A funny thing happened the other day when my brother and his wife were visiting us. We were talking about our kids at first. And then my brother said something to me which took me aback. He said, “It’s a good thing you met your husband when you did, because you’d be homeless right now.” He laughed after he said it, so I thought maybe he was joking. But after thinking about it, I decided he really did believe this about me. I had to set him straight about his thinking. You see, I may have had hard times but I have always risen above them and have come out successful in the end.
He didn’t know when I sold all my belongs except for my clothing, it was because I was planning on leaving the country. I had just gotten my TESOL certificate and was heading either to China or Costa Rica to teach English as a second language. However, my mom ended up with breast cancer and I decided to move in with her to take care of her and drive her to her many doctor appointments. Lucky she didn’t need chemo but because she was HER-2 positive, she needed infusions of Herceptin. My plan was as soon as she was better, I was leaving. I was still in college earning my BA degree, and I ended up graduating with high honors. I’m not sure how that equates to being homeless or almost homeless. I’ve always paid my rent or mortgage on time as well as my bills. I was never overly rich but I was comfortable.
Granted during Obama’s reign, I had to improvise how I earned my money. I had gotten laid off of my construction job and I started my own business as a Professional Organizer, which I ran for seven years, which paid my bills as well as my rent. I helped a Medical Marijuana grower, and I was a packer for a moving company. So, homeless was never in my mindset. And I never saw myself as being destitute, I had to tighten my belt but in my mind that was survival skills many people don’t possess. I am able to live without certain luxuries. I bartered my hair services, I stopped getting my nails done, and I certainly had enough clothes to wear. As far as food goes, I was doing Medifast, so my food was delivered and I only had to purchase chicken breast and salad stuff.
How I would like others to see me: A strong, independent woman who has survived being a single mother of two, a woman who fought and survived a breast cancer diagnosis, a woman who, for fourteen years, didn’t have a man to rely on and made it anyway. A woman who is a jack of all trades and a master of none. A person who is loyal as a friend, who is honest, sincere, fierce in her beliefs, and will help anyone in need. If you cross me, I will forget you. If you lie to me, I will forget you. If you choose to talk about me behind my back or make up stories, I will forget you.
As I sit here writing this, I am glad I went through the struggles life brought me. I can say it now that it’s passed me. And even though I am not an overly religious person, I do know there was someone or something looking out for me. Perseverance comes to mind. I’m happy I met my husband when I did. It meant I was ready to share my life again with someone. And we are perfect for each other. I deserve him as he deserves me. He often tells me he’s not sorry he ruined my plans! And neither am I.
The saying, “What you think of me is none of my business” still rings true for me today. I don’t need anyone’s approval to do anything. I am my own seasoned person. I love my life. It may not be perfect, but it’s perfect for me. The closer the distance between these three dimensions, the more at peace I am. Don’t always surmise you know a person, unless you really do know that person.
This is a story about my uncle, Leon Rightnour, my mother’s younger brother. He was 45 years old when they found his body hanging from an Australian pine tree, in a wooded, desolate area of SR 836 and the Florida Turnpike on Tuesday, June 3, 1986 at apprx. 3:45 pm. He had been missing since April 24, 1986. His then wife, Peggy, 27, didn’t bother to formally report him missing until May 15, 1986, because she claims he had a habit of disappearing. And that wasn’t his only habit. According to her, he would regularly freebase cocaine and go out drinking with his friends.
Permanently on probation for murdering his first wife, Leon, worked for a painting company, C&M Painting, doing odd jobs. And even though he was an ex felon, the companies owners trusted him with a company van. The same company van that had been abandoned on the Florida Turnpike and was towed on May 2, 1986, almost a month before his body was found. I wasn’t able to find, in the police report, the exact location of where the van was towed and where it was relative to where my uncle’s body was found.
There were two newspaper articles written prior to the cause of death. One mentions how the police identified the body, hanging from a tree, with his hands tied behind his back and a few days later, another article stating the same and the cause of death was still undetermined. Since the case is over 33 years old, I’m sure the investigators as well as the coroner are well into their retirement. And with my uncle being a known murderer, felon, drunk, and drug user, I’m sure they didn’t want to spin their wheels to find out if the cause of death was a homicide or a suicide. So ultimately, his death was ruled a suicide, even though there is no proof as to where the brand new rope came from. Receipts found in the van indicate painting supplies but nothing mentions the purchase of the rope.
He didn’t have the happiest of lives and was a troubled soul, to say the least. Born to Regina and Tom in 1945, he was the youngest of 4 children, 3 boys and one girl. When Leon was 2 years old, him, along with his other siblings were removed from the home and placed into orphanages in the state of PA. My grandmother had married my grandfather when she was 15, he was in his 20’s. Both my grandparents were alcoholics and it just made sense that 2 of the boys became alcoholics and drug addicts like their parents. They were poor and grew up in the Appalachian Mountains. My mother was the only girl and she learned at a young age to shoot and eat squirrels for dinner. Her side of the family was known as the “hillbillies” or “crazy Natives”.
Two of the kids escaped the life of no return. Charlie became a lifer in the Army and my mother met and married my father when she was 16, escaping to NY and entering into an Italian, stable family. By that time, she had been taken out of the orphanage and was living in NM with her aunt and uncle. Having to drop out of school in order to start making money, she met my dad when she was a soda jerk. He was in the Air Force and took a liking to the girl who made his milkshakes. Though my mother’s family did not approve of her marrying an Italian, back then, prejudice went beyond Hispanics and Blacks, she wanted out so badly, she threatened to run away and marry him anyway. They finally relented.
I don’t know the entire story of my uncle’s life. I don’t know if he ever got adopted out or if he had to endure the life of a foster child. Being taken away from his parents at the age of 2 was pretty traumatic for him. He suffered from abandonment issues. He was in his early 20’s when his first wife left him taking their 2 daughters. She couldn’t handle his drinking. One day she called him up asking for a favor. She had just moved into a new apartment and needed him to haul some furniture. She promised him a home cooked meal. After working all afternoon trying to please her, they sat down to dinner.
