Weekend supplement, because everyone keeps saying I’m a writer.

This week, our local hospital announced that it was closing the Maternity Ward, effective October 1st. Our community was immediately vocal, expressing outrage, disbelief, and sadness. The opinions were filled with rage and confusion.

Over the past 20 years, the hospital had undergone massive renovations under the auspices of becoming more competitive and state-of-the-art. The network running the show – the names are no longer important because that network has changed too many times – had what we now know to be delusions of grandeur, but we in the community were reluctantly along for the ride, as long as our access to healthcare was not only continuous, but vastly improved.

We observed, warily, as the hospital’s health system bought out the neighborhood directly to the southeast of it, razing houses and historic buildings and re-zoning and even eliminating side streets.

For parking.

In 2007, Hamsher House, the original site of our hospital, which was built in 1917, was demolished in order to make way for 50 additional parking spaces. This building had become a school of nursing when the present-day hospital was built, then was sold to the University of Pittsburgh. Eventually, it was sold back to the hospital and used as doctors’ offices. The explanation for the demolition was chronicled in the local newspaper, and can be read here. Their reasons were perfunctory and typical for a big, corporate monster chewing up and spitting out obstacles. “Out with the old; in with the new.”

The original Bradford Hospital and Maternity, courtesy of The Bradford Landmark Society. Notice “maternity”?

The Hamsher House nameplate being removed. Out with the old, in with a dinky little conglomeration of shrubbery.

That 72×18-foot garden? Basically a bunch of shrubbery and perennials off to the side of what is now the hospital’s main entrance. With a bench. My garden in front of my house, while certainly not upscale, is more interesting to visit.

Harry Potter cat will read to you in my garden. The hospital’s “garden” doesn’t offer such perks.

We continued to ingest the press releases and ribbon-cuttings and announcements of new specialists moving into the area to provide us with closer options, instead of the realities many semi-rural and rural communities face: if you need specialized care, you’re going to have to travel to the big city. In our case, it was always Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh. Some are 100 miles away; some 200. That’s quite a trek for anybody, and when you’re sick? Being able to get your chemotherapy 5 or 10 or 15 minutes’ distance from home is a major improvement on a 2-hour drive to Buffalo.

For a very short-lived time, all seemed good. The hospital was beautifully renovated and whole wings added on. It became a massive, steel and glass puzzle to navigate, but that’s the price we pay for progress, right? In 2012, I had a heart catheterization there in our state-of-the-art cath lab. Just a few, short years before, I would have been “sent out”. It was so comforting to be five minutes away from home for a procedure that petrified the fuck out of me.

Then, suddenly, the gears began grinding; softly at first, then a little louder. Doctors began leaving for “other opportunities.” There were rumors of unrest between the hospital’s network and those doctors. Then, our health system was changing. It was announced that our hospital would be consolidating – partnering, so to speak – with a hospital 25 miles away, across the Pennsylvania border, in New York. I chronicle that in the following piece, which I wrote on Friday, when the news that our hospital was now going to cease delivering babies, broke. The hospital’s official statement can be read here, if you’re interested in their mealy-mouthed explanation, citing declining births and such.

I know that many, many rural areas are watching this very same scenario happen. We aren’t unique, or special. But in a country that has given carte-blanche to insurance companies, essentially allowing them to maintain a chokehold on patients as consumers, and not with compassion and the very tenets that the Hippocratic Oath spells out, when are we going to insist that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, ALL-FUCKING-READY?

Our healthcare system is broken, and yet we are allowing a certain demographic in this country to continue to hand over power to the 1%. It’s business as usual for them; they don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies; they just know how to capitalize on an industry. Yes, that’s right: healthcare is an industry. Every time you get sick, or a family member does, a corporate CEO gets gets his wings. In this case, it’s a lear jet.

So, without further ado, here is my editorial, if you will. Call it my shot over the healthcare business’s bow. It caused a little stir in this sleepy little town, and I submitted it to the local newspaper after private and public messages to do so, daring that conservative publication to print me. “You’re a writer,” one person said, “and we need your voice!”

Consider this my roar.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

FOLLOW THE MONEY. This was less than 3 years ago.

Years of mismanagement by CEOs and a hospital that tried to grow too big for the area it served has been culminating in a facility that ships its patients out, rather than keeping them, when a condition proves just a tad bit complicated. Every day, we in Bradford hear the whirr of rotating wings as the medivac helicopter lands to whisk a patient off to Buffalo, to Erie, or to Pittsburgh. The ambulance services work overtime to transport patients who aren’t stable enough for the air transport, or in inclement weather. This adds up to massive profits for those services, since a medivac transport costs as much as $40k and ambulance transport – even from your house to the hospital – has skyrocketed in cost. This is healthcare as a business, people, and it isn’t progressive, or more advanced, or state-of-the-art. It is services gouging the consumer; the injured, sick, stressed consumer. It is big insurance business. It is criminal.

