Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Former Daddy's Girl

I do the same thing every Father’s Day. I wake up. I thank God for my grandfather. I reflect and think about the many times my grandfather was there for me when my own father abandoned me physically, emotionally, and financially. I make no phone calls to wish my father a Happy Father’s Day. I turn on my music and I mourn for the ten year old Nicole. I think about what her life would have been like had he made better choices. I cry a little and think about the day she stopped being a Daddy’s Girl.

I cannot pretend that I have no good memories. I can’t say that my father was never there because he was there-in the beginning. I have memories of being carried on his shoulders and feeling like I could do no wrong in his eyes. I was that girl--the one who had her father wrapped around her fingers. I spent the first ten years of my life as a Daddy’s Girl. There’s nothing sadder than being a former Daddy’s Girl. They say you don’t miss what you’ve never had, but what do you do when you’ve had it and then had it stripped away? How do you process the wonderful memories of being loved with those of abandonment?

At the beginning of every semester I ask my students to write a narrative--a story about an event that has caused them to change their view of themselves or the world around them. I usually tell them about how I learned the value of an education in my grandmother’s beauty shop. While the story is a true one, it is not the real story. The real story is that my life was forever changed the day I stopped being a Daddy’s Girl.

Growing up the child of a single parent teacher you learn many things--namely, that summers are not the same for you. While other kids dream of summer days playing in the sun, going swimming, and not having school, you learn that summer means hard times. At ten I understood that when Mommy didn’t put money in escrow, we would have nothing. We’d spend our summer depending on the kindness of my grandparents who lived downstairs. Summer meant no birthday parties or presents. In the summer you got IOUs for everything, including back-to-school clothes and supplies.

I was blessed because my grandmother was always willing to lend out the Stix or Famous Barr charge card, but this year I didn’t want to ask her. My parents had been living separately, but I would see him often and I decided to ask my father if he would take us school clothes shopping. To my surprise he said yes. He said he’d pick me up Saturday morning. I got dressed and stood by the door. My mother knew the truth, but didn’t say anything.

Saturday morning turned into Saturday afternoon. I got a chair and sat by the door. I peeked out every few minutes knowing that my father would come walking up the stairs to pick me up. He knew it was important. School was important and I needed school supplies and clothes. The afternoon turned to evening and my mother tried to get me to give up the idea.

“Nicole, he’s not coming,” she said.

I didn’t believe her because he told me he would be there. He hadn’t called to say he wasn’t coming. Saturday evening turned to dark and I still waited. I wasn’t thinking that the stores had long closed. I decided to get my pillow and blanket and sleep by the door because if my father said he would do something, surely he would.

I don’t remember what happened the next day. I am sure I got a call, one of many explaining or trying to explain why he hadn’t come through when he promised he would. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the first of many disappointments. I would have years of countless disappointments and hurt: Failure to show up, failure to pay child support. Many years of tracking him down and getting his checks garnished, only to learn that he quit a job so he wouldn’t have to pay. He’d call sporadically even asking me to talk to my mother and ask her to stop having his checks garnished. He’d explain to me that he had a wife and a new daughter that he had to support.

Slowly the veil would be lifted, and the man I loved so much as a little girl became a stranger to me. I didn’t know him and I no longer had expectations because they would be dashed. I had to stop allowing myself to get hurt. I no longer allowed myself to believe in him.

