Monday, January 16, 2012

An Extra-Ordinary Trip Abroad

          Sometimes, it feels as though I can’t take myself anywhere. My encounters only lead to a comedy of errors and complications seemingly out of my control. Such was the case in 1999 when Spencer, my 16-month-old son, and I accompanied my husband on his business trip to Europe.
Spencer and I accompanied my husband on this business trip for a couple reasons. I didn’t want our family separated for an extended period of time. Too, I thought this was a golden opportunity for Spencer and me to absorb the culture of several European countries.
The massive 747 American Airlines plane reached Paris, France early in the morning 12 hours after leaving San Francisco. I felt nauseous from fatigue and the time change. We checked into the hotel and I was ecstatic at the sight of the bed, however, had been told not to sleep until the night to become acclimated to European time.
My husband headed to a business meeting and suggested I take Spencer on a sight-seeing stroll through the cobble-stone streets of Paris. Taking the keys to the hotel and some French francs, I put Spencer in a stroller and we headed out. I found a p√Ętisserie and eye-balled an array of mouth-watering pastries through the glass case. Having not taken the time or effort to learn one word of French, I pointed to several items while the kind woman put them into a bag. Having not taken the time to learn the local currency, I opened my coin purse and she gingerly took out the appropriate coins for me.
The weather was stunning as I pushed Spencer’s stroller and together, we nibbled our pastries. We stopped to peer into shop windows and wave to the owners inside. Continuing our journey for over an hour, I spotted a farmer’s market and purchased fresh fruit. Again, I opened my coin purse and allowed the stand owner to take the francs needed. When French was spoken to me, I politely smiled and said, “I’m an American, who speaks no French.” I was told an American can be spotted a mile away. The French people I met didn’t seem to care about my lack of effort to learn their language.
It was time to head back to the hotel for Spencer’s nap. As I rounded a corner leaving the farmer’s market, I looked to the left and then to the right. I wondered which way was the hotel. Standing there perplexed, a young Frenchman approached and asked, “Madame, you are lost, yes?” I responded, “I don’t speak French, sir.” He said, “I know. We can tell when an American doesn’t speak French. This is fine. Tell me, where do you wish to go?”
I dug my hand into a pocket for the wooden hotel key, which displayed the name and address of where we were staying. The kind young gentleman guided us back to our hotel, a 30-minute walk away. Truly, the Parisian folk couldn’t have been kinder.
The next day, I rented a car in anticipation of taking Spencer and myself for a cruise through the country. The gas tank was nearly empty so I pulled into a station to fill the tank. Pulling away shortly thereafter, we had the entire day to view the breath-taking scenery.
About 20 minutes after leaving the gas station, the rental car’s engine began to sputter. I checked the oil light and all appeared well. I learned all was not well when the car slowed to a stall. I found a pay phone near the car and dialed for help. Waiting in the car with Spencer, a tow truck arrived shortly thereafter. He asked whether I filled the gas tank. I assured him I had a full tank of gas as I’d recently left the gas station.
He asked whether I had a receipt for the gas, which I handed him. He looked down his nose at the receipt and in his heavy French accent announced, “I see you put gasoline in this tank!” I responded, “Well, that is what goes into a gas tank, isn’t it?!” He put his face to mind and said, “Ma’am, this is a diesel engine!” He towed my rental car to his lot where he emptied the tank and refilled it with the proper petrol.
After a two-day stay in Paris, it was time to catch a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. My husband had a business meeting there for the day and said he would meet Spencer and me in Montreux, Switzerland that evening. He’d hired a rental car for me to make the eight-hour drive with Spencer. With panic in my eyes, he assured me the navigational system would get me there with no problems.
The first problem was the G.P.S. system was programmed in German. Having learned no German before the trip, I motioned a passerby and asked him to set my navigational system to English. He obliged and with a button pushed here and another pushed there, the automated talking lady began guiding me to our destination.
While Spencer slept in his car seat in the back of the rented BMW, I “sped” along the autobahn, which has no general speed limit, however, the advisory speed limit is 130 kilometers per hour or 81 mph. I didn’t realize this, however, as I didn’t take a moment to read the German driving laws. My only focus was getting us to the French side of Switzerland by sunset.
With my hands firmly on the top of the steering wheel, I drove in the lane closest to the fast lane. Traveling the speed limit for the States, I set the cruise control for 65 miles per hour. The other drivers raced past me and were out of sight within seconds. Suddenly, a male driver pulled up on my left side and with fury in his eyes, pointed to the far right lane. Looking at him with confusion, he mouthed, “MOVE OVER NOW!” How in the world did he know I’m American?
I took mental note of the pristine highway with no road or advertising signs what-so-ever to mar the land. It finally dawned on me, however, I had no clue where we were. The navigational lady was speaking Gibberish. I pulled over to a vista point and found a small group of site-seers to ask directions. Within a few minutes, I was back on the highway, moving once again in the right direction.
The sun was beginning to set and I needed to stop for fuel. I used up the remainder of my Deutsche marks on gas and snacks. Pulling away from the gas station, I noticed a line of armed guards standing before the border between Switzerland and Germany. At that moment, I stopped frozen in terror as I had no money to cross the border. With Spencer awake in the back seat, I saw his large blue eyes wide as saucers as he stared at the guns held by the station soldiers. I calmly said, “Mama is going to cross the border now. Those guns are pretend, Honey.”
With my head in my hands, I prayed to Dear God for help. I held my breath as I struggled for the right words to reach my angels above. I promised Dear God I wouldn’t run out of the local currency again. As I slowly inched my car closer, I saw the armed men opening the doors to the car ahead and pointing for the passengers to get out. Their car was searched top to bottom, with a guard tearing the contents of the trunk to shreds. With their clothing pulled out of their suitcases and personal items strewn about, they were finally given the salute to proceed.
The terror in my eyes was visible to the man on Mars munching his green cheese. I slowly drove forward with my body frozen in place. I mentally prepared myself to hold my baby close to my heart as the contents of our luggage was surely to be invaded. I kept my head and eyes forward for the numerous armed guards.
The guard at my driver side window immediately swung his rifle over his shoulder, waving me through the gate and into the neutral country of Switzerland. I confidently nodded his direction and slowly pulled away. Thanking Dear God profusely for this unimaginable miracle, I allowed my shoulders to fall back into a comfortable position.
Pulling into Le Montreux Palace at 8:00 that evening, the valet team was at our car dressed as royal guards. My driver side door was opened and a hand offered to help me out. Spencer was gently scooped up by Karine, a beautiful hotel greeter, who carried him with loving arms and let him wear her uniform hat. 

