the ability to show emotional fragility, but this week I have proven on more than one occasion that my mascara is not actually waterproof.

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Thank you to those who move through this life with grace and compassion. May we all be so lucky to leave a legacy of joy and love.

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Photo by Jordan Burch Photography

“Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
― Mary Oliver

Add it to the list.

On Monday my therapist told me that I am a high-functioning depressive. My response was, “Jesus Christ, what isn’t wrong with me.” This diagnosis came after I explained to her all the happy things that were happening in my life, and my inability to fully enjoy them. I feel like I’ve just entered a grand hall with the most delicious buffet of every delicacy placed before my eyes (cue up images of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s table) and I’ve burnt my motherfucking tongue. Or I’m looking at the most stunning works of art, and I’ve gone colorblind. All the wonderful things are there, I’m just unable to appreciate them fully. I tried texting Jackie daily with something that I was grateful for, but I kept forgetting. Failure, but not for lack of gratitude. I am so grateful for all the goodness in my life. I truly mean that. Not in the bullshit I-read-it-on-a-tea-bag-sleeve sort of way, but in a very contemplative way. I think this recent struggle is exacerbated by the bookends of Mother’s Day and my father’s birthday. I’m trying to get myself out of this fog. Let’s focus on some of the good things.

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Photo by Marcianne Marks

Our son is a happy, healthy, brilliant child who is at a somewhat challenging, but also very inquisitive age. I am able to explain the world to him. It has re-awakened my own sense of curiosity and my appreciation for the mundane (journal entry – today Wilder learned about road rage…j/k).Wilder’s other parents are amazing. In fact, Lee has been the champion of potty training and without his help and encouragement, I have no doubt that Wilder would still be in diapers. While we are all busy, we have managed to consistently honor each other’s schedules. Our unique family was even the focus of a recent article, which was an honor to be a part of. https://talesofthecocktail.com/culture/motherhood-bartender-how-industry-becomes-your-village

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I finally had a one-act on stage as part of Southern Rep’s 6×6 program. I have been courting them for nearly a year with over a half-dozen submissions, so needless to say I was ecstatic when I received the email that my play was chosen. I wrote and edited the piece Room 512 in less than two hours the night that it was due. I had told Andy that evening after getting home from work, “I’m so tired but I won’t be able to sleep well if I don’t at least try to submit something.”  It helped that I didn’t need to add much stage direction as 6×6 is more of an enhanced staged reading than a full on production. People will ask me “How do you do it?” Simple. I don’t do fun things like fuck my partner at every chance, or have drinks on most of my nights without Wilder, or watch anything on television in real time because I write. Alone and usually with too many snacks at my disposal, I sit at my desk and focus. It’s not always fun but it makes me feel more alive than most other things do. And sometimes it pays off.  It was replenishing to see my work on a stage again. Also one of my favorite local actresses Dorian Rush was cast in my play, and she along with the other two actors, were phenomenal. The audience gasped and laughed in all the right places and I felt accomplished and proud to be a part of something that entertained. Quite a few of my friends came to support me and they all complimented the work, which I was grateful for. The biggest compliment though was when I was told someone heard a stranger say, “Who is Lori Tipton, her play was my favorite.” I look forward to the day when I am a known playwright. I believe it is a possibility.

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Photo by Gabrielle Geiselman

I’ve been working a lot lately at my new(ish) job at Ace Hotel. Just like Southern Rep, my courtship with the hotel was also a long one. I was originally introduced to the company through a friend last summer. I sent off my resume in August of 2015 and started my first day of training in February of 2016. For the first time in my life, I honestly can’t say enough good things about my job. Part of me has been reluctant to talk much about it because there are times when things feel too good to be true. A company in New Orleans that treats service industry workers with respect and compassion? Blasphemy!  Co-workers who are diverse in every way yet come together as a team? Insanity! A job where I actually look forward to returning to work after my days off? Impossible! But yet, I’m living it. It feels like it’s been a long time coming.

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Andy is my best friend and the funniest person I know. He’s also brutally honest with me. The other day when I was lying in bed listening to the new Radiohead album and feeling morose he came up to my room. I told him that I was frustrated with my emotional struggles and he told me that I was living life “filled with fear.” At first I was angered by his assessment (surprise!). How dare he say that to me? Especially with the personal violence I have lived through, not to mention the violence that is so rampant in our city. I did my best to not react, and to realize that he wasn’t saying this as a judgement, but more as a plea. I know I will struggle with PTSD for the rest of my life, but it’s disheartening to go from being described as “unstoppably brave” to “filled with fear.” As much as it makes me uncomfortable I need him to be that mirror though, so that I can be the best parent and partner possible. I value his honesty more than nearly all other aspect of our relationship.

