Grieving

Getting older sucks. Like, really sucks. For a multitude of reasons. But the worst reason is that the older you get, the more people you lose. And I’ve never been good with saying goodbye.

Yes, it’s been months since I’ve posted. Probably nobody even reads this stuff anymore, which I guess isn’t really the point, is it? It’s supposed to be more of a place to rant and vent and let my thoughts run and maybe, occasionally, someone will see them and they’ll resonate. If not, at least they aren’t in my head anymore.

There’s this friend, you see. Someone I’ve known since 1982. We met, as many of my friendships began, on the stage. He missed the first show of our freshman year – not sure why. But he was there for the musical. Which, if you knew him, would be kind of ironic as he didn’t sing at all. But he found theatre (I think it found him earlier, but I digress) and grabbed a hold of him like it did me.

In high school, Jeff was as close to an enigma as a high school boy can be. There was nothing typical about him in any way – he looked like a California boy (which he ended up becoming), he was wicked smart, sarcastic and incredible fluent with language. But he was also … something else. I could never put my finger on it. It was a smoothness that bordered on slickness, with just a little bit of smarm mixed in. I could never read him. Of course, in high school, I couldn’t read ANYBODY. Seriously, ask those who knew me. I was shockingly naive and utterly missed any cues anyone sent my way. But Jeff was even above and beyond that. He was an enigma wrapped in a riddle covered in tan pants and a button-down oxford. I knew he wasn’t averse to my existence, as he talked to me and included me in things. However, he had a manner that confused a simple-minded high school girl a lot. Is he just being nice? Is he flirting? Is he just creepy? It was hard to tell.

Jeff and I shared the stage for almost all the productions in high school. We didn’t have any classes together, except for speech our senior year, I think, because he ran with the super smart kids. Honor classes, math team, scholastic bowl – all that stuff. I …. wasn’t. But we had the theatre.

For some reason, Mr. C cast Jeff and I as a couple in more than one production. We were Mr. & Mrs. Kirby in You Can’t Take it With You and a couple whose name I can’t remember in George Washington Slept Here. But the funniest and most memorable for me was in Annie Get Your Gun. I was Dolly Tate and he was Pawnee Bill. It was the two of us plus the guy playing Frank singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and it was choreographed so that we three would walk down some stairs and he’d kneel and I’d put my foot on his knee. For some unknown reason, he thought it would be funny to start rubbing my leg like Pawnee had never seen a woman’s leg before and I died laughing. So every rehearsal and performance after that, it got bigger and bigger and broader and broader until, by the end, he was like Fred Flinstone with a brontosaurus leg. It became a running gag between us and when we did George Washington the following year, I followed it up by having him sit in front of the chair I was in and throwing my leg over his shoulder. I know. It sounds stupid and immature, but we thought we were HYSTERICAL. Or I thought so and he humored me. Not sure which.

Jeff, in his own way, was really always there for me in a way I didn’t appreciate enough. Our senior year, near the end of the year when students do REALLY STUPID things because they’re almost graduated, I decided to hang before school one day with some people and we were all drinking. So by the time the first bell rang, I was pretty plowed. Thankfully, I had Film Studies first period (I’m sorry, Mr. Strong), so I could sit in the dark and just be drunk without anyone knowing. I was a little more sober after first period. So what did we all do? We went back at lunch and threw back a few more. So now it’s the middle of the afternoon and I’m in speech class. Jeff is sitting in front of me. I must have smelled like a distillery. I started feeling queasy, but was holding it together. Jeff turned around to ask if I was okay – I’m sure I wasn’t making eye contact and was getting green around the gills. Of course, speeches are being given. Suddenly, I leap to my feet and run out of the room, down the hall to the art wing where there was a small bathroom. But there was also a 3-stair staircase. And I fell up it. In front of an open classroom door full of Consumer Ed students who thought that was hilarious. But I made it to the bathroom just. in. time.

But he noticed something was wrong and was concerned about me. I’m sure he figured out what was going on, but he never judged me for it.

