Lessons in Therapy

I’ve had several people reach out to me over the last couple of weeks to ask questions about therapy, so many that I thought it warranted a blog post. I think there are people out there who are really suffering from anxiety and depression right now and they don’t know who to turn to. Some people want to ask questions about mental health, but never would because of the stigma associated with it. This stigma is generations old, y’all and familial. Which is to say that it runs rampant through entire families for years and years. Both the mental health issues and the stigma surrounding help. Parents, grandparents, many who would benefit themselves from therapy and medications, talking shit, if you will, on people who get mental health help, creating a horrendous environment for family members who actually wish they could seek help, but are afraid to because of what their family members will say. This stresses out the people who are already in need of help, thus creating a cycle. Parents saying to their grown children: “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, I did it when I was your age and look at me!” Yeah. Look. At. Them. I know so many people who are “secretly” in therapy that it’s pure craziness. We need to talk openly about this. People need to be informed. People want to be informed. So, let me inform you the best way I can, with a story.

The day I walked into Patsy’s office I was nervous and sweaty. I was immediately wondering if she would see that I was nervous and sweaty, which made me more nervous and sweaty. I’d already done my “intake” paperwork before I showed up at the office. They emailed it to me the week before, I printed it out at home, filled it out, scanned it, then emailed it back. “Intake” is just a scary word that means they have all your information. Name, address, phone number, medical history, health insurance info, emergency contact, etc. All the normal new doctor bullshit. The problem is when people hear “intake” in relation to mental health, they think they are about to get committed to some scary psych ward that they watched a documentary on, and ghosts are going to chase them around in the haunted hospital. Or more likely, they they think they must have something REALLY wrong with them if they are doing an “intake” form. Nope. In fact, I think some offices don’t even call it that anymore. It’s all just called “Evaluation” which is what my office calls it, but some old school places still call it “intake,” so that is something to be aware of. The word here literally means, “Process of taking something in.” This situation being your therapist’s office taking in information about you as a new patient. That’s it. That’s all. Calm your tits.

So I walked into this new office, which is already scary for someone like me, and I was met with a receptionist, which is normal. She spoke in a nice, calm tone (as I’m sure they are trained to do) and told me she had all my paperwork, and that I had a $30 co-pay per my insurance. She then took my card, processed the payment while I stood there awkwardly, and told me that I would be seeing the office’s therapist Patsy for my “evaluation.”

Remember, the first visit to ANY mental health office if going to start with an “evaluation” by a mental health professional. Chances are, if the office has a therapist and a psychiatrist, the therapist will do your evaluation to decide whether you can benefit with regular, old, run-of-the-mill therapy like she can provide, or if you need to see the psychiatrist. Keep in mind here that the psychiatrist is the M.D. The therapist usually just has an M.A. in therapy or something like that, which means she can’t prescribe you medication. But the psychiatrist can. But, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to see the psychiatrist. In my office there is also a mental health nurse practitioner who can prescribe medication under the direction of the psychiatrist. Stay with me.

I was seeing both Patsy my therapist, and Suzan my MHNP. BUT, and this is a big BUT, your primary care physician (your regular old MD doctor you go to when you have a cold) can also prescribe mental health medication. Which means your therapist can recommend medications or treatment plans that you can then take to your doctor and get filled, if your doctor is willing.

So can’t I just see my PCP for all this, Missy? Great question! Absolutely you can, BUT that’s all you’re gonna get from your PCP, medication (and sometimes more of that judgement we talked about earlier, because they just aren’t mental health professionals). You won’t get the therapy that is SO important. In fact, some PCPs won’t give you medication unless you are seeing a therapist, which is smart if you ask me. Trust, I did the PCP for mental health care for a decade, and then it occurred to me one day: When I have vagina issues I see a gynecologist. When I have stomach issues I see a gastroenterologist. If I’m having mental health problems why would I not see a mental health professional? Answer: That generational, familial stigma. You gotta get past that.