                     

Once inside the foyer, Karine asked how my drive from Germany was and I told her what happened at the boarder. In her perfect English, she let me know my rented car just happened to have Suisse plates! I knew, however,  the drive had been divinely orchestrated.
My husband joined us later that evening after his flight from Germany. The next morning, he headed off to a business meeting, while Spencer and I prepared for the short boat trip from Lausanne to Evian, France, across Lake Geneva. As I held Spencer on my lap, I took in the sights of the Chablais mountain range all the white sipping Evian water, feeling the effects of this beauty water I’d only heard about. For the two-hour boat ride, I made sure to drink as much of this healthy water as possible. Four bottles later, the boat docked into the tiny town of Evian and off we walked.
A pit stop was in order, pronto! I located a public restroom and waited in the long line. With Spencer on my hip, we finally walked into a stall, only to discover the toilet had been stolen! Walking out of the stall, I held up three fingers and told the women waiting in line, “The toilet in stall number three is gone! NO TOILET!”
I walked back outside to the end of the line and waited again for my turn. By this time, things had become urgent as the four bottles of Evian had clearly taken their toll on my bladder. We finally reached another stall only to discover that toilet, too, was missing. Standing in disbelief, I set Spencer down to rest my tired arms. There, on the cement floor, I noticed a faint image of painted feet, complete with toes. The faded bare feet were in front of a hole in the cement floor. It was then all the pieces of the missing toilet puzzle fell into place. I was stunned.
The next day, Spencer, my husband and I caught a flight to Istanbul, Turkey to visit my husband’s relatives. Although we were leaving the pristine, open-minded carefree, surroundings of Switzerland, I was excited to meet my husband’s Turkish family members. Dressed as the hip local women in Switzerland, I wore white jeans, a pink sleeveless top, black high-heeled sandals, large silver hoop earrings and a massive gray, stone cross on a long, black string. My nails were painted light pink and I had the lip gloss to perfectly match. I was set for Turkey!
On the way to the airport, I asked my husband, “Where in the heck is Turkey, anyway?” He said, “It’s in the Middle East.” With huge blue eyes I asked, “The Middle East?!” He nodded his head up and down.
We boarded the airplane for the four-hour flight. A sign at the front of the airplane indicated the smoking section. Anxiously tapping a flight attendant on the shoulder I asked, “Is there smoking on this flight?” She confirmed one of my worst nightmares and I showed her my ticket, saying there’s no way I could sit in that section. She calmed my fears by letting me know our seats were in the ‘No Smoking’ section.
Locating our seats toward the back of the plane, I noticed we were directly behind the dividing sections. Horrified, I nabbed another flight attendant and said, “You know, smoke doesn’t realize where the dividing smoking sections are located.” With a glare, she walked away.
The moment the flight took off, the four Turkish men in front of our seats lighted each of their cigarettes. Incensed, I stood up, leaned over their seats and held Spencer while saying, “B-A-B-Y. This is my bbbaaabbbyyy. Please put out your smokes our you’ll hurt his tiny lungs.” The four men stared at the six heads on my shoulders and went about their smokes – and conversation. My husband was understandably very quiet.
Sitting back down, I pulled a barf bag out of the pocket in front of me and breathed into it. I could feel waves of nausea overwhelm me as I covered Spencer’s face with the light-weight sweater I was carrying. I sat with my head between my knees the entire flight.
We finally landed in Istanbul after what seemed an eternity. I told my husband I would meet him in the airport. I grabbed Spencer and raced off that airplane as fast as I could without pushing anyone over. Once we deplaned, I looked into the airport at a sea of burkas. It seemed as though a thousand eyeballs stared at the site of my Madonna wannabe attire. With my bare arms and massive “cool” stone cross, I felt horribly naked.
With Spencer on my hip, I ran to find my husband at the suitcase carrousel. After locating him, I cried, “Why didn’t you tell me where we were going? I didn’t know we were going to that part of the Middle East! I need my suitcase to change clothes before I’m stoned to death!”
