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It’s Mourning Time

Last Sunday was rough. While waiting in the car for my spouse to finish their shopping, I casually scrolled through Facebook until I came across a post one of my friends shared that put me in such a shock that I made an audible gasp upon reading it.

“#RIP Jason David Frank”

Holy fucking shit. It felt like a part of my childhood just died.

Up until my pre-teens, I lived in a cul-de-sac of low income townhouses and I was friends with a lot of the boys that lived there. One of them, Matt, was a year or two older than me and I would go over to his house to play Super Mario Bros on Nintendo until Power Rangers came on.

And we were obsessed with Tommy Oliver the White Power Ranger.

Tommy Oliver was originally the evil Green Ranger and was only supposed to be in a handful of episodes, but the character became insanely popular so they ended up writing him as a former bad guy turned hero and he became a series regular.

Kids like us were the reason they brought back Jason David Frank to play Tommy Oliver in multiple Power Rangers series. We thought he was the coolest guy ever with his long hair, chill attitude, and martial art skills. I tried learning martial arts through books I bought at the Scholastic Book Fair because of Tommy. I wanted to marry Tommy growing up and, by sheer coincidence, ended up marrying someone with the same birthday as Jason David Frank. I’m starting to think Tommy is the actual reason for my attraction to dudes with long hair and not Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ll never understand why years later I was excited about Amy Jo Johnson starring in that TV film about the band Sweetwater because I loathed her as Kimberly the Pink Ranger purely on the basis that she was going out with Tommy in the show. For years, my favorite animal was the white tiger and I know it was because of  White Ranger’s Tiger Zord.

Several years back, I went to my first evening 18+ panel at Kitsune Kon with a couple of My Little Pony cosplayers I met—I never got to enjoy one before because my procrastinating, executive dysfunctional self would be spending the night holed up in the hotel room finishing up a cosplay I intended to compete in. There was a few minutes left of the Power Ranger 18+ panel left before the My Little Pony panel and decided to check it out. Sitting on the panel was a woman in a full White Ranger cosplay…describing the most horrifying, disgusting Power Rangers fanfiction. And… somehow…after being traumatized by that fanfiction description she gave… I became friends with that White Ranger cosplayer. She was the first one I messaged after I heard the news that Jason David Frank had passed away.

Besides Tommy, my favorite Power Ranger was the original Yellow Ranger. When I was a kid in the 90s, I was obsessed with Asian culture and there were a lot of Asian women who kicked ass that I became drawn to—Pai Chan (Virtua Fighter), Chun Li (Street Fighter), Jun Kazama (Tekken 2), Akane Tendo (Ranma ½), Serena/Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon), Mulan, Michelle Kwan…well, she wasn’t fictional, but I liked her way more than Tara Lipinski. And of course, there was Trini Kwan from Power Rangers. It wasn’t because she was an ass kicking Asian. Trini was strong and beautiful, but she wasn’t played up as a vapid girly popular girl like Kimberly was. She could hang with the boys, which was something I related to since most of my friends were guys.

Trini’s actress, Thuy Trang, died in a car accident in 2001. And now Tommy is gone, too. I’m not sure if I believe in any sort of heaven, but I’d like to think the two are hanging out with Zordon and Rita Repulsa in the afterlife.

ASL

I wrote about how listening to music from my childhood has helped me remember forgotten memories. So it was a little surprising to have memories pop up because of someone who can’t hear it.

We recently got a cashier who is deaf. As none of us are fluent in ASL and she can’t talk, communication was a bit of a learning curve, but we were able to nail it down through some basic hand signs, voice to text apps, lip reading, and typing on the phone.

Out of the other cashiers, I probably knew the most ASL despite the fact I sign like an uncertain toddler.  

The reason I know any ASL is because I started learning it in my childhood. The doctor thought I was deaf as I wouldn’t react to noise and was making “weird” sounds. I still have scarring in my ears from when the doctor put tubes in them to drain fluid he thought was blocking my hearing. The tubes drained the fluid, but didn’t solve my hearing issues.

A breakthrough in my care occurred during a doctor visit when one of the nurses noticed something about the garbled sounds I was making and decided to record my voice with a device that could slow or speed up the tape. When the tape was slowed down enough, anyone that was listening could clearly hear singing:

 Old Mc-Don-ald had a farm. E-I-E-I-O.

Long story short, I wasn’t deaf. I had autism. I did learn to speak with the help of speech therapy and eventually lost most of ASL signs I learned.