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Mother’s Day went really well this year. I didn’t find myself dwelling on the absence of my own mother because my family and friends made the day very special for me. Earlier in the week Andy had stopped by Ace Hotel with a beautiful flower arrangement for me. He also made a card with Wilder, which was adorable. Lee made a card with Wilder as well (complete with a volcano and proclaiming “I Lava You”) and he also presented me with one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. He had a painting done of Brando, my first “baby”. Wilder was watching me open my gift with anticipation and he was confused when I immediately burst into tears upon unwrapping it. I had to explain to him that I was indeed alright, even if I was a weeping mess. I worked at the Voodoo that evening and many of my co-workers came in to see me, which I deeply appreciated. I thoroughly enjoyed their company. Andy dropped by a little after 10 pm with Wilder and I asked him to finish my shift so that I could put Wilder to bed. Hugging our son and reading to him are two of my favorite things in the world. No bullshit, its pure bliss.

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So this is where things get a little weird. On Tuesday I went to a medium. You know, so I could communicate with my dead family. Let me start by saying that overall it was a positive experience. Do I believe that the woman I spoke with was absolutely communicating with each of my relatives ? No. Did she know some freaky stuff that she shouldn’t have known?  Absolutely.  I didn’t go to her looking for closure, to be honest. I didn’t want to yell at my ghost mom and ask my ghost father for a hug. I was very curious. I wondered if any of my relatives would bitch at me for choosing to cremate them and keeping all their ashes in my closet (in my defense, it’s a beautiful walk-in closet). The medium whom I will call M claimed to communicate with my father, my brother, my mother and her partner Julie. The person I am most inclined to believe she truly communicated with was my brother, Davin.  She said that he was very angry because everyone believed that he had killed himself but he hadn’t. He claims (or his ghost claims) that he was sold some bad drugs that ended up taking him out but that he didn’t intend to die. It had been debated amongst my family whether or not he had committed suicide, as he was the first to die. The general consensus was that he had taken his own life, but now I feel I must believe otherwise. He (his ghost) also interjected when my ghost father was saying that my son is a good kid that I will probably “fuck him up.” Which I had to laugh at, because it is something that non-ghost Davin, alive Davin, would have said to me for sure. While I would have loved to believe that she had truly communicated with my father – it didn’t feel as genuine. For one, he didn’t use the word “motherfucker” and that is completely unlike him. Our saying always was, “If they took the word ‘motherfucker’ out of the dictionary, we wouldn’t have anything to say to one another.” I did cry though when M told me that of all things my father was most proud that I was his daughter. I’m sure that’s a generalization for most families, but something that felt good. She did know however that I had moved my father to New Orleans at the end of his life, and stated that he was very grateful I had done that. I think if she had thrown in one simple “motherfucker” I would have been able to believe. M claimed that my mother’s energy was all over the place. She gave me some disturbing details about the murder-suicide that I don’t see how she could have known. Ghost Julie had a lot to say to me, and while I am grateful for it, I don’t feel it is appropriate to write about on this blog. My ghost mother did apologize for her actions, but I felt like that was something to be expected. I honestly think most people seeking a medium are also seeking an apology of some sort. M kept asking me if I had any questions or messages but honestly I hadn’t really prepared for that. I just wanted to see what they had to say, which apparently was a lot. I recorded the session and want to see how much I told M when I listen to it. All in all I was impressed. I feel that mediums are kin to therapists and I think there can be therapeutic benefits for some.  Would I recommend this to a friend? Absolutely.

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I must admit that my ghost relatives all seemed to be doing the same shit dead, as they did alive. Being angry, being crazy, feeling guilty. This has bummed me the fuck out. I figured that death would be a freeing experience and that once you left this body , some state of enlightenment would be attained. It’s terrifying to think that when we die we just hang around dwelling on shit that didn’t go our way. If I died tonight, would ghost Lori be worried about her cellulite and inability to correctly pronounce French words forever? Would I be stuck in my current emotional state (high-functioning depressive – thank you very much) for eternity? Sheesh. How does reincarnation factor into this situation? My brother died in 1999, so his ghost has been fucking pissed for over 15 years! How long is a human year to a ghost? God only knows.

