Category Archives: relationships

Guardian Down.

A lot of you know why I write with such passion about PTSD: I don’t ever want anyone to go through what I did. It’s the reason I refused to have children. I couldn’t justify exposing a perfectly innocent child to the cruelties of the world.

I will fight against child abuse, neglect and bullying until the last breath goes out of my body. No one should have to live with what I do: nightmares of cruel children doing their best to drive me to suicide.

I rarely write about my childhood in a positive light because, to be honest, there wasn’t much light to be found. Even though I would search high and low for a moment of respite, it didn’t happen often. I got maybe about three hours a day where I wasn’t getting knocked into the dirt and expected to get back up and wear a smile to hide the agonizing pain I was constantly in.

That’s what always amazes me. People come to me now and say, “I remember your beautiful smile.” As the great Robin Williams once said, “The brightest smiles hide the worst pain.”

By the time I hit high school, I was lucky enough to garner the assistance of who I now call “My guardians.” Rebel elements themselves that didn’t fit into the status quo, but found solace in each other enough to garner the safety in numbers needed to ensure survival in that kind of hostile environment. I don’t kid when I say I grew up with some pretty treacherous animals while carefully traversing poison-filled school hallways. Like one of my friends recently put it, “I remember this incredibly sweet girl that never seemed to get a fair shake.” During that time, I was forced to accept that “a fair shake” was just something that I was never going to find in life, so I did my best to keep my head down, endure the daily mental beatings and spiritual eviscerations, always hoping one day that life would get better.

What I didn’t expect is that this band of brothers would come to my aid, protecting me when they could, and for a brief, sweet year, they treated me with respect and gave me my very first taste of acceptance. It was heavenly and for that brief time, I felt better. That is until they graduated and left me alone once again to fend for myself against individuals I can only describe as putrid souls without a shred of decency or mercy.

One of my guardians, the strongest of all of them, stuck around and still watched over me and became a powerful influence on my life from that time on. Because everyone gets a pseudonym here, I am going to bestow onto him the highest honor I can, and that’s to name him after my favorite book character EVER. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s biggest badass in her Dark Hunter series: Acheron, or “Ash” for short, after the river of woe that runs through Hades.

Now for those of you who read Sherrilyn Kenyon, you know that Ash is just all that and a plate of cookies. Dark hair, swirling silver eyes and “a predator’s lope” that (thanks to his Aunt Epithymia) made everyone who came near him want to touch him. Okay, he melts underwear at 30 paces but gives off such a dangerous vibe that you know not to mess with him. But if you know the character, you know he’s Mr. Severe PTSD because of a lifetime of atrocities that make him unable to even get remotely close to anyone. That’s why I adore the character so much, because I fully understand what years of unending cruelty will do to the soul.

My real-life version of Ash is right on par with the book description. Okay, let’s break it down: his IQ is 30 points higher than mine. That fact alone should tell you to just bow down because a 169 is something you must bow down to. To me, that’s a godlike intellect that I respect without hesitation. I live in 30 point envy because holy gods, he is just off-the-charts brilliant. As we know, the one thing I prize over all else is intellect, and Ash has got it for miles. Talking to him is like paradise on Earth because we move from topic to topic flawlessly, fluidly, and I am able to sample the sweetness of an equal, kindred intellect like sweet wine flowing across my tongue. His presence is so entirely heady that it steals my breath. It always has.

I remember watching him walk into a room when we were kids and feeling my knees absolutely buckle under me because to me he was (and still is) THE most gorgeous man I have ever seen, and trust me, I’ve dated my share of hotties in my day. Ash puts them all to shame without even an effort. As a kid, I remember turning around to see his topaz eyes staring into mine and me instantly melting because, just, just, just WOW. His essence, mind, body and soul, was just overwhelming. 25 years later? Still, just one look and I go from jaw-gape to MELT. “Aunt Epithymia” did her job, that’s all I can say. His unparalleled beauty aside, I remember that he and I would play word association games to challenge each other’s vocabulary: a war of bigger and bigger words would go flying back and forth until I would finally give up because he never failed to beat me every time, but we would always walk away laughing. He NEVER once made me feel dumb or inadequate or anything else except special. If there was a singular moment of joy from my childhood, Ash was it. And we never went on a single date. Ever. But at least I can admit now that from the very first moment I saw him while walking across an asphalt practice field, it was love at first sight, and it would endure, unspoken and unrequited, for decades.

Now, I know you’re going to ask why I’m suddenly going on a dote-fest and out of nowhere telling you about Ash:

Last weekend, I got a text from Ash wishing me happy birthday. It was the first time I had spoken to him in over a year. So, what do you think I did? Like a jerk, I started yelling at him with “Where the hell have you been?” “What the hell is going on?” “You jerk!” “I’ve been worried sick!” Oh, I just absolutely went green rage monster on him, that was until he knocked me over with a ton of bricks. Upon the screen of my phone popped a picture of a wrist with a bright pink scar across it. One look and I knew: Ash has my illness. If that’s not enough to knock the wind out of you, I don’t know what will. The guy who watched over me, protected me, loved me from afar, who always adored me no matter what anyone said or did, has PTSD.

My therapist has been challenging me for weeks to find some way for me to look at myself through the eyes of others so I can understand my importance as a person. But there’s a bigger reason I’m writing about this now. While I now understand what my therapist wanted me to see, this is my way of doing the same for Ash. He needs to see how I see him and how much I believe that he is worthy of being loved. Technically, it is called the inability to receive love and it’s just part and parcel of the illness, borne of inadequate nurturing during development. I have it too. It sucks. Basically you have to learn to raise yourself because some people aren’t equipped with nurturing skills. Oddly enough, when Ash and I interact with the rest of the world? We trust no one. But when we sit down together and talk, all of our trust and intimacy issues vanish and it becomes the most naturally honest and open communication I have ever known. I think that says something pretty friggin’ huge because we light each other up like fireworks and we make each other feel so much better, which is extremely healing and good for our therapy process.