Late that spring, upon the urging of my mother’s friend Bobbie, I ran for Milk Day Queen (I KNOW). Small towns are ripe with strange festivals for girls to run for queen of. Most of the local high schools had a girl that joined up and ran alongside me. I thought I’d do pretty well, but I’d never done anything like this. Then they told us we had to bring an escort for the pageant night. Oh SHEESH. I didn’t have an escort. I didn’t have a boyfriend and I didn’t think anyone I knew would be interested in doing something like that. I asked one guy who was my best friend, but he had plans already. Then I thought, hey, Jeff knows how to comport himself, he’s a nice guy, he’s good-looking, maybe he’d help me out.

Now maybe he conveyed more of an eagerness than he actually felt, but his “YES!” to me felt like he really wanted to do this – to help me and have a fun evening. And honestly, it was one of the most memorable evenings of my young life. He behaved like he was escorting a debutante ball on the East Coast – utterly polished and professional and very, very classy. I felt confident and assured and he made me feel great! Then there was the dancing portion of the evening. And here’s where I believe I lost the pageant. We let LOOSE. We danced like monsters – Jeff tied his tie around his head, I took my shoes off. We threw each other to the floor occasionally. He would step on my big skirt and then I’d slip and fall. It was a freaking BLAST. Ooh! Here’s pictures.

As you can see, we had FUN. But, obviously, this was not the image they had in mind for the 1986 Harvard Milk Day Queen, so I went home empty handed. Except for the memory of an incredibly fun night that I wouldn’t have had without Jeff.

After graduation, he still kept track of me. At that time, my drinking & drug use was quite out of control. I spent part of my first summer staying at Millikin for summer stock. But was also looking forward to coming back to be in the summer theatre production of Wizard of Oz as … THE CYCLONE. Jeff played the Wizard, which couldn’t have been more perfect casting. At some point while I was still in Decatur, I invited him down to visit me and meet my college friends. Yes, there was also an indication that we might finally hook up, but that didn’t happen because Jeff is a gentleman. By the time he made the 4 hour drive down, I had already become a drunken mess. And while that wouldn’t have stopped me, it stopped HIM. That wasn’t even an option for him, which was almost unheard of in 1986. So while he got the benefit of my scintillating drunken asshole persona after his 4 hour journey, he never once ever mentioned his irritation with me or his disappointment that I couldn’t wait for him to get there. It just was a non-issue. The window had been closed by me and he never made me feel guilty about it. And he didn’t just roll with it, either. I’m forever grateful.

After I finally got sober and got back into college – this time at University of Illinois. I had had an idea of getting a degree in veterinary medicine and opening a chain of pet stores with on-site veterinary care. This was before that became a thing. Jeff had called me there at school just to catch up. This was still the time of LONG DISTANCE PHONE CALLS OMG, and he called from southern California to talk with me for over an hour. He listened to my idea and encouraged me. He thought it was really good and told me so. He made me feel smart and capable. He made me feel interesting and able to accomplish things. Nobody else did that for me. Of course, I would wonder what the “catch” was – what Jeff wanted from me in return for treating me like an equal human being. But the answer was always: nothing.

There are other stories, of course. I’m sure we all could go on forever talking about all the different times we had together.

Four years ago, Jeff was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The most unfair, unreasonable diagnosis that could be given to someone who never smoked. Because we all think that if we just “do it right,” these things will never touch us. But cancer is a mean, nasty, hateful, vicious, monstrous bitch who doesn’t give a ripe fig about any of that. In fact, she probably chose Jeff just to show that even the best aren’t safe from her.

Jeff faced his diagnosis with an attitude unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the beginning, Jeff decided that we was going to stay future-focused. He was going to fight and fight positively. Almost immediately, he began a blog, not just to chronicle his own journey, but to speak to others fighting his fight. To offer a place of encouragement and support and understanding and fact-finding and, always most importantly to Jeff, critical thinking. He talks about the good, the bad, and the horrifically ugly. And I think it always gave him solace to know he could share and that by sharing he was helping others instead of just focusing on himself.