She allegedly laughed in his face about what a push over he was (I guess they were both drinking at this time). She allegedly continued to berate him and because of his drunken state, the fact she had abandoned him and was now using him, he completely blacked out. During his blackout, he picked up a steak knife next to his plate, and repeatedly stabbed her to death. The next thing he remembers is “waking up” standing outside his friends house, covered in blood. The police were called, and he was arrested. The two girls were put into foster care and were adopted out to different families. He was convicted of murder (no idea if it was manslaughter or 1st degree) and sentenced to 17 years in federal penitentiary.
When I think back at how young all the players are in this story, it’s rather sad. I looked at some of the facts in this case. My uncle was 45 when he died, his wife was 27. She said they had been married for 7 years, that means she was 20 when she married my uncle, who was just fresh out of prison for murdering his first wife, and yes, she knew about it. They lived with her mother. She constantly nagged him over his drinking and cocaine use (like she didn’t know this prior to marrying him). Their relationship was extremely volatile, constant fighting, each one disappearing for days on end. Thank God they had no children. They were poor and uneducated.
And even though I know all this about my uncle and his life, I do know he wasn’t suicidal. Several of his friends told the cops this during the investigation. But, Peggy, well, little Peggy mentioned she thought he was depressed and therefore, suicidal. I disagree with her on several aspects:
1. My uncle was in prison for 17 years. Why would he commit suicide after regaining his freedom?
2. Several witnesses heard his late wife’s father threaten him. He was purported to tell my uncle, if he ever got out of prison, he would put a hit on him, have him killed.
3. Some of his friends said he didn’t owe a lot of people a lot of money, but how would they know? They were drunks just like my uncle. They would sit in a dark bar, drink alcohol, and shoot the shit, telling their tall tales to each other. Not a very reliable source if you ask me.
4. During the time of my uncles demise, there was a cult like group in Florida, the Yahweh’s, who were killing white people randomly as their initiation into the cult between April, 1986 and October, 1986. Their leader, sent people out into the Miami metro area and selected people randomly to kill. Many of these murders where made to look like suicide and/or they have never been solved.
“Miami’s Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult, the most notorious sect of the Black Hebrew Israelites, was implicated in a reign of terror in the 1980s, and has now all but disappeared. But at its height, it controlled an $8 million empire of properties, including a Miami headquarters known as the ”Temple of Love” and temples in 22 states. It left a track record of horrific violence, including the murders of 14 people.Its doomsday leader, Oklahoma native Hulon Mitchell Jr. (known as Yahweh Ben Yahweh, Hebrew for ”God, son of God”), is in prison with six other sect members for conspiracy in connection with the murders. Mitchell ordered the slayings of black cult defectors to keep others in line, and the random murders of whites as part of an initiation to a secret ”Brotherhood” within the temple. The killers, as proof of their deeds, often brought back severed heads and ears to Mitchell.” (Update: He was released in September, 2011.)
5. My uncle was murdered not far from where he lived with his wife and mother in law. His wife, Peggy, had a brother. One of my suspicions is his wife and mother in law had him killed and I believe her brother did it. Why did she not report him missing until almost a month of not hearing from him? Why didn’t the company who owned the van he was driving not report the van stolen or missing? Her excuse of him habitually taking off for days at a time is not a viable excuse. Days does not amount to months. True, there were no cell phones back then, at least affordable ones, however, for someone who has a cocaine habit and disappearing from work, leaves him with no money for his habit.
6. The property found on him, his wallet which contained $11.00 and a $1.00 in his pocket doesn’t account for the almost $2,000 in cash he had on him once he cashed two checks from 2 painting jobs. Did he purchase more cocaine with them? Or did his wife/brother in law take the money prior to hanging him?
7. If he indeed hung himself, how was he able to climb the Australian Pine which was over 123 ft high and whose branches wouldn’t even hold up a swing? below is a picture of Australian Pine trees which surround the Miami area’s wetlands.
8. Some of his friends reported he was talking about getting away and getting help with his addiction. FACT: He had called my mother, his sister, and asked her how the painting business was in California. She told him it was booming. She told him to send out his resume (I was working in Customer Service for a new residential builder) and maybe I could help him get a job. My mother also had a friend of hers whose husband did painting jobs on the side and she told him maybe he could help him as well. If this was how he was going to break his addiction, why would he commit suicide?
9. Autopsy report stated the injury to the neck caused by the knot was cause of death. This is what the coroner wrote in his report: “The victim suffered a fracture to the third cervical vertebra on the left posterior side of the neck, which was consistent with the victim falling or jumping from the tree branch. The vertebra is located on the left front neck area, which is also consistent with the knot on the rope, which was tied to the right rear of the victims’s neck directly across from the force of the rope, which pulled upward when the victim jumped from the tree…the rope was tied in a hangman’s noose consisting of a five-loop hangman and four overhand knots behind the neck slightly to the right side. The noose measured 8.5 inches around the victim’s neck, which, according to Dr. Grey, was consistent with the victim’s decomposition….the white cloth used to tie the victim’s hands was looped two times around the right wrist and then placed in a slip knot on the left wrist. The coroner advised that the victim’s probably cause of death was due to hanging and the manner of death would be classified as a suicide. The rope and white cloth were transported to the MDPD property room.
10. Of the three receipts found in his van, none had items on there which included the rope that was used in the hanging. One salesperson told detectives my uncle had purchased 3′ of chain, and their store did not sell rope. Also, when they spoke with the owner of the painting company, she told detectives there would be no need for rope in their business. So where did the brand spanking new rope come from?
11. One of my uncles best friends told detectives because the victim had spent so many years in prison he had a poor attitude and outlook on life but did not perceive him to be suicidal. He did report he snorted too much cocaine and was having marital problems (everyone of my uncles friends reported the marital problems, which makes me wonder if she committed murder and has gotten away with it, her and her brother.) The last time his friend saw him, they had dinner at my uncles house a few weeks prior to him disappearing, and they had gone out drinking to the El Toro Bar (my uncles hangout). My uncles friend also stated the victim was seriously considering getting treatments or assistance in getting off his cocaine dependency and told him that he was going to go away in order to do so.