But when that picture flashed onto the screen of my phone and I found out about his illness, my heart shattered into a thousand little bitty pieces. I sat down and began to cry uncontrollably. Of all the people in the universe, why God why would you do that to someone so perfect? I mean when he smiles, he shines like the sun! When he speaks, brilliance flows from him like water! His heart is golden, his soul more precious than anything I could ever describe, and he’s in pain all the time like I am. Why? Damn it, I can understand how and why it happened to me, I get it, I accept it, I’m fine with it, I go into the therapy room and deal with it. But why him? WHY???????? I would endure what I went through a million times over again to save him from this, but here we are and I can’t help but want throats for what was done to him. Damn it! Bring it here! Beat on me! I can take it! But you leave Ash alone!!!!

Come to find out, the pathology of our illness is IDENTICAL. We both suffer from severe childhood onset PTSD. In the 25 years we have been apart, our collective suicide attempts total 13. Four for him, nine for me. Remember, PTSD affects 5.3 million Americans a year and I am convinced that the damage done to Gen X by our selfish, abusive, twisted, absentee Baby Boomer parents is going to reach epidemic proportions by the end of the decade because PTSD and suicide are inextricably linked. Trust me, this much non-stop pain will drive you to some severe lengths to make it stop. It starts at addiction and usually ends up in suicide. The only thing you can really do is get a really good therapist, grab your bootstraps and get into the ring to re-fight all of your battles that gave you the illness in the first place in order to FINALLY learn the proper coping skills you should have in childhood. Only then are we able to finally put the trauma to bed.

In most cases for Gen X’ers with childhood onset PTSD, we were forced to learn to raise ourselves because our parents just didn’t exist. Can’t blame them, it was the 80’s, it was a big party. Millions of parents across the U.S. said, “Screw the kids, they can take care of themselves.”  Well played Boomers, thanks for defining “cruel”, “selfish” and “negligent” for us.

I go into the therapy room this afternoon knowing that one of my beloved guardians is down and I am powerless to help him except to encourage him and support him while he fights for his life. I can’t transfuse the hope that resides in my veins into his, the illness doesn’t work that way. But at least he’s in treatment. While I’m just a machine in the therapy room mercilessly crushing my traumas and progressing by leaps and bounds, he’s just begun. But I will be damned if he does this alone.

Today’s song of the day is from the guys who gave us the Eternal Sophomore theme song, “Marching On”… Just for you Ash, OneRepublic’s “Feel Again.”

 

Being Single During the Holidays.

Matt Dillon’s character in the film Singles noted, “For some people, being alone is a nasty hang.” Okay Matt, try being single during the holidays, for some folks it takes the phrase “nasty hang” to a whole new level.

Unfortunately, I am but one in a sea of people who view being single during this time of year as almost excruciating. Stick with me though, I figure if we add a dash of humor laced with a sprinkle of light-hearted sarcasm to the situation, we’ll be okay.

Oh, who am I kidding? Nobody who is single during the holidays likes watching a giggling couple pass them, arm-in-arm, seemingly overwhelmingly happy to be cuddling during the cold, dark months of winter, smooching under mistletoe and wondering what their other half has specially planned just for them. I don’t know about you, but when I see something like that, I think of the words of Bill Bryson in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, where he wrote, “The thunder-vision focused on their stomachs and melted them into a little puddle on the spot.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but as you can tell, I’m in the same camp with those folks who aren’t overwhelmingly thrilled about being single during the most cuddle-prone time of the year.

I began kvetching to my close friends on this subject about a month ago. I complained to KP that I was feeling lonely, to which (in true KP fashion) he promptly slapped my head back onto my neck and reminded me that the reason I was feeling lonely was because I’m not giving myself ample credit for being enough on my own; simply that what I am searching for has been inside of me all along, all I had to do was remember how special I am and that it would chase away the loneliness in no time flat. As usual, KP is right. He always is.

However, my daily goal of keeping a positive mental attitude gets derailed when I become inundated by sugar shock inducing schmaltz being broadcast en masse through every media channel possible during the holidays. Right after Halloween, WHAM! For a single person they might as well just put up a banner that reads, “Welcome to Holiday Hell, Satan’s Hot Tub is the first door on the right.”

Since Halloween, every time I turn around, my mother has been watching The Hallmark Channel which has been featuring (NON-STOP, mind you) every permutation of “Lonely boy/girl meets fellow lonely, heartbroken boy/girl, they fall in “like” surrounded by Christmas lights, there is some sort of confusion then boy and girl find love on Christmas Eve, complete with a kiss under mistletoe or next to a festively decorated Christmas Tree (complete with Hallmark collector’s ornaments no less).

Okay, after almost two solid months of Hallmark-induced Christmas trauma, I am CONVINCED beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Hallmark Channel is responsible for more suicides and shot out televisions during the holidays than anything else. I mean, really. Do they think that those of us single folks during the holidays need to have a loud bullhorn directly pointed at the sides of our heads to be reminded that we’re single? What genius shoved their head up their backsides and forgot that somewhere along the way us single folks have incurred emotional damage or loss that has resulted in our current singleness? Worse yet is that we’re enduring this situation during the one time of the year where our single status really shouldn’t be amplified above more than a subtle “okay, that’s gotta hurt” and help us get through the two most emotionally trying months of the calendar year. Jeez! And Hallmark is supposed to be the “we get you” company that has greeting cards for every friggin’ occasion on the planet except for “we screwed up by pouring lemon juice into the gaping wound in the middle of your chest.”

Yeah, it tends to sting a bit when single during the holidays. No matter if we’re between relationships, missing family members or close friends or similar surroundings, I think The Hallmark Channel needs to think before they broadcast a hurtful reminder of a single relationship status. That’s just being unaware of complete audience composition, not to mention that there are those of us who aren’t at liberty to change the channel and watch a slasher flick or a good sci-fi jaunt into outer space rather than be reminded of our situations! Idea thieves love to come into the pages of my blog and steal ideas, so steal this: Create a comedy about being single during the holidays, that’s something I would watch! If I have to endure one more hour of really bad romance novel plots, I’m seriously going to lose my eggnog all over someone’s shoes.

But y’all know me, I’m one that definitely doesn’t put the “B” in subtle.

On the topic of subtle, tonight I was inspired to write because of a VERY loud party the neighbors are having next door. You know you’ve been to your share of “Ugly Sweater” Parties in your day. Me? Not so much, but I have enough imagination to know that my lack of subtlety would not go unnoticed when I would look at an innocent fashion victim and ask how in the hell that train wreck found its’ way into their closets, much less onto their bodies. I try not to own ugly sweaters, I live in the land of the Moo-Moo already so I’m already tortured enough. Please don’t send me an ugly sweater to prove the point of the laughter-inducing nature of them. By some miracle of my literal nature, this is the one time I don’t have to wear one to get the joke.