http://justbadforyou.com/blog/

I didn’t learn about his cancer right away. Somehow, I missed that post or that message. But when I did get the news, I was of two minds about it. The first was quick emotion. It couldn’t be real and the idea of Jeff dying of this was UNTHINKABLE. The second was a reaction to the Jeff I’ve always known. While it was a terrifying diagnosis, part of me was sure he’d beat it. This is JEFF we’re talking about. Jeff doesn’t lie down for anything. He’ll beat this out of sheer stubborn willpower and a little bit of smarm. But the only thing I did know is that I would be there with him as he chronicled his journey. Offering support where I could. Encouragement all the time. Making sure he knows how important and loved he is by SO MANY. But he’s in Los Angeles. I’m in Chicago. I have a family and kids with special needs. I can’t get out there to see him. But God, how I wanted to. I wanted to live near him so I could take him to lunch and sit and chat in the afternoons and drive him to chemo if he needed a ride. I wanted to reminisce and make new memories and have it cemented into my head for all eternity just how “Jeff” he is and how that has always made him special. To make sure he always knows that his care and concern about me – his wanting me to understand that I deserve better than how I treated myself – made an impact. That because I have a Jeff in my life, I am growing stronger and better and more confident. We all need people like that in our lives – who see our best selves, our highest potential – and encourage us to get there.

I was lucky. I got to go out there and visit him last summer (2017) while visiting my brother’s family. It was the best thing. I wasn’t in a good place then, and he just listened to me. Listened to me whine and complain and recount the struggles and issues I was having. Listened to me cry. He reiterated a lot of the sentiments that he’s always given me – that I can do anything. That I have strength I’m not even aware of. That I don’t deserve to settle for less than what I need. He was patient with me when I was overwrought. He forgave me when I apologized for things I’d done wrong.

But I was so selfish. So wrapped in my own storyline. I didn’t focus on his fight or his issues or what was impeding him that day. Yes, we talked about him, most definitely. I loved hearing about his writing (which has always been amazing) and his family and his daughter (who he adores). But I didn’t ask much about his cancer. Maybe that was good? I don’t know.

I wish it had been more. I wish I’d had more to give him. More to tell him.

In these last years, Jeff’s presence in my life has been mostly online. I could always count on Jeff’s “like” or “love” or response on a blog post. No one has ever been more supportive of my writing than Jeff. In fact, one post I made back when Caitlyn Jenner came out went viral I believe primarily because of Jeff. He tells you if he likes what you wrote, he tells you if there’s a problem with it. If he disagrees or thinks you haven’t thought it out properly, he’ll tell you. But, most importantly, he’s THERE. Reading it, making sure you know he’s read it, giving you feedback. Telling you he’s glad for whatever breakthrough you’ve made or a positive step you’re taking. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can say these things. They’re a small drop in an ocean of impact that Jeff has had over his 50 years.

It’s the next sentence that’s like cement shoes.

On October 21st, we lost Jeff.

It’s beyond unfair. It’s like a bandsaw to my guts to say it, even now. If Timmy was joy in life, then Jeff was solidity. Jeff was strength and wisdom and learning and practicality. Jeff was giving love through encouragement. When Tim died, it was like a light went out in the world. Colors weren’t as bright and joy seemed limited. With Jeff, it’s like the earth is off its axis. Nothing makes sense anymore. I am gutted. I want to be okay and find joy and love and light. And I hope I will get there. But still today, my anger is raging. I’m furious and I’m hurt and I’m angry and I’m on my knees with the unfairness of it all. When the world is as cocked up as it is right now, we NEED, desperately need, hearts and minds like Jeff’s. We need critical thinking and practical forward-focus and encouragement and LOVE, MY GOD, LOVE. And while I know I WILL go on, of course, I feel like it’s going to be a slog.

It’s only been 28 days. I still expect him to comment on my posts. I still look forward to seeing his pictures. Hearing his stories. Seeing how his mind has processed the latest news. The world is wrong now. But I will do my best to move forward as positively as I can, because that would be honoring to him. Not to give up or lie down, but to keep fighting, but fight with light and with positive focus on the end goal.

Jeff, I will always love you. I literally don’t know how to describe HOW I love you, which is difficult for me. But there’s always been a place deep in my heart for you. And that place, that’s especially yours, was NEVER disappointed. You are profoundly missed and the gash left in the world is painful beyond measure. Keep watch over us. Keep us honest and critical. And keep us focused on love.

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Slow, But Not Unable, Part 2

It’s that time of year again. Back to school, farm fields in their last stages of growth, time to reflect and gear up for the new year – all that.

As I was driving home from the high school the other day, I found myself thinking about an old blog post I wrote a couple years ago. A reflective piece of the nature of development in children and how, just because it might be slower doesn’t mean it’s “bad.” If you’d like to read it, it’s here. It’s okay. Go ahead. Just hit the “back” button on your browser when you’re done. I’ll be here.

So, yeah. Some kids are slower than others. Doesn’t mean they aren’t able. Just means they’re wired differently. And maybe rather than seeing them as defective or wrong or “slow,” we should see them as doing exactly what they’re supposed to – on their own terms. Their own timetable. It’s pretty cool.

I was thinking about that post when I was driving, because it’s that time &, again, I see alot of soybean fields with rogue corn stalks standing tall and doing their job. It give me hope and perspective. But I also was thinking about it in terms of Henry and how, here we are, 4 years later.

Henry started high school this year. All 52″ of him. All 65 pounds of him. He entered the halls of kids twice his size and close than 3 times his cognitive level. (He’s at about a kindergarten level. Maybe 1st grade in some areas. So all the kids are at 2-3x his cognitive age) But he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. I mean, how will it help him grow even a little bit more if he stays with kids at his level? He needs to be pushed a little, challenged a little, taken out of his comfort zone a little in order to develop more.

But when I think about it – how much more is he going to develop. Again, just like EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. TIME I’ve asked myself that question, I have no idea. He may stay exactly where he is now – at about a 6 year old level. He may spend the next four years just working on using the toilet and not kicking his food off the table. That might literally be all he accomplishes. Or he might not accomplish that. Maybe he’ll accomplish other things instead. (God, if he could READ, what a joy that would be. But I digress.)

So when I think about it, Henry isn’t really like that corn. Yes, he’s doing what he’s going to do at his own rate. It’s slower – way slower – than his neurotypical peers. But, unlike the corn, he’s not just a season or a year behind. It’s more serious than that. It’s more like that corn germinated and is taking decades to grow to maturity, not just one year behind. But, LIKE the corn, he’s still developing into what he’s supposed to be. A Henry-shaped corn stalk. Shorter. Lighter. Maybe with only a cob or two. And maybe it takes 10 years to finish growing instead of one. But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still corn. And Henry is still a person.

I won’t lie. I worry about him. I do. As we’ve moved into high school, we’ve started becoming more acquainted with the post-high school world for people like Henry. Parents of over 18-year olds wondering about SSI and Medicaid and group homes vs independent living. All that. I mean, seriously, I barely know ANYTHING. But I think about it and know that, unless Henry suddenly overdrives his cognitive development, there won’t be any independent living. Probably not a group home. The kid has zero life skills and hasn’t shown any ability to pick them up. He doesn’t care, he can’t focus long enough to learn anything. I don’t know what options are available for someone like Henry. I mean, of course, he’ll be with us as long as that’s possible. But after that?

I just sent his information off to our local group that helps with this stuff – planning and all that. We’ll get an appointment to go in and get him on whatever lists he needs to be on and get some information about what choices and options there are. That will be helpful and take some of the worry off my shoulders.

Just like every other parent out there, I just want him to be happy. To have a life that brings him joy and fulfillment in whatever shape that takes. I want him to love and be loved. And because I know who Henry is and what he brings to the table, I want others to be impacted by his joy and his love and maybe view life a little more colorfully because of his existence. I want him to listen to AC/DC and Parliament Funkadelic and visit farms and dance whenever he wants. I want him to be allowed to sing if he feels like it and jump up and down when he’s excited. I want him to have people who will hold his hand when he’s not sure of something and help him get past his initial reluctance to try a new thing. I want him to march with marching bands and dance with Lady Marmalade and play his own version of air guitar and tell awful knock knock jokes that are thinly veiled attempts to get what he wants. I want him to lie with cows and have a dog and be able to ride in the front seat so he can see everything. I’d love him to have a miniature horse or cow and spend afternoons outside just talking to it. I want him to visit zoos and ball pits and jumpy castles and petting zoos. I want him to be fulfilled. Whatever that means for him.

I know. It’s a lot to ask from a world that doesn’t much care about what people WANT, but rather only wants to know what they can DO. I don’t know how or if he’ll be able to check that box.

Anyway. What I’m thinking about right now. He’s small. He’s slow. He’s not typically gifted. But there’s SO MUCH there. The question is how to tap it. I guess.

 

 

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Yearn

A good friend of mine, someone I’ve known almost all my life, just turned 50. To kind of celebrate this milestone, he’s been posting these wonderful memories where he picks a year from his 50 and shares a very detailed memory involving someone important at that time and then, at the end of his post, he gives a link and asks for a donation to a charity or a group that is meaningful to him. It’s amazing to read. But, then again, he’s always been a truly amazing person.

What keeps striking me is the depths of his memory. He had one that actually involved me from his (our) first grade year. I read the post, knowing full well that I was there for everything he talked about, but with absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I mean, I knew that the setup was factual – we were taken from our first grade classes and began spending time with the school librarian doing different things. It was our district’s fledgling attempts at a program for gifted students. I know it happened, I know the teacher’s name. I remember being told that I was too fidgety. I remember NOTHING else.

This is typical for me. There is something either missing or blocked in my brain about much of my childhood. I have memories basically based on pictures I’ve seen over and over – factual accounts with the 4 Ws (who, what, where, when). No why. I’ve talked about this before on this platform. Sometimes it really, really bothers me. I hate that I can’t remember really influential moments or things I’ve done. It’s upsetting, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I try not to dwell.

Here’s what I do have. I have feelings. I have waves of emotion that are linked to sounds, smells, sights. Like, a song will come on that is linked to a certain time in my life and I’ll be hit by a wave of feeling. Tension, relaxation, peacefulness, yearning, pain, embarrassment, etcetera. And the feelings are rich…..deep………full of truth and memory.

This time of year is one of those feelings. I’m sure all adults can relate. The time after school lets out for the summer. The feeling of freedom, of relaxing, of possibilities.

It hits me hard every year, but this year it was visceral. I got hit one recent evening, driving with my windows open, with the smell of fire. And it hit every single cell of my body. I wanted, right then, to go back to the summers of 1985 or 1986, sitting around a bonfire on a summer night after spending the day swimming or driving or hanging out. Beers? Maybe. It depends on the location. It was 1985, after all. Sitting in the grass or on a log. Music in the background – probably either The Nylons or classic rock. There’d be singing along, whatever it was. There’d be stories and definitely loud, loud laughter. Tim would be there. Jannah. Dean. Kristin. Georgette. Maybe others – Brad & Mike & Kelly & Andy, maybe Connie. If it was at Tammy’s there were many , many more. There would be both loneliness and a strong bond fighting each other for dominance. I mean, when we had each other we were never REALLY lonely. But as with any group of young people, there were always unspoken feelings, needs & desires, fights and dreaming of something we thought we couldn’t have. So we weren’t ALONE, but I think each within us was still lonely….or maybe LONGING is better…for something.

Anyway, that smell, that quick waft of burning logs on the summer wind, made me yearn, deeply, to go back. Maybe it’s those early summer feelings of freedom & possibilities I was yearning for. Maybe it was the connection of friends when you feel like nothing will ever part you. Maybe it was a simple old woman’s wish for fewer responsibilities and “have to”s. I don’t know. But it was so very real.

No. Wait. It’s not that it was real. I mean, it was real like smoke is real. I could see it, smell it, feel it and probably thought I could just reach right out and grab it. But, like smoke, it wisps away, teasing you that no matter how badly you yearn, you’ll never wrap your hand around it. And while so much of me is glad that I’m at this stage of life, part of me craves that feeling of youth. That feeling of invincibility and possibility. That feeling of minimal responsibilities and seeking fun. Being able to sink down in front of a bonfire on a weeknight surrounded by friends and, yes, even drink too much with them. Of desiring things you haven’t had or haven’t experienced. Of climbing in the car and driving to Lake Geneva or Glacier Park or Fontana or even just to the end of the road and exploring. But we can never go back.

This also happened to me with a song recently. Well, 2 songs, actually. The first one I could identify why the feelings came. The second I couldn’t.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.

