I am working on a book I hope to have published soon.
Here is a small portion of what I’ve written so far:
Title: Know Hope
Subtitle: “Personal journey of battling addiction, suicidal ideation and attempts to finally finding hope”
Chapter 1 – Running
I placed my belongings into the trunk of that Chevy cavalier. Eighteen years on this earth and everything I owned fit right there in that small space. I still don’t know what drew me out west, maybe it was the promise of fortune or the idea of finally belonging, whatever it was wouldn’t let me rest. I had to go, even against all rationale. It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to the Great Smokey Mountains, I was certain they were the closest to heaven I may ever see. I had spent several months nestled within their beauty. They towered all around providing a sense of safety, offering a blanket of majestic haze and blinding snow. The air was crisp and clean and the people were lovely. I prayed I would get to visit there again someday.
P!nk’s “Just Like a Pill” was playing on the radio as I drove away. I took one long last look in the rear view mirror admiring the smoky silhouette until it disappeared out of sight; then I focused on the yellow and white lines, finding a sense of freedom within every mile. I took a detour when I hit Little Rock. I needed to see my mom and little brother. I needed to hug them once more and tell them how much I loved them. Driving away was harder than I thought it would be. They didn’t understand what drove me but they wished me well and waved goodbye as I pulled out of that gravel driveway. The same gravel driveway that scarred my knee as a child, I think Evel Knievel would have been proud of that bicycle stunt.
I remember watching the landscape change as I crossed each state. I had never seen the desert before but it was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. Stars spanned the horizon as far as I could see. I swear they were so close I could have touched them. Tucumcari was my first stop. I stopped at a Super 8 for the night and again felt a sense of strength and freedom… finally. Santa Rosa, Albuquerque, Gallup, Winslow, Flagstaff, Kingman… holy shit… I was actually doing it.
I made my new home in Upland, CA about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. I was surprised to see mountains there too. Though beautiful as well, they were nothing like the Great Smokey’s. They literally rose from the desert, rugged and bare in comparison. They towered above the smog as if they were desperately trying to gasp for air. I found my first job there waiting tables for Tom and Sandy at the Mt Baldy restaurant and quickly began to learn my way around. I met some incredible people and that mountain became a place of solace for me. I’d hike to the top regularly just as I would Mount Lee after I moved into the city. Mount Lee is home to the iconic Hollywood sign, I’d later find it a great place to go to scream.
I started commuting into the city for work. Someone suggested that I sign up with a casting agency and gave me the name and location of a company in Burbank. I quickly found out what a Thomas Guide was, this was looooong before GPS. I managed to find the building and a parking spot. The lot was several blocks away and was shared by railway transit commuters. After walking several blocks I finally found the casting agency. There were several people standing in line when I got there and I joined the herd. I handed them my driver’s license and went through the most awkward screening process ever; height, weight, nationality, fluent languages, special talents, measurements from head to toe, sizes, tattoos or markings, hair color, eyes… I think I learned more about my physical appearance that day than I had ever paid attention to before.
They took a photo of me and kept it on file and gave me a number to call to monitor casting calls. I called that number every day until I finally heard something I felt comfortable with. Finally, one day I heard “Looking for females and males who can pass as teenagers… show set in the 1960’s… prefer a natural mid-west look… dancing… etc”. I thought, hell I am from Oklahoma and I am pretty friggin’ natural, I love to dance, I don’t know a thing about the 1960’s but I do know someone who does. I called my grandma and she was thrilled. She gave me advice on what to wear, how to fix my hair and makeup, she knew ALL of the dances and walked me through the quickest crash course on pleats, skirts, sponge rollers, aerosol hairspray, eyes shadow, flats, blouse pins, Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline, the watusi, the mashed potato and the twist. I did everything she told me to and answered that call, shortly after I got a call letting me know that I was selected to be on that show.
The show was called American Dreams. It followed a family during some of the most profound moments of that era. The war in Vietnam, racism, feminism, cultural clashes, etc. The main character Meg was a Philadelphia teen who started dancing on Dick Clark’s famed show “American Bandstand”. I got to be an American Bandstand dancer for three seasons. The show was filmed on the Sunset Gower lot and was quite an impressive production. Those were some of the greatest days of my life; however, that lot is also associated with one of the most painful days of my life.