When my mother was rushed to the hospital that last time, almost 7 years ago, it was decided that her developing pneumonia required treatment at a “more skilled” facility 100 miles away. More skilled? What, exactly, was this behemoth hospital we were at, with its many wings, departments, and skilled staff?

This community had watched as houses were razed to create parking lots for 3 blocks. We had watched as “advanced, state-of-the-art systems” and testing machinery and whole wings of advanced care (the Cardiac Suite, for one) were brought in, and new specialists joined the staff. We saw outpatient services open all over town, from a lab downtown to hospital-contracted physicians’ offices. Historic buildings were torn down to add on to an older hospital, creating a maze of hallways and more than a little confusion. Whereas at one time, you walked through the front doors to a lobby and took a elevator to the floor you needed for whatever reason, be it tests or to visit someone, NOW you had to enter through a DIFFERENT lobby and access a different set of elevators depending on your destination. The front became the back; the back became the place where you could go left, to one set of elevators that couldn’t take you to the area of the hospital you needed; that one was down the hall on your right, winding along another hallway, and to your left.

Confusing? Yes. But progress! It was going to make our hospital a cutting-edge center of diagnostics, of surgeries, of specialized care. Progress! That’s the line we were fed. Healthcare professionals rejoiced at the idea of being involved in something so exciting. We, the public, weighed our discomfort at a new, confusing system and thought, “At least we’ll get the best care here.”

Then? The specialists began to leave town, citing a myriad of reasons. The cardiologist you began treatment with would leave and a new one would come and you’d have to establish a new relationship; then HE would leave, too. Then? An unexpected merger with a nearby New York State hospital. Staff was either moved or let go to allow for the staff in the New York hospital to work here, or vise-versa. There were rumors of salary cuts. Whole jobs were disappeared. There were layoffs. A laundry list of predictive events began occuring: transporting patients out; sending patients to other facilities for tests or treatments; rumors of executives making money hand over fist while the quality of care suffered overall. Who cared if that shiny, expensive lobby had marbel floors and welcoming seating and a patient concierge service and a boutique-level gift shop? We wanted to be cared for; to be made well again.

My mother was to be moved to Erie for her pneumonia. Her blood oxygen levels were hovering at 90-92%. They were rapidly stabilizing just being in the ER. The decision was made to move her, and we left ahead of her to get there as quickly as we could, to meet her there. While enroute, about an hour into the trip, I was called and notified that they had “wanted to medivac (never discussed while we were at the hospital), but the visibility was poor due to rain.” Instead, they were loading her into the ambulance when “suddenly” her blood oxygen bottomed out and they had to intubate.

While I would never, ever suggest that BRMC killed my mother, I do believe that the decision to move her was a mistake, and contributed to her lightning-fast decline over two days. Intubating her then – I believe because the stress of the move caused her stats to drop – almost certainly signed her death certificate. She went on life support and never came off; that is, until I had to make that decision for her. Sure, she had amazing care in Erie, but they were fighting a battle that was exacerbated by poor decision-making at home. Despite their advanced care and superlative staff of rns, specialists, and hospitalists, my mother was doomed to never leave that hospital at the moment OUR hospital chose to send her there. She might have died anyway, sure. But she would have done that here, at home, where we could be with her ’round the clock. Empathetic care cannot ever be downplayed. Now, she is gone, and the massive bills incurred just over 2 days seem like blasphemous footnotes to me.

Today, the news was announced that we would be losing our Maternity/Women’s health wing. It will close its doors on October 1st. This is an enormous, tragic blow to this community. After October 1st, there will no longer be any babies born in Bradford. Their parents will have to drive 25, 45, or more miles away to give birth. This seems inexplicable to me; two of my deliveries were there, my hysterectomy was performed there, and five of my grandchildren were born there. We have been very fortunate in this semi-rural community to have had the ability to have our children in a hospital just 2-10 minutes from home. I know other communities have not been that lucky. I can’t even imagine the added stress and worry that expectant mothers will encounter knowing that the hospital they’ll need to get to for delivery is, at a minimum, 30 minutes away. 30 minutes is a crucial amount of time, and things can change very quickly when you’re bringing a tiny human into the world. Let us not even begin to contemplate the many reasons why infant mortality rates are high in a country that should be number one in healthy, viable births; this kind of scenario likely contributes.

The news, though, is devastating to the community and to the truly excellent staff, and further demoralizes an area that can’t take much more. Something HAS to give, and while I will not point fingers at the current administration in DC – because the wheels that would bring us to this conclusion began turning more than a decade ago – I will point out that nothing will be fixed while tycoons and their special interests run this country. We deserve so much better. Don’t we?

My dad was cooler than yours.

This week, the first trailer for the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was released. Set in 1993, it is the true story of a writer’s odyssey, of sorts, as he did a piece about Fred Rogers, the creator and eponymous hero of millions of children for his show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Of course, Tom Hanks is playing Fred Rogers. Who else would dare? Who else is everyman, able to seamlessly zip into a character and become that character without fail? Who else is worthy to go to the ultimate land of Make-Believe and pretend to be a man so universally loved and cherished in the hearts of young and old? It had to be Hanks. You can watch the trailer here.

