I’m excited to share that I have written a book that I am editing, titled “String of Paper Suns,” which I hope will promote compassion. I also have an essay that will be coming out soon. I will definitely post an update!
I’ve seen people post get to know you posts and I don’t know if I’ve done any. Not in a while anyway. I thought I would share some fun facts.
-The past two times that I’ve been engaged, I have proposed to foreign men – that’s hella feminist.
-I planned on being a medical doctor since the time that I was very young until a couple years into college. Still took a lot of premed classes. I will never regret any of my education.
-I became pregnant at 17 and had an abortion when I was in nursing school, and then became pregnant at 18 with my daughter. I had another abortion when she was a couple years old. After that, I never had a strong desire to have more children.
-I grew up in a fundamentalist religion and I am now an atheist. It’s not because of the religious upbringing, it’s because I think that religion is not rational or logical. Even based on faith. I think it’s the the equivalent of believing in fairy tales. And I can say that while continuing to respect what other people believe in.
-I have many disabilities and they are all invisible. You don’t want the list. I won’t bore you with the details. Some of them greatly increase my risk of death. But I’m still kicking.
-I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and I have a lot of nostalgia for my home, even though I was very isolated and grew up in a closed religion. Somehow I was able to soak in the beauty of the place, despite everything.
-I don’t have a lot of close friends and I have trust issues because I’ve been abused, bullied, and betrayed so much. It’s kind of amazing that I actually am so open. I think the abuse is actually part of the reason. My boundaries were stripped away from me.
-I consider myself more of an artist than anything else. I’m highly sensitive, deeply emotional, and I love humanity. I just don’t like a lot of people because human nature can be ugly.
-I’ve met people from every background and every walk of life. Truly. From the most destitute to the most wealthy. I’ve been around some of the most poverty-stricken people and people with more money than you can imagine. It has made me very cynical about money.
-A lot of people know me from one aspect of my life and think they know everything about me. I have transformed many times and I will again.
-Obviously my daughter is the most important thing to me in this world. I never expected how I would be changed as a mother. She is the greatest gift of my life, but I would never recommend motherhood because the world does not support mothers and the world is a violent place for females. I live in fear as a woman of a daughter.
-I had a purple wig that even drag queens envied.
-Even though I’ve been with mostly men, I identify as queer. That’s because I don’t care about gender. Love is love.
-People don’t believe me when I say that I’m autistic because I don’t fit their stereotype. And I don’t need anyone to approve. I know myself.
-I’ve been suicidal since I was a teenager and I’ve been in the emergency room many times. I’ve done self injury and even burned my own face. I think part of the reason is growing up in a religion that did not allow me to express myself. That shapes you. Plus of course being sexually abused by so many men that I lost count. Yet people think I’m the crazy one.
-I can listen to a piece of classical music or watch the wind blow through a flower and feel the whole world.
-I’m an example of someone with a lot of talents and a lot of struggles. I learned how to read when I was a toddler, but I couldn’t figure out social interaction. I went through school as a gifted student and graduated with all the accolades, but I feel like I’ve been an underdog my whole life. I’ve had a lot of adversity and difficulties in my life that help me connect with other people that are marginalized.
-I spent almost the first 40 years of my life in an intense caregiving role.
-I can’t handle news about human suffering. I wish everyone respected each other. I will never feel safe in this world. As an empath, I feel the pain of others and it’s torture.
-Even though I have so many deep emotions, I’m a very jovial person. I think it’s how I survive. Despite what I post, people tell me I’m a lot of fun to be around and I am hilarious. A lot of sad people are funny.
-I miss everyone that I’ve lost, whether they are still alive or dead. The grief is the same.
-I’m not this depressing all the time.
-I like intellectual people who don’t try to act like they’re so much smarter than everyone else. Real power is quiet.
-I am a romantic at heart even though I know the darkness.
Nature’s revival begins with sleep.
Beautiful red and gold leaves filter through the air.
Pressed against the earth by rain.
Branches release their glory.
Waking and dancing will be.
Now it is quiet and gray and brown.