Holding Spencer and dragging my suitcase into the ladies restroom, I dug out a pair of Levi’s, a sweatshirt and tennis shoes. I pulled off my necklace and earrings, too. I took some toilet paper and wiped off my favorite lip gloss. Throwing the clothes back into the suitcase, I slowly walked out of the stall and looked to make sure the coast was clear.
My husband’s relatives were waiting for us in their car, thankfully parked right out front. We had a wonderful visit with them and my husband handled his business meetings near by. Two days later, we caught a flight to Israel where my husband had business meetings.
While he headed off to his meetings, Spencer and I jumped into the back seat of a hired driver’s car. I wanted to see anything and everything to do with Jesus. While sailing along in the back seat with Spencer, I asked the older Israeli driver about the various aspects of the Israel culture.
Feeling comfortable with him by now, I asked how in the world circumcision became a practice. I furthered, “I mean, here we are in the land of the holy, right? We’re born with our God-given perfect body parts, right? Then, someone decides to begin the ritual of slicing tender skin off newborn boys? This is only done in America and Israel. What’s up with that?!”
All of a sudden, the driver pulled our car off to the side of the road and skidded to a crashing stop. He got out of the car, came around to my side and opened the door. “Get out, right now”, he barked. With rage in his eyes, he explained no one argues with God! Very quietly and calmly I replied, “You know what? You’re absolutely right. What was I thinking?”
Off we went for the remainder of the drive to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I put Spencer into a stroller while the driver repeatedly told me to stay close to him. After walking a mile deep with others waiting their turn, I scribbled my prayer on a piece of paper, rolled it into a tiny tube and shoved it into an empty hole.
The driver was having a smoke, so I pushed Spencer’s stroller on without him. In under a minute, Spencer and I were surrounded by a dozen teen-age Israeli students, all frantically trying to touch Spencer. Pulling him out of the stroller, I held him tightly.
From out of the blue, our driver appeared and yelled at the students in their native language. They all backed off immediately and ran in the opposite direction. Once again, I was in the dog house with our driver. He put his first finger to my face and said, “Don’t you ever wander off again. Do you understand me?” Nearly in tears, I asked him what they wanted with Spencer. He explained Spencer’s blond hair and blue eyes are unbelievable to those in the Middle East. They try to touch people who have these looks believing this will bring them good luck.
From there, I asked the driver if he would take us to the Mount of Olives, where many churches glorify Jesus’ acts in this part of Jerusalem.  I also said I wanted Spencer and I to ride a camel. He said, “I should have known.” While the driver waited in the car, Spencer and I rode a camel, which was great fun. From there, we walked into one of Jesus’ churches and sat there soaking up his spiritual energy through the rays of the stained glass windows.
By then, the day was drawing to a close and it was time to head back to the hotel. The return drive was quiet, while Spencer slept and I reflected back on the day’s events. Once back at the hotel, our driver smiled and said, “You are certainly the most fascinating person I’ve had the pleasure of driving.” I sincerely appreciated his kind-hearted words.
The next day, Spencer, my husband and I caught a flight back to Frankfurt, Germany where my husband had one final meeting. In the blink of an eye, it was time for our flight back to San Francisco. Sitting in our seats on the massive 747, I wondered who would occupy the empty seat on my left. Spencer and my husband rested comfortably in their seats to my right.
The very last passenger finally arrived and sat next to me. The older, 6’2 masculine-looking woman with red fingernails and lipstick slumped down into the seat on my left. Letting out a breath of exhausted air, she leaned over and said, “Hello, I’m Billie Felice. Am I ever in pain. I’m heading home after my sex change operation in Sweden.” Once again, I knew divine intervention had taken place.
Billie Felice relayed her entire life story during the flight to San Francisco. Touching down, I whispered to her, “I’m a writer of true life stories and I’d be honored to write yours.” Turning to my husband I said, “Thank you so much for an extra-ordinary trip abroad.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Color of Money