12. Another friend interviewed by detectives also stated the victim was depressed over his marital problems, which was his main problem, and stated the victim was constantly being nagged by his wife and causing him severe depression. His friend did state the victim had a cocaine problem and was usually drunk. He stated the victim was not suicidal because although he loved his wife and she would leave him on occasion, he did not believe the victim would kill himself over her leaving him.
13. My uncles boss had left him in charge of the company after he left the area sometime in April to restore a home in NY which his parents left him. He stated the victim was extremely depressed usually because he was always fighting with his wife. He also stated the victim received a $600 or $700 check as a partial payment for a job he was working on in Kendall and that he told the victim to take out his portion and give the rest to his nephew who lived in Miami. The nephew never heard from the victim. According the victims wife, he also had a check for $1,100 which he cashed and did not give the money to the nephew. The money was never found.
14. The crime scene: Located 220 feet from the west of the southbound lane of the Florida Turnpike. the Australian pine tree was 125 feet high. A 1 inch thick manila hemp three strand rope was tied at a branch which extended to the east and measured approximately 14 feet up from the ground. The rope was noted to be tied in three loops around the branch and then had two square knots below the branch with the rope extending downward.The rope hangs downward from the tree, had been tied around the victims neck approximately 8 feet down from the branch from which it was tied. A torn white knit pullover shirt was observed on the ground apprx. 3 feet southwest of the Australian pine tree. The pullover is observed to be torn at the midsection.
Now, seriously, for a man who is always drunk and high, how was he able to accomplish this? How was he able to get his drunk ass up the trunk of a tree, in the dark (my uncle was over 6′ tall) in order to jump to his death in a suicide? I find it shameful that no one in his family ever asked for the police report on his death. His reputation with his family was the same as it was with his friends. He was a murderer, a felon, a drunk and a drug addict. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to kill him and get away with it. And, even though I never really knew my uncle, I was still very curious about what happened to him. Why wasn’t anyone else curious as to what happened to him?
15. The body was in a state of decomposition so advanced, the victims body was hanging from the pine tree with the neck hanging by a small piece of skin. The victim’s hands were tied behind his back at the wrists. The body was in advanced decomposition with the skeletal structure of the head visible. The chest and upper torso was leathered. The right leg was dangling with the foot bones missing. The left leg was missing at the hip. The body was viewed as naked. The pants were on the ground with the victims wallet and ID in the rear pocket. The left leg bones were inside the left pants leg. The victim’s shoes were on the ground under the pants. The right foot was in the right shoe and left foot was in the left shoe.
Nowhere in this report is the finding of my uncles teeth. He had false teeth, most likely from all the “cocaine or meth use”. Nothing in any of the reports I have received mentions his teeth. Where did his teeth go? He was identified by finger prints, not sure how they were able to get fingerprints from a badly decomposed body, but the report states they were able to identify his body via fingerprints obtained by the FBI.
16. Another friend of my uncles, Mr. Charles Surridge, the son of my uncles employer, contacted the lead detective of the case when he read about the body being found. On June 4th he called the detective stating he had been “good friends” with the victim. I have two newspaper clippings on the finding of my uncles body but neither one of them has a date as to when it appeared in the paper. This young kid stated he was shocked to read about the death in the newspaper and wished to know more about the circumstances. Because the case was still under investigation, the detective asked the kid to provide any information he may have. Charlie told the detective last time he saw the victim was later part of April but could not recall the exact date. He claims he and his mother (my uncles employer) were concerned because the victim had disappeared and taken the company van. He said he didn’t know much about his personal life except he had a drinking and drug problem. He said he was the type of person that owed everybody a little bit of money but no one a great deal of money. He couldn’t think of any one who would want to harm him but that if the victim did indeed kill himself, it was because of his wife. He said the victims wife was constantly messing with his head which caused the victim to be depressed. (The depression wasn’t caused from his alcohol addiction? Duh, of course it was!) When he was asked to describe the victim as to what type of person he was he stated, “he was the type of person that always had a beer in his hand and his favorite drinking place was the El Toro.”
Another one of my uncle’s friends, Bart, who was contact by Peggy during the time my uncle was no where to be found, advised Peggy that he had heard conversation on the street that the victim was deep into drugs and got bumped off, and indicated that the victim was probably dead somewhere in the everglades. Bart never disclosed his source and from the police report, the detective never pursued talking to Bart themselves. Again, I feel they felt he wasn’t worth the effort or the money. He was dead. Another dirtbag off the streets.
It is also believed my uncles drug connect was Mr. Moore, his boss, who conveniently moved out of state and up to New York in April, supposedly prior to my uncle’s “suicide.” The detective never questioned Mr. Moore except over the telephone.
I have so many unanswered questions but numerous emails back to Miami Dade police were never answered once they sent me the report. I never received the crime scene pictures and whether they still have them, who knows. I’m sure the only way for me to get them would be for me to actually go there and ask for them. They were reluctant to send me the police report to begin with because it was an old case and they didn’t know who I was…
My biggest problem with this case is this: If my uncle was always drunk or high on cocaine, how the hell was he able to climb up an Australian Pine tree that stood 123 ft high, to a 14 ft branch, knot all the knots found in the rope, do a hangman’s noose, all in the dark, and then climb the tree again, wrap the rope around the tree branch, put the noose around his neck, tie his hands behind his back, and jump to his death? No note was left behind, his teeth were missing, I just can not accept the fact this was a suicide.
My investigation will not end here. I will continue to ask people I know who may be able to give me some answers. I probably will go into the Miami Dade Police Department and request the crime scene photos. I also want to speak to his wife, Peggy. I feel she left out key pieces of information and wasn’t the victim she made herself out to be.
Side note: My uncles birthday was August 24th. My email to the MDPD was dated August 23rd. I did not know my uncles birthday was the 24th of August when I petitioned the police for his file. Was this a coincidence or was my uncles spirit egging me on to do this investigation? Something else I will never know for sure. Suicide is a horrible death, not just for the victim but the one’s they leave behind.
If you or someone you know needs help please reach out and call the suicide hotline at: 1-800-273-8255
And if you know someone who may be fighting an addiction to alcohol or drugs, please visit http://www.nowaddictiontreatment.com. You or your loved one does not need insurance to get help.
As the old woman sat on her porch rocking in slow motion,
she contemplated her life.
She didn’t do it often, because it brought her much sadness
and at the same time, happiness, so deep, it caused her heart to ache.
Aching for the sadness, and aching to feel happiness once
It was a warm afternoon.
She could hear the pine trees whispering to themselves as they swayed in
the gentle breeze.
Silence. Staring up
at the huge, white, fluffy clouds with their backdrop of sky blue, being reminded
how lucky she truly was.
What had been done, was done. Nothing could be changed. How poetic.
Remembering what it was like to be a young mother, she wasn’t ready. And though she wasn’t ready, she did the best she knew how. Love and trust. Growing up too soon.
Like baby birds growing up and leaving the nest, never to come back home again.
She wondered if mama birds ever missed their babies. No one
will ever know, because she still sings her song deep in the forest.
Her children would remember some of the happy times, rather
than the negative. But experience comes
with age. Knowing that now doesn’t help
with her younger self.
Beaches in the summer, BBQ’s with friends, game nights, zoo
visits, movie night, pizza, monster rallies, bedtime stories.
A calm comes over the old woman as the warm sun hits her
face. She smiles. Shifting in her chair,
she reaches for her glass of wine and takes a sip. The sweet, tart flavor fills her mouth and
she slowly swallows it.
No one will ever know it isn’t 5 o’clock. She’s alone.
No point hanging onto the negative.
Regrets? Of course, but one must move past it or they will
never be happy in life. Forgiveness. Forgiving herself.
She sighs a heavy sigh.
As the sun sets slowly over the horizon, disappearing into the trees, she realizes, she’s been traveling.
Where did she go?
Feeling the loss in her soul but the joy in her heart, she picked up her
now empty wine glass.
She knew where she went.
Lifting her weary bones from her rocker, she shuffles into her cabin. Tomorrow would be another day of memories and “if only’s…”
Today would have been my dad’s 91st birthday if he were still alive. This is no joke…even though for many years, with his birthday being on April 1st, we always told him, he was born a fool. We were joking of course, cause my dad was no fool.
I remember him when I was a little girl, he was so handsome and I loved the way he smelled. Old Spice and tobacco. When he started smoking a pipe, it was the sweet tobacco smell I just loved.
He was always a hard working man. He would, at times, work two jobs. Even when I got older, he would work on cars in our garage. It seemed the only time he had free time was on Sundays, when my mom would make a large pot of sauce and all my cousins would come over for dinner. The men would sit and watch football, baseball, whatever sport was on TV and the women would be in the kitchen. Those are happy memories.
My dad was the youngest of 4 children and the only boy. He was born to an immigrant father but his mom was born here. My grandparents married at a late age, they were in their 30’s which is old in those days. I’m not sure if my dad ever knew his grandparents or if they had died before he was old enough to remember.
My grandfather was a butcher but he loved to gamble on the horses. My grandmother was a housewife and when they needed extra money, she cleaned houses for rich, “white” women. Back in those days, prejudice against Italians was rampant. In fact, my great grandfather was a merchant marine who, once he saw America, fell in love with it. So, he went back to Italy and told his wife and six of his nine children, they were moving to America. They went through Ellis Island and set up home in Kings County, New York. My great grandfather worked on the docks in NYC, as did my grandfather once he was old enough. But he was also a skilled carpenter.
My dad was a Golden Glove boxer when he was younger. If I remember correctly, he won several trophies. My memories of life with my parents came after they purchased their house on Ryder Street in Brooklyn, I moved there when I was 2 and we stayed there until I was 9, so that makes sense. I remember when my dad worked for a mechanic shop. There were so many Sal’s they had to call my dad by his middle name, so I heard him being called “Tony” alot. He drove a yellow cab in Manhattan on his off time and he was so likable, he had many friends.
The guys used to come over for coffee and sit around the kitchen table. I enjoyed that. I was young but I still remember it. We all talked with our guttural accent that only New Yorker’s have. My parents had several couple friends they did things with on the weekends. The place to go in NY at that time was the Playboy Club. They would go for dinner and drinks and possibly entertainment. As I got older, they would allow me to babysit their friends kids. And the goodies they left for us were too good to pass up.
Because my dad was in the car business, not only was he a master mechanic but he was also a good customer service guy. He was also in sales so many times he came home with different cars. Porches, Audi’s, Ramblers, Chrysler’s, Fords, all depending on who he was working for. He left early in the morning and was usually home by 5 pm. He didn’t want my mom to work outside the home, but there was one time, she really wanted to get out of the house since all the kids were now in school. I was an unruly teenager, rebellious, so once I knew our house was empty during the day, I would ditch school and have my friends over for a party.
That didn’t last long as a group of kids decided to rip us off one day and that was the end of that. My parents decided to move us to California. I was going into my junior year in high school. Once we got to California, my dad started his own business, he purchased a lease for a Mobile station and he worked on cars and sold gas. He was always at work. He did purchase a ’62 Volkswagon Bug for me to drive only it was stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. He kept telling me he would teach me, but the business was growing and he didn’t have the time. So one summer day, I said the heck with it. I grabbed the keys and took off determined to teach myself how to drive my mode of transportation. I picked up two of my girlfriends, Pat and Gail, and we took off, driving around Mira Mesa. We had a blast in that car. Back then we had a drive in theater off of Balboa Avenue. My Bug had a moon roof and we would pile 4 of us in the car and go to the drive in.
My dad made more money in California than he had his entire life. He was doing really well. So well, he purchased two more gas stations. My mom and he would go on lots of cruises for their vacations. And once I had kids, they would spend time with them because let’s face it, I was now working all the time (2 jobs) and my parents were having fun. They purchased a motorhome and went camping all the time with their club. The kids loved it and it gave them something to do while I was working.
