The big D; a poem

My boyfriend says I drink too much

that I complain, that I’m mean,

that I tease too hard;

that we’re stagnant lately.

We, not I, because I

have been stagnant far longer.

A fetid pool of a dead-

end job

screaming children, melted brain, eyes

glazed-over with a Klonopin shine.


He says I’m not supposed to call my crazy pills

my crazy pills

but they feel like they are

and I like the honesty of that.

Anything that makes you feel (even a little, sometimes) less crazy

you should be allowed to call whatever the hell you want.


He thinks I’m reckless

that boozy night-time desert bike rides and climbs

and falls

are unattractive.

Well I’m not trying to be sexy

I’m trying to excite

myself by pretending my life feels different than it is.

Blinders on.

Blinders off, and I have bloodied knees   broken bones   a hangover

as souvenirs.

I suppose it’s also a form of self-punishment,


away my failures

but they multiply


And I hide for fear of judgment

and there is judgment

because I’ve done it.


So people spout big ideas–

so much privilege

so full of opportunity

it’s all a matter of perspective.


Tell me, exactly,

how does one change one’s perspective?

Asking for an enemy.


Providence, Rhode Island, 2008. (no names have been changed in the retelling of this birthday)

It started with stirrup pants. I was at a local bar/restaurant hangout, Spats, and Evan walked in, completing the gaggle of Brown students who were a part of my newly finished summer apprenticeship.


“Evan, look, I bought stirrup pants,” I say, wiggling a leg, even prouder of them with a birthday gin and tonic in me.


He rolls his eyes.


“Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more emo,” he teases.  His constant joke.  He’s the emo one, if we’re going to be throwing outdated high school terms at each other. Theater, neuroscience, drugs. His trifecta.


We share what could be called gossip, if we were both girls.  We’re in our own world.  He excuses himself to buy a pack of cigarettes.  I ask if he wants company, he shrugs a “sure,” so I follow.


We’re two friends with attraction between us. To what level, I don’t know, but it’s there. I used to fantasize about him during class at the beginning of the summer, wish he would sit next to me when he was the last person to arrive in the mornings. He did, once. He whispered so close to my ear it sent shivers down my spine.


But Evan had had an on-again, off-again girlfriend and had never shown any real interest, so, we were friends. Are friends.


“Let’s sit here.” He points to a table, the only table, on the edge of a sea of Brown students back for the first weekend at school.  It’s a table on the corner of the two busiest streets around the university. It’s a table on a raised platform belonging to a restaurant we’re not eating at. We sit down.


“So like I was saying, it’s lonely here. I mean, things are going alright, and I have a few friends I do things with on the weekends, but I don’t feel like I have any close friends, and that gets–“


His lips are on mine. I saw the intention in his look a split second before I heard the legs of his chair scrape the concrete, before I watched him stand, before I felt his hands on my face and his lips on my lips.  He kissed me like we were alone. Like we had been waiting all night to be alone and had finally found a few secret moments. I’d never been kissed like that in public. I’d never been kissed like that. He pulled away, his too-big brown eyes meeting mine casually, as if I’d been expecting that. As if he did that every day. He might have. I wondered if people were staring, but didn’t want to break his gaze to check.


“What was that for?” I choked out as I lit a cigarette, feigning coolness as he grabbed my hand, pulled it to his lips.


“It’s your birthday,” he murmured with a shrug. “You’re lonely.” He caught my gaze and held it. I raised my eyebrows.


“You’re pretty.” He said insistently, as if he could hear me starting to assume I was just pity kissed. I may have been.


Our conversation continued as it had before, but I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.  My mind was tangled.  After about ten minutes, ever Evan, he made his escape.


“I hate to do this, but I have to run. We’ll keep in touch.”  He sealed off his statement with another hard kiss, then scooted past people as he jumped the platform railing and jogged across the street.


*    *    *


An hour later I’m walking down Hope Street, and everything is chaos.  My friend Colleen is drunk and insistent upon texting Joe, a friend from our summer fellowship program. I had ignored the unrequited nature of our relationship, because good friends are hard to come by, and he was a good friend. Both of our phones had died, and she’d never gotten to respond to a text he’d sent her earlier, a text about me.  I’d read it quickly over her shoulder before her phone screen blackened. Nothing special; just curiosity about what I’m doing for my birthday, since I’m not answering my phone. He’s back in Philadelphia, after finishing our fellowship.


But now she won’t let it go, and Will, my coworker, and his drunken, obnoxious townie friends won’t shut up.


“We have to call Joe,” Colleen insists as she grabs my shoulders, resting her weight on me as I stumble a little on the uneven sidewalk. My black kitten heel temporarily gets jammed in a crack. I free it with a tug.


“I have to talk to Joe!” she yells in the middle of the empty street.  She’s annoying me.


“Will,” I call ahead, “Will you let Colleen use your phone to call Joe?  She won’t stop talking about it.”  I hope that will shut her up.


