you’ll be in my heart.

As many folks now know, I lost my little brother Jason to HLH on Friday, June 22nd after a long hospital stay. I anticipate that I’ll be grieving for the rest of my life. My village has been incredibly supportive through this difficult time. Many of my loved ones have asked me how they can help me, and so I wanted to create a list of ways that I’m channeling my grief to honor Jason’s life and invite my community to join me:

  1. Register to run a 5K to raise awareness about HLH and raise dollars for research into this extremely aggressive & fucking mean autoimmune disease. After checking in with a close friend who works in medical research, and telling him how helpless I felt, he told me that one of the things that’s really needed is greater awareness into rare diseases so that we can better understand them and better treat them. Almost no one has heard of HLH. I’d never heard of it. It stands for hemaphagocytic lymphohistiocytosis — and it’s essentially an autoimmune disease that sends the immune system on overdrive. It attacked my brother’s organs — shutting down his kidneys, then his lungs in a matter of days. It’s currently treated with a protocol that starts with chemotherapy to suppress the immune system while the trigger must simultaneously be treated. In my brother’s case, he had mono and a terrible cold, and one or both of these had been the suspected trigger. However, if the trigger is misidentified, the treatment won’t be enough, and there isn’t enough research into what triggers HLH. In my brother’s case, it turned out to be a dental infectionethat hadn’t been identified. On July 22nd, exactly one month after my brother’s death, there will be a 5K to Fight Histio in NYC, and I’m running to raise awareness, to raise dollars, and to find a cure. Join me, or support me!
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    my brother Jason, an athlete unlike his big (meaning older but definitely shorter) sister who doesn’t even understand how long the world cup will go on

  3. 2. Join the bone marrow registry. Had my brother Jason survived, he would have likely needed a bone marrow transplant. As his sister, I had hoped I could be his match, and so I tried to mostly abstain from drinking and eat semi-healthy foods (this was a really stressful and traumatic fucking month, so let’s be real, some alcohol and candy also happened). It’s fairly simple to join the registry. Go to BeTheMatch.org, and request a swab kit. Then, just swab your cheek, place the samples back into the prepaid envelope, and send it back! Full disclosure, from what I’ve read, the actual process of donating bone marrow seems invasive and can be painful, but it can also be life-saving. It’s especially important for nonwhite folks to become donors: Right now, 2 out of 3 white people will likely find a match, and only 1 in 4 nonwhite folks will find a match. Register here!

    3. Donate blood or platelets. I used to donate blood often in college, and I even organized a couple of blood drives, because UCLA very conveniently had a blood and platelet center right on campus, and they’d give you orange juice and cookies for your blood. I haven’t given blood in many years. You get older, and you forget that your 15 minutes of time and single pint of blood can save three lives. My brother relied heavily on blood and platelet donations to sustain him for nearly one month in the hospital. If you aren’t affected by the extremely homophobic ban on gay blood, schedule an appointment!

    superheroes at prom

    Jason, a superhero and also a blood donor, heading to senior prom in 2016

    I’ll be giving *platelets* on July 9th to coincide with the blood drive that Stepinac High School is organizing in honor of Jason.

    4. Look into becoming a volunteer firefighter, and then recognize when that may be too far outside your purview, so instead finally contact your landlord about replacing fire alarms. My little brother wanted to be a firefighter, and the test results that arrived the week he died showed that he scored very high on the most recent firefighter exam. I’ve heard rumblings before about volunteer fire departments and so I spent some time investigating this as a possibility before realizing that this was likely not something I’d be able to do. HOWEVER, like six months ago, my fire alarms were completely out of whack and ringing/buzzing/making fire alarm sounds in the middle of the night, so I disengaged them and went back to sleep and never thought about them again. In retrospect, this is an extreme fire hazard. So I finally wrote my landlord an email and asked him to fix them. Thank you for the reminder, Jay.

    jason kid firefighter

    Jason, better at firefighter stuff at age 5 than I am at age 28

    5. Because no matter how many times you burn me, I just can’t quit you, DC politics: Donate to the campaign of at-large DC Council candidate Elissa Silverman, a local champion for paid family leave. Without paid family leave, I would not have been able to be at my little brother’s bedside during his final weeks of life. When Jason was unconscious, he needed family to be his advocates in the hospital. Nurses changed over every two days, and anything that hadn’t been documented didn’t get communicated to the next set of nurses. With advice from a friend, and because I yearned to feel less helpless, I appointed myself hospital note-taker and worked to fill in the gaps during some of these transitions. Not only was it important for Jason to be surrounded by love during the end of his life, he also needed advocates and people who could make informed, potentially life-saving medical decisions while he was unconscious. This shouldn’t be a luxury for the few; it’s a basic necessity. I read this WaPo article over the weekend about this horrendous attack on paid family leave by former local legislators who hope to prevent one of our most progressive Council members from being re-elected, and if that article doesn’t make you want to support her campaign, well then maybe you have other good reasons, but I’ll be giving what I can. Give here! You can also directly support the campaign for paid family leave in DC. Give to the DC Paid Family leave campaign, or sign the petition!