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Needless to say, the experience has left me with a lot to ponder. The last two nights I have awoken at exactly 3 am. Coincidence? Probably. I suppose that the fear of spending eternity focused on my mistakes is motivation enough to focus on the positive. I’m going to make a gratitude list for Jackie very soon. Thank you for reading this. I’ll add that to the list.

 

 

 

Good Mourning

April 18, 2016

I am nearly 37 years old.

I dream a lot of more of my parents since Wilder’s birth. Maybe this is because they are on my mind much more than before. I dreamt a few weeks ago that I was ill in a big fluffy bed surrounded by down blankets and pillows. I was sinking uncomfortably into them, almost becoming smothered. My mother was there and I was calling out to her, but she couldn’t hear me. This dream was accompanied by sleep paralysis which is something I have experienced since a child. It was jarring and I woke sweaty and unhinged. I dreamt about my father that same night. I walked into Venezia Italian Restaurant where my father and I would always go for dinner when he was in town. He was standing at the bar talking to Mr. Tony. He was dressed finely in one of his suits, sporting his jewelry. I walked up and said, “Dadee, this must be a dream because you are dead.” He smiled, held out his glass of (cheap) tequila on the rocks and said, “Have a drink with an old friend, won’t you?” I obliged.

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I have always foolishly prided myself on my ability to remain calm and somewhat aloof in tragic situations. I have always equated vulnerability with weakness. I cannot stand to show sorrowful emotions in front of people that I don’t trust. I have a hard time showing sadness in front of those whom I do trust, and in the past it would come across as anger. I have always chosen anger as my go-to emotion and it wasn’t until my pregnancy that I began to really think about this character trait. My father could be hot-headed and growing up he yelled at us as a form of correction. My mother was unstable for most of my life and she also would yell, but often threatened to “make a Christian” out of me, which is something my cousin and I chuckle about today. Both my parents were stubborn and strong-willed. They stood up for what they believed in. They demanded respect. They were imperfect. I inherited a lot of their strength and stubbornness. I always thought that crying made me weak. I didn’t cry when I found out my brother died of an overdose in my house. I yelled. I didn’t cry when I discovered my mother and two of the most influential women in my life – dead in my mother’s home. I calmly called 911 and then alerted the rest of the family. I didn’t realize just how eerily calm I was until I later heard the taped 911 call played back on the news. People talked about my strength when I delivered the eulogy for my mother without crying. Therapist and counselors were shocked when I could tell the story in full detail with little emotion. As much as I knew these things had happened to me, I felt like they had happened to someone else whenever I had to tell the story. I felt removed from the situation. When my father died I almost declined having a wake because I didn’t want to have to comfort other people. I knew I would give the eulogy without crying and then be forced to hug people who would be visibly upset. Just being that close to others’ vulnerability made me uncomfortable, because I couldn’t allow myself to feel my own.

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You know what makes you face your vulnerability more efficiently than anything else? Becoming a parent. One day you wake up and you have this little creature staring up at you, and your heart bursts with love and fear. Fear you will somehow fuck up. And at some point, you surely will. By the time our son was born all my nuclear family was dead. My brother died in 1999, my mother in 2005 and my father just 9 months before Wilder’s arrival. I thought I had settled the score with the ghosts of my family. I believed I had worked through the majority of the trauma associated with my brother and mother’s deaths. I was wrong. My mother would always warn me, “Just wait until you have children of your own.” I hated that, and swore that I would never be like her. I would mentally remember all of her bad traits and if I ever did procreate I would NEVER be anything like her. Ha, fucking ha.

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My mother was bi-polar and had OCD. She was obsessed with cleanliness, to the point that as children my brother and I would often get sick from things being too sterile. She would bleach her walls once a week. She mopped the floors every other day and moved the refrigerator to mop underneath it. She stripped her floors once a month with ammonia. You could eat off her toilet seats. There were no shoes allowed in the house and there were no fingerprints allowed on anything, including the refrigerator door handle. You wouldn’t even consider leaving water spots in a sink. You had to wipe it completely dry after washing your hands – for the millionth time that day. She needed everything to appear perfectly put together, so people wouldn’t know how imperfect she was. She needed control.

