Just the other day my friend said “Never apologize for being smart or educating yourself.”

On the way home from the Cape today, I was listening to NPR which is my newest routine.  The program I was listening to was interviewing a man with dementia.  He had been a brilliant physicist and was now unable to draw a clock which is part of the tests he undergoes with his doctor.  I guess it’s a common test for this disease.  He was so disheartened by this.  Being a physicist, he decided to figure out a different way to bypass the disease by rebuilding his understanding of how a clock works so he might be able to tell time a different way and find a way to draw the clock for his next appointment,  it was amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. I was imagining what it might be like when my parents become unable to do things they once took for granted, how I will bear witness to this and try to walk them through it without letting them see the sadness in my eyes for them.

The other day I found out I was being made fun of behind my back for being smart and for getting excited by being able to answer a hard question.  You would think at my age I would be able to shrug this off as juvenile millennial behavior and not be hurt by it.  But I actually don’t have that much expertise in handling “bullying.”  The last time I was bullied was in Junior High when I was called “pink porker” for being chunky and wearing pink pants to school.  After enduring that crap and having my house egged over it, I was relieved when, one night at CCD, a girl from a local private school came to recruit.  I went home and promptly told my parents I wanted out of public school for High School and they made it happen.

Once I went to High School, I was around a bunch of smart kids with strong values so nobody really spent a lot of time picking on anyone else.  The class size was too small to really segregate so we all got along.  And the friends I made there are the core of who I am now and my deepest friendships now.  That behavior is what I know and what I practice in life.  So, yes, at 42, I find myself a little dismantled by bullying at work.  Bullying is a strong word for this one incident but it’s actually one of many over a long period of time.  It’s just the simplest one to mention right now.

Nonetheless, bullying is exactly what it is.  I do get excited when I get the answers right on Jeopardy,  So do Norma and PJ….high school friends….so it’s normal for me.  I get excited to read a new book whether it’s something historical, scientific or even an Oprah recommendation.  I love walking book store aisles over kindle.  My clutter at home is an abundance of books finding a place to retire when I am done with them.

I didn’t have much self esteem when I was a younger.  I had an undiagnosed learning disorder that I powered through on my own.  So freaking hard but I did it.  I didn’t take the traditional college path but not for lack of intelligence.  And when I could get back on the horse, I rode it straight through honors and into a highly competitive masters program at a very hard to get into University.  So, yeah, I get excited.  I fist pump sometimes.  I tell my parents that I am the smartest Dolan when I get answers right on Jeopardy.  I smile when I know words others don’t.  Not because I think I am better than them but because I exceed my original expectations of myself every time I do it.  It’s a personal win for someone whose math teacher once told her how dumb she is

These people who judge me don’t read and don’t know a lot of words.  It bothers me only in that I know I have gotten myself into the wrong career and it’s helping me figure out my next steps.   I don’t think less of others.  There are areas of life they know more about than I do which I like to listen to when they share.  Bottom line, they get paid more than me, get promoted and 40 is still a long way off for them so they don’t have the same barriers I do.  They could at least let me have “smart” without taking that away from me.  It’s all I have and I won’t be sorry or ashamed of it.

I was doing errands today when Dave Matthews Band “Crash Into Me” came on. It’s an old, sentimental favorite from a vastly different time in my life. That album was big at the same time I was falling in love with someone. We listened to it together a lot. It was playing that song at a pivotal moment which changed the depth of the relationship. So, whenever I hear that song, I consider it out “our song.” Yes, I know it’s actually about a peeping Tom watching a woman undress in a window. That said, take the sentiment of that kind of “young boy joy” at discovering the body of a woman and how the world opens from that kind of experience, ignore the illegal creepy part. That’s kind of how we were experiencing each other at that time. I thought he was showing me the world.

Here we are probably 25 years later. He didn’t show me the world and that’s ok. Boyfriends of your early 20s rarely do. Even rarer if you marry them. I have never married. I haven’t even had that many significant relationships since then. Not necessarily the world I had planned or would have chosen but it is what it is.

I just returned from a spontaneous trip to Barcelona for a few days. I did my bucket list trip to Rwanda and Kenya just a few months ago. Nothing can really top gorilla trekking and safaris. I’m also a few weeks out from an 18 day trip to Morocco, also a lifetime goal. Barcelona was more about me being able to quietly pound the pavement of an old European city where I could forget myself and just take in other people, culture, historic scenery. Other than greeting servers, saying gracias a lot and being able to order 1 croissant for breakfast every day, I did no speaking. It was all osmosis and sensory experience. The kind of trip that literally feeds me.

I am so grateful, and often surprised I have become a traveler. I have always hated flying and the fear got significantly worse as an adult. I had a period of years where I resigned myself to accepting I would only travel to places I could drive to. That was also back when I thought I’d end up married and had the idea, aside from honeymoons, married people really don’t travel much outside of weekend getaways within driving distance.

I am not saying I expected to marry the “Crash Into Me” guy. I do tend to reference him a lot when I talk about lost love, lost opportunity, the life not lived. I use him as more of a metaphor. Basically, didn’t have to be him. I just expected I’d be married at some point whether it was to him or the next guy. It’s just what I expected would happen…no different than the expectations my friends all had at the same time. He thinks I always mean him, by the way. I don’t. It’s hard to explain. It’s more of an idea than a specific. He represented an idea, a discovery, a glimpse and then nothing else really happened next. My friends all had “that guy” too. Some married him, some married the next one or the 3rd one down the line. They all married. Including him.

I’m talking about how I have landed in an entirely different life. Back then, I suffered from the belief that a man who respected and listened to me, showed passion for my body and my brain, would show the world to me. The world being getting married, picking out a house together and having friends over for dinner on the weekends for the rest of our lives. That song gives you an idea of the depth, or shallowness really, of what I thought the world was offering. My friends all chose love and marriage. Don’t think I was any different. I chose those things too. They just never chose me back.

I used to have friends I went to the bars with every weekend, until they got married. I had friends who used to come to concerts with me, until they got married. I even had friends who traveled with me, until they got married. I took for granted how often I went out to eat. Big Sunday breakfasts, being able to try any new restaurant I wanted with my friends, until they got married. Clothes shopping, trips to Home Depot, errands were always fun with 2 of us, until they got married. My world suddenly became very, very quiet. I missed a whole bunch of concerts for a period of time because it was unheard of to go alone. Bands like Pearl Jam, Midnight Oil, Sheila Divine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty….big deal stuff I am actually still trying to chase down decades later. Unfortunately, Tom Petty will always be a miss.

Eventually, I did start getting a little braver. I moved 2000 miles away for a job for 2 years. When I came home, I was a little less fearful. I was at least good with doing errands alone. I dipped my toe into going away for a weekend with my dog. I’d eat out alone when I did that. I realized going to movies alone was easy so I was fine with that. Somewhere in my 30s I decided I’d get back on a plane and do 1 trip, see everything I wanted to see and never do it again. I went to Ireland, London and Paris alone. I experienced some dark moments, especially walking around in Paris. Bad dreams of what I believed then were missed opportunities or things I screwed up. Some things I literally needed to say “goodbye” to while I was standing in front of some ancient monument.

I also had funny, resilient moments like driving right out of the Dublin airport at 6 am in a standard, on the wrong side of the road but figuring it out fairly quickly. However, I did lose a hubcap somewhere on that trip and I didn’t know that when you hit your outside driver side mirror, it’s supposed to collapse inward. It wasn’t broken like I thought it was at first. I certainly drove several circles around rotaries as I kept missing my turn off or 2nd guessing the ones I had chosen. Traveling alone, shit happens and you have only yourself to figure it out. So, you figure it out and then you “right size” it and start to realize that all the things you used to think were such a big, insurmountable issue really weren’t that big of a deal at all. You could handle it.

Despite “grounding” myself for many years after that trip, the travel bug came back and I just accepted it. I decided that in order for my unpleasant job to be worthwhile, I needed to take a big trip every year. That’s when my doctor gave me a prescription for Lorazapam so I could fly. There really is an answer and resource for everything if you want something badly enough. At first, I kept it to simple European cities I felt comfortable I could navigate. I have a good sense of “danger” and knew where I could make it alone and where I shouldn’t. Therefore, despite knowing Africa was a bucket list item, I knew I’d never be able to go unless I had a boyfriend/husband with me. That was not a “safe” single girl trip.

Many of you know the rest. I did find a safe way to go to Africa without said boyfriend/husband. Before that, I went to Sydney, Australia…once also a never because I had only worked myself up to 6 hour flights. I’d never get on a plane for that long, until I did. Now, I’m injected with yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis vaccines ( in addition to 5 Covid vaccines.). I consider it bad budgeting at this point not to go to countries where those vaccines are needed so don’t be surprised when Southeast Asia pops up on my agenda. The only “never” I think I still have is South America and yet, I’ve allowed myself to read a little more about trips to Guatemala, the Galapagos, Chile, etc. just this year.

You see, I may have “chosen” the path of marriage and the world I expected it to show me. However, when it didn’t choose me back, I learned how to show the world to myself instead. I would still never say no to a true, maddeningly passionate “crash into me” Love if it comes along (unless he hates travel and pets.) My preference would be to take these adventures with someone else…not only have my sensory experiences but be able to experience those moments through his eyes. Being an empath, I can do that….have my experience and yours at the same time.

When you talk about really seeing the world, it’s not just about your own perspective. It would certainly help prevent the “brain dump” I do on the first person/people I see when I get home (usually my parents.). This time it was just 5 days but I’ve gone up to 14 days of having no actual conversations with anyone while I’m traveling. I have A LOT on my mind when I get home. It would be a “nice to have” to be able to have those conversations in the moment or at dinner after a long day. But, it’s not a MUST have because I already know the most important thing of all to know. I can do all of it on my own, my terms. I can figure anything out, solve any problem. I have confidence I didn’t have when that DMB album came out. I often wonder if I did get married at that time, would my growth have been stunted? Would I ever have learned my true worth and capabilities? Or would I have just gotten really good at cooking casseroles, fish sticks and chicken wings? I certainly wouldn’t have been seeing the world….just a small corner of a neighborhood where we picked a house and never left.

It’s my birthday. I usually take vacation on my birthday but decided to work through it this year. I think it’s been 20 years since I worked on my birthday. I ask for nothing pretty much all of the time so I allow my birthday to be “my day” where maybe I can give a little less and receive a little more…just for one day a year.