Will calls Joe and starts chatting amicably with him while Colleen titters in the wings, and I continue walking.  Will’s friends are still yelling, and when I listen to them, it sounds vaguely derogatory, though I’m trying to tune out all the noise and just walk. I think we’re walking to a house party for TAs and grad students, neither of which am I.


A car pulls up alongside the sidewalk I’m on, a rusty white car with the remnants of a high school sport team’s paw prints on the back.  A car I’ve ridden in many times.


“It’s Joe!” yells Colleen, and she’s hysterical as she runs to the car and tackles Joe in a bear hug, the kind that forces his 120-pound frame to pick her up.


He smiles his biggest smile, and walks over to hug me.


“Happy birthday,” he whispers in my ear.



I work at a job that allows me time to myself as I do my work. I usually spend this time watching crime documentaries, listening to scary stories, murder podcasts–basically miring myself in all things dark, but I recently took a hiatus from that to watch a different sort of entertainment.

It started with watching Youtube documentaries about quadriplegics. Sometimes I watch things like this when I feel down so I can stop feeling so goddamn sorry for myself because “people out there have it way worse”, and when I think worse, I think quadriplegia. I also watched some on Locked-In syndrome, terminal cancer, ALS, amputations, and traumatic brain injuries, which are all basically the most horrific things I can imagine. I’ve been feeling pretty woe-is-me lately, obviously.

The woe-is-me is stemming from finishing my certification in Crime Scene Investigation and doing a lot of soul-searching regarding my career, or lack thereof. It’s not merely the idea of obtaining a fulfilling job that bothers me; it’s that I truly do believe everybody’s life has purpose, and that everybody is good at something, and that everyone can do their own brand of meaningful things, and I have no idea where I can plug myself into that.

From my depressing documentaries, I was referred to a few that made this idea I’ve been stewing over even more apparent and urgent. I watched two episodes of My Last Days, a documentary series about people with terminal conditions. One featured Claire Wineland, an 18-year-old with cystic fibrosis whose life is coming to a close. She is charming, relateable, and old beyond her years. Her dream is to be a public speaker, and she’s got what it takes. With a little help and connections, that’s exactly what she started doing: traveling around the country, speaking about life and death and what fits in between. She says we have no control over when or how we will die, but we do have control over how to live our own perfect life this moment.

Another My Last Days episode was about Kat Lazo, a girl with terminal gastric cancer who relates with people so genuinely and is so present in however much life she has left. She feels deeply and shares with others, and wisdom and peace are imbued in her speech.

I then watched a documentary on Aaron Swartz, a prodigious computer programmer and founder of Reddit, who fought tirelessly to make knowledge that is stored on the internet accessible to everyone. He downloaded tons of JSTOR scientific articles and made them accessible for free, rather than the traditional system in place, where a third-party provider makes money off of academics’ and scientists’ research by charging for access. Aaron ended up committing suicide after the FBI came after him for trying to make this knowledge freely and publicly accessible. His former girlfriend is interviewed, and she says Aaron’s way of thinking was to always ask what’s the best thing I can be doing, and why am I not doing it?

After Aaron’s death, a 14-year-old boy from Boston invented a prototype for an early testing technique for pancreatic cancer using the JSTOR articles Aaron made available.

These three documentaries served to further fuel my desire to find my offering to the world, to discover my skills and how those can be used to do good, and what kind of good that may be. I’ve been tempted lately, after looking at investigation/government/people-related jobs and realizing how competitive they are and how little they pay, to throw in the towel and find some horrible, soul-sucking corporate job, where the bottom line is always to sell sell sell, and just make as much money as possible in a year and then go rogue in a cabin somewhere to recover. It’s messed up how even if you find your place, or one of many places, in this world, the realistic manifestation of that may or may not pay your bills and afford you a healthy mental space to be able to do your wonderful you-things if you’re consumed by financial burdens.

This post isn’t going to have a nice ending because I have no nice ending for these ideas I’ve been mulling over. I feel change coming on because it must. I’m becoming more and more brain-atrophied and motivation-less the longer I settle for a job that is less than fulfilling, a life that has no plans past the superficial.


my adoption story


On a cold December night in 1985, two strangers lock gazes across a bar. The man is handsome; a young Freddie Mercury (plus the mustache, minus the unitard). The woman, barely old enough to be considered one, is pretending to have already grown out of her awkward teens for the sake of the bouncer. She’s wearing contacts tonight to show off her green eyes. The music’s loud. He buys her a drink. They dance. His head bobs over hers and she likes that, a luxury in her lanky life. He takes her to his dorm room. His roommate’s already gone home for Christmas break so they have the rare college luxury of privacy. She steps around piles of clothes, the wooden floor chilling her feet.  She doesn’t remember which college she’s at. I’m conceived.

