New York City, one story at a time. Currently sharing stories from people in quarantine.
New York City, one story at a time. Currently sharing stories from people in quarantine.
“She was sick a lot when I was younger. Whenever people came to visit, they’d say: ‘Your mom loves you so much.’ But it never seemed that way. She wasn’t very affectionate. I did admire her though. I thought she was cool. She was president of a sailing club, and all these rough, leathery men would hang on her every word. But she never brought the same passion to being a mother. Our one bonding experience was watching Law and Order marathons. There was an episode when the main character called his friend a ‘hoe.’ And Mom thought that was hilarious, so it became a thing in our house. We’d call each other ‘hoes’ in a playful way. Things took a turn for the worse when the doctors prescribed her pain meds. Her personality disappeared. She couldn’t function anymore. I’d find her on the floor of her bedroom. Even after she went to rehab, she would never admit that she had a problem. Or apologize for the pain that she caused. In college my therapist had me write a letter, explaining how I felt. I read the whole thing to my mom over the phone. She listened quietly. I was sobbing the entire time. Mom wasn’t sobbing, but at the end she said: ‘I’m really sorry. I didn’t know that.’ After that she tried her best. I think she knew she didn’t have long to live. She’d call and see how I was doing. She’d send me little packages. She began to initiate things. And that was new. My entire life I’d been the one to initiate. I never even liked sailing. But I always asked her to go because it was something she’d do with me. It’s lonely being the one who initiates. We had a couple good years together before her death. We were starting to improve, so her passing hit me especially hard. My aunt tried to tell me that every time I saw a butterfly-- it was my mother. But that made no fucking sense. Because my mother would never choose to be a butterfly. So one day I’m telling all this to my therapist. And the whole time I’m staring at this magnetic letter board with the word ‘HOPE’ written on it. And just as I’m talking about missing my mom, the ‘P’ falls off the board. My therapist must have noticed my reaction. Because she laughed, and said: ‘Does that mean anything to you?’”
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED. Thanks so much to @sumnermickey for helping get our precious cargo to her father. She’s also teamed up with Elizabeth to create a fundraiser in Domingo’s memory. All donations will benefit the National MS society, and aid in the fight to end Multiple Sclerosis forever. So let’s keep the party going! Link in bio.
“Dad had been waiting on a heart transplant for three months, but he eventually got so sick that they took him off the waiting list. Mom wanted to spend one final night with him at the hospital. But she didn’t want me going home alone. So I think she was preoccupied with finding me a place to stay. There must have been a notice sent out on the church email list, because a bunch of people were coming by the hospital to say goodbye. One of them was a red headed lady named Sandy. I didn’t know her well. I knew she was married to the deacon who talks a lot. But I think she sensed I needed help, because she walked up to me and asked: ‘Do you have anywhere to go tonight?’ When I told her ‘not really,’ she said: ‘You’re coming with me.’ I hadn’t eaten all day, so she took me to Sonic and got me a grilled cheese sandwich. She asked how I was feeling. She asked about my plans for the future. And she told me to write down everything I could remember about my last conversation with my dad. When we got back to her house, she let me sleep in her daughter’s bedroom. The next morning she drove me back to the hospital. My whole family gathered around, and we prayed, and sang songs, and let my dad go. Sandy stayed through all of that. Then two days later she took me canoeing on the 4th of July. We watched fireworks together from the lake. Over the next few weeks, Sandy started hosting these bonfires at her house. She’d invite everyone from church who’d lost someone recently. It wasn’t a guided thing. You could talk about whatever you wanted. And leave whenever you got tired. But they were comforting. At some point I got a text message from Sandy’s son. He was away at the Naval Academy, but he sent me a short note saying: ‘I’m so sorry about your dad. And I’m praying for you.’ One year of talking, and three years of long distance later, we were married. On the night of our engagement, Sandy gave me a set of pearls. She said: ‘All the women in my family get a set of pearls when they turn sixteen. That’s around the age I got to know you. And I never told you, because I didn’t want to pressure things. But I knew you were perfect for my son. And I always hoped you’d be my daughter.”