Truth Time! Patsy is the third therapist I have been to see. The third time I got up the nerve to talk to someone. But each time before I quit going within three months. Why, Missy? Because, and I can’t stress this enough, THERAPY IS HARD AS FUCK, Y’ALL. You think the first time you will feel better. Nah, you won’t. In fact, you feel even worse. You feel like shit and you start to wonder if the therapist is straight-up out to get you. Like they are a sick subgroup of people who just like to watch other people cry. That’s not the case. Well not usually. It’s just HARD AS FUCK the first few months. The most important thing I can say to you is to STICK WITH IT. Those first few months the therapist is trying to understand you. Trying to figure out what your main issues are. Diagnose you. And no, it isn’t all your Mom’s fault, though truth be told a lot of it is, so if you love your Mom and think she can’t do any wrong, it’s gonna be even harder to sit through this part. Because most of what we deal with as adults stems back to the environment we were raised in. And most of us had shit happen to us, that we can’t even relate to our life now, but trust, your therapist will pull it out of you and before you know it you will be all, “HOLY SHIT! That makes so much sense. This is why I react like that now.” Or “Ohhh, that’s why I hate the color purple.” Trust, you will get answers. But it will take time.

I told Patsy at my evaluation appointment, all about my other therapy experiences and what I did. At the end of the evaluation, which is just a long talk, she asked if I would be willing to work with her, and if so, would I be willing to stick with her for SIX MONTHS! Six months, you guys. I knew my track record. I knew how hard it was, but even so I said yes. And now it’s a year later and I actually fucking look forward to seeing her every few weeks. I smile when I see her (I secretly want to hug her, but I think that’s frowned up) and I already have a list of shit to talk to her about because I know she gets it and can help me. She always gets it. She always helps me. But it took awhile to get there.

The other thing I want to say is that the first therapist might not be your person. Same for the medications. We counted it up, and along with having been to three therapists, two PCPs, and a mental health nurse practitioner, I have been on 10 different medications. Not at the same time. I mean I’ve tried 10 different kinds over a decade and just now feel like I found a good fit. Some of them worked for years, don’t get me wrong, but then they’d stop working. Prozac. Wellbutrin. Zoloft. Yeah, been on them all. And they were all great, but got to the point with me that they weren’t doing their job. So it takes time. And patience. Lots of patience. (Side political note: It also takes money. Health insurance. So people who don’t have money and/or health insurance can’t do this. Is that what we want? A country where only people with money/health insurance can get help they need? Nah, I didn’t think so. Vote, assholes.) Sorry I called you assholes.

Whew. I’m tired writing this, and I’m sure you’re tired in reading it, so let’s stop here. But let me say this: If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to talk to someone about how to even start this process, I’m here for you. Yes, even my complete strangers who just Googled “Ligers” and got to this post. I’m making one of my tags “Ligers” for this reason. I will help you. You can comment on this post. We can get you into therapy. Into someone who can help you around your area. In fact, I’m going to share some links at the bottom of the page to help you if you need it.

Listen, I need you to take care of yourself, okay? It’s important. We need you. Yes you! Your family needs you. Your friends need you. Your community needs you. And if you let what you think is just “a bout of the blues” linger, I promise it won’t get better alone. Trust me. I know. I’ve been there. There are people who want to help you. No judgement. Let me help you find them.

Stay safe and sane, y’all.

M.

American Psychological Association – How to Find a Good Therapist

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Mental Health America – Text MHA to 741741

There are currently online support groups for dealing with Covid-19 stress and trauma. Check out this place that are offering their services 70% off (I don’t know much about them, but I did go to their website and see their offer. So it might be worth checking out if you need to.) This is just one example. Google “Online mental health support groups.”

If That Ain’t the Truth…

“I’ll tell you what…” What, Missy? That’s what my Mom says, she says, “I’ll tell you what…” usually followed by something Dr. Phil said on t.v. or how mad she is at Trump. (My Mom’s a secret Democrat, shh, don’t tell anyone. She voted for Hillary.) My Mom also says things like, “Shit! Ope! I didn’t mean to say that.” Cause she’s a Baptist. But when I was a kid she used to say things like, “Well fuck me runnin’,” and “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” I don’t know about that last one. What are you even talking about today, Missy? I don’t know. Listen, I don’t know you guys. I just got off the phone with my mom and she said “I’ll tell you what, Dr. Phil said mothers should be paid $100,000 a year salary, and if that ain’t the truth.” That’s another of Mom’s lines, “If that ain’t the truth…well then I don’t know what is.”

