Season Five, Episode Five: Pretty Fair for a Square

0109198708052016.

A serial number of a life. Numbers that tell a simple, yet complex story. 01091987—the beginning of a life. 08052016—the end. It fails to tell you the life lived between those jumbles, the memories made and accomplishments achieved, the lives touched by the person who was the sum of those 16 digits. A person who was so much more than those 16 digits, whose hopes and dreams couldn’t even begin to fit in that numerical sequence.

A person I was lucky to have as a friend.


On August 5th, 2016 at 1:41 am Zachary Larney breathed his last breath after being in a coma for 10 days and left behind two children, his mother, and two brothers. He was only 29, so full of youth and promise. I’ve never met a person who was so full of joy and laughter, so motivational, so silly. I wish that the two men who ended his life could have known Zach; perhaps they would have hesitated in beating him essentially to death in a senseless act of violence outside a nightclub in downtown Cleveland. They would have brushed off whatever happened inside Rumor and would have walked off in the opposite direction…Zach would still be alive. We would have never known what it looked like to see Zach unconscious, hooked up to a ventilator, dried blood on his forehead. We would have never seen what ultimately was our last living image of Zach, inside a special bed that was meant to keep him alive while he fought bravely against brain swelling and ARDS. We would have never had to deal with this unbearable pain of losing a person we loved. We wouldn’t have to watch his amazingly strong mother forgive the men who killed her son or watch her grieve the death of her oldest child.

I keep thinking of the pebble in the pond—we all have heard of it, where a single pebble thrown into a pond causes ripples that go out far beyond just where the pebble broke the water’s surface. We are taught that analogy to learn that one action can have tremendous effects outside of just the initial moment. In that case, with regards to that analogy…murder must be a boulder thrown into that metaphorical pond. The aftermath of such an event is violent and far-reaching. I’d liken it to a tsunami, perhaps. Devastating and all-consuming.


I don’t want to spend this entire post talking about the events that ended one of my best friend’s lives, but it must be touched upon because it needs to be touched upon. The ten days leading up to Zach’s death were torture—you couldn’t help but feel helpless reading the updates his mother Debra posted about his status in the hospital. His injuries were so severe that they placed him into a medically induced coma. I woke up to messages that Monday morning asking me about what happened and one of my friends told me to go to his Facebook page, where his mother had informed us that Zach was in a coma and to please pray for him. So pray we did. We prayed for ten long days, begging and bargaining with whatever deity would listen to please let Zach wake up, to please let him live, to please keep him here with us. We held our breath for the first few days, waiting for some kind of positive news, and we did receive some—his vitals were stable, things seemed okay, Saturday would bring an assessment. We prayed that meant that Zach would be brought out of his coma. We all worried when we saw the update the next day informing us that things had gotten worse during the night and that they had to perform emergency surgery to try to relieve the pressure on his still swelling brain. We told ourselves it would be okay, that the partial removal of skull meant that the brain would swell and then go back down and it would delay him waking up for a few days. He was Zach, he was a fighter, he had this. No worries. We breathed a sigh of relief when he became stable again, when his mother posted that even though he was still hooked up to a ventilator, the initial scan on his brain from the night of the attack showed that things looked okay and he would make an eventual full recovery long term. We were nervous because he was still in the coma, but things sounded okay.

Okay seemed to be like a balm for us. It soothed our worries, it gave us something to hold on to. It kept us from panicking every time one of Zach’s positive steps forward led to three gigantic steps back. He would be okay. Okay. Even when she posted that there was fluid in his lungs, we said he would be okay. When he had to have another emergency surgery to drain the fluid because his oxygen levels were low, we said he would be okay. The tubes they put in his lungs meant that he would be okay. Everything would be okay. Okay okay okay okay.

August 3rd a benefit called A Night For Zach was held at a local bar for Zach, to help with his ballooning medical costs and just money to help him financially until he was able to go to work. Debra had set up a GoFundMe campaign for Zach that had been absolutely tremendous—the initial goal of $5000 was met in hours. The goal was then raised to $15,000 and was met in a few days. We were willing to do anything to help, because we all knew that Zach would do the same for us if we needed it. So we all met up at Harry Buffalo in Lakewood and we celebrated our friend that we just knew would wake up and love to hear all the stories of the love and the friendship that we had for him. We took photos, we donated money, we came together. We saw a post on Zach’s page telling us that his lungs were not functioning the way they should and that oxygen was not getting into them…that due to his TBI, they couldn’t perform surgery, and short of a miracle, there was nothing else that could be done. The finality of that post put a crack in our iron-clad okay—this was the first time that we had to acknowledge that maybe Zach wouldn’t be okay. So we prayed, and prayed, and begged whomever would listen for a miracle. Thursday the 4th greeted us with the picture of Zach in what appeared to be a modern-day take on the iron lung—it was a special bed that would hopefully allow his lungs to heal. The bed had gotten him through the night. Hope sprang eternal again, and we patched up our slightly damaged okay. Things would get better, because Zach couldn’t not make it. We had never considered the option.

