Losing Kyle

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Trigger warning: The following story addresses suicide. If you or anyone you know needs help or someone to talk to:

Get free help now: Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States

 

In the late fall of 2009, I hit what I have come to endearingly refer to as my “Rock Bottom”. It looked like this:

Three-time divorced woman, mother to a daughter living out-of-state with her Mormon dad and stepmom, and a son who had just been diagnosed with autism; waiting tables at Applebee’s because my “career” in real estate was tanking, along with the relationship/partnership I had with another Realtor. I had to move out of my boyfriend/business partner’s house and was barely scraping by to afford putting a roof over my son’s head.

In the darkest hours of my Rock Bottom, there was ONE lifeline, ONE thought that gave me a glimmer of hope about the possibilities for my future: I was a marathon runner. I could do hard shit. Impossible shit. In May of that year I had run my first 26.2-mile race, and at the finish line I found myself a stronger person than I ever imagined. This new idea of myself, this perception of possibilities, the ownership I finally took over my actions and their subsequent consequences, quite legitimately saved my life.

***

I met Kyle Gerber on a late summer evening in 2016 at the Lighthouse Lounge. I had been running with the Ogden Pub Runners for just over a year, meeting once a week at a local bar where we would run three miles and then convene for a frosty beverage and socializing shenanigans. He was a newcomer to the group but with his outgoing personality and friendly smile, no one would have ever known. He quickly became a regular at OPR, and everyone was smitten by him.

Kyle’s effervescent personality naturally drew people to him. He was fit, tan, and lean with a head of beautiful blonde, wavy locks and bright blue eyes. But even more than his boyish good looks, Kyle had a heart of gold.

In December that year, I had heard about an idea called the “Burrito Project,” where a group would get together to roll burritos and take them out to feed the homeless in their community. I invited my OPR friends to participate in our own version of this project. About a dozen people showed up to my house that chilly morning with their assigned breakfast burrito fillings, ready to assemble. Kyle showed up with dozens of scrambled eggs and a huge bag of sauce packets from a local Mexican fast food joint.

“I told them what we were doing, and they just gave these all to me,” he said, with a smile and a shrug.

We rolled over a hundred burritos that day and then hit the streets, passing them out to gracious souls in our community. Afterward, Kyle and I ran back to my house. We made small talk as we ran, mostly about our past and future runs. I was surprised to find out he had very recently began running, especially considering what great shape he was in. I was even more shocked when he told me how he had quit a 22-year smoking habit.

That was one of the first of many runs I would share with this new friend.

***

If there was adventure to be had, not only was Kyle there, but he was usually the mastermind. He created a new sect of Ogden Pub Runners: Ogden Trail Troopers. Because road runs could get boring, he initiated runs on the beautiful mountain trails. He kayaked, went to concerts, mountain biked, and ran. He threw parties at his house, cooked amazing meals, and helped anyone in need. He worked hard and played even harder.

In February of 2017 he announced that he wanted to do the Grand Circle Trailfest in October that year, a series of back-to-back trail runs at Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon, totaling more than forty miles altogether. I had recently experienced the death of my ex-husband and desperately felt the need to do something big, bigger than myself. I took a deep breath, ignoring the panic at paying almost six hundred dollars for a race, and signed up.

Not long after we had registered, Kyle tore his ACL. He took the absolute minimum time he possibly could to recuperate and rehab. In May, despite everyone trying to talk him out of it, he ran the Ogden marathon. I knew he was a faster, stronger runner than me, even in a knee brace. The morning of the run, we loaded onto the VIP bus, making our usual jokes about pooping and pre-race jitters. He told me he would stick with me for the whole 26.2-mile race.

“Please don’t,” I told him. “I don’t want to slow you down.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “I need you to make sure I don’t overdo it.”

True to his word, he stayed with me the entire time. At mile 13 I slowed down to eat a snack. I begged him to go ahead. He would not. At mile 17 I stopped at a Honey Bucket. He was patiently, loyally waiting for me when I popped back out. Through Ogden Canyon, along the parkway, up until the last block of the finish line. He pulled, pushed, and prodded me when I wanted to give up. Ten steps from the finish line, he placed his hand on the small of my back and pushed me ahead, so that I crossed the finish line before him.