I think what you are seeing now is a small glimpse inside my brain and how it is functioning nowadays. It’s off kilter. To say the least. I think probably everyone’s is. My husband’s is. My son’s is. My Mom’s is. It’s mainly stress-induced, yeah? And we are all battling it. If you aren’t battling it right now, then you just aren’t paying attention. This is a trying time. A chaotic, miserable, traumatic time, and if you are getting up everyday, opening up the blinds, reaching out by telephone or text to someone, saying hello to a neighbor when you check the mail, actually walking to the end of the driveway or the end of the porch to check the mail, well then, you’re doing it! Look at you! You’re making it work. Because this sucks, y’all. There’s no way around it. And if that ain’t the truth…

Yesterday Jackson painted small birdhouses that I had bought eons ago and stashed away for a rainy-day art project. He painted them and rode his scooter around the neighborhood sticking them on front porches to brighten up our neighbors’ days. We hope it worked to put a smile on their faces, but what it really did was brighten up our day. Then I shared pictures of him doing it on Instagram to hopefully brighten up friends’ days. I hope that worked too. I’ll share them now with you guys too.

We also started painting rocks to hide for kids to find on our walks, because we have been walking everyday and everyday we see families out and about with small ones, burning off energy. Today we started another family art project. Because art seems to bring us back to center. I think it does a lot of people, if you let it.

Our governor finally did the right thing this week, and he announced a shelter-in-place order, and he announced that we won’t be going back to school this year. And I know, man I know, it’s tough for kids, espeically my kid. My kid, who’s been to three elementary schools and who really wanted to finish strong at this one, with the best teacher, and the coolest, smartest, kindest classmates anyone could ask for. But we are making it work, and we know it’s sad that they won’t have a fifth-grade graduation or a fifth-grade day ‘o’ fun, but it’s okay. It’s one more way we are learning about selfless acts, and helping the greater good. Fifth grade is turning out to be a massive learning experience.

So that’s the bright side, yeah? The one I’m looking at anyway. The learning, the loving, the community that is going on around us. I’ll tell you what, we are watching our world change, in real time, and it’s scary, and sad, and traumatizing on the bad days. But on the good days, it’s an exercise in patience, in kindness, and in love. Geez, if that ain’t the truth.

Stay well and safe, y’all.

M.

Love and Basketball

I was sad to see that the NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled, among other sporting events, and I’m sure people are bummed by this. I’m bummed by this, but I can’t imagine how the students feel. The players, and coaches, the fans. But mainly the kids. March Madness is the most fun because I love college ball. I’ve talked about my love sports of before. How I played softball for like a decade. How I was on basketball teams in elementary, middle, and high school. Volleyball? Check. Track and field? I was a Varsity thrower. Duh. I even gave tennis and soccer a go once or twice, never cared much for either, but I was an eager participant on most occasions. But if I’m being very honest with myself, softball is still my absolute favorite sport to play, and basketball is my absolute favorite sport to watch, because well, I’m just too slow to be any good anymore. Though I haven’t lost my jump shot. Seriously, play me fool!

And although I especially like college ball, I have been known to hang at an NBA game more than once, especially when we lived in Charlotte. We were big fans of watching the Hornets play, and while we are still Hornets fans, I’ll never forget that time my husband took me to see my all-time favorite team play, The Boston Celtics. Priceless. And of course, I would love to sit court-side at a Lakers game one day. Hey, a girl can dream!

The reason I like college ball better than the NBA is because I don’t like all the slam dunks and showmanship. I really like down and dirty street ball, but there isn’t a “Down and Dirty Street Ball” league* to keep up with, so college it is. I love the way the fans love their team, their school. Some of my best memories as a kid, were the few times I got to go to a KU game at Allen Field House. How and why? I have no idea. I know once I went with my sister and her boyfriend, but I remember going a few times and it was amazing. This was back, way back, when Raef LaFrentz, and Paul Pierce (who went on to play for Boston), and Greg “Big O” Ostertag played. Jesus, why do I still remember those names?