Here’s where it gets funny and where my fellow single folk and I really get to breathe a sigh of relief and be genuinely happy about our situations:

Tonight, to discover the origin of the window-rattling sub-woofer that was pumping bass not only through the walls of the house but directly through my nerves, I went outside to stretch my legs and enjoy the crisp winter air. It was then that I saw a woman nearby wearing her ugly sweater, complete with battery-powered Christmas lights. I find out through a brief Q and A that it’s an ugly sweater party and that it’s a bunch of friends getting together – complete with drunken voices, loud talking, screaming, sounds of a manslaughter in progress – you know the ones I mean, a good old-fashioned, obnoxiously loud party that shows no respect whatsoever to their neighbors.

The next thing I know, another woman emerges from the party house, complete with leopard print micro-mini skirt, a flimsy leather jacket and shoes that didn’t even look remotely comfortable (I’m not really sure if that leopard thing was her ugly sweater or not, jury’s still out on that one, better yet, you decide…) attempting to walk home, her home being equal in distance to roughly 10 miles, complaining how cold she was because she yelled across the quiet neighborhood that her husband was being an… okay, let’s keep this G-rated…a seven letter word that starts with “A” and ends with “E”. Okay, note to self, never get drunk then get into fight with anyone, because along with her fashion statement and clear lack of positive mental attitude, I would not have labeled it as a “pretty moment.” Not in the least.

Now, don’t get me wrong. People are people, and I do get that as well, but I must cop to the fact that with my 131 I’m not the world’s greatest when it comes to common sense. Upon witnessing the debacle unfolding in front of me, I became increasingly and increasingly grateful I was single! In a moment of sheer amazement, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about becoming that woman, yelling at the top of her lungs that she was stranded far from home with no way to leave an uncomfortable situation, then pulling the Darwin Award Winning maneuver of trying to walk home ten miles in shoes that were clearly NOT meant for long-distance endurance sports. On top of all that I watched in sheer horror as she began asking her clearly intoxicated female friends to take her home because she didn’t want to fight with her partner in front of all of their friends, then having no issue telling the innocent bystander next door that her partner was a “starts with ‘A’ and ends with ‘E’.”

Standing there in my flannel p.j. pants, thermal top, North Face fleece jacket, fuzzy socks (same color as Grover from Sesame Street) and Sorel slippers, all warm and toasty, I became overwhelmingly grateful that being single during the holidays means that I don’t have to put up with that kind of nonsense! I was already at home, in comfy clothes and more importantly, comfortable in my own skin, grateful that it’s me and Teddy curled up together under a heating blanket with no one loudly snoring in either of our ears. It occurred to me that I have been to enough Christmas parties in my day to choke a horse, and to me, I’ve got more common sense than to wear impossible-to-walk-in shoes, combined with non-weather friendly clothing then try a 10-miler to get home, no matter how angry I was at anyone.

But that’s the bonus of being single for the holidays…if someone is or becomes a ‘starts with an ‘A’ and ends with an ‘E”…you can just say “Happy Holidays”, put your butt into your own car and drive yourself home, plug in a great sci-fi flick or log in to your favorite virtual world. I mean, what better gift to give yourself than peace of mind and a stress-free evening filled with what YOU want to do?

Finally, let’s wrap up with a bit of hope, good cheer and generosity of holiday spirit:

Yesterday, my pal JJ came into town and specifically asked me to watch over a childhood friend of his that moved from New York City to Las Vegas a few months ago. So, this year I’m doing an “Adopt-a-friend” program where JJ’s pal gets to tour the city with me to see all of the lights, colors and unique parts of celebrating Christmas in the Desert. (Yes, they wrap the cacti with twinkle lights, just don’t ask me how they do it.) It just goes to show that you can be single during the holidays, but you never have to spend them alone if you don’t want to. The best gift in the world is remembering to be grateful for what you have and sharing your positive mental attitude with everyone you meet.

Love, hope, recovery and a sense of humor starts in only one place…INSIDE YOU!

Happy Holidays!

Song of the day comes from the band that brought us my blog’s theme song, “Marching On.”

OneRepublic and “I Lived.”

 

1,825

In any job interview, there is always one question that sticks out: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

When that question has come up for me in the past, I never really had an answer. Do any of us? We’re all so busy trying to survive, I don’t think a lot of us have the foresight to look that far down the road and think “THAT is where I want to be in five years.” It’s usually, “Am I going to be able to make rent next month?” or “I’m more worried about the next six months than I am the next five years. Who knows where I’ll be?”

1,825 days ago, a life-changing event happened to me that threatened to take me down for the count: I discovered my then-husband in bed with someone else.

I don’t care who you are, when you find the person you promised to love “until death do you part” inserting his Tab “A” into someone else’s Slot “B”, your mind will reel.  When it happened to me, I was decimated. My world as I had known it had crumbled and I was powerless to stop it or do anything about it.

When I asked him if he ever considered my feelings when I found out about his affair, all I received as an answer was a very icy, “No.” He could have cared less about how badly he had hurt me. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t want me anymore. He had found someone new and he was moving on, end of story. It became quite clear he had no ethical objections to abandoning me as he quickly left town to move across the country with his new whatever-she-is, only to impose on me to pay for storing his stuff until he was ready to come pick it up. He even left his car behind which I had to start once a week, a constant reminder of how little I meant to him, forced to care for someone’s things who could have cared less about me.

While the pain of the betrayal really rocked my world for the first couple of years after being left with almost nothing, I have given up on being bitter because it’s just a waste of time. Now, I just hope my ex-husband has found contentment with the choices he has made and now has to live with on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, every time I see a Basset Hound I quietly chuckle to myself along with Chihuahuas remaining  in my mind as footballs-on-feet just waiting to be punted through the uprights. I think of it this way: if I can embrace one of the darkest and most sinister betrayals I have ever encountered with that much of a sense of humor, I’m doing pretty good; it’s all that’s really left of the anger I have for my ex-husband. Oh, but that thing he ran off with? The only thing I have to say about that is that I’m really sorry no one ever told her that she came with a shelf life. Judging by his first two wives’ clocks, she’s only got a little bit of time left until she’s discarded for a newer model. I’m sorry if that disappoints anyone but just on principle there are some things I just haven’t had the ability to let go because no matter how hard anyone may try, there’s just no way to shove the manure back into the horse on that one. She asked for it, she got it.