I always knew I was adopted. People tell of their adoptive parents’ dramatic revelations, the ensuing identity crisis and abandonment issues. I never had any of that. As an unaware child I made other kids feel uncomfortable when they teased their younger siblings about being adopted until they cried, and through their tears I’d chime

Me too!

oblivious smile plastered to my face.

I accepted my adoption like a child accepts the fact that they have blue eyes or ten toes: unconsciously. But as I grew, so did my curiosity about where I’d come from. I already understood that questions of this nature made my parents uncomfortable, especially my mom. The day I was assigned to make a family tree for a fifth grade school project I asked my mom what my nationality was. She responded

Well, your dad’s Italian, and I’m Swedish, so that’s what you are.

I wondered who she was trying to fool. Did she think nationalities were contagious? Spend enough time around someone, and their blood becomes yours? I asked her what my real nationality was. She gave me a mumbled answer including the phrases

maybe German and

can’t really remember.

When I asked if she could find out, she vaguely told me she had papers somewhere, but that she didn’t know where they were. My child ears heard a “no” that resounded through my teens. But the wondering burned.

I became acutely aware of differences between me and my family members, looking for clues. They all have very different personalities, none of which are anything like mine. This normal variation in any family became a false breadcrumb trail for me to follow.

My mom grounded me once when I was five. I stomped to my room, took a book out, and my anger dissolved into a reading coma for the next two hours.  She never grounded me again, but grounding did work on my little sister, eliciting the more natural reaction of tears and shouts. A clue.

My gregarious sister’s free time included: Going to concerts, peacocking with her friends, dressed in sequined dresses and high heels and wigs at 13. Kissing boys behind the stage of the theater she painted sets for. Willingly being laughed at by her peers while performing on the improv team. My free time included: Reading my psychology textbook in its entirety that first sunny August day of class. Spending quiet nights crying on the phone to my math whiz friend, begging for help with pre-calc. Failing on the track team, running slow, jumping low, and remaining friendless. Lying on our hammock in the summer until my arched back ached, reading book after book on my steamy front porch.

On the way to church youth group one day, I told my mom I didn’t want to go because I didn’t like anyone there. Popularity was currency there, just like anywhere when you’re 15. She said she found all the kids there perfectly nice, so it must be a problem with me. I wondered if she was right. Years later I asked her why she made me go to something I so obviously loathed, something that made my high school career significantly more miserable. She said she figured I was lonely. Breadcrumbs.

For my mother, religion is as instinctual as breathing. So is talking. Both of these traits meant I spent a lot of time in the car after church waiting for her to stop talking to her friends, Bible nestled in the crook of her arm. For someone who readily shares so much, privacy wasn’t observed in our house. My sister and I shared a room and our bedroom door didn’t even close all the way, slatted like an immodest dressing room door. She rifled through my diaries and eavesdropped on my basement phone calls, kindling a quiet rebellion in me. I liked to imagine somebody blood-related to me would see the value of a door that closes.

Both of my parents still live less than 50 miles from where they were born and raised. I went to the same high school as my mom, and my classmates were the children of her old high school classmates, an important determiner of who I comingled with. My parents feel satisfied and fulfilled in small-town Indiana, or at least they pretend to. They have their family to bicker with, their friends to go out to eat with, and Chicago just an hour away, if they ever need to get away, which they don’t really. They don’t empathize with my desire to dangle my legs over an Irish cliff, or eat Thai food, or burn my feet in foreign sand.

I left for college at 17, and haven’t gone back but for short stints during a few summers. Instead, I traveled. I started small: working at a diner for a summer in Philadelphia, doing sleep research in Providence, tutoring dropouts in Dayton. I found a family in France to work as an AuPair for and flew across an ocean to work for those strangers. I briefly returned to the US for grad school in South Carolina, then worked a year in Spain, two in Brazil, ending up (for now) in Arizona just because. The last person in my family to see South America was my Italian grandfather, back in the 30s when he worked construction in Venezuela before coming to America and never speaking Italian again.

At 19, I became impatient. I was a sophomore in college, studying psychology and growing into myself; I was flourishing, gaining confidence. I liked to pretend I wasn’t afraid of my parents anymore. I finally asked my mom what she knew about my birthmother. Via email. She said she’d send me everything she had about her. I knew there’d have to be a future conversation with her about things that to me were obvious, filled with

of course, you’re my real mom

no, I don’t see you any differently,

but that could wait. I had a package on the way.

It was winter, and I headed from the post office to my speck of a dorm room, eager to get back to my cozy haven. I headed past my living room wall plastered with magazine pages and headed to my bed, the bottom of a bunk surrounded by a navy blue sheet that kept the light out. I called it the cave.

