November 11, 2008


Regardless of your political back ground or beliefs, I doubt there are many Americans out there who would not have been moved by witnessing the celebrations of so many last Tuesday. Following the confirmation that America had elected Barack Obama, I watched as people swarmed the streets with joy. I've worked on several political campaigns (including three presidential campaigns) and have never seen this level of excitement in any political candidate.

Women, children and men of every age and race danced in the streets, their presence blocking traffic. Cars began to honk. I quickly realized the cars were honking in agreement with the celebration, rather than to prevent the festivities from blocking the road. Many drivers placed their cars in park and got out to dance themselves. Peaceful and joyous chants of "Obama, Obama" rang through the streets. Chants of "Yes we can" quickly transitioned to "Yes we did!" I watched as strangers hugged other strangers - a sight I had obviously never seen on the streets of D.C. Tears streamed down the faces of many celebrants. Within minutes, the crowd grew to hundreds in this D.C. intersection - the very same intersection that saw riots and burning after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. some forty years prior.

But on this night, we were united. On this night, we were all brothers and sisters. All overwhelmed by this momentous moment in history, all grateful to be alive to witness it. Victory over the demoralizing world of the past eight years. What made this triumph even sweeter still, was the fact that not only had we elected the candidate that we believe has what it takes to change politics and to change the lives of the average American. This candidate also happened to be African American. The crowd grew and spread to side streets. I stood in amazement, holding back tears.

I had worked briefly on this election as well. I had been battered by the last eight years. I had been shaken by the sight of voting lines the length of which I'd never seen. This very day had begun by my witnessing a remarkable and historic movement of citizens to their polling locations. Although I witnessed this, I had not allowed myself to believe that our nation's best chance at freedom from the past would be elected. I could not allow myself to accept that Americans might do all that was needed to heal our great country. I had witnessed too many losses in the past, far too many apathetic citizens staying home rather than going to the polls. I had felt my heart ache too many times.

But on Tuesday, Hope won. Americans rose from the beds, in some cases before dawn; in some locations they stood in tremendous lines. They made their voices heard. Americans believed that this great country can unite towards the Good and can break new ground. And now, those Americans were celebrating joyfully and peacefully.

I had never witnessed such a united crowd. Even passers by would stop to clap and shout and sing. A police officer danced next to his cruiser. I watched on as a group of people began to play drums. An older white man danced and hopped to the beats with a young Black woman. Another woman, standing on the sidewalk held her cell phone to one ear and blocked the noise of the celebration from her other ear. "MOM!" she screamed. "Oh my God, Mom.....We did it!"

Yes we did.

April 29, 2008

Struggling to find Justice

Just over six months ago, I sat at my computer pouring my emotions into a Victim’s Impact Statement that was to be delivered to the parole board residing over the parole hearing of Matt Bryant. Matt’s parole hearing happened to be scheduled at the very time that Ericha’s murder became the primary focus of my therapy sessions. Dealing with the stress of Matt’s parole hearing so soon after delving into Ericha’s murder in therapy felt overwhelming - as if salt was being poured onto a freshly re-opened wound. On the other hand, I see now that the writing of an impact statement during this time was perhaps therapeutic as well. I printed my completed statement, gave it a kiss for good luck and placed it into the mailbox. I would soon find that the parole board had denied Matt’s release. I felt so relieved, so validated.

The last few weeks, I began to wonder if the next parole hearing would result in my relief as well. Six months had passed by so quickly, I thought. Matt’s next parole hearing was fast approaching.

This weekend I received a letter in the mail from the Department of Corrections. I realized immediately that the letter would contain the outcome Matt’s parole hearing. The time had come to view the results. I paused briefly and then slowly opened the letter.

“This letter is to inform you that the above inmate will be released from custody on or after May 13th, 2008.”

I read the letter over and over, each time hoping for a different, more forgiving interpretation. I don’t think I was actually able to process what it said. My brain would not let it sink in. I kept thinking that this must mean that he’s being released from that facility and is being transferred to another facility. I furrowed my brow, searching for any evidence that would support this conclusion. They couldn’t possibly just let him out. It’s been ten years. In ten years, his time was over and he was free. Yet, Ericha remains in her cold grave, I thought. Ten years for brutally ending the life of another human being, a wonderful human being.

I slowly began to realize – it’s over. There is nothing more that I can do. He will be released soon and his time in prison will be over. I can no longer think of Ericha and be comforted by the thought that both of her killers are behind bars. The feeling of a loss of control is palpable. He will be released and will once again be able to walk down the streets of his home town. He will spend time with his family. He will have the chance to meet new people, make friends, perhaps even fall in love. I can’t help but feel sickened knowing that Ericha’s killer will be able to experience these simple yet beautiful things while Ericha cannot. Never again will she be able to laugh with her friends, flirt with a man or hold a child.