But that was the option that happened. August 5th, 2016 at 1:41 am Zachary Larney breathed his last breath after being in a coma for 10 days and left behind two children, his mother, and two brothers. The Plain Dealer, the city’s local newspaper, states that he is the 62nd homicide in Cleveland for 2016. But Zach is so much more than a crime statistic. He is so much more than #62 on some depressing list. He was an amazing person. My Facebook newsfeed is a testament to how wonderful of a human being he was—8 out of every 10 posts is about Zach. He was full of love. He adored his two children, ages 2 and 3, and it showed in the videos he posted to Snapchat and Facebook. Those videos make me cry now, because the world has lost that love and his children will grow up without their father. He literally lit up the room with his personality. His life, and his death, made such an impact on so many people…it is amazing to go to his Facebook page and just see the mixture of pain and sadness and disbelief…and LOVE. So much love. Very fitting for a man who was so full of love and positivity.


I used to tease him that he could never just stand there and smile for a normal photo—he was always making some crazy face or doing something silly. Thinking about it now, it was because he had so much joy inside of him and he couldn’t keep it to himself. He made anyone feel like a friend, he had such a vibrant way of life. He was well-spoken and intelligent, a man with unshakeable faith in the Lord—I remember how he would sometimes go in the locker rooms on his breaks when he worked with me at the casino and read the Bible. He had such a bright outlook on things. He loved to make people laugh. He was there for me whenever I needed him. He was my person, and I loved him like a little brother. It’s hard to put our friendship into words, but we just connected and it’s a friendship I will treasure for the rest of my life. I believe that anyone who knew Zach feels that way. I feel blessed for having him as a friend.


I think about the memories I have of him, and even though my heart is broken and I miss him so badly, the memories make me smile. I’ll always remember us going on break together, arm in arm, like we always did, laughing like we always did…him knocking on my front door and then hiding around the corner of my porch, jumping out and scaring me and laughing so hard…him listening to me cry about my dad’s cancer when it came back again, and the joy of telling him just a few weeks ago that it was gone once more. I’ll always remember him teaching my son a handshake that they would use when he would come over, the way he knew how to make you feel like you were capable of doing anything if you put your mind to it…we had planned on making time to see each other soon, we had spoken on the phone and texted in the week and a half before the assault, and he told me “Shawnster, I have plans this upcoming weekend but hit me up on Monday and we will make plans to see each other soon, I miss you”. Monday came, and Monday went, and I never spoke to him again. We lost a beautiful soul to a senseless and random act of violence, and Zach’s death is a hole that we will never be able to fill.


0109198708052016…01/09/1987-08/05/2016.

A serial number of a life. The dates that tell the beginning of a life…and tell of an abrupt end.  Numbers that tell a simple, yet complex story. Yet it’s the life behind those numbers that words will never properly bring to justice. The world was blessed to have Zach in it for 29 years…I only wish I could have seen what 60 more years of Zach living on it would have been. I love you, Boo Bear.


“…’So hard to die.’ I don’t doubt that it is, but it cannot be much harder than being left behind.”—John Green, Looking for Alaska

Zach’s GoFundMe is currently at $23,144 and is being used for his funeral costs, medical bills, and his two children.  Please visit the link below and donate if possible.  Thank you.

https://www.gofundme.com/2gd658s

Season Five, Episode Four:  Un Peu de Prose Contre

I’m that unconventional kind of pretty, I suppose
If one were to try to define one’s features and retain modesty.
Sometimes I think I’m cute, other times I hate my reflection
I constantly feel too big for such a small person
A walking contradiction
Unsteady yet confident,
The girl who doubts herself in a room full of women
Who feels most like herself in jeans and a tee shirt,
At her best with just lip balm, mascara, and a smile.
I stumble over nothing when I walk,
Clumsy but certain.
Athletic grace has not once entertained me
Just look at my ankles as proof.
I stay up all night and wake up early,
Partly because life is so damn short
But mostly because I’m afraid to miss all the things the Muses have to offer.
I wear my hair up almost at all times
Because life has to be lived and I don’t need hair in my eyes.
I say things over and over in my head,
Because I worry that I’ll trip them up once I say them aloud
And I usually do,
Words have a way of getting stuck in my teeth like caramel popcorn.
I suck at guys, and am perpetually single.
The real world Liz Lemon.
I chew on the edges of my nails when I’m worried,
I make jokes to cover up my nervousness and thin skin
Because I’m a tough girl on the outside,
Who will never let them see how deep they cut her
And who keeps her insecurities inside.
She is braver than she realizes
And stronger than she believes.
Lazy but a dreamer
I’m a mom and a person,
A badass and a debutante,
Indie but mainstream,
Naive but jaded.
I might stumble but I’m never completely down
My glass is eternally half full.