In the aftermath, I immediately reached out to my friends for support. The very first person I reached out to was my close friend KP because he had gone through something eerily similar and I knew I could trust and rely on his wisdom.  As my voice trembled through relaying the events that had just transpired, KP did what he has always done for me, he ‘kept it real’. He told me that there was no time for a pity party, no time for blame, hatred or revenge, but that I had only one pressing task ahead of me: “to build a bridge and get over it.”

While KP and I spoke daily to help me get my bridge components together, my massive support structure, consisting of my virtual family from around the globe, immediately built a fortress of protection around me.  Their words of comfort  and encouragement became my strength as I endured the trauma that immediately occurs when you are forced to go through the process of marital demise, something I like to call “The Six Week Epic Suck”.

After that first six weeks and multiple discussions with family and friends, I realized that I was being faced with a character-defining moment: how I would handle the situation would define me and eventually tell me what kind of person I really was.  I had a choice to make: I could either ride the shame spiral forever and let what happened defeat me, or I could defiantly pick myself up by my bootstraps, keep on walking and build myself a new life while I worked with KP on the emotional blueprints of the bridge that would help me get over a marriage gone belly-up.

So, I broke out the metaphorical hammer and nails, requesting old transcripts and ACT scores. Then I did something completely nuts: deciding to build the remainder of my bridge out of education: I went back to school, gaining admission on appeal to UNLV.

With his long history in academia, I decided to speak with my ex-husband about what major I should choose. I relayed to him that I was at a crossroads between my two life long loves: advertising –  which was housed in the journalism school – or go with what I do effortlessly and naturally: teaching. He immediately suggested that I major in education, because it wouldn’t require the self-promotion that I would have to do to be successful in a career in advertising (that I had dreamed of since I was a little girl). At seeing first-hand how many times his decisions had landed him on the rocks by losing him more than a few jobs in the time I had known him, combined with his arrogant, condescending tone which had gained him more than a few political enemies and an evisceration by the local press, I thought it best not to follow his advice. I immediately majored in Journalism and Media Studies.

1,825 days later, I am surrounded by the souvenirs of a journey of self-discovery. I look on my shelves and see a collection of academic works that I have used to start my own home library; a pile of notebooks filled with hand-written class notes chronicling more credit hours than I can count; a drawer full of university t-shirts and baseball caps, and a collection of photos filled with memories. The most important thing that marks the closing of this cycle in my life is my new  academic degree, a Bachelor of Arts, in get this:

Journalism and Media Studies with a focus in Integrated Marketing Communications with a minor in Leadership and Civic Engagement.”

Could that degree title get any longer? It’s definitely a mouthful.

Allow me to translate: Journalism and Media Studies means that I’m a student of the mass media, that I’m also a critic of that same media and that simply, I can write news stories, feature stories and things you would find through any news outlet.

A focus in Integrated Marketing Communications means that simply, I know how to use social media effectively for marketing purposes. The fun part is that my AA in Graphic Design for the Web ties in nicely here. This also means I can help you choose the right social media channels and a pile of additional fancy stuff that if I kept writing about it, we’d be here all day.

A minor in Leadership and Civic Engagement means that I have learned the leadership techniques, methods and awareness that you would find in the skill-set of a really great CEO.

You know, I would have never guessed in a million years that when my ex-husband left that he would inspire an epic comeback. That five years later I’d be sitting here helping everyone figure out that even though I’ve got some fancy-schmantzy degree title, I’m still just me, only with a new skill-set in some cases, and an existing skill-set that I’ve just made even better. Not to sound prideful, but the things I was good at before have evolved into something more akin to a juggernaut.

I know lots of folks that have let the disintegration of their marriage destroy their lives. One of my friends drinks a lot and you can tell the experience left a hole where my vibrant, funny friend used to be. Another one of my friends nearly had a nervous breakdown because of their extremely messy divorce, only to have their finalized divorce papers act as Carte Blanche to immediately find a new spouse, then wondering why that marriage went down in flames too. Yet another friend is constantly terrorized by their ex, making them even afraid to leave the house or post on Facebook for fear of another round of cruel eviscerations on social media.

I see the aftermath of marital demise all around me every day. I’m no saint by a long shot because I’ve even been through a fiasco or two since my marriage fell from bliss and landed with a resounding THUD.  But what remains is one simple fact: When my ex hit the door, I went to work on myself. Kinda like the Six Million Dollar Man…”We can rebuild her…” because no one was going to do it for me, the only person that could do that rebuilding was myself – and I’m still not done.

Towards the end, there were moments where I thought I wouldn’t see graduation. There were days where people told me they seriously doubted I would succeed because of the massive setbacks I had endured on my journey. The most mortifying question came from someone extremely close who asked,

“Well, you are going to finish, aren’t you?”

When I heard that question come from the mouth of someone who is naturally expected to be supportive, I never came so close to decking someone I love in all my life. To me, that’s an insult because you can tell they really don’t know jack beans about me.

Case in point:

When I was a kid, a friend of mine found me crying after a really hard day of being viciously bullied. I had tried to hide somewhere where I thought no one would find me but he did. He looked down at me and said, “Sheri, are you okay?” He said that my response changed his life. He said my 15-year-old face just looked up at him, sniffled and said, “I’m not okay right now, but I’m going to be.”

That same friend used to watch helplessly as a pack of ignorant bullies made it their daily mission to viciously attack me, every chance they got, day in and day out for YEARS. I guess you could say they had refined their ignorance into a science, calling me all sorts of names, terrorizing my every breath, much less move, and overall making sure that they exploited every opportunity to make my life into a living hell. If you ever saw Pretty In Pink, think of the dynamic between Molly Ringwald’s character and James Spader’s, that’s basically it.

What astounded my friend the most is that those bullies, no matter how cruel they got, no matter how horrific their attempts, they never broke my spirit. Of course, the more those bullies failed in their attempts to break my spirit, the more vicious they would become; leaving my friend to remark that he had never in his life seen anyone take such vicious mental beatings over such a prolonged period and survive it.