***

Kyle’s knee was still giving him trouble, but that didn’t stop him from coming to the Grand Circle Trailfest in October. Our friends David and Brittany Blanchard drove down separately, so Kyle, Jennie Payne, and I joined up with them in Kanab. On the drive down, we talked about our pasts- Kyle sharing stories of being a homeless youth and overcoming drug addiction. I shared my own story of surviving childhood sexual abuse. I thought to myself how amazing my tribe of badasses is.

We got to the race headquarters and set up in the “tent city”. David and Brittany had their own tent, and the rest of us set up right across from them. We formed a circle in between our two tents with our chairs, and the boys popped beers while us girls poured mimosas. In the evening, Kyle lit a cigar. I laughed as people walked by and gave him dirty looks. If I knew nothing else about Kyle, I knew that he didn’t give a shit what others thought about him. It was one of his most endearing qualities.

He opted out of the first race, a grueling 14-mile run at Bryce canyon. While we ran, he rode his bike around the park in the chilly weather. But at the finish line, like the beacon of a lighthouse, he was always there for us. The next day, a 12ish-mile run at Zion Canyon, he decided to give it a shot. Even with his knee in a brace, he finished before me. When I got to the finish line, all four of my beautiful friends were there waiting for me.

On the final run at the Grand Canyon, Kyle dropped us off at the start line and headed out on his mountain bike. Everyone else was ahead of me as I climbed the first five miles of the challenging course. When I finally made it to the top and it leveled out to a dirt road, I picked up my pace. I saw a familiar shape in the distance and was elated when I realized it was Kyle on the trail. I popped out my earbuds.

“Hi, buddy!” I shouted.

“How’s it going?” he asked cheerfully.

“I’m ready for a mimosa,” I replied.

“I’ll have it ready for you when you’re finished,” he said, flashing his Kyle smile.

Sure enough, when I finally made it across the finish line and over to Kyle’s truck, he sat, smoking his cigar, and handed me a cup of bubbly and OJ. Later that day, as we drove home to Ogden, I hid tears as I realized it was the one-year anniversary of seeing my ex-husband in the hospital for the last time before he died. Kyle was blasting The Violent Femmes and I was grateful he and Jen couldn’t hear my stifled sobs.

***

I have been asked to serve on the board of the Ogden Pub Runners. I am hesitant, only because I have an autistic son and a lot of other commitments I worry will stretch me thin. However, I love OPR and I don’t think it will be a huge time commitment, so I say yes. A short time later, a few other amazing friends join the board and I am thrilled at how amazing they all will be. One of the new board members is Kyle.

***

Kyle has been really busy, so we don’t think much of it when he doesn’t show up for a lot of our group runs, or he misses an OPR board meeting. He’s serving on the GOAL Foundation and helping out a ton getting ready for the 2018 Ogden Marathon, so we understand. We get it. Despite being so busy and not having a ton of time to train, he still runs the Ogden Marathon on May 19th. He rides the VIP bus to the start line with my husband, and they casually shoot the shit.

I only run the half marathon this year, so when I get to the finish line I have plenty of time to relax while I wait for my hubby and the other OPR people. Our friends, Donna and Steve Hernandez, have set up their familiar and beloved rainbow umbrella, and friends gather there to cheer runners in. We see Kyle as he nears the finish, and we burst into celebratory screams, handing him an ice cold beer which he raises over his head and carries, like an Olympic torch, as he crosses the finish line.

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He makes it over to our group where we shower him with praise and accolades for a job well done. He is tired, naturally, and only celebrates with us for a little while before excusing himself and heading home. We’re having an OPR board dinner that night, but he messages us to tell us he is too tired to come. I don’t realize then that is the last day I will ever see Kyle again.

***

In the two years I’ve known Kyle, he has been very active on social media. I realize, since the marathon, that I haven’t heard too much from him. I go to his profile and see that the last post was from May 19th, almost two weeks ago. I’m perplexed, but I figure, in true Kyle fashion, he is just really busy. A couple days later, he comments on a post I’ve made about a race in Moab in November.

“Ahh, he’s back,” I think.

Whatever qualms I had were quieted.

