How about a sneak preview?!
In real time, I’m on the final full day of my cruise. Hopefully I’m on the pool deck with a drink in my hand and not a care in the world. Reality, it’s 4:26am on the Tuesday prior and I’m sitting here deciding to set up a auto-publish post.
It’s been a good while since I’ve posted a sneak preview of my book You’re Doing It Wrong. I was originally hoping to get it published this past May but I hit a roadblock with writing and then decided I wanted to try to get it REALLY published.
I’ve yet to hear back from many of the agencies I submitted to but I’m holding out hope.
For now, I’ve decided to release to you, this sample chapter.
This is always a scary thing to do but I figured I’d schedule it to go live when I had no access to the internet to second-guess me decision to share.
That all said- welcome to another chapter of “You’re Doing It Wrong”
This hasn’t been edited or proof-read. Ya’ll are the first to read this besides me.
Where were you?
That’s always the question isn’t it, when something major has happened in the world? Where were you when it happened?
For most of the events that occurred in my early life, I don’t quite remember all the details but I remember the events and the impact they had on the world. The Oklahoma City bombing. Princess Diana’s death. The Columbine High School shooting. OJ Simpson.
Granted, I don’t remember much about OJ Simpson other than I was at a friend’s house when his brother came running outside where we were playing and screamed, “The Juice is running!” which, to me, was odd because juice belongs in the fridge.
From there, I remember we were all obsessed with a white Bronco for a while and I know that for some reason OJ Simpson is now the reason why we have Kardashians. My aunt Darlene’s husband was obsessed with the case and for the summer we lived with them that’s all we would hear about for months right up until the verdict was read on October 3, 1995.
For most of my early adult life, that big question revolved around the September 11th terrorist attacks and it’s still a point of conversation today. Not too long ago I was discussing that day with a friend.
I first learned about the attacks when I walked into my history class that morning. I had been in my Project Adventure class first period and had been outside when the first plane struck the towers. When I entered the room for my second period and saw the smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center on the TV my first, out loud, reaction was, “cool, we’re watching a movie today!”
Ignorance is bliss.
I was quickly filled into on what was happening and we spent the remainder of the period sitting in shocked silence as the second plane struck and the two towers inevitably fell. The rest of the day was spent shuffling between classes simply to sit and watch the news. I remember my math teacher attempting to hold routine and told us that she’d leave the TV on but muted and we would have our lesson.
That didn’t happen.
During lunch, TV carts were rolled into the cafeterias and we continued to watch as rescue efforts slowly began, news of the crash in Philadelphia and the crash at the Pentagon.
I went to work that afternoon and spent every free minute in the meat department where they had a radio playing the news. I remember one of my co-workers who had just moved to town from New York having to leave because she was so upset. Her face as she walked down one of the aisles after clocking out is something I won’t forget.
That whole day is one I won’t forget as long as I live.
When it came to the September 11th terror attacks, I felt the same pain, fear, loss and heatache that swept the country. At the same time, I felt a disconnect. At the time, New York City was a place I have never been to and it only existed to me in TV shows and movies. To this day I have still never been to Washington DC outside of the airports and I shared no connection to anyone on the flights leaving Boston. I was safe in my world, in my bubble.
But then that bubble burst.
Monday April 14, 2013 was just another day for me. I was working as a box office supervisor for the Aquarium in Boston and the day was anticipated to be a slow on account of the marathon taking place across town and sure enough, it was.
The morning went by at a glacial pace but the city was alive with the energy of the day’s events. You could feel the excitement in the air. At this time I wasn’t one for running for fun, much less running 26 miles so I didn’t put too much thought into the event. That’s not to say I wasn’t supporting my friends who were out there running their nipples raw but it wasn’t for me.
When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line, I was down in the box office chatting with the cashiers. There were no visitors in sight and we were cracking jokes and discussing tales of crazy customers and whatever else came to mind.
Mark, a supervisor from another department called me on the radio and requested my location. He showed up outside the ticket booth almost instantly and motioned for me to join him outside. I was still laughing when I exited the booth to see what he needed.
“There was a bombing at the marathon finish line,” he said once the door was shut and we were out of earshot of the cashiers.
The smile left my face. I could feel my heart drop and the blood seemed to leave my body. I could feel it leaving. I felt blank.
All at once a million questions came running through my mind. The aquarium had a team running the marathon and we had friends at the finish line. The blank feeling was quickly replaced by pure dread, terror and panic. All feelings I couldn’t have in that moment because I was the one that had to turn around and let my staff know what was going on. I had to be calm for them.
Shortly after the news of the bombing broke the decision was made to close the aquarium. This involved having to clear the building and offering refunds to upset and confused visitors.
My co-supervisor helped with refunds in the main building while I went across the plaza to our IMAX theatre. I had to announce to the entire theatre what was going on. I kept my voice steady but my hands were shaking.
Once we were done clearing the theatre, I made my way back over to the main building but was stopped by a visitor who was leaving the aquarium. They were from another country and were upset that they were being made to leave. The felt that it was ridiculous that we were closing early and that the whole city was overreacting.