When we got this co-worker, I tried to think if I remembered any full sentences to be able to communicate better with her. Hi, my name is (insert name) and Nice to meet you were useless to me at that point since we were already introduced. I love you was also useless to me in this situation. I remembered a fourth sentence that was also useless, but triggered a childhood memory.  

I don’t actually remember the moment itself because I was really little—only the story of the incident that Kim repeated throughout my childhood. We had found a stray/lost dog. The low-income townhouses I lived in until my pre-teens didn’t allow pets so we couldn’t keep it for more than a night. I got on the bus for pre-school and came back home to find the dog gone, which made me upset. I kept looking for the dog. My parents told me the dog went home so I signed:

I want the dog, please. 

The fact that our new coworker has a sense of humor and has found ways to be funny despite the language barriers brought up more buried childhood memories.

There was a family that was heavily involved with the services at the church I attended regularly on Wednesday nights, particularly with the music. I had a huge crush on their oldest, Amber, who was a couple years older than me.

Our church did this challenge every week where they would ask any willing kids to come up front and the goal was to see who could go the longest without laughing. With Amber’s father leading, the congregation would sing “The Booster Song” repeatedly until there was one kid left or we got tired of it.

Booster, booster, be a boo-ster!

Don’t be grouchy like a roo-ster!

Booster, booster, be a boo-ster!

And boost our Bi-ble school!

The other kids could get each other to laugh by suddenly shouting the words obnoxiously in each other’s ear or making chicken noises. Well, this didn’t work on Amber because she was deaf. I’m fairly certain she volunteered herself every week to be funny because she couldn’t hear anything that was going on. Her mom or dad would say and sign things like, “Cmon! Smile!” and she’d slowly shake her head from side to side with that stone faced pout.

I saw Amber at the county fair and something possessed me to buy a necklace from one of the vendors hawking cheap souvenirs. I think it was a metal arrowhead with a heat sensitive color-changing stone that hung from a black cord. I presented the necklace to her, but I couldn’t communicate my feelings as I forgotten most of the ASL I learned as a toddler and I didn’t have paper to write it down. I think I might have slowly said something along the lines of “This is for you. Bye!” so she could lip read and ran off. I do remember she looked rightfully confused about this bizarre encounter.     

Lately, it has felt like I’ve been opening up a Pandora’s Box of awful shit from my childhood in regards to trying to remember things from my past that I’ve blocked out and processing it. So it was nice to be able to remember some things that weren’t terrible.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

TW: Suicide

If you had told me the highlight of my 2020 would be seeing Bowser in titty tassles, I would have said “Fuck you! I have MCR tickets!” Alas, that was the case as the whole country was officially labeled in a pandemic the weekend after I went to the video game convention featuring a Mario/Godfather themed burlesque act.

I had been holding onto this highly coveted My Chemical Romance ticket for almost three years. A friend I made the same weekend as the music convention over the bizarre experience that is Cheesecake Factory said, “I’ve had it for so long I no longer feel the emptiness in my wallet for buying it.” Personally, I had it for so long that I completely forgot that by some miracle I managed to get a floor ticket. There was this horrifying moment of realization about a week before the show that I would not be in a seat, but on the ground level inside the swarm of MCR fans that have waited almost three years for this show just days after the Goo Goo Dolls meet and greet.

“Ah shit. I’m either going to die from a heart attack meeting the Goo Goo Dolls or from getting trampled by Killjoys.”

Neither prediction occurred, but there were a few times where I thought I was going to die. I probably would have been squashed to death if it weren’t for Gerard Way politely telling the first few rows to take a step back a couple times throughout their set and the crowd calmed down a little for a bit. Despite earplugs, I managed to become temporarily deaf in my left ear and it has made a very slight buzzing sound ever since.  

Like most concerts lately, I recalled forgotten memories because of the music. It wasn’t surprising at all this time knowing that I listened to the band a lot when I was a teenager going through a lot of shit.

My friend had burned me a copy of the Three Cheers for Revenge album for my birthday after showing me the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”, which was a faux movie trailer for a movie we all wished existed. The friend in question was someone I liked. She later confessed that she was bi-curious and it got my hopes up. By the time I actually got the courage to tell her I liked her, she had figured out she wasn’t bisexual and privately I did not take it too well. Now I didn’t think that she had to like me or should like me, but that rejection still hurt.