This photograph indicates Linda, Jill and I graduated in 1986 as does the front cover to this book. I didn't, however, they did. I walked through the ceremony with my best friends; however, I wasn’t graduating with them. We were late arriving as Waikiki Beach kept us longer than anticipated. As a result, we had to sit in the back of the auditorium with the math department instead of up front with the fashion department. How ironic as math is a subject I detest.
The truth is I failed Business Math and was instructed to take it again after tutoring for a year with a math professor. Instead, I “graduated” in the hallway of the Fashion Merchandising department while Dr. Carol Ann Dickson handed me a rolled up version of a diploma.
            Early on in grade school, I knew certain pieces of information were not clicking, were not registering and were not being received in the correct section of my brain. In my small high school, I alone brought the class Grade Point Average down with my failing test grades. Sitting in the back of the classroom, my classmate’s would turn around to stare at me.
            Leaving the comfort of my parent’s home after graduating high school, I followed my four best friends lead in heading on to higher levels of education. Attending a fashion–related school in Long Beach, I was hospitalized from the stress of failing my classes.
            Although I’d never skipped a day of school in my life, this was not enough to sustain my grades. With each attempt at higher learning, I left the institution with a 2.0 grade point average – or lower. I finally obtained an AA degree from Brooks Fashion Institute in Long Beach, California.
            Transferring to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, (U.H.) I was thrilled beyond words, however, not all my units from Brooks Fashion Institute were useable, which added another year of schooling. This did not matter; studying in the Land of Paradise would surely bring me the calm I needed and then I would be proud of my scholarly attempts. In my first month, I was told to join the Learning Assistance Program for students with learning disabilities.
            It was in my oral presentations I excelled. After taking the Meyers Briggs Personality Test, the instructor asked me to stand before the class. She said, “Students, this is the single most outgoing person you will ever see. Watch her sail through these courses to graduation.” I cringed at her sure words. It was in Business Math I failed.
            When graduation time came in 1986, I begged Dr. Carol Ann Dickson, my math professor, to allow me to walk with our group through the ceremony. The only catch was I asked her not to tell anyone I failed; I wasn’t really graduating. She agreed only because my presentations were outstanding and the stories I wrote caught her attention.
            She required me to take a year off from school, hire a math tutor, and then take her Business Math course the following year. I agreed. Across the street from the university was Punahou, a private high school. It was there I met Mike, my new math tutor.
            For a year, through rain and shine, on my bicycle I rode to Punahou High School for my tutoring session. When working together, I seemed to grasp the capacity to regurgitate the information he just relayed. I never told Mike I didn’t actually have a clue what he was saying.
            With my tutoring year completed, I came to Mike for my final session. He handed me a billing statement for his time and I stood absolutely stunned and speechless. The bill may as well have read, “Pay $10,000 now to the order of Mike, the Tutor.”
            Didn’t Mike realize I worked part time at night after school? Didn’t he realize I was on student loans from U.H.? Didn’t he realize I was eating just rice and peanut butter? But, but? Instead, I humbly stood before him and said, “Mike, I’m sorry, there’s no way I can ever repay you for your time. You will need to call the university and turn me in.” With that, I walked out his classroom door.
            A week later, Dr. Dickson approached me to say Mike called and needed to see me at once. Terrified, I said, “Dr. Dickson, let me explain.” She said, “Mike said you forgot your sweater and he wants to give it back to you.”
            That seemed plausible. I jumped on my bicycle, headed across the street, up the steep hill and locked my bike. I walked into Mike’s class room to find him sitting at his desk. That’s when he said, “Debbie, I have a deal for you. I know you’re in the fashion department at U.H. Come to my home, look it over and do whatever you can to bring it to life.”
            Walking out of his room, I knew I’d better move quickly before tears welled up. I rode my bicycle to his home, taking notes and making sketches with colored pencils from my back pack. From there, I rode my bicycle to the fabric store at the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
            With two extra large bags of fabrics, thread, buttons and stuffing, I headed back to the U.H. sewing department. Mrs. Yoder, the perfectionist, was still there. I asked if I could use one of the sewing machines. She gave me the key to lock up her room when I finished.
            Throughout the night, I sewed and sewed some more. The following morning, I handed Mrs. Yoder her key. When 8:00 a.m., arrived, I put the over-stuffed pillows back into the large plastic bags then jumped on my bicycle and rode over to Punahou to meet Mike.
            Handing him the brand new “homemade” pillows, I prayed he would like them. Taking the bags of pillows from my hands, he pulled each of them out very carefully while I held my breath. Holding the large brown one with colorful stripes to his chest, he said he could not wait for the day to end so he could head to his house and create a home. Can you imagine how I must have felt? But now, it was time to take my math final again.
            I rode my bicycle to Dr. Dickson’s class for the final. Sitting alone in the class with Dr. Dickson, I stared blankly at the exact pages Mike drilled into me the past year. I was not able to answer one question. Standing up to leave the room, Dr. Dickson told me to wait outside in the hallway. Nearly 10 minutes passed when she walked out to find me sitting on the floor. Standing up, I went to explain to her I didn’t know why I was unable to do the math test.
In her strong Southern drawl, she said, “Debbie, I am pleased to announce you passed by one point.” Shaking my head from left to right, she stared at me with that look and repeated, “Debbie, here is your diploma. Now, get out of here and begin your career as a fashion show producer.”
            Here I am 22 years later, thinking about the way my bill was paid.  I’m thanking both Mike, my math tutor, and Dr. Carol Ann Dickson, my math professor, from U.H. Together; they showed me debts can be repaid by means other than the color of money. 