“My dad enrolled in college when he was twelve years old. He met my mother during his junior year. He was fifteen at the time, and she wanted nothing to do with him. But he was determined in his pursuit. He accompanied her one day to collect millipedes for a biology project. He wasn’t very good at it. He found nothing but spiders. But he took his collection back to the lab and put one of the spiders under a microscope. Then he did it again. And again. Until he eventually became the world’s leading arachnologist. People always ask me if there were spiders around our house growing up. And there weren’t. His job mainly consisted of research. He published hundreds of books and papers. He wrote so much that I always fell asleep to the sound of his keyboard. If you look at the arc of his work, it’s clear that his true passion was classification. He loved to collect and synthesize information. Spiders were just an entry into that world. But I’m not sure how much that examination extended to his own emotions. We never talked about feelings in our house. So when my mother passed way, I was surprised to receive a letter from my dad. He said that he loved me. And that he felt like the worst father ever, because he’d spent too much time on his work. That’s not at all how I viewed him. But clearly it was a belief that he’d been living with. It was the first time he’d ever been vulnerable with me. Dad suffered a fatal fall a few weeks ago. And it’s been really hard. Because ever since he’d written that letter, we’d become best friends. We didn’t just talk about events anymore. He was sharing his feelings. It wasn’t perfect. It was still spotty. But Dad was beginning to understand that emotions aren’t just an inconvenience that get in the way of truth. They have a life of their own. They’re part of the fullness of life. They’re what make us different than spiders. I remember the year after Mom passed away. We’d grown much closer. And we were eating dinner together at a seaside restaurant. I remember Dad got really quiet, and said: ‘I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m feeling lately. And I’ve decided that I’m happy.’ It was the first time that I’d ever heard him say it.”
“It’s not that Chris isn’t an animal person. He just had no idea what was coming. We met in college. Both of us were working at the student newspaper. And at the time I was focused on journalism, so I don’t think he fully processed my love for animals. I did volunteer at the local shelter while we were dating. And I was working at a barn, so I rode horses quite a bit. But there was a ‘no pet’ policy in our dorm, so I only had a hermit crab named Holden. It was a little bit deceiving. It wasn’t until we moved into our own apartment that we got our first dog together. His name was Snoopy, and Chris got pretty attached to him. So that’s when I suggested we register for a foster program. Chris seemed a little hesitant at first, but I told him: ‘Let’s just get approved, and we’ll take it from there.’ The next day we were fostering a puppy. And that was that. We’ve been married for eight years, and over four hundred animals have come through our home. There have been a lot of cats. And a ton of dogs. Terminally ill dogs. And nervous dogs. And rowdy, jumpy, bitey dogs. We’ve had several litters of puppies that needed to be tube fed. And three pot bellied pigs. And six rats. Chris did try to stop the rats. He said: ‘We’re not doing rats.’ But then we got the rats. And now they have a whole big condo in our bathroom. One of them has breathing problems so Chris has to help her with a nebulizer. He’s very, very tolerant. He works from home, so he’s always with the animals. There’s always barking in the background of his podcast. Or when he’s trying to do video interviews. And he’s had a few ‘I can’t take it anymore’ moments. We’ve had shut down the fostering for a few weeks at a time. But then I’ll always find an animal that really needs a place to go. And Chris will look at the picture, and ask the same thing: ‘Is there nowhere else they can go? Is it life or death?’ And I’ll exaggerate a little bit, and say: ‘We’re their only hope.’ And then he’ll grudgingly allow it— just one more time.”
“I was five when he became a person in my world. I didn’t know exactly who he was. I just knew that there was someone around that was making my mother smile. I had to look way up to see him. I’d never met someone so strong. He’d tell me to hold onto his wrist, and he’d lift me into the sky with one hand. He worked at an auto shop, airbrushing designs onto the side of vans. I think he dreamed of being an artist. But he needed something more stable. So after he decided to marry my mom, he became a cop. He never lost touch with his creative side. He was always building things around the house—making things look fancier than we could afford. He built my first bike from scraps. He encouraged me to read. He encouraged me to write. He loved giving me little assignments. He’d give me a quarter every time I wrote a story. Fifty cents if it was a good one. Whenever I asked a question, he’d make me look it up in the encyclopedia. One day he built a little art studio at the back of our house. And he painted a single painting—a portrait of Sting that he copied from an album cover. But he got busy with work and never used the studio again. He was always saying: ‘when I retire.’ ‘I’ll go back to art, when I retire.’ ‘I’ll show in a gallery, when I retire.’ But that time never came. Dad was a cop for twenty years. He was one of the good ones. The kind of cop you see dancing on the street corner. Or skateboarding with kids. But in 1998 he was diagnosed with MS. First there was a little weakness. Then there was a cane. Then there was a wheelchair. It got to the point where he couldn’t even hold a paintbrush. We did his hospice at home. He seemed to have no regrets. He’d been a wonderful provider. He’d raised his daughters. He’d walked me down the aisle. During his final days, we were going through his possessions, one by one. He was telling me who to give them to. I pulled the Sting painting out of an old box, and asked: ‘What should I do with this?’ His response was immediate. ‘Give it to Sting,’ he said. All of us started laughing. But Dad grew very serious. His eyes narrowed. He looked right at me, and said: ‘Give it to Sting.’ So I guess that’s my final assignment.”