Here’s the secret: the one thing I knew, which no one else seemed to catch on to, was the fact  that I had hope. I knew things in the future had a chance at becoming better, however unlikely it seemed at the time.  I knew, even then, that change is the one constant in the universe that descends on all of us, whether we like it or not. Like Doc Cat says: “Change isn’t always possible, it’s probable.”

Admittedly, the bullying I was forced to endure during my childhood was there for a reason. All of the pain, hurt and tragedy I have endured is all connected to this one beautiful moment. Without them I wouldn’t have the fortitude and heart that has inevitably carried me when I thought I couldn’t take another step.  When I set my mind to do something, I will never waiver, I will never quit, I will never fail.  God help the person who decides to pull the Darwin Award Winning move of telling me that they doubt my competence by stating I can’t do something, I’ll do it anyway just to prove I can.

If you push me down. I’ll get back up.

If you tear me apart, I’ll  put myself back together.

If you set me on fire and try to destroy me, I’ll just rise from the ashes.

1,825 days filled with love, hope and recovery – all mixed with a healthy dose of humor.

From Day 1, all the way to Graduation.

It’s me and Teddy, in the middle of the Mojave, dreaming of better days ahead.

I’m Sheri. I’m a wise fool. I’ve been through hell and back again, but I have persevered.

 

Life’s Movie Moments: Twister

Disclaimer: This one goes a little long. Make sure you go to the bathroom before you start. You may want to grab a snack and a drink on the way back.

Two weeks ago, I got a large manilla envelope in the mail from the county courthouse. Judging from the content of my last post, you can probably guess what was inside: a bundle of legal documents also known as my divorce papers.

When I first saw the envelope, I was expecting it to be the final divorce decree, so in my own way I dreaded opening it. But, I sucked it up and charged head first into the breach. In true Sophomore fashion, it wasn’t what I expected at all. Attached to the top of the pile of papers was a note informing me of something I would have never guessed would happen.

I think I may be the only woman in the world besides Helen Hunt’s character “Jo” in the film Twister to forget to sign the final page of her divorce papers.

As I read what was attached to the top of the document, I was mystically transported into the film with Jamie Gertz’s character of “Melissa” (complete with long Bassett Hound ears, surrounded by a snarling pack of rabid footballs on feet) looking at my ex and asking “Did she sign it? [pause] She didn’t!?!?”

Unlike Jo, I didn’t do it on purpose. It wasn’t some desperate attempt to keep my ex-husband in my life. I was just so stressed out by the whole process that I simply missed a page.

Upon realizing that my signature and address were missing from the most important page of the document, I filled it in. As I did though, there was a lump the size of a softball in the pit of my stomach. I was suddenly filled with a deep regret realizing that my life, as I once knew it, had come to an end.

But here I am, talking about endings again. Seems I’ve had a lot of them lately, but like the Myst Universe teaches:

The harder an end is to face, the more hope we take with us to the next beginning.

That’s really what I’ve got my mind focused toward right now, new beginnings. As I’m finding out, while the lessons of the Myst Universe are poignant and extremely worthwhile to keep in my pocket, I still feel like I’m caught in the middle of Twister.

If you remember from Twister, there is a scene where Jo’s whole gang of storm chasers is sitting around the table at Aunt Meg’s: Dusty’s going on about “imminent rueage” in regards to a rival storm chaser, Cary Elwes’ character “Jonas”, futile attempts to go head-to-head against Bill’s “The Extreme.” That line of conversation is followed quickly by talk about the Fujita Scale and the F5 tornado being called “The Finger of God.”

Remembering that movie moment reminded me of how fast and out of control my life has been since that April afternoon when it seemed my world had completely shattered.

If you don’t remember, here’s the clip:

My moment of regret is more akin to what Meg says to Jo: “He didn’t keep his part of the bargain. To spend his life pining for you and die miserable and alone.”

Every time I see the scene between Jo and Aunt Meg, I think especially of my Auntie June. I remember after my ex left, she had very similar words for me.

Meanwhile, back in the real world… After signing the last remaining page, I found myself downtown in a long line outside of the County Clerk’s office. In line with me was a man whose life’s work is serving divorce papers. He mentioned the diametric opposition of how men and women handle the news. He noted how women accept the situation with strength and composure while men crumble to pieces. I was quite surprised by the revelation, and it made the very emotionally troubling trip worth it as it made me laugh during a moment that threatened to make me cry.

It was then that a woman named Karen came out and asked me what I was there for, so I handed her the envelope and she proceeded to check it over and inform me that she would send it over to the judge’s office.

With that experience behind me, I got into my car for the trek home and the entire time driving, for the first time I didn’t find the need to dwell on it. I guess you could say that the bridge my friend KP helped me build to get over it was hard at work holding me up.

However, any way I try to slice it, I’m in what Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character “Dusty” calls “the suck zone” because I feel like a tornado has come and sucked me up into the middle of it.

As I’ve written a thousand times before, when you are handed a rough situation, you have to make choices. Whether we want to admit it or not, the choices we make when things seem at their worst is what defines us. The emotional risk we all fear becomes unavoidable and in that moment we either stand strong or we crumble.

Since I am a notorious (to the point of self-destructive) emotional base jumper, I guess it’s time for me to get a little extreme. I’ve made my choice and no matter how scared I get, I’ve got to walk up to the raging storm ahead of me, tell it to “have a drink,” chuck the bottle into the tornado and be just as amazed as everyone else when the bottle never hits the ground.

Inside the storm is my final semester at UNLV. I got all my classes lined up and during the time between now and May, I’ll apply for graduation, get fitted for my cap and gown; get my photos taken in my cap and gown (especially for Mom) then have my graduation invitations printed and mailed out. That’s all got to happen while I’m taking Photojournalism with an award-winning photographer, going through a stint as a Leadership Intern and wrapping it up with my Leadership Capstone class.

Simultaneously, the lightning and thunder will be coming from the pursuit and hopefully the public release of what has become my magnum opus, finally Chasing Tron to the most unlikely of places, going into the digital universe in an effort to help parents pull their child out of what I lovingly call “Console Quicksand.”