I find myself struggling to find the justice in this.

April 3, 2008

Letting Go

Nearly two weeks had passed since the conversation with my mother. Each day I called my mother, hoping that she would answer the phone but not quite sure if she would. Each day I sighed slightly with relief when she’d answer, only then to become exhausted by her sobs. I tried to weigh each day if I thought she sounded as though she might agree to go to the hospital. I tried to comfort her.

During one such conversation my mother told me that she was so upset by my nephew’s trip being cancelled because she had planned to commit suicide while my nephew was visiting me out of state. She told me how she had been planning the suicide for months. She had visited me herself several months beforehand, believing that would be the last time she’d see me. My mother explained that she had become more calm during the previous months because she felt as though she had a plan – a final decision on specifically when she wouldn’t have to “be on this earth” anymore. Now that she realized her opportunity had passed, she was frantic. She felt trapped. She had planned to commit suicide during my nephew’s trip because she thought he was the “most sensitive” family member and because of that, she wanted him to be absent during that time. She also felt like I would be able to provide a stable environment for him during a traumatizing time.

I listened to my mother and began to think of what it would have been like, had my nephew’s trip not been cancelled. I imagined getting the call, having to compose myself, having to tell my nephew, having to quiet his inevitable feelings of guilt. I knew he would’ve felt guilty since he has become somewhat of a caregiver to my mother and sister already. I thanked God that my mother’s plans had been disrupted. I knew she was in pain but I still wanted her here.

It became increasingly more difficult to keep my energy level up each day after speaking with my mother. I found myself thinking about her while at work (partially because she would call me sobbing, while I was at work, asking for me to help her). After one week of this “suicide watch” I was exhausted. I had felt as though I had to carry my mother through these episodes on my back. I slowly began to realize that I don’t have that ability anymore. Maybe I never did.

There was one conversation I had with my mother during this time that was calm. My mother was having a better day. She was still talking about being suicidal, but wasn’t crying or particularly upset. I had spoken with my father earlier that day and he had asked me how I was doing. The question dumbfounded me. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since a member of my family asked me that. Now, I was speaking to my mother, she was calm and I was exhausted. I waited for her to ask. She spent the next twenty minutes talking about her thoughts and her doctors and her sleeping and eating habits. I listened and hung up the phone when she had finished.

Several days later, I was speaking to my mother when she finally asked half-heartedly, “well, what’s wrong with you?” Sure, it wasn’t the ‘how are you doing’ I was looking for, but it would do. “Mom, I’m really stressed out.” She paused, “Well…why? What's going on?” she said. “Mom, I’m exhausted. This has been exhausting. You don’t understand that every conversation I have with you in which you tell me in detail, how you plan to kill yourself, exhausts me.” No sooner did the words come out of my mouth, I regretted them. She was silent. “I’m just saying that this has been stressful for me too, that’s all.” She began to cry. “Mom…Mom, how are the boys doing?” I was able to shift her thoughts to the boys. I asked her enough questions to calm her.

The next morning I realized that I had a voicemail when I arrived at work. It was from my mother. She told me that she thought it would be best if we didn’t speak anymore. “You get upset when you talk to me and I get upset when I talk to you,” she said. Not an accurate view of events in my opinion. “So, I just wanted to tell you that. And I think it’s for the best. I love you, Emily. Goodbye.”

I wasn’t sure what to think. My eyes welled with tears, naturally because my mother had, for all intents and purposes, just wished me goodbye. I was angry at first, then relieved. I listened to the message again. Her last words, “I love you, Emily. Goodbye” were spoken with one of the most loving tones of voice I’ve ever heard from my mother. I sat, perplexed. It then occurred to me that the best way to frame this was that my mother was doing me a service. Perhaps, I thought, she loves me so much that she’s decided to let me go.

March 30, 2008

Sunny Morning

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were running errands on a sunny Sunday morning. I wanted to prepare for the upcoming visit of my younger nephew. He is now ten years old. My boyfriend was driving. We listened to the radio. I smiled as I glanced at his handsome profile. My boyfriend and I have been through a lot together in the past few years but I was finally beginning to feel comfortable enough to start trusting him, little by little. I’ve begun to feel like we may have weathered the worst of the storm together and perhaps, we’ve begun to come out on the other side, still hand in hand.

