Ever since I can remember I have always gone against the tide. I looked to the sun and answered to a higher calling. My parents will tell you that I am an old soul, that I wear my heart on my selve, and that my zest for life is addictive. That I have always looked out for my fellow-man, cried tears for the less fortunate, and believed that the under dogs would one day fly.
Ya know my parents are right. I grew up in a narrow-minded river town. One that thrived on rumors, turned out shoes, and kicked you in the gut if you were different. I was a biracial girl growing up in a one color town, I was a child with ADD taught by those who couldn’t see my potential, and mostly I was a girl who wanted to be left alone. I recently received a Facebook friend request from my high school bully. I was taken back, the memories shot through my mind like fire to the prairie. All of the pain I buried rose to the surface. I quickly threw my iPhone to the floor (thank God I have an otter box) and feverishly started cleaning my stove. I chose to leave it. I didn’t hit confirm or deny, I just left her hanging in the wind.
You see Sara grew up just around the corner from me and for some reason it was her goal to make my life miserable. High school was the worst, she would tell people that I was poor, that I was ugly, stupid, dirty, and so on. Teachers they ignored the insults that flung across the isle, they turned their heads, as I held back the tears. I finally had enough at the end of ninth grade, I came to my Mom in tears at my spring choir concert, My Mama vowed to make it stop. My dad on the other hand took matters into his own hands and called up her father. A meeting was set, we sat face to face our parents at our sides, and Sara proclaimed “I just want to be her friend. That’s all I want.” Lies spewed from her mouth as she tried her best to cover up her wrongs. The truth it came seeping through and she as told to leave me alone. That very moment set the tone for my high school career. Rumors flowed behind my back, people never forgot the lies she weaved and I couldn’t wait to break free.
You made fun of me for being in the FFA, for working at McDonalds and for buying my cloths at Kmart. Sara, I was never one to keep up with labels. Kmart was the only “department store” in town and well the clothes at Maurices were not my style. To this day I am still sporting my signature cardigan. (not the same ones I had in high school thou) Class, lady it never goes out of style. I wouldn’t be the leader I am today if it were not for the FFA. I am passionate about consumer driven agriculture and can often be found getting dirty in a garden. Red Wing is a farming town, lets face it Goodhue county has more livestock than people. So why not take the time to learn where our food comes from and to grow the perfect pot of petunias. Now for my getting a job in high school, see below……….
Sara, my family is far from poor. I got a job at McDonald’s during high school because I was tired of asking my parents for money. I wanted to make my own and not spend there’s. You see Sara, I grew up in town and spent my weekends at my family’s country house. Three cars lined our driveway, one of them is a 69 mustang that hasn’t seen the light of day in years. My Mom and Dad always made sure that my sister and I had everything and anything we wanted. In hind sight they were probably to good to us. Because now my sister and I need a support group for spoiled child syndrome. One lesson my parents taught me has always stuck with me an that is: “those who have money hide it and those that don’t flaunt it.”
I don’t spend my days keeping up with the Jones, I never have and I never will. You tried so hard to break my spirit and to knock me down the mountain. Your insults were my ammunition, each one whispered made me work harder. I knew my mind would be my ticket out of that backwater town. I cried in my mom’s arms, my diploma in my hand, not because I was sad, but because I was finally fucking free of you. I no longer had to see your face every day. I no longer had to put up with the whispers, I was finally fucking free.
Darling, I stretched my wings and I aimed higher than you could ever dream. I picked a college that I knew no one from Red Wing would attend. In Superior I came into my own, in Superior I discovered my voice, I found my grace, and mostly I shined. Through the hallowed halls I walked studying the laws that built our country. Dr. Cuzzo she helped me realize that I had the power to change the world. She’d tell me “never stop, you are so bright.” That was the first time a teacher ever told me I was bright. In her eyes I didn’t have ADD stamped on my forehead instead my intelligence pushed through.
Sara in the past 13 years I have set foot on three continents, got married, survived a stroke, lost a child, got divorced, dined with politicians, danced in the rain, and loved like I was dying. My voice is helping raise awareness about strokes in young women. I pounded the pavement in DC, crisscrossed the country lobbying for a better day, and took a moment to look into my nieces eyes. I have gone further than you will ever go. For you see I no longer fear the label you placed on me. You were right Sara I am different, I am so different from you that I am extraordinary. It takes an incredible amount of courage to stand up and to fight back.