***

It is the morning of June 7th and I have just finished setting up my marketing stuff on Hole One of the miniature golf course at Toad’s Fun Zone for my job as a home warranty rep. I’m wearing a black running skort and Rainbow Brite socks as part of my gimmicky marketing. This is how everyone knows me: funny, silly Stacy. I glance at my phone and see that I’ve missed a call from my husband. He sends an ominous text: “Call me as soon as you can.”

I immediately think something has happened to his dad. A few weeks ago, I was alarmed when he took us out to dinner and asked multiple times, “So, anything new going on with you?” It was like watching “Groundhog Day,” and it was terrifying.

I called my husband, bracing for the bad news about Papa.

“Have you been on Facebook?” he asked, his voice low.

“Not since earlier this morning,” I replied, confused at his line of questioning. What does this have to do with his dad?

“Babe,” he whispered. “I don’t know how to tell you this…”

“What?”

“Kyle,” he whispered. “Kyle Gerber killed himself.”

I know that there is a chemical reaction happening in my brain, that this message is being interpreted, packaged up and sent to its respective place. But the connection is failing. It’s nonsense what my husband is saying. The words travel to my ears as if from a very far away place, and I can’t comprehend it.

“What?” I know I haven’t heard him right. My brain is telling me NO NO NO, this is not right. The world is spinning. My vision is blurry with tears. I stand, stupidly, ridiculous in my cheerful multi-colored knee-high socks, shrieking. I hear and feel the sound escaping me, but I have no control over it.

“I’m coming home,” he says, and he hangs up.

I am hysterical. Someone gently leads me to a table in the arcade area. Arms are embracing me; someone hands me a bottle of water; I message the rest of the OPR board. What do we do? This can’t be real; this can’t be happening; THIS CAN’T BE KYLE.

***

News of Kyle’s suicide spreads quickly and shocks the community in which he was an active part. The Ogden Pub Runners have their weekly run that Thursday evening, and it is somber. It’s as if everyone feels that there is a pause in the goings on of the world, yet life continues. There is a huge outdoor concert that evening, a concert Kyle would be attending. There’s a new reality of life as we know it, before and after Kyle.

Kyle’s death leaves behind two teenage sons, eleven days before one of their birthdays and Father’s Day. Three local non-profits have lost a well-loved board member. A family has lost a son, brother, uncle. I have lost one of my best friends.

I have replayed every conversation, every run, every encounter I ever had with Kyle, searching for the clues that I must have missed. I come up empty-handed and more heartbroken every time. I think of how adventurous he was- was it reckless? I remember how he didn’t wear his seatbelt- was that an indication of wanting to die?  I never saw signs of depression; I never thought Kyle was in or could go to a place where suicide was a viable option for him; and I am at a loss as to why that’s the way his life ended. An unbearable ache fills my chest every day.

***

The night that is the very rockiest bottom of my “Rock Bottom,” I drank a bottle of wine and decided to take a bath. I loved the large bathroom of the adorable, old Craftsman home I had found to rent for me and my son. As the bath tub filled with steaming hot water and bubbles, I opened my medicine cabinet and found a bottle with a few tiny white pills. I didn’t know what they were, but I decided I would take them along with another bottle of wine I had just uncorked.

I slid into the hot water, daring myself to go under the surface. Tears streamed down my face as feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and despair engulfed me. My life was a shit show and that was pretty much the best it would ever be. My kids would be better off without me; my whole family would be. I leaned my head back and waited for the wine and pills to do their job, so I could carelessly slip below the water’s surface.

The oblivion never came. Hell, maybe those pills had been baby Tylenol. I pulled the plug and as the water drained, I sobbed. I knew in that moment I wasn’t ready to end it, but I sure as shit needed to do something to fix it.

***

I thought the marathon saved people. I thought this tribe, this one percent of the population, was unbreakable. I naively thought all the running endorphins could help cure everything. I thought I was impervious to heartbreak. Kyle proved me wrong on all counts.

I don’t know what demons he fought. But he must have given them a hell of a fight for as long as he could. The Kyle I knew was strong, resilient, a fighter, a survivor. He was like me. When we get pushed down, we get back up and dust ourselves off. He was a Success Story, a Golden Boy, a Warrior. He was a light everywhere he went. Until he wasn’t.