Hollywood was liberating. For once I felt like I belonged somewhere and I was surrounded by people who had the same big dreams and ambitions. People who had left home just as I did in pursuit of something, somewhere, a place of belonging. It was a bit of a cultural shock as well. While working on Gilmore Girls as an extra one day I met a girl named Allison, she was intriguing. We had been on the set at Warner Bros studios for well over twelve hours before she spoke to me. She told me I looked just like Mia Sara from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I could recall the movie but couldn’t remember what Mia looked like, I had to look her up after I got home. Anyway, Allison was from Dallas, TX. She had been all over the world and had modelled in Paris. She was strikingly beautiful so that did not surprise me. She was looking for a roommate and so was I. The city was too expensive to live in and a roommate was the ideal way to go, so we became roommates. I was from Oklahoma and she was from Texas, she was the closest to thing home I had known since moving there.
Allison turned out to be one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever met and I think she played a huge role in me finding my own voice. We ended up finding an apartment in Studio City off of Vineland and Ventura. Her mother Virginia and father Arnold flew out there to help us get settled. I thought that was so very kind of them. We secured an apartment on the second floor at 4151 Arch Drive, Studio City CA. I absolutely could not believe that I was finally, after years of dreaming, living in Los Angeles. Screw everyone who said I couldn’t.
Allison was an amazing roommate, friend and pillar of strength. She was opinionated, driven, brave, sensitive and hilarious. I mentioned cultural shock earlier and one of the funniest memories I have relating to that shock is with Allison. She had been working on posters all day for a protest in downtown Los Angeles in relation to the Gore vs. Bush election. She asked me if I would drop her off and pick her up when it was over, to which I agreed. When we got down there I felt a sense of panic and I watched people from both sides taking their stance but it wasn’t out of control… yet. She assured me that she would be ok and would call me when it was over.
I hadn’t been gone long when I received a call from Allison asking me to please come back to get her. The S.W.A.T. team had moved in wearing full body armor and were threatening to arrest them, they had even sprayed tear gas pushing her group back. I could not believe what was happening and hurried back to pick her up. Up until that moment I am not sure I had ever developed a solid opinion on a damn thing, yet there she was standing for what she believed in. I respected and admired her for that, I would one day do the same.
Chapter 2 – Early Years
I was born and raised in a small town in southeast Oklahoma. I came from humble beginnings. My mother was only fifteen years old when I was conceived. Her pregnancy was a difficult one, though I never knew just how difficult it had been until I got older. I came into this world on July 1, 1982, weighing only three pounds, four ounces with a collapsed lung and a slim chance of survival. My mother said it felt like a nightmare. She remembers the hospital staff telling her that she needed to see me before they took me away to an awaiting helicopter because she may never see me alive again. The hospital did not have adequate resources to keep me alive so they transferred me to Oklahoma City. She said she screamed in agony as she heard the helicopter lift from the helipad taking me away. All the while my father stayed right by her side. He was barely a man himself at just eighteen years old.
I was released from a neonatal intensive care unit when I was two months old. My parents worked diligently to try and prepare for my arrival while occasionally borrowing a ride into the city so they could see me. I love listening to my mom’s stories of those times. Things were much different than they are now. They did not have enough money to stay in a hotel when they would visit me and the hospital did not have a place for them to stay, she said they would try to get by with sleeping in the waiting room after visiting hours but would almost always be made to leave.
One night after being forced to leave the hospital, my young parents drove around Oklahoma City looking for a place to stay. Someone had given them the name and address of a Catholic charity home and they decided to go there. They found a place to park the car they had borrowed and walked to the front door. Mom said a very stern looking woman wearing a complete nun’s wardrobe answered the door and asked what they needed? After explaining their situation the lady invited them in and agreed to let them stay for the night; however, mom was to sleep upstairs with her and the other nuns and dad was to sleep downstairs (somewhere my mother never saw) with the men. She said she was scared to death as she laid in bed that night surrounded by strange women snoring and imagined dad must have felt the same way wherever he was. She said when she finally saw him the next morning and asked how he slept he responded with “let’s get the hell out of here”.
By the time I was strong enough to come home my parents had managed to get an apartment and jobs. My mother quit school and began working for the chicken hatchery which later became Tyson’s Food and my father got a job working for a local tire shop. I still wonder how they did it, they were two babies raising a baby and even though it was evident that they were crazy about one another, I imagine the added stress took a toll on their relationship. They were only married a short time but remained friends and did the best they could to raise me.
I spent the first few years of my life going back and forth between their two homes. Though this wasn’t an ideal situation, I always felt so safe and loved when I was with him. They both dated other people in the years that followed. Some of those people I liked and still keep in touch with today and some I wish I could forget. My mom remarried when I was seven years old, the very same year that ripped our world apart.