I opened my package there in faux privacy, fingers shaking. In it contained the answers to questions I’d had for more than a decade. I opened birthday cards from my first, fourth, seventh birthdays, drawn by my birthmother’s hand, who obviously shared my affinity for cats and doodles, as they adorned the covers. I read a letter she’d written me in 1988, should I ever want to find her. Her name is Shirley. The letter was written in pink ink, her only being in her early 20s at the time, our neat handwriting eerily similar. I pulled out a picture of her taken in the early 80s: same awkward frame as I had in high school, same green eyes, dirty blonde hair, long arms and braces.  I found another one from the early 90s, foreshadowing what I would look like a few years from then. There was even a cassette with a recording of my in-utero heartbeat. I scrounged around my dorm floor for a cassette player and listened, trying to connect the sound I was hearing with what was beating inside my own chest.

The package also contained a letter from my birth-grandmother, as loving and detailed as the one from Shirley. She had sent mementos and letters to me and my parents over the years, of which I had been clueless about until that moment. I felt relieved to finally know something about her, angry at my parents for choosing to keep these things from me, touched by the unknown people who cared about me, and overwhelmed by these revelations.

I contacted Shirley through the agency I was adopted through. She was overjoyed that I had decided to contact her, and we met on my college campus one Saturday in May. I waited on the couch in my dorm lobby, thinking and sweating. I wondered if I would even recognize her from her pictures twenty years before. When she walked through the door, that thought evaporated. It felt like watching yourself on video, unaware until you’re watching that you walk with that particular gait, or swing your arms just so, or hold your face in that neutral expression that disappears the second you look in the mirror. Corporally, she was my twin from twenty years in the future. I studied her face—same chin I’ve always hated, same steely green eyes, same dark eyebrows. Anyone would be able to tell we were related, a new idea to me.

We hugged and talked and talked some more, getting to know each other outside of letters. She had brought with her a scrapbook filled with me that she had been keeping since before I was born. I saw pictures of her pregnant with me bloating her tiny frame. I saw pictures of newborn me, ugly, fat, and pink. She had the ID bracelet I’d worn in the hospital, and pictures my parents had sent of me growing up.

Shirley also shared a letter my mom had written her when I was two. There were teardrops of gratefulness dried on the page. It was powerful to see how overjoyed my mom was to have me, her first child. After seeing that, I mostly forgave my parents for keeping their sporadic contact with my birthmom from me. I think they were just afraid to lose me.

Shirley started telling me in her soft-spoken way the story surrounding my beginning. She was in love with her high school boyfriend, John. They had been dating for a year when his missionary parents hauled him off to Papua New Guinea for his senior year of high school. They chose to put their relationship on hold until he returned. Shirley was devastated. She began drinking to forget, hanging out at a local bar with a wild new friend she’d made. They devised a contest: first person to have sex with ten guys wins. For this reason, Shirley had no idea who my birthfather was, her being both a beautiful and competitive woman. By her estimate, six guys could have potentially been my biological father.

The upside to her brief bout of promiscuity was that to keep track of her conquests, she’d written down most of their first and last names, phone numbers, and addresses. Since she had this information, the adoption agency asked her for the names of all the guys she’d had sex with between two dates, based on how far along she was in her pregnancy. The total was four, and she gave the information to them so they could write these men, telling them they had potentially impregnated a woman who wanted to give her baby up for adoption, and asking them to formally relinquish their paternal rights, should they so choose. They all chose.

Shirley also shared with me that she’d had an abortion before she got pregnant with me, and that that decision made her choose to carry me to term and give me up for adoption. I get the impression that her abortion experience is a burden that still weighs on her today. I’m grateful to my unborn older sibling for making my life a possibility in Shirley’s mind. She sacrificed a lot to have me: her parents kicked her out of her house; she had no job. She knew she’d have to be an overworked single mother or be on welfare if she kept me.

I thought her nothing but brave by the time she finished telling me her story. I couldn’t help but think if I were in her same position, that unborn child might not have been so lucky. At the least, I would have been a panic-stricken wreck. It gives me great compassion for anyone who finds herself unintentionally pregnant. She ended up being taken in by a family who worked with the adoption agency by fostering pregnant girls who needed help. She was deeply affected by their love towards one another and her, and the blessing that their big family was. She told me that experience was what made her want to have a large family one day.

When John came back from Papua New Guinea, he wouldn’t even hug Shirley hello. She was eight months pregnant with another man’s child. She thought she’d ruined everything. A year and a half later they were happily married and ended up having seven children together, my half siblings.

Shirley and I lived a few hours apart, but we continued to talk through email or by phone, meeting up when we could, continuing to get to know each other. I learned I was mostly German and Irish on her side. Some of my siblings have strawberry-blonde hair or bunches of freckles. She and I are exactly the same height and have the same rare shoe size, 10.5 narrow. I learned I’m susceptible to spider veins and that webbed digits run in my family, something I luckily dodged (the jury’s still out on the spider veins).

I’ve never thought of Shirley as a mother; more as a cool aunt or older sister, a mentor I can ask the tough things of. I appreciated her presence in my life, adding to the already great family I have. But over time, my curiosity flared up again. I knew one half of where my genes came from; what about the other half? Why did I love school, becoming the most educated person in my family, while my biological half siblings suffered through their SATs? Where did my assertiveness and ambition come from? And where did I get these big teeth?? Were they all just uniquely me, or was there another genetic breadcrumb trail to follow?