Today I got inked with a tattoo I have wanted for months- a compass with mountains in the center and a feather along the bottom. This tattoo represents all the ways I found myself on the trails, especially when I ran my first ultra-marathon last November; Kyle was there and even got a video of us crossing the finish line. Only I had the artist add a small semicolon in the stars above the mountain. Kyle may be gone, but his story is definitely not over. I know I will find him on the trails, and I trust that he will continue to help me as I find my way.

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That One Time…

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Yesterday I had an article PUBLISHED ON SCARY MOMMY’S WEBSITE!! (If it sounds like I’m screaming it’s because I AM! OMGOMGOMG!)

For a full day it appeared on the home screen. My name. At the top of Scary Mommy, y’all.

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My word for 2018 is VOICE. This is my voice, my story, my experiences. For someone who spent most of her life knowing when to just SHUT UP, this new voice feels effing amazing.

I want to share, I want to connect, I want to help someone else, even if it’s for one moment so that they feel like they ARE NOT ALONE.

Here is the link to the original post. Warning: I’m a bit of a PG-13 writer. Enjoy!

 

My Adoption Portrait

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On November 24th, my adoption story was featured on a blog by Carrie Goldman for her “30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days” project. Below is the submission.

 

My adoption story is difficult to put into the permanency of written words, as it has changed over the last couple years and, I hopefully anticipate, it will evolve even more in the coming years. But as it stands today, this is the portrait of my adoption.

In November of 1993, when I was a junior in high school, I found out I was pregnant. I was the drum major of the marching band and the younger sister of the Valedictorian of that year’s graduating senior class. I went to a small school in the town of Goose Creek, SC. News of my pregnancy spread faster than a forest fire. Retrospectively, I joked that everyone else knew before even I did. I think the shock value of a “Band Nerd” getting pregnant added fuel to the flames.

My boyfriend (and the birth father) was my high school sweetheart. We had started dating my freshman year when he was a senior. After he graduated, he went to college about two hours away from our hometown. Over the course of the next couple years, we were on again off again—but mostly on. When I found out I was pregnant, we decided fairly quickly the best thing to do was to give the baby up for adoption. But first we needed to tell our parents.

I don’t really remember how his parents took it. They were going through their own stuff at the time, as we found out later when they filed for divorce. They didn’t get too involved with the messiness of my pregnancy. I was scared to death to tell my mom. A few years prior, she and my dad had gotten divorced. She bought a mobile home for us to live in while she worked full-time and put herself through nursing school. My dad had already rocked her world with his abusive and adulterous scandals, and I hated that I now had another bomb to drop on her.

To prevent my untimely death at the hands of my mother, I decided to tell her one night while we ate fried fish and hush puppies at Captain D’s. For added protection, my friend Adam was there too. He wasn’t aware of my pregnancy announcement either, so when I finally got the nerve to blurt it out between bites of tartar sauce covered halibut, his and my mom’s expressions of shock were almost comical.

“What makes you think you’re pregnant?” my mom asked in a panic.

“Welllll, I took a test. And it was positive.”

I let the news sink in as I continued to shovel fried goodness into my mouth. Finally, my mom said something I never expected.

“I’ll support you, whatever you decide.”

Now it was my turn to be blindsided. Despite my current “unwed mother” state, I had grown up in a somewhat religious household, and always considered myself to be a pro-lifer. In fact, just a couple months before, for an English assignment, I had written an entire paper supporting this belief. I had even gone to a women’s clinic to gather information and they had given me a gold-plated pin of a set of two tiny feet. It represented the size of a fetus’ feet at the time most abortions occur. I proudly wore that pin all the time.

Insulted, I looked my mom right in the eye.

“I’m giving it up for adoption,” I stated firmly. “There’s nothing else I would do.”

She nodded. There was pain and sadness in her eyes, but something like pride, too. She asked me if I’d want to go through the adoption services through our church. I felt strongly against this idea since, in my mind, the church had let me down. I didn’t want to predispose my child to that. She asked if I’d consider adopting within our family. I had an aunt who had been trying to have another child for years after she had had her son. That felt way too weird to me. When she later got sick and passed away from ALS in 2001, I felt even more grateful about my decision. I couldn’t imagine what I would have felt knowing my biological child watched a parent die.