I felt the breeze and the sun on my face. I thought about how beautiful the day was. My cell phone rang and I answered. It was my mother. She was sobbing uncontrollably. “Mom, calm down. I can’t understand you. What’s going on?” I said. My mother attempted to catch her breath. She proceeded to tell me, in swells of sobs, that my nephew would not be coming out to visit me. My nephew was in the midst of experiencing behavioral problems and my sister retracted his trip as punishment during a particularly bad fight with him that morning.

My heart sank. Each of my nephews use their trips to visit me as their very own vacations. I have one nephew visit at a time, so each of them can have the full attention of two adults. I go through great strides to make sure their trips are care-free, fun and allow each of them to be children. It had been my younger nephews turn to come and he had called me almost nightly for many months to excitedly discuss our plans for his trip. Two months before his trip was scheduled, he had emailed me a full itinerary and schedule for his five day visit. He acted as though he could weather his chaotic home environment because he had this trip to look forward to. I was thinking of all of these things as I listened to my mother sob. I knew my nephew would be crushed. My heart sank for him.

My mother had also realized my nephew’s excitement which is why, I gathered, she was so upset about the cancellation. I still couldn’t figure out at that point, however, why she was upset to the extent that she was. I tried to calm her. Several minutes later, she was slightly calmer. Then, she took on a tone she uses every once in a while – a somewhat childish tone that she uses when she wants me to care for her.

“And there’s something else I need to tell you, Emily. My doctor said that I should tell you that I’m on a suicide watch.” Even though I’ve heard these words from my mother many times in my life, they still hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t think it was possible, but my heart sank further still. ‘No,’ I thought. ‘Not again, please, not now.’

She began to sob again and explained that she no longer wanted to live; she was in too much pain. I began to cry. I was so frustrated, so wounded. Unlike my mother, my tears were silent. I folded my phone shut and placed it on my lap and shook with sadness. My boyfriend placed his hand on my knee. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hear those crushing words at that moment. I pulled myself together, wiped my tears away and opened my phone, hoping that my mother would not return my inability with her rage. She answered and her voice was calm and cold. “Sorry, Mom. My phone cut out, “ I said, cringing. “Well, I will talk with you later,” she said. She hung up.

I closed my phone and sat silently, thinking. There was always a possibility of my mother slipping into suicidal thoughts. Every once in a while, however, she’d experience larger, more frightening episodes during which her suicidal tendencies were more serious and pronounced. It had been years since one of these episodes, so it surprised me slightly. I guess it shouldn’t have. I should’ve known that it was about time for another one but I had watched my mother’s doctors slowly wean her off of her anti-depressants the previous fall, much to my surprise. I expected the sky to fall, but she did fairly well. I was very hopeful, being that this was the first time in over two decades that my mother had been taken off of all psychological-related medication. I realized that my hopes were premature as we drove along.

How quickly a lovely morning turned dark and cold. I was calm now and silent. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t speak. I did not want to weather another storm. As we drove along, I did what I could to shift my thinking back to our day. I would undoubtedly worry about my mother. I would call her again before the day was over to try to persuade her to go to the hospital. But at this moment, I did what I could to swallow hard, wipe away the tears and return to my life.

I find it difficult to return to my life when I’m in the midst of a family crisis, yet it’s a vital necessity, nonetheless. It is the natural reaction of a caregiver to attempt to swoop in, take action, coordinate and organize a response to any given situation. But I’ve learned that I cannot fix my mother. I’ve tried many times to pick up her pieces. I finally knew that at that moment, I could do nothing. That realization is scary and uncomfortable. I struggled to normalize my thoughts and bring my mind back to the car in which I rode. I placed my hand on my boyfriend’s leg and laid my head on his shoulder. Within the hour I walked down the street, hand in hand with my boyfriend, once again feeling the sun on my face. I laughed at a joke and didn’t feel guilty. I smiled and did not reproach myself for doing it.

Finding ways to integrate chaotic situations into a newly calm life is difficult. I’m finding the more often I do it, however, the easier it gets.

March 28, 2008


I am furious with you.

You did something to me that was unspeakable. You did something that was wrong in every way imaginable. You were my sister. How could you violate my trust in that way?
The one and only time in my life that I had enough courage to speak to you of what you did, you dismissed my words with furious certainty. You lied, you said you hadn’t done a thing, you blamed me and you shamed me. You told me that if anyone heard that claim come from my mouth, they would know that I was a sick, disturbed little girl.

To cover up your greatest sin – you broke me. You made sure that I was broken down enough to blame myself. You made sure that your words had forced me to feel your guilt towards myself. It worked. Every effort you made to squash my strength as well as any possibility of me healing from what you did, paid off.

No more. I will no longer blame myself for the evil that lives within you. I have fed into your guilt, shame and pain for years. I am too beautiful of a person to be bogged down by the forces of a pedophile.

