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

Rave School

I’m crying in my car. Thankfully, I’m alone and not driving. The car has become a container for my tears. A movable sanctuary of sorts. I’ll put my iPhone on shuffle and a song will play that forcibly draws the tears from my eyes. For a second I will contemplate the meaning of this and then I’ll remember a question I encountered during recent psychometric testing: “Do you ever hear a song and think it has either a hidden meaning or a meaning directed specifically at you?” Then, I will contemplate my level of sanity.

I don’t believe that I am insane. I do believe that my brain has been significantly altered as a result of traumatic events that have occured over the course of my life. This concept is surprisingly one that has only recently fully presented itself to me. But now its like a Magic Eye poster, the image has formed, and I can no longer doubt its reality. It seems rather simple in retrospect. Shit happened and my view of the world changed. But it’s not that easy. This trauma and the effects are like a onion. The minute I peel off one layer, there’s another just waiting.

How often have you said either to yourself or others, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” I tell myself this all the time. I’ve been saying it for so long, that I’ve somehow convinced myself that the Lori that exists today is the same Lori that’s always been here. That this current Lori who has a hypervigilant, anxiety-addled, constant-questioning mind is the true Lori. I just assumed this is how I was, who I was, and placed no correlation on how these attributes have slowly continued to develop and become more prominent as a function of PTSD.

The first time I was diagnosed by a medical professional with PTSD, was in a shitty office on Elysian Fields by a psychiatrist I was seeing for free right after Hurricane Katrina. I honestly can’t remember now if it was a man or a woman but I do remember them asking me about my mental health history and when I got to the part of my mother’s death they replied, “I’m shocked you haven’t just killed yourself.” I was disgusted by the statement. Something in it hit my ego and I left the office to never return. This was the fall of 2005 and everyone returning from displacement was given a bucket by the red cross, snacks by local churches and a diagnosis of PTSD by anyone who held any type of medical certification. Needless to say I didn’t take the diagnosis very seriously.

I also thought I was stronger than these events which at the time encompassed my brother’s suicide, my mother murdering two people and herself and Hurricane Katrina. I had studied psychology at Tulane. I specialized in neuroscience. I believed that I could work through the stages of grief — albeit mine were more like, vodka, xanax, vicodin, nicotine and methamphetamine. Nevertheless, I felt that I was in control of me. That I could figure it out and if I didn’t kill myself, generally more through risk-taking behaviors than through actual suicidal attempts, that I was still winning. I didn’t want to be defined by these tragedies. And even as they kept unfolding in my life, I denied them by refusing to talk about them.

I was raped in 2006 and subsequently had an abortion after the rape left me pregnant. I wrote an essay in 2016 about this incident and some of my best friends from that time were shocked to learn that this had happened. I hid it, as it made me feel weak, ashamed and vulnerable. I have done that repeatedly with these traumatic events. I’ve endured, focused on what needed to happen in the immediate aftermath, then I’ve wrapped them up like a beautiful necklace from Tiffany’s and stored them in what I thought were the recesses of my mind. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work that way. The boxes have always been leaking. And while the mess appears that it can be wiped up, the true damage is irreparable.

When trauma occurs there are areas of the brain that are significantly affected. The three most impacted places are the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Traumatic events can cause the amygdala to go into overdrive. This change in my reptilian brain has manifested in my body in the following ways: negative mood alterations, heightened startle response, intrusive traumatic memories, panic attacks (including increased heart rate, perspiration, difficulty breathing), insomnia, avoidance behaviors and hypervigilance (which on its own can elevate the level of stress hormones causing a whole other list of bodily problems.) The hippocampus is responsible for memory. Think of it as a file cabinet for your memories and unfortunately people who suffer from PTSD tend to lose volume in this portion of the brain. “Hippocampus lite”, as I enjoy calling it, causes confusion in trying to discern between past and present experiences. Because of this, I have felt uncontrollable panic, fear and terror in environments that have even slightly resembled those of past traumatic events. Because my brain can’t understand that there is no actual threat, my body remains physiologically in a reactive, hypervigilant mode. Substantial loss of volume also takes place in the vmPFC. This is our emotional control center. With damage to my vmPFC, I have found that over time it has become much harder for me to control my emotional behavior, especially in situations where I am perceiving a threat.