Getting into my red Ford Taurus, I dumped my purse onto the passenger seat and turned the key in the ignition. It whined, but wouldn’t start, so I turned it a few more times – each time growing more and more frustrated and despairing. “Start, you mother fucking car, START!!” Pumping the gas pedal frantically, I continued to turn the key, causing the engine to screech incessantly – until a neighbor, Adam, stopped and said, “You’re going to flood the engine if you keep giving it gas.” He lived on my floor with his boyfriend and worked at a local theater. “Let me get my jumper cables,” he said, “I’ll be right back. I got out of my car and kicked the driver’s side door, “You piece of shit!” Someone walking by on the street looked back at me as he kept walking, shaking his head. While I waited for Adam, I had a moment to think about my day, which led to reflecting on what my life was now.
Plymouth fireworks are held within a day or so of the Fourth of July, and about 10,000 people attend. To get a decent viewing spot, it’s advantageous to arrive hours before they begin. Since we’re on Siljander time, we had to park about a mile away, and I had to carry our bag, with full water bottles.
As we settled in on a hill, after deliberating which spot was best, we checked our phones, read on Kindle, and texted and Snapchatted family.
Imani texted me: “I’m jealous of that girl eating cake.”
I texted her back: “Her cake fell in the grass.”
She showed me how much shorter her right leg is than her left. I pointed out her different scars and said, “Dun, dun, dun, you could make a cool tattoo with them.” Laughing, she said, “I could have a tree on this leg and birds on the other,” pointing to smaller scars on her left leg.
As we listened to the Minnesota Orchestra, we waited for fireworks and the uncertain arrival of family. My sister texted me that she was just getting out of the shower, and I responded, “I think you’re going to miss this one, punk.” Nonetheless, I told everyone where we were sitting.
Imani: “We need a bat signal that we can shine up that says ‘Siljander.'”
We were surrounded by masses of people: some having picnics and drinking wine, a few with dogs, lots of kids and strollers, and people clearly more organized than us with amenities they had brought with them.
When fireworks started, a lot of us stretched out on the grass to watch. Young guys hollered – and made their presence known. As patriotic music played, the crowd cooed and cheered. The finale was worth everything with spectacularly bright pops of fireworks that were like paparazzi flash bulbs at the Oscars.
I thought about how I missed moments like these with my daughter because I was at work in the past. But now we got to enjoy fireworks together and chill together.
I thought about veterans and people who have been around gun violence.
As we walked the long way back to our car, we saw people we had seen on the way there: a thin man with wild white hair and an Indian family with a mother, father, and two adolescent boys. I shone the flashlight on my phone so she could see where she was going. We both listened in as a group of boys told riddles:
What do you call a man with no arms and legs on your wall? Art.
What do you call a man with not arms and legs in the pool? Bob.
There are 28 cows and 28 (20 ate) chicken. How many are left? 28.
How do you get down off an elephant? You can’t; you get down off a duck.
On the way home, Imani sang the song “Amore” to me. Then she unplugged my phone from the car charger and plugged hers in. Dean Martin sang “Amore” to us and she said, “Sing it, Dean-O!” After singing along, and playing Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, she remarked, “Imagine if these men had never gone to the studio. The world would be less bright – ahhhhh!!” Somehow, the conversation turned to pancakes. Imani said, “I need pancakes in my life.” I told her that we have a mix, but it’s easy to make pancakes from scratch, and they’re better. Maybe we will remember that we want pancakes this weekend when we have time to get the ingredients and make them.
In 1999, the Internet was still new and rudimentary. Email was a novelty. And computers started to become more mainstream. I had never owned a computer, and that was not unusual, but I had used computers at home and school. My parents bought their first computer – an IBM – around 1990; it had a big boxy monitor and used floppy disks. Mostly, we played games on it like Tetris, Paratrooper, Space Strike, and Snack Attack. At school, we used Macintosh computers, which were produced by Apple. I took a computer science class in the early 1990s, in which I learned about basic animation and links. In those early days of public technology dissemination, I was a budding techie and bonafide computer nerd.
With my paltry wages, I couldn’t afford a computer and really had no need for one. All of my business communications were hand-written and mailed via the U.S. Post Office. One day, in my mail, I received information about working from home. This was very appealing to me, as I was working long days and was away from my baby more than I was with her. It didn’t take much to be swayed to take a chance and sign up for a payment plan to enroll in a medical billing program. Perhaps many poor people fall for these offers. All of the curriculum would be mailed to my apartment and could be completed on my own time. But there was one problem: I needed a computer to do the training and eventually work from home.