My eyes were massive gobs of wetness about 15 seconds in, when Mr. Hanks began to sing the song that inspired the title of this movie. If you know about my eyes and how few, actual tears I can make, this was somewhat of a major event for me. Suddenly, I was 3 again.

And BOOM. Tom Hanks becomes Mister Rogers.

I’ve told this story before, to a select number of people. They no doubt felt really sorry for me when I did, but that can’t be helped, I suppose. When people hear something particularly sad or completely pathetic, their empathetic hearts respond.

So, yeah; when I was a little girl, I thought Fred Rogers was my father.

Yep. This guy. The Mister Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I wasn’t a stupid child; my mother and grandmother constantly challenged my little brain with knowledge. I was enrolled in preschool at age 2, because of my neck condition and the need to have physical therapy weekly from the month I was born in 1967. Preschool was a “perk” of being a patient of Shriners Hospital and Crippled Children. Crippled Children was a part of the Easter Seals program and the victim of the time when political correctness was not yet a thing. If the image that name conjures is that of a bunch of kids in wheelchairs, assorted body braces, and other walking aids gimping it across a field to a finish line and the arms of their proud parents (and then having cake) that was pretty accurate. We were always being set up for photo ops at events we were invited to, be it an amusement park trip, a circus, or Luncheon With Santa. It is now properly-titled CARE For Children, and has really branched out in providing services not just for the physically impaired child, but for the mentally impaired as well. You can check out their website here, if you want. It meant what it said; we were a group of children in the county who suffered from varied birth defects – from my particular defect called acute torticollis, to various other maladies involving the spine, limb malformations, club and flat feet, cleft palates – and we were treated by doctors who traveled to Bradford from Erie, diagnosing and working with the two pediatricians in the area. Trips to Shriners Hospital weren’t uncommon for those who needed procedures; I was a lucky one, receiving all my treatment right at the Crippled Children Clinic, located in an old building that once served as the hospital’s laundry facility. We were always “going to clinic” and I both abhorred and loved it, because my therapist, Mrs. Smith, was the nicest lady ever.

My memory of the place is dim, yet will never leave me; it was dark, antiseptic, and dilapidated, with very long, cavernous hallways that echoed with the cries of children in pain. Wooden benches lined those halls, where we would sit as we awaited our appointments. The doors had frosted glass and would open and close with hollow, metallic sounds that constantly reverberated through those yawning catacombs. Perhaps they weren’t as big as I recall, but I was tiny when I visited them the most; an infant and then a toddler. Everything is massive when you are small.

My condition, acute torticollis, is difficult to explain. The actual name is Congenital Muscular Torticollis, or CMT. No one knows how it forms; it could be genetic, or the way I lay in my mother’s womb, or there could have been trauma somehow. If you want to read about the fuckery of this condition in scientific jargon, check out this link. I still suffer from acute bouts of stiffness, pain, and limited mobility. My cerebrospinal MRI is a diagram of horror.

In any event, the SCM (sternocleidomastoid) muscle in my neck was shortened and in spasm, causing my head to tilt to the left side and drawing my chin to my shoulder. In my case, it was so severe that it was noticed immediately, and my pediatrician (bless you, Dr. Silverstine) referred me to Crippled Children right away. There are other physical characteristics of this condition, including the oh-so -attractive -sounding facial asymmetry (one side of my face is a teensy bit smaller than the other) and inability to turn one’s head. There was no way I was going to hold my head up or be able to turn it, so the decision was made to start physical therapy right away. I would have to be seen a minimum of once a week to stretch my neck until I was a year old, and then frequently throughout my preschool years until it was decided that they had adequately given me a future with more mobility. My future mobility would always be in question, because nobody knows when a recurrence of spasm will happen. How I sleep, what position my neck is in, a sneeze, and even stepping onto uneven ground can set off “the neck”. I have always been told “You could lose mobility at any time,” and so I have simply lived with the episodes, hoping for relief each time it happens.

I don’t remember all of the excruciating neck-stretching therapies; my mother recalled that I was in pain all the time because the doctors were racing a clock that said that if they didn’t lengthen and develop strength in my SCM before I was a year old, I would likely never have it. She abhorred the use of a pacifier and yet, it was the only thing that comforted me (until I was 4 years old, which literally means I sucked it up) and she and my grandmother did the best they could to keep my neck muscles strengthening at home. I can only imagine the stress they were under; in nearly every photo of me as a baby, I’m either tearful or bawling. The smiles would come later, but I always looked like I might burst into tears at any given time. I could not have been much of a bundle of joy.

Enter preschool, and with that, trained preschool teachers/physical therapists who worked all of our muscle groups, including our brains. During the day, I was being challenged at preschool; in the mid-to-late afternoons, my butt was parked in front of the television to watch Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Zoom. It’s no wonder that I could read and write before I was 4; tying my shoes was a breeze and I remember entering Kindergarten and being amazed at the kids who couldn’t do any of those things. I was smart, sure, but I had been given a head start that lots of really poor kids don’t get, due to my birth defect. You Christians would say that The Lord Giveth and He Taketh Away; I say thanks, Mom, for taking advantage of every opportunity given. I may have been a welfare baby eating government cheese, but I was well-educated.

Anyway, enter my “dad.” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood followed Sesame Street. Don’t ask me why I got it into my head that he was my dad; I just did. I was perhaps 2-3 when this thought formulated. I didn’t spend much time with other kids at this point, so most of my knowledge of the nuclear family came from brief observations while out in the public and by watching television. I never called him Daddy, nor did I tell anyone who I thought he was; he just was to me. This guy came through a door every day at the same time and he talked to me as if I was the most precious person in the world to him. That he was on tv was not important; I still thought that the music I heard on the radio in the kitchen and in the car was being performed live at some amazing place called The Radio Station. Santa also visited The Radio Station every night from 4:00pm – 4:30pm during the frenzied few weeks before Christmas, too. The REAL Santa, that is.

It never occurred to me to question why my dad was on the television; I just knew that he was, and that he was very important. Some kids got their daddies at home every night, but my dad was so busy, this was how he did it. It was like a secret he and I shared, and I kept him hidden inside my tender, baby heart. I truly believed that he was coming through that television to speak to me and me alone. That my mother never spoke of him except to say “It’s time for Mister Rogers!” didn’t concern me. When you spend lots and lots of time waiting for doctors and laying on examination tables, you become adept at using your imagination to stave off fear or boredom. The Land of Make-Believe was just another mindscape for me.

There was such a magic about and around Fred Rogers, though, wasn’t there? He spoke directly to the children in his audience. He had an uncanny knack for being engaging and thoroughly engaging them with his easy mannerisms; he was the strongest, and gentlest, and most trusted male figure in my life. Even my uncles carried about them presences that left me slightly on edge and wary. I’d seen them spank my cousins and heard them raise their voices in anger; my dad never, ever did that. My dad in the land of Make-Believe was so much better than that. That he couldn’t possibly – because he was on tv – never, ever occurred to me. I lived my life trying to be good, because if I didn’t behave, he would find out. And I knew that I couldn’t stand it if I ever saw disappointment in his kind eyes.

The fact that my dad was only “with” me for 30 minutes a day was troubling to me, but I tried to rationalize as only a toddler/preschooler can; he was just Very Busy in the way my grandma was Very Busy fitting up lighters at the Zippo plant every day. It was like when Mommy was Very Busy doing housework, and so I must busy myself with my toys and my record player and not give her any trouble. I knew that I must make the best use of the time. I sat, my eyes never leaving the screen, as he talked to me about being kind, accepting and respecting everyone, and being as helpful and loving as possible. I learned about different jobs, about different countries, about how my feelings were as important as anyone else’s, and about how special I was to him. He sang, he talked to Daniel, and Lady Elaine , and X. I knew that the Land of Make-Believe was just play, but I’m not sure I ever grasped that the puppets weren’t real. They were just people he talked to, and part of our cherished circle. Through those 30 minute visits, I learned so much about sincerity, generosity, forgiveness, and honesty. He never disguised the fact that the world was a big, scary place; he just understood how to explain things perfectly, in ways that a preschooler grasped.

The worst part of my day, back then, was at the end of every visit, when my dad in the Land of Make-Believe would put his work shoes on again and remove his sweater, changing back into his coat. Tears would stream down my face and I would desperately try to memorize his face while he sang “It’s Such A Good Feeling”, and when he would tell me that there was nobody like me in the world but me, I would feel my heart break in two. I would plead with his image on the screen, “Please don’t go. Please, just stay.” I remember, as clearly as if it was yesterday, how that felt. Many nights, I would run into my bedroom and crawl up onto my bed, sobbing with a heartache searingly genuine, convinced that tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough. Tomorrow, I would see him again and everything would be alright. Tomorrow, I would tell him just how much I missed him when he was away.

I’ll be back, when the day is new/and I’ll have more ideas for you/you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about/I will, too.

And then, tomorrow would come and I would just be so happy to see him again that I would forget how his departure had broken my heart the night before when he went away, and that he would have to go again tonight. Every night was a sort of screwed-up, preschooler’s version of Groundhog Day that ended with me, a sobbing heap on my bed or with my face turned inward to face the back of the couch while I wished for him to magically reappear, saying he had more time tonight. Then it would be dinnertime, and then bath time, and I might drift off to sleep, thinking about the things I needed to tell my dad from the Land of Make -Believe tomorrow.