It was a typical humid summer evening, yet my mother told me later that she never could get warm that night. She was absolutely freezing, so much so that she got up and put on her flannel pajamas. It was May. As she lay shivering in her room several feet away I remember crying myself to sleep, everything just felt so unbalanced, it must have felt the same way for him that night as he battled his own demons in that small apartment across town. What I wouldn’t give to have been able to find each other in that moment and change everything.
Within a few hours, on May 9, 1990, our lives took an abrupt and devastating turn. Life as we knew it was forever changed. I woke to my mother screaming and crying hysterically. She was on the phone, and whatever the person on the other end was saying was not good. I walked into her room and saw my step-dad wrestling my mother trying desperately to console her. When he noticed me, he looked at me with sheer panic. They sat me on the couch and began to tell me words that branded themselves into my heart and mind forever. My father was gone. Though I did not know the details for some time, he had taken his life a few hours earlier.
My mother told me that I didn’t have to go to school that day, she said I could stay at home with them. I asked her to please take me to school. I could not process it all. I was seven years old and in the second grade. The world seemed to be spinning too fast around me, and I just wanted to wake up from the nightmare. Perhaps I thought going on with my regular routine would bring back some normalcy or that he would return. I remember sitting at my desk in Mrs. Hannah’s class when it began to sink in. I could not focus on anything going on around me, but knew I had to let it out. I walked up to Mrs. Hannah’s desk twice. The first time she hastily told me to “go have a seat.” The second time I found the courage to utter the words, “My dad died last night.” I had never seen the soft side of Mrs. Hannah before, but she scooped me up in her arms and cried like a baby right there with me in the middle of class. She took me and my class to our first track meet that afternoon and I ran as fast as I could around that dirt track. I ran so fast that it hurt.
The next few days weren’t much better. Mom placed me in a pretty dress and took me to the funeral home. I was too short to reach the book, so she picked me up so I could sign my name. I remember blurs of conversation of them trying to prepare me “Babe, he will not look the same . . . shell . . . heaven . . . not him.” They were right. He didn’t look the same. It was evident that someone had tried to reconstruct his beautiful face and that they worked hard to give us as much ease as possible by trying to recreate his signature grin, but nothing was funny about this. Nothing.
His funeral was held in a little church just down the road from the house where he lived; the same little house that carried such sweet memories. One of my favorite memories is of him and I lying in bed one morning, I was startled awake by a rather obnoxious sound outside of the window. I said “Dad, why is that rooster doing that!?” He said, “Baby, when the sun comes up, they think the rest of us should be up too!” I still think of that conversation every time I hear a rooster crow. The little church was also the same church in which my mother and father were married. So many people came to his funeral to pay their respects, that it was a standing service only with people lined up outside waiting for their opportunity to come inside. He was so loved.
After the funeral, my Grandmother took my hand in hers and walked with me down the gravel road that led to the cemetery behind the church. The road seemed so long back then, but when looking at it today, it really is not. I can still remember the sound the gravel made as it crunched under my feet, and how the rain felt as it began to fall lightly upon my face. At the graveside, the tiny hand my grandmother had been holding was replaced with a single long stem red rose, and I was told to release it into the grave. I did as I was told and let it go; I watched it fall into the ground and land on the casket where my father lay. That day changed the lives of all who knew him. It has taken many years for me to process his loss, but even now I find myself asking the same questions over and over again; the biggest question: Why?
Chapter 3 – Haze
The years that followed were truly that, a haze. Nothing looked the same anymore. I can remember being on the playground watching all of the other kids playing around me and feeling like I was stuck somewhere between the hands of time. It was a place that held enormous gravity, like quicksand, and it prevented me from being able to move about freely like they did. The sun was still shining, laughter and conversation filled the air, the birds were still singing their sweet harmony, but my heart and my lungs struggled to keep the same natural rhythm. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t find my place in all of it.
Third grade was the first time I had seen many of my classmates since that day in Mrs. Hannah’s class. I had mixed emotions going in. Would they remember the girl who lost it in class that day? What if they did? What if they asked me about it? Our new teacher was Mrs. Jobe, she was an absolutely amazing soul who was energetic and passionate about teaching. She had just moved to Broken Bow from another district so I suspected she didn’t know anything about the end of last year. I was relieved. It felt like a fresh new start. There was also a new girl in class that year. Her name was Saeresa. I remember the popular girls fighting over who was going to make her their new best friend. I didn’t have the energy to join the fight. Honestly I didn’t even care until the sweetest little voice greeted me and sat beside me one day. It was Saeresa and she wanted to be my friend. I was certain she must have been an angel.