When my dad got Hepatitis from a trip down to Mexico, he got really sick. He was so sick, it ended up ruining his liver and he was never able to drink again. He didn’t know he had Hepatitis and my aunt and uncle had come out to visit and they drove to Las Vegas. He was too sick to even leave his room. He had to take off work for several weeks, but to see my dad laying on the couch was a new site for me.
Because his business was doing so well, they decided to buy a piece of property in Jamul, CA on top of a hill and build their dream home. However, shortly after moving in, my dad announced he was going to retire. He sold his business. Things were good for a while, he invested his money and he was enjoying his retirement. Until the recession in the 90’s hit. Most of his investments were with one guy who ended up having a Ponzi scheme. He milked hundreds of thousands of dollars from many people in San Diego and my parents ended up having to sell their motorhome, their house, just about everything they had. They moved to Florida where they were able to buy a piece of property and have another house built. But after a few years, my dad was over living in Florida and he wanted to move back to be closer to his family. Luckily, one of the investments they had did not foreclose and when it sold, they were staring at a large enough check that if they sold their current home, they could purchase another one in California. So they did it.
They moved to Riverside CA as they were able to afford a home in a senior community. My dad seemed pretty content there. He made lots of friends as he sat in the driveway with his dog, Velvet. He enjoyed the warm weather which didn’t consist of humidity. He was around his family once again.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My dad took it very hard. We didn’t know how long I was going to live and I do know, my parents did not want to bury their daughter. I was dad’s little girl after all. Meantime, my dad was going to the VA docs on a regular basis. At the time, we didn’t know why because he didn’t tell anyone. But apparently, he was having heart problems. He was tired all the time, he slept alot. He didn’t have much energy. Although, he helped me when he purchased me a mobilehome in Hemet. I was going through my last treatment phase of radiation, but he would come over almost every day and help me fix the place up.
I was determined not to let my cancer dictate my life. So, I started looking for a job in June. By the end of July, I was working full time again. My dad seemed pretty happy about it. I remember one Friday night, my parents invited me over for dinner. While I was sitting around their dining room table, my dad sitting at the head of the table surrounded by all these widowed women. My uncle had passed just 6 weeks prior, and as I sat there looking at all these women, including my aunt, I kept thinking how lucky I was to still have my dad around.
That Sunday, my mom called and invited me over to dinner but I was too tired and told her I had just been there on Friday. So they enjoyed dinner with my brothers. On Monday, I had to work in San Diego, so I turned off my phone so I wouldn’t be disturbed. It wasn’t until 9 pm Monday night when I remembered my phone had been off all day. When I turned it on, I had 15 messages.
My dad had woken up early Monday morning and was feeling nauseous. While he was in the bathroom, he broke out in a cold sweat. Coming out of the bathroom, he lay on the bed and told my mother to call 911. He was having a heart attack. When the paramedics got there, they prepared him for a hospital trip. The VA was full so they couldn’t take him and the local hospital wasn’t prepared for heart attack victims so they transported him to San Bernardino, which was a good hour away. All my messages were from different family members trying to get a hold of me all day. At 9:00 pm, I drove over to my mother’s house where my brothers and neighbors had gathered. I got caught up on what was happening. He was stable but was not a good candidate for surgery. Apparently, his heart had started doing it’s own bypass. But where the bypass had ended up, there was a clogged artery and so, he had a heart attack. He wasn’t able to take in much oxygen because he was suffering from emphysema, which no one knew about.
He didn’t like anyone to fuss over him so when he became ill, he never told anyone. He didn’t tell anyone he had emphysema or that he had a bad heart. He kept it all to himself. I remember when we celebrated their 50th anniversary, we took a cruise to Alaska. He fell asleep on the train going up the mountain. I thought that was odd or maybe he just was tired. Some of the symptoms he had, lots of pain in his shoulders and neck, always asking me to massage them for him. Swelling in his ankles, all signs of a bad heart.
He went into the hospital on Monday and on Thursday, when we were all in his room, he was sitting up an said he felt pretty good. Told my mom to bring his shorts and sneakers, he was going home on Friday. We told him only if he improved could he go home. I got to the hospital in the afternoon and planned on spending the rest of the day with him. My kids had flown in, one from Washington the other from Boston. They had gone down to the cafeteria to get something to eat, and I was just in the hospital room, holding my dad’s hand and watching him. They had him on morphine and I wasn’t sure if he knew I was there until he opened his eyes and asked me to adjust his bed, his back started hurting him and he thought it was due to where the bed was positioned. I moved the bed and all of a sudden all these bells and whistles went off.
They pushed me out of the room and started working on my dad. At one point they came out and told me he needed more oxygen and wanted permission to put a tube down his throat. I told them no at first because he was on a DNR and I didn’t want him suffering by having them shove a tube down his throat, but they assured me it wasn’t life support it was just to help him breathe. Well, they lied to me. It was life support. Apparently, he had had another heart attack which was why his back was hurting him. They then told me to start calling the family back as he may not make it through the night.
So, I called everyone and told them what had happened and they all needed to come back to the hospital. Everyone started trickling in at different hours. Most lived in San Diego so it was a three hour drive for them. My sister in law and 2 nieces were the last people to come in which was around 11:00 pm that night. Once we were all there, we gathered around a circle holding hands and prayed. We all said something to my dad, hoping he could hear us. The doctor came in and removed the breathing tube. We all stood around in silence. Most of us were crying and then one by one, we went up to my dad, laying there on the bed, and gave him one last kiss and hug goodbye.
He was right that afternoon when he said he was going home. It just wasn’t the home we thought he was talking about. The next morning, I awoke to thunder. Now as most of you know, living in Southern California, we never get thunder. It was so loud, it was shaking my house. The kids were asleep in the living room, and I ran out there and opened the front door and said, “Listen?” They heard it too, loud, thunderous, earth shaking thunder. I turned and said to my kids, “He made it! He’s in heaven and he’s fighting with Uncle Tommy!” That was August 12, 2004. I love you dad, and still miss you…I will always miss you until we meet again.
RIP – April 1, 1928 – August 12, 2004. Wonderful husband, father, grandfather, son. Love you to the moon and back! Happy Birthday in Heaven!
Several months ago, well, maybe more than that, (time flies when your trying to lose weight and don’t), I wrote about trying out Keto. Well, Keto did work for a while until we went on vacation. Even though I tried to stick to it, I ended up going off it once we got home. I don’t know why, I just did. After speaking to my hairdresser, who had lost about 20-30 lbs, I asked her what she was doing. She gave me the name of her nutritionist, who I contacted.
She told me she worked in Keto, Macros, and Mindful Eating. Sounded good to me so I hired her. She then gave me an eating plan with my total amount of macros I was allowed in a day. The calorie portion of 1500. From past experience with my body, I knew it was too much food for me. I have never lost weight in the past by eating over 1200 calories. I know that about my body. However, she is the expert so I gave it a try. I gained 12 lbs. I was devastated, of course, as I had never weighed that much in my life.
We went over what I had been doing and even though I wasn’t following it to a T, there was no reason for me to gain 12 lbs in a month, none! She told me my body had been in starvation mode for so long which was why I was gaining weight and eventually it would reverse itself. I was discouraged, depressed, wanting to throw in the towel. But really, that’s just not me. I am determined I am going to beat this.
Another friend of mine told me about a program she was doing: Noom. Huh? What the heck is a Noom? She told me she lost 22 lbs in 4 months and she is like me, it’s hard for her to lose weight. So I did some research on it. They had a free 14 day trial and if you liked what you were doing, you could sign up for a 6 month membership for $149. Okay, I’ll bite. I put a reminder on my phone and it said, “If this doesn’t work, do not buy it, cancel it today!”
They gave me a coach and access to their food logging system and exercise log, thousands of recipes, and some psychological encouragement. They also put me on a 1200 calorie per day “diet”. It’s not really a diet, they break food down into 3 groups, Red, yellow, and green. Red you eat limited amounts of, yellow is good but not as good as green. You can eat anything you want as long as you stay within your calorie range. You have to weigh every day and log it into the system. They want you to develop healthy habits.
So the first 14 days, the scale went up a couple more lbs, even though I was logging everything I ate. And like I said earlier, I am determined to win this, I am in control, not my body! So, I continued with the program. I mean I’ve already thrown a ton of money into my weight loss these last 15 years, whats another $149? But on the third week, I saw the scale go down. In fact after the 4th week, I had lost a total of 6 lbs! Big thing for me!
Here is what I have noticed from the help of the nutritionist and NOOM. I am very MINDFUL of what I am eating. I am making better choices and in my head I’m not saying, “oh, one of these won’t hurt” cause yes, it will. Ask me how I know this….Saturday we had company for the first time since starting this and I had two old fashion high balls, it made a big difference in the scale of 2 lbs. Those 2 lbs took days to lose and now I am almost back to my Saturday weight. I am putting too much work into this to blow it on a silly alcoholic drink. So, I learned my lesson. A lesson I would not have learned if I hadn’t been weighing myself every day.
I measure everything! I don’t trust myself just yet to “guesstimate.” I am also eating the same foods, some may think this is boring but I don’t think it is, in fact, I do change it up a bit but make sure macros, the fats, proteins, and carbs are equal or similar. I do no carbs at night with dinner, another change I made where I am seeing a difference. I am eating fish, cod, mahi mahi, salmon, shrimp, chicken and a veggie or salad for dinner. Breakfast I have a low carb tortilla with 2 scrambled eggs and 2 pieces of bacon and for lunch I have a Prophorma 1 chocolate protein shake with either 1 T of peanut butter or 1/2 avo. My snacks are 1 cup sugar snap peas, or 2 T peanut butter with 3-4 celery sticks, or 20 almonds. Dessert at night is 20-40 frozen green or red grapes, or a JOJO bar. This is working for me.
Having found my sweet spot with my food intake has caused me to start seeing results. I had to limit my workouts because I hurt my knee but today my doctor told me I could ride my bike, or do squats without weights. No dancing to Zumba or doing any Shaun T workouts. They cause me to twist my knee and then it’s hard for me to walk. My goal was to lose 55 lbs, but my doctor told me to make it 25 lbs, baby steps.
So here I go again on my own….wait, that’s a song! But it’s true. NOOM says I will be at my goal weight by August. I hope it’s right. I’ll be happy with “almost” at my goal weight, anything is better than where I am today. My doctor told me I could be a nutritionist! She’s right. I know so much about food at this point, I know I could coach someone else. However, we are all different. What works for one person may not work for another. I found that out this past year. As always, I will keep you updated to my progress and maybe, no promises, I will post pictures!
More drama in the family. This is really getting old. Just when we think things have finally settled down, something new pops up!
We found out today, our son’s one sister called him up to borrow $5,000 out of his inheritance money. The same money all of them have been fighting us on about using for his special needs. They fought us when we wanted it to go into a “special needs” account. They refused because first of all they would have to keep track of it and report it to the Feds, secondly, they didn’t want it all to go to his special needs. Why? Well, we found out today. It’s so they can have access to his money whenever they wanted it.
She called him up this morning at his group home and asked if she could borrow $5,000 to move. She’s been living in a condo which was purchased by her now deceased grandmother. She stopped paying her $800 portion of rent back in October because after having a contractor in to fix some leaks in the bathroom, they found asbestos in the walls. Their heater then went out, to which her aunt gave her a space heater until they could get that fixed. Their washing machine went out as well but that is not the responsibility of the landlord to fix. So, she just decided to stop paying rent.
This past month, her aunt sent her a notice to move out so they could fix the problems in the condo and of course, she doesn’t have the money to move. Because rather than save the $800 a month she wasn’t paying, she pissed it away like she did her portion of her inheritance. Now, she asks her brother, who is 18 but naive to facts on money, due to his autism, if she can have $5,000 of his money! We call bullshit as did the Director of his group home. She saw immediately how deceptive and how she coerced him into saying yes. The aunt who is in charge of his money, or trustee if you like, told her she would need a phone call from our son to get his approval. Unbeknownst to him, he just said yes. I’m thinking this may be illegal.