With everything else in my world feeling unsteady, the storm clouds over my work have seemed unceasing, that is until recently. As everyone knows, since stepping out of a movie theater in 1982, I’ve spent my life desperately searching for the Encom laser to pull me into the digital universe. The best way to illustrate it is “The Grid” monologue from Tron Legacy.

The Grid.

A digital frontier.

I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer.

What did they look like?

Ships?

Motorcycles?

Were the circuits like freeways?

I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see.

And then,

one day…

I got in.

I felt like a complete idiot when I realized that my search had been fruitless because I didn’t see that it had been right in front of me all along. I had been looking for exactly what has evolved around me over the last ten years…and I’m lucky I guess because I’m the only one who can see it.

The hardest part will be taking the brunt of the storm head-on. I won’t lie, it’s going to hurt when it hits. It’s going to come from folks not ready to face hard truths I’m going to be revealing. I mean, seriously, when was the last time anyone enjoyed holding themselves accountable for the obstacles they have to admit to creating?

It’s truly hard to fathom the mere idea that my colleagues and I could possibly be the only people in the universe that will have a decisive impact in the current battle of man versus machine. I have the distinct feeling we’ll be the crew who tethers themselves to the water pipe only to have the F5 of modern technology pass over us as we watch our feet dangle over our heads as we get the rare privilege of watching the storm from the inside.

Just like the storm chasing crew in Twister, if we can get Dorothy to fly, I’ve got a distinct feeling, as a line in the film says, “We’re going to be very popular.”

It’s all down to a little more writing, long hours editing and revising, then going toe-to-toe with the most intimidating thing I’ve ever faced when I present my revolutionary idea to the world. All this with a ton of reading for my classes and homework to boot.

Outside of all that stuff, there are a few funny ironies in the film clip I posted above with even more “life imitating art” moments: First, my pals from the Hairier Legion Flight Team inside There.com will laugh their backsides off when they hear the character “Rabbit” say, “We’re going to take a little walk in the woods,” as I said that to them once while in the lead of one of our flights around the islands. And yes, I could hear them saying, “Mother of God…” just before promptly flying them into a no-fly zone on accident.

Secondly, the song “Humans Being” playing during the ‘walk in the woods’ scene by Van Hagar Halen literally has the line “like lemmings breeding” in it. You know me and my lemmings…the constant symbol of mindless following I’ve railed against now for over four years.  Yep, that’s in there too.

So ladies and gents, the only thing I can say for sure from my point of view: a storm is coming. As Dusty says,”It’s headed right for us,” only to have Bill reply,”It’s already here.”

Here’s my last dose of irony for you: If you keep track of astrological signs, I’m a Libra, one of the cardinal signs. Guess which element it rules over?

Air.

So, with that in mind, I always have to remind myself that there is always one phrase inextricably tied to air when it is in its’ excited state. You might know it best as “winds of change.”

Things are changing quickly and for the better, so for today’s song of the day, I’ve actually chosen two. From the Twister Motion Picture Soundtrack: “Humans Being” followed by what is argued by some as Eddie Van Halen’s finest instrumental, the Grammy-nominated (perfectly titled for today’s post): “Respect the Wind.”

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

This evening, walking back from the mailbox, I looked down into my hands to the large package of papers that were mailed to me by my ex.

You guessed it, after four years of waiting while he and the BHFB have been living happily ever after and buying a new house together, my divorce papers finally came.

As I was looking through them, I suddenly realized that I never really have coped full-on with the prospect of divorce itself. I mean, look at what happened…I caught him in bed with the BHFB, I tossed him out and then immediately (as in, didn’t stop, didn’t pass go, didn’t collect $200) enrolled at UNLV.  It wasn’t soon after that I got the news that he and the BHFB were packing up and moving to Kentucky of all places.

Now, to my folks and friends in Kentucky, no offense to you, but to my high-browed, educated-out-the-wazoo ex, well it might as well be ‘hillbilly hell’. Okay, do you one better: he’s Atheist in one of the most religious places in the world. You know what, I’m going to ice the cake for ya…he’s a French-Canadian, anti-gun, environmentalist, Atheist in a place where you either shoot it, stuff it or marry it; none of which is appealing to a guy with four college degrees and PhD work under his belt.

Oh, the stories that I’ve heard from him make me want to pee my pants. Just the looks he gets walking into church on Sundays is enough to get me rolling on the floor, but to hear his tales of ‘gravy that requires a chainsaw to get through that smothers everything’ from a guy who’s a marathon-running, ultra-fitness, symphony-loving, Pinot Noir snob, I cackle regularly on our bi-annual phone calls.  I mean, he’s the same guy that John L. Smith in the Review Journal took to task in his weekly column for calling Las Vegans uncultured and he ends up landing in the bluegrass, hell and gone from Louisville which is the nearest cultural center he can reasonably reach.

So with all that going on, school and me trying to get back on the horse after waiting for two years in my apartment alone, I never really did imagine what it would feel like when the papers finally came.

Looking back, I did do the Kubler-Ross model of the seven stages of grief. After all, getting abandoned, divorced or anything ground shaking like that, when you look at the empty side of the closet, when you have to teach yourself to once again sleep in the middle of the bed, and when you realize the promise you made that meant “forever” actually meant “for the time being” to your other half, you really do go through the non-linear process of going through what is logically likened to a death in the family.  When it’s all said and done, the person you loved has vanished like a puff of smoke leaving a trail of destruction behind them, leaving you standing in an empty house that used to contain your dreams.

But it’s like what KP kept insisting to me through those first two years: You’ve got to build a bridge and get over it. So, in my own way, I guess I did. Board by board, nail by nail and OOH did I smash my thumb with a hammer a few times along the way.  Well, KP never said building the bridge would be easy…

I got caught up in the fact that my life had to keep moving forward; a life filled to the brim with speed bumps along with a very large, bone-jarring pothole I had to get through to get to where I am now.

I keep thinking about the words of Atrus at the end of Myst IV: Revelation

I love that line Rand Miller speaks with such perfection: “The harder an end is to face, the more hope we take with us to the next beginning.”