The search for my biological father began when I was in graduate school. Five years later, during the summer break between the two years of my master’s program, my curiosity culminated into me asking Shirley for all four potential birthfathers’ information, last known in 1985. She gladly gave it and agreed that if I could find current phone numbers for these now forty-somethings, she would make first contact. I accepted and set about researching, a.k.a. cyber-stalking. If you ever thought you had a scrap of privacy, think again. I easily found the current addresses, phone numbers, and birth dates of three of the potential fathers. Shirley called them to verify they were the right men, then I called them to get some further information and ask for pictures. They were all equally surprised, though remembered signing away any potential paternal rights. They were also all more or less cooperative, but I didn’t feel that any of them were the right guy.

I had a dream after talking to those three men that I met the fourth man at his cold, snowy home in Wisconsin. He was in his early twenties, the age he was when Shirley met him, and I knew immediately that he was my birthfather by the loud way he swallowed when drinking water, something I’ve always been made fun of for. He was paranoid and hiding out in his home because people were looking for him. Shirley called me later that week, saying that she had initially spelled the fourth guy’s last name wrong, and when she searched under a different spelling and called the number beside it, Todd answered.

The first time Todd called me I was sitting at the pool. Shirley had given me his number, and my heart started pounding in a horrible pre-interview way when I saw it on my phone. She had asked Todd to do a paternity test based on his, his daughter’s, and my similarly toothy smiles we’d compared on Facebook, and he’d agreed. He was the right guy. I gathered my nerve and answered the phone, and we talked for two hours. He’s the ying to Shirley’s yang. He seemed to have no qualms talking to his long-lost surprise bastard daughter.

He told me about his life. He started two construction companies after getting his degree in architecture. Getting ahold of him is difficult because of the long hours he works. He’s brash, sharing with me how he told off his son’s teacher for scolding him for wiping his nose on his shirt, which is gross but I guess sometimes necessary. He thought that he couldn’t be “the father” all those years ago when he got that letter because he remembered that Shirley was on her period when they had sex, and he thought it was impossible for her to get pregnant. First of all, TMI, and second of all, FYI, it’s possible.

He told me I’m Native American and Swedish, and that his daughter (my half sister) went to college free for it, something I wish I’d known before paying $60,000 to go to school, though it would seem like a bit of a cop-out. She was studying speech pathology, a major similar to my field in graduate school, and had aspirations to study abroad.

He also made some unbelievable and unnecessary promises, like swearing he wanted to meet me and that he’d fly me up to his home to meet his family. Years later, they still don’t know I exist. I told him the first time I talked to him that I wasn’t looking for a relationship, just to find out more about myself and where I come from, so I was only disappointed by his flakiness because I think it’s a despicable quality to have. And maybe because I see some of it in myself.

I’ve never regretted finding out this flood of information, only not having the courage to ask sooner. But maybe my nineteenth year was just the right time in my life to find everything out. Perhaps I had to become comfortable enough with myself to be able to be in the right frame of mind to find out so many new things. It wasn’t quite the shock that Harry Potter had, but it is an entire history I never knew I had, which could shake even the stablest of people from their mental foundation.

Now I know that I shouldn’t be surprised if my potential future children end up with a couple missing permanent teeth or webbed toes (…though let’s hope not). I can also rest assured that no deadly disease runs rampant on either side of my biological family, so if I die of one it will just be shit luck. I could have gone my whole life without knowing my biological background, but I feel more whole with that knowledge. Normally incredibly hard on myself, I’m now a little more patient when my bad traits rear their heads, knowing that these are inherited and shared with others, who are fighting daily with the same ugliness too. Everybody’s a little bit ugly. And a little bit beautiful. And sometimes our parents are to thank, and sometimes we are, and sometimes something else entirely is.

Growing up, I wondered all kinds of things about where I came from, and to have my bountiful questions answered is more than many adoptees can hope for. Having studied psychology, I couldn’t help but weigh the old question of which was more of an influence on me: nature or nurture? And the answer, as always, is both. Though an astounding amount of my personality traits, both positive and negative, are visible in my biological parents, how they’ve been cultured has everything to do with the years of care and guidance my adoptive parents have given me. And what I choose to make of it all has everything to do with me.

fresh face, decomposing bodies

The week of my one-year jaw surgery anniversary, let’s be done with this face transformation saga. Here’s my face, 11 months after my bilateral sagittal split osteotomy. (I’m on the right, for anyone who reads this but doesn’t know me personally.)


So, I’m fixed. The face has healed with minimal post-surgical irritation, and I’ve now gotten the hardware removed from the elbow I broke last December, so that’s that.