She will never know what a saving grace she was to me even though I continue to tell her to this day. I cannot think of a single childhood memory that doesn’t involve her somehow. We were always together. Her dad, Randy, was a police officer and her mother, Jackie, worked at a grocery store in town. They welcomed me as one of their own from day one. They lived in a little house about five miles west of town. Like mine, their house wasn’t much, but it was a home. It had a wood stove in the living room that we used during the winter to keep warm and a large chicken pen out back. Saeresa and I got chased all over that damn chicken pen when her grandpa would send us out to feed, he would wait until we were nice and deep in chicken shit then lock us in and laugh hysterically as we became free entertainment. The chickens shared a pen with several geese and it would piss them off every time we would go in there. They would start honking just as loud as we would be screaming! That place also had the greatest trails and a giant creek just beyond the chicken pen. Saeresa and I would spend hours out there pretending to be pioneers, building forts, catching crawdads, climbing trees, smoking our first cigarette which we snuck out of her parents Marlboro carton. We would talk about life and try to imagine what we would be when we grew up. She was and is the type of friend everyone should have.
Saeresa’s dad became the dad that I needed. He took us hunting, fishing, showed us how to skin a deer, took us camping, sang “A Boy Named Sue” at the top of his lungs as we blew down those dusty old Oklahoma backroads. He was an amazing man, one that I will always be grateful for. When I was thirteen he led me into the police department, as he often did when we were with him and he was on duty. This trip was different though. Randy had a somber look on his face and tears in his eyes. He said, “Jess, I want to give you the opportunity to look at something. I realize this is going to be a double edge sword either way but I know you so desperately want answers regarding your dad and the way he died. I don’t want you to feel pressured in any way. You absolutely do not have to look at anything but I want to give you the opportunity to choose. If I can help you in any way, I will do that, even if it means risking my job”. He had my dad’s file in front of him. I don’t think I took a single breath throughout that conversation but I remember reaching for the file as if I were dying of thirst and it were the last glass of water on this planet… I needed to know. God I needed to know.
He was right. It was a double edged sword. Dad was found near a doorway in a small room at Pines Apartments, the cause of death was ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I still cry as I write that and he has been gone almost twenty seven years. I cry because I wish I could turn back the hands of time and wrap around him in that moment. I cry because I remember the people standing outside waiting to get in to pay their respect at his funeral knowing that they would have wrapped around him too, I cry because he was so loved, because he should be here, because I wish his grandson could experience what an amazing man he was. I cry because I’ll never know what was going through his mind, what was eating at his heart, the lies his mind was telling him. I can only assume through my own experiences.
Chapter 4 – Then There Were Two
I’ve always heard that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. I was familiar with loss, so much had already been taken away in my eight years on this earth. But God did start giving back. Not only did he bring Saeresa into my life, he also sent another blessing that same year. Mom was happier than I had seen her in a long time and that beautiful smile returned to her face. I soon found out why, she sat me down one day and said she had exciting news. I was going to be a big sister and the baby’s due date was July 1, 1991, which was also my ninth birthday.
What does it feel like to lose a loved one to suicide? It feels like your entire world has just been ripped apart by a tsunami. It crashes through without warning and sweeps away everything that you once knew, it rearranges the very foundation under your feet, it takes people with it, it tears apart homes and it leaves you with far more questions than answers. You find yourself grasping at anything within reach, something solid enough to hang on to and pray your own weight doesn’t become too much of a burden. When the tide recedes as if nothing happened, you are left standing, or laying right where it left you. You don’t understand how the birds can possibly be singing again, how the sun can dare to shine or how life can even begin to return to any sort of normalcy. But it does. Though you are certain the world stopped spinning on its axis in that split second everything changed, it continues to turn even as you are left looking for pieces and fragments of anything it may have left behind. It changes everything.
Many people that I know are walking through the loss of a loved one to suicide right now and my heart aches for them. Sometimes there just aren’t words for moments like that nor are they necessary. Do not be afraid to reach out to those left behind after a loss, they don’t need or expect you to have all of the answers either. Just let them know you are there, to sit with them in silence, to help them sort through the debris, to fix them a meal and remind them to eat, to embrace them when they cry and/or when they get angry, throw rocks with them. I have a dear friend who lost his partner a few years ago and the thing that stood out to him the most from that night was the officer who embraced him and helped him through all of the additional stress that followed. We all need people like that.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call: