01 November 2013
The pain left me on Friday. Or rather, the BIG guns of pain packed their bags and quietly walked west towards the setting sun. More pain followed throughout the weekend but it was more like a mosquito buzzing – not the knife wielding ax murderer who had inhabited my body since the previous Friday. I had been on a drug for 5 days and was told it would take an additional two or three days for it to work it’s way out of my system. So if you’re keeping track it was eight days of serious, at moments debilitating, pain. I wasn’t prepared for the immediacy of it all, either. I was told I would get my first round of puppy like shots but wouldn’t feel anything until the end of the weekend. They were wrong. As I sat at the dinner table at a hotel in Andover, Massachusetts I could feel my thighs beginning to scream. I thought at first I was sore from my previous days bike ride of ten (hilly) miles. I would have biked longer but I almost got hit by a car and having someone’s life in your hands make one think – clearly not enough to keep me off my bike but at least I didn’t push it – or at least I read the sign that said ‘go home now before two lives are lost’. My body was beginning its hyperactive production of white blood cells that would save the life of a fifty-seven year old woman somewhere in the world.
In order to get my body to produce lots of white blood cells I was being injected with Neupogen. It stimulates your bone marrow and out kicks the white blood cells that would get transplanted into the recipient. I don’t know why it hurts so much or for so long but it didn’t matter. My objective as a bone marrow/stem cell donor was to save a life and any amount of pain I was temporarily experiencing was minor compared to what ‘she’ was going through as a leukemia patient. In fact, the nurses told me that what I was feeling was akin to what she was feeling for months or years. The body is being ‘attacked’ or so it felt. It was like knives popping out of my bones – sometimes it was like firecrackers going off. The pain moved about and I never knew where or when it would show its face. The day of my second injection I was at a Bat Mitzvah reception and tried to dance. No go! My femur yelled at me, then gave way, and I beat a quick path to my chair. Day 2. OK. This is how it goes? I can handle it.
Day three brought on more Neupogen. The foundation, bethematch.org, sent a visiting nurse to my ‘sisters’ house in Massachusetts to give me my third injection. You see, it has to be on a twenty-four schedule so your body never has time to get rid of it and also so it builds up and keeps stimulating the bone marrow. This is crucial – they were going to need a lot from me.
All told it was five days (including my donation day) of that drug. Each day the pain was ever-increasing as my body prepared (not that it knew what we were up to and were about to steal from it) for the donation. It was so weird this feeling. It was, on many levels, fascinating to me. I’ve always been a healthy person. I'm active/athletic and save for my love of goldfish (or any cheesy salty snack) I eat healthy and organic food as much as possible. I’ve also got some good genetics on my side so feeling like I did was an odd study on my physiologic state. All this being said I would, without a thought, do it again.
Many have asked why do it the first time? Well, first of all, it’s the right thing to do. If you can, why not? As my Dad says it’s the same innate nature in me that makes me stop at an accident (like my previous post describes) when others would keep going. Also, I’ve been an organ donor since I was sixteen. I still carry in my wallet my mother’s permission slip that she had to sign that showed her approval of my choice as a minor. Bone marrow donation is, in many ways, a natural extension of the choice I had made when I was a teenager. The other, bigger reason as it were, is that my grandfather died of leukemia. My Mother was not a match, nor was my uncle (something I know my mother felt remorse over). Back then, the test for a match was invasive. This was at Sloan Kettering, so if anyone would have had a better way it would have been them. My grandfather’s doctor (coincidentally an aunt of my then relationship) advised that my sister and me would likely not be matches so my mother wouldn’t allow us to get tested. She didn’t want us experiencing unnecessary pain for what would most likely be a waste of time. She also didn’t want us to feel like failures. It’s easy to take it personally when it’s a family member (and substitute father) you’re wanting to save.
Three years ago me and one of my favourite people were walking through the Arsenal Mall in Brookline, Massachusetts and there it was – a kiosk set up to sign people up to be bone marrow donors. It was so easy. The Caitlin Raymond Foundation was trying to find a match for a Yale hockey player of Slavic decent. We’d often talked about being bone marrow donors but the caveat being for a fellow Slav made it even more appealing for me. Unfortunately, neither of us were a match, and they never found one, so she died about a year later. But, thankfully, once you sign up you’re in the database and so there’s always a chance you could get the call.