Onto the next adventure: cadavers. I recently started studying crime scene investigation, with the hopes of either working in death investigation or questioned document analysis. If I go into the latter my MA in linguistics isn’t useless after all, right? Right??

One of the classes I’m taking is aptly called Death Investigation, and my professor gave us the opportunity to view an autopsy. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but when I pictured it I imagined being behind glass in a student observation bay or something, watching from afar and avoiding all the SMELLS.


So came the day of the autopsy, and I was geeked. I wavered over what to wear, opting for my coveted hospital scrubs (that I still wear to take care of children nightly; little do they know there was DEAD PERSON BLOOD on them and that my washing machine is not all that effective).

I was told to enter through the garage off the back parking lot, which right off the bat sounds sketch. It was a funeral home that looked more like a warehouse. I texted my professor, and he sent a technician lackey out to retrieve me. I walked through the garage, opened a door, and there was a 300-lb woman, completely flayed open, neck skin inside-out and covering her face, 18 inches from me. The smell was like rotting refrigerated meat. It doesn’t matter how cold you make it in there, that smell does not come out of your nostrils for hours.

I scooted past the fatflap-covered head and quickly donned a flimsy plastic apron and shoe coverings while whispering to the previously-mentioned technician, because apparently my professor, the one performing the autopsy, is rather picky and crabby and could not be disturbed. He didn’t say a word to me the two hours I was there. I was still getting used to the smell and to staring at the body. Her arm was hanging off the table looking like a regular arm, but all of her internal organs were sliding all over the table and her legs had been haphazardly sewn up with twine post-mortem after her long bones were harvested.

My knees got weak, which greatly disappointed me, and I told myself that I would not sit down under any circumstances, unlike the other student from my class who did immediately after walking into the room, then made the excuse that it was just because “her feet were tired.”

There was another doctor working on the body, who I assume was some sort of protege/medical resident or something. He was a few years older than me, and I liked imagining him as a semi-scary tattoo artist before he started cutting bodies up for a living. He had two full sleeves and wore a black butcher’s apron, as seen in Hostel. I pulled on a mask to prevent myself from inhaling any bone bits as I watched him bone saw this woman’s skull, pry it off with a crowbar, and remove her brain with a few flicks of the scalpel. He then pulled her face forward with a snapping noise, letting it rest against her neck, and cut the brain into slices. It cut like butter. He, unlike my professor, didn’t wear any arm coverings or a mask, so his arms were covered in blood and body bits. Then he partially sewed up his barn door cut and started vaping. The smoke smelled like watermelon and was a welcome relief from the stench of rotting meat, though they didn’t go particularly well together.

The next body rolled out had succumbed to cancer and couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds. Her head was stuck awkwardly to the left due to rigor mortis, eyes open, staring at me with milky, flat corneas. The same medical resident/body butcher broke the rigor mortis with a snap and started making the Y-incision. The only difference with this body was that it wasn’t fresh; a greenish-blue tinge covered her entire abdomen, and when that was opened up, the meager fat was iridescent green. The smell that came out of that cut made one of the employees reel back and take a little walk around the room, stating she was “freaking out.” She went to wipe off her shoes from the last autopsy, when she had gotten blood on them and could now feel it in her socks. They removed two extremely large tumors from this tiny woman’s body, which were then photographed in great detail, and that was the end of that.

At first, I truly felt mildly traumatized by what I had experienced. The sense memory was so vivid. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to experience that again. It seemed so messy, unorganized, and the potential for contamination seemed inevitable. I could go the rest of my life without smelling that again. But now that some time has passed and I’ve had some time to process, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want to do that again, or at least work around that in some capacity. There’s nothing better for the curious than to solve a mystery, which is what death investigation is all about.

So here I am, 31, starting my 20th year of school. Despite my eye-opening autopsy experience, classes have been fulfilling. I’m learning how to do all kinds of testing and microscoping and analyzing. I get to make lab friends with teenagers. I get to watch Forensic Files and get class credit for it. I get to learn how to commit murder and get away with it.


the year of broken bones

I’m now five months post-jaw surgery. The entire healing process, everything from surgery on, was so different than I imagined. This surgery loomed in my head for years before I actually had it, and I worried it smooth. I had the time to worry about every little aspect of it–what if I can’t breathe when I wake up? What if I puke? What if I can never feel my face again? What if I have an adverse reaction to anesthesia? What if my pain meds make me nauseated? What if I don’t like my face? What if I still have pain? What if it causes new pain? What if I’m somehow awake during surgery? How can I possibly live on a liquid diet, when I don’t have any weight to lose?

To everyone, anyone reading this who may have this surgery in the future, I hope it’s a consolation to know that my experience wasn’t NEARLY as bad as I worried it would be. I lost about 8 pounds during my liquid diet period, which lasted about five-ish weeks. I cheated a little at the end. I did get tired of drinking all my food, but after a while it just became a monotonous reality. Food just won’t be enjoyed for a while. It will merely be tolerated. Which is livable. I didn’t blend up anything nasty, like hamburgers or chicken or eggs. I drank chocolate Ensures and fancy Bolthouse and Naked drinks for the first few weeks. The rest of the time I had the energy to blend my own smoothies. I especially liked this raspberry one I would make.