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    Jason visiting DC on a middle school field trip that happened to coincide perfectly with my move to the city, so I obviously crashed the field trip.

     

  4. 6. Play “Somewhere” from West Side Story on repeat for an indefinite amount of days. This actually does nothing for anyone, but it helps me cry, which I assume helps me heal and healing may help me be less irritable toward others, I assume. Jason loved this song, and his high school’s choir sang it at his funeral service, and it’s been in my head and on my heart ever since.
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Jason, probably playing West Side Story ballads, circa 1999

Also, on my playlist on repeat is the song “You’ll Be in my Heart” by Phil Collins, because Tarzan was Jason’s favorite movie when he was little, and he loved the song so much back then. And Jay, you’ll be in my heart for as long as I live.

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you’ll also be in this chalk heart in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, but probably only until it rains

7. Last, as many of you are mobilizing to #KeepFamiliesTogether, remember that families are separated in the U.S. all the time — through all forms of state violence against parents and children of color, whether these are immigrant families who are separated, detained, and criminalized or youth in the foster system like me and my siblings who were separated for years when we were young. State violence isn’t new, and family separation isn’t new, and we have work to do in our our own backyards to build safe and accountable communities where we all take responsibility for each other’s well-being, without involving institutions that frequently cause more harm. The ask here is: Be a good neighbor, be a good village. Be like Jason, and wake your sister up and make her French toast for no reason at all.

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Jason, an Eagle Scout who always showed up for everyone

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a letter that I’ve saved from 7 or 8-year-old Jason after we were separated by the foster system

 

For those who may be reading this who may be grieving Jason with me, I invite you to come cry with me on this playlist, and share with me memories you may have of Jay.

And, while I sadly couldn’t put this on a Spotify playlist, you can listen to my brother singing Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me” below.


 

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Healing men

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with a group to tackle gender-based violence from a different angle: focusing not only on healing womxn but on healing men.

I know that we cannot end sexual assault by teaching womxn how to avoid being assaulted. I know that we cannot end street harassment by teaching womxn how to respond to harassment. We need to continue to give womxn and LGBTQGNC people the space to share their stories and to learn to assertively demand respect, even just to learn that they deserve respect. We are most frequently the targets of violence, and as such, our stories and experiences need to be centered, so we can heal.

But, for me, healing is not something that I can do on my own.

you are stronger than you know

I know that my abuser is suffering, too, in ways that he may not recognize. Our culture of toxic masculinity hurts everyone. And while I’ve repeatedly chosen forgiveness as my path toward healing, I haven’t figured out how to forgive someone who’d hurt me again if given the chance.

I told myself that, through forgiveness, I’d find peace. I sat down with him, with the goal of learning to see him not as a monster but as human again. But I don’t know how to forgive in a way that doesn’t require those who have hurt me to change, or to want to change – to forgive in a way that doesn’t reinforce their power over me.

How can I sit with you knowing the ways that you’ve abused me, ready to forgive and move forward and heal, when you perceive my forgiveness as weakness and use it to hurt me again? How can I help you heal if you maintain that there’s nothing wrong?

And then I have to remember that this work is not about me. I’m working to bring about slow cultural change that may or may not ever reach the specific people who abused me, but will reach someone, someone just like them, who is ready to change.

I always think about the chart I made: a thermometer that gave him points for every day that he was sober. A point and a half if he was able to go out without me, to stay sober without my help. He had to accumulate points to get the things he wanted. I built in room for error, because I knew I couldn’t expect to cure his alcoholism this way.

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I’ve had to learn that I cannot force the will to change on anyone. But I can popularize healthy masculinity. I can work to provide men with the tools and the space to overcome the ways that they’ve been socialized to suppress emotion and enact masculinity through brute force. I can work to undo the associations of emotion with weakness and strength with violence. I can learn how to help men become whole.

And as the mother of a boy, this work is so essential.

silence & healing & mr. roboto

There’s something sort of silencing about being in the limelight. To be in the news every week, to have this incredible platform, to be heard – it makes you cautious about the things you say. Because your words have impact. Speaking out about one injustice might lead to some far worse consequence. Being open about feeling burnt out might bring down the energy that you need to keep up for people who are new to the movement and feel optimistic about change.

I always want to be on point. I always want to bring my best self. I always want to be enthusiastic and positive and chipper.