I did. This past July. Since I apply to jobs all over the country when I saw a call coming in from Massachusetts I thought it was about work. But I was at work so I let it go to voicemail. When I checked I was very happy to hear that I was a potential match for someone. When I called back he told me what was going on and asked if I still willing to be a donor. Of course it was a no brainer YES for me. But, it seems many people sign up and have the best of intentions (and probably feel good about themselves for doing it) but when the call comes they back out (many people also back out weeks/days before the donation so the best time to do it if you’re not up for it is when that first call comes in – that way no one gets their hopes up, wastes time, or money). I understand because the more I learned about the days ahead of me the more I realized it wasn’t as easy as 1-2-3. There’s a process and there are steps to be taken.
In a nutshell here it is: the first is a blood test. I drove to the nearest place where the foundation had a contract and gave about 5 vials of my blood. These got tested to determine how close a match I was and to also to test if I was disease-free. About six weeks later (there’s no typical timeframe – it all happens based on the recipients health and what their doctors course of action is), having passed that test I was notified that they wanted my stuff and there was a timeframe in which it all had to happen. Suddenly the clock began to tick and everything sped up. Next followed an in-depth (and sometimes uncomfortable) physical to determine if I was healthy enough (as a horse, thank you very much) to be a donor. Meaning my body needed to be able to withstand the drug and the actual donation. Then more blood withdrawal. All total there were no fewer than fifteen vials taken from me. I’m sure there would have been more but I insisted I was NOT pregnant (nor could have been) and put my foot down. All total it was about three months of testing and hoping for the best (because you never know).
About a week before my donation/extraction day the recipient went into isolation. They zapped her and killed all of her stem cells or anything else that had been the cause of her leukemia. Whilst I’d been given the option of saying ‘no’ at any time (not that I would have) starting that Monday there was no turning back. If I backed out, or got hurt, or died, she would have died. I won’t lie. I felt it. I felt the weight of having her life in my hands, of knowing that at least for ten days we were undeniably linked. Me and a stranger with whom I may have nothing in common were about to have A LOT in common. Admittedly I felt strange knowing that if I made one wrong step, or got sick, or hurt it all would have been over for her. It was a huge responsibility. Meanwhile I was relishing it. I don’t have kids and am not tied to anyone or anything but for ten days I was. It felt good to be needed and feel that I mattered. So in many ways it was a great! It stretched me. It wasn’t babysitting, it was real life and it was cool! Despite the mixed bag of emotions - I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
So, four days of drugs and there I was sitting in a chair (more than like a dentists chair) in Providence, Rhode Island getting my last dose and getting hooked up to a huge ass needle and having my arm tied down. That line would pull my blood out of one arm, where it would be circulated through a machine that would pull out my stem cells and white blood cells, of which I had plenty at this point, and then another went into my dominant hand (so I could use it to eat, play on the computer and, yes, text gross pictures to the ones I loved) where most of my blood would return. Six hours later after being tied down and unable to get up I was done and making my way towards the bathroom, the coffee machine and cookies in the lounge. Mission complete! Life saved? On its way….my part was done and there was no turning back!
All told it was about ten days from first shot to feeling normal again. After I got home my ass barely left the couch for three days. It takes a lot out of your body to be making more stuff than usual and to have your blood pulled out of you and returned. I wasn’t expecting to feel so tired for so long or feel the pain that I did. But every moment was worth it and I would do it again. Everything I did was towards a great purpose and was intended to (hopefully) save a life.
The odd thing is I think we all go about our days wondering if we make a difference in anyone’s life. That’s why movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Wings Of Desire” (one of my all time favourite films) or “Scrooge” are so relevant to our human experience. It’s so easy to think we don’t matter. It’s so easy to believe that no one gives a shit (especially when you may not have that daily reassurance of being in a relationship) and to keep the time to our own beat whether loudly or quietly on the sidelines.
Maybe I’m too much of an existentialist but I often wonder if my presence matters. Would anyone miss me if I left my Tony little town in New England? I love it here but I’m not close to anyone other than my family down the road. Maybe I wasn’t built to put down roots, maybe all that moving around as a small kid (and subsequently nine states that I’ve called home in my lifetime) have made me want to keep one foot out the door.
When I went back to LA in April for work I was astonished at how few ‘friends’ made time to see me. I had reached out on facebook but in two weeks I was there I only saw my friends that I was staying with (which was a blast). So clearly my presence was not missed. Because, as a wise and favourite soul taught me, when someone says ‘I’m too busy’ what they really mean is ‘you aren’t important enough to me to make time for.’ It’s an easy out and one that is too often used. If we want something we get it or we do it – if we want to see someone we make time. It’s that simple. We do what we want. So you can see how it might be easy to think we don’t matter.
But then I walk around and see the world and I see me in it. While I was in Andover there was a bartender who, when I asked for chocolate milk (something not on the menu) and I explained why (I needed the calcium for my overactive bones) he left his post, went to the kitchen and made it for me. Then the next morning at breakfast, when I asked again he replied ‘I almost brought it out for you but I didn’t want to force it on you.’ Later (after I had finished the glass he brought me), I went out to the lobby and there was a half-gallon of milk and chocolate sauce sitting on ice next to the coffee station. It’s such a little thing, but in those hours of feeling my bones bursting at the seams, taking a step and feeling a leg give out under me, or being mid-sentence in a conversation and feeling my sternum burst, his support and encouragement and chocolate milk made a HUGE difference in how I felt. His hugs made an impact too. Again, a little thing, but he touched my life and made a difference. He and I are in touch (he emailed me a few days later to see how things went and to ask how I was feeling) but I haven’t told him how he affected my life in a positive way. Maybe I will.
These moments happen every day if we pay attention. But for some reason it’s hard, at least for me, to put the shoe on the other foot. It’s hard for me to see that the smile I leave behind could make someone feel better. Or the hug I gave a friend who unknowingly needed it was the hug they wanted from ANYONE all day. Because lets face it, in the world of ‘social’ (or rather anti-social, sit on your couch and post from miles away and make people believe you’re having an awesome life, or bitch about work when others don't have any etc.) media means that we are making less and less human, skin-to-skin contact as technology advances. Smiles and hugs are needed. Human contact is a part of staying alive and emotionally ‘together’. So it makes sense that these smaller moments of face-to-face interaction become bigger and more important. In many ways, we need them more now than ever as we become disconnected from our surroundings and the people in them and more connected to the device in our hands.
I grew up wanting to be a doctor. That changed when I failed high school chemistry (even though I aced anatomy and physiology I didn’t, at the time, think it was enough). I always wanted to make a difference. When I started writing songs in college I did so because it was a natural progression from writing poetry (which I’d started around age eight) and playing guitar (I was twelve when I taught myself). I hoped and still hope that any song I write might make someone think, smile, or feel. I even hope they will identify and feel like someone ‘gets’ it. But it’s so intangible. Art is subjective. Some people love my music, others don’t and that’s ok. Some people have cried when I’ve sung for them. But again – it’s fleeting and unpredictable. I have a friend who never listens to lyrics so it has become my life’s mission to change her mind. She likes my music, or so she says, and since my music is more about the lyrics than the melody, I just might be making headway – I might be making a difference in how she hears music going forward. Might.
All this adds up to one thing. No matter what I do in my life from here on in, no matter how many TV shows I write, or blogs, or songs, I did something that I can concretely say made a difference. As one of my favourite people (and co-conspirator in signing up to be a bone marrow donor) said ‘its not just about the recipient, it’s about her family and friends.’ This one action affects so many people. No matter what, no matter if she survives (though the odds are good) I bought her more time. She will spend 100 days in isolation in a hospital room as my stem cells become hers. After that, she will go home and hopefully begin putting her life back to normal. No one, not even me in my darkest moments of self-doubt, can take away from the fact that one small gesture made a big difference in the lives of one person and her people. This may be the only thing in my life where there will be ‘proof’ but that’s ok – it feels awesome and I would do it again. Not because I need the ego stroke, but because it’s the right thing to do. If you can, then do it!
While I’ve met several people who are signed up, I've yet to meet another donor because being a match is so rare. That being said, donors are in short supply which means so are matches – I urge you to go to www.bethematch.org so you too can make a difference and possibly save a life….
Thanks for tuning in…until next time…CHEERS!
19 September 2013
Calling All Angels, walk me through this one, don’t leave me alone, calling all angels, calling all angels, we’re hoping, but we’re not sure how….
The signs were there….they’re always there if you’re looking…or more specifically, looking back. It’s always the way it goes – rarely are we IN a moment and thinking ‘this is a sign’ – rarely do we think anything more of a chance meeting or conversation than ‘gee this is nice – I’ve enjoyed this…’ So yes, looking back on that Friday night in June 2013 – I can say I ‘saw’ the sign. But in all reality it was just another party night at my friend Wendy’s house. She’s a local business owner and thus her circle of friends is small and large at the same time. She invited me over to a party – a precursor to 80’s dance night at the local favourite haunt. Basically a bunch of us sit and stand around and drink and chat before we go sweat our asses off dancing to 80’s music – some of it questionable (big hair bands) – some of it I love (The Cure, New Order, Yaz…) some of it is just to stand around running into people I only see at this joint and have no real connection to other than the fact that I (used) to live there. Small talk and chit chat – some of my least favourite things.
Back to Wendy’s…so at this stage of the game I’ve moved out of this town and moved closer to New York City so I have to drive a few extra miles after work (and drink less once I get there since I can no longer walk home) in order to start my evening. I arrive close to 9p after a hectic drive. Fridays are always the hardest in the warmer months – everyone leaves to get out of the city – so I grab for the nearest alcoholic beverage and start my weekend. My weekends are much needed at this point. You see, by day I’m a television writer and producer. I work long hours and sometimes have long commutes. This weekend was well earned because I had delivered a rough cut of my episode for “Buying The Bayou”. It had been a bit of a challenge making all the pieces fit (a challenge I always love, by the way) so I was ready for talk that had nothing to do with time codes, shot selections or music timing. Standing in the kitchen, sucking down my first cider of the night, I was introduced to Wendy’s old band mate who now lives in Canada. She left the states about 10 or so years ago to be with her then girlfriend (some chick whose name escapes me).
Being musicians we start chatting about instruments, music and, of course, musicians we love. Three plus months later I can’t remember how it came up – maybe we were talking about Canadian musicians – but she mentions that her now ex used to work for Jane Siberry. Actually, I think we were chatting more about the ex. I was somehow dragged into a long laborious ‘talk’ or rambling on about the ex and the break-up and all the stuff people tell to strangers even though as strangers we really don’t care so much. But I patiently allowed her to talk AT me for, what seemed like hours, and indeed turned into hours much to my polite chagrin. Once Jane Siberry’s name came up (and the bragging that went along with the disclosure of her ex that went along with it – which, I’ll say frankly, I thought this chick was a little too impressed with her ex and herself – maybe I’m cynical or jaded having met much bigger stars than Siberry – but either way she was annoyingly proud) thankfully the conversation switched to music and our mutual love of the song “Calling All Angels”. Of course this chick had on her computer some concert footage not found on the internet – so I got to watch some stuff I’d never seen before. That was cool! I have to say for all this bitching about this chick that Jane Siberry is ridiculously talented! I’ve always appreciated her music and because of the soundtrack to the film “Until The End Of The World” by one of my favourite directors, Wim Wenders, I had found this song when the film was released in the movie theatres. It may have even been the first time I’d heard of her. (That's what’s so great about soundtracks – it’s how I first heard of Dido on “Sliding Doors” several months before her first CD was released here in the states.)
The night went on…as soon as we got to the bar I ditched the annoying chick. After twelve years in LA my patience for people who talk AT me and don’t engage in two-way conversation is non-existent and basically I just write people off at this point. Sometimes I wonder if I attract these people (I used to think it was just LA but I'm finding it happens here in New England albeit with much less frequency) or if it’s how society is moving in the face of one sided social networking spewing and texting (of which I am guilty and not a day goes by where I am not engaging in thumb sprints on my ‘smart’ phone). I went about my evening – danced and chatted with the locals and had a good time as I always do on those nights. But something stuck with me. Through the haze of Adam and The Ants, Duran Duran, Bonnie Tyler, and Kate Bush and the occasional Bon Jovi tune “Calling All Angels” stuck with me. You could say it haunted me – all weekend, in fact…
I got home – to my new home – slept in and painted and unpacked. All the while I had a feeling that something was amiss in the air. I couldn’t place my finger on it – but something was ‘up’. This was a big step – I’d left a horrible and mean situation and was feeling good about this new chapter and getting a fresh start. I was settling into my work – the flow of a new show – new people – new commute and enjoying this, my fourth living room, since leaving LA. I thought everything was cool…and it was except for this nagging feeling.