On top of everything, you openly express your anger towards me – me. I’ve lived with your mistakes for years, yet you think you have a reason to be angry with me. What world do you live on? We have the same genes, I’m sickened to say, yet I didn’t grow up to be sick and twisted like you, thank God. How did you become so out of touch with reality?

In your reality, you apparently have a right to be mad at the world. You parents got a divorce, you grew up with a chronically suicidal mother, your brother’s an alcoholic. Guess what? My parents got a divorce too, my mother was constantly threatening to off herself despite my constant pleas with her. My brother, who I spent years caring for, is hopelessly alcoholic as well. I’ve been through just as much as you have. And in the real reality of the world, I’ve been through much more than you have.

You are so self-centered. I truly wonder how my nephews came from you. I’m furious with you for being a terrible mother to my beautiful nephews. I’m infuriated that you’ve given them a life as tumultuous as ours was. In your life, it’s not about your children it’s about you. Are you comfortable, are you angry, are you getting what you want? Your self-absorption makes me sick. You’ve become much worse than our mother ever was.

And now you’re mad at me. It must be nice to throw caution to the wind and indulge in infantile emotions that are borne from your own guilt. You’re angry with me because I refuse to play the game any more. I’ve spent years participating in polite conversations with you, so as to not disturb our family members and primarily, my nephews. I’ve helped you raise my nephews, I’ve quieted my own disgust. I pushed my memories of your sin so far back into my consciousness that they would only surface at night, when I attempted to sleep. I can no longer do it. I will no longer pretend that you didn’t shatter a very important part of my innocence and trust. You were my sister. How could you do it? And how could you work so hard to make me believe that it was my fault? You’re angry with me because I will no longer pretend. I refuse. This refusal makes you feel guilty. Somewhere deep inside you, you know what you did. Having to face the smallest morsel of guilt makes you feel irate.

Stew in that anger, stew in that guilt. You no longer have a part in my life. I will do whatever is needed to keep the strongest possible link with my nephews but you no longer exist. I now classify you how I should have always classified you – as a sick, self-centered and sad creature. And I don’t allow sick, self-centered, sad creatures into my life.

December 27, 2007

My Brother II.

“Barry, you’re going to be home tonight, right? Okay…..I just ask because you know I can’t stay there overnight and Mom needs someone to be with her. Okay, thanks. Oh and Barry? Can you try to come straight from work if possible?....Sorry, I just mean so she’ll have someone with her. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m asking if you’d mind… Okay. Bye”

I hung up my cell phone. I sat in my mother’s hospital room, watching her hands twitch every so often. I now lived in Boston but flew back home to care for my mother after her surgery. I had brought her in for the surgery and eagerly waited for her to awaken. I looked at my watch. It’s been 9 hours since she was brought into the recovery room. “I don’t think you’ll be able to get her into the car yourself,” the nurse says to me. “Let’s wait a few more hours until she’s a bit more awake.” The doctors had told me that my mother should not be alone for the first 48 hours following her surgery. A few hours later I was assisting my mother out of the wheel chair and into the car. The nurse had shown me how to tend to her wounds, something that needed to be done every four hours.

I got my mother home, into the upright position she was to assume for the next few days and tried to get her to eat a little something. By this time it was already 11:00pm and no sign of my brother. I began to get nervous as I didn’t think I could spend the entire night at my mother’s house. I was very allergic to my mother’s dog and found it impossible to sleep in her house. I was now on my 20th hour awake and worried that my constant sneezing and coughing would wake my mother or worse – make her sick in some way.

My brother was now 31 years old. He lived with my mother, which is why I thought it would be easier for him to come home and look after her long enough for me to go back to my hotel to sleep for a few hours. As I feared, however, it was impossible to get my brother to come straight home from work. Without fail, each night my brother would take his spot on the barstool at his favorite bar. My brother’s self pity and ability to point the finger at all others in his life, made it possible for him to create his own, comfortable world. Throughout his teens, with the steadfast help of his beloved drink, he slowly and methodically built his own world around him. Either you were allowed into his world and had to live by his rules or you were exiled. I love my brother very much and did what I could to stay in his life. I stayed away from topics that angered him. I tried to show him as much love and support as I could and hoped that he would move past this self-indulgent phase. When he complained, I consoled. When he got into trouble, I bailed him out. I still saw that spark in him that had made me so proud to be his sister. I still saw the person I grew up with. My brother failed to graduate high school. He had one child who he no longer saw or supported. Throughout his 20s, he held down various positions as his alcoholism grew immeasurably. He slowly deteriorated. It became rare for me to see my brother sober by the time he’d turned 30.