While he is still here physically, he is forever lost to me--- I lost him that day. My world was forever changed that day--the day I discovered that people who are supposed to protect you and love you can hurt you deeply. I lost a little of myself the day I stopped being a Daddy’s Girl.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Imagine Me-- Revisited

Imagine me, loving what I see when the mirror looks at me, cause I imagine me in a place with no insecurities and I’m finally happy because I imagine me. Letting go of all of the ones who hurt me cause they never did deserve me. . . Kirk Franklin, "Imagine Me"

June 2008 was spent crying in a corner cubicle in the Forest Park Library. My routine was the same: Get up, pack my Barbri books, limp to the campus library, put on my music, and sob uncontrollably. I sang. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I hit replay. I repeated the words over and over again. I repeated, but didn’t believe. I sang the words, tears streaming, hoping the words would seep deep in to my broken spirit. Gone. Gone. All gone. I didn’t believe the physical and emotional pain, the feelings of low self esteem, transferred disappoints and hurts, would ever leave. My wounds were raw, open, and healing seemed so far away. The July bar exam was a month away and I was dealing with a terrible breakup, wisdom tooth pain, and unbeknown to me, a broken foot. The summer of 2008 taught me valuable lessons about life.

I learned:

That love is not enough. Sometimes people fall out of love and there is no use in hashing and rehashing what you did, what you said, how you could have been better. Love seems to always end at the most inopportune times. Inopportune, because when you’re the one getting dumped, the time is never right. People can be mean and selfish. A breakup is a selfish act. There’s nothing wrong, but the person is taking care of themselves. They want to be free, and you must let go. You have to be selfish in taking care of yourself by not trying to find the answer if there is no clear one.

I learned:

That in a world of doubt, my mother has, and will continue to be my constant supporter. When I went to her and told her I wanted to sit out the exam for a second time, she said four simple words, “You can do it.” My mother believed in me when I didn’t. In a summer full of people questioning whether or not I was meant to be a lawyer, if I had what it took to pass the bar exam, or even, after having dealt with an ugly breakup, if I was mentally ready to tackle such a huge task. I have since appreciated my mother more. I no longer take her for granted, and I am forever indebted to her for her faith in me when I had none.

I learned:

With help from others that when you continue to do the same things over and over again, and you don’t like the results, do something different. You can’t change your life instantly, but you can slowly make small changes that, in time, change the course of your life. I began with my approach to the exam. I didn’t make outlines and I didn’t spend three months studying. I made up a 30 day study plan. I began each session by writing. "I will pass the exam!" on a sheet of paper. I then taped the paper on the cubicle. Every time I looked up, I saw the phrase. I had to teach myself to believe in me. I memorized the Conviser verbatim in the morning, and took practice MBEs and essays in the evenings at the library. I didn’t study at home. When I was done on campus, I left the bar behind. I would tell anyone that the bar is less about what you know, and more about how you take the test. Everyone’s approach is different and you have to figure out what works best for you.

I learned:

To really trust in God. As a child I was raised in a Christian home, and the idea was simple in theory, but that summer really forced me to look deep into my soul for faith and trust in God. It’s easy to have faith in God when things are going exactly as you want them. It is during the challenges—during life’s darkest and most difficult moments that you must hold on. I was a child in the dark--holding and grasping on to anything: scriptures, sermons, healing songs over and over again until the thoughts penetrated my soul. I imagined me whole in who I was-- license or not. I imagined me happy with who God made me, experiences and all, and most importantly I imagined me loving myself completely, flaws and all.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Concrete Jungle, Dreams, and a New State of Mind


"My biggest influences are strong creative women that charter their own path, lead their own lives, and charter the course of history.” Rachel Roy


It’s past three o’clock in the morning. My sister and friend are both passed out, and I am sitting in my hotel room marveling at the day I had. So, I got to meet my favorite actress (Kate Walsh) and I FINALLY made it to NYC.

“They’re waiting outside because she’s famous. . .” I heard a lady say as I waited –camera in hand--outside The Atlantic Theater Company. Had I traveled to New York City to meet someone famous? Did I drag my friend and sister to a play that they had no interest in because I simply wanted to meet a celebrity? I spent eight summers throughout high school and college working in theater. Many of my favorite childhood actors and actresses did summer stock at the theater, and I never clamored for an autograph or a picture because that was never and has never been me. Why had I come to New York? Quite simply, something had changed, and ironically I owe a little of it to Twitter. The past months I’ve been reading about people living their lives, pursuing their dreams, and it hit me like a ton of bricks---Live life, don’t be afraid, and if there’s something you want--- go after it.