If that sounds like a lot of awful shit is happening, you’re absolutely correct. I feel like my brain is akin to a smart phone and it’s always running at least a half-dozen apps or more. The main app that cannot be force-closed is the one of panic and hypervigilance. Unfortunately, most of my other information is processed through this app. This has dramatically shaped the way I view the world and also the way I react in day-to-day situations. I have tried to hide this from others, which has been incredibly exhausting. I feel that most people understand that I suffer from some level of anxiety, as most of us do, but they are unaware of the severity and the constant feelings of fear and self-doubt that I struggle with. I’ve imagined in horrible detail everyway my child could die. I’ve convinced myself that Andy’s bike rides will end in his demise. I “just know” that if someone stops communicating with me that something terrible has happened to them. I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I also have a hard time feeling true joy. I’ve become very good at faking it. And I know that my life is truly a rather charmed one. I have a beautiful family, a loving partner, a magnificent son, an incredible group of friends, generous lovers — and yet something is still missing. I feel like my brain comes to the stop sign in the road where fear/anxiety/self-doubt are to the left and happiness/joy are to the right. My brain will ALWAYS turn left first. On my own wedding night I struggled with panic and fear after Andy fell asleep. It was nearly unbearable, and so devastating to me that it occured on a night where I had felt so loved. These are not conscious choices, and that is why it has become so defeating. I don’t want to be this way. I just am. This is where avoidance behaviors enter the picture.

Let’s return to the idea of knowing oneself. Of feeling that “this is who I am” security. What if, all of a sudden, you realize that not only your perception of the world but also nearly all your behaviors have been affected by these changes in your brain? Now we’re talking true existential crisis. Which is the authentic me? Which behaviors have been complex avoidance techniques? Some seem straightforward, some not so much: alcohol, drugs, sex, exercise, career-focused drive, competition, writing, love, travel, intimacy, work, photography, yoga, meditation, reading, conflict, seduction, nurturing. It’s as if I’m uncertain about everything at the moment. Have I fully wanted all the things I’ve pursued — family, love, lust — or have I simply been using these things as a way to avoid feeling this pain? Do I really prefer to sleep alone, as I’ve done for over a decade, or is this something I conditioned myself to believe I preferred because persistent intimate touch is hard for me after my rape? Do I have an intolerance for alcohol, or is it simply the “shameover” affect which causes me to nearly always spiral into a pit of self-doubt and fear? Do I have genuine feelings for my lovers, or am I simply fucking them to create an outlet to fulfill my need for self-worth? These conundrums are weighing heavy on my mind. I’d like to believe that I know my intentions, but at this time I can’t be sure.

While my introspection has become severely focused, these problems aren’t new and I’ve tried nearly every legal thing in the book short of electroshock therapy. I’ve been on antidepressants and antianxiety medications. I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and therapists. I’ve seen internist, dieticians, endocrinologists and ayurvedic doctors. I’ve been to physical therapy, seen an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, a rolfer, and even a witch doctor. I’ve taken pills and serums and drank teas and elixirs. I’ve spit into collection vials and offered samples of urine, fecal matter and menstrual blood. I became a certified yoga teacher and went on retreats and practiced meditation til my legs went numb. I even prayed. I’m still fucked up. If I know the problem is my brain, and these methods have been unsuccessful, how do I fix that?

Tomorrow morning I will be driven to the office of two psychiatrists, with the intention of arriving at 9:00 am. We will have a brief discussion in which we will review our expectations for the day. At 10:00 am I will be given my first dose of pharmaceutical grade MDMA. Ninety minutes later I will be offered a second dose. I will then spend 8 hours in their presence, while I go inward with the intention of healing. When they depart sometime after 5:00 pm, I will have a night sitter in an adjacent area in case I need her. On Sunday morning, the doctors will return and we will have a session before I am picked up. This is a portion of the protocol that has been created by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies for their FDA clinical trial for MDMA- Assisted Psychotherapy. I feel honored to be a part of this trial.