My mom was a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in Charleston. One night at work, she told a co-worker about my unexpected pregnancy. That co-worker mentioned a nurse who worked in post-partum who had been having infertility struggles for a while. My mom came home and asked me if my boyfriend and I would be willing to meet with them. I called him at his dorm and told him to plan on it for the following weekend.

Wouldn’t you know, that dumbass went to a party that week, got drunk, got in a fight, and got a black eye. When he came home for the weekend and I saw his face, I was mortified. What would this potential adoptive couple think of us? A trailer park trash hoe and her black-eyed boyfriend. I’m sure they would think they HAD to save this baby from whatever fate it may have with us.

It was almost Christmas when we met them. We visited their home which was perfectly decorated with a beautiful tree. He was a Navy doctor, Irish background. She was a nurse with Italian roots. Their look was similar to ours, as I am half Filipino and my boyfriend was white. I figured if nothing else, our baby would look like it “belonged” to them. They were kind and excited. As we drove away from their house I told my boyfriend that they were meant to be the baby’s parents.

Over the course of my pregnancy, they would call me and ask what I was craving. Then they’d take me and my boyfriend out to dinner. I thought they were incredibly sophisticated. We went to Olive Garden one night and they had me try calamari. I grew to love them and was incredibly excited that they were going to be raising my child.

In the meantime, I was trying to keep my ever-growing belly unnoticed at school. In January, our marching band took its yearly trip to Disney World to march in a parade and frolic carefree in the park. As my friends excitedly headed to Space Mountain, I looked at the precautions on the sign at the entrance to the line. It read:

“WARNING! For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.

I backed away, mumbling some excuse for not wanting to ride. I did that the entire trip.

Things continued to get worse. No matter how hard I tried, the baby was growing and I was a-showing. First, I used safety pins on my pants. Then I discovered I could loop a rubber band through and that would add a good three inches of stretch. Then I invested in a LOT of elastic waist shorts. Eventually my protrusion could no longer be denied. People knew I was pregnant.

One day in May, I ducked in to a bathroom stall for one of my many potty breaks. It wasn’t even one of the bathrooms I typically frequented, but for some reason on that day I ended up in that stall that had the following words scribbled in thick, black Sharpie:

“Stacey Ribino in an knocked up hoe.”

My jaw dropped. Tears stung my eyes. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. How insulting! They didn’t even spell my name right, or compose a grammatically correct sentence, yet I sat there stunned. This is what people thought of me? This is what people were saying? I angrily left the bathroom and made my way to the guidance counselor’s office.

“How many credits do I need to graduate?” I demanded, my chest heaving.

She thumbed through papers and found whatever she needed. I doubt she knew much about me, but I knew she knew my older sister, the Super Star Valedictorian.

“It looks like you need two credits. An English and a History.”

“Then I need information to register for summer school,” I told her.

“Now are you sure you want to do that?” she drawled. “Senior year is the time for you to apply to colleges and for financial aid. Your senior year is supposed to be fun. I mean, just look at everything your sister’s done. Do you really want to miss out on that?”

“I want to do whatever it takes to get the hell out of this place.”

A couple weeks later I attended my end-of-the-year band banquet. As a junior, I would have automatically been the drum major again during my senior year. Instead, I “crowned” one of my good friends as the one who would be replacing me. I stood at the mic and announced to my fellow band nerds that I was sorry for letting them all down, that I was giving my baby up for adoption, and I would be graduating later in the summer and would not be back for senior year.

I looked around the room and saw tears. My band director gave me a huge hug and told me she was proud of me. A couple days later I even got a letter from another teacher, one I had never had, who told me her son was adopted and she was so grateful for people like me. I felt a little less ashamed.

And then, my boyfriend, up to his usual shenanigans, gave me a huge hickey the day before the prom. Yes, at eight months pregnant I still went to my prom. I really didn’t want to but my mom talked me into it, persuading me that I needed to do it since I would never have another one. I had had a dress made specially for the occasion (by the same woman who made my band uniform, as fate would have it). A maternity prom dress and a huge hickey. Now that’s classy.

And then it was the end of the year; the worst, most hellish high school year ever. At graduation I listened to my sister’s Valedictorian speech and wondered: how did things end up going so sideways for me? She was so full of hope and positivity; she had a full paid scholarship to college. And I had no clue what was in store for me. All I knew was I had to get this baby out and to its parents.