And I know that’s all impossible, but it feels so essential. We were in Upworthy this week and the Huffington Post last week. I’ll be on the radio this weekend and back on the Kojo Nnamdi Show next Wednesday. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, and it’s meaningful. I feel free in a way that I couldn’t have been free when I had more traditional jobs. I was doubted so much that it made me doubt myself. I was silenced so often that I stopped speaking up. And now, I am free, and still finding myself sort of silenced in a way that I didn’t expect. Silent because I have to be responsible. And it’s hard, because I’m an open book. I believe so deeply in transparency. It’s a bad sign if organizers & organizations lack transparency, but we can’t pull down the veil on this broken system until we have a back-up plan, because having some support, however faulty, is better than having no support at all for those who are most vulnerable. I just want better for them, because I have been there, and in a way, making these systems right is healing for me.

It’s a challenge, too, to find the balance between being invested and disconnected in a way that maximizes my ability to be effective. I can’t let myself be overrun by emotion. I can’t put myself and my family at risk every time I want to help someone. I’ve been cautioned about it — about the importance of separating myself from the work, about self-care. But in many ways, it’s this level of investment that makes me effective. I am passionate because I know these problems are real because I have experienced many of them – homelessness, sexual assault, domestic violence, police violence, everyday racism, everyday sexism – and I understand how they’re all so very connected, and how the solutions must take all of these problems into account to be effective. And it’s my passion that gets people excited. And it’s my attitude of invincibility that makes people think that anything is possible. My mania is my greatest resource and my greatest weakness.

But I also don’t want to focus too much on my own healing because I know that makes me less available to help others heal in a way. I want to relate and share, but I am afraid to dominate a space where others should feel comfortable sharing, and so I find myself closing off and keeping things to myself. I have so many stories of trauma, but I am afraid to be remembered for my struggles; I want to be perceived as strong and bright and bubbly and fierce. Strong mostly, I think. And while my survivorship makes me strong, I’m also afraid of the ways that it makes me weak. Weak defined as emotional, defined as someone who may love too deeply and behave irrationally because of it, defined as needing love. It’s scary to think of the qualities that I’ve been socialized to associate with “weakness.”

And when it comes to healing myself, I am still stuck on healing others. I don’t know how to forgive in a way that’s not dependent on changing something that I can’t control. I don’t know how to heal in a way that doesn’t change the systems that failed me before they fail someone else. I don’t know how to heal in a way that doesn’t require those who have hurt me to want to change, to want to be better, to apologize and mean it. I have chosen forgiveness a thousand times, and it hasn’t helped because the people I have sought to forgive aren’t seeking forgiveness or change, and that’s still what I want. I don’t want to demonize you, I don’t want to paint you as some monster who abused me; I want healing and harmony and rainbows. Fucking rainbows.

I keep reading about this kind of reconciliation, and I don’t know how to make it real.

I shared this story last week about my abusive relationship. And I shared the details because I thought, there are probably people at different points of their abusive relationships, and they might not know yet that some behavior constitutes abuse or that it might escalate, and so I wanted to share as much as I could in an effort to reach them wherever they were. But I re-read it, and I worry about the way that it paints my abuser. My abuser. Is it fair to call him that, when he was more than that to me? He was someone I lived with, someone I loved. Someone I saw recently in a completely different light. I was saw him, and my mind had already branded him a monster, and I couldn’t see him as human. And I look back, and I want to see him as human and I want to paint him in a more compassionate light. Because I know that hurt people hurt people.

I wanted to reach out and reform him. I wanted my mother to go to therapy, to seek help. I wanted my father to take anger management seriously, to go not just because it was mandated by the court but because he needed to learn how to better process his emotions and communicate with people. I want real change, and I have enough will to change for all of my abusers, and it pains me that that’s not enough to make them change.

I am here, waiting anxiously because I want so badly to forgive.

Healing is complicated. It’s not linear, and sometimes I feel more healed than other times. Sometimes I heal through listening, through helping others who have faced similar or the same challenges; but I am not objective. I advise them as though I am them and they are me. I am so invested that I don’t see us as separate, and it’s a problem because then I worry that maybe I’m not really seeing them, and if I’m not seeing them then I cannot be truly listening and truly helping. Healing them becomes about healing me.

It feels like I should end this post with something really revelational and wise. I’ve come to feel like I’m supposed to be some source of wisdom, and I fall short. I am still this twenty-six year old single mom figuring out my own life every day and mothering a toddler who keeps growing and changing and saying hilarious things and throwing tantrums and giving me eskimo kisses. There’s a lot on my plate, and sometimes I feel invincible but other times I’m so overwhelmed.