Because of you Sara I strived to change the world and to make it a better place. Mostly I strove to return one day and walk up to you and say “Fuck you, fuck all of you” and then proceed to walk out of our high school reunion. Which I was totally going to do. However I decided that you weren’t worth my time. You see Sara you no longer have power and I will never mark my word be your friend. Not on Facebook and defiantly not in real life.
Different is beautiful and remember whose toes you step on because you just might have to bend down and kiss their ass one day!
Holy, its hard for me to believe that I will be 30 in 31 days. I am excited to say goodbye to my 20’s and hello to AJ 3.0. My 20’s were one crazy ride. The past decade was filled with, love, advenutre, loss, learning , and so much more. So take a stroll with me as I recap the good, the bad, and the down right funny parts of the past decade.
During the fall of 2002 I started college at the University of Wisconsin Superior and managed to fall in love with a boy from Sri Lanka. Made some great friends and took part in all of the activities that the Northland had to offer. I met my greatest mentor Dr. Maria Cuzzo and she taught me everything there is to know about the law.
21 Ah! Finally I am legal. Legal to drink that is. However my 21st birthday was a bust. I was sicker than a dog with mono that October. It sucked. Anyways at 21 I came into my own as a bi-racial woman and started speaking at different conferences around the state. In the fall I applied and was accepted to the Wisconsin in Scotland program and was pretty darn pumped for living abroad. I spent most of the year plotting my trip overseas. The Sri Lankan and I saw our first anniversary. Man, back then I thought one year was a huge accomplishment. If I had only known right. That spring he and I drifted apart and I was once again single an ready to mingle. Well I didn’t really mingle.
I spent my summer working at the St James Hotel in Red Wing and saved every dime I made for my trip to Scotland. That August my Mama wrapped her arms around me and waved good-bye as I walked towards the ticket counter. I am not going to lie, I was pretty darn scared and had no fucking clue if I would make it over seas. Scotland was everything I hoped it would be and I got along great with my roommates. In September I wondered the streets of Paris, tanned on the beaches of Sardinia, rode the funicular in Barcelona, and sailed the canals of Venice. I had been to the Edinburgh Tattoo, seen the Queen of England in Person and took in the highland games.
I set off to find my place in the world, I didn’t find my place, instead I found myself. Scotland taught me that I can do anything and that life is one hell of an adventure. I had an amazing 22nd birthday in Scotland and returned home that November forever changed. I was no longer the shy sheltered small town girl, I was now a citizen of the world and a shadow of my former self. I gained so much strength. In January I said goodbye to the Sri Lankan boy and said hello to Scott.
Scott walked into my life that April and he brought a little boy along as well. I fell head over heels for this man and I knew within a few months that he was the one. Scott and Nylan were a package deal and I loved them both with all of my heart. In the fall I started my senior year and plotted my next overseas adventure. Joy and I spent our fall prepping for Egypt and our pending graduation. I lived it up with my sorority sisters and took my speaking skills to the national stage. I got a kick ass LSAT score and was filling out my law school applications. I applied to four that fall. My heart was set on LSU Baton Rouge.
23 In January Joy and I took off for Egypt. Traveling with my best friend was a great way to say good-bye to our college years. We explored the Great Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, sailed the Nile, and ran from creepy Egyptian men. Joy and I will always have the night train. Ah, yes the night train. Motion sickness got the best of me and Joy growled at the hobos as I puked my guts out in the not so nice bathroom. I swear to God that train popped out of 1920 something. I made some great friends on our trip and was forever changed by my journey to the land of the Pharos.
That Spring Scott and I saw our first anniversary and I began making plans to move in with him that summer. Law School was put on the back burner as I focused on finding a job and being a Mom to Nylan. Woodbury would become my new home and I quickly learned what it was like to live with his brothers. His dogs became mine and I started to build a new dream. Jenny Craig was my first job out of college. I felt a little defeated, my heart laid with the law and without experience that was out of my grasp. Yet, I made the best out of the situation and kept on pushing for something better.
24 In November Scott and I took a cruise to Mexico and Belize. We took doon buggies to the ruins, zip corded through the jungles, and fell deeply in love on the high seas. The Monday after we returned from our vacation Scott asked me to come out to the garage. He explained that Nylan had left something for me and directed me to my Halloween porch kids. Nylan left something for you in the skeleton’s bag, reach in and see. No I said, it might be a spider. Scott got me to reach in, to my surprise the object was square. As I pulled it out and turned around Scott was on one knee. He asked me to be his wife and of course I said yes. This was one of the happiest days of my life and I was now the proud owner of a calla cut butterfly engagement ring.