After hearing about this, the Director called APS and the police so we can protect his money as well as himself from predators like his sister. My husband placed a call to his ex sister in law and told her we were calling APS on his behalf, of course we had to leave her a message because she wouldn’t pick up her cell phone or her house phone. See how these people roll? His daughter also refused to pick up her phone because she knows she is in the wrong! She skirts on other people’s money and has her entire life. She squandered away her $80,000 inheritance and has nothing to show for it. We paid half her rent when she first moved out to CO for 6 months because she thought she was going to move in with us. She had asked her sister several years ago to borrow $5,000, which she was given, but she was able to pay it back because she had another inheritance she was getting. However, the money has run out and now we want to know how she is going to pay her brother back. She isn’t. And there will be nothing he can do about it.
This is just wrong in so many ways. Like I had published before, these are family members who didn’t care about their brother until he was sent away. They never attended any therapy sessions, nor did they ever call to take him out somewhere fun. Never. In four years! But now that he’s 18 , they feel they can take advantage of him. And we saw through this. From the very beginning when our son gave his permission for them to be involved in his progress, he did it out of love, they did it out of greed.
We have since advised him to rescind his yes answer and we told him why. We also told him he really should consult with another adult before telling someone they can borrow that type of money from him. We told him not to feel bad about it but he didn’t have to say yes just because she was his sister. We told him they were taking advantage of him and his good nature and it wasn’t right. He needs that money for himself. I mean that’s what they all have been preaching to us all this time. So, once again, patience has paid off. We now see their true colors that we have been talking about all this time. And I will repeat this until I am dead. Our interest is Daniel having a successful life and being able to live on his own even though he is autistic. The lies being told about us are unreal. Some have reached my family and for some God awful reason, they are being believed by certain family members. This makes me sick! Unless you were here, and saw it with your own eyes, don’t fucking judge me.
We will now use every tool in the book to get Daniel to move with us to Savannah. He needs to be protected from the greed in his sisters who are poisoning his thoughts. There is no way I will feel comfortable leaving him here in Denver so he can be coerced and deceived by his family. As parents, that is our job and we will do it until the day we die.
Donna: “You think that if you got no uterus and no breasts, you’re still technically a woman?” Erin: “Sure you are. Yeah, you just…you’re actually a happier woman because you don’t have to worry about maxi-pads and underwire.”
This quote from the Erin Brockovich movie resonated with
me to the core. In 1991, due to female
complications, I ended up having a total hysterectomy. I would tell my girlfriends, “It’s the best
thing I ever did for myself.” But in 2002,
when I found a lump in my breast and the doctor’s misdiagnosed me, I ended up
having an advanced stage of breast cancer, causing me to have a double
mastectomy. As I was being wheeled into the operating room, these words played
in my head.
At the age of 47, I was single for the first time in a
very long time, an empty-nester, working a job I hated but going to school to
start a new career I was excited about.
It was surprising, once I heard those words, “you have
cancer” how nothing else would permeate my mind. Even though I had been getting mammograms
every year from the time I was 40, the outcome was always normal. How could this be?
Once the shock wore off, I got to work. I started doing research on my cancer,
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. I saw the
words, “Mammographically occult…”
I remember when I found the small, pea size lump at the
8:00 position on my right breast. I was
doing a breast self-exam (BSE) and when I found the small hard invader, I
immediately made an appointment with my primary care doctor. She felt it too and sent me over to the
radiology department to get a mammogram and an ultrasound. The radiologist, a woman, told me she wasn’t
able to feel a lump and asked me to place a lead bb where I “thought” it
After the results came back, she told me it was a fluid
filled cyst, come back in a year for a follow up. That was in April of 2002. In December of 2002, I felt the lump had
gotten bigger. Now it was the size of a
quarter. I wasn’t worried, after all, it
was a fluid filled cyst and probably had more fluid buildup.
By April of 2003, the lump was now the size of a large
lime and the skin around it was itchy. It
had been a year so it was time to call the doctor and schedule my follow
up. When I called to make the appointment,
I told the scheduler about the lump and how it had gotten bigger. She immediately found me an appointment for
that day. My primary was on vacation so
I had to see a different doctor. As I
sat on the table, wrapped in my paper gown, he came into the room. He had a kind face and a professional
demeanor. He asked me a few questions
regarding my past appointment the year before and then he moved the paper gown
to the side and started doing a clinical breast exam. As he was examining me, he was asking me
questions regarding family history and personal habits. He sent me for a
mammogram and ultrasound that day.
The same radiologist who had examined me the year before and
claimed she couldn’t feel a lump, could now feel the lump. While she went over my file, I could tell
from the look on her face, she wasn’t happy.
As the technician was doing my mammogram, she was extra careful to be
sure what she was getting was the entire lump, so much so, I was bruised from
the machine squashing my breast so hard.
But the pictures came out clean.
Nothing showed up on the mammogram.
She was just as puzzled as I was.
Next stop was downstairs to get an ultrasound. And there it was. A large, black mass that seemed to have
fingers coming out of it as if to say, “here I am, come and get me.” A core needle biopsy the following week
confirmed our fears, it was breast cancer.
Treatment was surgery, aggressive chemo, and
radiation. I opted for a double
mastectomy because lobular breast cancer is not detectable with a mammogram. Nineteen lymphnodes were removed from my
right side, and seven had cancer. My
tumor was 7x6x3 cm, stage 3B. Six rounds
of chemo and 60 rounds of radiation and life expectancy was two years. So much for finding that true love; so much
for working that dream job; so much for growing old and seeing grandchildren.
The support of my family and friends was phenomenal. We cracked jokes, they cleaned my house, they
cooked me meals, they kept me company.
They formed a team “I love Lucy” and we walked 60 miles for the cause.
I wrote my first book “One in Eight” and did a workshop
in high schools for seven years telling my story to young women so they could
become their own health advocates.
Everything I didn’t know then, I taught them now.
This year I will be celebrating 16 years of being cancer
free. I found true love five years ago
when I met my husband; I went to school and graduated Cumma sum laude with a BA
degree in Creative writing and English (my dream job, to be a writer); and I
have several beautiful grandchildren, thanks to my kids and my husband’s kids.