A self-professed scaredy-cat of just about everything (planes, dogs, cats, highways), I have always envied people who take risks, go after their dreams, and stay true to their convictions even when it’s difficult. Today and the past few months have been all about doing something new, taking risks, and doing what I want do. So much of my life has been about playing it safe, doing the rational thing, and not stepping outside of the box. To make a long story short, my admiration for Shonda Rhimes, her character Addison Montgomery, and inevitably my admiration for Kate Walsh, the actress, had brought me to this incredible night. So, slowly, but surely I’ve been making a conscious effort to go after the things I want in life. I no longer want to be on the sidelines watching people “do”.

Kate Walsh is an amazing actress--plain and simple, but I--and thousands of other people --okay, call us what we are, fans or Walshies-- have discovered she's an amazing person (or rather, her persona appears to be that unique blend of confidence, intellect, down to earthness, and more importantly for me, fearless in her pursuit of her dreams). I loved her on Grey’s and her work Private Practice this season has blown me away. Her ability to convey emotions with just a simple glance is amazing. She’s an artist with a natural ability. In actuality—she was the reason I even joined Twitter. Her tweets had confirmed what I already knew. She’s amazingly talented, smart, funny, and humble. Not everyone rocks killer outfits and shoes, possesses a quick wit, uses words like pontificate and behemoth effortlessly, and tweets about toe fungus. Kate Walsh does—and that makes her a rarity among stars. Earlier this year I said that it would be great if I ever got a chance to see her on stage, but knew that with her grueling schedule of taping a tv show, the opportunity to see her would be in the distant future. When I heard she’d be on stage, I decided that I had to go. It was a chance of a lifetime and I was not going to miss it.

As I approached the theater, I thought I’d be more nervous, but I was not. It was a pretty building— the doors are painted bright red and white. It looked like an old warehouse. I learned later that the theater is in the middle of a meat packing district. Oddly, I don't know what I expected. The red and white building, with open windows, and horizontal white blinds gives outsiders a small glimpse of the inside. Kate Walsh was in the building, I thought to myself, and I was a mere hour away from seeing her in person. I knew I was about to experience something amazing.

We arrived early to pick up our tickets and to take pictures outside. We picked up our tickets and decided to walk around the neighborhood until the theater opened. As we walked, my sister and friend began to smell the infamous New York City air—a mixture of sewage and late evening musk . As they gagged, I walked, all smiles, around the city. I hadn't noticed the smell, because my mind was filled with thoughts about the play, Kate, and the ultimate question of whether or not I’d be able to see her in person.

My hopes of trying to get a picture were crushed by an earlier tweet from Kate: On the taxi ride to the theater I saw that she apologized to fans for not getting the chance to meet her. I wondered if that meant she wouldn’t be meeting people that night. I quickly texted my fellow KW supporters for their advice. I was disappointed and began to prepare myself mentally that I may not have the opportunity to see her after the play.

When we walked back, we were the first at the theater. As we waited, I took pictures of the marquee to calm my nerves. We were a good thirty minutes before the show. I wanted to go in, get my seat, and just take it all in. Was I really in the same building as my favorite actress? As I walked up the steps my mind went all ‘crazy fan thoughts’ (I am walking up the same steps Kate Walsh uses, I am in the same building as Kate Walsh, in thirty minutes I am going to see Kate Walsh in person).

I glanced at the various black and white pictures on the wall. Some I recognized (the girl from Glee, and William H. Macy –the Atlantic’s co-founder), most I did not, but my mind was squarely on Kate Walsh. Upon entering the surprisingly small theater, we were told to turn off our cell phones. How I wanted to tweet or FB “I am in fucking the theater!!!” but alas I turned off my phone. The lights went dim and I went in half-expecting Addison Montgomery, but two minutes into the play , I was watching Molly. Yes, it was Kate Wash: tall, pretty, Addison voice, and her infamous red hair, but the character was vastly different from Addison Montgomery.

Without giving away the plot—Kate was everything and more. Molly is less stylish and less confident than Addison Montgomery, and Kate’s work in conveying her flaws is superb. Even my sister and friend—who didn’t like the play as much as I did, praised her acting. After the play my friend was tired. She, herself a KW fan was worn out and had forgone the idea of getting a picture. I thought about my friends at IAOPP (International Addicts of Private Practice) and the many people who didn’t have the opportunity to see the play, and stayed. I—and others waited for the chance opportunity of seeing Kate in person. My friend had given me her playbook and I was on a mission to get an autograph for me and my friend, but I couldn’t find a pen.

I HAD flown hundreds of miles and drove up three states to get an autograph and I DIDN’T HAVE A FREAKIN PEN. I panicked. I had changed into my new Fendi bag in an effort to look ultra chic, yet I did not think to add a pen. My friend finally found an ink pen, but everyone else had MARKERS to write on the glossy playbill. I decided it didn’t matter, somehow I’d get an autograph. I immediately spotted her as she walked down the stars and outside. I half expected a huge smile and the signature red hair down, but her hair was pulled back and she looked very serious and tired. I hear people say this all the time, but Kate Walsh was absolutely stunning in person. Her skin was flawless and she didn't look a day over 25. I expected her to be pretty, but even with her hair pulled back and minimal make up--she was gorgeous.

Kate walked straight out the door, then produced her "Addison" smirk as if to say, “Here I am." Two girls to the left of me immediately flashed a camera in her face and asked for a picture. While she declined because she said she was sweaty, she graciously stated she would sign autographs. Again, I am not aggressive in those type of situations, and I didn’t know how to give her my book. My sister, like a parent watching their child in a sporting event, stood on the sidelines encouraging me. When everyone around me was getting autographs, I started to lose faith. I glanced at my sister, eyes big, and feeling a little defeated. She shouted "Nicole!!" and gave me the “Girl you didn’t drag me hundreds of miles to New York City--GET YOUR AUTOGRAPH" look and pointed to Kate. I handed Kate two playbills-but could not make eye contact. She was busy signing autographs, and I—who has always been described by anyone who knows me as a talker---could only utter three words: "You were amazing." I thought I whispered it, but she heard me and said a very gracious "Thaaank you." I wanted to say more--to share what a true inspiration she has been to me, but couldn't. So, I “met” Kate Walsh, and I use the term broadly.

All and all it was an amazing night. Sometimes people describe events like this as being surreal. It was not. I was in the moment, feeling the excitement, joy, and happiness. I began the evening wanting to see and meet Kate Walsh, but amazingly I had met the new "me" in the concrete jungle of NYC. I was a do-er, I was Ellen Nicole: Dream seeker, confident, and possessing a new state of mind.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Helping Grandpa

The smell of urine, thinly masked by ammonia and bleach, assaulted me every time I entered the building. I hated going, but I had to. I didn’t want to see him, or rather the shell he had become. I had done it before in 1995 when I would lose the person closest to me. Before, I had time to prepare. An infection, a bruised leg, gangrene, lost of a limb, and a slow decline into senility had taken ten years, and by the end I was prepared. I had time and months away at college to cushion the blow of my grandmother’s death. This time was different. 2006 began with me celebrating my hero and constant supporter‘s 90th birthday with hope and triumph. It would end with me helping him through his toughest battle and ultimate loss—an inoperable brain tumor. The man whom I depended on for strength and support throughout most of my life would need me to be his pillar that year. At a time when I didn’t think it was possible, I had given my grandfather what he had given me throughout my life: love, support, and courage.