I don’t know when I realized that Fred Rogers wasn’t my dad; it was probably around the time I turned 4 and I was going to Head Start. I was a little more mature and beginning to understand things like television and how music was on records – like mine at home – and that deejays played them at the radio station, and that Santa had helpers who pretended to be him while he was busy at the North Pole. I know that I felt terribly silly and that by the time I was 5, I avoided “baby shows” like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Now? It was all about Gilligan’s Island, The Partridge Family, and The Brady Bunch. These were the innocent years, before Emergency! fascinated me with fire and car crashes and human suffering; before Kolchak: The Night Stalker captivated me with various creatures of the night; and before Alice Cooper terrified thrilled me with a performance of “Unfinished Sweet” on The Smothers Brothers variety show in 1973. Fred Rogers would have perhaps been perplexed by me, his “daughter”, and my fascination with vampires and demons and things that went bump in the night. I like to think he would have sat down with me and watched, waiting to ask me how I felt about what we’d watched together until after the show was over. I don’t think he would have rushed me to a psychiatrist. I think he would have recognized that I was just a kid who was fascinated with scary things. I’d faced a few when I was little; this was just a natural progression. I don’t think there was a judgmental bone in his body.

I don’t need to psychoanalyze why I filled the role of father with Fred Rogers. He was the most solid, steady man in my life at that point. I used to be embarrassed by this, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that having a make-believe father who was the king of make-believe and making children aware that they were important even though they were small, was much better than what my reality could have been. Fred Rogers was the best dad in the world.

I know that I will cry when I see this movie, and I am absolutely fine with that. My dad from the Land of Make-Believe taught me, and all the millions of kids who tuned in to share 30 minutes a day with him, that it is okay to cry.

Thank you, Mister Rogers, for making a little girl’s painful, lonely world so much brighter with your gentle smile and your easy ways. Thank you for coaxing out the empath in her, and praising her individuality. I wish that I could have told you: There was no one in the world quite…like…you.

Of racism, white nationalism, and why can’t HE go back to his country of origin?

This year, for Mother’s Day, my daughter bought me an Ancestry DNA kit.

This was not so much to question my Irish roots as to solidify them, and to find out what, if anything else, lurked within my family lineage. I’ve always suspected (feared, maybe) that there was something else mixed up in my family tree that is decidedly not Celtic. As a child, my olive skin, darkest brown-black straight-as-an-! hair, and slightly upturned at the outer-corner, deepest, darkest, black eyes moved people to exclaim “Aren’t you just the cutest Asian girl!” I don’t see it, but that’s perception for you. As I matured, and my high, prominent cheekbones emerged, I was asked, more than once, “Excuse me, but are you an Indian?” Not Indian as in chicken tikka masala and all that spicy goodness, Bollywood, and revering cows as religious deities, but as in Native American.

I always responded with a resounding and somewhat defiant, “I am Irish.” I’ve always been proud of that fact, as fiercely as I am proud of my kids. It’s been the one constant belief I’ve held since I was young enough to ask, “Where do we come from? I’m proud of the Irish story; of stubborn pride, of revolting against tyranny, of the ability to turn a yarn and tell a joke while simultaneously drinking (a dozen) pints. I’m proud of the fierce love of the motherland and the emotional pull I get whenever I see pictures or watch footage. Someday, I will stand on that Emerald Isle and feel the force of all my ancestors rushing up from the earth to infuse my soul.

But the eyes. The hair. The skin that always looks just a tad tanned and browns in summer like a breaded, chicken cutlet. Where did those attributes come from? Of course, I know the history: the British Isles were stormed by many different armies bent on overthrowing its people and controlling it. The Norsemen, the Romans, et al. They raped, they pillaged; some settled and integrated with the native people. Ireland and Scotland bore the brunt of these invasions, and the resulting dark hair and complexion could very well be explained by that. I would shrug my shoulders, thinking that there lurked, somewhere deep in the past, an emigrated, olive-skinned person who mingled his or her genetics with that of my Celt ancestors. I was okay with that belief.

But beliefs are sometimes challenged, and it’s healthy to question them. Therefore, I spit in a tube, packaged it up in the provided box, and mailed it off to Ancestry and then tried to forget about it as the 4-6 weeks of testing and processing commenced. I don’t know what I’m worried about, I thought. I’m Irish enough and nothing can take that away. So what if maybe I’m a little Mongolian or Roman? That might be cool.

I had opted for text messages advising me of my test’s progress, so for the first couple of weeks, I received texts reading

Thank you for registering your kit

and

We have received your test and are processing it

and

Your DNA has been extracted and is being analyzed at this time.

As I settled in to wait the remaining 2-4 weeks, imagine my surprise when, 3 weeks and 3 days after I’d been notified that my test was commencing, it was complete, and my results were waiting!

I was suddenly terrified. I texted my daughter. “The DNA results are in.” She responded almost immediately with, “OMG! I can’t wait! Tell me when you’ve read them!” She and her two brothers did have a stake in this, since 50% of mine would be theirs. The great news is that only one of them will need to take the test in order to form a full picture of their shared heritage. Since they’ve all given their father the boot and consider The Husband, their stepfather, “Dad”, they aren’t too concerned with that. I’ve heard more than a few vows of, “I’m you, Momto know that whatever the other 50% is, it’s not that important to them.

I was sitting in my garden with a cup of coffee, so I figured “No time like the present” and clicked the link. After a couple of screens, I came to my analysis.