It doesn’t take body parts to be a woman, it takes a
fighting spirit, a loving family, and a good heart to be all we can be. I can honestly say, I am one lucky woman.
For years I didn’t understand what was
happening to me. Young women, brutally
murdered, appearing in my dreams. It
wasn’t until I finally accepted the fact, dead people were talking to me, did they
start appearing during my waking hours.
Invading my head like the Americans did on the
beaches of Normandy, nothing I did could stop it, no matter how hard I
Getting drunk and passing out; kept them at
bay for a while longer; but when I got high, well, that was a different story.
The voices became louder, demanding attention; placing images of their desperate
last moments into the mind’s eye.
I’m not sure when it all began; my earliest
recollection was in ‘51. I was 7 at the
time, living in Brooklyn. My mom, a stay
at home mom, as were most of the mom’s back then, wasn’t home one day when I arrived
from school. The door was unlocked.
Our house was shaped like a railroad flat, my
room was in the back. Facing the mirror on
my dresser, I saw a man’s reflection by the front door. He looked like Fred Astaire. He had opened
the front door just a tad, enough to lean his head in, black tux, black top
hat. Tipping the hat, just slightly, he
smiled. Thinking I heard him say, “Ready
to go?” Turning from the mirror, he was
gone. The door still ajar.
Walking slowly towards the front door, heart beating
rapidly, the thought of fainting was pliable. An electric shock coursed through
my hand and up my arm as I touched the doorknob, watching as the long, black
hairs stood straight up. He was gone.
George. My best friend. We did everything together. Though no one else could see or hear him, we
always had a fun time. He was around for quite a while and then he wasn’t.
Oh, and the basement. Something was there. It
lived behind the heater in the darkest corner. Just a dark shadow with long
spindly fingers, always tripping me as I ran up the basement stairs. It knew I
knew. Never did see its’ face…I hate
As I got older, the hissing in my ears was a
clear indicator someone was trying to contact me. At first, it was only every once in a while.
The quieter the house got, the louder the hissing. Always playing music whenever I was alone and
falling asleep with the TV on. God
forbid I acknowledged them.
The 1970s and 80s were the worst decades for
me. Many women were brutally
killed. Bundy, Berkowitz, Kemper,
Bittaker, Norris, Bianchi, Buono, BTK, Gaskins.
There is no rest. Even those I couldn’t understand came to tell me…what?
I don’t know…little sleep and the hissing just got louder…
Eyes…the eyes of their killers…empty, crazy,
soul less. And red lips. Lipstick?
Blood? Didn’t matter, red was fear. And
now, it’s my turn. Peace finally. The
hissing has stopped. They came to help me.
My ending, red with fear.
Though finally at peace, I can’t rest. Another chosen one. Strong, sane, believable,
unable to have written this on her own. She, too, has inherited the hissing.
For instance, my step son was taken out of our house a year ago due to his violent outbursts and meltdowns. The progress he has made is monumental. It’s like he is a different person. We don’t see the anger in him any longer, and he seems more at peace with himself. We don’t believe this would have happened if we had not taken the drastic steps needed in order to get him to where he is today. He is actually a pleasure to be around and we can have a conversation with him. He got the help he needed from professionals and he continues to get help from the staff at the group home where he currently resides. Trust me when I say, don’t try to do this yourself if you have a child who needs mental help. Leave it to the professionals, this is what they are trained to do.
I just celebrated my 63rd birthday yesterday. Thank you. So grateful to be able to say I hit another year milestone. After someone has been diagnosed with cancer, and you have death staring you in the face, every birthday is a miracle in your life.
This coming year holds many changes for our family. We have decided to relocate to the South, the low country. We’ve had enough of the high country in more ways than one! Hubby and I are both experiencing a hard time breathing. So much so, it wakes me at night, it feels like I’m drowning but it’s just my lungs telling me I need more oxygen. So now, I use an inhaler every night before going to bed so I don’t wake in a panic.
Of the seven kids we have together, only 3 are speaking to us or me anyway. I’m being blamed for my step son having to leave the house so I’m the POS who has been negatively influencing my husband. The only thing I can say about that is, you didn’t live here when the shit was hitting the fan. And when you did live with it, you just ignored it. I am the one who insisted on the testing and the real diagnosis. Because we are moving away, yes, I’m being blamed for that too, the adult girls believe we are abandoning them and his grandchildren. Yes, one adult daughter is telling her kid I’m not her real grandmother. Which is really too bad because I love that little girl. I never professed to be her “real” grandmother. Her “real” grandmother died so when her grandpa married me, I just took over the role. But I’m not welcome into that role any longer. Grandpa will have to remember the birthdays, the Christmas presents, etc. because I’m not the grandma any more. And whereas it does hurt our feelings, we will get over it. When those kids are older, they will realize what they were forced to miss out on. We can only hope their children don’t do the same thing to them in the future.
My writing is finally going somewhere. Yes, I’m a published author but I haven’t had anything published since 2012. Not for lack of trying. I have been writing, in college I had to write an essay every week and my last year of college included all my creative writing classes, so sometimes I had to write multiple stories. My co author and I have been writing a serial killer novel for the last 6 years and I do believe we will be done with it this summer. Then the real work begins. Finding a publisher interested in it, after all the edits, and if I remember correctly, the last book was a real pill while it was in the publishing stage. It was more stressful and frustrating than it was to write the darn thing.
I recently submitted two of my stories to contests. Women on Writing holds several contest every year, so decided why not give it a try. Even if I don’t win anything, at least I gave it a try. One was a creative non fiction piece and the other was a flash fiction piece. I will post them on a separate blog and maybe you can tell me what you think of them. I’m always up for some creative criticism, especially when it comes to my writing.
Even though we have some strife in the family dynamics, we are very much looking forward to the changes we are facing in this next year. My husband and I are partners, we support each other. We love each other. We are a team. We will continue to move forward in our life because you just never know what the future has in store for you. You have to take life by the horns and make the most of it. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. I refuse to die with regrets! L