I started summer school classes right after graduation. The attendance policy was very strict: no more than two absences, period. No exceptions. I knew this was going to be a challenge for me, what with having a baby and all. My due date was the beginning of July so I crossed my fingers the baby would come around the 4th and the holiday would give me some extra time.

No such luck. On the night of June 22nd, I started having what I thought was a horrible stomach ache. It kept me up most of the night, and on the toilet a lot. When it finally dawned on me that I might be in labor, I called my mom who was finishing up her swing shift. She had me time the pain which was about every 10 minutes. She hurried home and we headed to the hospital.

The adoptive couple was there before we even got there. She fed me ice chips, rubbed my back, and put cool towels on my forehead. I was too far along for an epidural but I was given something else for the pain. A few more hours of contractions and then I was wheeled into the delivery room. I pushed for what felt like an eternity. And it must have been a long time because when my baby boy finally came, he had the funniest cone-shaped head. I had successfully, safely brought him into this world on June 23rd, 1994.

Everything else after that was kind of a blur. I was exhausted. The adoptive couple asked if there was anything I wanted to eat. ANYTHING, they said. Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie was the first thing that popped into my head. They ran out and bought it, I inhaled it, and then I threw it all back up, all over myself in my hospital bed. It was not my finest moment.

I was in and out of sleep the rest of the day. A couple people came to visit, some sent flowers, but mostly it was quiet. I guess people don’t know how to celebrate adoption. The next morning the attorney came with the papers for us to sign. I held my baby in the crook of my left arm and kissed and cried all over him as I signed away my parental rights to him with my free hand. Later that day I got in the car with my mom, and waved goodbye to him as his parents held him. My heart was shattered.

I had him on a Thursday. I was back in summer school the following Monday. A couple months later, I graduated high school.

I wish I could say I went on to do really great things. I did not. Not right away. I fell many times. I always picked myself up and dusted myself off. But it took me a long time to get my life together. When I finally did, I was so excited because it was also when my son would be turning 18. I was ready for him to find me and his other siblings. I was proud of my accomplishments and wanted to show him what I had done.

But his 18th birthday came and went, and nothing. Then his 19th. Then his 20th. The phone call never came. No letter, no email, nothing. The years ticked by with silence.

My daughter found him on Facebook. He never added her, presumably because he didn’t know who she was. I found him on Instagram and started following him. He followed me back. I was thrilled! I thought he would realize who I was and want to connect. In my head, I was planning our first meeting. What I would wear, what I would say. Months went by and still… nothing. I messaged him one day and apparently blindsided him. He told me he needed time. That was October 1, 2015. I’ve messaged him twice more since then, but he hasn’t replied.

I have three other children now. I’ve been happily married for four years, together for eight. I’ve accomplished some amazing things in the last few years, and have even more awesomeness on the horizon. I want to share all of it with this now 23-year-old man. It hurts me that he isn’t ready for that. But that is his decision, and his own story to write. I hope that soon he will want to be a part of my and my family’s life. I hope I will be able to re-write this story.

His birth father remained a big part of my life. In fact, we were even married for a brief time. Even after we divorced and moved thousands of miles away from each other, we continued to reconnect over the years. He was my first love and a true soulmate.

Last year I found out he was sick with cancer. In October, I flew from Utah to South Carolina to visit him in the hospital. He surprised me with his jokes, in his moments of clarity. But for the most part he was heavily drugged and in a lot of pain. When I left I told him I loved him. He said, “Do you think I’m dying?”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Why else would you come see me unless you thought I was dying?”

No, I told him. I was just in the neighborhood so I thought I’d stop by and say hi. Don’t mind that it was during a hurricane and Charleston was being evacuated. I told him I would come back a couple days later, before I flew back home. I ended up not being able to make it due to road closures after the storm had hit.

We chatted a couple times over the next few months. We caught up on each other’s lives. He told me he was proud of me. They were good talks. I sent him a text on Thanksgiving and didn’t hear back. Then again at Christmas. When I didn’t hear from him that time, I had one of our mutual friends check on him.

He had had a stroke and couldn’t speak. He was going downhill fast. On January 7, 2017, he passed away at age 42.