The reason I worked is dual. I just started a new job 4 weeks ago and it seemed too soon for time off. I will take the last week of August off instead. Also, I did my bucket list trip to Africa (Rwanda and Kenya) for 2 weeks a few months back and have an 18 day trip to Morocco on the horizon. I’m not suffering from a lack of vacation time.

Since Rwanda is a partial reason for why I worked on my birthday, I thought it a good time to reflect and celebrate what I received from that country.

Dear Rwanda,

To quote Chelsea Handler as of late, you “blew my heart wide open.” I loved your super easy to navigate airport as well as the “drive thru” security where you park your car, get out and the car itself is taken through its own scan. One would think a country as “evolved” as the US would do something so sensible but we don’t do anything sensible. Thank you for paying such close attention to safety. I know it’s the nature of being a developing country which has had many wars and terrorist acts over the years and it’s probably not your preference.

Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your painful history. I think every trip to Kigali should begin like mine, with a trip to your incredibly beautiful and moving Genocide Museum. To fully appreciate you in this moment is to have known you when….there are no words to describe how to come back from something like that. You never truly do….so many loved ones gone. It’s something that requires witness, ceremony and prayer. I have no words for the feelings I experienced looking over the memorial and trying to imagine the sheer number of people slaughtered. One would think other countries might learn from your experience. Nope. Even more hopeful would be our ability to learn how a country takes steps forward to accomplish the growth and rebirth yours has. It’s remarkable. It’s doable, if it’s in your heart. It certainly is in your hearts. It’s not in the majority of ours.

Thank you for your conservation efforts, your love for and cultivation of your land. The way you protect your people and your animals as equals. Your people take immense pride in being able to share the gorilla experience. You don’t have to share that, but you do. You understand that people would find other ways to exploit you so you share them on your terms, as you should. You keep the trekking prices high, as you should. You use the funding to continue to protect and preserve but also to provide your people with career paths they can be proud of.

There were a number of obstacles in the way of me getting up that mountain, none of which were your fault, but you took ownership of my experience and over delivered where others didn’t deliver at all…an extra expense and amount of work on your people you didn’t deserve to have to deal with. Yet you did, with grace. You gave me a 15,000$ private trek for the price of $1500. America would never do that for you and I know that. I felt ashamed that you felt you needed to do that because I already have more privilege in my life than any of your people could imagine. I did not earn that experience.

So, there’s a few things I want you to know about that trek. I know I didn’t deserve such an exclusive experience. I had the attention of several guides and military. I was walking into that situation, alone, with all these armed men. Add to that, we were close to the Congo border so I could hear guns going off in the distance. That said, I took those steps forward with you feeling safer in my choice at that very moment than I feel at home in America. The experience of actually spotting the gorillas the first time and then the encouragement of your team to move closer….a lot closer, was one of the most exceptional experiences of my life. I am glad to have shared it with you, only you. You getting to see me having that experience means you have gotten a glimpse of joy in me that no other human has ever seen. I love letting you have that. It will always be our secret, our moment and I’m really, really proud of it. You pushed me up that mountain and kept pushing me, behind what I believed I was capable of and showed me that I’ve got a lot more in my tank than I had ever given myself credit for. Thank you. I have maintained that grit and bravery since I got home. It’s what got me my new job.

Your consideration, politeness, service. You were always thinking hours ahead of us. When we came back to the hotel covered in mud, you were waiting to take our dirty boots from us and replace them with flip flops so you could clean our boots and gaiters. I have no idea how you did it but my boots came back cleaner than when I bought them. At breakfast, you’d ask what we wanted for lunch. At lunch you’d ask what we’d want for dinner. This is because you make all your meals fresh and by scratch. This means that you actually spend hours cooking so you never wanted us waiting on you whenever we sat down. And the soups you made with your own vegetables every night…to die for! I have been trying to replicate some of those on my own and don’t even come close to the taste of what you created. I ate exceptionally well in your country.

I can’t say enough about your people. From every child chasing our Jeep to wave and say hello, to the armed guard at the ATM…you couldn’t have been kinder. Every time I saw your smiling children, especially with our trip into one of the village schools, I felt so ashamed that if you or your children were to visit our country, you would not receive the same excitement and joy. If you appeared to be lost or needed help with something here, our people would at best ignore you and at worst, ridicule you. Americans are not as good as you believe us to be. I think you just see more good ones than bad because the kinds of people who would take the time to travel to your country tend to be educated and open minded people who don’t think we are better or smarter than you. My love for your country runs deep. My heart is forever invested in you. I want for you a bright, healthy future…no deviation from the road you are currently on. I hope to see your school children grow up to be teachers, conservationists, scientists, doctors, benevolent politicians…people who will ask the hard questions, make the right decisions and not have told fear the other side of elections….do we keep this or do we go back to war? I can’t imagine having to live so precariously, although, as an American, perhaps it’s not as distant as I have always believed it to be.

Since I’ve been home, I am trying to get my hands on any and all material to continue learning about your country…books, movies, documentaries. Underneath all of your growth and beauty still lies a sadness, a known absence. I am deeply sorry for the lack of support from my country during your most recent genocide. We knew what was happening. We knew we could help but were more interested in saving face because we were embarrassed by our involvement with Somalia. I’m sorry, but trying to help people in need, even if it doesn’t get the outcome hoped for, is never something to be ashamed of and never something to turn away from. America feels so insulated that we are somehow better and more evolved than developing countries. That only proves how uneducated we are because history exists to show us where we are going. Instead, we fight our school systems in an effort to keep,our children from knowing truth. You know where that can lead better than anyone.

I fell in love with your country and all of your people, for sure. But I also fell a little in love with myself in a way I deeply needed. I went on that trip sensing I was at some kind d of crossroads and decision point in my life. I didn’t anticipate that one part I needed was just a general appreciation of myself as well as a reckoning with my priorities. I am “practicing” these priorities, this kindness with myself that is creating a softness I needed. Breathing is a bit less labored than it was before I met you. The softness I am giving myself is also going outward to others. I think I am going to forever be discovering little gifts from you here and there. I still think of you every day. I am still processing my experience and am sure unexpected memories will continue to pop up. You’ve given me a piece of myself only you have seen which is pretty special. I was at my best with you because you command that from people, as you should. You have so much to protect, so much to be proud of, so much to fight for, so much to hope for. In a way, I am envious in that I don’t think America has anything to hope for right now. I think we only have what we need to prepare for and the history you openly shared with me shows me just how dark and dire it can get. I don’t think my cohorts here in America have the slightest idea and don’t fear nearly enough. Any fear they do have is severely misplaced for the only fear they actually should have is that which we see in our mirrors.

May you continue to seek and find peace amongst immeasurable massacre and loss. No amount of decades can ever take that pain away. No family can ever truly recover. Thank you for letting me have a glimpse into that pain. I think the only way to experience your pride is to get a look at your pain and I deeply appreciate your reverence.

Thank you for sharing your lovely children with us. I think they make it pretty simple to understand what’s important in life and what isn’t. There is so much forgiveness, hope and love wrapped up in their little hearts and eyes. Their singing voices, clumsily tripping over each other to be the first in line to greet us and show off their skills….my eyes tear up with pure joy whenever I think of them. They are my optimism. They are my inspiration.

Thank you for ushering me into this year’s birthday. It’s just a little sweeter than most birthdays because I feel like I’ve got new Parts to me, even at this old age. Some things were definitely “born” in me because of my experience with your country. I feel like it’s you, me and the gorillas…a little secret we share with no one else. I can’t imagine better people to have opened myself up to.

I have been very difficult to deal with lately, more so than usual. I went through a nasty depression from November through February but came out of it in March. I started to feel pretty optimistic that I was going to even out and get back to my normal self. I think I got about 3 days. Since then, I got jet packed into crippling anxiety.

I feel like I’m constantly explaining my behavior in relation to one of my mental illnesses. I’m not making excuses. I’m just providing explanations. That said, my emotions are literally on the tip of a bullet of a constantly cocked trigger.

While anyone would break under the stress I am under right now, I did have the realization yesterday as to what time of year it is. I’m coming up on that anniversary. 9 years ago 4/15. While the memories don’t pervade my every day, the anxiety has never abated. I carry it with me like a 6th tattoo. When the dog barks unexpectedly it trips a wire. By business partner witnessed it yesterday. When I am listening to a work conversation laced with the stripping of layer by layer of control until we get to a machine, the wire gets tripped. I had a panic attack so bad while in a meeting last week, I didn’t speak in a meeting which was noticeable to several people. Turns out, I’m a bit of a beacon for more than just myself.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting where a business partner messaged me to say I looked troubled and that he couldn’t see a spark in my eyes anymore. At first, I thought it was because I forgot to line my eyebrows. That distracts me all day on Zoom when I forget. But seriously, how can people actually see it? My mom taught me to be meticulous with outward appearance so that no one would ever be able to know what’s on the inside. For 2 years working remote, I still get dressed for work every and do my makeup. I don’t have to and many people gave that stuff up long ago. Not me. Everybody needs me to look unruffled. I need me to look unruffled.

Today was just another in a bad string of bad days but it dropped me deeper than anything else at work ever has. Twice this week, my integrity has been questioned. That’s something I can’t process or tolerate. For all my flaws and shortcomings, my integrity is who I am and everyone gives me that. No one ever questions that. It’s just kind of a known thing that goes without saying. Other stuff yes and fair. Integrity, no one crosses that boundary with me because I have proven that if nothing else, I have all of it when it comes to integrity. I have never slacked at work, ever. Not even when in the depths of depression. I don’t even take a day off because of depression. I fight through it and I carry 12 hour work days while I do. I would never leave a “soldier” on the field. Never. I’m the person who would die trying to save someone else. That is not an exaggeration.

Only recently have I begun to find a way to explain how I operate….especially in crisis when all your faculties shut down and you’ve got nothing but adrenaline keeping you alive. You can’t think, you run in autopilot. Let me illustrate my autopilot for you.4/15/2013, standing in a bar window, location tattooed around my ankle so I never forget, I was watching the marathon runners go by, crowds of family and friends on the sidewalk cheering them on. I was waiting by the finish line for my sister in law because I ran out of time to meet my sister 5 blocks down. I was going to celebrate Niki at the finish line of her first Marathon and then go with her to meet up with my sister.

I was drinking a Blue Moon when I heard a loud sound to my left. My brain absolutely registered it to be a bomb but my body didn’t catch up right away because there is a bit of disbelief your mind runs through to gaslight yourself out of convincing yourself you heard what you heard. After all, when in your life have you heard a bomb go off and why would you? Standing there frozen, I heard a second one to my right. Next thing I remember is the hand of a stranger reaching out and pulling at my arm, leading me out the back of the bar.