I have purposefully limited my exposure to the results of the previous clinical trials as well as other information available on the internet. I am equal parts frightened and hopeful, but my intent is to greet the experience with an open mind. My questioning brain has been tortuous over the past few months of preparation for tomorrow’s events. I have twisted every scenario in my brain like a rubix cube. I have tried to determine all possible outcomes. Will it work? If it does, will I still be “me”? Will I finally be able to remember the parts of my past I simply cannot pull into my mind? Will I finally discover what I’ve been avoiding all these years? Am I strong enough? If I can allow myself to feel that ultimate, overwhelming pain of loss, will I also be able to feel ultimate, overwhelming joy? If I can find some contentment will I become less driven? What will fill the hours that I currently have filled with avoidance behaviors? Will I still be as desirable if I’m no longer faking it? Will I still be loved? What if it doesn’t work? What will I do then?

The few people I’ve confided in have been extremely supportive. A dear friend allowed me a get-away for NYE in which we talked about this experience. He said, “You keep thinking it’s going to be this or that, but I think it’s going to be something you can’t even fathom right now. That’s how much it’s going to change things.” And another helped me keep my sense of humor. I told him that I was scared. He replied, “Of what, rave school?”

It’s going to be near freezing tomorrow night. I’ll be sure to pack my Vicks Vapor Rub.

I’ll see y’all on the other side.


A great morning to die in the bathtub

Long before my brother would die of an overdose in my house, and my mother would kill two people and herself, I remember my father talking about suicide. He was always brutally honest even about things that he wasn’t proud of doing. He held the truth as the most important aspect of any relationship. He thought suicide was a cowardly way of ending one’s life and he told a story of how unempathetic he was concerning it.

Billy Tipton New Orleans 1950’s

I started running around with this girl named Toni Martinez who was a lesbian contortionist. She was an emcee at a place on Canal street called “The Cabaret.” The two of us, we’d really have a good time. When I would close up the bar at night I would go down by her club and we would go by this place where we’d get scrambled eggs with shallots and onions cut up in them and we really liked that. And we stayed around in different hot pillow motels and things like that. And she swore that she didn’t want to be with anymore women, she wanted to be with me, she loved me. So, that was alright. I told her “I’m not going to go for you running around with women and me at the same time.” And she promised, oh, she wouldn’t do that.

So, we got together. She’d been using a cab driver to take her different places when she got off from work and the cab driver had fallen in love with her. Now I’m there one morning to pick her up and she’s sitting with me at the bar and she looks over my shoulder and says “Look out!” When she said look, I took a look. I turned around and looked and this cab driver was on a dead run with a roll of dimes in his fist. And he hit me in the nose. Well, as you can imagine, it really messed up my nose. Blood went everywhere. Blood got in my eyes and I couldn’t see, and we had fallen over four or five bar stools. And I knew I had a hold of him, up around his collar area. And I also could tell that if I let go he would have the advantage. So, I got a hold of him and I hollered at Toni “Get this son of a bitch, Toni!”

Well, she picked up this big ole square ashtray, I mean a heavy ashtray. And she started working on his head with it. After a while, which wasn’t too long, he went limp. I was holding him and his body just went limp and I said “You got him, Toni.” After that, they took him to the hospital and I went to the emergency room to get my nose sewed up and the doctor who did it said “Boy, you couldn’t have gotten a better job on your nose if you had gone to a plastic surgeon.” I had a beak before that and it just kind of pushed my beak into my face. So, it really didn’t hurt my looks at all. It was a good, clean, straight nose now.

About this same time Sonny and Joanne had a baby girl and they wanted me to name her because I was going to be the godfather. So I named her Toni, after Toni Martinez. And her last name was Bennett, so it was Toni Bennett and that’s how Toni, my godchild, got her name. Now we’re together right and one night Toni Martinez and I go out with this guy Ralph and his girl. He lived with her, and I think they might of even been married. We’re out all night. It’s about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. We’re pretty inebriated by that time. Well me and Ralph were going to go down and see a guy at another bar that he knew. His wife and Toni stayed up in her apartment, which was a bedroom. Ralph and I stayed at the barroom quite a while because he was talking and talking to this guy. Finally, we go up to Toni’s room, we open the door and there’s Toni right down in his old lady’s crotch, licking away.

Ralph took his old lady. He knocked her down the stairs. He knocked her out in the street, because she’d gone to bed with Toni. And I stayed there and I listened to all this shit going on and I said “Toni look, I’m gonna tell you baby, it’s over. I told you. I can’t cut that. It’s too big a blow to my ego.”