Recipe, if you’re interested:

-frozen raspberries

-tsp. espresso

-plain Greek yogurt

-almond milk

-scoop of chocolate whey protein

-vanilla extract

-2 tbsp. honey

I’d mix what seemed like right amounts of everything and blend it up. I think this was a recipe I modified from a booklet a fellow jaw surgery survivor sent me. It got me through my last two weeks of a liquid diet, because it didn’t taste like chalk.

I experienced none of my fears after surgery. No puking, no nausea, no choking. Granted, just having lower jaw surgery totally helped in the breathing category. My pain was very manageable throughout. My pain was managed so well that I had time to get annoyed over the splint I had to wear for the first three weeks. It was embarrassing to speak in public, since it made me really lispy.

Now, 5 months later, I have no pain in my jaw. My teeth are aligned, and I get my braces off next week. (I’ll do another post then to show video of me before and after everything.) I’m really looking forward to looking my age again. I can eat anything I ate before. I avoid certain foods still, like hard, raw veggies or gumballs or whatever because I still have braces, but that is what dictates my restrictions, not my jaw’s ability or lack thereof.

The only thing that’s still a work-in-progress is my numbness, which I knew to expect, but it’s still a bummer. The right half of my lower lip and chin is still 90% numb. I just started getting baby feelings in that area a few weeks ago, which was a huge relief. Feeling a tiny bit is infinitely better than feeling nothing. I still eat with a mirror at home so I can be sure I don’t have food on my face. I’m hoping my numbness will continue to dissipate as more months pass.

Now, onto my latest woe. In December I regrettable climbed up a building wall like Spiderman, fell off of it, and landed on back, with my left elbow underneath me. My arm looked kind of funky and hurt like hell, but I’ve fallen off the monkey bars and stuff when I was younger and hurt my elbow similarly, only to have it feeling better within a few days, so I went to bed. The next day the pain was so stabbing when I moved it that I felt nauseated,  so I went to the emergency room and found out I had broken clean through my olecranon, the upper portion of my ulna. So basically, my elbow. It hadn’t shattered, but I needed surgery that I had to wait a week for. That week was not fun.


During surgery, my sexy orthopedic surgeon put some metal in my elbow. He described it as “a plate and some screws”. I was in so much pain and just wanted my arm back to it’s straight self that I went under not really knowing much more than that. I was anticipating some bruising, and a like two-inch incision. When I uncovered my arm again a few days after surgery, it looked like this:


Absolutely horrifying. I felt like a zombie. Every shower was a terrifying new time of discovery. I’ve only every seen a dead body on Forensic Files look so rotted. When my physical therapist told me I had 30 staples in my arm I about passed out. So much for a two-inch incision.

I had really limited range of motion and everything hurt. I flew home for Christmas two days after surgery. I knocked myself out on two oxycodone and a dramamine. I physically couldn’t put my luggage in the overhead bin, so I kept it cramped by my feet. This was my introduction into the world of what it’s like to live without an arm. Thank God I’m right-handed.

For six weeks, things I did with one arm:

-wash my hair

-wash my body

-put on lotion

-type (became easier faster than other things)


-get dressed

-do my job etc. etc.

It’s now been seven weeks since surgery. This healing process has been incredibly painful, way worse than jaw surgery. I still can’t straighten my arm fully or bend it fully. I can feel the three milimeter-thick plate in my arm with my finger. I can’t rest my elbow on a table or desk. I can’t prop myself up to read a book. My elbow gets very tight when it’s cold. Bumping it or getting bumped into is enough to make my eyes water. Here is my most recent x-ray, taken a few days ago:


The first x-ray is older, from when I still had staples in. The second is new. I had no idea exactly how much metal was in my arm, or in what formation. Now that I can see all those criss-crossed screws in the tip of my elbow, it’s little wonder it’s so sensitive. My sexy surgeon told me most people elect to remove the metal after six month to a year of healing. Despite my incredibly high health insurance deductible, I might just have to bite the bullet and get that shit taken out, because it’s such a literal pain.

So, 2016 was a year of broken bones, pain, patience (and impatience), and recovery. I’m hoping 2017 doesn’t follow suit.


Like most, the new year is one of my favorite times to reflect and adjust accordingly.

Last year I resolved to keep record of all the books I read in 2015. I did that, but my competitive side started counting and thinking I should be reading more and it became stressful. I would start a book, it wouldn’t be my thing, and I would be loath to stop reading it because then I wasted days reading something I couldn’t put on my list. I started to rationalize that the 37 I did finish wasn’t a true reflection of the actual 5o or 60 books I started and read parts of, not to mention I had to find time to watch all seasons of Mad Men and Sex and the City in there somewhere, so that lack of time should be factored in somewhere, right?