I calmly explained that a large part of the decision to close came from the city of Boston out of concern for large tourist destinations. Another major deciding factor from the Aquarium’s standpoint was that the city was going to be shutting down public transportation and a large majority of the Aquarium’s staff and volunteers relied on this to get home.
“That is the most selfish thing I have ever heard,” the woman scoffed.
In a show of shear professionalism and quality customer service, I simply walked away. At this point we had no news of our friends in the race and at the finish line and I really didn’t care about someone’s vacation being ruined because we were closing a few hours early.
Cell service was non-existent at this point as service was overloaded. I couldn’t get text messages to send or make calls. I used my office phone to call my sister and let her know I was okay and leaving the city soon.
My train ride home was a terrifying blur of confusion and fear. My commute was on the Blue Line which took my train right through the airport station where state police were out in full force. They might have also been National Guardsmen. My stop, Wonderland Station at the end of the line, was crawling with state troopers armed with massive guns.
As time passed that night we slowly got new about our team, our friends and their families. Everyone was okay.
The week played out in slow motion. I was scheduled to speak at a school in New Jersey on the 15th and 16th. They offered to reschedule but I stuck with the agenda, eager to get out of the city. I don’t remember much from the workshops but I remember the students being a wonderful and supportive audience.
I returned to the Aquarium on Thursday to find that attendance was virtually non-existent. The entire city of Boston felt quiet and broken. A polar opposite of how this had felt in the early hours of Monday morning.
Friday, April 19th was nothing short of a strange blue for me. I didn’t have cable and never listen to the radio so I started my day ignorant to the ongoing manhunt and the shootout that had taken place in the early hours of that morning. My commute was thwarted by the subway not running and the woman at the parking station offered no explanation about why the trains weren’t running, just simply turned me away from the parking garage.
I had an email from the Director of Visitor Experience on my phone that simply asked that anyone that could get into the city to work to please do so. I wasn’t thrilled about having to drive in to work but it looked like I didn’t have any other choice.
I made the drive into the city, baffled at the lack of traffic. Not once did I think to turn on my radio. It wasn’t until I got to the office that I learned what was going on. The entire city of Boston and the surrounding communities were on lockdown.
There was a lot of back and forth about whether or not the Aquarium would open for the day but the decision was finally made that we would be keeping the doors closed. After a couple hours of getting in touch with staff and tying up loose ends, I went home.
I decided to occupy myself with some errands that I needed to run. It was my way of not having to think about the madness taking place just a few miles away. Grocery shopping, getting gas, running to the bank, and returning something to Target- all normal things. I wanted normal.
While sitting at a red light to turn into the mall plaza chaos broke out all around me. A police car appeared almost out of nowhere with sirens and lights blazing. Within seconds more police cars had arrived and blocked the intersection and the officers were out of their cars, guns drawn. They were pointed at a man I hadn’t seen standing in the bushes near a Dunkin Donuts just a few feet away from my car.
An officer banged on my car window, telling me to duck down. I was paralyzed with fear and don’t remember if I had complied or not. Then it was all over, ending as quickly as it had begun and I was motioned to move on from the intersection and carry on with my day as if this was all totally normal, like this kind of thing happened every day.
It took another police officer banging on my driver’s side window and telling me to move along to snap me out of a daze. I was shaking all over and could barely focus on driving. I got myself into the Target parking lot and sat for a long time before I felt I could trust myself to move.
I finally decided to turn on the radio and try to gain come clarity as to what the hell was going on around me. It was right about this time that there was a lot of confusion about what vehicle the younger Tsarnaev was driving following the shootout the night before. The news was reporting that the police were currently looking for a Honda Civic. There I was, sitting in my Honda Civic.
Right around this time, my brain gave up. I went into autopilot and managed to drive myself to the nearby Barnes and Noble where I took a seat and decided to pretend like the rest of the world simply didn’t exist. As I sat there, my phone started to buzz. Not done with me yet, the universe decided to deal one last blow.
A friend of mine from college that I hadn’t spoken to in some time was on the other end. The news had released the name of the MIT officer that has been killed in the shootout with the bombing suspects. Sean Collier, a classmate from Salem State.
I had known Sean only in passing as we were both active in the Salem State community, taking part in club activities. At one point the two of us had to attend a student government meeting to request additional money for our group budgets. We weren’t friends but he was a classmate, a human being, and an innocent victim.
The news hit me hard and I found myself in a state of shock. I called my friend Nina and walked her through the insanity that had been my day. I don’t remember much of the conversation but Nina is always the best in times of craziness. I ended up sitting in the bookstore for some time. Just sitting. After a few hours I worked up the nerve to drive home.
That night I decided to stream the press conference turned grand finale. I joined the world in watching as it all came to an end. Well, as we all spent an insane amount of time looking at a boat. You could feel the city breathe a sigh of relief as it all came to an end the official work came through that the final suspect was in custody. I could hear people cheering in the streets as I went to bed that night. The next day at work, you could feel the electricity in the air. We were safe.