So, I left. Well, Mr Heckman, who owned the Heckman Hotel, I forget what street it was on in the quarter. Anyway, he calls me. “Billy, she tried to kill herself. There was blood all over the place. In the bathroom, out in the hall. She damn near was dead by the time the ambulance came to get her. They took her up to Touro Infirmary.”

So the next day I went up to visit her but before I went up to visit her I went to the drug store and bought a pack of razor blades. And went up in her room and there she was all bandaged up. She had cut her wrists and all that. And I just walked in the room and I said “Toni, listen to me now. I told you I don’t want anymore. Now here’s some razor blades. The next time you cut your arms do a good fucking job. I’ll never see you again as far as I’m concerned.”

Well that was pretty cold, I’d have to admit upon thinking about it. She moved on to Galveston, Texas and it was some time later I found out that she had been murdered over there. Someone had stabbed her 18 times with a butcher knife. So that was my rendezvous with Toni Martinez.

Lori Tipton New Orleans 2005

One morning post-Katrina my best friend and neighbor at the time found me unconscious in my clawfoot bathtub on Rampart Street in the Marigny. The details are still a little foggy but I had apparently unsuccessfully tried to end my life. These were in my binge alcoholism days. When I would go nearly a week without drinking much and then fall asleep with a handle of vodka in the bed. I am not sure if there was a particular incident that sparked this desire to die, or just the anxiety that I was so desperately trying to supress overpowering my will.

It’s hard to find the words for these bouts of anxiety. I suppose they are akin to panic attacks but with a delicious existential crisis topping. When I start to spiral into the depths of what I now know is my PTSD, I feel completely worthless. Beyond the normal feelings of failure. I have intrusive thoughts that remind me of all the ways I’ve failed the people I love and how I have failed myself. I know that no one can possibly really love me. That any professed love is just a mean trick to be ripped from me when I need it most. I feel like I can’t really breathe, that my heart is going to stop, and most times I pray that it does. At this time in my life, I felt incredibly abandoned and afraid. I understood that a mother could only do what my mother had done to me, if the child deserved it. I had yet to develop the depth of my own parental failings as it would be nearly a decade before I myself had a child. In the midst of these feelings there is one hidden thought and it is something so incredibly terrifying that I won’t let myself think it. I will do anything to avoid that confrontation because I’m afraid it will destroy me.

Many times I have nearly destroyed myself in attempting to numb this pain. My grief and anxiety are like a cobra sleeping in my belly and the snake charmer wears a thousand different masks. Sometimes I know when I am more apt to have an episode, but other times these reactions come out of nowhere. The unpredictability is its own cause for concern. I have lived in an unknown state of fear for so long that the way I see and interact with the world has been slowly warped over time. I’m the alligator in the bathtub, I can only grow so much.

But on this day I was not an alligator but a very intoxicated woman who had polished off a handful of Atarax, which isn’t even exciting, it’s an antihistamine. It should not be taken in large quantities with alcohol though as it might kill you. I was in the bathtub and I was crying. And I called my best friend on my cell phone, which was a flip phone with the game snake. I was incoherent and I have no recollection of what was said. I simply remember that not long afterwards I felt so warm and lovely and ready to sleep. In the tub, of course. Years later, others will refer to this incident as when I tried to “Whitney” myself.

I was pulled from my slumber by my best friend who was crying and shaking me. Her boyfriend pulled me from the bathtub, I think. I climbed into my bed, pulling some clothes on my damp wrinkled skin. My best friend was in hysterics. I kept telling her to relax. Then she told me she had called 911. I lost it. Some buried reserve of adrenaline hit my system and I started yelling. Aggressively threatening her, telling her if an ambulance came she would have to send it away. That I hated her for calling 911. That I had to work that night and she knew that (we worked together). I crawled under the covers and continued yelling until the ambulance arrived. She let them in the house. From my bed, with all the eloquence I could muster, I greeted them with the cheerful demeanor of Grandpa Joe from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I started to explain it had all been a big mistake. I had gotten home from work and drank a nightcap and had accidentally taken a few Atarax but I was perfectly fine. I pointed out that it had been a few hours since ingestion and if I was going to die, I would’ve already. I was charming and well-spoken. I was sure I had them believing me. I exited the bed to walk them to the door, apologizing for wasting their time. The male EMT stopped me saying, “Miss Tipton, you make a very convincing argument and while I would love to take you seriously, it’s hard for me to do so when you aren’t wearing anything from the waist down.” Oops.