His death has weighed so heavy on my heart. Time. I’m so sad he ran out of time. I’m sad for how his story ended. When our son celebrated his Golden 23rd birthday on the 23rd of June this year, I felt the sadness that I know he always shared with me on that day, no matter how far apart we were. Knowing he wasn’t somewhere out there, commemorating the day in his heart, left me feeling disconnected. Like I was holding a string that used to be taut but is now dangling, no one on the other end.

This is my adoption portrait. It is beautiful and heart-wrenching. But it is fluid—and can be rewritten. My hope is my son will find me, sooner than later. He will find a family so loving and giving. We will never replace the family he grew up with, but we will welcome him and treat him as our own. This is the story I hope he wants to be written into. This is the story I wish for him to write for himself.

How to Make a Year Fly By

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Last November at our annual Ogden Pub Runners’ Pub Crawl, I bid on a silent auction item and won. The item was an entry into the Fall Classic 50k at Antelope Island. I blame this decision on the copious amount of wine I drank that night. Fortunately for me, I had two other friends who were also imbibing that night and they promised they would participate in the race with me. Another friend sweeps the race every year, so I knew that at least I wouldn’t be alone in this insanity.

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Bad decisions were made that night

When you have a year to get ready for a race, it seems like plenty of time, especially when you keep yourself busy with work, other races, and life in general. Which is exactly what I’ve done. I planned on making this a HUGE year since I turned 40 in January. But sheesh; I’m outdoing myself. To top it off, I’m starting my own business, ya know, since I didn’t have enough going on already.

And guess what? It is now the eve of the race; my first ever 50k; my first Ultra. I can’t believe it. I have known for just over a year that this was happening, and now it’s here. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t freaking out a little. I have had butterflies in my stomach for most of the week. I am also extremely excited. Tomorrow I become an Ultra Marathoner. Me. (And Alison, Brittany, Chuck and Dave aka My Tribe).

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One of our training runs on the Island

And that, my friends, is how you make a year fly by. I’m ready. Ready for the pain, the joy, the agony, the glory. Bring it on, Antelope Island. Bring. It. On.

The Thing About Autism…

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The thing about autism is that sometimes it downright sucks. You can smack on your smiley, happy face and post witty anecdotes on your social media. But what you really want to say, when your well-intentioned  friends and colleagues ask, is that it. freaking. sucks.

Autism will make you feel like you are both the BEST and WORST parent, all at the same time. It will pat you on the back, consoling you: “There, there. You’re doing fine. He’s doing fine.” Simultaneously, it will trip you and laugh at your surprised pain and bewilderment: “Ha! That’s what you get for trusting me!”

Autism is an asshole. It will drain you of every ounce of joy.

Autism is also beautiful and amazing, and will bring you to absolute tears.

Autism will make you feel like you are neglecting your “typical” kids because you’re so consumed and concerned with your Atypical child.

It will make you feel guilty; guilty for:

-failing your child

-exalting your child

-feeling resentful towards friends and their “perfect” children

-drowning in a few glasses of wine almost every night

-exploiting your child by blogging about him.

Autism will make you question the motivation for every decision you make. It will cause you and your spouse to fight. It will force you to be the referee between autistic big brother and non-autistic little brother.

Autism will sit across from you at the dinner table, eating corn kernels with fingers and not a fork. It will force you to PICK YOUR BATTLES, and you will decide the method of corn consumption is not one of those.

Autism will talk to you for 30+ minutes, in great detail and at a fast pace, about Minecraft; you will understand none of it.

Autism will make you wonder if your child will ever truly comprehend just how much you love them.

The thing about autism… is EVERYTHING.

 

The Power of Invisibility

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Last night I had my first meeting for the Board of Directors of the Weber State Alumni Association. It was held in a spacious conference room on campus. As soon as I walked into the room, I was greeted by the slender president of WSU, Chuck Wight, and his even more slender wife, Victoria. I inwardly geeked out a little as I chatted with them.

