About Me

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Los Angeles, California
I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why Me?

"Why Me?"

The fire bell screamed down the hallway, echoing loudly in our ears. The whole class jumped to its feet, giggling, chattering and slowly lining up into a far from suitable line as we quickly filed out in to the crowded hallway. The teachers pushed and shoved us down the stairs while "shushing" us constantly at the same time. The noise of the crowd and the bell was deafening. Finally, the procession was down the stairs and out the door. Our class lined up on the tennis courts, while Mrs. Muller took attendance. After a word from the principal on how we could speed the exit up, we walked back into the school. However, I was grabbed by the arm and pulled away from the crowd.

"Hey Judy!" It was Doreen, the toughest girl in grade nine. She was surrounded by three girls in tight jeans and "feathered back" hair. One of the girls was casually smoking a cigarette. I gulped and my legs started to shake.

"Yes?" I asked nervously.

"We're gonna play hooky!" she whispered. "Wanna come along?"

"Why me?" I questioned.

"Well, you're so perfect and you never do anything bad so, we thought we'd help ya out!"


"Aw, c'mon Judy, no one will notice us in this crowd. It's the perfect time," she grinned.

"Well, I really don't know Doreen. You see, I have this Biology test next period and I'd really like to do well on it."

"Fine," she laughed sarcastically, "I'll deal with you later Miss A+!"

The girl who was smoking took one last drag on her cigarette, dropped it on the ground and stomped it out.  Doreen turned to the girls, "C'mon we better split before this crowd thins out!"

With that they turned and jumped the fence. One jump was all it took them to hop the fence and they were free! My legs were still shaking.

This Biology test was pretty easy, I thought to myself, fifty minutes later, as I skimmed over it once more. I think I'll get about a B+. The bell rang and the papers were collected into a pile before we were allowed to leave. As I walked down the hall to my locker I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't all off my conscience though. Doreen's threat was still heavy on my mind. When I reached my locker, I opened it and began to pack my bag for the weekend. The crowd was soon gone and I had the locker room to myself. Suddenly, my attention turned to some chatter coming up the stairs. It was Doreen!

I froze. Oh my god, I thought. Why me? Doreen came up the stairs with the same three girls trailing behind her like little puppies. She stopped in front of me with a fierce look on her face.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't little Judy packing her bags to study," she mocked with a smirk on her face.

"Yes, I was just finishing up here," I managed to say while locking my locker and zipping up my bag. I began to walk away.

"Not so fast, Judy," she yelled, "I still have to finish you off!" She grabbed me by my sweater and pushed me up against the lockers.

"We're gonna make you smoke!" Doreen stated triumphantly.

I gasped and my legs started to shake again as she produced a shabby, slim cigarette from her pocket. With her other hand she lit it with a lighter after letting me down for a second. She took a drag and then held it up to me.

"Girls!" she commanded and they grabbed my arms and pinned them back so I couldn't wriggle loose. "Now, smoke!"

I had no option but to smoke. My lips reluctantly wrapped around the butt and I sucked in. My whole world started to spin around me and my eyes began to water. I coughed and choked and gasped for air while Doreen stepped on the butt, smothering it completely.

"Well, Judy that's your punishment. Next time you disobey Doreen Fraser we'll make you do something worse!" With that command Doreen spun around and waltzed down the stairs with the three girls following her as obediently as before.

My eyes began to fill with tears as I grabbed my bag and raced for the other stairwell. By the time I was outside, tears were streaming down my face, making everything blurry. I ran home all the way. When I got to our front door I quietly opened it, threw down my bag and silently closed it again. Then I raced up the stairs, threw open my door, flopped onto my bed and sobbed for all I was worth.

Why me?

Henriette Ivanans, Grade 8
Marjorie Pickthall Literary Competition
Bishop Strachan School
Junior Short Story, First Prize

Sunday, October 11, 2015

At least I don't have my health. (Canadian Thanksgiving)

I am thankful I feel so lonely today. Loneliness means I miss my 20 year-old marriage that is finally in its honeymoon stage.

I am thankful my husband is not at home today. His absence means he is away singing his heart out and living his dream.

I am thankful I never became a movie star. Failure means I found my way to my true passion. The stringing of words. The telling of story. The heartbreaking, ecstatic, hair-tearing exhilaration of writing a book. 