“I remember noticing at a young age that my mom had two extra stones in her mother’s ring. They were two rubies. And she explained to me that they signified my twin brothers. She told me that she’d given birth to them when she was 22, but was unable to care for them. So she gave them up to another family. I wanted to know more-- but it was a closed adoption. We’d receive photos every few years, and I could see the resemblance, which piqued my curiosity even more. But we had no other information. We didn’t even know their last name. And my mom was determined not to overstep her boundaries. She’d always say: ‘I’d love to meet them. And I know you would too. But that will have to be their decision.’ So I didn’t push the issue. But in 2017 my mom got very sick with cancer. And during this time a letter arrived from my brothers’ mom. She told us about their lives. Nothing too deep: what schools they went to, vacations they’d been on, stuff like that. And at the end of her letter, she wrote: ‘I wanted to thank you for the blessing you’ve given me. I couldn’t have kids. And you gave me two.’ My mom was very moved, but she still discouraged me from reaching out. ‘It’s not our place,’ she said. But then a few months later her condition worsened, and she was admitted to hospice. That’s when I said: ‘Fuck it.’ I sent my brothers a message on Facebook. I explained the situation, and told them that if they wanted to meet their biological mother, they had to do it now. Their response was immediate. A few days later they were on a plane. We met in the hospice parking lot, and it was super awkward for two minutes. But then it wasn’t. They were so nice. Their mother was with them and she was so sweet too. All of us went inside. My mom was very lucid that morning. She noticed them immediately. She said: ‘Oh my God, my boys.’ Each of them took one of her hands. She told them: ‘I always thought about you. And I always loved you. I just wanted the best for you.’ And they told her: ‘We know that. And we’ve always known that.’ It was a beautiful moment. A couple hours later Mom started to feel tired, and she fell asleep. Then later that night, she passed away peacefully.”
“I was born as the Soviet Union was falling apart. It says ‘Russia’ on my birth certificate. But my sister is only two years older, and her birth certificate says: ‘The Soviet Union.’ It was a dark time in the country. There were no jobs. The currency became worthless, and everyone’s savings were destroyed. Even the educated were suffering. My parents were university professors, but my mother would sell food and handicrafts on the street. The four of us shared two rooms. We slept on fold-out couches. We ate lots of porridge and lots of soup. Our special treat was Coca Cola. We got one bottle of Coca Cola for our birthday, and one on New Years. But I never remember being poor. My sister and I were surrounded with love and attention. I look back at old pictures, and I see my parents smiling so big. That’s exactly how I remember them: always smiling, always happy about life. Our prized possession was a bright red Lada-- an old Soviet car that was a gift from my grandfather. It could only be driven in warm weather. It sometimes needed a running start, and the driver’s seat was stuck in recline. But every summer we’d take it out of the garage and pray for one more year. We’d drive it to Lake Baikal. And there was one big hill where the Lada would always overheat. If we could make it over that, we knew we’d be OK. It would be huffing and puffing. My dad would be flooring the gas—his seat stuck in recline. We’d all be begging the Lada to give us one more vacation. During these trips I’d tell my father not to worry. I’d joke that one day I’d buy us a fancy foreign car. And he’d always just laugh. At the age of fifteen I left our house. I qualified for a program to study in America. I cried so hard, but it was a huge opportunity. I was able to enter college at the age of sixteen. I graduated with two degrees, and now I’m working as a financial analyst. Last year we took my parents on their first vacation. A real vacation. To Thailand. But that wasn’t the only gift I bought them. During my first year of working, I saved all the money I could. And bought them a brand new car. But luckily we didn’t have to pay full price. There was a $200 discount—for trading in the Lada.”
“He was really scared of my wheelchair when I met him. So it didn’t seem like it was going to work out. But I had a soft spot for him. Ted was the smallest of his litter. He’d been really sick and they didn’t know if he was going to survive. The first time I went to meet him, I collapsed in his owner’s kitchen. But Ted wiggled over toward me and laid down on my chest. Everyone thought it was so cute. It was the first time I’d ever had a health scare that turned into something positive-- so it seemed like it was meant to be. There are two options when you get an assistance dog. You can get a dog that’s already been trained. Or you can train the dog yourself—and that’s what I wanted to do. Because I needed something. I have this genetic disease. It weakens every part of my body, but it didn’t get bad until my teenage years. So I had this wonderful life and then it was taken away. I was isolated from my friends for so long. I couldn’t go to school. It reached a point where I couldn’t see a reason to live anymore. I needed something to focus on besides my health. And Ted gave me that. He needed me and I needed him. I watched all the training videos I could find. I read all the books. I reached out to people and asked for help. It gave me a reason to talk to people again. I hadn’t done that in so long. And I learned that I was good at training. Everything just flowed. From day one—we’ve been so in sync. He can fetch me anything. He helps me get undressed. He even watches me when I sleep, and wakes me up if I’m having night terrors. My mom was having to help me with everything before I got Ted. And she loves me so much. But she has two other children, and I know she was getting so tired. But Ted doesn’t get tired. He loves to help. He’s so excited to help. He’ll pick up the same thing seventeen times. It makes him so happy. He’s my world—really. He saved my life. He made me happy again. And he takes so much pressure off my family. He gives me a break from being the disabled child. From being the focus of everyone’s attention. He lets me be a daughter. And a big sister. He lets me be Chloe again.”