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A table by the entrance displayed purple folders and assorted WSU paraphernalia. I picked up the folder with my name on it and made my way to an empty table. Nancy, the Executive Director of Alumni Relations (and the only person in the room I knew), came over and hugged me. She looked at my stuff and asked, “Did you get your scarf?” I had not, so she grabbed one for me. It was silver and silky, with the WSU logo printed all over it. It was adorable and I was thrilled. There were even more WSU-branded items at my table, including an alumni pin and a deck of playing cards. And when I opened my purple folder I found the greatest treasure of all: a WSU ‘A’ lot parking pass, good until next August!! Y’all– that’s pure gold. I would have given my left arm for one of those when I was attending WSU!

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Not pictured: Adorable scarf!! 😦

The smell of chafing dishes filled with artichoke and spinach dip, Swedish meatballs, and bacon-wrapped chicken filled the air. I piled as much as I could fit on the tiny black plate (hey, I’m marathon training. Need to fuel up.) and sat at my empty table. I looked around the room at the others, most of whom seemed to know each other. Later, as we introduced ourselves, I realized they did indeed know each other. Oh, and also by this time, there were others sitting at my table so I wasn’t completely alone.

The table right next to mine was filled with the Young Alumni Association members. The Emeriti Alumni Association members took up a few tables. And then there were members of the Student Alumni Association. Men and women, young and old; many of them (myself included) decked out in purple.

When I told some members I was new to the BOD, they exclaimed, “Well you look like you should be a Young Alumni!” Total stroke to my 40-year-old ego, right? Little do they know I actually could be on the YAA. They are a group whose members graduated within the last decade. I graduated as a non-traditional (aka OLD) student in 2013. In any case, I’m happy to have my spot at the BOD table.

We spent the next hour doing an orientation. At the end of the evening, the Emeriti members gathered around a piano in the corner of the room and the rest of us stood at our tables and joined them in singing the WSU song “Purple and White”. I’m not going to lie: I didn’t know the words AT ALL. Fortunately I know the WSU cheer “Great, Great, Great,” so when we got to that part I totally nailed it.

All in all, it was a great night. I hurried to my car (I had to get to back-to-school night for our kindergartner) and as I headed off campus, I felt tears stinging my eyes and a lump in the back of my throat. What the hell was wrong with me?? Why was I so emotional? And I had this epiphany:

I had been invisible for so long and now I finally felt SEEN. Sheryl Sandberg wrote “Lean In,” challenging women to “sit at the table”. I had spent so many years waiting on and serving the people at the tables- literally- that I never dreamed of anything much bigger than that. And I can tell you from my 15-plus years of serving and bartending, I was very invisible. At best I was objectified. On average I was ignored. At worst I was belittled. FIFTEEN years of this.

But now… now I’m sitting at the table. A part of me looked around the room last night and thought, “I don’t belong here. I’m not worthy.” And another part of me thought, “I worked damn hard. This is exactly where I belong.”

I’m on the WSUAA Board of Directors. I am at the table. I am leaning in. I am seen. Finally… finally.

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The Golden Birthday

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The Golden Birthday

June 23, 2017. There is no legitimate reason for me to celebrate this day. But if there was a reason, that reason would be my son’s Golden Birthday. The day Joseph turns 23 on the 23rd.

But, since he is the child I placed for adoption 23 years ago, I gave up my right to celebrate. Another family has had the privilege of these festivities every year. Even so, each year on this day I would take time to reflect on the memories of the day I gave birth to a beautiful boy.

It’s always been a bittersweet day for me, but even more so the past five years. Once he turned 18 I had hoped he would look for me. As the years passed and I didn’t hear from him, I had to accept that that wasn’t going to happen. A couple years ago I found him on Instagram. I made contact with him and he told me “it was a lot to take in”. I haven’t communicated with him since, nor has he with me.

This year his birthday sits even heavier in my heart. On January 7, my high school boyfriend, my first husband, the person who also had to sign away his rights to this baby boy passed away. I always knew, no matter how long it had been since I had talked to him or how many miles apart we were, that on this day, he also felt the same as me. That June 23rd was special to him as well. And now he’s gone, and the solitary, bittersweet sadness is mine alone.

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I still have hope that one day Joseph will want to know me. One day my kids might have a relationship with him. He might be willing to take on a whole entire family that will love him. But that is his decision to make, his story to write. Just as this story is mine.

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Happy Golden Birthday, Joseph. Thank you for choosing me to bring you to your family. I hope to know you someday.