At 2:00am on June 12, 2016 I was crawling into bed after a fun evening hosting game night at my house, unaware that just a few miles away tragedy was playing out in what would become the largest mass shooting (at the time) in the history of the United States and the deadliest terror attack since September 11, 2001.
I woke up a few hours later to the sound of my phone going absolutely insane. News of the shooting had gotten out and friends from back home in Boston as well as in Orlando we calling and texting to see if I was okay.
Facebook’s safety check feature was a godsend during the next few hours as it allowed was a quick and easy way to let others know I was safe and for others to do the same. It had its limitations though and there were still many people we hadn’t heard from. There were people that I wasn’t friends with on Facebook. People that hadn’t checked in. People who weren’t answering their phones.
My anxiety was through the roof as I tried to get ready for work, to carry about my day. To find out that something like this has happened in the town I call home and then try to carry on like normal is a lot easier said than done. This was an attack on my community. Both the city of Orlando and my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.
I tried very hard to stick to my routine. I made my usual stop at Starbucks where I ordered my usual drink and breakfast and tried my best at my usual banter. When you suffer from anxiety and PTSD, routine is best. Routine helps you feel in control, like you have power. I didn’t though, I had none of those things.
I called Nina while I made my short drive to work at the restaurant. She was one of the many that had texted me and, while I had responded to her, I needed a familiar voice on the phone. I needed to feel grounded. I tried so hard to stay calm on the phone but I was falling apart. I was on the verge of a panic attack and doing everything I could to stay calm and together but it wasn’t happening.
I am beyond thankful for my co-workers and managers for not faulting me for not being able to make it through my shift. I tried so hard to stay strong, to be brave, to keep it together but I couldn’t do it. The fear of not knowing, the exhaustion of trying to put on a happy front when inside I was crumbling, it was all too much.
I was offered by all the mangers to leave but I refused out of my ridiculous work ethic. I couldn’t abandon my shift. My friend Taylor stopped by to check up on me and I asked for a few minutes to step outside to talk to her. During this time my manager Erin made the call that my shift was over. She knew better than me that it wasn’t in the cards for me to stick around. I’m grateful for her and for that decision.
Taylor came home with me that afternoon and we sat on my couch and ate Chipolte while watching Disney movies. What else was there to do? We sat and waiting, both constantly checking social media for any sort of news, good or bad.
That night my friend Kevin stayed over, both of us in a heightened state of anxiety and not wanting to be alone. We sat up and talking until the darkest of the night had passed. He slipped into a Benadryl coma while I sat up staring blankly at something on Netflix while obsessively refreshing the city of Orlando page where the names of the deceased were slowly being released.
I found myself in the same position I had found myself in just three years earlier in the aftermath of the marathon bombings. The fear and frustrations of not knowing what was going on, if friends were okay.
I took the following day off from work, shortly after calling out, the first familiar name showed up on the list of those lost. Kevin and I went to breakfast and made a plan to meet up later at Animal Kingdom. I’m not sure why we chose that park but we did. I have to say that in the hardest of times, there is nothing more cathartic than watching the Festival of the Lion King. Theatre is escape and it’s what we needed.
On June 12, 2016 I lost three friends. In reality, I lost 49 brothers and sisters and those losses will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Often times we refer to moments like these are wake up calls, a time when you are bitch-slapped with the harsh reality of life. It’s not something that can be planned for or scheduled, it just happens. You don’t have a say in when it comes or how it will affect the rest of your life. The closer to home it hits, the more it hurts.
When it came to 9/11, I felt the same pain, fear, loss and heartache that swept the country. I felt proud to be an American but at the end of it all, there was that disconnect. That sense of knowing that it all happened but I still felt safe and sound in my own little bubble.
When it came to the Boston Marathon bombings and the Pulse Nightclub shooting, it was a lot closer, far more real. In Boston I was just two miles away from the finish line. I had a connection to that place, to those people. The same in Orlando, my newfound home. Pulse was a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community. A place where my friends went to have fun and let loose.
My bubble had burst.
In times like this, really in any great crossroad in life, there are always two options. You can get bitter or you can show them that you are better.
After 9/11 we all became more patriotic than ever. There was a shortage of American flags because we were all in a rush to display them proudly. We weren’t about to let hate win.
That’s what I have seen through all of this. I have seen what hatred can do to a community. I have seen the pain and fear that hatred can bring.
But I’ve seen what love can do.
The plaza where the restaurant I worked in was located was typically home to a blood donation bus and on Sunday June 12, was no different. Only on this day, when I pulled into the lot, a line of people was waiting to donate. This was the scene all over Orlando and beyond and people waiting in line for hours to donate blood. I won’t forget that sight for as long as I live.
That night, the Tony awards paid tribute to the victims. The cast of Hamilton performed sans firearms out of respect. Lin Manual Miranda gave a speech to remember, reminding us that “Love is love is love is love.”
We saw the same solidarity following the marathon bombings. Runners, finishing the race, kept running to Mass General to donate blood. The world came together to show their love and support.
At no point did we let hate win.
We never should.