Monday comes and I get up, start my day and vow to leave exactly ON TIME to be at work AT 10a – not 10:05 as had been my pattern of late. I think I forgot – nothing. My desire to leave right at 9a (it’s a 58 minute commute) clearly was not strong enough to make it a reality – I think I left around 9:05…I don’t remember because there was nothing spectacular about that morning or my leaving. It was a sunny day – really warm – pushing 80 degrees already and that was about it, just another mid-summer morning in New England. On the way in to work I take a small road – two lanes – country and trees and small deli’s and gas stations spatter the landscape before hitting the reservoir that tells me I’m near the highway. It’s fifteen miles of me going only as fast as the driver in front of me and never as fast as my car wants to go. I’d gotten a new CD a week or two earlier – Richard Shindell – someone I’d been introduced to years before. I had picked up a live CD by him, Courier (released in 2002, coincidentally the year I met one of my favourite people and the person who introduced me to him), and was listening to it non stop on my drives to and from work. I was a little obsessed you could say. I left the CD in and let it play end to end and backwards again….I was particularly newly in love with “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress” (I had heard it several times before and at one of his live shows - but somehow it was really speaking to me in those weeks) so I was hard pressed to take the CD out and listen to anything else – not even the radio.
I got on the highway – a winding road that has a tendency to flood in bad weather – it’s a road I’d been driving Monday to Friday since 22 April when my work on “Buying Alaska” began (the same production company produces both shows so whilst I was hired to work on ‘Alaska’ I’d been moved to ‘Bayou’ after my first episode of ‘Alaska’). Within a few miles of going about seventy miles per hour in not-quite-rush hour traffic - it happens. Out of nowhere I see a guardrail flying through the air – I quickly do some math on trajectory, speed and how to avoid it going through my windshield. I steer away from where I believe it to be heading all the while trying to avoid hitting the car right in front of me as she (I would later find out) does the same. Meanwhile a blue car is crossing from my left lane and headed off the highway and towards the trees that separate the highway from the neighbourhood that runs parallel to us. Steering through the debris and into the right lane I look to my left and see a white SUV stopped dead in the road and totaled. I safely slow down, stop and look in my side view mirror – luckily – and jump out and head towards the nearest car – the blue Jetta that now sits in the grass. He’s bleeding and disoriented so I help him out of the car, set him down a safe distance from it (at this point all traffic and stopped behind the white SUV) and run back to my car for water and my first aid kit. The woman in the car in front of me had also pulled over so there are two of us helping so I run over to the white SUV and get them out of the car. They appear to be fine so I go back and focus on the guy in the Jetta. In the meantime some tool from the neighbourhood decides to come check things out – I ask him if he’s here to help – he said ‘no I just want to see what’s going on’ so I tell him to get the fuck out of here – he’s scared of me - so he leaves – all the while I see people with their phones taking photos of all of us – it’s so bizarre that no one else tried to help. Go figure!
It seems like forever – but it wasn’t – within ten minutes emergency vehicles and fire trucks from the nearest town start to show up…and take over. I can’t quite breathe at this point even though I know everyone was in good hands….it’s the rush of adrenaline…the blue sky and the heat of the highway baking my legs. I’m thirsty – but I’m more worried about the guy from the Jetta. He’s disoriented and when they get him on the stretcher he starts breathing really fast and heavy. He’s panicking and going into shock. None of the EMT’s seem to notice (I think they were a little busy) so I lean in and try and calm him down. Finally they cart him off.
Then me and the other lady who stopped are just waiting to be questioned. The police get to us and then tell us as soon as the fire trucks get out of the way we are free to leave. About forty-five minutes after the crash I’m getting into my car. I had managed to text work to let them know what was going on so I knew I didn’t need to rush. I put my Bluetooth on and turn the car on…..before I start driving I call my Dad. He doesn’t answer and so I ended up leaving a slightly panicked message – I didn’t want to alarm him (I can’t fool him) but I didn’t want to just say ‘hi’. I needed him…I need his voice to tell me I was ok…to calm me down…and assure me I had gotten lucky. When he didn’t answer the CD player came back on…and yes, you guessed it “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress” began to play. It’s a very calm and lyrically sweet song. I could feel my blood pressure beginning it’s epically slow decent into my normal range. I had to keep my shit together long enough to drive the remaining half an hour to work. The song helped keep me focused.
I had half an hour to think – no talking to anyone and just 25 miles and a ride across the Hudson River to get through. It occurred to me that I had angels looking over me that morning. All of my angels had been called to keep me out of that accident. All of them played a hand in my being later to leave than I had planned and (I had just had my brakes done) kept me level headed in the midst of flying guardrails and car parts and an asundry of debris. I had often wondered if they’d left me. It’s been years since the last really important person in my life died. While there have been some close calls (we almost lost Dad last year) for the most part the people I know who have died have been related to important people in my life and while I mourned them – it’s not nearly as hard hitting when it’s not your kin or your close friend. So I had been wondering – at one point do the angels just move on and leave us earthlings to our own lives? If you believe in reincarnation as I do than it's a pretty obvious question to ask. They MUST be in someone else’s body by now and being a part of someone else’s soul. They must have left me behind. While I had felt their presence in recent years it had been nothing more than a feeling of being haunted – a ‘knowing’ of sorts. But that morning – in that hour it was clear. I was not alone. I was being looked after – cared for and being kept safe. My angels were there – they had just not been needed in an obvious way in recent years.
Thankfully no one died that morning. But I was a definitely shaken up! I got to work in one piece and my awesome bosses offered up hugs and alcoholic beverages while I ran off at the mouth and started to ‘come down’ from the adrenaline rush that had kept my head focused enough to drive. They told me to take my time and ease into my day. So when my Dad called me back about fifteen minutes later I didn’t feel bad about taking my time to talk to him. He calmed me down. He assured me I was ok and that I was lucky it wasn’t worse. His soothing voice jump-started my blood pressure to lower more quickly and allow me to focus on my work. Which, luckily, in that moment merely entailed me gathering information for my network deliverables (the stuff that Discovery wants to know about the episode and the people in it). It promised to be an easy few hours – perfect and just what I needed before diving into my next episode of “Buying The Bayou”.
That day I took myself out to lunch (sushi – my go-to treat) and celebrated the fact that I was alive - just like my Mother did that icy February day I rolled my sister’s car on a tiny back road in Connecticut when I was seventeen. She took me to a local place for dinner in my home town and while most mothers would have grounded me (even though it was an accident) my Mother told anyone who would listen how glad she was that I was alive and that we were celebrating that fact. It was just us (my sister was away at college) and no grandparents. Just me and Mom and her beaming smile of relief. I later heard from my grandmother that my Mom got really upset when she saw the car that I had rolled. It was totaled and she got scared that, had I not been wearing my seatbelt (for basically the first time – this was before laws), she would have lost her little baby. She never showed me her panic – just her joy. I guess that’s what mothers do. It was also a tremendous lesson I witnessed in being grateful for life and for knowing how to rejoice in the little gifts. Mom was cool like that!
After lunch I was walking back to my desk and my Executive Producer called me into his office and asked me if I’d started on the new ‘Bayou’ episode. I said ‘no – I was just about to, though…’ then he told me the schedule had changed and they were moving me back to ‘Alaska’. So I went to my desk and started the process of working on the new show. My job entails me watching hours upon hours of footage that has been shot by a field crew. Our episodes are all filmed in three days, using three cameras and if I’m lucky I also have transcripts to comb through (word by word typed pages of what was on camera) but I always like to watch the footage first. This way I learn about a personality and also if something had to be re-shot or someone stumbled their words or simply said them in a less than energetic way - than I can choose the best take or version of that segment or interview. Everyone has their own way of working – but this is mine. The more footage I can watch the better my script will be on the first draft. It also helps me change gears and get into a story and figure out what the direction and ‘hook’ will be.
I was still pretty shaken up – my Dad had calmed me down a lot but there was still about twenty percent of me that was feeling weird and nervous even though it had been a few hours since the accident. But I had to work so I pulled up some footage to watch and settled in and let my Final Cut roll. There she was. Someone I’d never seen, and had only heard of in passing a few weeks earlier (as in – ‘that guy’s co-worker will be doing a show’). I don’t know what happened but within a few minutes of me watching her on the screen I could feel myself calming down. How could this be? This is a person on my small screen who is emanating a centred and peaceful vibe, for lack of a better word. But why? What the hell is going on? My mind had a hard time wrapping itself around these thoughts. Maybe it’s like how we felt we were friends with the “Friends” crew or the “Dawson’s Creek” kids because of watching them week after week. Her presence brought me back to earth and I started to feel ok. Was it her easy laugh? Her voice? Her smile? I don’t know, and to this day I’ve no clue what transpired but my shakes started to disappear and my head was beginning to clear. By the end of the afternoon I was feeling normal again. It was like I’d taken a stress B vitamin and gone for a five mile run. Whatever it was – she took me down that last twenty percent. I quietly thanked my angels for this distant presence – for the new, unexpected episode, and for these hours of footage that I got to watch that day.