This year, a friend of mine sent me a list of types of books to read, and I think this will turn out better, challenging me to read outside what I might have naturally chosen while minimizing the pressure to read quickly or get through a certain number of books. My working list is below.

  1. a book published this year (2015)–Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
  2. one I can finish in a day–Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli
  3. one I’ve been meaning to read–The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  4. one recommended by a librarian or bookseller–The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
  5. one I should have read in school–Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  6. one chosen for me–Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  7. one banned–The Boy Who Lost His Face, Louis Sachar
  8. one previously abandoned–Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
  9. one I own but never read–The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
  10. one that intimidates me–Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  11. one I’ve already read–Wanderlust, Elizabeth Eaves

If I don’t like any of these, I’m resolving now to toss it and not feel guilty. Any other recommendations welcome.

Onto a topic far less interesting and much more stressful: my teeth, an almost constant pain in my ass in recent months. I got braces again in October in anticipation of jaw surgery. The orthodontist said to expect to be ready for surgery 10-12 months after getting them on, and I sincerely hope he’s right and this shit doesn’t drag out.

Reliving the nightmare of braces as an adult is disheartening, primarily because of the pain I don’t remember feeling the first time around. My teeth have been varying levels of sore for the past three months. I got my wisdom teeth out two months ago, and am now dealing with nerve damage resulting in numbness in my lower lip and chin. That’s ever-so-slowly improving, but it’s been a frustrating process. I have rubber bands pulling my cross bite out, bite turbos keeping my jaw open to allow for that, and eight tongue tamers glued to the backs of my front teeth (google for maximum level of sympathy). The bite turbos make it hard to talk (read: lisp) and also make me grind my teeth in my sleep so hard they squeak, which is kind of scary.

I also just feel ugly. It might all be in my head, but it feels hard to be respected as a medical professional when I’m lisping my way through an explanation and looking like a weird tween. I try to bond with my older pediatric patients by asking them about their braces, and they are never having it. Throw me a bone, teens.

Overall though, it feels good to be started on this jaw-fixing journey. Getting started was an enormous obstacle, mentally and financially, and getting through the worst of this ordeal is a goal for 2016.

What other goals might an introvert troll have? The constant one, to try a little harder, give people a chance, or quickly dismiss them but put myself in a place where I can meet others. To go to uncomfortable events, to talk to strangers. To establish myself further in this place. Not to get to a place where I feel socially desperate, like I did a while back when I seriously considered trying to hang out with my dental hygienist.

Come on 2016, be good to me.

Arizona nightdwelling

I am now in Arizona, a land of continuous sun. It’s where I’ve wanted to put myself for years now, and I’m finally here.

Despite the persistent sun (to the tune of 115 degrees), I am a nightdweller. I’ve gotten a job as a sleep technologist working 12-hour overnight shifts in a hospital (cue the sound of my masters in linguistics being flushed down the toilet). Therefore, the setting and the rising of the sun are the bookends of my days. I usually go to bed at 8am and get up at 5pm. I get supremely annoyed when people are noisily going about their business at noon, and even though I have no right to tell them to shut the jizz up, I want to. Lawnmowers have become enemy number one. Children playing in the pool has become the equivalent of the upstairs neighbor playing dubstep at his shitty party at 3am.

On my days off is when I feel this most acutely. When I’m working, I can forget that it’s night. Everything is quieter and I’m at my best, but those are the only real cues that it’s nighttime. The fluorescent lights and lack of windows make me feel like it could be any time/I could be 50 feet underground/on Jupiter. Time ceases to exist except as numbers standing out in white on my computer screen. On my days off, the world is only spending time with me for a handful of hours. I’m eating breakfast while they’re eating dinner. I could easily party until 6am (if I had friends here) while they’d be dead by 2. I have to rush to get my ‘morning’ Starbucks or to get to Target before it closes. And heaven forbid I have to do anything during business hours.

Last Friday night I woke up at 8pm, horrified that it was already dark, and went to go see a movie. I caught the last showing of The Diary of a Teenage Girl and left the theater at midnight. The streets were dead, everything was closed. That’s when the waiting begins. The world here ends at midnight and leaves me to fend for myself. I went back to my mostly quiet apartment, overheard a drunken fight between shirtless men that ended, ‘give me my fucking beer back and keep steppin”, and spent the next six hours in dark silence. I read, drank, watched Netflix, read some more, drank some more. Because no one is awake there’s no one to call to catch up or hang out with. There are no runs to the grocery store or the bank. I can’t get my oil changed or wander the stacks at the library, two things I’ve been meaning to do for weeks but haven’t found the daytime hours for. I’m in an overly air-conditioned vacuum. I light candles. I feel stifled. I go outside and sweat within minutes. I look at my phone. It looks back at me. I go back inside and start the cycle over again.