I remember stepping into the front doors of Allen Field House in complete amazement. Here I was, probably fifth grade, totally in love with this school I dearly wanted to be part of (I eventually made it to KU as a student) and I wanted to chant ROCK CHALK! JAYHAWK! KU! on the top of Mt. Oread. And I did. Pure joy.

By middle school I was so in love with basketball, I could tell you all about the KU players, many of the Celtics players, and of course Michael Jordan, the best athlete in the whole world. That’s when I started asking my mom for a basketball hoop. The problem was two-fold. We were poor and we lived in a rental house on the “bad” part of town. If she had invested in a hoop, it would have to be one of those mobile hoops, which were just too expensive and the chances of someone walking off with it we too real. For sure, like they walked away with every bike I had while we lived there.

But one glorious day, I came home to, I shit you not, a piece of plywood painted blue, with a hoop attached to it, nailed into the damn tree in our side yard. Umm, not kidding. I have no idea where/how/what/who. My suspicion is my brother-in-law, or my mom’s friend Ruthie. But there it was, nailed to the damn dead tree in a pit of what amounted to mud, and a little Bir of run down grass, next to what I am pretty sure was a crackhouse. Yep. I played the shit out of that hoop. For years, y’all.

Listen, I don’t know how single moms do stuff, but they do it. Always. And this picture above is just a reminder that I was once the most important person in someone’s life. My mom wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But I’m beginning to see that she was doing the best she could with what she had. With what she knew. With what she was capable of. And I’m always reminded that it takes a village, y’all. And actual fucking village.

Anyway, we moved a few years later, though that was one of the houses we lived in the longest. Even though the neighborhood wasn’t ideal, the house was nice, clean, fairly new, and it was in walking distance to my middle school, and close to my mom’s work. It was just an old shotgun house, on the north side of town, with a wooden basketball hoop nailed to a tree. But it meant the world to me.

Thanks, Mom.

M.

*I was flipping through Netflix the other day and found a show that follows prison basketball. I gasped. Jerimiah yelled, “Shit! No!” and I added it to my “Watch List.”

All Those Birds

Every time I move and go a new eye doctor for the first time, I have a litany of shit to tell them. My mother’s macular degeneration comes up. Then there’s my light sensitivity on account of my incredibly light, blue eyes. Then at some point I have to tell them that I am not from the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. They look at my tests, back at me, and ask if I’m sure I’m not from anywhere near the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. I say yes, I’m sure. I’m from Kansas. But not chicken-farmer Kansas. I’ve never lived on a damn farm. Then they look confused and I say, “Listen, we had pet birds.”

I have an eye condition called Ocular Histoplasmosis. It’s from a fungus commonly found in the dust and soil of the Ohio and Mississippi River regions. You can contract the disease by inhaling dust with the fungal spores, usually carried and spread by chickens and other types of birds. If it is inhaled early in life, it can cause a usually symptom-free and self-limited infection throughout the body. But it may affect the eye by causing small areas of inflammation and scarring of the retina, which it has done to me.

There isn’t really a problem, not now anyway. But it’s something that the eye doctor has to continually check, to make sure it isn’t getting worse. Mine is not. Thankfully. And they are usually adament that pet birds won’t give it to you, but I have zero other explanations for it, except well, pet birds.

My mom likes pets that are self-contained. She’d probably be great with a pet turtle, if it weren’t for their sliminess. She likes caged animals. With minimal smell and hassle. Enter birds. Le sigh. Here is my mom with her first pair of birds from the early 1980s, just before I was born. These are the birds of my childhood, Fred and Barney, who in fact turned out to be Fred and Wilma, but we never changed their names.

Listen, I hated Fred and Barney. When I was really young they’d peck at my fingers when I tried to put their food bowl back, or fill their water. They LOVED my mom, hated me. Though they hated other people more than me, so I guess I was tolerable to them. They really didn’t like my sister, or any person who came into the house being loud. They didn’t like loud. I didn’t either, so it was good when my mom would yell at visitors, “Shhh, be quiet or the birds will start!” Cause trust, you didn’t want the birds to “start.”