Suddenly, it was summer of 1991. I’m driving down South Lake Shore Drive out of Lake Geneva over to the south side of the lake where my family’s cabin was. My boyfriend at the time was in the passenger seat. Windows are down, hair is flying. I am singing the shit out of this song. Probably annoying him. I don’t care. For some reason, I think it’s Memorial Day weekend, I’m not sure. Maybe July 4th? Not sure. But it was a holiday weekend because he was able to come up from school at U of I for the weekend where we camped out in the cabin with another couple. We were free. For a couple days, anyway. We could wake when we wanted, swim if we wanted, hang out in the cabin or drive into town, get breakfast at a downtown diner. Play games, watch videos. It was a taste of adulthood without any responsibilities. Hearing the song again, I could feel it all. The wind, the lake air, the crazy sweat from the uncooled cabin, the cigarette smoke, the cold Diet Coke, the pasta we made for dinner, the feel of the lake water as I dove in, the annoyance of no window coverings on the lake side windows. But most of all – the YOUTH. I could feel the youth.

The other song was Fleetwood Mac. Say You Love Me

I heard this one because my band is adding it to our repertoire. When the first chords hit, I got goosebumps and the same feeling. This time, I don’t know why. I couldn’t scrounge up a memory about it. But something within it brought me back to younger days.

So that’s how memory works for me. I may not have detailed stories I can share. I may not be able to give you the “why” of anything from the pictures in my mind. But I have this. These deep, visceral, sweeping feelings that take me back. From one measure of music or one whiff of something, I can tell you whether it’s good or bad. And, if I’m lucky, I can succumb to the deep intake of breath it creates and the resonating, almost moaning sigh from going back to a time when I could relax and be free. Maybe that’s all I’ll get. I’ll find a way to make that okay.

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London: Day 1

I’ve been back from London for 2 weeks now and finally things are settling down. Steven’s musical has opened (Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), we’re back to routines, and I’m catching up on the pictures I need to process.

While I was there, I bought a little journal and journaled at least the first 3 days. I didn’t get much more done as I was actually doing things and processing the pictures I’d taken. But I wanted to share the journaling I did do about those days.

Day 1 – March 25, 2018

Wow. I’m actually in London. I successfully navigated Heathrow, even though it too,  nearly an hour to get through passport check. And I couldn’t remember the name of Maggie’s school – I worriecd they’d think I was lying!

But, my GOD, the walking! After immigration, I got my suitcase & found an ATM, where I couldn’t get cash. GODDAMMIT!! But I exchanged the US cash I had at a place by baggage claim. Then walking forever to the tube.

I navigated the tube well. Got my ticket, found the platform, and found a seat. My huge suitcase quickly became an issue as I was having trouble getting it between my legs, so it blocked a seat, which annoyed other passengers. Finally did it, though.

Got off at the correct stop (YAY!) and found the hotel. Oh. wow, this hotel. It’s so lovely and charming while also being luxurious. My room wasn’t available yet as it was only 10am, so I ventured across the street to Muriel’s Kitchen, a small restaurant with breakfast fare. Eggs on toast, stripey bacon (so good). The egg yolks were orange, which surprised me and I’ll need to research. I finished and didn’t want to take up space, since people were waiting for a seat. I went outside to wait for Maggie. A lovely flower vendor making astonishing bouquets was just around the corner in a little square outside the tube entrance. Pigeons, children on scooters, people walking their dogs. So many languages, looks, journeys, stories. I watched the black cabs & red double decker buses. 

The hotel is marvelous. Lovely bed with a fresh & modern color scheme. The bath has a shower to die for. Hot, fierce, and refreshing. Then I pull the towel off the rack and it’s WARM. Bloody heated towel racks, y’all. Absolutely amazing after my long, grungy flight. Maggie waited for me as I refreshed & then we ventured out.

She took me to a local Thai place where she’d been before. I wasn’t tremendously hungry as I’d had breakfast on the plane and then food at Muriel’s Kitchen, but I had some fried rice and a glass of wine. It is so different relating to Maggie as an adult – having a glass of wine, discussing life and issues. She is so mature, and has a lot of clearheadedness for a 20 year old.

We walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was quite impressive. A very different type of museum with sculpture and artifacts, but also neat exhibits like fashion & a wonderful theatre collection. With England’s great theatrical history, it’s marvelous to see the impact recognized on a national scale. I was especially taken by the collection of costumes, not only from their “panto” but also from big West End shows & film.

Super cool was the collection of set models. I’ve always be so impressed by Lew’s set models and these are just as impressive. Seeing how different set designers interpret different shows is enlightening & so beautiful.

There was also a great exhibit by a photographer who’s famous for dance & theatre photos. There were 2 that really grabbed me – one of the Queen Mum in a garden & one of the Blairs in an unscripted moment. Both were honest and unposed, capturing more of who they really are inside. Of course I didn’t get a picture of either one, but they showed me more of the kind of photographer * want to be. Anyone can shoot a portrait. It takes heart and skill to get beyond that & find honesty.

Having made it through the day without sleeping in order to avoid jet lag, by 7pm, I was pretty cashed. Maggie and I said goodnight and I went back to my room and was in bed by 8:30!

So that was day one. I was overwhelmed and excited. Couldn’t believe I was actually there and really wanting to experience so much. I already miss it!

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#blessed

That stupid hashtag is way overused. Instagram celebrities using it for really good coffee or finding a nice parking spot or otherwise finding/getting some sort of cool swag. Puh-leeze.

You want to know what truly makes you blessed? Friends. People who love you. People who go out of their way to show you that they love you. Add that to the “coincidence” of having it happen when you might be feeling especially bad about yourself or your depression (or other mental illness) is acting up, and you’ll really, truly know what it is to be #BLESSED. So much so that I wish I could somehow embiggen that word to make it more meaningful. Or add a serious “MFer” to the end of it or something.

You may or may not have read my last post. That’s how I was feeling after the first weekend of my appearance as Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I know. Ew.

But the universe or God or just the amazing kindness of people who care about me gave those feelings a massive can of whoop-ass over this past weekend.

Friday night, I knew my mom was coming to my show and she told me that 2 of my cousins were also coming and bringing their kids, which was more than enough. So nice that they wanted to come and share this lovely show with their kids, as well as support my return to the stage after so long! They live more than an hour away, so it was a big deal and I really appreciated it!

My cousin Johanna, brother Andrew, me, and cousin Katie

As I’m getting ready for the show, I had about half my makeup on and my costume. It was time for vocal warm-ups, so I had stepped out of the dressing room, talking briefly with my fellow cast members, when we heard pounding from what used to be the stage door, but now is just a door that stays locked to the outside. I was closest to the stairs, so I started down. About halfway down, I recognize the figure in the window, but my brain won’t allow me to believe it. It’s my brother, Andrew. With his daughter, Ella. WHO HAD FLOWN IN THAT DAY FROM CALIFORNIA. For one day. They flew in only to see my show and flew back the next morning. I was BLOWN AWAY. My brother, the professional actor, flew himself and his 3 year old from California, came to a night performance of my show and then got up the next morning and they flew back. And they did it because he loves me.

After the show, I ran down in my makeup and costume so I could show Ella. And she LOVED IT. This amazing child, who’s only really met me once, ran right up to me, sat on my lap, explored my makeup and costume and wasn’t afraid at all. And she was happy! I introduced her to the actress playing Ariel, too, but Ella wasn’t having it. As I introduced her, Ella saw that she didn’t actually have red hair. She said, “I’M Ariel.” Then Deanna asked her if she was a mermaid, and she said, quite sassily, “No, *I* have legs,” as she squiggled out of my arms and ran away. SO FUNNY.

It was so cool – the next morning I got to talk with Andrew about the show and get his impressions and feedback. It made me so happy to know that not only did he like my performance, he enjoyed the show in its entirety. For someone with his theatre/acting experience to be proud of me, meant everything.

Needless to say, after that surprise and the preceding performance, followed by Saturday’s matinee, I was TIRED. It takes a lot of energy to perform Ursula well. She’s constantly “ON.” Every moment is a performance for her – whether she’s complaining to her eels (the only beings she has to talk to) or putting on a show for Ariel to get her plan in motion, every single moment is carefully plotted and performed with clinical precision. And it takes a lot of energy to do. So by the time Saturday night’s performance rolled around, I was ready to perform, but knew it was going to drain me.