Spencer

            Most of my years growing up, I was too mischievous for my own good. My mother told me I was born wearing golden boxing gloves; a powerfully strong infant, weighing 10 pounds and 4 ounces, prepared for a fighting match.
One evening when I was five, my mother went to dinner with a friend. Our favorite grandmother, Grammy Lou, was the baby-sitter for Ross, my four-year-old brother, and me. The moment my mother drove away, I took a bottle of children's chewable, orange-flavored aspirin from the medicine cabinet and dangled it in front of Ross’ nose. This bottle had no safety lid and I opened it with ease. I told Ross the aspirin was candy and I watched him eat every one!
When my mother returned a couple of hours later, she noticed Ross sprawled on the living room floor while Grammy Lou and I watched television. Grammy and I thought Ross was asleep. When my mother was unable to rouse Ross for bed, she asked, “Debbie, what’s wrong with Ross?!” I told her it could be because of some baby aspirin. When she asked how many, I showed her the empty bottle. I watched her face turn to shock. She asked how many tablets he ate and I said, “All of them. He thought they were candy!”
My mother called 911 and an ambulance arrived minutes later. After having his stomach pumped, Ross was required to remain overnight in the hospital. When my mother arrived home without him, I began crying hysterically. I thought I killed him and it was then I knew how much I loved my brother.
Because of this incident, and years of shenanigans as a teenager, I told my mother I’d decided to never marry or have children. I was terrified karma would provide a tiny version of myself, a mini me. She told me one day I’d change my mind. She was convinced I’d be a wonderful mother.
As an adult, the times of my life continued. There were more friends than I could count. Together, we attended endless parties, concerts, social events and other invitations. I believed I would live life this way until finally skidding to my grave.
When I was 33, I drank myself into a terrifying stupor, while angels floated about my head. When I awoke, a revelation had taken place; an epiphany, if you will. What I’d been doing most of my years wasn’t the way I wanted to live the rest of my days. I knew I wanted to lead a calmer existence; be married and become a mother.
At 36 years of age, my visions began coming true. I married and seven months later, learned I was pregnant. I was positive I was going to have a girl; little did I know another plan was in store. After 60 hours of labor, a healthy, screaming boy was placed in my arms.
Spencer, my son, is nearly 13-years-old now. He’s providing an image of how growing up can be; he’s nothing like me as a child. While I’m still boisterously outgoing, he’s on the quiet side. In school, I struggled with my studies, bringing home D’s and F’s on my report card and yet, never skipped class. Spencer maintains his honor roll status with ease. While I have a lot of fire in my temperament and can be high strung, Spencer is peaceful. At times, I envy this quality.
Although I divorced eight years ago, Spencer and I are surrounded by our exceptional family of friends. Too, he and I have each other. We run our ranch to several rescued farm animals; living a healthy, fulfilled, wholesome and organic life. Together, Spencer and I are strong.
When my mother was dying, she promised to guide Spencer and me from above. I was concerned I wouldn’t be the best mother to Spencer without her direction. It’s been over nine years since she passed; I continue doing as I believe she would suggest.
My mother was right in the wisdom she relayed when I was a teenager. Because of Spencer, I’m more than I ever imagined possible. With Spencer, I’m learning all I need to know about life. 