Fred and Barney died one day. It was a sad-ass day. I remember being sad because of how sad my mom was, but I felt no real attachment to these birds, so I was like good riddance. Meanwhile, my mother grieved, as one does for a beloved pet. I gave her a hug, shrugged my shoulders, and went out to play. I thought that shit was finally over. I was wrong.

A few weeks later a friend said to my mom that she knew these two birds, they didn’t have names, just called Blue and Green, and did my mother want them. They were free. And came with their own, very nice cage. Did my mother want them? BRING THEM HERE NOW! she screeched. I think. I think she screeched that. It was like some backroom bird deal. She ran them over under the cover of darkness. I was half-asleep and very confused. I saw my mom’s face light up and I was like, “Shiiiiiiiit.”

The only thing I remember about these two, besides their constant squawking, fighting, and mildly displeasing nature, is that they could not be trusted when you opened their cage. They were escape artists, and more than once I found myself screaming down the hallway, running into my room and slamming the door, while my mom ran around with a towel screaming for me to help her “Catch the damn birds.” Jesus. “No,” I’d scream from under my blankets, “They’re your birds! Not mine!”

My mother was convinced her birds were always much smarter than we thought. She said she taught them tricks. Though to be fair, Fred and Barney knew how to “kiss.” My mom used to say to me every morning when I’d wake up since I was a toddler, “Kiss, kiss, Missy” in which I’d sleepy walk to her and give her a morning hug and kiss. She noticed one morning when she said it, the birds pecked each other. I thought she was nuts, but when she turned her attention to this, and really tried to work with them on it, they eventually got it. Yep, they knew “Kiss, kiss,” but they didn’t know “Shut up, you damn birds!” which would have been more helpful, if you ask me.

The birds were always a source of amusement for my friends who would come over. No one else had birds. My friends all had two-parent households, with two cars, and homes that they owned, and usually dogs and cats. You know, normal fucking pets. My friends were in awe of these birds. They’d sit and watch them, whistle at them, watch me feed them, that sort of shit. I despised it. All of it.

Then one day the second set of parakeets died. My mom cried, as she had the first time. And this time, so did I. I can’t be sure why, but I suspect somewhere around middle school I started to be comforted by these little assholes. When my mom was out at night, and I’d be nervously waiting for her to make it home safe, I’d sit in the living room with them and talk to them. They were good listeners. In fact, as long as you were paying them attention, you could talk to them all day. They’d just sit on their stoop and listen. Cock their head back and forth, occasionally interject a “SQWAAAA!” here or a peck on their bell there. Maybe they weren’t so bad.

I left Leavenworth not too long after the birds did. The next time I came home to visit my mom, she had a new bird. A friend had called. In the dead of the night. Saying that she knew someone, who knew someone, and did my mother want a Dove? Did my mother want a Dove?! You bet your ass she did! It was free, and it came with it’s own cage and everything. Her name was Baby, and she was the worst of the actual lot. But my son loved to visit with her, listen to her sing. pet her, yeah this bitch let you hold and pet her. She hated me though. Pecked at me every time I came near the cage. Eh, such is life.

Baby died last year. It was perhaps the roughest loss on my mother. No friend has called yet. Her house now sits silent. Lonesome. Maybe one day. Until then, RIP to the birds who have come before. They live a long time, in case you didn’t know, even “used” birds live longer than you’d expect. And they carry diseases. But that’s neither here nor there.

M.

Stay (I Missed You)

I was leaving Patsy’s office yesterday when I hopped in the car, feeling pretty good, a rare occurrence after therapy. I hadn’t cried, or said fuck, or told some long, sordid story about Adele or voodoo, it was a good visit, actually, and switched the channel on the radio to 90s music and “Stay (I Missed You)” came on. You know the 90s pop song by Lisa Loeb? “You say, I only hear what I want to. And you say, I talk so all the time. So.” And just like that I was transported back to my childhood bedroom, with it’s dolphin trinkets, underwater-themed bedspread, and matching curtains. And there, on my dresser, was my radio with the ability to record.