Surprise, surpise! I’m “Irish as fuck”, as the daughter declared, but more pointedly, I’m a Celt, through-and-through. 62% of my heritage goes back to counties Leinster and Munster in Ireland. I am OVERJOYED at Munster, because I’m nocturnally me, of course, and because I always wanted to be a Munster growing up.

The other 38% is dispersed between Scotland, Wales, and England, with County Wicklow in Ireland highlighted, as well. The map bore heavily on the Scottish side, which made total sense. Many years ago, there was a cousin doing genealogy on my mother’s side and she discovered evidence of “a smidge” of Scots-Irish.

Just a smidge? A smidge from Edinburgh to the Highlands, to be exact. The Welsh was a surprise, but not much, because we’re a broody bunch, the Barrs, and the idea that my kin once wandered the Moors, searching for Wuthering Heights, seems somehow appropriate.

All in all, I spent a couple of weeks fanatically fleshing out my family tree and discovering cousins I never knew I had. Specifically, I am tied by genetics to 887 other Ancestry members, which widens my circle quite a bit. Can you imagine that family reunion? We’d need to rent Rhode Island. And take out stock in Guinness.

Now, so many things make sense. My fierce pull to the Atlantic Ocean that wars with my “love at first sight” of the Colorado Rockies; my people came from both an island and lived in the Highlands.

My belief system, very much pagan, with a lot of witchcraft thrown in, harkens back to a people who took the earth’s gifts seriously and were drawn to mystical practices. This conflicts with my love of the ritualistic pageantry of the Roman Catholic Church, but my people were of course baptised into the faith, so it makes sense that I would feel so strongly about one, and so bewitched by the other. My Catholic guilt doesn’t necessarily stem from the Church’s shaming of its members, but by my blood.

I love who I am.

I love that I come from such pragmatic people. While I haven’t gotten far enough back to discover exactly why my Scottish ancestors came to America, I do know that my Irish ancestors came over during the potato blight, as Leinster and Munster Counties were heavily affected by the famine. I’m a third generation Irish American on my father’s side, and it’s looking like I’m Scottish American at least 4 or 5 generations back on my mother’s side. It has really made me think about heritage, and leaving one’s home. I also started The Husband’s family tree, too, and we’re going to get his DNA tested. His family is even “newer” American than mine, with he and his brother being second generation Italian and Slovakian.

In every case, our ancestors came from countries embroiled in troubles, with famine and political unrest and poverty. They knew that, while it might not be easy at first, America was a land of opportunity, where hard work would make their dreams come true. They didn’t dream of untold riches; all they wanted was a safe, warm place to call their own and to lay foundations on which they could build a future for their children. They wanted to worship their God freely, to teach valuable lessons to their kids, and to lay out a future for them that would not include freezing and starving in the dead of winter. They weren’t asking for a handout; they were asking to work for their fair share.

And work, they did; in factories, metal works, delivery companies, and on farms. They dug graves and took care of cemetaries, learned electrical trades, and most of the men joined the military to fight for their country. (One of my great-aunts served, too. Aunt Beryl was an exotic specimen to me the single time I met her. She gifted me with a little, bejeweled, leather purse and realistic toy alligators, because she lived in Florida and she had traveled the world. I thought her to be a superhero of Captain Marvel proportions.) They helped to build this still-young nation and they established themselves as respected American citizens.

Aunt Beryl, right. Patriot. Veteran. Alligator-tamer.

Why is it so hard for some to believe that the refugees at our Southern border aren’t thinking in the same way? Back when my ancestors were emigrating, they had to raise (back then) exorbitant sums for sea passage on ships that were crowded, vermin-infested, and where disease spread like wildfire. Recall the “coffin ships” that bore so many Irish to their deaths because they were shoddily built? It wasn’t exactly a safe, cushy ocean voyage aboard a cruise ship to the shining land of opportunity. One needed to be really desperate to willingly embark on such an uncertain journey, many with their young children.

When they arrived, it wasn’t to a comfortable house or apartment, a job, and cupboards filled with food. It was usually to a dirty, crowded rooming house or to stay with relatives, where 20 people would crowd into a two-room apartment with a bathroom shared by the entire floor of tenants. They would find work in factories, where they would work 16 hour days for a pittance, and be spit upon on the street and told to “go back where you came from, you dirty dago/dumb mick/sneaky kike.”

Come to think of it, why would anyone want to come here? Because things haven’t changed, have they? Only the color of the skin, the language, and the entry point have changed. The racist attitudes, the prejudiced rhetoric, and the startling bigotry are one and the same as that of a younger America. For a while, it seemed we had moved past it, but most of us were aware that it had never truly abdicated this land. Those of us with certain immigrant roots that weren’t that far back were raised with the knowledge that our people were looked down upon because of the country they originated from and the accents they spoke with. We bore that shame and that defiance; the fury within us teeming, railing against an Establishment that held our people (us) down. We tried to be just a little kinder to new citizens, and to understand their plight. However, when you live in the slice of Americana that I live in, you become very aware of the undercurrent of anger, exasperation, and intolerance that seethes just underneath the surface whenever the subject of immigration comes up. The snide comments in break rooms and in community groups about interlopers who must be bringing illegal drugs into our communities because they have brown skin; they’re obviously just here for the “free handouts” of welfare and food stamps and health insurance. They don’t “speak our language” so therefore, they don’t belong. They’re dirty, they’re gang members, they bring filth and bugs and crime. They’re stealing our jobs.