The audience Saturday night was every performer’s dream. They were on fire. The were with us every step of the way, laughing at every joke, applauding for every special moment, bursting into raucous cheers at the end of every song. They fed us every bit of energy we needed to amp up our performances and give that extra 10% that took it over the top.

Then comes curtain call. I’m the second to last one to bow and I have the delicious pleasure of getting to enter from far upstage and the cast parts to let me parade downstage – very Ursula-like. As the crowd parts and I walk, the freaking audience ERUPTS. Cheers like I’ve never heard. Then I see, in the last 2 rows of the main floor, a whole bunch of white fans waving and bobbing. I KNOW those fans. Those are the fans we’ve made for the high school musicals for the past 3 years to sell with the kids’ pictures on them. I know who makes those. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? (Actually, “what the fuck” is what I mouthed as I turned around and walked to my place with my cast mates.)

Without my glasses, I can’t see who the people are. I just see white fans. And blurry faces. As the stage lights go down, I race downstairs, get help removing my wig and costume, and run downstairs to see who the heck is here?

As I round the corner, I see something along the lines of this. (Not quite this organized and lined up, but these faces and fans.) Friends. Friends from more than 30 years ago. Friends I haven’t seen in 10, 20, 30 years. Friends who have FLOWN AND DRIVEN IN FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY. To gather, reunite, and support this one old friend who’s returning to the stage. Friends who love me enough (why??) to come in from NY, Michigan, Iowa, Seattle, and also from closer by. Friends who planned this gathering, bought tickets, gathered, and came. For me.

I have never been so overwhelmed in my life. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I felt like I was out-of-body. I’m looking at these amazing people and I can’t function. I can’t do anything but cry & hug & stumble over words. My head hurt. I couldn’t…..I just COULDN’T. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced an outpouring of love like this before. I kept thinking…why?? Why would they do this for me? I haven’t done anything for them. There’s nothing they’re repaying me for. How on EARTH could I have built up such a credit of love? I don’t deserve it. I can’t wrap my brain around it. IT DIDN’T MAKE SENSE.

They gathered around me, taking pictures, sharing their love and their amazing positive feedback about my performance, and I just stood there, gaping and utterly flummoxed. Because this kind of thing is what you see on TV or for someone who’s worked tirelessly for years helping children with cancer or something.

I cannot possibly, no matter how long I type, convey my absolute, overwhelming feeling of gratitude for what my friends and my brother and my cousins did to show me love this weekend. You made me feel so special, so thankful, so overwhelmed with love. You showed me that how I feel inside – no matter how strongly I might feel it – isn’t true. That I’m worthwhile, no matter how I look. That I matter. That what’s inside me has made a difference somehow.

Amy, Tammy, Tim, Dean, Tammy, Jannah, Sonia, Cha Ron, Linda, Leon, Jeff, George, Tony, Kathy. And your families. YOUR FAMILIES. Who came along somewhere they didn’t know to see someone they didn’t know do something they probably didn’t care about. Thank you. There will NEVER be words. I hope I can do something like this for you or someone else sometime. I want nothing more than for others I love to feel what I’ve felt.

Oh, and I have to tell you guys something interesting. That night, while I slept, I dreamt of you all. We were all going somewhere – like a field trip or going somewhere on a visit or something – and all of you were there. We were laughing and walking and having a great time. In the dream, I turned my head to the left, and right next to me was Tim White. Smiling and laughing with us, traveling with us where it was we were going. He was with us when you gathered at Amy’s. He was with us when you all sat in the Opera House. He was with us when you came down and met me. He was with us at the PourHouse. I believe it wholeheartedly.

Andrew – I know you’re my little brother, but your opinion and love and support of me means the world. Before, you HAD to see my shows. You didn’t have a choice, you just did. This time, you  made the choice. And I recognize the work, sacrifice, and time it took to do that. And I love you more than I can ever say.

Thank you all. You showed me what I can’t show myself much of the time. Acceptance. Love. Support. Belief. Caring. You are the ties that bind and I cannot believe that, 30 years later, y’all still care about me. But maybe I can believe it. Because I care deeply about all of you. Never let anyone tell you that high school friendships don’t last. Because they DO. If they matter.

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