From there, we all started piling out into a back alley and spilling onto Newbury Street, melding into layers and layers of added crowds spilling out of other side streets and alleyways. At first, we walked somewhat briskly, I think all a little stunned and frozen in our lives 5 minutes before they changed forever. Then the pace picked up into a trot, hundreds of people trotting and jogging away, not towards anything just away.

I had just survived 2 bombs going off on either side of me. Literally on either side of me. People in front of me on the sidewalk were bleeding out, losing limbs and even dying. I could smell burning hair, burning flesh, blood. Those scents permeated my clothes for days after that.

I wasn’t running for my life. I wasn’t even thinking about myself at all. My brain and body weren’t even a part of me at that moment. I was trying to find my 5 months, pregnant sister. I called my parents to tell them I was trying to find her and then the phone cut off. A stranger reached out and put her arm around me. I stood still amidst a crowd of people running around me and just looked around. I didn’t know where to begin to find my sister. Finding her and keeping her safe was my one and only thought. It was a moment which defined my life and my attachment to her. I have never been able to explain to anyone how it broke me to not know where she was. It’s a bond and a terror I have never felt before or since then.

Even after we reunited and then found Niki, we walked like 10 miles outside the city with Niki’s parents. None of us could get our cars out of the parking garages as they were all blocked off. Pretty sure I spent that whole walk running down the list of the other people I cared about. I had a friend and her mother working the finish line. Were they still alive? My friend Kim was running and was only about a block away from where Niki got stopped. Did Kim get stopped in time? Was she still alive? Another friend worked at Brigham and Women’s. Was she helping with the trauma victims? What was she seeing? Was she seeing what I had? What about my friend who worked counter terrorism? Was she on the street on the case right away? Were there other bombs? Oh yeah, and what about my company’s branch that was on the corner near where one bomb went off? Wasn’t my friend’s husband working there that day? I’d need to call them as soon as I got my cell service back up.

What about my dad? He’s a war Vet with PTSD? I had literally only been able to connect with him long enough to tell him I couldn’t find Melissa and that I loved him (which I have never said to him, by the way) and then the phone cut out before he could respond. What was he going through in that moment? He had 2 out of 3 of his kids, plus his daughter in law in this mess. Did he think we were going to die? How did he tell my mother about that phone call? What horrible memories was he reliving in those moments? What did this do to him? What did my phone call do to him? If it was anything like the internal death I was feeling about being separated from my sister….well, it’s hard to breathe even just thinking about it now. It’s a feeling I hope no one ever has to experience. Don’t even get me started on the bomb she dropped this past Thanksgiving about moving her family out of the country. It took me a couple months to even say that out loud to myself because it has devastated me. In fact, my meltdown in a meeting at work a few weeks ago was because due to someone not listening, we were about to revisit an entirely resolved issue and make me miss dinner with my sister….when I don’t know how many of those I have left.

When we got back to my sister’s house that day, I had to wait several hours for the T and the garages to open back up before I could get my car. Once the cell service came back up in Boston, I just made a bunch of phone calls to check in on everyone else I knew had been there. I needed to make sure everyone else was safe. I could smell death in my hair but I just needed to check on everyone else.

Here’s where it gets really twisted. I hadn’t even planned to be at the Marathon that day. At work, we had just come through a grueling first quarter working 12-14 hours every day. Our boss told us all to pick a day in April and take a vacation day, a comp day. So I picked that day. Because he knew where I was, I made sure to call him and assure him I’d be at work the next day. Want to know the irony of it? I wouldn’t even consider taking the next day off because I was scheduled to conduct interviews. Yep. Same as what’s happening right now. If I didn’t go to work, my peers would have to scramble to cover for those interviews and I wouldn’t ever put that on them. I had a responsibility and I would follow through on that. Never mind how late I got home or that I didn’t sleep or eat. I just made sure to shower so I wouldn’t bring the smell of death in my hair to work.

The rest of that week was all about the manhunt to find the bombers. It was on tv and the news and social media nonstop. I had to sit in meetings at work listening to co-workers talk about where they were when they heard about the bombs….and I promise you none of them were anywhere near where I was. They hadn’t even been in the city. I had to,listen to nonstop stories of “my sister’s hairdresser’s boyfriend was at the Capital Grille when it happened.” “My daughter’s roommate was at Fenway watching the Red Sox.” All the way up to, “ I once went to a restaurant on that street in my 20s.” Seriously, you are all talking about this in front of me at every meeting for 4 days straight when I was fucking there….right there.

Even the day when the manhunt was zeroing in on the remaining terrorist, they were going door to door in my aunt’s neighborhood and had them all doing shelter in place. As I was walking into work that Friday morning, my always frantic aunt called me. I was waking into the building as I was trying to calm down my frantic aunt who was sitting on the floor afraid to move.

After work that night, I went to a bar by myself. The tv was on the manhunt and they found him on live tv as I was watching from my barstool surrounded by strangers. That’s when I started to cry. 4 days of thinking about my family, my friends, my co-workers, not wanting to inconvenience anyone and certainly not wanting to miss a day of work before I actually thought about myself. 4 days. And I certainly didn’t skip out on doing those interviews less than 24 hours after I survived a fucking bombing. Nope, I was likely still in shock and a shell of my former self. I should have been home, knocked out on sedatives or at my therapist’s office or in a hospital but nope, wouldn’t leave anyone in a lurch. Even when I did book an “emergency” therapy appointment, it wasn’t for another week and I made sure it was after 5 so I wouldn’t have to leave work early. How fucked up is that?

Also, in that 4 days of making sure I worked and didn’t inconvenience anyone, all I could think about were the 3 people who died, one of whom was a little boy. A little boy whose family owned a vacation home down the street from my parent’s vacation home at the time. Survivor’s guilt is another thing I don’t know how to explain to anyone. Sometimes I wish I knew more war vets so I could have something in common with people and not feel perpetually alone and misunderstood. That little boy was all I could think about in between interviews and endless meetings about other people’s “non” experiences.

When I finally started to “feel” and think about what I had just been through, I was crying in a bar, surrounded by strangers, all of whom came up and consoled me and talked to me about what I had been through. Do you know how many people at work consoled me? Zero. And they all knew I was there. I received more comfort from strangers that Friday night than I have ever received from anyone I know in what has now been 9 years. I’ve always been angry about that. I don’t ask anyone for anything, despite how much is asked of me. I shouldn’t have to ask for anything when it comes to an event like that. I’m still angry about it.

It’s not just about my work ethic or the fact I am the last person I ever think about in any situation, even the biggest crisis. It’s about the promises I made to myself and to those who died or were physically injured. I made some “deals” about my life and purpose. I made some commitments to my values and set some expectations about what would have meaning in my life and what shouldn’t. Among those things was around making sure I only did work with purpose…the purpose of serving and advocating for others while always “doing the right thing” for them, regardless of what I stood to gain or lose. I also went to Grad school and got my Masters because of that. I started traveling because of that. I also battled some very tough years using alcohol and risk to manage the survivor’s guilt. Then I overcame that.

I am sitting here today, one week out from this anniversary, quibbling about whether or not I’m doing enough interviews to be “fair.” I literally haven’t had a day off all year. I pushed all my doctor’s appointments out the last 3 months. I am putting off a hip replacement surgery and, while conducting interviews, am in incredible pain, especially the longer I have to sit. I don’t even have a few minutes in the day to find a pet sitter for my vacation, finish my visa for Rwanda or make an appointment for my yellow fever vaccine, get my license renewed, or follow up to find out when my new car will arrive. But let’s be sure I’m not doing 1 less interview than someone else. And heaven forbid I wanted to take next Friday off. Nope, already have 3 interviews booked and my compromise was that I’d take the afternoon off. Nope, staying so I can add more interviews so I can be fair.

I guess you could say I have been triggered. I am fucking mad as fuck to have my integrity and work ethic questioned. Who do these people think they are? I’m thinking about a little dead boy who should be alive and looking at colleges right now. But you’re right, being available to interview someone who doesn’t want to work somewhere without 100% remote work flexibility is the equivalent to the graves I never stop counting….but only think about when it doesn’t inconvenience someone else’s needs.

So that’s who I am. That’s the shit I’m thinking when I’m getting aggravated at work, being more direct than usual, starting my day off as a pleasant person who has turned into a grumpy, asshole by noon. That’s who I am when I see I’m getting pulled into a bad, bad plan that is 100% reactive, 0% strategic or thinking more than a week out. I have value. I have a lot of value. I made promises and I am not holding them up right now when letting myself get consumed by this madness outside of everyone’s control. A Starbucks gift card was a nice touch but I can’t leave the house long enough to use it because I have to be fair.

And don’t pull me into the “suck up” of waiting until I say what a healthy limit is and then letting everyone know how flexible you are to work outside a healthy limit….that it doesn’t bother you. Well then don’t complain about how everyone you hire keeps quitting. Keep it to yourself while I am looking at actual, real data that suggests there are about 18 different ways to proceed without killing our selves and sucking the life out of ourselves. And know that I went to work and did interviews after washing death out of my hair. Don’t question what I’m doing now if my numbers don’t add up to everyone else’s every day. What I’m doing and how I do it is the only integrity I see happening at the moment. Call me a bitch, call me an asshole, call me impatient, get annoyed with my unpredictable triggers and anxiety attacks. Just don’t ever, ever, ever question my work ethic or integrity. I have earned my stripes on those. My integrity and standards are far beyond the levels of even the best people I know.

During an emergency, when the body shuts down virtually all functions and literally directs you away from danger without you even having to think about it, my body overrides that to prioritize others above myself. You’ll have to forgive the misfiring synapses of anxiety which occur at what may appear to be unusual times to others. When those attacks happen, it’s because I have spent at least 4 days serving everyone but myself and my fight or flight is finally catching up. I don’t know a more honorable person to be in the fight with than me.

I already broke my writing habit in the first week by not writing yesterday. In the last 10 minutes of my day, just before my therapy appointment, things went haywire. I took a break for therapy and then I went back to work for another couple of hours. It was a long day, followed by a very severe anxiety attack while I was trying to watch tv and do crossword puzzles. I had to relent and take an anxiety pill.