So I’ll leave you with this video of me and Max performing Mr. Roboto (feat. Lucy Raven), my poor sweet child and my poor sweet cat, how did they get stuck with me?

things i brushed off

i hate to go on and on about something that happened years ago, but you know, sometimes  it still hurts and i can’t help that.

when i watched beyonce’s visual album, i couldn’t help but be triggered. i couldn’t help but think about my experiences with infidelity, which were part of my experiences with domestic abuse.

and when i think about my experience with abuse, i can’t help but also think about my work, about street harassment and how it’s connected to other forms of gender-based violence, how people tell us to brush it off.

the first time my ex raised his voice to me, i brushed it off. i thought it wasn’t that serious. i thought we all get drunk and mad sometimes, and it wasn’t like he hit me.

my boundary was pushed further.

when he spat on me and told me i was worthless, i brushed it off. i thought it wasn’t that bad, and anyway he was drunk, and it never would have happened if he hadn’t been drunk. at least he didn’t hit me.

my boundary was pushed further.

when he hit me in the face, i brushed it off. i mean, he was really just trying to take my phone away, and his hand accidentally hit my face; it was an accident, and it never would have happened if he hadn’t been drunk. he didn’t hit me on purpose.

my boundary was pushed further.

when he choked me and threw me into a table, i brushed it off. i mean, i never should have laughed that way when i walked in on him masturbating. it wasn’t very nice of me, and so i sort of provoked him, and in a way it was my fault.

my boundary was pushed further.

a few weeks later, i walked away. i had to stop brushing things off. i had to ask myself: how much more can i tolerate before i firmly draw the line? how much further could i let him push me past my boundaries, and why couldn’t i say that even a little bit of aggression that makes me feel unsafe and uncomfortable is enough to make it wrong?

baby, you should love yourself.

Good tip, Beebz, but your song didn’t make it onto my playlist.

Happy Respect Week, friends! This Valentine’s Day, I am going to sleep late and sprawl out on my bed. I am going to turn off my phone and ignore my inbox. I am going to let the world handle its problems for a day without me, with the exception of a certain toddler whose problems are usually as solvable as explaining, “Well, Max, if you want the door open then you really shouldn’t keep closing it.”

I am planning a day of self-love.

Here’s my Valentine’s Day agenda:

  • self care daymake pancakes for breakfast
  • give myself a facial, complete with cucumber slices over my eyes
  • remove cucumbers
  • read a fiction novel
  • nap
  • eat a donut (chocolate, obviously)
  • play sudoku
  • write an i love you card to myself

and this is my self-love playlist:

There have been too many days over the past few weeks that I’ve scheduled meetings on my days off, that I haven’t respected my need for self-care. And ultimately, I think that’s okay sometimes – sometimes you just have to act, and you can’t predict when a men’s rights activist is going to rear his anti-woman, anti-gay head in your city.

JR and LT at SFSS 2

It’s important to prioritize others sometimes, to recognize that their needs may be greater than yours. But it’s just as important to know when to stop, to recognize that caffeine and concealer are not a substitute for sleep, and to remember that caring for yourself is one of the best ways to make you an effective and sustainable caretaker for your community.

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Stop humanizing abusers; you are not them.

I have many man-identifying friends who see men who perpetrate violence against women, and they want to relate to them. They see men accused of sexual assault, accused of domestic violence, accused of harassment — and they see themselves, potentially misunderstood. You want to understand the men who abuse and assault and harass women. You want to put yourself in their shoes, and you want to make sense of their actions.

But their actions don’t make sense. And you are not them.

This is why we forgive abusers: We want so badly to believe that they are only human, that it was some kind of accident or mistake or miscommunication, that it could’ve been us. We want so badly to believe that they just couldn’t control themselves, that it was some substance or some emotion that made them behave the way that they did.

This is not the case.

Most men do not abuse and assault women. There’s a small percentage of men who do, and they are repeat offenders.

The first time my ex hit me, he said, “You know it was an accident, Jess.” And I wanted so badly to humanize him. I wanted so badly to believe him. I wanted so badly to understand what happened, and so I thought and I repeated, “It was an accident.” I said to the arresting officers, “It was an accident.” I said to my friends, “It was an accident.” Sure, he shouldn’t have been drunk, but he never would have hit me if he weren’t drunk. He wasn’t even trying to hit me, I said; he was just going for the phone, and somehow his hand hit my face. It was an accident.

We want so badly to believe that these are mistakes that can happen to anyone, but they can’t. Abusers know what they’re doing; they know that it’s wrong, and they do it anyway. They know when a woman is incapacitated and unable to consent to sex. They know that when a woman says, “No,” they’re supposed to stop, but they choose to do what they want. To all of you who want to commiserate with men who you fear may be wrongfully accused of abuse or assault, I want to remind you: You are not them. Until you abuse or assault someone, you are not them.