The year was 1994, and I had been waiting for what felt like literal years for one of the pop stations out of Kansas City to play Lisa Loeb and her love song to the guy she desperately missed. Or did he miss her? Or was it all a big misunderstanding? Was he kind of an asshole? Now that I think about it yeah, he was kind of an asshole, but I didn’t get that back then. Back then, I wanted to hear those first few chords, run to my radio and hit the play/record button to get as much as the song as I could onto the mix tape that I was making for my boyfriend who had just moved because his dad was in the Army and life was horribly unfair. We were soulmates.

And then it happened. The DJ said the magic words, “Here’s Lisa Loeb…” and I ran over, hit the buttons and well, it worked. Just. Like. Magic.

The rest of the mix tape had a lot of Wilson Phillips on it, but the second side, first song, was this one and man, I was way serious about him hearing it.

As the song played, and the radio recorded, I danced around my room like I was Lisa Loeb, and I only hear what I want to, and a camera was following me around as I hopped up in down in relative torment with my super cute glasses in a little black dress. It was all too magical. Then I stopped the recording at just the right time. After the last chord, before the DJs annoying voice came back on.

Two weeks later the tape was finished and I sent it to him, all the way across the country in Virginia. Two weeks after that he wrote me and said he liked the tape, but that we should break up. It hurt. A lot. Because I missed him. Then I cried. I slammed my door. I cursed Lisa Loeb while I screamed:

“So I, I turned the radio on/I turned the radio up/And this woman was singing my song/Lovers in love and the other’s run away/Lover is crying ’cause the other won’t stay…”

While my mom banged on my door to keep it down in there.

Yeah. Middle school was fucking harsh. But at least I had Lisa Loeb.

M.

Tornado Season

I’ve been working on a post about the series of tornadoes that broke out when we were living in Missouri between the summer of 2011 and 2012, including the Joplin Tornado, of which my father-in-law’s house was destroyed (he survived), and the Leap Day Tornado that hit our town in 2012. We were living in Branson, Missouri at the time and “The Strip” was hit pretty hard. Jerimiah’s office was destroyed, and he had to work from home for a few months before they found a new office in town, but everyone was okay. Shaken up, but okay. I’ve been working on the post since way back in February because I wanted to post it on Leap Day, because you know, topical and what not. But I couldn’t finish it. I was wading through the pictures I took in Joplin the day after, when Jerimiah and I went to help his dad fish his belongings out of the rubble, and I was so sad looking at those pictures that I was having a hard time writing words to accompany them. I was determined to finish the post this week, then yesterday I woke up to the news in Nashville.

Shit, you guys.

When a tornado season starts out like this, it isn’t good. I’ll just say that. And coming from a Kansas girl, a girl born and raised in The Great Plains, or Tornado Alley, whatever you want to call it, this is some severe, severe weather, and it won’t be going out like a lamb. We need to be prepared. We need to take this seriously. We can’t keep standing in the front yard, drinking our ranch dressing straight from the bottle, saying, “Ope, why’d the wind stop so suddenly?” We need to heed those warnings we all know, but have ignored for so long.

There really is no way for you to combat an F3 like the one in Nashville, which ripped through a heavily-populated part of town, or an F5 like in Joplin. There just isn’t. When it comes, it comes and you just have to hold on and hope you make it out. But the world is certainly more technologically advanced now than it was when I was a kid, and there aren’t many more excuses we can use. Listen to the warnings. Stay indoors. Don’t go out when the sky turns that black and gray color. If the wind suddenly stops and it gets eerily quiet, then it seems like a train comes out of nowhere, it isn’t a damn train, y’all. It’s a twister. Get out of your lawn chair, throw your Bud Light to the wind, and run into your basement. This is serious.

I know this seems like a duh to a lot of you, but the hard truth is, there are places in Tornado Alley where the belief is 100% “It won’t happen here.” In fact, I grew up with that notion. In Leavenworth they think because they are “in a valley” that the tornado won’t come to them. In truth it has been years since a big twister has struck there, and it does seem to strike close to them, all around them, in fact, but when I was a kid it never hit Leavenworth proper. Which meant there were a lot of lawn chair watchers. People making fun of people like my mom and me, who spent many a summer nights camped out in my closet (the most interior space, without windows) with a weather radio and a box of Legos for distraction. That’s the behavior of people who have lived through a twister (of which my mom did as a child). She knows how to take it seriously. But so many don’t, and it scares the shit out of me.