Months earlier, I had been forcibly committed for a few days and given anti-depressants. The pills certainly didn’t fix all the bullshit happening at home and I felt worse while on them. Nobody properly explained to me that if I felt suicidal on them that I wasn’t going to get in trouble and be committed again if I admitted they weren’t working. With the horrid combination of incredibly aggressive suicidal thoughts no one knew about and all the shit happening in my life at the time, it was only a matter of time that something would break me. My state of mind was fragile so it probably could have been anything. Unfortunately and embarrassingly, the thing that sent me over the edge was my friend telling me that she realized she wasn’t bisexual so she didn’t like me more than a friend.   

I tried killing myself one night with my medication in my darkened bedroom while listening to Garbage’s “Bleed Like Me”, but couldn’t bring myself to down more than eight pills. The next day, I secretly popped the pills I had left over in the bottle over the course of lunch period. Someone found me sitting in the hallway crying and I was taken to the counselor’s office. My counselor wasn’t aware of what was happening to me as I refused to talk so she pulled my friend out of class thinking I’d talk to her and left us alone in her office. My friend asked what was going on. I had begun to feel the effects of the overdose and I panicked by throwing the empty pill bottle on the floor. She immediately understood what happened and rushed to get the counselor outside the door. They both came back to find me lying on the floor as I had fallen out of my chair and struggled to get back up. I was conscious the entire time—I just couldn’t move my body properly. I remember my friend propping me upright until the paramedics came because I couldn’t sit up, the oxygen mask they put on me because they thought I was struggling to breathe, being wheeled out on the stretcher and seeing my art teacher’s horrified face as I rolled by, the dizzying ambulance ride to the hospital, puking a lot into a bin in the ER (which is likely why they didn’t pump my stomach), the catheter for a urine sample (I was unable to go with a room full of nurses staring at me), another ambulance ride to a different hospital with a mental healthcare unit once it was confirmed I was stable, the saline drip to flush the meds out of my system, the dimly lit room I slept in…it now feels like a weird fever dream rather than something that actually happened.

I always remember the things that happened afterwards: walking around like a drunken sailor the next day because the meds weren’t completely out of my system, learning that I would have had permanent brain damage if I had taken more than the 40-something pills, being shocked that the doctor wanted to prescribe me another medication not even 24 hours after I tried killing myself with the last prescription he gave me, and deciding not to go on any more medication because it felt like it was a gamble, which turned out to be correct when I finally did decide to try a medication regimen years later and many of the meds I tried reacted horribly with my body. But I always tend to forget the events leading up to it. Unlike some other experiences that my brain has seemingly locked away as a coping mechanism, I kind of wish I didn’t remember the suicide attempt. Whereas other memories have involved my childhood or my mother’s abuse, this one involved people I cared about and how I scared the shit out of them because of my stupidity. I felt guilty because I (more or less) committed suicide because of a girl (even if there were other factors involved) and it wasn’t her fault this happened—it was mine.

The suicide attempt was indeed traumatizing to make me think twice about attempting it again and limiting my access to prescriptions I could kill myself with, but it wasn’t enough to stop the suicidal thoughts from creeping back into my head. A couple months after the suicide attempt, I started a morning ritual of heating a butter knife over a candle and touching the hot metal to my arm to feel the pain, which lead to another hospital stay when I left the knife on the flame too long and it left a scab that I kept picking at during lunch. I would go about my day thinking of all the “what-if” things that could kill me: jumping off the bridge over the river during my walk, being hit by a car in the crosswalk, an active shooting in the store I was shopping at, etc. Sometimes I wondered if anyone would miss me or if it made little difference if I was around or not. My brain was constantly thinking about my own demise and hurting myself.

I refused access to antidepressants, but I could still buy things over the counter. For years, I kept a bottle of aspirin by my bedside. It was weirdly both a potential suicide method and a deterrent. There was the idea that I would reach a point where I could no longer handle life and down the fucking bottle to end it all yet it was a reminder of what I had done and how it awful it was for most involved. I say “most” because Kim was apathetic about the whole thing and was more concerned about how it affected her than she was about her daughter wanting to die, which was partially why I hardly ever told anyone what was happening inside my head. There was also this fear that it could go the opposite way and I’d end up worrying people who wouldn’t know what to do for me to the point I’d be institutionalized again. Without medication, therapy, or a true support system, I dealt with much of it on my own. Music like My Chemical Romance helped keep the suicidal thoughts at bay, but it could only go so far. It didn’t help living in a household where the matriarch could explode at any moment for any little thing she considered a slight to her and everyday felt like delicately walking on eggshells.