When I was five, I went to my brother
with candied pills, hidden by our mother
He gobbled them up because he knew
if they came from me, they’d be good for you
The minutes passed and his eyes rolled back
from the aspirin making his heart attack
Grammy and I sat watching TV
while Ross tried to sit and be with me
Collapsed on the floor without a sound
his world was spinning ‘round and ‘round
Mom came home and found him still
the ambulance came and with the will
Of help from them and up above
I learned it’s Ross I dearly love
The years rolled past; I became a mother
to you, my son, there is no other
Who teaches me of a better way
to be who I am, to have my say
Free from anger, fear and pain
to smell the fragrance of the rain
You tell me when my impatience flares
with those who only have their cares
And miss the beating of other hearts
here with us, is where it starts
Because of you, I’ve grown to be
a little more patient; more carefree
Of making life too complicated
the person I was before you, I hated
Our life is rich in so many ways
we’re strong together, even on those days
When it seems our backs are against the wall
we remind each other to stand quite tall
When the rubber meets the road, it’s me and you
we know somewhere, out of the blue
Great news is bound to come our way
perhaps on the dawning of this day
I’m raising you and we will see
the person I’m still learning to be.

Tara's Tale

               One Saturday evening, Tara and Tom, her husband, walked into their favorite restaurant for a dinner celebration with friends. Two hours later, Tara was unable to walk and carried out the front doors on a stretcher to an awaiting ambulance.
            The following Monday morning at school, Peggy Moore came running up and said, “Tara’s had a stroke in her spine and is told she won’t walk again. She’s at a rehabilitation hospital for the next six weeks. I want to put a fund together, but they’re vegan and I don’t know what that is.” I explained vegans don’t eat anything, which has ever touched an animal. This includes cheese and milk. I told Peggy the best thing for the school to do is gather money for a gift certificate to Whole Foods.
            At the time of Tara’s injury, our children attended Kings Mountain Elementary, a tiny school of only 72 students. Our children all knew each other, but several of the parents hadn’t actually met Tara and Tom. Both working parents, Tara made sure to walk Ryan, their son, up to his classroom each morning. Before racing off to work, Tara always gently leaned over to kiss her young son good-bye.
            I wanted to help Tara, Tom and Ryan in some manner, however, I didn’t know them personally. I went home and looked for Tom’s cell number on the school roster. I was nervous trying to figure out how to explain who I was and why I was calling. When Tom answered his telephone, I said, “Uh, hello, this is Spencer Gilson’s mom from Kings Mountain School.” Tom knew who Spencer was as he and Ryan are friends. I told Tom I learned of Tara’s news and wanted to help somehow. He said Tara and I could begin emailing as she had access to a computer at the rehabilitation facility.
            Sending Tara my first email, I learned she knew who I was from Ryan and this helped tremendously. I told her I am very familiar with the vegan diet as I am a vegetarian. We hit it off like a house of thunder and began correspondence during her six week duration at the facility.
            Tom brought Tara to Kings Mountain School to say hello to an awaiting crowd. When I saw her for the first time in her wheelchair, I was too stunned to move. It was true; Tara really was no longer walking. She was surrounded by well-wishers, who sent their love and prayers to her while she was away. Tom and Ryan proudly stood by and watched Tara being consumed by the tight-knit closeness of our school community.
            Finally, I saw a break in the crowd and as I stepped forward, Tara’s arms opened wide. We hugged as if waiting forever to be united. Seeing Tara in her new stage in life was overwhelming, though I remained strong in her presence. Her big beautiful smile and huge blue eyes were exactly as I’d known before her incident. These expressions of her soul remained intact.
            The company Tara worked for over the years put together a fundraiser shortly after she arrived home. Hundreds of people from all over our community attended to help cover costs of Tara’s transition. Their home was changed to accommodate Tara’s wheelchair; her car was modified with hand controls. Medical bills, which were not covered by their insurance, had less of an impact with money raised from the benefit.
            Nine months after Tara’s incident, she went into surgery to have a medicine pump installed to control her leg spasms. She went back to the rehabilitation facility for approximately three weeks so the doctors could monitor her newest medication. Seven months later, Tara had surgery to repair the pump as it became entangled inside her body. Several months after that, Tara endured another surgery to re-route her bladder function. A tube was inserted into her belly button, going directly to her bladder for easier functioning. Nearly 18 months after her incident, Tom found a van that changed Tara’s life, giving her back a measure of independence. The van has a ramp so Tara can easily come and go with her wheelchair.
            I’ve never seen Tara cry over this incredible change in her life. Sometimes, I have difficulty grasping what happened and try to keep my perspective. I need to know why life events take place and there aren’t always immediate answers, if ever. The one thing Tara knows for sure is four days prior to her incident, she had a birth control injection. Did this cause the stroke in her spine, leaving her paralyzed from her chest to her toes?
            When I play kickball or badminton with Spencer, my son, I think of Tara. When I walk out to pasture to pet my animals, I think of Tara, also an avid animal lover. When Tara and her family come to visit, I try to have the animals come to the gate so she can pet them. I easily climb in and out of my truck and Tara will cross my mind.
            Tara doesn’t get dressed, use the bathroom or shower the way she once did and this is incredibly frustrating for her. Before driving to a new establishment, she calls ahead making sure it is wheelchair accessible. She double-checks every move she will make before leaving her home. Her long blond hair is now cut to her shoulders; it’s easier for Tom to wash. The things I do without thinking force me to think of Tara.
            I’m much more thoughtful of other’s needs because of what Tara, Tom and Ryan experienced. When I see a capable woman walk into the handicapped stall of a public bathroom, I cringe. When someone able-bodied parks in a handicapped space, I picture Tara stranded without a close parking spot. If someone is having difficulty walking to a door, Spencer runs to open it for them.
            My life is enriched by the addition of our new friends. When we get together, I enjoy pushing Tara in her wheelchair. I tease her about popping wheelies in the parking lot and getting speeding tickets. Tara is a beautiful being whose life fell apart and was put back together in a most profound way. Because of her incident, Tara’s met people she never realized existed. I’ve learned a lifetime in the past three years from Tara’s tale. 