In January I said good-by to Jenny Craig and Hello to Express Scripts. Life was great. I loved my job and our relationship was going strong. Wedding planing became my top priority and lucky me I found the dress of my dreams in March.
I needed to itch my travel bug so Scott and I planned a cruise to Alaska that September. It was chilly, yet incredible. Once again he and I fell in love on the high seas.
25 Whoever said your cube mate can’t become your best friend was wrong. Lisa and I bonded over wedding planning and puppies. She is one of the most incredible women I know. Today she is no longer my cube mate, instead she is my best friend. Scott and I were getting tired of living with his brothers and we set out to find a home of our own. We looked at more than 30 houses until we found the perfect one. Nylan said he wanted a red house and that is exactly the color of the house we bought and called our home. I spent most of the spring making the red house our home and putting the final details on our wedding.
That winter I started the paralegal certification program at the MN Paralegal institute. I excelled at my courses and my teachers would ask “um why are you here, you know the law and can draft.” Well I am here because no one will hire me unless I have a paralegal certificate. I spent some evenings after class helping my classmates understand the law and proofing their drafts.
On May 31st, 2008 Scott and I said I do with Nylan at our side. It was a beautiful day filled with love and family. Together we were unstoppable and our love bubbled over.
26 It seemed that the home we bought to bring us together was instead ripping us apart. A rift was formed. Scott had done things I couldn’t forgive. Yet with the walls crashing down we planned another cruise. This time we were headed for Europe and Africa. At times I wonder why we even went. Maybe we thought the magic we had before on past cruises would find its way in and that we would fall in love once again. Love didn’t find its way in. I had few words to say. yet I held on for Nylan’s sake. He deserved a home. To those around us we looked like the perfect couple. In reality we were far from that.
Change was brewing in the wind. That October I took a job at a law firm in Plymouth. I was excited for this new adventure, yet sad to leave my friends and the safety of Express Scripts.
I was excited to start my new job on the 19th of October. I hadn’t felt well that weekend and I just wrote it off as nerves. On the 21st I had terrible pain through out my body. It felt like someone was trying to cut me open. I took some Tylenol and went to bed early that night. On October 22nd I never made it to work, instead I made it to the ER and was fighting like hell to survive. When I arrived at the ER I could barely breathe and my chest felt like a thousand knives were stabbing me. This would be the day I learned what a pulmonary embolism was and on how lucky I am.
I almost died five days before my 27th birthday. I was still finding my way as a survivor and dealing with the aftermath of my blood clot. My life revolved around lovenox, INR checks, drs appointments, and so on. I was sick and tired of it all. Mostly I was tired of being married to a man who didn’t love me. I wanted a man who was moved by the fact that his wife almost died, instead I got pushed to the bottom and cheated on. Yet he promised me that our life was going to be better and that he was going to try harder. That December we had our first Christmas with Nylan in Minnesota. He had an incredible day and enjoyed playing in the piles of snow.
We learned in January that the blood clot had finally dissolved in my lung and that I was half way out of the woods. Once we got that news we decided that Scott + AJ = baby. In April we found out that we were expecting.
To me this was the silver lining. My moment to say that I survived one of the shittiest things in the world and now my body is carrying life. In this moment Scott and I were Happy. The world seemed to stop spinning and love slowly seeped back into our marriage. He talked to my growing belly and would say with a smile “We did it bear.” That we did. Our pregnancy was high risk and we knew the odds. I held out hope that our baby would make it and that we would say hello in a few short months.
Hello never came. In May we said goodbye. Sherri held my hand and dried my tears as I sat waiting in the hospital. We both knew why we were there. She held on to my wedding ring as I went into surgery. When I came out I was no longer with child, I had become a mother to a baby in heaven. My son’s death showed me just how little I mattered to Scott. It showed me that I needed to call it quits.
That June I met an attorney who told me “It all comes down to a judgment call. There are no winners or losers in divorce. Someone has to walk away first.” I heard that on Friday June 25th 2010 and walked away from my marriage on June 27th. It was easy leaving Scott. It hurt like fucking hell when I said good-bye to Nylan. I loved that little boy with every fiber of my being. He was and will always be my son.
I spent the rest of that summer learning how to be unmarried and rescued the muppet like dog. The muppet quickly became my trusty little side kick and he is totally the best dog ever. it was me and the muppet like dog against the world. I tucked my ring away and set out to find myself. Part of finding myself was to quit my job. I hated the law firm I worked for and decided I was done. Of course I was scared. I didn’t have a plan or a fucking clue what I was going to do next.