They let me put on my underwear and pants and allowed me to walk down my front steps with their assistance before I was loaded into the ambulance. I was taken to Touro Infirmary, the same place Toni Martinez had been taken to. My best friend was still crying a little and promised to come see me. I joked with the EMTs on the ride over about my pantsless soliloquy. I had to laugh because I couldn’t cry anymore. They said I was a refreshing break from the usual calls. When they brought me in, they told me not to be so hard on myself. Easier said than done.

I was given a Dixie cup with charcoal. I didn’t want to drink it but with the authoritative threat of having my stomach pumped, I tapped the tray in the triage room and slammed it like a shot of Jameson. I waited and waited and never threw up but I shit black for days. I was eventually moved to a hospital room where I spent the first night under 24 hour watch. My nurse kept dozing off though, and at one point I made my way out of the room and brought us both back coffee. When she woke and saw the cup sitting by her, she never said a thing. The next morning I was moved to an isolation/observation room, which is where I was originally scheduled to be placed but it had been taken. There was a bed which consisted of a solid, hard plastic base and an attached plastic mattress on top. No sheets, nothing else in the room at all. No books allowed. No socks either. Nothing that a person might use to kill themselves. I started to get rather upset. I explained how ludicrous this process was, and how I wanted to leave immediately. I was told I would have to be released by the psychiatrist. I wanted to see them immediately. I was told I might get to see them, but if not I would have to wait until tomorrow. I then explained my insurance had lapsed. I saw the psychiatrist within the hour.

The psychiatrist spent about seven minutes with me. He asked me if I wanted to kill myself, and I told him that the room we were in would make just about anyone suicidal. He told me that I’d be shocked to know just how many people had been in that room since Katrina. He looked smug and said, “People you’d never believe.”

“Try me.” I said as he signed my release papers.

Darlings I cried.

I’ve had a few days to process all of the phantasmagoria that was our wedding and it’s still hard for me to believe that we pulled it off. The entire process was a labor of love, and not one that could have been done alone. There are so many people that I would like to thank for their help, support and love all of which was necessary to make the evening as magical as it turned out to be. It was truly a spectacle, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who participated.

First off, none of this would have been possible without my partner Andy. When I asked him to marry me and then told him exactly the type of wedding that I wanted, he not only supported me but shared in my excitement. He was the one who decided that he would take my last name. I believe this is a testament to the importance of equality of our relationship. It was easy for me to write our vows, because the truth of Andy and I, while it’s not always easy, is quite beautiful. He is no doubt, the absolute love of my life.

Secondly, I must give immense gratitude to my dear friend Gabrielle Chapin. She was not only the photographer for the event, but also the person who tended to me so dearly, taking care of my physical and emotional needs throughout the rehearsal and the wedding day. She is also the person who assisted me in trying on wedding dresses in my bedroom and helped me choose what I consider to be the perfect gown. Although our wedding was very far from traditional, planning the event surely brought up some sadness over my lack of family. Gabby mothered me exactly when I needed it and for this I will forever be grateful.

There are so many other people who were  instrumental in making Darlings Don’t Cry come to life. So much love to my dearest friend Trixie Minx who was my cheerleader from the beginning. She assisted me in gathering all the talent for this magnificent show. Her parents, Lori and Woody are what I consider my adoptive parents. Her mother has been a second mother to me. She has always been willing to listen and give advice, as well as show me and my family constant love and support. I am completely indebted to Trixie for so generously sharing her incredible family with me.

Chris Lane, who hosted the spectacular is one of the funniest, most talented individuals I know. He knows both Andy and I well enough to really sock it to us. I couldn’t fathom having another emcee. He has been such a constant supporter of my creative works, and I have learned so much from him. I am lucky to have such an amazing creative mentor.