My friends did suspect something was wrong, but I reassured them by saying things like “I’m fine”, “I’m okay”, “I’m just tired.” I’m not sure how much they bought it. All I know is like the MCR song, I was definitely not o-fucking-kay at all.

Nobody ever knew the true extent of what was happening inside my head because I mostly didn’t tell anyone and what little I did tell was incredibly filtered. On top of the suicidal ideation, I often thought of my own funeral. At the height of My Chemical Romance’s fame, Hot Topic sold a replica of the dress the dead girl in the “Helena” video wore and I often thought about buying it for the funeral I imagined I would have. Since I frequently thought of my own death, I often thought about what happens when we die. With the release of the Black Parade album, I was given Gerard Way’s perspective of death coming to us in the form of our strongest, happiest memory rather than a menacing, skeletal God of Death with a huge scythe. What was my happiest memory at the time? Eating ramen noodles with my dad by the wooden coffee table while watching MTV, going to the movies or the café with my mother, playing horror games in the dark on the Dreamcast with my brother, listening to music on my Walkman by the stream behind our house—things that had become an impossibility at that point because I was estranged from my dad following the divorce, my mother became a monster to me when she didn’t have Dad to push around anymore, and I lost the Dreamcast and backyard stream when the bank foreclosed on the house.

I don’t think the more depressing music like My Chemical Romance generally amplified these thoughts I had, but rather made me feel like someone in this shitty world understood what I was going through and that was a comforting thing to have when you have nothing else.

And Music is my Aeroplane

From the “Aeroplane” music video

My husband and I recently saw Red Hot Chili Peppers for the first time. It was an amazing show: The Strokes opened for them, they had a very cool stage set up, RHCP had a solid set list with a lot of their best known songs.

One moment in particular blew me away and it was probably the most subtle part of the show. The stage goes dark and a stage light shines down on Flea, who is alone on center stage. He starts playing a bass line that sounds so familiar yet I can’t put my finger on it. And he sings…

I’m a little pea

I love the sky and the trees…

It took me a good couple of seconds to realize he was playing “Pea”. The moment I figured it out I recalled some things I had forgotten as well as gained a little insight.

When I was a kid, I saw the music video for “Aeroplane”. The band was playing shirtless on Green Hill Zone-like checkered platforms next to a pool of synchronized dancers. There were also girls in gold sequined body suits that I always thought were wearing devil horns, but only recently discovered that the pouf from their hairstyles hid the middle point of the tiaras they were wearing and, perhaps unintentionally, gave the appearance of horns. I’m pretty sure Anthony Kiedis is the reason why I’m attracted to thin framed men with waist long hair, which might somewhat explain my love for Duo Maxwell from Gundam Wing.

The music video was enough for me to want the album it came off of—the criminally underrated, underappreciated, and overlooked One Hot Minute album. Like Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill, I was too young to initially understand the album’s mature themes and I just really liked the sound, which is mostly upbeat and funky in contrast to its darker lyrical content of drug addiction, battling personal demons, and loss. It was an album that was in heavy rotation growing up, especially after my biological mother started becoming abusive, but unlike a lot of other music I listened to it wasn’t because the lyrics spoke to the depth of my soul. Although I would eventually relate to the more depressing, struggling lyrical content as I got older, I mostly listened to the album because the actual music was just so damn good and I felt happy listening to it. I would play the album while playing my Super Nintendo—I specifically remember playing “Coffee Shop” during the coffee shop level of the terrible Wayne’s World game.

The song that convinced me to get the album is also a song that can describe my own relationship with music depending on how it’s interpreted. To be fair, at least parts of “Aeroplane” is referencing drug addiction as Kiedis was dropping lyrical hints throughout the album that he had slipped from sobriety, but it could also have a double meaning if taken literally and describe how music can be pleasurable and painful, particularly from a lyricist’s perspective where ideas for songs may come from memories and experiences.

As a listener of music, I also find music enjoyable, but at times it can be distressing because it has helped me remember painful memories I have forgotten. I used to listen to music all the time so a lot of these lost memories are connected to music, notably the shittier times I’d listen to music to soothe my worries. Unfortunately, I’ve even forgotten some of the music I’ve listened to and therefore sometimes I’ll suddenly remember things when I go to see bands I listened to during my childhood, which is what happened at the Red Hot Chili Peppers show. This time is brought good memories, but it can be traumatic depending on what I’ve recalled.

Yet I don’t believe its bad.