Give me a fucking break.

Those “proud Americans” who speak this way have found their patron saint in Donald Trump, who took it a step farther on Sunday when he tweeted that four American, freshman, female Congresswomen of color should “go back to their countries of origin”. He painted them as hateful women who detest America and who are Communists who embrace terrorists. He might as well have called them traitorous, treasonous interlopers who schemed to get into Congress just to tear down the very foundations that America stands upon.

Except, isn’t that an apt description of him? Who buddies with anti-American thugs and has taken advantage of every, single loophole afforded him in order to seem powerful? If you are one of the ones who doubt that (and honestly, why are you reading my blog if you are, because this is Anti-Trump country) then I will submit EXHIBIT A,B,C, an informative, fully-sourced article about how far back this sleazy, corrupt con man has cozied up to Russians who are hell-bent on destroying America.

I found a poem today. It sums up, perfectly, why anyone would desire to leave their homeland for the unwelcome uncertainties of America. It says it better than I ever could. It practically weeps with the tears of those who embark on the perilous journey north, where they are separated from their children and thrown into cages. Don’t call them concentration camps, some people say. Well, what else are they?

Home

~ by Poet Laureate and Activist Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well.

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Happy Treason Day seems about right.

I’m taking a moment to analyze my feelings without emotion or preference. Would I be upset at any other President holding a soiree on the National Mall on the 4th of July?

Wait. I don’t think I need to analyze my answer. That answer is no. I would not be upset at any other President holding a soiree on the Mall for the 4th of July because no other President would hold a soiree on the Mall for the 4th of July. No other President would decide to divert millions of dollars to another event when there is already an event in place.

Am I confident about this conclusion? Yes, I am. There are already soirees and celebrations aplenty on this day in Washington DC. There always have been. A Capitol Fourth is a big draw, and PBS televises it every year. The fireworks over the Mall are a long-standing crowd pleaser. These events have deep roots and always draw a massive crowd, as both residents of DC and visitors enjoy.

This display on the National Mall must not be mistaken for what it truly is: a concession. Trump wanted a military parade. Congress, in its endless string of stupid flagellations in accedence to the President’s demands, first said sure, and then it didn’t happen. But Trump is like a spoiled, little rich child who wants a pony NOW, and he means to get it. This is how he’s getting it, building upon the very apparent manifesto he harbors within to be “King” and to usher in fascism.

He got his tanks, his pomp, his circumstance, and it will all play out as he thanks himself for attempting to hold the country hostage and force us to praise the Almighty Donald. Later on, there will be attacks at the “fake news” and “corrupt media” for refusing to air his Ode to Himself, and praise for the essentially state-run news channel, Fox.

People are comfortable in their traditions, be it having parties at home or traveling somewhere to celebrate the day the 13 colonies affirmed that they were independent of Great Britain and began the process of creating a nation where

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We are no longer that nation, in the spirit of which it was intended. Donald Trump has poked the beast that lay, hiding, in the shadow of shame; the beast that resides within the hearts and minds of certain American citizens who defiantly hold onto “This is MY country!” and forget that it is their country because someone came to this land under the protection, and in belief, of those reverent words. Those who blazed a path before us did so by ruthlessly taking the land from those who came before them; who began existence here; and then built the colossus on the backs of slaves, be they African or indentured. I’m not going to single out the United States as the single-most horrible evildoer in this, because other societies have and will do the same things. It is the very nature of the beast to “conquer” that which it feels threatened by, wants to possess, or simply abhors.

The difference, however, between your average (“woke”) beast and the beasts Trump prodded with all of his verbal sticks is that the average one realizes that all of those violent, unfair, inhumane acts of this country’s past belong precisely there: in the past.

And yet, the Southern Border.

Forgive me if I think that the last thing this country needs is another party. For those of you protesting, saying, “But this is not who we are”, I want to say to you that

Here comes the rain

You know, with the way the world is today, I am amazed that I am not more depressed.

There. I said the “D” word again. I hate saying the “D” word. That word, for me, conjures up immediate bleakness; it’s like throwing a wet blanket onto a fire, which reduces the fire to a smoldering, sooty mess. I hate it so much, I would willingly make a deal, with whomever could assure me that said deal would be successful, to use the word cunt in a full sentence at least 10 times a day IF depression would go away. I don’t love the word cunt and use it rarely. It’s always been reserved for the worst of the worst: when “fucking nasty-ass piece of shit” or “Bitchface McFuckityburger” just won’t suffice. You really need to do some deeply, nefariously awful stuff in order to authentically own that word, or title. I save it for the most genuinely cunty people I encounter. It’s such a jarring, offensive word that even my spell check tries to change it to count, county, or country when I type it.