Murder on Hillview Road

Witnessing a murder is only something you read about. My girlfriends and I were on our way home from an enjoyable evening. It was 2:10 in the morning. As a 32-year-old, it still felt great to be single and carefree. Lynn, my good friend since we were young teen-agers, was driving her two-door Honda hatchback. Marie, our other childhood friend, fell asleep in the backseat. I dozed off in the front passenger seat.
Suddenly, I felt Lynn anxiously tapping my arm. She urged me to wake up and take a look at the scene on the corner. We stopped at a signal at the corner of Hillview Road and Connecticut Avenue. Several young men, appearing to be in their early 20’s, were involved in a fight with two other young men at the bank on the corner. I told Lynn we needed to help.
            When we rolled down our windows and started yelling, several of the men ran away. In spite of our hollering, two of the assailants continued to attack the other two and now threaten us.  Lynn and I responded with more shouting and screaming. As the victims attempted to back away, one of the assailants stabbed each of them several times. The two victims landed flat on their backs, on the street near my door. One assailant fell to his knees and continued stabbing.
I jumped out of the car and stretched my body across the two victims. With my head facing the ground and the bodies under me, I could clearly see an assailant’s shoes. He swiftly moved around me, proceeding to violently kick each of the two victims. Fortunately, he did not touch me. All of a sudden, he stopped his attack. Lynn jumped out of her car, grabbed her baseball bat from the trunk and chased the two assailants away. Marie, too terrified to move, stayed in the car.
            With the assailants out of the picture, I asked the two young men their names. They responded, “Bobby,” and “Scott.” As I kneeled between them, holding one hand in each of each my own, I continued talking with them in an effort to determine exactly why the attack happened.
Bobby and Scott were drinking heavily at a pub across the street near the bank. They ran out of cash and went to the bank for more drinking money. As it turned out another young man, of African American and Caucasian descent, was also at the ATM. Apparently Bobby and Scott, both white males 23 years old, began shouting racial insults at him. They were unaware he was accompanied by several friends waiting for him in the car.
            Observing Bobby and Scott’s bloodied clothing revealed the severity of their wounds. I requested someone to call an ambulance and the police. Several cars drove over the sidewalk around us, quickly speeding away. A young woman with long blond hair came running up, pleading with me not to let Bobby die. I told her to get away; shortly thereafter another friend came to her assistance.
Scott repeated, “Please don’t let me die.” All at once, Bobby’s hand felt less firm in mine. I looked into his eyes, watching as he gazed into the distance. I wondered, “What is he watching?” His handsome young face became less drawn, somewhat softer. A slight smile curved his lips in an upward direction. I laid my head on his chest, feeling one final beat of his heart. Lynn came running up and as I pointed to Bobby, I told her he just died. In the background, I heard screams of the young woman with long blond hair. Later, we learned she was Bobby’s girlfriend, the mother of their infant child.
            The ambulance and police arrived shortly thereafter. The entire area, including Lynn’s car, was taped off. The sleeping bag, Lynn provided as cover for Bobby and Scott, was confiscated as evidence. Detective Kathryn Anderson escorted us to the police station. There, we were asked to detail our story several times and finally, at 6:00 a.m., Lynn, Marie and I were allowed to return home. The night was long and cold. As I sat in a hot bath, the events of the entire evening played over and over in my head. I kept asking myself, “Did this incident of racially driven violence really happen?”
            A tremendous feeling of stress fell heavily on the shoulders of Lynn, Marie and me. We feared the assailants would not be captured, allowing them to be free after committing such a crime. Detective Anderson was able to piece together enough evidence to identify and apprehend the alleged stabber. She tracked the activity at the ATM that night, which led to his identification.
Despite his youth, he was 17 years old; Detective Anderson was familiar with his long-standing criminal record. Shortly after he was picked up, we were asked to identify him in a police line-up. The line-up at the juvenile detention center was disturbing.
A two-way mirror was not provided and the young men could clearly see us. In fact, one winked at Lynn. Lynn quickly and accurately identified the perpetrator, thereby confirming Detective Anderson’s findings. When the assailant was identified, the young men in the line-up were brought through the lobby, where the three of us were sitting. Naturally, we were the objects of their attention.
Lynn, Marie and I, provided a most admirable scenario for the police who acknowledged our contributions in bringing a criminal to justice. “Three young women came to the aid of victims whom they never met.” In the end a murderer was sent to prison.
Each of us was honored with a letter from the Chief of Police, a Certificate of Valor, and a poster-sized acknowledgement, from the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Justice, and the State. This was for outstanding service to the community and state and for heroic action in support of criminal justice. We were also presented with a Resolution Award from the mayor, commending us for our exemplary and heroic citizenship.
            Lynn, Marie and I have known each other since 1973. Our families are very close. We were raised with the same set of values, adopting a sense of responsibility, motivating us to aid and assist when necessary. If given another opportunity, I am certain each of us would once again help someone in need. This incident helped shape me. I am privileged to be an integral part of life, understanding the domino effect we have on one another. 