“Mom died suddenly of a heart attack. One day she came home early because she was feeling tired, and then she just slumped over. My father was with her at the time. He tried to resuscitate her—with all the trauma that entailed. I’m sure it was tough on him, but he’d never been an outwardly emotional man. I’d never seen him cry. There was a bunch of people at our house after the funeral, and Dad kept excusing himself. I’d follow him back to his bedroom. We’d lie in his bed together and talk. It was the most open and honest that I’d ever seen him. He told me he was feeling lost. And inadequate. Mom had always been the outward face of the relationship. The talker and the feeler. She’d host the parties while he stayed in the kitchen. And now he’d lost that connection to the world. He said that everything good about me and my brother came from Mom: our intelligence, our kindness, our success. Listening to him in that moment, I realized how much he undervalued himself. I’d known that some of his dreams in life hadn’t worked out. He never finished college. He tried to start his own restaurant when I was younger. I remember we’d go to the farmer’s market together. He’d put on his chef coat, and network with all the vendors, and pick his own ingredients, and make his own dishes. It was such a proud time in his life. But the restaurant didn’t survive. And he had to go back to work for other people. But everyone he he’d ever worked with came to Mom’s funeral. From twenty years of restaurant jobs. That’s how many lives he touched. Because even if he was a little gruff—Dad was always kind. He was always giving. And even if he wasn’t the most emotionally expressive, he was always there. He always showed up for my stuff. More than that. He always took an interest. A few years ago I decided to study archeology, and he’s become enthralled by it. Sending me articles. Asking me details. I think he has this idea of himself as a grouchy old man—especially now that he’s alone. But that’s not how I see him. Not at all. A few weeks after Mom’s death, he sent me a text saying that he didn't know who he was anymore. And I wrote him back: ‘You're my dad.’”
“I was just a neighborhood kid. There was no running water in our house. Or electricity. So in the evenings, when I came home from school, I’d sit out near the road. Across the street there was a hotel where foreigners stayed. I’d watch them play Frisbee. I’d watch them buy African souvenirs from the street vendors. Occasionally one of them would come speak to me. I was an inquisitive child. I liked to ask questions. So I think they found me entertaining. One evening an American girl came up to me and started asking me questions. Just small talk: ‘What’s your name?’, and things like that. But then she asked my birthday, and I told her: ‘November 19th.’ ‘No way.’ she replied. ‘That’s my birthday too!’ And after that we became friends. Her name was Talia. She’d come visit me every evening, and bring me chocolate chip cookies. She’d let me play her Game Boy. She’d ask about my family. She’d ask about school. I was the best student in my third grade class, so I’d show her my report cards, and she’d get so excited. She was the first person to take me to the beach. I’d never even seen the ocean before. We had so much fun together. But one evening she told me that she was going back to America. And I began to cry. She bought us matching necklaces from a street vendor, took one final picture, and promised that she’d write me letters. It was a promise that she kept. The first letter arrived a few weeks after she left. And there were many letters after that. She told her parents all about me. They invited me to America to stay with them for a month. They took me to baseball games, and amusement parks, and shopping trips. It was the best time of my life. When I returned to Ghana, they paid for all my school fees. They bought my books and clothes. They paid for me to get a degree in engineering. Now I have my own company. The Cassis family turned my life around. I was just some random kid they didn’t know, and they gave me a chance for my dreams to come true. I went back to visit them last year. But this time I didn’t need them to pay my way. I was giving a speech at MIT, because I’d been selected as one of their top innovators under the age of 35.”
“Mom died on the first day of school. She’d been really sick that entire summer. And she passed away on a Monday. At 7 AM. Almost exactly the time I’d be leaving for school. I don’t think I fully grasped how traumatic it was for me. I was there when she took her last breath. I comforted my little sister while she said goodbye. And the next week I had to start classes at a brand new school. I was a junior at the time. All the teachers knew what happened. And they had told all the students, so everyone was pitying me when I showed up. I met Alex that very first day. We were in choir together. We became friends almost immediately, but we didn’t start dating until we were both cast as leads in Seussical The Musical. We became more serious during college, and we ended up getting married right after graduation. I felt so sad that my mom couldn’t see any of it. Every time a big event would happen, it would be like—she’s not here. And she’s never going to be here. I was a moody, shitty teenager when she died. And I’m having this whole life where I become the person I’m supposed to be, and she doesn’t get to see any of it. She’s not going to see me graduate. She’s not going to meet my children. And it especially sucks that she’ll never get to meet Alex. We lit a lantern at our wedding to signify that my mom was still with us. It was a beautiful ceremony, and afterwards we took our honeymoon in Hawaii. A few days into the trip, I received a call from my oldest friend Meredith. She sounded excited. She’d just discovered a picture of our childhood soccer team, and there was a boy who looked just like Alex. When I showed Alex the photo, he confirmed that it was him—he’d played goalie on that team. I just started laughing. It was such a God moment. It was a moment when everything felt connected. Alex and I had known each other as children, back when my mom was still alive. The first thing I did was call my dad. I asked him if he remembered anything about the Swan’s Dermatology Soccer Team. ‘I remember the goalie,’ he replied. ‘During the games he’d always sit down in the net and play with the dirt. And your mother thought it was hilarious."