But there it is. I wouldn’t need to be British to comfortably adopt it into everyday speak in order to get this fucking Depression monkey off my fucking back.

If only it was that simple.

I also understand that, while the state of the world is truly awful, and my country has descended into Total Shitshow Status, I cannot lay the blame solely at the feet (see what I did there?) of one person or entity. No, The Orange Buttfart of a Diarrhetic Orangutan isn’t to blame for all that is wrong with this country (or cunty) even if I’d love for that to be so. He saw an “in” and he took it. He exploited the attitudes of all the racists, bigots, and prejudicial people in this land and gave them what they need in order to survive: validity. A voice. Oxygen, as it were.

He didn’t do it because he agrees with them – historically speaking, he has been all over the map when it comes to the things he supports or believes and if it would make him money he would claim that there is actually a purple octopus-like creature living in a loch in Scotland who is the true God – but because he saw the fastest way to line his coffers and stroke his ego. Again, historically speaking, he has never been a success at either, but he is just smart enough, the way a con artist is, to project a false image of prosperity and confidence. And our dumb and dumber society, comprised of haves and have-nots, desperately wants to believe that this guy is the original Richie Rich. That certainly makes more sense than to admit that he’s essentially selling them empty bottles of air instead of a piece of the action.

No, he isn’t to blame. He is but a symptom. And can you blame a cunt for seeing an opportunity and running with it?

Wow. Using the word cunt at least 10 times a day is a lot easier than it sounded. I am nothing if not a tremendously purposeful individual when challenged.

Depression, though. Why won’t it go away? I cock-block it with medication. I use my shields to protect me when it assaults.

Daily affirmations.

Music.

Encouragement from others.

Cats.

This blog.

Still, all it takes is a situation to hit me, like a wet blanket, and there I go, turning into a steaming, soggy, sooty mess. I know the signs, and even as a situation is occurring, I know that the eventuality is that I’ll once again descend into the tarry pit of hopelessness. I have tools I can, and do, use to try and hold onto the edge so I don’t slide, but sometimes a situation is so slippery, it pulls me down anyway.

The situation is not appropriate for me to write about, because it isn’t happening to me personally. I don’t have the right to divulge someone else’s pain, and I won’t. I also understand on an intellectual level that the situation isn’t affecting my day-to-day life, nor is it my right or responsibility to try and fix it. My life is still wonderfully blessed, with the simple kinds of pleasures and accommodations and little details that make one aware that they are, indeed, a lucky fucker. I know this just as surely as I know that there is presently a cat lazing on my shoulder, purring and nuzzling my mouth occasionally with kisses. (Be jealous of this kind of psychotherapy, because it is life-affirming, soft, and the kisses may smell faintly of fish but they are genuine.)

Just tell that to my heart, though.

Tell my heart that the situation will play out, and the actual, affected parties will figure out a conclusion. That the conclusion might bring happiness, but that it might bring sadness. The conclusion is not mine to own; it is mine to react to, when it occurs. And how I will react matters. I can wallow in the depths of depression over it, or I can simply respond with love, empathy, and support. I am stubbornly tapping the latter three into the holes where my responses are needed, but it is like fitting a square peg into a star-shaped hole. (Why use the cliché round when you can have a star?) It just feels like they don’t fit. Still, I persist. Because it is the only thing I can do. The situation will resolve and how I was during will define how I am to be after.

It all makes me very, very tired.

I’m sorry that I have to be vague, but the one thing that I will never do is tell someone else’s story. Being an empath is a remarkable gift that the universe bequeaths to some of us, but it is also a source of extreme exhaustion. I love that I feel others so deeply, but I don’t love that it takes something from me. I love to be able to listen, to advise, and to just be a source of support for others, but that is not something I have in reserves for myself.

Being an empath is a lonely existence, and empaths are prone to depression because of the barrage of just feeling all the things and all the things of everyone else.

It takes a toll. And so, I tuck myself away in a figurative ball, as solitary as possible, and wait for my limbs to infuse with energy and my mind to uncloud from the fog of emotions.

It doesn’t alleviate the depression, though, and often opens the gates to let it in more easily. Once again, I am blindsided by its vitriolic tendency to just consume everything in its path, leaving me breathless, thinking “These are its lying, fucking lies” but unable to believe that they aren’t true. You can tell me, every, single day that Depression lies to me; I believe you. But, I believe Depression, too. All it takes is one teensy, tiny kernel of truth within a lie and I’m captive, thinking once again that everything – EVERYTHING – is my fault. The insidiousness of Depression is that it is a shapeshifter inasmuch as it is a familiar.

One of these days, I fear that it will appear as my Executioner.

And so….and so. I write. I put on the mask of normalcy and throw on the cloak of invisibility and I push through. I force my brain to work through the webs and to seek out that one thought, moment, or deed that slays the dragon once more and leaves me standing in the rubble, looking at the sunrise. As long as I have reasons to fight, I know that I will see the light again.

Take that, ya cunt.