Katydid

             She’s an angel in human form. I met Katy when I was 13. My family and I recently moved to Redding, leaving ranch life behind. The day after we arrived at our new home, I met Katy, Donna, and Susan, who were playing down the road outside Donna’s house. Instantly, a group of four friends was formed as they accepted me into their close-knit circle. It didn’t take long for us to name our group The Movie Stars.
            When she was four-years-old, Katy was in a tree fort being built by her father. The four sides were not yet up, however, Katy and her older brothers enjoyed playing in it. Knowing Katy was terrified of creepy-crawly bugs, her older brothers showed her a worm one day when she was quietly playing alone in the tree house. Terrified, Katy backed away from her brothers and the worm. She tumbled out from an unfinished side of the tree fort and landed flat on her back. She was knocked unconscious from the fall; her brothers ran into the house and alerted their mother.
            An ambulance arrived minutes later and Katy was raced to the hospital.  It appeared as though there was no damage to Katy's tiny body and she was released to her mother. Once they arrived home, Katy told her mother about her terribly hurting head. It was assumed this was only a minor side effect of the fall. It was then her mother gave Katy the nickname after Katydid, the insect.        
Katy and I enjoy sharing our thoughts on the world, trials, tribulations and life’s events. It’s nearly impossible to find someone with whom you can share your heart’s desires. She refrains from telling you why what you want is wrong. With Katy, I could be crying and she might say, “Yes, I hear everything you’re saying. You feel sad, hurt, betrayed and angry. What can you do to you feel better? I think a trip to Bath & Body Works is a good place to start.” Right away, I calm down; I’ve been heard and understood. She guides me to eventually finding my own answers.
            For her birthday a couple of years ago, I interviewed Katy. I wrote down what she said and titled it, “I Am Katy.” This is what she wants her loved ones to know.
            Before she is dust in the wind, Katy wants it known who she really is. She is actually not a movie star; she hopes this is not a requirement for capturing your attention. She, like you, came into this life with a mission. She is required by God to fulfill this mission as a moral, complicated, trusting, knowing, caring, understanding, positive, healthy, selfless, admirable, generous, spiritual, respectable, confident, funny, strong, perceptive, accomplished, graceful, grateful, creative, inspiring, courageous, honorable, empathetic, sympathetic, attentive and loving human being. Also, she is fashion conscious.
            When the vulnerable are at risk of danger or harassment, she is the first to take a stand on their behalf. Do not challenge her; she is an unexplainable force. Should you attempt to cloud her thinking with negativity, she will walk away. If you are in Katy’s company, she invited you. You are someone with whom she wishes to spend her time; someone she values and feels comfortable having around those she loves.
            She, too, works through the love of God, as Mother Theresa continues to do from above. Like Diana, Princess of Wales, she will show her sons the face of poverty in other children. You may think you know her; perhaps one day you will read her words.
            Listen closely, Katy’s family of friends, and honor her now before her funeral. She is not here for long; neither are you. Let it be known, she is Katy; my cherished friend.

Where did you come from, Katy, dear?
straight from heaven, blue and clear
Continuing another angelic task
for those in need you rarely ask
Questions of them; you already know
what one needs; you always glow
Your wings will be open wide
for those who need shelter inside
If we’re lucky, we’ll see you’re more
than anyone we’ve met before
We’ll treat you with tender loving care
for you are someone we would not dare
To have escape and leave our life
you’re a mother, daughter, sister, and wife
You’re my friend; you’re one of the best
I phone you when life puts me to test
You calm me down, my worries fade
I thank God you were made
You came straight from the crystal blue
paving the path for me to you.