“I remember there was a day in kindergarten when we were supposed to bring our dads to school. It was some performance or something. I’d never met my father. So I asked my mom if he could come, and she told me: ‘He’s too busy. He’s a king.’ My father was a king? That meant I was a princess! It made me feel so proud. But as I got older, I came to realize it was an elaborate story my mom had invented to comfort me. She was a single mother. We’d immigrated from the Philippines when I was six, and we were living in a rented room. That’s not how a princess was supposed to live. But whenever I’d ask more about my father, my mother would become withdrawn. She’d offer few details. She told me that she’d been working as a nurse in Malaysia. And that she met the king at a party. But the rest of the story seemed to be painful, so I decided to never open that box. I stopped thinking about it. Then one night, when I was fourteen years old, the phone rang. There was a strange voice on the line. I’d never heard the accent before. It said: ‘I represent His Royal Highness, and we’ve received your letters.’ I quickly handed the phone to my mom and she spoke for several minutes. When she finally hung up, she told me: ‘Your dad wants to meet you now.’ We flew to London and stayed at the InterContinental hotel. We were greeted in the lobby by a lawyer, who gave us a wad of cash, and told us that ‘His Royal Highness’ would be available for lunch the next day. We agreed to meet in the hotel restaurant. But it wasn’t just us. My father had an entourage with him. During our meal he was very polite. He told me I looked like my older sister. But my mother did the majority of the talking. She had demands. She wanted financial support—which was provided. But she also wanted paternity in writing. And that was never agreed to. Our lunch lasted about an hour. Afterwards my father told me: ‘My people will call you.’ And we did meet twice again. Each time in London. Each time for an hour. But I was never brought into the family. I was never fully acknowledged. Thankfully, before we left that first lunch-- my mother did make one last request. She insisted that I take a photo with my father.”
“I met Jacob at a house party. I was nineteen. I’d just moved to New York from Brazil. Right away we became inseparable. It was the first time that either of us had been in love. Even though he was a little younger, Jacob taught me so much. I remember he used to read me Dr. Seuss books to help with my English. After dating for a few months, we decided to move to Rio De Janeiro together. We got married at the courthouse so he’d have Brazilian residency-- but we did the rebel socialist thing. I was in a T-shirt. Both of us wore jeans. We stayed in Rio for seven months. We had our own house. No parents around. We went to the beach all the time. But we were too young to make a relationship work. Disagreements became bigger than they needed to be. It seems to be all or nothing when you’re young. Either everything is perfect, and you’re reading Dr. Seuss—or everything is horrible. At one point Jacob decided he wasn’t ready to be married, and we ended up going our separate ways. Over the years we lost touch. Both of us got married. Then both of us got divorced. And I didn’t think about him for a long time. But on June 17th of 2018, I was watching an early-morning World Cup game, and I got a message on LinkedIn. It was from Jacob. He said he’d been drinking a cup of coffee, and was reminded of an inside joke we had. That led to a three hour phone conversation. Which led to a ten day trip to visit him in Michigan. I remember how strange it was when we embraced at the airport. We were the same people, but we were almost sixty. We’d lived through so much. He had a little bit of a belly. And so did I. We poured our hearts out over the next ten days. We didn’t spend all our time in the bedroom. We talked about our difficult childhoods. Our mental health struggles. We talked about who we were back then—and how much we’d grown. At the end of the trip we decided to start a life together. We’re in a different season now. We’re kinder to each other. We know how to name things. And how to have difficult conversations. It’s not like back then. When we were young, we thought we knew everything. And we suffered so much for it. Because we barely knew anything at all.”