By this time, I knew all too well how lost my brother was. I still hadn’t thought, however, that he wouldn’t be able to care for his mother after her surgery for one night. One night of no drinking. One night of coming home to the mother who’d allowed him to stay, rent-free, in her home. One night of lying beside her so I can get some sleep before returning to the house to care for her. It was 3:00 AM when my nose began to bleed. My body was reacting to hours of allergic reactions. I grabbed a pillow and went out to my car. It was the only way I could think of getting some relief. I set the alarm on my cell phone for two hours, so I could check on my mother. I held the tissues to my nose as one angry tear ran down my cheek. ‘This is not who he is,’ I thought. ‘I cannot have a brother like this.’

December 17, 2007

My Brother

When I was a young girl, I looked up to my brother. He was ten years older than I - enough of an age gap for him to feel like an authority figure to me. My brother was extremely intelligent. He had a naturally witty and in-depth view of the world, albeit usually cynical. He believed so strongly in his opinions and I admired that. Throughout my childhood, I was extremely close to my brother. He was the closest thing to a father figure that I had. He taught me how to play baseball and football. He would furrow his brow as he leaned over to adjust the positioning of the baseball bat in my hands. We stood in the street in front of our home, my brother pitching to me.

At times his temper would flare, as when I couldn’t catch on to a change he wanted me to make in my swing. But, for the most part, I truly liked these lessons. I enjoyed the attention he gave me. I enjoyed feeling the pride he had in me each time I’d crush the ball. I looked up to my brother. I was proud that he was my brother.

As he began high school, the volume of calls and visits to our home by his female classmates rose greatly. He was the guy that girls wanted to date; he was the guy that other guys wanted to be friends with. He was social, athletic, outgoing, often eloquent and his looks didn’t hurt his chances with the ladies either.

My brother had just turned sixteen the first time I remember him coming home drunk. I was in my bed when I heard my brother trying to make his way into the living room from the front porch. I could hear my mother call out to him from her own room, “Barry, is that you?” My brother tried to control the tone of his voice the best he could, “Yes, Mom. Goodnight.” A few seconds later, I heard a loud thud. “Barry!” my mother called from her room, “what was that?” “Uhhhh, I stepped on Emmy’s shoe,” my brother grunted. Soon, the sound of my brother’s staggering feet faded as he was finally able to make his way to his room. By the morning, my brother was back to being my brother. “Hey kiddo” he said to me while walking into the kitchen as I readied my cereal. He patted my head before grabbing the milk from the fridge. I didn’t really know what to think. I knew that drinking was bad, but at the age of six I really didn’t realize the dangerous road that my brother had started speeding down.

By the time I was nine, I had learned that my brother’s habits were damaging him. My brother’s temper slowly escalated. Our time together dwindled as he often spent most summer days in bed, recovering from his hangovers. My memory is drawn to one summer day in particular. I opened the front door to get the mail. Our family dog spotted a squirrel in our front yard and dashed past me before I could grab her. Our dog was rather large and weighed more than I did at this point. She dashed into our neighbor’s yard, racing after the squirrel while knocking over the neighbor’s potted plants. Our neighbor hated dogs and had seen our dog in his yard one too many times. He snapped. “Kid! You get that dog out of my yard right now or I swear to you I will shoot that dog dead! I’m sick of this!” I raced after the dog in his yard, but my efforts were fruitless. The dog was much faster and bigger than I. My neighbor retreated to his house while yelling, “That is it!” My eyes widened; I turned back and sprinted into my own home. I dashed into my brother’s bedroom, yelling, “Barry!”

My brother’s bedroom had the stench of alcohol-clogged pores, of beer soaked clothing. My brother was in his bed, motionless. I ran to him and shook his shoulder. “Barry! Help me! That crazy guy on the corner is going to shoot our dog! Barry?” I shook my brother’s shoulder again. He did not respond. The dark circles under his eyes accompanied by the pale skin of his face made him appear dead. “Barry?!” I lifted my hands from my brother’s shoulders and placed them on my mouth. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought. ‘He’s dead.’

My first, most prominent thought was wondering how I’d be able to tell my mother that her first born and only son was gone. I dropped to my knees. ‘Oh my God.’ ‘No, what am I going to do?’ The seconds felt like hours. Just then, my brother’s chest suddenly raised and he coughed. I stumbled to his bed side. “Barry?” My brother still would not wake, but now I could see his chest rise and fall. I lowered my ear to his mouth. I could barely hear his breathing, but it was there.

Little did I know, this would not be the first time I would fear the death of my brother at the hands of the alcohol he clung so tightly to.