Every time I’ve had to pick myself up and dust myself off (which is becoming a far, far too often occurrence), I try to concentrate on that phrase remembering a simple truth about my life that is on one part sad, but on another quite encouraging: I don’t do well in cages, no matter how gilded. Simply, I’m not the marrying type and even though I’m sure some other goofball is going to try their best to put me back into a cage (which they really say isn’t, but we all really know it is), looking at that pile of papers sitting across the room makes me realize that outside of financial benefits that come with marriage, I still believe with all my heart that it is a useless institution.

I think if you love someone that much, a piece of paper doesn’t mean anything. I mean seriously, the expense of a wedding is cost-prohibitive, from the engagement ring to the horrible cake everyone chokes down at the reception, not to mention the cost of a dress that you’re only supposed to wear once but some girls now have collections of them. That little piece of paper, that I view as the equivalent of ownership papers, only mean things to lawyers who want to be richer and vindictive people who didn’t earn a damn dime but try to take their partners for every dime they have  because they have neither the heart nor strength to put in the day-to-day work that is any serious relationship.

As far as relationships go, after my experiences and looking at that pile of papers, I’m to the point of saying “Thanks, I’m done” because in my estimation, it’s an experience I’ve had, and one I didn’t particularly like. So, I’m just going to make myself a t-shirt that reads: “Been married, learned my lesson.”

My friend Jamie once told me, “I could never imagine tying you down into a relationship.  It’s just not you. Every time you get into a relationship, the whole world watches in anguish as they see you wither and lose hope. When you’re left alone and free, you are like watching a wild horse running with all its’ grace and beauty; and things like that should never, never be caged.”

See?  That’s the beauty of NOT being a lemming…I don’t need someone else to be happy.  I’m good on my own. I’ve gone through enough experiences to know one thing about myself: I don’t do relationships because simply, they’re inconvenient. I am tired of being stressed out by other people’s drama that has nothing to do with me at all. I don’t have children and that means my life belongs to me and no one else.  So honestly, looking at that pile of papers…I’m getting that particular grin that means that I’ll finally be free. (And oooh!  That’s heady stuff!)

At the end of the day, I’m happy for my ex and the BHFB. There is someone for everyone out there. Like I always say, everyone deserves happiness, even if I still look at Chihuahua’s as footballs on feet that need to be punted or sucked up into vacuum cleaners.

I’m fortunate, I’m coming out of this as really good friends with my ex, which leaves me feeling really bad for those who are getting put through the Seven Sins wringer; having to endure the lust, gluttony, wrath, greed, envy, sloth, and pride from their exes who just won’t let up, no matter what they do. What’s sad is that you can see them out in the world every day walking around, their shoulders slumped, the light in their eyes merely a glimmer because they’re two-foot-six because of all the hammering they take from vindictive exes and their lawyers who, as KP preaches regularly, “Just need to build a bridge and get over it.”

Marriage isn’t for everyone. Certainly not for me. But for those of you who believe that the piece of paper means everything, I’ll share something my ex did with me: “It’s a formality, that’s all. Nothing changes,” which I found is the absolute truth. So really, what’s the point? Gifts? Materialistic gain? If you love someone with all your heart, reams of paper wouldn’t change that, would it?

So, I’m looking across the room at my divorce papers.  Life could be worse. At least I know I won’t ever have to go through this again. Once was plenty.

A Trip Through the Linking Book

For those of you who didn’t see my winning post at Mystmovie.com, here ya go, my story, “A Trip Through the Linking Book.”

Enjoy!

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I often write in my blog about the wonderful adventures I’ve had by just picking up my Myst Reader, logging in to Myst Online, or just booting up my favorite in the franchise, Myst IV, to hear Peter Gabriel’s voice bring Dream to life.  But to be honest, my favorite part of being involved in the Myst Universe is that it never fails to inspire.

I started out on my journey in 2003 when I just kept eating through game title after game title.  To be honest, I was stuck in a foreign country with no friends, so the only thing I could do, outside of cleaning my house, was play games.  And did I play.  The game boxes started stacking up as I’d go through a title or more per week.  Seeing that he couldn’t sustain that kind of consumption, my ex-husband asked me one night at dinner if I had ever heard of the game “Myst.”  Not knowing what it was, I wondered what he could have been eluding to, referring to the spatial problem solving he had mentioned.  Later that week, he brought me a very old version of Myst.  I loaded it up and began to play, but this time instead of decimating the game in a week, Myst took me over a month to finally finish.  At that point I was hooked.  At around that same time, a commercial was playing on television, one that had the music of Peter Gabriel singing “Burn you up, burn you down” while these amazing graphics and images of mushrooms went across the screen.

A few months later, after begging profusely, underneath the Christmas tree was a brand new box containing Uru: Ages Beyond Myst.  After I installed the game, I went to work on it, savoring every last beautiful detail, listening to the music and being enthralled at the sight of an avatar that looked just like me wandering the great city of D’ni.

Back in 2003 when Myst Online first opened, I was lucky enough to be invited (in the great clerical error of very early 2004) to the open beta test.  It was there, among lag and countless restarts, that I bumped into a wonderful woman named “Pepsi”.  She was a real treasure.  In the early days of UruLive, sitting on the worn stone floors of a neighborhood, Pepsi taught me some of the base tenets of the Myst Universe: that I should always greet everyone I meet with a smile on my face and love in my heart; that there is no room for bigotry or bias; that the world is meant to be explored one stone, and one dream, at a time.

After being ‘adopted’ by Pepsi, we ran everywhere together. And I do mean RAN. If you knew Pepsi, you will agree with me when I say that when it was time, Pepsi didn’t fool around. If she was set on doing something, it got done. But if you were with her, you didn’t walk, you didn’t dawdle, you didn’t jog, you RAN. And more than likely, you were laughing all the while your hand and wrist was cramping from trying to keep up with her. Daring jumps that made most people reach out to their Relto books for safety? Oh no, that wouldn’t do, Pepsi jumped headlong into the breach. She was truly fearless and she dragged my terrified backside along behind her, always saying, “Come on, you can do it!”

When she wasn’t online and I was alone, I would spend hour upon hour in-world, scouring it to learn all I could about the fascinating world she had welcomed me into. I went through each of the ages, from The Cleft to Gahreesen, scouring and exploring every last nook and cranny of the game with a fine-toothed comb, searching for journals that held game lore, reading practically everything could get my hands (and mouse pointer) on; then memorizing the city itself, every inch of navigable (and sometimes not-so-navigable) terrain I could get my avatar’s feet on, so that I could navigate Ae’gura’s streets like a true D’ni native.  It was after so many hours spent immersing myself in the Myst Universe that I realized I had finally found a place that felt like a true home. I was lucky enough that, during the brief time that UruLive existed, I made so many friends and was wholeheartedly accepted into a very unique family.  And that woman named “Pepsi” was the beating heart of it all.

The adventure had only begun when it came crashing down on us like a great cave-in. Ubisoft, the game’s publisher, had deemed our community “financially non-viable”. A bean counter, a person who had no idea what they had in their hands, pulled the plug on our world because our community of 10,000 wouldn’t service the bottom line and turn a big enough profit for them. Uru, the one place in the universe that can teach anyone to live without succumbing to the seven deadly sins, was killed by greed. It was catastrophic, leaving  a community of 10,000 to cope with the loss of friends that had quickly congealed into a giant family. We literally became a diaspora. A people without a home.

After UruLive closed down, in my efforts to cope with the enormous loss, I went back and played Riven and Exile.  Lucky for me, right about that same time, Myst IV: Revelation was coming out with the creative ground zero, “Revelation Lair”, being at Ubisoft’s Montreal Studio. Thank goodness for forums, because I was lucky enough to communicate with some of the greats of the community which allowed me to be invited and attend the “Quad-M” or The Montreal Mini-Mysterium Meet where I got to go to Revelation Lair and meet the game designers, sound designers and the wonderful folks who brought a piece of the Myst Universe to life.  I still have my M4 coffee mugs from that day and they’re used quite regularly.  I have photographs from those days of us hugging Pepsi bottles and sending photos to Pepsi to let her know she was with us in spirit the whole way. Before social media, we found a way to make sure that Pepsi could say she was at the Quad-M.

But then came a glimmer, then there was hope, finally, an announcement that the one place (in the entire universe) that I had finally found a home was going to be available again.  I could go home, take a breath of metaphoric cavern air, sit on the grass of my relto and be at peace.  We were being given a beautiful second chance: UntilUru, fondly remembered as “UU”.

When we stepped into UntilUru, I got together with some friends and created the D’Olympics (they later changed the name to the D’ni Games).  You see, the woman who taught me how to live as a part of the Myst Universe was a bit of a mystery herself.  I found out a few months after UruLive closed that she had juvenile arthritis and had been bound to a motorized wheelchair since she was 14 years old. When I met her, she was 51.

All that running we did in Cavern, she couldn’t do in real life.  She loved to run, and I remember a comment she had made that running in Uru was the first time, since she had been bound to her wheelchair, that she ever felt like she could actually run again.  When I found out about her illness, it hit me like a ton of bricks:

My best pal and ‘running buddy’ couldn’t runPeriod.

My mind reeled. All those things I took for granted in my every day life, that I could run, jump and climb any time I felt like it, go to the gym, slap on my new Armond hiking boots and climb the mountains of the Adirondacks…all those things that I could do, Pepsi couldn’t.  It never even occurred to me for a moment that she couldn’t. As far as I knew, she was just like me!

When I found out she couldn’t walk, I got hit by a tidal wave of shame. The pride that I was so warned about through all those months of living and breathing the storyline of Uru came crashing down on me.  How could I be so prideful?  How could I be so unthinking?  We always said, “You NEVER EVER KNOW who is on the other side of the screen.”

So after coping with the knowledge of Pepsi’s situation, and watching a woman put together the Athens Olympic games, I sat down with a few friends and we designed the first D’ni Games in Pepsi’s honor.  If she loved to run, then I was going to build her a marathon course, and we did.  We had everything you can imagine, from the opening ceremonies to the marathon, all sorts of running events, people playing Ayoheek, diving competitions, you name it, if it was possible to be done with the physics engine of that game and the imagination of the players, we did it.

After three months of planning and countless man hours, over a weekend in October, the games ran for 72 hours solid, the first large scale event of its’ kind ever undertaken.  There were hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of virtual athletes, the Myst Universe became a place where people not only solved puzzles together, but where players from around the world came together in friendly competition.  There was even a man who made up medals and mailed them to the winners.

The day of the opening ceremonies, we waited for Pepsi but she never came.  Her health by that time was in decline.  She had gone in for a procedure and the pain made it so that she couldn’t play.  She never saw the marathon run and she died three months later on December 28, 2004.  But to this day, I don’t take a step in a virtual world or the real world without remembering her.

After I moved back to Las Vegas, I found the Myst Reader in a local bookstore.  I soaked up every page.  I went through the three novels in a matter of days, chuckling at the screenshots inside the cover of the ages of Er’cana and Ahnonay.  The Book of D’ni is my favorite by far, Windgroveisms aside, I found that the relyimah of Tehranee were kindred spirits of mine.  In my life I’ve seen the cruelty of other human beings all too often and to see it personified in the shorn heads and black clad bodies of the Relyimah, it made me weep.  It also gave me the strength to stand up for myself.  After all I had gone through in my personal life, the abuse, trauma and so forth along with the prejudice we were shown when part of the Uru community moved over to There.com only to be treated as relyimah and taking years to become a recognized, positive force in the community, I relented and moved my virtual life to World of Warcraft where my night elf druid named “Relyimah” (after the slaves of Tehrahnee) could literally turn into a great tree, heal those in need and spread the word of the Myst Universe.

I go to sleep every night after reading passages from three books, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, The Republic by Plato and The Myst Reader.  All three books have helped me become a better person by just touching them.  They’re my link to wisdom because I realize what Socrates said was true, “The wisest person in the world realizes they know nothing.”  But I also remember that just like the great city of D’ni, things we hold dear can vanish just as quickly as it came to us.  The perfection of the city, the time spent in the young days of UruLive, the fleeting time I got to spend with Pepsi, they’re all gone now, but as the great writer I am, those days will live on in my memory, always tied to the beauty of Myst.

I might sound like a lunatic who takes the Myst Universe far too seriously, but to be honest, Myst taught me a lot, it saw me through recovering from addiction, it gave me purpose and it gave me what no one or nothing could.  Hope.  So to me, I’ll thump my Myst Reader at anyone who will stop and listen.  I’m an Uruite, a citizen of the Deep City of D’ni.

Long live the Myst Universe.  Cavern Blood Runs Deep.