“After my grandmother passed away, Dad stepped out of the hospital for some fresh air. Then he said a prayer and asked my grandmother to send him a sign. When he opened his eyes, there was a dime at his feet. And after that day-- he began to look for dimes everywhere. I was six years old at the time, and he’d always get me to help him search. And whenever we found one, he’d say: ‘Bubby sent it to us!’ Then we’d add it to a little clay jar that I made. Sometime when I was in third grade, my parents sat me down and told me that Dad had cancer. I remember sitting in the guidance counselor’s office during recess. Apparently he’d already been sick for several years. It was a rare type of cancer. And it was aggressive. It would go away for two months at a time, but it would always come back. But even the people who knew him had no idea. He never let it stop him. He worked really hard. He woke up every morning at 4 AM to use the elliptical. Unfortunately his last few years lined up with my angsty teenage years. I pushed him away a lot. I wanted to hang out with my friends. But he kept trying. And things did get better between us. He was really silly and affectionate. He’d burst into my room while I was studying, singing at the top of his lungs, using a bottle of shampoo as a microphone. He’d always ask me to get coffee. Or breakfast. And I’d usually say ‘no.’ Because it’s hard when you have a terminally ill parent. You think about it all the time, but it’s the last thing you want to think about. And there’s this knowledge that the closer you become, the harder it’s going to be. He died when I was sixteen. It was November 30th. I remember walking around the parking lot at his funeral, staring at the ground. There wasn’t a dime anywhere. And it really pissed me off. I was looking at the sky. Shouting at the sky. But nothing. We found over 300 dimes when he was alive, but I couldn’t find any after he died. I searched everywhere for an entire month. Then one day I had a really bad day. So I decided to visit his grave for the first time since his funeral. I parked my car, walked down the steps, and found my dad’s plaque. Then I looked down at my feet. And there it was.
“I met Claire during my junior year of college. She was the first girl I ever dated. I’d swung and missed so many times, it was odd having somebody who finally reciprocated my feelings. I’d never been very popular in high school. I didn’t have a core group of friends. I wasn’t an athlete. And before I met Claire, the only thing I had going for me was my intelligence. I was always able to make good grades—so I sort of clung to that. I became a perfectionist. I wouldn’t even sign up for AP classes because I didn’t think I could make an A+. When I got accepted into a great law school, I finally felt like I was being vindicated. I was in the top quarter of my class. But during my final year, Claire and I were taking a trip to her parents’ house, and we got in a bad accident on the highway. I woke up in a daze. When the doctors scanned my head for a concussion, they discovered a benign tumor. My brain surgery was scheduled for the next week. The surgeon told me to expect some memory loss during my recovery, but it was much worse than I expected. I’d ask the same questions over and over. Sometimes I couldn’t remember conversations that happened earlier in the day. And I ended up failing the bar exam even though I studied my very hardest. Eventually I was able to pass the exam, but it’s been a struggle ever since. Over the past seven years, it’s been a constant battle to convince myself I’m still normal. To convince myself I’m still smart. But Claire has been a total angel. She’s always telling me that nobody is perfect. And that nobody needs to be perfect. Whenever I get down on myself, she tells me to stop comparing myself to means and averages. She reminds me that she’s not with me because I’m smart. Or because I’m a lawyer. She’s with me because I’m a good person. And a good father. And I’m deserving of love on those grounds alone. Claire is the one who told me to send in my story. She wanted me to tell you about how I passed the bar exam after my brain surgery. But today is our eighth anniversary. And I just wanted to tell her thanks for always being there.” #quarantinestories
“I’m a first-generation American, so education was extremely important in my house. I’d have family members tell me: ‘You should be a doctor,’ but it always seemed unobtainable. So I decided to major in accounting. And to tell you the truth, I enjoyed the work for a long time. I loved crunching numbers. It brought me joy. And it brought my parents joy too. My father loved telling people that his daughter worked on Wall Street. So I never questioned my path. Then came September 11th. It was a beautiful morning—just like this. We could see everything from our office window. When the first plane hit, everyone assumed it was an accident. Then the next plane hit, and people started running out of the building. We stayed home for three weeks. Our office was used for emergency triage, and it felt like a warzone when we came back. You could still smell the fumes coming through the vents. Things never went back to normal for me. I remember coming into work on the 4th of July, and thinking: ‘Why am working on a holiday? It’s not like I’m saving lives.’ That’s when I decided to go back to school. I found a college that would let me do nights and weekends. After two full years of prerequisite courses, I was accepted into medical school. And that’s when things really got tough. I’m 35 at this point. I had been a Vice President at Citibank. I’m full of confidence. But suddenly I’m in class with all these younger people, and I’m struggling. It was hard. But I found a crew of other students to support me. And I was focused. I knew exactly what kind of pediatrician I wanted to be. Ever since I’ve graduated—even in residency-- I’ve been working with children in underserved communities. Some of my patients grew up in homeless shelters. But all of them get my very best. When I get feedback, my patients will say: ‘Dr. Nelson really cares about my daughter.’ And I do really care. It’s not an easy job by any means. I’m still working nights. And weekends. And holidays. But it’s a different attitude. I’ve never had a day when I woke up feeling like I didn’t want to go to work.”