Since there was no way I could afford it, I decided that I would ‘creatively’ finance a computer to use for my new entrepreneurial venture by writing a check for it that I would pay back, expecting that I would be in a position to pay it back in no time with my promising career. Whenever my bank account had gone in the red, as it often did, I paid the overdraft fee and repaid it as I could. Logically, I assumed that I could do the same thing to purchase a computer – just that it would take longer to replenish my account. Being 20 years old and desperate, I had no knowledge of any additional repercussions, like criminal charges. Vanessa came with me to Best Buy, where I wrote a bad check for a Sony VAIO desktop computer, which came with promotional AOL CD-ROMs with trial subscriptions to the Internet – a bonus to my questionable investment. I thought I was in business.
After living at my parents’ for about a year, and working at the Fingerhut factory and other factories in Saint Cloud, and then ‘upgrading’ to an office job as a staffer at Becklund Home Health Care, I met Jeff. It was a serendipitous meeting, like many significant connections often are. A personal care assistant (PCA) named Dave came into my office one day, saying that he worked with a man named Jeff who needed some hours filled. He said that he was ‘private pay,’ which meant a higher wage. When I found out that it was $15 per hour, I could not pass it up. Sometimes the timing is right because I was burning out on being in the office and I longed to work directly with people again, which was my passion. It did not take much convincing to arrange a meeting with Jeff – a weekend shift at the end of June, 2000. I was 21 years old and Imani was 2 years old.
My parents had company from Arizona the day I started with Jeff, and the house was buzzing with energy. With my hair slicked back with gel, my nose and many ear piercings, and jean shorts and a T-shirt, I made my exit and got into my mud-brown Lincoln Continental Mark 5, which was like a tank, or a boat without sails on the freeway. This was a new chance for me and I felt deeply honored to be asked to serve Jeff.
When I parked in Jeff’s guest spot at his townhome neighborhood, and put the car in park, the shifter fell into my lap. Luckily it was already in park. Not wanting to delay my new assignment and being dedicated to utmost professionalism, I ignored my broken car and walked confidently to Jeff’s front door, ready to work. As I made my way across Jeff’s front yard, his mother, who went by ‘Mimi,’ said, “Oh, Jeff, is she ever cute!” She would remind me of that for years to come. When I rang the doorbell, Mimi opened it immediately, dressed in a red, flowing dress. “You must be Bridget,” she smiled warmly, ushering me toward Jeff, who was lying in his hospital bed in the living room. “Hi, Jeff,” I said, “What would you like me to do first?” I asked him. Both Mimi and Jeff were so charming, and their home looked rich. It was enchanting and relaxing to be there, especially with all the chaos in my life. I told them that their back yard on the neighborhood pond looked like the French Riviera, and they were tickled.
And because of Jeff and his promise of a stable job, I once again moved into my own apartment with my daughter and re-enrolled in college.
Here is a little excerpt from my book, which is about my first weeks living on my own in Minneapolis, trying to find my way after being displaced by my family because I left their church. One of my college friends introduced me to a bar around this time, and I found a home there because I had nothing else.
Warmth flowed through my body as the humid air kissed my taut, tan skin. After a couple beers, my breathing relaxed and my thoughts slowed. It was all about the moment. My friends were laughing around the bar and I was smiling at everyone with my dark outlined lipstick, white teeth, and a sense that life was nearing perfection. Everyone seemed to be my friend who was there to talk to, confide in, and savor. When our favorite songs came on the jukebox, we shrieked in shared recognition and sang along – sometimes using our beer bottles as pretend microphones. Those were the days when you could still smoke inside, and a cloud of our collective and constant cigarette smoke hung around us as a byproduct of our good times. Into the early morning hours, we would carouse and feel on top of the world, as if nothing could touch us. “I love you all!!!” I thought. Surely, they felt the same way about me.
The sun came up fast after these nights. Through heavy eyelids, I squinted at my alarm clock. It was after 10:00 a.m., and I had to be at work at Lenscrafters by 1:00 p.m., where I was still training as an apprentice optician. My cats, Freya and Venus, were in bed with me, playing with each other. They were my backup alarm clock. Rustling around in my king-sized pink comforter with large tulips, I stuck my feet out and closed my eyes. This was the best bed ever, and it took up much of my studio apartment. Friends laughed when they came over because it was so all-consuming and made me look like all I did was hang out in bed. But it was a bed that I had bought with my babysitting money several years before, from an ad in the newspaper. There was a lot of storage space: a giant headboard that spanned the bed, with an oval mirror in the middle and cubbies on each side, drawers along the base of it, and a long tunnel from the foot to the head. It was made of dark wood, maybe oak, possibly painted particle board, and it was adorned with rustic gold accessories and drawer handles that clinked when they dropped after use. I rolled over again and the cats jumped off. My head was spinning, but I had to get up.
Sitting up, I looked out my row of long windows out at Minneapolis, which was already well into the work day, stretching forward toward the chipped green polish on my toes. Today was a 1:00-7:00 shift, which meant that I would be at the bar by 8:00 p.m., with a beer in hand by 8:15. Unless I had a couple beers from my keg first. Leaning back, I looked in my headboard mirror at my makeup-smeared face. What time had I even gone to bed?
This is week two of being pretty depressed. And I realize that I’ve been depressed for a long time. I lose track of how long. There are phases. It’s been a lifetime. Years and years and years. It ebbs and flows and sometimes I’m not even that self-aware of it because it’s so normal. And then there are times when I feel happy and realize how depressed I’ve been. I will have a moment of inspiration and feel alive. And depression is not just about being sad, a lot of times it’s melancholy, hopelessness, and lack of energy. It’s a very weird thing to live with. It can be dark, beautiful, and not always painful. Sometimes it’s like being under water and everything looks like that. And it can be many shades, not always gray. And I realize that this is part of my existence. I don’t think it will ever be cured and I’m not sure that’s the point. Understanding would be nice because pressure and judgment don’t help at all. Love and empathy are everything. It’s not because you need attention, it really is life blood when you are sinking like a rock. And with all I’ve learned, I will never tell anybody that happiness is a choice, they should be grateful, someone has it worse, they just need to do this or that or look on the bright side. I will just be there and be a friend and not instruct. I won’t tell them what to think or what they should do. I will just accept someone else’s feelings without having to control them. And I don’t have to understand everything to support someone. I don’t need to project my life experiences onto someone else or make it OK. Sometimes the most powerful things we can do are validation, apologies, and showing up. Telling me not to live in the past minimizes my pain. Comparing me to someone else is disrespectful. You don’t have to have the answers. Nobody really has the answers. Unconditional acceptance is wisdom. I’m glad when someone listens.
While Baby Imani was in the hospital, we got to know Nurse Kathy – a woman with a heart-shaped face and heart-shaped life. Close to retirement, she was still as joyous as someone just beginning a career of her dreams. Her smile shone from her eyes as she worked. When I met her for the first time, she hugged me, pulled back to smile directly at me, and then embraced me again. It made me feel warm all over, and safe – like everything would be OK because she was there. Along with her beautiful smile, she laughed from the inside, with her head back, and sang or hummed as though she didn’t have a care in the world. I needed her validation, after having been abandoned during my pregnancy, and before that, losing everything when I left home and church. It was a wonderful surprise at a time when I had almost nobody.
“Hi, Bridget! Look at your little angel, I put a bow in her hair,” Kathy said. Drawing closer to the isolette, I peered in at my tiny baby attached to tubes and sensors under three banks of lights. Her miniature face was covered with an eye guard attached to pieces of velcro stuck to the sides of her head. And on the top of her fragile head, still recovering from birth trauma, adorned by a sparse coat of jet black hair, was a bright, pink bow, set in Vasoline.
In that moment, we were honored as a family. Kathy gave us a gift, symbolized by a plastic bow with a dab of Vasoline. My daughter was treated like she was special, and worth loving by not only me, but people who would meet her. And I as her mother was regarded with respect, as I was presented with my decorated child. Kathy moved us beyond what we were thought of by judgmental society to a position of grace. Here in this NICU on the University of Minnesota campus, I was more than a teen mom, and Imani was more than my assumed mistake. We were important.
When I visited Imani every day, Kathy was often there. Sometimes she would be changing Imani’s diaper, or cleaning her up, singing as she did. Like every visit, I parked in the hospital lot, took the elevator up to the 4th floor, and was buzzed in to the NICU through the double doors. Mary was at the desk during the day, and we chatted while I signed in. She would one day mail me the records of my sign-ins as a keepsake. All day, she greeted parents, family members, and professionals, as though each one mattered to her especially. Her imprint on me is lasting because she made me feel welcome. There were not many places in the world where I felt welcome in my situation. But Mary. Mary made me feel welcome. With people like Kathy and Mary, we would make it.