Most of my life was spent living next door to my grandparents. My parents, my twin sister, and I occupied the top of a two family flat, with my grandmother and grandfather living downstairs. Being a twin makes one crave for undivided attention, and I found my solace at my grandparent’s house. Nana was the only one who truly understood me. Whenever I’d get in trouble, I’d run down stairs into my protector’s arms. “Irene, don’t get her this time. I’ll talk to her,” was my grandmother’s constant plea to my mother. Nana was my savior and Grandpa was her quiet, often scary, other half. When my father abruptly left when I was 12, my grandfather silently took over the role.

It wasn’t until after my grandmother’s death that I’d gotten to know Joseph McNeely. While I had heard stories of the pervasive racism he faced in Arkansas, the loss of his mother at 14, the profound effect the depression had on his psyche, and his subsequent closeness to his own grandmother (the daughter of a slave owner and a slave), it wasn’t until after my grandmother’s death that he began to tell me the stories. Franklin Roosevelt, geometry, Duke Ellington, and his trips to Egypt and India were among his favorite conversation pieces. Despite his only having a tenth grade education, he bragged about having put all three of his children through college. Honor, the importance of an education, and the value of a dollar were some of the many lessons I learned under the tutelage of my grandfather.

At 6ft5 my grandfather always stood tall. A carpenter by trade, there was nothing he could no t fix. A broken window, a leaky drain, or a squeaky door, he was always the go to man. Strikingly handsome, yet peculiarly unaware of his looks; he had admirers even in his eighties. Grandpa, who exercised regularly and not only ate an apple a day, but an apple and an orange, would live to be a 100 I naively told myself. His father, who  lived to be 96, died of lung cancer. Grandpa didn’t smoke, so that clearly meant he’d live long enough to have Willard Scott post his picture one early morning. He had lived by himself 90 years with only one previous stay in the hospital at 88. That all changed Easter Sunday 2006.

At dinner, Grandpa couldn’t feel his arm. He was having a hard time using his fork. I hadn’t thought about the brain tumor he had had two years prior. His numb arm was followed by numb legs. Within two months he was unable to walk and had lost full function of his right side. In June we learned that the tumor was back, and this time it had grown faster and bigger than before. My grandfather was dying.

The rapid decline of my grandfather produced many challenges--the biggest-- pretending to be strong. His brain tumor changed his personality dramatically. The once stoic, emotionless man was now prone to emotional outbursts and crying. While it frightened me to see his vulnerability, I never let him see my fear. A reassuring smile, a gentle rub on the back, a light kiss on the cheek-life’s simple gestures, became the foundation of support that helped him in the twilight of his life. My grandfather lost his battle on October 21, 2006.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Doing One Thing Different

So, I've been challenged. In fact, I had what felt like an intervention on Friday night. I had a great time. What I thought was going to be a simple evening out with a long lost sorority sister ended up being the cap of an epiphany filled week of revelations, gratitute, and appreciation. Basically: I'm a hermit and I need to get out more. Not only am I a hermit, but I'm working with some phobias that need to be addressed. So, in keeping with a promise to myself made long ago (when I was studying for the dreaded bar exam), I am doing exactly what I planned to do this summer: GETING OUT AND ENJOYING LIFE.

MISSION #1: Attend a cultural event by myself. :) I'm not stating what event or where until afterwards, but I will most definitely post the experience.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Slowly, Surely

I was sifting through the net (surprise surprise), and Jill Scott's Slowly Surely was playing. I feel so totally removed from this song. There were many days that I could totally relate to this song. So much for my resolve to not talk about music, but I love music... Anyway, I find myself singing a slightly different version of the song. :)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Happiness

Happiness
noun
1. state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy [ant: unhappiness]
2. emotions experienced when in a state of well-being [ant: sadness]


Is it possible to be any happier? I'm almost afraid to read my past posts. I may, in time. It's really amazing how one simple change/choice can affect every single aspect of ones life.