“You kinda go into that whole thing thinking ‘one,’ so we were pretty shocked to learn that we were having twins. We were living in Las Vegas for my husband’s job. We didn’t have any family around us. And I was getting nervous about doing everything myself. Our neighborhood had one of those communal mailbox areas, and I think that’s where I first met our neighbors Joe and Marie. They were the sweetest people. Marie was getting ready to retire, and one day she mentioned that she’d like to help when the babies came. ‘I’m not looking for a job,’ she told me. ‘But when I was raising my boys, I always wondered what it would be like to have an extra hour in the day.’ I wasn’t sure about the seriousness of her offer. But sure enough, on the first morning I was alone with the twins, Marie called and asked if I needed anything. She came over for about an hour while I took a shower. Then she came over the next day. And the next. Marie ended up coming over every weekday for an entire year. She’d give me a short break and do whatever needed to be done: prepare the bottles, fold the laundry, wash the dishes. Every time she walked in the door, she’d always say the same thing: ‘How are my babies today?’ We became good friends during our time together. My own mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s, so she wasn’t able to provide the comfort and advice I needed. Marie helped with that too. It wasn’t anything really deep-- just simple stuff about mothering, that otherwise I’d have to find in a book. Some nights the doorbell would ring and she’d have dinner for us—the most wonderful Italian food. Her specialty was Mama Marie’s Meatballs. We ended up leaving the city when my kids turned four, but Marie and I stayed in touch on the phone. I always sent her a Mother’s Day card. She was hoping to come to Indiana for the kids’ graduation, but by that time she was too ill to travel. Marie passed away a few years ago. But up until the end of her life, every time she’d call, she’d always greet me the same way: ‘How are my babies today?’”
“I was just a kid from a little cow town in Montana, but I was convinced I knew everything. So I got into a little tangle with my dad and ended up joining the Air Force. They stationed me out in Spokane, Washington. And not long after I arrived, me and a couple of buddies decided to take a day trip out to Liberty Lake. It was a real neat little lake. Fifteen feet deep and so clear that you could see straight to the bottom. We started playing a little football on the beach, but then we noticed three girls out on a floating dock. So we decided to swim out there. The water was really cold. And about halfway to the dock, I charley horsed in both my legs and started to sink. I thought for sure I was going to drown. When I woke up, I was laying on the dock, and one of those girls was staring down at me. Apparently she’d seen me go under, jumped in her brother’s boat, and pulled me out by the hair. That girl was named Dolores. She saved my life in August of 1952, and she saved me again and again for the next 64 years. We raised four children together. Not only was she my wife, but she was also my mentor. I was just a kid from Montana. She turned me into a good man. Her personality, her love-- I’m talking deep love-- for me and the children, changed me one inch at a time. And she never lost that heart for rescuing people. She worked with youth. She worked in street ministries. Whenever somebody was in a little bit of trouble, Dolores would jump right in. I know she sounds a bit like Wonder Woman—but she was. We were inseparable. People called us ‘joined at the hip.’ Two years ago she passed away. And I’ll tell you the only reason I’m still living—because I know, that one day, I’m going to wake up in heaven, and see Dolores looking down at me one more time.” #quarantinestories
“It was just like one of those scripted, TV show abandonments. We were at the laundromat together. My dad took the car to ‘get us lunch,’ and just never came back. He was only twenty-four, and I guess he couldn’t handle the pressure of being a young dad. My mom was left in a very tough spot, because not long afterward my health problems began. I started walking with a limp. None of the doctors could figure it out. Most of them guessed Cerebral Palsy or Muscular Dystrophy, but the treatments didn’t seem to help. That’s around the time my mom met Eric. Both of them were working at Red Lobster. She was a waitress. Eric was a bartender. I was only five years old, so I just knew him as ‘Mom’s cool friend’ with the really long sideburns. We started spending more and more time at his rental house. He had an original Nintendo that he let me play. We spent our first Christmas together, and I remember he gave me a bat cave — the Michael Keaton edition. As things got more serious with my mom, Eric really took charge of my health. He helped pay for the specialists. He drove us to children’s hospitals around the country. Finally we found the doctor who gave me a correct diagnosis, and I was able to get the medication I needed. Not long afterwards my mom and Eric got married. They had three more children. I was ‘Jon Snow’ in the whole thing, but Eric never made me feel that way. He treated me like his son. When I was in high school, our youngest brother passed away, and I don’t think my parents ever really recovered. Recently they got a divorce, so there’s no ‘legality’ to Eric and I’s relationship anymore. It’s become much more of a friendship. But he’ll always be the father figure that I almost didn’t have. Thirty years ago Eric stepped into a mess. Poor, single mother. Disabled kid. He could have run the other direction but he didn’t. He decided to get in there, get his hands dirty, and become a father. And that’s the reason I became the man I am today.” #quarantinestories