I am thankful I lost my kidneys at age 13. Chronic illness means I walk around with a piece of my mother and a piece of my husband inside me 24/7, 365 days of the year. And by piece, I mean, kidney.

I am thankful the virus I caught in March has flared up. I am thankful for my itching, burning and prickling skin. I am thankful I catch viruses, colds and infections easily. Discomfort reminds me that I have a suppressed immune system. And I have a suppressed immune system to keep Kevin's kidney inside of me. Which saves my life.

I am thankful for this morning's migraine. Pain reminds me that even I can still take my health for granted—like running water or the sunrise. And when the sun rises again, without a migraine or a virus or dialysis, the day can't get any better.

I am thankful I was once on dialysis. Suffering means I now know what hell on earth is. And that you can survive it.

I am thankful I am an alcoholic. Loss means I now know Daddy did not die because he was bad or weak. He was just sick. That he loved us, but the disease loved him more. Because I get to understand his torment in a way no-one else ever will. And just because he could not find his way back to us, does not mean he ever wanted to lose his way.

I am thankful I am a drug addict. My Death means I have found my way to my god at last.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

California Girl (The 4th of July remix)

"I know a place, where the grass is really greener..."

I don't know that California was on my radar as a child. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I spent many summers in Denmark with my beloved Bedstemor and Bedstefar. In the US, I had traveled to Washington, D.C., to Boston, to Buffalo, Myrtle Beach, even to Disneyland, Florida. But I had never laid eyes on The Golden State.

As a teen in the 80's, Van Halen's remake of The Beach Boys' classic, "California Girls" played in heavy rotation on MTV. But I didn't relate to any of those long-legged, bleach-blonde Barbies who strutted in front of the camera. Sure, I was kinda cute, but by age 13, my kidneys had begun to fail, my growth had stunted and my was face swollen with Prednisone. These California Girls had inched up and out in a way I never would, filling bikinis in ways that seemed to defy gravity. Besides, you rarely see a Canadian prancing around in a bikini unless it's a polar bear plunge. And only if on a dare.

I was not your obvious candidate for Miss California.

As my dream of becoming an actress unspooled like the movies I adored, I began to obsess on any and all details about California. Was it really always sunny there? Lemons grew on trees! And I knew, beyond a palm-tree's shadow-of-a-doubt that that was where dreams came true.

I was going to be a Big. Fat. Movie Star.

One day, opportunity knocked. My husband and I held green cards in our hands the way Charlie Bucket held Willy Wonka's last Golden Ticket. First, in reverent awe and then running with it and never fucking looking back. We headed for the hills on our own personal gold rush, ready to strike gold. Or more accurately—The Golden State.

California was everything I thought it would be. We had an apartment with a view of the Hollywood Hills. We ran into Jeff Bridges at Blockbuster. I was fetchingly flirtatious with Jim Carrey. I was hooked up with killer talent agencies. I screen tested with Ron Howard. It was all happening! It just wasn't happening fast enough.

When a dream is like a freshly plucked flower we clutch too hard, it begins wither and fade. Trying to "make things happen" became like forcing a square peg into a round hole—impossible. The more I couldn't make my big movie star career fit, the angrier I got. And then my rage spread uncontained—not unlike the state's wildfires—through an unstoppable chain of events: transplant rejection, addiction, kidney transplant, overdose, rehab, relapse and recovery.

But through it all I fell ever more deeply in love with California. I became Her girl.

After my kidney transplant went into rejection, the warm Santa Ana winds would wrap around me like a lover's masterful embrace. The fear of illness rose up inside of me the way the winds swirled and threatened the hills. Hot tears would roll down my face and Her sensual breath would whisper to me that everything was going to be OK.

From our cabin in the hills, I would sit outside and gaze toward middle earth as the sun melted into a Creamsicle sky—stunning shades of tangerine, apricot and orange—eye candy I would gobble up until it all faded to black.

The race and the pace of Los Angeles would exhaust me, but I could not get enough—the hypodermic needle on the sidewalk, the dogged volunteers at the animal shelter, the controlled chaos of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center would all remind me. All of it, somehow, a comfort. That we are all just doing our best—the junkies, the workers and the healers. Here in the City of Angels.

And the desert—its beauty is quietly assured, subtle hues buried in its sand. It does not need to show off. Its power is found in the stunning resilience of a flowering succulent emerging from a craggy rock in silent victory. Dead silent. Its silence is beyond quiet, beyond death, it is transcendent. Deafening in how much it has to say. There is no voice as loud as the nostalgic song of the desert. It sings with longing, pained that no one will ever hear its message.

I heard it. Answers can only be be found in the silence.

Yes, California has taught me much.

California stayed with me during my marital separation. She would guide me along the freeways towards 12-step meetings and outpatient therapy—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. She'd invigorate my newly sober soul with long, empty stretches of gray, like a cement tongue wagging at me to, yes, go a little bit faster. Or She'd slow me down on asphalt arteries clogged to a near-dead stop, and teach me that patience was a virtue I had not yet mastered. And no, Henriette, honking and waving the middle finger is not how the spiritually fit greet each other.

People come out to California for all kinds of reasons—for fame, fortune and fabulousness. I came here thinking, no, knowing what I was going to be. And here in California, I grew to love what I am.

I am a drug addict.
I am an alcoholic.
I am a two-time kidney transplant receipient.
I am a wife.
I am a writer.
I am love.

In California, I found love. Of myself. And I didn't need a marquee to see it.

I gratefully accept the role of Miss California.

I love Her. I love everything about Her. She is flawed. She is in drought. She is in debt. She is too hot, too busy, too expensive. But, I am still caught up in the magic of California, Her inexplicable charm. She is still showing me tricks that take my breath away.

Because look! Lemons grow on trees!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Homelessness and High Heels at the 7-11

I've never really cared too much about shoes.

It's true. I don't get the whole shoe obsession that most women seem to have. Sure, I can appreciate the architecture, the excessive plumage that decorates a Louboutin or the glorious glittering of a bedazzled Valentino sandal, but in The World According to My Feet they are to be admired, never tried. And being of Danish decent, I default to The Danish National Shoe—the clog.

Kevin and I were recently in Las Vegas celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. I had found The Dress. You know the one. The one you slip on in those department store change rooms—that despite the lighting-and-mirror combo that pushes you to the brink of suicide—makes you feel like a million bucks. It was gold and black and really, really sparkly. It hugged my body in such a way that my small boobs looked bigger and made my "muscularly-challenged" butt pop. I loved it.

But I did not have any shoes. I barely have anything that qualifies as a shoe outside of a gym shoe and the shoe ubiquitous to all Danes. (That is to say—the clog. It bears repeating.)

So, I tried on a whole lotta shoes. On the hunt, we trudged up and down the harshly-lit florescent Fashion Square Mall on Las Vegas Blvd. (a.k.a The Strip.) We duly dodged the perfume-sprayers and the free-standing stalls with shellacked salesgirls, asking, no insisting that I get extensions. And we strolled though The Shops at the Forum at Caesar's Palace. We met a bright-eyed couple from England inside the Louboutin store. (She was in shock over her recent engagement and he was in shock over her pre-dress purchase of super-sparkly, silver Louboutins.) But, despite traipsing up and down the shoe spectrum from plastic cheapies to Gucci's I could not find a pair. The Pair.

Finally, Kevin did. Through The Steve Madden store window he spotted them. They were not particularly expensive. But they are particularly green. A shade somewhere between lime green and leaf green. They have a slightly closed toe. And the heel is high. The highest I have ever worn. They make me about 5' 7'', which was the height I was supposed to grow to if my kidneys hadn't failed at age 13. I strutted around the store and finally felt the flutter felt by million of women world-wide when they slide a eager foot into a open and willing high heel. My skin tingled. My neck flushed hot. I loved them. I had to have them.

And I did.

On Thursday night, I was honored with The Allegra Johnson Prize in Memoir Writing through UCLA Extension Writers' Program. This blog is not about that evening, but it was thrilling. To be honored with a $5000 prize as a show of faith in my writing talent, as encouragement to complete my in-progress memoir. And it was humbling. I met the parents of Allegra Johnson, in whose honor the prize was established. Allegra was a classmate of mine in my 2013 Introduction to Memoir class and her talent, intelligence and defiance resonated with me. The evening now resides on my Top Ten List of Unforgettable Nights.

Now, I'm a good eater. I don't pick if presented with 5-star dining, but I had been nervous and barely touched my gourmet Italian meal.  As I drove home, well, raced home—my veins surging with adrenaline from the evening and Brandon Flowers' new album blasting inside the car)—I realized I was starving. There is never anything sweet to eat in my house because if I start, I cannot stop.  (Kevin once brought home 20 specialty chocolate bars from Scotland and stuck them in the freezer. And I cried.) So I thought, "Ah, what the heck. A wee treat for myself."

It was about 11:00 pm when I pulled into the parking lot at the 7-11 near my house. We live in a funny little pocket of Los Angeles called Shadow Hills—all horse ranches and acreage. It borders a less affluent area called Sunland, and the 7-11 is right across the street from Sunland Park. In the park, a small government building hosts kindergarten classes and AA meetings that I attend.

I saw her tearing through the garbage can. Digging, digging for her version of gold. Plastic bottles she could recycle for money or a half-eaten sub from the Giamela's next door. She was emaciated, with matted gray hair, or was it just a dirty, dirty-blond? It was hard to tell under the glaring store lights that blew out her face. But I could see eyes like black marbles, wrinkles run wild across her face. I am sure if I had drawn near I would have gagged. She wore a white t-shirt and shorts that hung loosely from her body, ill-fitting, like hand-me-downs most would hand back. The clothes were filthy, stained with dirt and desperation.

I have made it a personal policy to never give money to those who beg. There exists the endless argument as to whether giving money enables the homeless, as so many of them struggle with addiction. I have ever known in my heart if this decision is right or wrong.

I emerged from the car in yet another fabulous dress—a bright aqua color with an angular red-and-black design. And those shoes. The shoes I had to have. I clipped the short distance from my car to the door of the 7-11 and braced for the question I knew she'd fire at me like a targeted missile.

"HEY! Can you help me out with... OH! I LOVE YOUR SHOES!"

"I'm sorry." came my reflexive response as I walked through the door.

The bell on the door rang as it closed behind me. I walked over and grabbed an iced tea from the cooler and a bag of Snap Peas from the shelf. I placed my items on the counter and smiled at the cashier. These things I did on auto-pilot, not thinking. Because all I could think about was her. That I was her. And that she was me. And at one time, not too long ago, my active addiction took me to a place of such desperation that I thought I would die if I did not have drugs. I thought about the people in my life who had helped me. Who had loved me through it all. And I wondered if she had anyone who loved her?

Was it the little bell above the store that triggered this thought process? No, it was The Shoes. In her admiration of my shoes, with those four little words, we became just two women, two chicks really, having a fashion moment. She was humanized. And I was reminded. Of how far I have come. And how easily I could lose it all again.

I thought about the $5000 check lying on the front seat that I had just been honored with for writing my tale of addiction. Addiction she was living, and that I am free from today. I took a $5 bill out of purse and rolled it up. I went outside and turned left, walking over to the garbage can where she was still digging.

"Here you go." I croaked.

When she saw it was a $5 bill, she screamed with joy,

"OH MY GOD! Thank YOU! You have NO IDEA! You just SAVED MY LIFE!"

I sat in my car for a few minutes watching her. She had run towards the park after I'd given her the money. Sunland Park where you can find AA meetings and exchanges of the less spiritual kind—sex, drugs and demoralization. I thought, "Well, she's probably going to score." But suddenly, she turned around and walked into the 7-11. And I watched her talking to the cashier as I pulled away. And I thought, "Maybe she bought some water, or a sandwich. Maybe, maybe I helped."

My skin tingled. My neck flushed hot.

I lowered my Steve Madden high heel onto the gas pedal and drove home.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I don't totally hate Mother's Day.

What do I have to say about Mother's Day?

Hundreds, nay, probably thousands of books and essays have been written about mothers and the mother/daughter dynamic. Who am I to contribute?

I'm just a 46-year old woman who misses her Mummy on Mother's Day.

I don't love days like Mother's Day.

I don't feel quite as strongly as Anne Lamott's reflective essay "I Hate Mother's Day." I mean, you don't HAVE to buy into the hype of this highly commercialized holiday (although it originated with best of intentions when Anna Jarvis crusaded to have President Wilson make it an official holiday in 1914.) But somehow, for those of us with more complicated relationships with our mothers, it creeps under our skin. Maybe it's the way the chocolate-less, flower-less singletons feel on Valentine's Day. The day doesn't really mean anything unless the love lies beneath, but somehow you want to celebrate it in the same way as everyone else—with grand shouts of "Hurrah!" and "You're my Best Friend!" and buy the largest, glitzy-est Hallmark card you can find.

Not all of us have had a Hallmark life. I scroll down my Facebook news-feed in a kind of anesthetized awe. Picture after tribute after link celebrating maternal love. I blink and think, "How nice. How fortunate for you." No truly. This just wasn't our story.

My mother and I haven't lived in the same country for 20 years. In fact, it was just over 20 years ago, that she moved back to Denmark to spend some time with my Bedstemor and Bedstefar, her parents. It is not easy to have a long-distance relationship with anyone. Everything is heightened. Especially across the 5, 590 miles from Los Angeles to Denmark. Miscommunication ebbed and flowed like the waves of the Atlantic Ocean we had to cross to even be in the same room with each other. It is simply not the same when you can't sit for long hours over tea and chat, or feel the softness of their skin inside a hug. Or look into their eyes and say, "I love you, Mum."

Shit happens. Sometimes it just plops there, a big, giant stinkin' turd of a problem. And sometimes it just streams and streams and streams: The death of a husband and father, kidney disease, kidney transplant, mother/daughter separation, chronic kidney rejection, a second kidney transplant, addiction, rehab, relapse, marital separation...

And then, recovery.

I guess it just takes some of us longer than others to figure out how to deal with the mess.

We know when we know.

We all come from a mother. Some people never know their mothers, they are abandoned at birth. Some people are adopted and wander in a kind of wonder. Some people lose their mothers when they are very young. Some mothers are sick, abusive and unkind. And some mothers smother you until you simply can't breathe.

I believe there is a little patch of our hearts reserved just for our mothers. She can rip it out, and she can stitch it back together. She can embroider it with terms of endearment or she can leave it plain. We can find similar love and support and respect in other women, but it's never quite the same. That patch of your heart will always belong to her. To your mother.

At least, that is my experience. Because today, that corner of my heart aches for my Mummy.

What I miss/love about my Mummy:

Her "honeymilk."
How she would make me whatever I wanted to eat when I would come out of the hospital.
How we would crank Boney's M's "Rasputin" to volume 10.
How her hands would brush away strands of hair off my feverish forehead.
How an "umbilicus" was NOT a belly button and a penis was NOT a "wiener."
How she went to Cuba by herself.
Her perfect cheese sauce.
How she wanted to make my wedding dress.
How she made Kevin feel like a member of the family from the day they met.
How she would take car repair classes and vegetarian cooking classes in equal measure.
How she was right. That when I finally took yoga, it did help my headaches.
The way she noticed the dogs' nose marks on my glass door, when the rest of my house was spotless.
The way she can knit a sweater while watching an episode of "Coronation Street." (Well, almost.)
How my heart aches and aches for her whenever I hear the perfect, pop pitch of ABBA.
How she would buy me all my favorite foods when we came to Denmark.
How she gave me her kidney.
How she saved my life.

Does everyone have this memory? The memory that tears out your heart every time you relive it?

It was 10 years ago. Mum and I were at a taping of "Dr. Phil" in Los Angeles. Ah, he was her Bono. Truly. She was all titter-y and I was excited to share this with her. We sat in the holding area. Each guest of The Dr. Phil show was asked to fill out a card listing topics you would like to see on future episodes. I have no idea what I wrote, but I sneaked a peak at her card. In her beautiful penmanship she had scrolled, "How can Dr. Phil help me stay close to my children who are so far away?"

That's the one. That's the memory. The one that floods my eyes and shreds my soul.

How do we stay close to those who are so far away?

By realizing that "we" is not the same as "me." That I can do things differently. And that I want to.

Yes. Shit has happened. But the beauty of it is it can be cleaned up, if you are willing to get a little bit dirty. And I am.

So, no. I don't totally hate Mother's Day. Because I have a mother. And I love her very much.

We are still not close. She now lives 1,735 miles away in Saskatoon, Canada. But across that vast distance I can shout with a full and grateful heart, "I LOVE YOU, MUM!" And work to shrink the distance between us.

I love you, Mum.
Hey xo