I cannot express enough my gratitude for all the performers who were kind enough to perform for us and our friends. I had chosen their music and given them direction, and they all accepted this with excitement and love. Thank you: Ron Rona, Eureeka Starfish, Joe Witkowski, Nari Tomasetti, Trixie Minx, Ooops the Clown, Niki Frisky, Diem Dangerous Rose, Piper Marie, Splendora Gabor, Bella Blue, Nicole Lynn Foxx, GoGo McGregor, Vinsantos, Liza Rose, Stevie Poundcake, Darling Darla James, and Brandy Bonet. So much love to Marcy and Ryan who treated all of us like family and gave us a stage to perform on.

Behind the scenes there were so many others who were instrumental in making shit happen. Andrea Heming, who stepped in as my wedding planner, was a saint with a megaphone. This event would have been a shit show without her. Her assistant Lady Walker also made sure things ran as planned. My heart, my dearest love, Daphne Loney painted the beautiful backdrop for the photobooth (which Andy fabricated) and together they made my moonbeam dreams come true. Daphne also provided snacks for the entertainers and helped to stage manage along with Rebecca Frank and Franki Salerno. Rebecca ran the show with a level of professionalism that was appreciated by all the performers. Franki killed it backstage, without her we would have been screwed. Shelley Nicholson handled my dozens of last minute revisions to the seating chart without killing me. And the queen of them all is Candice Lamb who helped to coordinate everything at One Eyed Jacks with tender loving care.

Evan Spigelman was our wonderful lighting caretaker. And I still love Jonathan Parish even if he fucked up my processional music. David White recorded the entire thing, so many thanks to him for the lasting memories. Trevor Ekanger was Gabrielle Chapin’s gracious second shooter. And Sarrah Danziger of Deep Fried Photo captured all our photo booth moon dreams. Special thanks also to all the bartenders and support staff at One Eyed Jacks who handled the hoards of bunnies with friendliness and delight.

I wouldn’t have felt as beautiful and so loved without the staff of Fifi Mahony’s. Nikki McCoy made my face not only gorgeous, but also water (and other fluid) proof. Brooklyn Shaffer created both of my beautiful headpieces, which are truly works of art. Jamie Gandy gave me so much more than just beautiful hair. All of the girls there played a special role in the evening by showering me with laughter and affection. Thank you Leah, Brittain, Sadey, Cherry, Erica, Jade & Dara.

I must mention my handlers for the evening. Amanda Mitzel, who wrote a damn book on mindfulness was there not only to hold my hand but also to hold my dresses while I urinated. She is one of my most precious friends and I am so lucky to have had her by my side. Jamie Gandy, who took care of all the little details, along with Marcy Von Hesseling  who handled me with such immense love and concern, are my two champions. I choke up when I think of how wonderful these three women were and how much kindness and concern they showered me with. Also must add Cody Van Voorhis, who was the last man to see me in my last wedding gown as he helped me into my monogrammed bunny suit at the end of the night. You’ll always be my number one bunny Cody.

Respect and thanks to Andy’s sister Dawn who performed our vows with such loving sincerity. And to both Lee Kyle and Clint Bowie, Wilder’s fathers who were incredibly supportive and helpful during the entire process. And all the love in all the galaxies in all the universes in all of the space/time continuum to our son Wilder James Rue Tipton, who is the brightest star in all our skies.

And of course, we couldn’t have done it without all of our esteemed guests. Thanks to each and every one of you who dressed up and came out. It was exquisite to feel so surrounded by your love and might I mention that looking out onto a sea of bunny ears was one of the best moments of my life. Thank you to everyone who traveled from far away, those of you who took off a busy Friday night of work and especially those of you who may not have made it in right away. (I still can’t believe we reached capacity – that’s a lot of love). Thank you co-workers, friends and lovers. It was a night of incredible delight – all because of you. There were certainly a few people that I missed dearly, those who are no longer with us, and a few who couldn’t make it – but don’t worry I had a drink (or three) in your honor. We are also incredibly thankful for all the gifts we received, y’alls generosity is acknowledged and appreciated.  

Life is fleeting and it will be over before we know it. Thank you all for giving me the most precious of gifts, a night to revel in my love for Andy and my love for all of you.

P.S. I’m sorry if I forgot anyone. I’ll blow you to make up for it.



24831510_1965275760156940_9027866608231766863_oPhoto by Gabrielle Chapin

Three cigarettes in the ashtray.

This essay will be published in issue three of Momma Tried magazine. To be released winter 2017.

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.”


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.




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.