I lost my confidence a little bit yesterday. I’m extremely experienced at what I do. In fact, I have the most experience and strongest track record of anyone in my group. But don’t be fooled. I am not one of those “experienced” people who believes I know it all and have nothing new to learn. When something I “touched” goes wrong, all my history, all my positive results are out the window and the first place I look at is myself. Based on my Facebook posts, I am sure you don’t wholly pick up on that. But it’s the truth. I blame myself first. I go over every step, review all my notes and data, compare my results to others and when I still can’t find it, I ask my peers for help. I am a lifelong learner and I am not one of those experienced people who falls into the trap of never re-assessing my skills. In fact, I’m one of the most change oriented and adaptable people I know. I thrive on chaos and the unknown. It’s actually when I do my best work.

That said, when I am wounded, I acknowledge it like I did last night. I made sure I alluded to my bleeder and the panic which ensued. I always do that. Most people say nothing for fear that by acknowledging, I might dare to talk to them about it further, which they don’t really want. I’m guessing there is an assumption i will have endless pity and by allowing me to have an open door to one conversation, I will move into your house and it won’t stop. What I find sad about that is how little people really understand of me all these years.

Yes, something unexpected happens and because I have PTSD, I have actual changes in my amygdala which shut off all “unnecessary” need for thought and general motor function outside of either running or hiding to save my life. It gives me the reptilian brain which is what keeps me alive. Unfortunately, my broken amygdala doesn’t differentiate the minor threat of a splinter from that of a bomb going off. I am going to have the same response regardless of the proportion of the situation and whether you feel it’s an overreaction or not. You are not a scientist. I have learned to come to terms with that and that, perhaps, you have something different which gives you reptilian brain by cutting off your empathy receptors. Just saying. I can concede your reptilian brain might be activated differently from mine.

24 hours later. I’m fine. That happens all the time. Even if you would have had to listen to me prattle on about something for 10 minutes longer than you would prefer to acknowledge my existence, it still would have ended with a good night of sleep. That’s because I’m a warrior. As much as you are uncomfortable with my problems, I’m 10 times more uncomfortable than you. I’m the one with the elevated heart rate and chest pain which doesn’t stop. I’m the one with the racing thoughts which replay every detail over and over and over again in my mind. I’m the one who won’t be able to sleep which means having these horrible sensations for at least another 8 hours. When you are a woman over 40 whose grandfather died of a heart attack at age 48, long before you were born, wondering if you are just having your usual panic attack or if you are having a heart attack, while home alone….not fun, people, not fun. I don’t choose that. How insane do you think I am? Have you seen my medicine cabinet? It’s no longer chemically possible for me to be chemically insane.

Fuck that shit! No. I make a plan because I’m not doing 2 days in a row like that. And, if I am doing something wrong, you can bet I’m going to stop that immediately so I can ensure I don’t have one of these bombs looming around for the future. By the time I started my day today, I had a strategy in place and by noon, I had my confidence back again. Not doing anything wrong. But it’s an excellent exercise to look at yourself through someone else’s lenses once in awhile just to be sure you stay on your toes and ready for the next challenge. I’d much rather be this person with the momentary freak out, open to feedback and change and committed to any new plans within 12 hours than the person someone else had to come to and tell why I’m failing at a job I thought I was doing well. Those people completely collapse and never get back up.

Thing is, when you are on a battlefield, so is everyone else around you. You’re all getting shot at. A whole bunch of you are on the ground bleeding just like me. Not unique. The difference is, I do let myself panic and probably pray to a God I’m not sure I believe in to forgive me all my sins in case I die and then I snap out of it. I rip my shirt off and tie off the wound and then figure out how to get to a medic. Everyone else is still laying there, bleeding out, waiting for someone else to arrive. Those are the people who move into your house with their problems. Those are the people who are a time suck to you. I feel the same way about them you do. I’m not them. I rip the bullet out of my stomach myself. By the time you are waiting for me to drop another shoe, I’m stitched up and wondering when I can get back out there. Believe it or not, a few minutes of compassion on your end….you might actually learn something. Imagine that.

A few weeks ago I had gotten the news that the hip pain I have been experiencing for years is actually due to quite terrible conditions and require a total hip replacement despite my younger age. I had tried to get my PCP to help me a few years ago but she told me it was probably Arthritis, which everyone gets with aging, and she could send me to Physical Therapy.

I am quite against Physical Therapy as a first line of defense of you don’t have an MRI to provide a full diagnosis. I have heard lots of stories, my father’s included, where people were sent for years of PT with the problem only getting worse. Only after years of no progress could they get an MRI and then would find out they have a surgical condition which cannot be helped by PT. Unfortunately, all that time inbetween was wasted while their conditions worsened and became emergencies which may have been avoidable.

I decided to get a new doctor this year to re- address the issue. When I first went in, she took and XRay, said she didn’t really see much and diagnosed it as bursitis. She gave me a cortisone shot and scheduled a follow up appointment 6 weeks out. She felt pretty confident the cortisone shot would work but she at least was open to the possibility it might not.

No surprise. It didn’t work at all. She then recommended PT. I put my foot down and said I wasn’t comfortable doing that unless I had a definitive diagnosis indicating PT was the correct course of action. She listened to me and ordered an MRI. I was prepared to be wrong. I was prepared to have something which might require minor surgery. What came back was shocking. Not only was I right, I needed a total hip replacement. I have FAI which is a congenital bone disease making hips grow wrong which eventually wears away at cartilage. It had also digressed to the point of causing a labral tear and some cysts.

If you discover a labral tear alone and early enough, at a young enough age, there is a surgery which can be done to repair the tear which will slow down cartilage erosion. Unfortunately, I am well beyond the point of preventative surgeries, because my original doctor wasn’t listening and likely caving in to insurance company demands without even trying to challenge it.

I was devastated. My new doctor told me that it’s 100% certain I need a total hip replacement which is the only way to remove the damaged cartilage, the labral tear and cysts. She said we could work on pain management for the next 10 to 20 years, anticipating how insurance would never approve surgery if I didn’t waste an appropriate amount of time on PT and more invasive cortisone injections requiring trips to the radiology department of the hospital.

I immediately started to cry. I explained to her that I am a fighter who discovers a problem and then solves that problem so I can move on. I, also an avid traveler whose trips have been sidelined by the pandemic so I was actually hoping I’d get whatever surgeries done now, recovery over the winter and be on an African Safari by next summer. I am not someone who “manages pain” and adapts to life as an invalid, especially during the best years of my life when I have both the time and money to do all my bucket list trips. I made it clear this was not an acceptable plan.

I asked her. If it is certain I need a hip replacement, why would we wait until I’m totally immobilized, having year over year downgrade of my quality of life. It’s about the insurance company, even though any reasonable surgeon would choose to operate right now. I asked her what I needed to do to work within the system. She scheduled me for a very invasive cortisone shot and PT. I wasn’t quite sure the point of PT where I don’t have a fixable issue but she explained I basically have to do it to prove it doesn’t work first. At least with the cortisone shot, there is a possibility I could get some pain relief but I am sure I can make a case for why I don’t want to depend on routine cortisone shots over a course of years. First and foremost most, they I,pact the immune system which I already have problems with. My fight to get a rheumatologist has also been going on, parallel to this one, for years.

Tonight was my first PT appointment. The first thing she said was to politely, but somewhat skeptically ask why I was there and what I thought I could get out of PT. Ahhhhh, I see she had looked at the results and also was unsure the point of PT. I could tell I got one who speaks my language. I was honest with her and said that, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, I don’t think PT can help this problem. In fact, I’m worried it might make the labral tear worse. I told her my only really hope and strategy would be to use PT to gain strength in preparing potential surgery and rehab. She asked when my surgery is scheduled.

I explained I haven’t seen a specialist yet as I wanted to show that I was doing PT, but that I planned to hook up with one from New England Baptist soon. When I told her 10-20 years had been suggested, her eyes went really wide and she stated very clearly that sounded insane – get the surgery as soon as you can.

She did a bunch of tests for my range and gait to see how bad my mobility is in order to assign the right strength building exercises. Then she asked if I felt I would even need to come back, was I good with doing the exercises at home? Meaning, “there really is nothing we can do here.” I told her I would like to come in once a week for the next 4 weeks both for accountability on my part bit to also demonstrate to the HMO “man” I was playing along. She agreed and told me she’d then make a new assessment after that 4 weeks.

I then ended the appointment by asking her if I’m reading this correctly. Am I understanding that you think PT can’t do anything and that surgery is inevitable? I then clarified that I didn’t mean to question her abilities or lack trust – that I totally trust her, just wanted to be clear I wasn’t misreading signals. She confirmed I understood everything correctly and her goal is to prepare me for surgery, that that’s all which can be done.

While this may all sound rather dire, no one really wants to have surgery, myself included, it’s the first day of hope I have experienced since getting my results. This is all stuff I can work with. These are problem solving techniques with actual steps to follow in order to obtain the correct outcome in less than a year, not 20. My inner warrior is back. My optimism is back. The fighter knows she can fix this and get back her life while it still matters. This is a situation my brain understand and can process. I’m actually excited to make an appointment with a surgeon. I’m aiming for my dad’s last surgeon who is the best in the country. He got half his medical training as a medic in Afghanistan rebuilding joints blown apartment by bombs. He will recognize the war inside my hip. He was literally the only surgeon in this country capable of fixing my father’s. I’m excited to match my warrior with his warrior. I think we probably also speak the same language.

I’m back. “It’s Brittany, Bitch!”

The idea of trying to write anything poignant after a 12 hour workday is a Herculean task. This is why I have never had the energy in the past to get serious or establish a routine. That said, I am ok with the idea of everything I write being bad or vapid for awhile simply so I can establish a habit and eventually get better at it.

I love my work. I am very much digging into it with my sleeves rolled up every day. I’m extremely passionate about what I do and what I advocate for. I just can’t talk about it in a public forum. That and the fact I don’t think many other people would find it as fascinating as I do.

My day became a 12 hour day because I am always eager to accommodate other people’s needs above my own. I have never been one to watch the clock and end my day at the specific time my “shift” ends. It’s very hard for me to keep commitments to myself or have much left in the tank. This is the time of day I settle into brainless activities like watching Bravo reality tv shows, surfing social media and doing crossword puzzles, followed by endless tik tok video perusing while in bed.

One commitment I have made to myself is that any time it’s a rainy day, I will do a bubble bath instead of a shower. I had my bathroom renovated pretty much around the desire to install a fabulous soaking tub. It’s my favorite thing in my house. All day today I knew that was ahead of me but by the time I finally finished working I thought it was just too much hassle and I didn’t have much “down” time ahead of me for the evening. I would still need to make dinner and respond to emails. But, I made a promise for a reason. I need that relaxation time to reset my nervous system and force my body to relax. Therefore, I did end up taking my bubble path. Plus, I can save time on dinner tonight because I have leftover homemade pesto from last night that is absolutely decadent.

This week is going to be extremely busy and very acutely focused on work, more so than usual so I may not have much to say in this forum. Bear with me. Again, this is about establishing a habit first. Then I will hold myself accountable to being more meaningful. A lot of my writing intent is to go deep into my life as a single woman, age 47, owning my own home and battling life’s catastrophes and moments of whim mostly alone. There really is a lot of meaty content there. A lot of it is around battling and managing mental illness. The fact I can dedicate myself so wholly and unapologetically to my job right now is a result of those illnesses “healing” and opening doors to productivity which is a really good thing.

Today I was listening to a Podcast from a couple years ago featuring Peter Krause. He’s one of my favorite actors ever since first seeing him in Six Feet Under. I was then reminded that one of my favorite scenes of anything I have ever watched was his performance of burying his first wife, Lisa. No matter how many times I see it, it completely guts me. I think it also has a lot to do with the context of the story line around her vs. Brenda and the choices he makes but often regrets. At the time that show was on, I related quite a bit to his character.

Here’s the scene. It’s worth watching. I just think it’s one of the best acting performance I have ever seen.

This then got me thinking about what other acting moments have always stayed with me; the kind you always know are going to happen because you’ve seen the scene multiple times but you still get moved by the performance.

There was another more recent one that stood out to me. It was Laura Linney’s Ozark performance relating to her mentally ill brother and the choice she had to make to “give him up” to the cartel. Again, one of the best acting performances I have ever seen. There’s actually more than one.

Then there is Helen Hunt in Castaway, the scene in the rain with Chuck and how you watch her realization happening as she watches him walk in front of the car to get in the driver’s side. Gets me every time.

These are the 3 which immediately came to mind. I would also say that Leonardo DiCaprios’s entire performance in Basketball Diaries and Robert Downey Jr. in Less Than Zero are pretty mesmerizing and gut wrenching as well.

In remembering and re-watching these scenes, I do pick up on a theme that makes me realize why these appeal to me as much as they do. They all deal with very complicated love situations where you know your heart but it’s not so simple to act on it. Having to make the hard choice or do the hard thing are things I recognize in myself. No matter how horrible the scenario is, there is an utter grief and breakdown in making that choice or doing that thing. Strong people aren’t unfeeling when they have to make hard choices. They don’t “feel” less pain than people who don’t end up being the ones to make the decisions. They don’t experience less loss. They don’t love less, I think they might actually love more. Sometimes, I think it’s also more painful for the “doers.”

I’m a “doer.” I am someone that knows how to do the hard things and when to turn the emotion switch off in myself in order to proceed. It doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings about what I have to do. It just means that I am acutely aware that in every “battle” a choice must be made, a step must be taken. Someone has to do it and most of the time, no one else Will and the problem continues to linger and take on added dimensions which make it even worse when the decision point has to come. So I am one of those people everyone knows will do the dirty work, even at expense to my own heart. I have my own emotional meltdowns that no one ever sees. I’m no less compassionate or feeling just because I can also pull a trigger. Honestly, it sucks being that person and I often go through my own pain alone.

While each scene and scenario are different from any I have faced, the angst that each one demonstrates absolutely taps into my soul and I feel the performances as if they were me in those very moments. The word “execute” comes to mind and could be used to define the actions of each character in some way. It’s also a word used frequently to describe me.

Interesting revelation today. All from the first half of a podcast.

I was doing errands today and on the way home, there was a women’s rights group at the rotary. It was very lively, people honking their horns in support, giving thumbs up, waving as they went by. It was such a positive vibe. I was impressed by just how many men were also there holding their own signs in support of a woman’s right to choose what do with her body. Seeing the men was the coolest part.

Every once in awhile, I go through these phases of beating myself up for being single, for never holding down long term relationships or being married. I think back to all the shortcomings I had in my 20s and all the mistakes I may have made. What could I have done differently in some of those relationships to have been “chosen” as wife? Do any of those men ever think back to me and wonder, what if? What if they had made it work with me instead of the wife they did choose?

Most of the time being single doesn’t bother me as I have a very full life. But as I look into my future years and how I want to end those years, marriage comes back up for me as something I wonder may actually not happen…maybe the chance has passed and was supposed to be one of those old boyfriends. I kind of assumed it might eventually happen for me but now I am starting to think it won’t and am trying to figure out what an alternative future will look like from here on out.

That said, a lot has changed with relationships in 20 years. I’m not sure I would have seen men at a women’s march 20 years ago. Yet, that’s absolutely the type of man I want to be with now. I wouldn’t have known that about myself then because the topics didn’t really exist outside female conversations. Additionally, rights weren’t really a topic of conversation amongst women that much either. Women were talking about guys and relationships because that’s what we were conditioned to be thinking about then – the pursuit and landing of a husband. Now, when talking to female friends, all we talk about is rights in some format, never anything about relationships. Our Brains have been allowed to evolve.

In the car, I was also listening to a podcast featuring Dan Savage as a guest. He’s an openly gay columnist, has been writing for years. He’s done various advice columns geared towards sexual content. He talked about how he didn’t just answer “gay” sex questions; he would answer any sex questions. His being gay didn’t mean he needed to cordon himself off to only one population. Straight people have given advice to gay people. What’s the difference? Why do we need to think about sex through the filter of biological design? I’d never really thought of it that way but it makes a lot of sense. Relationships are relationships regardless of who they are with. Sure, some of the specific sex acts and environments might be slightly nuanced towards orientation but the tenets are all the same. We would never be thinking about something like this or talking about it 20 years ago.

He continued to talk about the phrase he coined of “monogamish” in response to the beliefs everyone was expected to marry one person and remain faithful to that one person for the rest of their lives despite it going against our actual “animal” nature. We believe if someone has sex outside the marriage, they can’t possible really love their spouse. We believe if they have sex outside the marriage it’s because they are a bad person, never that the other spouse may have contributed to the problem. People who have been married decades are considered marriage failures for one indiscretion along the way. People get divorced over the one slip up. We are supposed to believe we fall short of something if he sleeps with another woman or that everything in our relationships is a lie. We shame spouses who stay with cheating spouses.

I don’t really know where I fall on the spectrum but even that is an evolution of my thinking from 20 years ago. When I got cheated on then, I was devastated. Physical touch, sex….those are my love languages. As long as I know I’m the only one he is doing those things with, I know I am desired and loved and enough. When he did it with someone else, I had to grapple with the idea everything I believed was wrong, that he was a bad person, a devious person, that he never had real feelings for me. The self esteem issues it caused then have actually followed me across the decades and impact me still. But if I look back at that time with the way I process information now, I have some different perspectives.

For example, one guy married a woman he was dating back then even while he was still sleeping with me while dating her. Does that mean their entire marriage is a lie and he can’t truly love her? I actually don’t believe that. I think there is real love there and a marriage built on many solid traits. Was he just using me? Did he not have real feelings for me? That’s what I thought then but it’s not what I think now. I believe he actually cared about me quite a bit. I don’t think his feelings for me were ever in doubt. She and I just represented different things to him at one moment in time. And, if having children was a really important goal for him, he chose the woman who wanted to also have children. That wasn’t my thing.

We were drunk at a friend’s party one night and went off to talk by ourselves on a field behind their house. We hadn’t talked in awhile because of some fight but he kept “lurking” all night trying to find a way into a conversation with me….managed to finally corner me at a keg and ask about my dog to get me to make eye contact with him and speak. Someone who doesn’t love you doesn’t do that. On the field, he told me he actually could see himself ending up with me in the future; just not right now, the timing was off. He was right about the timing. I moved a few thousand miles away just a couple months later to start a new life. He did the same and got married. Was he lying by what he said to me? No, I don’t think he was. I actually think it was the purest, most honest thing he had ever said to me. Should his wife have been worried about that? Not at all. He still married her. It’s just not simple. Yet, 20 years ago, we wanted to make everything simple so we didn’t have to hurt our hearts or brains to really think. Thinking about the “grey” areas could mean admitting we had no control or that marriage wasn’t really a guarantee against any of the monstrosities we were told it would save us from. A ring and a piece of paper doesn’t mean he won’t fuck someone else or love someone else or sometimes wonder if getting married was a mistake. In our old way of thinking, she was just never supposed to find out about that stuff…it didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen.

Having a ring and a piece of paper shouldn’t be things we wave over his head to remind him of his commitment for all he gave up or as a threat over hormones neither he nor she should be able to minimize and control. We are the only animal that insists on monogamy and any dent in the veneer is supposed to mean something huge. Is that true, though? Does it have to be?

If I had a relationship right now, I can’t say I’d be ok with him fucking around and I hope he wouldn’t be ok with me doing it either. Under current assumptions, I think that would be devastating. But does it have to be? I was thinking about this the other night and how I think I could plan for it in a way that didn’t need to be relationship altering. I’d say that I didn’t want it to be with any one person more than once, no emotional connection. That it had to be something I would never find out about or become suspicious of and he couldn’t get any STDs or anyone pregnant. Also, that if he were doing it because of a problem in our relationship, then he wasn’t allowed to do it and it couldn’t be something that would make him want to end our relationship. My expectation would be to confront me directly about what problem he was having and allow me to be part of that conversation and potential solution. But if it were just a hormonal urge for fun and my above conditions were met, would it be so bad? Maybe not. Not to mention, to be able to do something I wouldn’t find out about or become suspicious of is nearly a Herculean task because I have incredibly strong intuition and the ability to see patterns no one else sees. That alone would probably prevent it from ever happening. It’s just that I don’t like to enter anything in a naive way and I prefer to have a plan for things so that when life’s complications do happen, they don’t rip the foundations out of my life.

I was in a relationship a number of years ago which was highly unconventional and widely criticized. He was married but had been separated. We had also had a relationship once long before that marriage. I wasn’t thrilled with myself for getting into this but it wasn’t a black and white situation. Others certainly tried to make it black and white in order to assign right from wrong but I think that had more to do with their own marital insecurities than anything else. We weren’t talking about a future. We were just following our feelings in that moment, allowing it to play out to either them eventually getting divorced or eventually reconciling. I was ok being there in-between and not knowing that answer. People could not get their heads around it. But they weren’t me or him. They didn’t know what conversations took place between us and what expectations we set with each other. Also, the wife wasn’t exactly home making pies every night. She had her own thing going too as she was aware of me.

What was weird about the situation is that I actually slept with someone else while seeing him. Technically, I was allowed to do it. He was in no position to demand any commitment or piety from me. It did feel a little weird to me when it happened, though. Weird in that I understood I wasn’t in the wrong and there were no rules but weird in that he was the one I cared about, not the random from a bar. Thing is, the random from the bar wasn’t someone I had any feelings for. It was a moment in time off a really fun evening I was having after meeting this guy. I literally had a physical urge to fuck him. He Literally lifted me up and threw me over his shoulder which was absolutely hilarious to me. There was no emotion attached to it. It was just a natural progression of the night and I don’t regret it.

Initially, I thought my “relationship” guy would be upset about it. It didn’t feel like the sort of thing I could hide from him. We were all about brutal honesty and knew we could end at any moment. The one rule we did have was no secrets from each other. We each needed to know what we were up against, especially me because there was a wife who could have come back into the picture at any time. I was always clear that I would exit if she came back committed. Until then, we did our thing. When I met him for dinner the next night I told him about it. He knew immediately something was up. He wasn’t at all upset with me. He said it made him a little jealous and that it hurt to imagine me with someone else but that he had no claims to me and I was free to do whatever made me happy. Then, he told me he loved me.

According to the “rules” that wasn’t supposed to happen. I was either not supposed to tell him or he was supposed to have some angry outburst, even if it made him a hypocrite. Or, if I truly loved him, I wouldn’t have had an urge to fuck someone else. We were supposed to have a screaming match at the table and one of us walk out in disgust; never to speak again. Nope. He doubled down on loving me and we ordered dinner. Had a great night. That wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago. This relationship wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago. Love certainly wouldn’t have been involved 20 years ago.


EI’m really glad that conversations have changed and people are willing to dive into the deep and dark corners. I am someone with anxiety. To expect that a ring and a piece of paper would somehow protect me would probably drive me crazy and require sedatives for most of my marriage. I’m too smart to think “rules” and signatures and swollen fingers keep a dick in a guy’s pants or keep him from lusting over his kid’s teacher or that I’m not lusting after his kid’s teacher. If I am lucky enough to find the right relationship at this stage in my life, I want the signatures and swollen finger and vows in front of our people because I would believe in the truth and sanctity of our relationship above all else. Sex is just one part of it. For me, it’s actually a very important part of my relationships and it’s critical that what it means with me in our relationship can not be challenged by anything outside of our relationship. I think I would prefer to minimize the threat by creating a safe way for “accidents to happen” that actually don’t need to mean anything at all.

Around my Junior year of High School, I became close friends with three guys, Mike M., Mike S. and Matt. They were a year behind me. I don’t recall what started it. I think we may all have been in one of the same classes. In Honors classes in our school, it wasn’t uncommon to have 2 grades of kids mixed together and we were all smart kids.

I’m guessing sarcasm had to be involved because we all have it in spades. I must have reacted to something one of them said and then we were friends. What we all had in common were family dysfunction. Not that any family comes without dysfunction but we were in a private, Catholic High School so we came from backgrounds where impressions were important and families in that school tended to be heavy on facades. We were part of a larger group of students whose families were all trying to show a similar narrative and what made us different from most students is that we didn’t play along with our parents. We all questioned authority and we all understood the hypocrisy of our situations. Definitely a powerful thread which held us together.

Mike M. Would be the least dysfunctional but had a terrible family situation. His parents were quite lovely, especially his mother who would often sit at the kitchen table and chat with his friends. She used to advise me “ this too shall pass” which is a phrase I have kept with me all these years as a coping mechanism for difficult times. I remember, in the deepest ruts of pain, I just need to be patient and ride it out because it will lessen with time. She was not wrong. Unfortunately, she died of cancer very young. It was incredibly tragic. He had the down to earth mom and was the one who had to lose significantly. He also had a deeply troubled younger brother. He seemed to want to be part of a gang and was often violent. He would frequently instigate fights in the house, both verbally and physically. I was so uncomfortable around him because there was no telling how he was going to behave. We spent most of our time hanging out in Mike’s room to avoid him. Mike was unique, liked very different music from the mainstream and was a writer. He didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought of him. He owned his eccentricities and embraced what he liked, even when I would pick on some of his musical choices and call it “butter churning” music. No idea where I came up with that. Anyway, he was so authentically himself and rich in knowledge. Very cool person to be around.

Mike S., I never totally understood his issue with his parents other than he hated them. Although, I believe they were Jewish, or 1 parent was Jewish so going to a Catholic High School probably seemed a bit “off” to him. He used his father’s first name when addressing him and it wasn’t a method of endearment or a cultural thing. I had a different friend in Junior High whose family was Scottish and they referred to their parents as John and Doreen as though everyone did that. Mike referring to “Beryl” was not so benign. It was also such an unfortunate name that I think Mike liked to focus on it for a reason. He was just always angry at his parents, there was no respect in how they communicated with each other. It was super uncomfortable going into their house as I was raised to be very respectful to my friends’ parents and I did it there but they seemed confused by a polite child and I felt like I was pissing Mike off by being polite. We just never hung out at that house. His motivation each day was finding a reason to get out of the house, even if it just meant driving around with friends and not really going anywhere.

Then there was Matt. I was in love with him, quite unrequited, but he still went all in on being a best friend regardless. He knew but he didn’t rub my nose in it or think I had ulterior motives anytime I was nice to him. In fact, he’s the only man I have ever known who could just have this knowledge and move on, simply separate it and treat me like the friend I chose to be. He was amazing in that way. We had a very deep, soulful connection I haven’t really had with a male friend since then. His whole house was filled with apathy and anger. His father had a lot of issues – Vietnam vet just like my dad. Matt was the middle of 3 kids and seemed to be the one bearing the brunt of his father’s problems. Another one not referred to as “dad” but RK instead. Although, at home on his own, pretty sure he addressed him as dad, just not when talking about him to us. His parents went through a divorce during this time as well. Another one who wanted to be out of his house at all times.

We all hung out a lot, whether it was all 4 of us, just me and Mike M., or Mike S., me and Matt. There were different dynamics in different combos but the 4 of us could still blend as a group. For instance, Mike S. Was more likely to be the one to use drugs and Mike M., while Matt didn’t care either way. I thought drugs were bad and a cry for help so sometimes drugs were the topic and sometimes they weren’t at all. Yet, I could tell Mike M. All about what was going on with the other Mike and Matt even if he didn’t see that stuff so I consider him just as much a player. These really were very elevated, unique friendships that all completed each other.

We hung out together a lot. I saw U2, Rush and a few other concerts with Matt and Mike S – we had music very much in common. I remember trips to Callahan State Park where we’d just hang out. I think we would just drive around a lot and stop to smoke butts. Camel Lights were the big “to do” with us, collecting camel points to actually buy Joe Camel merchandise. We thought we were funny. Looking back, clearly duped by big tobacco just as they wanted to entice teens into smoking.

Weekend nights, there was occasionally some drinking. It was just me, Matt and Mike S. Mike M. Was actually the responsible one and also had a girlfriend so he didn’t get dragged into our debauchery. God, to be that confident and self assured so young, what a gift he had. I really envy that. Anyway, there was some drinking but not a ton. My parents behaved as though I was out drinking all the time. I wasn’t allowed to go to any Senior year graduation parties because they assumed I was far worse than I really was. I just wasn’t into drinking. Somebody gave me a beer once at a party with my 3 years older ex boyfriend and it was gross. I “passed” at those parties by pretending to be drunk when I wasn’t. I just didn’t drink in High School. I’d watch other people do it but then I’d be the driver. I was often so worried Mike S or Matt would OD on something I needed to be the “straight” one in order to look after them. That was my role.

In fact, when you hear someone say someone spilled beer on them to explain why they smell of booze, that actually was true with me. There was one Saturday night we were at Mike S’ house, no idea where his family was. We were in the backyard and I distinctly recall there being a fish pond being built. The guys were definitely getting drunk and one of them literally dumped a whole beer on my shirt. I had borrowed my mom’s car and was terrified of what would happen when I got home. No surprise, my parents were in bed when I got home but I heard my mother’s voice calling me up to their room. She assumed I had been drinking and made me go up to her side of the bed so she could smell me. I told her the honest truth, the guys had been drinking but I hadn’t. One of them spilled on me and that was all that happened. She didn’t believe me and I got in trouble. Do you know how many kids are actually out there doing asshole things behind their parent’s backs? A lot. I was not one of them but I certainly got treated like one.

I didn’t start drinking until college where I apparently felt the need to make up for lost time and get to behave the way my parents had already proscribed me. I was drinking, smoking and doing pot ….and hooking up with guys. Total 180 from High School. I slept with one guy in High School and made it clear that there wasn’t going to be anyone else. I loved him. When we broke up, it wasn’t like I gave myself a sex license. Sex was for someone I loved. I didn’t love any of the boys I dated after that and I resented some of them because I think they felt I was a sure thing having had an older, steady boyfriend . Funny, my parents thought the same thing….that I was just going to have sex with everyone. People really underestimate me a lot. It’s annoying.

Despite all the college partying, I hated being there. During the first semester, I made my parents come get me every other weekend so I could hang out at home with the guys. on the weekends I stayed at school, they often came up and visited. We always drank then. It actually came on really hard and fast for me. I started out drinking them. Matt started getting concerned. There was one time I went home for Homecoming Weekend and spent the day with them. I got so wasted I knew I couldn’t let my parents be the ones to drive me back to school that night. So I went home real quick, grabbed my bag and told them the guys were driving me back up instead. They knew I had been drinking and were right that time.

It had escalated so quickly that Matt had a real talking to with me that night he drove me back to school. He said something about me “having no resolve” which is a phrase that has stuck with me over the years. I promised him that night I would quit drinking and believe it or not, I actually started going to AA meetings for a bit. Matt even come to some with me. I remember then saying I was an alcoholic and even telling my parents. I took it pretty seriously for awhile. And then I didn’t. I somehow decided I wasn’t an alcoholic. I had just been an over protected teenager over indulging in a behavior I hadn’t been partaking of in high school like so many others. I decided I was a typical cliche college kid getting a taste of freedom for the first time and I never looked back.

My friendships with the guys eventually faded as they all went to college. There was no internet then, no cell phones. We used to talk on the phone a ton but once we were all in different places for school, we pretty went our separate ways. I’ve always been pretty sad about that. These friendships truly were some of the most important relationships I have ever had – men I could truly be myself around, men who respected me, protected me. I would never again encounter anything so pure, trustworthy and uncomplicated with male friendships.

I caught up with Matt a number of years later when he was being hospitalized in Boston. He had moved to NY and then CA post college and gotten heavily into the drug and alcohol scene; nearly died. So he came home to rehab and recover and we chatted periodically through that time. Then he disappeared back to CA again for awhile and we lost touch for a bit until he got married. We were on the Instagram together with his wife for awhile where I got to see him have 3 daughters while experiencing a healthy, happy life. They dropped from Instagram again and now we aren’t in touch anymore.

‘Mike S. I have never reconnected with. Although, I do believe he followed Matt to CA for a time, which is something they had always been talking about. They wanted to be in the film industry and they actually moved out there just like they had planned. Matt did get into the industry but no idea whatever happened to Mike S. I was able to reconnect with Mike M. Via social media within the past couple of years and am really happy about that. He has pursued writing full time and is living the life he had always planned. He’s a wonderful friend I am grateful to have back in the circle. It’s actually pretty impressive that all 3 of them pursued exactly the dreams they had in High School. I’m the only one who seemed to be dangling without purpose and didn’t land anywhere remotely near anything I had been aiming for. Maybe that’s what Matt meant he said I had no resolve. I guess he could clearly see the future and he wasn’t wrong.

Fascinating the wisdom and resolve of 3 boys in High School. All of them, my best and dearest friends. Yet none of that rubbed off on me. I continued floundering and struggling, not able to catch up to my own identity until in my 40s, after careers, adventure and love have passed quite far over me. The drinking wasn’t the issue. That died down as soon as college was over and I got a job. I drank socially and had my moments of being tipsy but never wasted. I considered my short trips to AA a very dramatic overreaction and something I am actually embarrassed about now. I took myself way to seriously. It never ended up being a problem until a couple years after gastric bypass surgery. Even then, I was still just a social drinker. The difference was I got drunk really fast off of very little and it was easy to not have a stopping point when I didn’t have a chance to reason with myself.

It was August 29th, 2014. 1 year and about 4 months after I had survived the Boston Marathon Bombing. It was also my nephew, Charlie’s first birthday which our family had just celebrated the Sunday before as a dual birthday/christening celebration. I had just been named his Godmother, alongside my brother who was named his Godfather. My parents had just passed papers selling their custom built, Bristol, New Hampshire house to buy a house on Cape Cod in Brewster, MA. They would be moving in a few weeks.

I was about a year and a half into my Masters Degree with Boston University and trying to figure out how to transition from my current career in financial services into a career in Health Communication. Every job I had seen so far was entry level, which didn’t bother me from a learning and starting standpoint, but there was about a $50,000 pay cut involved which was out of the question on a single woman’s income while having a mortgage. Part of the BU program involved free academic and career counseling so I had scheduled an appointment to meet with an advisor for that Friday afternoon 8/30.

I left work early that day to give myself time to drive into Boston. I was also looking forward to being in the city where I might find a new place to stop for a drink, outside my usual Southern, NH haunts. Unfortunately, the traffic was horrendous and far worse than I had planned for and the longer I sat on 128 without moving, the more evident it became I wasn’t going to make the appointment on time so I called from the road and canceled. I then proceeded to get off at the Burlington exit and turn around to head back home.

My new plan was to stop at the house, take the dog out and change before heading to my usual bar, where I would meet up with the new guy I had just started seeing. I remember feeling pretty half assed about him. He was on the shorter, skinnier side which is not my type at all. I don’t like being with a guy I perceive to be smaller than me. I had just been talking to a friend about this hang up and that being the reason I wasn’t taking him seriously. Plus, I met him at a bar which I also knew never to take seriously. But she told me to give it a chance and keep an open mind. Honestly, going to meet up with him that night was more about me having someone to hang out with at the bar than it was about developing a romantic interest.

That said, we got our signals crossed on timing. I was earlier than expected because I had skipped my appointment and he was working later than expected and kind of decided we probably weren’t meeting up so he didn’t have any real urgency to showing up which annoyed me. I may not have a deep, vested interest in a person or subject but when I have decided I want to do something or I have it in my head how I expect things to play out, I accept nothing less and get peeved….which I let him know with some very stern texts. Even still, for a guy I didn’t care too much about, I was having an overblown reaction, even for me. I think somewhere in the texts was something ridiculous like “if I don’t see you here tonight, I won’t see you ever again.” I’m embarrassed just typing it out now. I am not an ultimatum kind of girl, I don’t threaten. I wouldn’t say that to someone I was deeply in love with and had built up frustration towards. Words like that just don’t come from me, no matter how impatient I may get or whatever disappointment I may be experiencing. Believe me, I had years upon years of “girlfriend” experience with late or canceled dates due to “sorry, golf took longer than expected” or “I lost my keys on the beach and had to dig around for hours.” Whether or not those things were ever true, I will never know and I don’t care. I responded calmly to those things every time and just left it with “have a good time with your friends we can catch up tomorrow.

I was definitely in a “mood” that night. While I was receiving therapy for PTSD and trying various methods for managing my anxiety, I was still knee deep in survivor’s guilt and drinking was how I managed that sector of feelings. I had one bar I especially liked because the bartender knew me and she never left me with an empty glass. I was a binge drinker so there was no time in between and I often went about 5-6 beers deep in one sitting. If I were with people I knew, add a shot or 2 to that mix. So that’s the bar I was at that night.

Just the day before, I had tried acupuncture for the first time. A friend of mine, who was also experiencing PTSD from the marathon, had been doing acupuncture to manage a back problem but found it benefitted her PTSD. Plus, we knew the practitioner from High School and she had her own business. So I trusted the practice immediately because we knew how smart our friend is, that she even studied in China for awhile. People sometimes think practitioners of holistic health are crackpots and I am never entirely sure if there is truth in the stuff either. But I am guided by 2 thoughts on it. The first being, if it can’t hurt you, it’s absolutely worth trying. The second being that is it’s someone I know and went to school with, I am very certain of their level of intelligence and know they don’t have a “crackpot” bone in their bodies. I give you the same assessment on chiropractors as one of my best friends is one and she is fascinating. I can spend hours listening to her talk about how the body and nerve system work. She’s legit.

The effects of acupuncture aren’t always felt the first time. You kind of have to go a few times for a cumulative effect. That said, she did warn me that I might experience a “healing crisis” after this first appointment, it didn’t describe too much what that might look like. I guess a little over emotional. At the time, I hadn’t made the connection but looking back now, I am certain that’s what was going on that Friday and was driving my behavior at the bar that night. 100%.

I was drinking my beers alone and having a great time checking my social media, chatting with my bartender, talking to the people next to me. I had lobbed my threat off to the boy and expected never to see him again because I knew the threat was outrageous and unreasonable. What guy would actually respond to something that arrogant? Don’t they all say they hate “crazy” women who pull shit like that? I was drunk but I still knew I was way out of line.

He showed up. So, ladies, if you have been second guessing yourself all these years as to why they call you crazy, they hate you but they stick around and then say they hate crazy….it’s a real thing. You aren’t crazy. They really do it and they just hoist the “crazy” label onto you because they know they are the ones with the waffling behavior and they can’t explain themselves to their peer group when they really do want you but their friends think they are nuts.

I digress. He had shown up and we did a grape crush shot. It was a nostalgic choice of mine linked to the last guy I had been involved with. He was a big fan of them so every time we met up at a bar, there was always one waiting for me. He was peripherally linked to my marathon bombing experience and kind of the reason I was in the place where I was at the time the bombs went off. Had I been in any of the other 5 locations I had considered minutes before, I’d be dead or severely wounded. Where I was had not been a coincidence so my memories of him were still following me. We had the nastiest break up but I also felt this weird gratitude towards him which was something else I thought about when I was drinking.

The boy told me he had picked up an early shift the next morning so he couldn’t stay long but wanted to see me, even if it was for just one drink. After the shot, he left and I stuck around to drink a few glasses of water to sober myself up before driving home. Yes, I drove drunk frequently during this period of time. I am not at all proud of it. I had this weird single girl reasoning in my head about needing to be cautious about money which is why I didn’t want to call a cab, as well as the safety concerns of being a drunk girl alone in a can with a stranger. For some reason, I felt it was more fiscally responsible and physically safer to “take care of myself.” That’s the kind of idiotic reasoning which occurs in a drunk brain left alone to make its own decisions.

There was a McDonalds just a few buildings up from the bar so I figured I’d drive the super short distance there, get a hamburger and then park the car for awhile to eat and stay off the road. I was attempting to do the “right thing” even though it was still wrong. I measured “wrong” by degrees. I was t out of the parking lot for 10 seconds before realizing I was being pulled over by a cop so I pulled right into the McDonalds parking lot to deal with that. I knew I was in deep shit.

I got handcuffed and arrested after failing the sobriety test. I literally got put in the back of a police car and driven to the police department where I proceeded to get booked and have a mug shot taken. I was absolutely mortified, terrified I’d lose my job, unsure of what I’d tell my parents, no idea who I was going to call for help or how I’d get my car back. Once I got put into the jail cell, I melted down into a massive panic attack, combined with an asthma attack. I didn’t have my inhaler with me and was gasping for air, begging for medical help and to be taken to a hospital. I remember the officer on duty saying “if you can ask for help, you aren’t really having an asthma attack.” Asshole. I certainly was having trouble breathing and it didn’t get better until I finally did get home and use my inhaler. I’m a privileged white girl who was just thrown in the drunk tank for a few hours. If you think those stories of people dying because of lack of medical attention are exaggerations, you are grossly mistaken. Imagine how much worse I would have been treated had I been Black. Trust me, police are abusive and overly hopped up on their masculinity and power.

Additionally, when I eventually read the officer report of the arrest, I saw that she had lied about the circumstances in which she said she had cause to pull me over. She had said something about yellow lines and swerving that she observed from a certain direction she was coming from, but had she really been coming from that direction, she wouldn’t have seen me at all. To this day, while I was guilty, I promise you, I didn’t cross the yellow lines. It was physically impossible for that to have happened in this scenario. She had just been sitting in the bar parking lot and decided to follow out the “red car.” There was a rumor that had been happening recently all over Nashua, specifically towards the end of the month when quotas were more important. They were just following people out of bar parking lots banking on the odds they’d bag someone. It had actually happened to a friend of mine months before after we had met for dinner. He was sober but they followed him out of the lot and put him through all the sobriety tests before letting him go. I am not sharing this to absolve or excuse myself in any way. She made a “lucky” choice and I am fortunate in that so that I did not harm anyone else on the road, something I would never have been able to live with. I just want you to know, they do lie, they can be shady and they do cheat the system. Black people aren’t lying to us.