“My dad took his own life when I was fifteen years old. I’m sure it was traumatic for my mom, but she sort of just sucked it up. She’d already experienced a lot of heartbreak in life. She grew up in a dysfunctional household and became a caregiver at a very young age. So she was able to conceal her emotions and focus on supporting me and my brother. I was the good kid. I worked hard in school. I played three sports. And Mom supported me in everything I wanted to try. Not in a pushy way. More of a helpful way. So much of her life was just driving me places: practice, games, extra lessons. Unfortunately her relationship with my older brother was different. Jacob was defiant. He wouldn’t listen. He had a good heart but he was doing a lot of reckless, scary things. Jacob had been the one who discovered my dad’s body, and I don’t think he ever fully recovered. Five years later he took his own life. When my mom got that phone call, she came into the living room, laid on top of me, and starting crying. ‘Jacob just shot himself,’ she said. Both of us barely recovered. I began training for triathlons to deal with my grief. It had been my mom’s suggestion, but I think it inspired her. Because one morning she made herself go outside, lace up her shoes, and take a run. Later she told me that running gave her something to live for. She began to compete in triathlons herself, and eventually became a certified coach. Mom’s ultimate goal was always to finish an Ironman competition, but it didn’t seem possible. She failed on four different attempts. Nobody wanted her to try again. She was 68 years old. She was the oldest female competing in Ironman Texas, and they literally thought she could die. But Mom was determined to try one more time. I cheered her on the entire way. I walked alongside her while she swam the canal. I biked alongside her while she ran. I remember we were nearing the end of the race, and she had to get to mile eighteen by 9 pm, or she’d be disqualified. I was telling her to pick up the pace. But by then she knew. She looked at her watch, then she looked at me, and said: ‘I’m an hour ahead. I’m going to be an Ironman!”
“We refer to it as the night we had mind-blowing sex. It was celebratory sex. My husband loves watches. And all evening he’d been trying to win an eBay auction for this Nixon watch. It wasn’t even fancy. But at the last minute he ended up with the winning bid, so we decided to celebrate. My mother was staying with us at the time, so we were trying to be quiet. I had a pillow over my face. Nate was trying to keep things under control. But right at the Big Moment—something happened. What began as a good moan, turned into a bad moan. Nate grabbed the back of his head. He told me that I needed to call the paramedics. By the time we reached the hospital, he was already losing consciousness. The doctor showed me his scans and explained to me that Nate had experienced a ‘catastrophic’ aneurysm. That was the word he used. I said: ‘Catastrophic like die?’ And he said: ‘Yes.’ The nurses wheeled Nate down the hallway and into the surgery room. Right before they went inside, they took off his wedding ring, and told me: ‘Say what you want to say.’ For the last few months, Nate had been bugging me about having another kid. So I whispered in his ear: ‘If you don’t die, I’ll have another baby.’ It took 28 days in the ICU. And six months of rehabilitation. But it was a complete recovery. Nate came through with no deficits. We named our new son Nixon—just like that silly watch. It arrived in the mail while Nate was recovering. And you know what? He couldn’t even wear it. It was three links too short.” #quarantinestories
“My partner and I were looking to foster a child, so we decided to attend some parenting courses. There were about five different couples in the class. And we were doing this ‘ice breaker’ thing, where everyone shared their reason for wanting to become a foster parent. When it came around to one guy, he sort of shrugged, and said: ‘We already have three kids, but there’s an extra seat in our minivan.’ Everyone started laughing. The whole room relaxed. And that’s my first memory of Larkin. He was attending the class with his wife Katie, and I was drawn to them immediately. They were just such obviously good people. We started eating lunch with them on our breaks. We’d visit them on weekends. One Halloween we were trick-or-treating with their kids, and Larkin sat me down on a stoop, and asked why we hadn’t fostered yet. That’s when I told him about my health problems. My mother had given me a kidney transplant fifteen years earlier, and it was beginning to fail. I was on heavy dialysis. I needed blood transfusions. Soon I would need another kidney, but I couldn’t find a match. I never asked him. I’d never do that to someone. But the next day Larkin called me and told me he wanted to be tested. It was a miracle. We were a perfect match. We went through months of preparation. But four days away from the surgery, my blood test showed an abnormality—and we were suddenly unmatched. It was devastating. I felt like giving up, but Larkin kept pressing me to consider a paired donation. He offered to donate his kidney to an absolute stranger, if the hospital would find me a match. And they did. Larkin gave his kidney to a woman, and I received one from her husband. I was forever changed by this man. Larkin is someone who truly lives his life for other people. Not only did he give me the gift of life. But he’s shown me what it means to be a human on this earth.” #quarantinestories