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When I got home from the hospital after an emergency C-section, what was the first thing I did? Vacuumed the entire house – all three floors – carrying the vacuum up and down the stairs. Andy tried to stop me, as I was told not to lift anything other than our 6 pound son. I yelled at him. I told him that if I didn’t clean the house I couldn’t relax. That old apple wasn’t too far from the tree. I’ve worked hard to overcome my tendencies for unrealistic cleanliness. In the past when I would cook, I would have to plate all the food and then do all the dishes that were made preparing it before I could sit down to eat. These days I often go to bed with an empty cup or plate in the sink. Baby steps.

I have spent a lot of time analyzing my behavioral traits, and trying my hardest not to carry on the negative traits that I subconsciously learned from my parents. It has been a long time joke for people to tell women that one day they will become their mother. Anyone who tells me this is met with a stoic, “What, a murderer?” That usually changes the subject.  But there are times when my reaction to something comes out so quickly that I am taken aback of by how much of her resides in me. Sometimes down to the very same words. It’s powerful and frightening.

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I am also completely overcome with empathy for my mother now that I am a parent. She was never a malicious or evil person, although the final act of her life was for some rightly unforgivable. She was a human, with many flaws and insecurities. She was unfortunately set up for failure. She grew up in a Catholic home with an alcoholic father and a nervous mother. She was a lesbian, back before it was acceptable or “cool” but when the DSM considered homosexuality to be a mental disorder. She was afraid of being stigmatized and was never comfortable in her own skin. She didn’t have the tools that I have, or the social acceptance of depression and anxiety that we have today. She was constantly putting on heirs to such an extent that she never really made many true friends, and none that she could really count on. She was lonely and sad a lot. I remember as a child her lying on the floor in the living room listening to Whitney Houston by candlelight and sadly saying to me, “Please make sure there are a lot of candles at my funeral.”

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Her unwillingness for honesty made her unreachable for me. I have an inherent disgust for people who lie to me because of this. We had a very strained relationship. Aesthetics were paramount for her. If things could be perceived as perfect to outsiders then she was safe. I was always too fat or too thin. I was never classy enough and my intelligence threatened her. She would brag about me behind my back, but rarely would she ever tell me that she was proud of me. When my brother Davin died, a huge part of her did too. She told a person at the funeral, within my earshot, that she wished it had been me. She was so distraught that she lashed out. She couldn’t be vulnerable either, so she got angry. She couldn’t see that she was destroying everything around her with her anger – she felt she was in control of at least one thing. I think her unrealistic need for control is what finally drove her to murder.

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As difficult as she was as a mother, I was an equally difficult child. I was in my mid-twenties when she died. The pinnacle of when I knew everything. I am grateful that my mother taught me how to be a strong woman. She was the one of the first female roustabouts to work offshore, which is awesome considering she had also worked as a playboy bunny at the Playboy Club in the quarter. She was a petit, beautiful, hell-fire of a woman. She had a compassionate heart and was known as “mom” by hundreds of people when she died, due to her final job as a house mom at a few of the most successful gentleman’s clubs on Bourbon Street. She is still remembered fondly, which is simultaneously comforting and heartbreaking. It has taken me years to admit this, but I really do miss her.

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I know something inside of me has changed. Now if I talk honestly about my mother to people that I love, I will cry. If I try to talk about my love for my father, I will become a blubbering heap of tears and snot. My relationship with him was so special that it requires thought and time to put into words. He was by no means perfect, but he was my hero. I struggle with my sadness in knowing Wilder will never know my family first-hand. I see so much of my brother in Wilder’s expressions that it is bittersweet. I lament the fact that I can’t ring any of them up to brag about how sweet, intelligent and amazing our son is. I wonder how much I was like him as a child. I guess I’ll never know. I hope I can remember all the good stuff so I can share it with him one day. I hope he will want to know.

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Sometimes I find myself overcome with emotion. I’ll be playing racquetball at the gym and a sad song will come on my Pandora station and I’ll just cry. Sometimes people will see me, and honestly I don’t give a fuck. I am currently going through a bout of heart break and my dear friend Jackson said “Pain multiplied by resistance equals suffering.” She told me to simply BE with that pain and let it resonate with me, to essentially be vulnerable to it. So much grief is pouring out of me. I believe this relationship that ended allowed me to finally begin to feel and heal from some of the PTSD that I’ve been harboring for years. This shit isn’t easy, but I’m losing this pain by drops, one tear at a time.

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