Back to cell. I don’t know how long I was I there, probably 4-5 hours. I had suffered a complete nervous breakdown. This was the worst possible thing I could have done and it wasn’t something I was going to be able to keep solely to myself. I knew I was getting my license revoked for at least 8 months, regardless of any other outcomes which might occur after hiring a lawyer. I had no idea how I was going to get to and from work, that’s all I cared about….paying my bills and staying employed. I’d never be able to get hired anywhere else with a “record” so I had to hang onto what I had, no matter what. I was totally out of my element as a criminal and taking advice from the boy on the phone as my 1 phonecall. He told me not to allow a breathalyzer test because the outcome could be worse than just taking it on the chin with an 8 month license suspension. I literally needed advice on how to be a criminal.

The boy came to bail me out. By the way, he was also a little younger than me. The asshole police officer asked if this was my son. He was a few years younger but not that much. This officer was literally trying to be a dick on purpose because the boy was nervous about my breathing and asked if they had done anything to help me which they knew they had not. On the drive home, all I could do was apologize profusely for making him bail me out and driving me home. I also had to pump him for info on what was next. He had to explain to me how to get my car back from the impound lot, that I’d need to pay in cash and I’d need a lawyer.

I went into my normal task oriented “execute” mode and called a cab, had the cab drive me to the bank and wait for me so I could withdraw cash from the atm, then drop me off in the worst part of town at an impound lot while I waited for it to open to get my car back. I’d have 30 days where I could still drive before having to stay off the road so I also went through a mental list of all the appointments and errands I’d need to get done in a short period of time. I made sure to schedule my flu and pneumonia shot. Yes, this is the kind of stuff popping into my mind during this crisis. I was trying to put off the inevitable phone call I would need to make to my parents later that day.

Honestly, if I could have thought of a way to get through this without telling them anything, I would have. I was so ashamed of myself. I knew my family had been worrying about me for a while but just standing by the side and not saying anything because they wanted to respect my space and my process. I also don’t think they knew it had gotten this bad. They were very understanding about the PTSD. My father has it, they get it. They are very tolerant and non judgmental about the various behaviors which can come with it. But my dad never used alcohol as a treatment so they hadn’t seen that aspect before. The only reason I did tell them was because of the 8 months I wouldn’t be able to drive. I visited them frequently so there would be no way to dodge them for 8 months. I also needed to be able to pick up groceries, prescriptions and get my hair done every 6 weeks. Yes, that was part of the “list” I’d need rides for.

When I called them, I expected so much criticism. It’s how they had dealt with me my entire life. They were quite comfortable rubbing my nose in the shit of my mistakes and reminding me of all my personal shortcomings so I braced myself for it and told myself, “this time you deserve it so just take it and don’t talk back. Keep your mouth shut, do whatever they tell you to do and hunker down for 8 months of free reign criticism.” But that’s not at all how they responded. My father actually told me this could happen to anyone, even him. It doesn’t even take that much alcohol to be over the legal limit and “normal” people drive like that far more often than they admit – that I just got caught, I hadn’t done anything a lot of other people weren’t doing. They also showed great empathy towards me for how much I must have been internally suffering from the bombing and they were so incredibly sorry for my pain. They offered to call my siblings to tell them for me so I didn’t have to keep re-experiencing this trauma.

True to form, Dad went into problem solving mode. He said something about how if he could get me out of this, he would but that this was something he didn’t have any experience with and he didn’t know any criminals so he just didn’t have any advice at the moment. He knew this was the kind of thing you can’t get your kid out of and that I’d have to walk the walk through the whole thing but he would help me any way he could. A few minutes after I got off the phone with my parents, the phone rang again and it was my dad. He realized he did know someone who knew criminals “Rick, the builder. I called him. He spends a lot of time down your way and he gave me the name of the best lawyer for this. He’s got lots of friends who have been through this.” Rick the builder was a really colorful guy who had built my parents’ house and also shared a boat slip with my dad so we saw him often and really enjoyed him. But you could also tell he’d been around the block and knew some elements our family hadn’t been experienced with.

This call from my dad actually made us both laugh. He was so proud of himself for finding a resource and dipping his toes into the criminal world to help. He was also a little excited I was going to get a good lawyer who had a history of dealing with the Nashua police. Again, no one was absolving me here. But a little “stick it to the police” was warranted. I also think there was an underlying theme around not passing judgment on people. You hear stories about people getting arrested for DUI and you just assume they are all scumbags, which the police also assume. It’s more likely that they are real human beings battling a deep trauma and using a substance their genes predestined them to, just like the alcoholic genes in my family. Deep down, I was a harmless, caring, wonderful person who wouldn’t hurt a fly, doing something to soothe my pain which could have killed other people. Never my intent, I think I was really playing Russian roulette with myself. Other people didn’t enter my thought process because all I could think about was guilt over surviving that bombing. It’s just so much more complicated than people like us can really explain. I actually considered myself lucky to have been arrested for this. It could have been a lot worse.

That weekend my mom came and got me because she insisted I shouldn’t be alone so I went back to their house and stayed in bed for 3 days straight as I headed into a major depressive episode. I skipped work that Monday. I called my boss and told him what happened because I knew I had to report it at work for compliance reasons and he’d see the report. I called our compliance office to find out if I was going to get fired and what the next steps were. They were actually pretty great. They assured me this wasn’t going to get me fired at all. I needed to report it for compliance reasons and it would be on file related to my financial licenses but that no one other than my immediate boss would know and it wasn’t a fireable offense. In fact, they said “ you wouldn’t believe how many of your co-workers have been through this. We just had a call from a mom who got pulled over after a work outing on her way to pick her kid up from daycare. It happens all the time at all levels in this company.” I felt relieved by that.

Next was getting back to work and figuring out a plan for commuting when my 30 days was up. I looked into bus lines. I calculated how much it would cost to take cabs every day. I web searched everything I could think of and was coming up with nothing. In the meantime, my boss finally pulled me into his office at the end of that first week. “So we need to talk about the message you left me and stop avoiding it. This isn’t a big deal, Christine. I’m not upset with you. I’ve done it, my friends have done, your co-workers and friends have done it. You just got caught. That’s all. You’re not a bad person and this doesn’t impact your job.” I normally wasn’t a big fan of that boss but he was pretty amazing on this. We’d later find out he had a substance abuse problem himself so it makes sense looking back on it. When his issue blew up and did cost him his job, I was able to show him a level of grave no one else did. I texted him to let him know that I was sorry about what happened, that I didn’t judge him and that if he ever needed anything, he could talk to me.” He never responded which is fine. I just know myself and that had this not happened to me, I would have been incredibly damning of him as I had always been the “ right and wrong” police until I learned from personal experience, just how grey the in between lines can truly be.

A co-worker and friend picked up on my stress and pulled me into a conference room one day to find out what was going on with me. I made her swear on her first born child to never tell anyone what I was about to tell her, that it could never get out at work because I would be judged and they’d have a real reason to never promote me. She promised. When I told her how I was trying to figure out how to get to and from work the next 8 months, she offered to drive me. I was on her way so it was easy for her. I took her up on it. I had no other choice. I felt terrible every day for putting her through this inconvenience but she never once complained and she went out of her way to keep my secret. If people saw us getting in or out of her car together or walking into the office together, she was always prepared to say she was helping me out while my car was in the shop. She saved my life and my job. By solving this problem, I was able to obtain some type of “normalcy” in order to get through those 8 months without feeling like a total loser.

During that time, I also met with my lawyer and prepared for court. He watched the video of me in the police department. He said he was actually impressed with how clear headed I was and that my speech was incredibly coherent. He said they were even bringing in some guy in shackles behind me while I was standing at the front desk and I was completely unphased by it. While he knew I was guilty because I admitted it to him, he felt there were some overreactions and flaws in the police department’s process. He felt we might be able to fight the charges altogether but there was a chance we could lose. Despite my confidence in him, the consequences of losing, even if chances were slim, were consequences which would have had me not driving for probably another 2 years and I couldn’t put that onus on anyone else. I needed to be back on the road in 8 months, no matter what. Plus, I’m an Irish Catholic. We have incredible guilt and repentance issues. I knew I was guilty. I didn’t feel right about trying to fight the charges. I wanted to accept responsibility in a way which would have the fewest and least painful consequences. 8 months off the road and $6000 to the state were easy to live with. Plus, he got the charges downgraded quite a bit and it’s just something I’d have to have on my record until it eventually ages off….a timeline I believe has now passed.

It’s a humbling process to be a privileged, good, white girl sitting in a courtroom with a bunch of other criminals pleading their own cases. I went to court but it’s a process of sitting and waiting to be called while a bunch of other cases are handled. I was sitting near people brought in from jail, in their jail wardrobe and shackled. While I was scared of them, I also had the presence of mind to consider myself no better than them. That was the first time I started understanding white privilege. I didn’t have that phrase in my vocabulary at the time but I understood I had done something just as bad as they did. However, I had family support, I had my job, I could afford the top lawyer and I would go back to my normal life, just little more embarrassed by myself than usual. I knew that my circumstances were the only thing which separated me from those people and they also could have come through their crimes successfully if they had my upbringing and my means. Their lack of those things pretty much dammed them into the system as well as increases their risk of recidivism because even when they do get out of jail, they don’t have finances, family and finances to fall back on. Not only that, I’m sure they don’t have a no choice of privileged white friends and co-workers giving them the “approving” wink of “could have just as easily been me, Doles.” If nothing else, I did start learning a different level of compassion and a new way of looking at people which continues to only become stronger and more beneficial.

I have never really told this whole story before. I have gone through moments in time, bits and pieces where I had to for court, therapy, a carpool and a compliance report. Beyond that, it’s a horrible story to tell. I’m sure it would anger many people because it was drunk driving which does kill people. That anger is valid. It’s just hard for me to take from someone else because of how much I internally punish myself. I feel like other people being angry is kind of overstating the obvious. Trust me, I get that part and am equally upset with myself. It’s just I have to go beyond just that anger and consider a whole slew of other emotions and reactions no one else would consider. I was still me. I was still pretty broken. I was still depressed. I still had survivor’s guilt. I still had PTSD. I still had nightmares. Getting arrested and going through that process doesn’t cure those things. It illuminates their severity. It may even offer a few revelations but it doesn’t treat any of it. The drinking didn’t stop.