When Jerimiah and I were still dating, way, way back in 2003 a tornado hit Lawrence, Kansas. We were living in Lawrence at the time, and he was working at Blockbuster Video on 27th Street. It was the evening, about 7:00 pm, when I drove some dinner up to him at work. I was working at Best Buy, and had gotten off early and decided to treat him. The weather wasn’t looking great, but then again, it was Kansas, in May. The weather never looks great on warm, May nights in Kansas. That’s the peak of the season. When I walked in, I found him standing in the middle of the store with the District Manager. They were discussing whether or not to close up shop. Apparently a line of storms was headed for us and Blockbusters, if you may recall, were nothing but rows and rows of windows so you could look inside and see the rows and rows of projectiles lining the shelves. Jerimiah was at odds with his manager, who wanted to close. Jerimiah, a born and bred Kansas boy himself, was all “Nah, this will pass.” I mean it’s Lawrence, for fuck’s sake. A half a mile or so from the University of Kansas campus. Mother Nature knows better than to mess with the Jayhawks. Turns out he was wrong, terribly wrong.

About half an hour later the DM, Jerimiah, about three employees, and dumb me who stuck around to see how it would play out, were running toward the Baskin Robbins next door in a wind so hard and fast it took my breath away. Then suddenly it stopped. All was still. The sky was as black as I’d ever seen it, and it was quiet. Eerily quiet. The cars at the busy intersection had all stopped. The wind was gone. The rain and chatter, all silenced. We all stood in our tracks halfway between Blockbuster and Baskin Robbins and looked up toward the sky. Just then the sound came. They say it sounds like a freight train, y’all because IT SOUNDS LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, this funnel appeared. It was all black, just like the sky, so it was hard to see. I was mesmerized. Then suddenly someone pushed me from behind and yelled, “Run!” So I did.

I spent the next ten minutes in the freezer of the Baskin Robbins with the Blockbuster DM, two Baskin Robbins employees, and the rest of the Blockbuster crew (all of us kids). Jerimiah stood out in the ice cream parlor waiting and watching. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. And you certainly won’t find me in any lawn chair because of it.

The twister did hit campus that night. It also took out several apartment complexes, but to the best of my knowledge no one was killed. Injured, but not killed. It was only an F2, we were lucky. Below is the public info statement from the National Weather Service in Topeka. We were in Douglas County on 27th and Wakarusa.

This is how it happens when it happens. It happens in a lot of places, varying degree of damage and winds. Varying numbers on the Fujita scale. A twister can go from an F0 to an F3 pretty quickly. But some people just don’t respect the catastrophic ability, because when you are from a place where this happens all season long, you become numb to it. Until you aren’t anymore.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this story today. I think I was so messed up in my head when I heard about Nashville yesterday, that it brought up all this other stuff. These old memories, and I wondered if many of you don’t know how tornadoes work, why and when they come, that sort of thing. So I guess I’m trying to inform. To plead with you all to take it seriously. Because you just never know.

As for Nashville and Central Tennessee, I hope everyone is okay. Shaken, I know, but in tact for the most part. As I write this they have confirmed 19 deaths, there may be more to come. There usually is. I’m partial to the City of Nashville, to Central Tennessee. It’s one of our favorite places, and it’s a place that has brought my family and friends and me great joy in our lives. I know they will be okay, eventually, but not without help. Because of this I am adding some links to the bottom for ways you can help.

Maybe one day I will share that Leap Day Tornado story, or talk more about the Joplin tornado, but today just stay safe out there, y’all. And help if you can.

M.