Me and My Mama at my Birthday Lunch
I actually got a job offer on my 28th birthday. It didn’t pay well. I didn’t care a job is a job. I started dating a little and made new friends. I was creating the life I wanted and had been waiting for. I came to turns with all of the shit that happened during year 27 and walked into survivorhood with grace.
I was no longer a Cohen. My divorce was finalized on December 23rd, 2010. Merry fucking Christmas to me. I was one very happy divorced woman and those papers proved that I was now a free woman.
In the spring I tried on a pair of lobbying shoes. To my surprise they fit and when I opened my mouth people listened. By May I had enough of the bullshit at my $12 an hour job and set off for something new. Enter the big downtown firm. I must admit I was scared half to death to start working there. The attorney from last June and I fell on bad terms. I had no idea if he was going to try to sink me. My lovely friend Lisa talked me into taking the job. She was right I had as much right to work there as he did.
In truth, I shined. Before I knew it I was the go to girl and had 12 attorneys emailing me for assistance. They didn’t care that they had their own assistant, they wanted me. They wanted AJ. I will admit, I worked my summer away and eventually worked myself sick. Yet I was happy to be apart of something huge and I now know more about fishing than I could have ever imagined.
Charlie and I started dating off and on that summer. He was in NY most of the time, yet we made it work. I slowly fell in love with my best friend and started spending more days at The Ivy. Life at 28 was perfect. I loved Charlie, Loved my job and the muppet like dog.
29 At 29 work became my life. I barely had a social life and at times Charlie got mad at me. This is where I learned that trying to prove yourself isn’t necessary. By Thanksgiving I had worked myself sick, barely slept, and rarely did anything outside of work. Something had to give. If the big firm wasn’t going to give me a permanent position I would find a firm that would. I had several interviews and few call backs. I had started to give up and was accepting my fate as a temp. In late January I got a call, a firm wanted me. I accepted and said my good-byes and left the big downtown firm. I made a lot of great friends there and will always remember the late nights and crazy hours I put in to make someone’s life better.
Oooo, I became an Aunt. Yes, this is definitely a highlight! My niece Sophia and I are 29 years and four months apart, totally cool if you ask me. I love that little girl with all of my heart.
Speaking of love Charlie sat on his coffee table and asked me to be his wife. Of course I said yes. My world was once again perfect. I had a new niece, I was on the mend, engaged, and I loved my job again. Once again I felt like this was my calm after the storm and that nothing was going to destroy my bubble. Bubbles burst way to often in my life. I should know by now that when things are perfect, it take one little prick to burst my happy.
Charlie passed away on February 16th and I was heart-broken. He never even got to meet my niece Sophia or my sister for that matter. Charlie would have loved Sophia. Saying good-bye was hard and I can live the rest of my life knowing that Charlie loved me with all of his heart. There are days where I can feel him around and on others I look up and say “stop pushing Charlie, I can do it on my own.”
An that I did. I proved to myself that I am more than a survivor, I am one hell of a woman with one incredible story. Charlie’s death taught me that memories are worth more than dollars. I have spent more time with friends, uttered I love you more often, snuggled with niece, and spent time with my family. Life is precious and it is worth living. The ultimate lesson of year 29 is “Putting memories into you memory bank is more important than the balance in your bank account.” I will never again work my life away. I will be damned if I let moments slip away because of a work deadline. I have learned to say no and walk away at 6pm. I deserve a life and you know what my bank account doesn’t miss the overtime.
One thing is for certain My 30’s have to be better than my 20’s. I hope that there will be less pot holes and more smooth black top ahead of me. Life is a journey worth taking an I am going to hold on tight. The next 10 years are going to be awesome. I hope to find love again and start a family of my own. Hell I just might entertain the idea of law school or something awesome like that. I do know that I will keep on blogging, so grab your tickets and in 31 days come see AJ 3.0 in action.
Most of us will never know what its like to be bullied. Some of us are the bully and have no idea the harm we’ve cause. Then there are those who turn their heads and wish the problem went away. If we didn’t see it, then it never happened. Those that turn their heads are left wondering why when a young child takes their own life or when violence breaks out in the schools. The head turners could have stood up and stopped the fray before it boiled into outrage. They could have saved a life.