A few days later I had to reach out to her – I had some questions I needed answering that would help me fill in some blanks to write the episode. It was a very professional email that belied my desire to tell her what she had unknowingly done for me. How do you tell a stranger ‘thanks for calming me down’ when all they did was shoot a television show and until this email in their in box appeared they didn’t even know you existed? Of all the crazy things – I was not about to say a word. A day or so later she wrote me back. But she started the email by asking ME a question. Nobody ever asks ME questions – I’m the Producer looking for answers. So I answered her – I think because she had calmed me down and by now I’d been watching three days of footage for the past three days – I felt comfortable with her and honestly and fully answered her question. Then I thanked her for her answers and then I don’t know how it happened – but the emails continued. More questions from both of us – more answers shared. That led to me sending her some tunes and her liking them.
Then….I started to break my own rule. I never make friends with people I write about. I want to know just enough about them to help me write a better show but anything more – any more contact than the information I need crosses a line for me. Some of it is also that I don’t want to have to worry about whether someone likes the show or not – I just want to write the best one I can without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings – even though I always try and write people in as good and positive light as I can – but still. Maybe because of the accident and her affect on me it made me break my rule (not that that’s any great prize for her) and allowed the boundaries to be broken. Maybe because very quickly I discovered that this was one cool and fascinating person. She’s led a very interesting life and not all of it has been easy. On a daily basis she is faced with immortality and the idea that she may, in all likelihood, outlive her son - all of this due to a random and unfairly drawn straw. Not that she would ever put it that way and not that any of it comes across on camera. Her non-pitying attitude and matter-of-fact approach to this aspect of her life (that she readily shared with me) immediately garnered my respect. This woman is not a victim as so many people are or would be given the opportunity. She is who is and is not defined by her son’s condition. (He suffers from neurofibromatosis – for more on that go to www.ctf.org and please donate if you can.)
It’s been three months since those first emails. Countless texts, phone conversations and boisterous laughing fits have been exchanged. Although we’ve yet to meet – not even on skype or facetime – I feel as though she and I are friends. Good ones. Even though I worry about over sharing on my part and worry about how much does she really want to know about me? Why would she want to know anything? I think that has more to do with where my head, and self esteem have been in recent years and less about her. It’s funny – in one moment she can remind me of my Mother, and then in another moment she’s like the sister I relate to more than my own. We come from such different worlds, and live in very different ones as well, but somehow I feel there’s a soul sister thing going on. We exchange recipes, jokes, and I know more about her musical tastes (which are more diverse than mine, in all honesty) than most people I see on a daily basis. She’s also one of the funniest people I know who can crack me up in a split second. But there’s a kindness to her as well – maybe it’s the mother thing in her – maybe she was just born kind.
Either way, I’m glad I broke my rule – and I’m convinced the angels sent her my way right when I needed her (two weeks after I started that episode I got the courage to thank her for what she ‘did’). I don’t think I was ready for a new person in my life in the previous months or years. If all this had happened a year ago she’s be just another subject in a TV show I wrote about. I’ve no clue why she’s friends with me (she has a very full and busy life and doesn’t really need me in it) but that’s ok – I’m still too busy trying to figure out how it is I am friends with, and feel close to, someone I’ve never met. It’s a new experience for me and it’s cool – I guess we don’t get to understand everything in life. Some things are meant to be a mystery. I need to just accept that and be okay with it all. Whatever our purpose is in each other’s lives I hope we stay friends for a long time. I’m planning on it on my end. I hope she is on hers.
When we do meet face to face (as we have plans to do) I’d like to think it will be like two old friends getting together for early afternoon martinis on a hot summer afternoon in The Berkshires. I’d like to think we’ll be that comfortable with one another. I can only hope, and I’m guessing if my angels have anything to say about it, it will be just like that. Because now more than ever I believe they’ve not left and when called upon they were there…..and are here.
Thanks for tuning in…Until next time…CHEERS!