How to Help Nashville Right Now

Hands on Nashville

Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund

These Colors Don’t Run

Some weeks I have a very strict idea about what I am going to write about every day. In fact, in my planner (yes, I use a paper planner) I write each day, then make a little box for checking the day off when I write, and next to the box I sometimes write the topic. I do this to sort of will myself into writing about a certain subject. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today’s box said, “Oakland Cemetery”. Oakland Cemetery is a cool place. It’s another famous southern cemetery that we recently visited. It’s in the heart of Atlanta and it is where Margaret Mitchell is buried, so I went to sacrifice a penny on her gravesite, as many writers before me have done. The problem is somedays when I actually sit down to write, what I intend to write is not what comes up. Today is one of those days. Today I woke up thinking about the phrase, “These Colors Don’t Run” and the first time I ever heard that phrase, and I can’t get it out of my head, so I just have to write about it. Margaret Mitchell and Oakland will have to wait.

The first time I ever heard or read this phrase was in a shopping mall in my hometown in 1991. It was during the Gulf War, and I lived in Leavenworth, Kansas. If you’ve never heard of Leavenworth then bless your heart. Go find a John Wayne movie on Amazon Prime and wait. At some point he will talk about a “bad guy” either of black or brown skin, and he will say something along the lines of, “I’ll be seeing them in Leavenworth,” then he will ride away into the California sunset. He just means he’s rounding them up and sending them to prison, probably because in the movie they stole cows or killed a white woman. Same. Same. Leavenworth is a prison town, but it’s also an army town and home to the historically-famous Fort Leavenworth, on the banks of the Missouri River.

This is all to say that when the Gulf War was happening (the first time the Bush’s tried to make money off Middle Eastern oil) Leavenworth was a hot-bed for pro-war shit. I was a third grader with no real idea what was happening, and both my sisters (who had been married and moved out of the house) were suddenly back home (with two and a half kids in tow) while both their husbands fought on the front lines overseas. It was a stressful, confusing, chaotic time in my life.

So from the summer of 1990 to the summer of 1991 my mom, my two sisters, my two, then three nephews, and third-grader Missy lived all lived together in our two-bedroom apartment in Leavenworth. We watched the news every, single night on a small 19-inch colored television. On the weekends I would sometimes go with my sisters who would volunteer to do things around the community in support of their husbands with the other Army wives. Maybe we’d pass our yellow ribbons, or man a table at the local shopping plaza to pass out buttons in support of our troops. I always went because usually someone bought me ice cream afterward. That’s it. That was my driving motivation.

One particular Saturday morning I stood at a table with my sister and handed out buttons. I don’t remember what they looked like, but I know they said, “These Colors Don’t Run” on them, so I’m guessing they were something like this:

I know we had entered Operation Desert Storm (or Shield, I think they were two different operations, maybe) at this point, because I had a shirt on that said it too. Here look, this is third grade me in my favorite “Operation Desert Shield” shirt:

I know it was my favorite, and probably only one, because my mom has like 15 pictures of me in it from that single year. Here I am in March of 1991 holding my newborn nephew Josh, who is legit getting married next month:

Just for the record, that’s not a mullet. That’s just my mom cutting my bangs, but refusing to let me cut the rest of my hair, so I always wore it in a pony tail and it sometimes looked like a mullet.

Anywho, there I was standing at a table passing out these buttons and I vividly remember looking down at one of them and thinking, “What the hell does that even mean?” I mean, how can colors run? Which colors? Red, white, and blue? Run from what? From bad guys? Who are the bad guys? What is happening?

Something like that started to unfurl in my brain and I was, for the first time, very scared about the war. About never seeing my brothers-in-law again. About having to see my sisters cry a lot.

It sort of got worse before it got better after that. I started having nightmares about bombs, which were just little flashes of light that I’d see explode on our small tv whenever Tom Brokaw would come on in the evening. My teacher would ask if I’d been sleeping. I’d lie and say yes. But mainly I’d just lay awake at night, pretending to sleep until two, maybe three in the morning, when my sisters’ whispered voices and the low hum of the tv stopped for the night.

Both my brothers-in-law made it back home safely, but not without problems. They aren’t my sisters’ husbands anymore, and I had a few more nephews over the years.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that “These Colors Don’t Run” was a bad pun, at best. My mother said something one day about washing colored clothes with whites, and it hit me. Ah, yes. These colors don’t run. They don’t run away from necessary war. They also, it would seem, don’t run away from unnecessary war either. Some things never change.

M.