As alarming as recalling some of the more traumatic memories can be, it’s worse not being able to remember them. I hate not remembering. It bothers me that there are seemingly huge gaps in my memory and sometimes the memories are so vague that I wonder if they are false memories or if I can only recall a sliver of what happened. It’s weird how I can remember small details from minor moments that happened in the last decade, but I can barely recall things from my own childhood because my brain buried it as a defense mechanism.

The worst thing about the memory blocks is I cannot seem to remember a lot of the things Kim ever did. If I didn’t have a bunch of core memories about the abuse, if my fiancé/husband hadn’t pointed out that her behavior was abusive, or if I didn’t have writings describing incidents hidden somewhere in my closet, maybe I’d wonder if it really happened.

I feel like if I can recall more of those memories, no matter how awful, then maybe I can heal and maybe I won’t be in such pain…and maybe music might be a key in remembering some of those memories.

Anthony Kiedis was onto something when he said music was his aeroplane as music has been something that’s helped me rise above my own pain. It’s just a shame that the band doesn’t acknowledge the existence of One Hot Minute.

Exhausted by Grief

Maybe in another life
I could find you there
Pulled away before your time
I can’t deal
It’s so unfair
–“Gone Away”, The Offspring

Two months ago, instead of going through the weekly routine of Taco Tuesday, I was comforting my friend after receiving the news that his mom, Jess, likely had cancer.

In those two months, she was officially diagnosed with lung cancer, though they never determined what type due to her catching Covid before her scheduled biopsy. After getting out of the hospital, she fell at home and banged her head and shoulder quite badly. A CAT scan meant to check for signs of damage from the fall instead revealed the cancer had progressed to her brain. They still went ahead with the appointment to see if anything could be done for her and the doctor concluded she would not live long and the best thing for her would be hospice care to keep her comfortable until she died.  

Within a week, she quickly deteriorated. She was completely blind within the first couple of days and stopped eating after Thanksgiving. Her family had bought her a few things off Amazon to assist her, but when they got them a couple days later she didn’t need them anymore because she was totally bedridden by the end of the week. She could talk normally on Tuesday, could barely talk when I saw her on Saturday, and by Monday she completely lost her ability to speak. Her kidneys had started to fail when I visited her on Monday as evidenced by the catheter bag that looked like it was filled with the darkest grade of honey rather than urine.

While everyone went outside for a smoke break, I stayed inside and talked to her. She had the blanket I had bought for her the other day over her and that’s when I noticed the Sherpa texture felt like Bandit, the golden cocker spaniel she had that passed away years ago. I told her about things that had been happening in my own life as if I were sitting with her in her kitchen. Mostly I told her I loved her and that it was okay to let go. “Of course I don’t want to see you go and I’ll miss you like Hell because I love you, but I also don’t want to see you like this even more. I just wish there was more we could do for you because this sure seems like an awful way to live.” 

I’m not even sure if she heard me because she was sleeping the whole time, but her sister had insisted we talk to her regardless. “She can’t talk, but she can still hear you.” Five hours later she was gone. I don’t know if it was because she decided to let go after everyone told her it was okay to or if she had been holding on until she could see her other son, who we were able to bring over for the first time since getting into hospice care.

I thought the news of her dying would be a lot easier having seen her in that deteriorating condition knowing full well that she was going to die in a few days and thinking she would be better off if she passed, but it wasn’t any easier. At first, it didn’t feel real. It felt more like playing a video game with an immersive story and coming across such a huge plot twisting revelation that you pause the game to process what just happened before continuing to play. Suddenly, I had been sucker punched in the gut with the reality of the situation: she was gone—Oh my God, she was really gone forever. Before I knew it, I was deep in the “Depression” stage of grief and sobbing uncontrollably. For a brief moment, I had an intense feeling of fiery rage at the realization that I could get bereavement for the shitty parent whenever Satan decides to call back his Hell spawn, but not for the woman who was more like my mother than my actual mother…and then I started bawling again.

Being that things weren’t so great with my actual mother, I basically lived part time at Jess’ place. She didn’t have an extra bed so I slept on the floor or on the love seat that was too short, but it was better than staying at home. Usually I’d insist on making dinner at least once while I was there, which was usually this potato hash I knew how to make. My first job was helping a master gardener tend the flower beds around town, which gave me the skills to divide and replant all the overgrown orange lilies that grew along the edge of Jess’ porch. Even after I moved out of my mother’s place for good and things were much better, I still stopped by every now and then if I was walking around town. If it was really cold, she’d insist that I sit in front of her heater to warm up. I think the last time I was really over at her house, I had dropped off a bunch of extra produce from my garden—I wish I had given her so much more.