A couple of months ago I googled an old classmate, I heard rumors that she had sued a hotel for sexual harassment. Funny, I thought, you are suing someone for the exact same thing you did to me. The tables were turned and now she had found herself in my shoes. It probably never crossed her mind that she was once the harassor. I’d like to believe that somewhere deep down she has a heart and maybe slightly understands the pain she caused me. April was one of the people who listened to Sara and gathered her friends to make my life miserable. Rumors and laughter flew at my expense. I was either dumb, fat, ugly, and so on. They made fun of my clothing, my hair, my makeup, and the way I talked. Day in and day out this occurred within the classroom walls. Teachers didn’t care, they just turned their head, while I was dying inside.
It came to a head at our Choir’s annual Christmas show, that night was the worst. There taunts were terrible and down right sick. I was fighting the tears and lost it when I saw my Mom. I was crying so hard I could barely breathe, my Mom took my hand and told me it was going to be all right. When we got home my Mom told my Dad and he was furious. I told them “It’s no use the school isn’t going to do anything because Sara’s dad works for them.” My Dad didn’t give a shit and called her parents up that night, it wasn’t pretty but I do believe he got his point across.
You must know that I have been Sara’s target since the first grade. I have no idea why but I was always the subject of her torment. The morning after the choir concert my Mom demanded to meet with the principle and that set the ball in motion. The principle listened and made it very clear that Sara would not receive special treatment because her Dad was a school employee. Teachers and students were interviewed, the truth it came out. Just as I had stated Sara was harassing me. The principle left her punishment up to me. I told her “I just want to be left alone. Just stop.” Sara apologized to me and her Father apologized to my mother, he had no idea of his daughters behavior and made the comment “she got her punishment at home.” I figure what her Daddy dealt her was probably far worse than what I could come up with or what the school could do for punishment.
Life went back to normal, she left me alone. Yet the pain was still there and every step I took was filled with fear. Fear that they would start in again and try to break me down. I was trying to find my way and gain my strength. Slowly it came back. I knew college would be my ticket out of that small river town. After I got my diploma, I threw my hat in the air and burst into tears as my Mama wrapped her arms around me. I was not crying because I was happy to graduate. I cried because I was finally free. Free of their torment, free of the lies, rumors, and the pain they inflicted upon me. Mom told me once “Mannie, sticks and stones will break your bones, but words they will never hurt you.” My Mama was wrong, words they hurt, they hurt worse than a break and are forever etched into your soul. Their words have stayed with me.
Leaving Red Wing was the best thing I have ever done. Outside the limestone bluffs I found freedom. I look at Facebook updates (funny how they want to be my friend now) and see that most of them haven’t accomplished anything and hell a few are still living in Red Wing. When I left my wings were broken and weak. I often say I set out to discover my place in the world, but what I really found was myself. Its true I did, living overseas allowed me to put the past in the past and to fight for myself and my dreams. I grew a lot during my college years, developed real friendships, fell in love, and dared to live a life without fear. My life was no longer plagued by my tormentors I had set myself free. For the first time in years, I finally believed in me.
I have to believe that deep down both Sara and April know that what they did was wrong. Sara is currently pregnant and my only hope is that her son or daughter does not run into a girl just like their Mother. Maybe Sara’s son or daughter will come to her with tear-stained eyes and crying about the bullies that torment them at school. Maybe then Sara will realize the pain my Mother felt that night when her daughter came to her broken and tired of living a life of pain. Maybe Sara will realize the pain she inflicted upon me and then seek forgiveness within herself. Because forgiveness is something she will never get from me, I can forget, but I will never forgive.
Forgiveness is something I will never have for Sara or April. Now Cameron on the other hand I forgave, I forgave him because his wings were broken and his heart couldn’t go on. I forgave him one hot August day as I stood before his casket I whispered “May you find peace in heaven and know that I hold no hate towards you. I forgive you, now rest on the clouds of heaven.” I forgave and then started a chapter for the Light for Life Foundation, a suicide prevention program on my college campus in his honor. His friends were shocked and surprised that he never told them how he was feeling. I wasn’t surprised, he knew exactly what they were and that they would have made fun of him. He didn’t even trust his best friend with his pain, instead he chose to suffer in silence.
No one deserves to suffer in silence. Bullying is a terrible thing. I urge you to find the strength within yourself, stand up, and stand out until someone will listen to you. Suicide is not the answer, nor is violence. You can cut the cycle by standing alongside and speaking up for the bullied. Never turn your head away, open your heart and find it within yourself to give them the strength they need to survive. Dry their tears, hug them, and whisper “Go Ninja Go” into their ears. Then, they will know that they are not alone.