–“autobiographie”, 07/01/2016

Season Five, Episode Three: 32/26/49

I will never forget

One of the most terrifying moments

In my life thus far

 

The night is forever etched in my mind

I was seventeen

I still believed I was invincible

Because when you’re that young,

You’re convinced that you will live forever

 

I was at work

We were getting ready to close up

I was in the dining room of the Burger King

Checking the garbage cans

 

And there were two of them

Two males

One in a gray hoodie, his face covered with something

I think maybe nylons, I can’t remember exactly

The other is a blur in my memory

 

They opened the door

And stepped into the vestibule

I remember seeing a glint of silver

And time both slowed down and sped up

I remember thinking “gun”

How crazy is it that I just knew

Instinctively I just knew

 

And the door flew open

Everything froze but raced forward

I wish I could say that I was brave in that moment

I wasn’t

I was so so scared

 

The one in the hoodie, whose face I couldn’t see

He pointed his gun in my face

I remember that I was shaking

And all I said was “please”

Because I was seventeen

And I didn’t want to die

 

He stood there, his face unseen

The gun pointed at me

My life did not flash before my eyes like they all said it would

Instead my heart raced in my chest

My pulse thudding in my ears

My thoughts moving slow like mud

Thinking of my mother and brother sitting across the room

In danger because they had come to take me home

 

The other jumped the counter

Ran in the back, grabbed my manager

She was crying, she was so scared

He made her open the register

Her hands shaking

Tears streaming down her face, gun pressed to her head

 

Sixty-five dollars

Our lives were in limbo over sixty-five dollars

 

Miraculously they left after that

We could have died that night

All over sixty-five fucking dollars

So many lives worth more than what was in that register

 

I’ll never forget that night as long as I live

The night I realized I was not invincible

And that is why,

All of you people who don’t understand why

Because you weren’t there

All my nightmares end with bullets

 

I don’t dream of that night

But all my nightmares end the same

Guns are not sacred or special to me

They are heavy reminders of the violence they bring

They sicken me

All of these shootings sicken me

And solidify why I could never revere firearms the way some others do

And that is why, in case you wondered

That is why I want gun control

 

You might not understand,

But I will never forget.

Season Five, Episode One: The Essay (2005-2015)

I turn 30 tomorrow.

I don’t exactly know how I feel about this. I keep wondering where the past ten years have gone, and I simultaneously feel as if I haven’t grown at all and like I am an old woman trapped inside the body of a 29 year old. My twenties were tumultuous to say the least–I became a single mother at 20, I had my heart shattered twice, lost friends who I thought would be around forever, gained new friends who are like family, changed jobs a few times, moved out on my own, struggled with an eating disorder, and am now somewhat content with where I am currently at. I like to think the first decade of your adult life really isn’t even about being an adult. How can you possibly be an adult when you don’t even really know what you want yet in life? I remember when I was in high school, thinking that I had my life all figured out–I wanted to move to NYC, live in a chic itty bitty apartment, bartend at night and go to NYU during the day and major in journalism…write witty and vaguely acerbic fiction based loosely upon my life in the Big Apple, and then somehow make it big as a writer and then singer. Naturally I hadn’t quite learned yet that life typically does not follow the timeline and plans that we create. I got pregnant literally right after prom (I always joke that I got knocked up during prom weekend), became a mom at 19. I tried college, but my head wasn’t in the right place and I didn’t take it seriously. I screwed up my grades and when I tried to go back at 20/21, I couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket and kept changing my mind about my major. Being a glamorous and clever New Yorker went out the window once I had my son. I suddenly was expected to be an adult when I wasn’t even sure I was an adult yet.

But I think being confused and realizing that you can’t live up to all the crazy expectations that we made as kids is a pretty common feeling when you are in your mid-twenties. I still don’t feel like I’ve got my shit together. I’m not good with money. I hate domestic house shit. I don’t fold laundry and put it away. I wash dishes with a clear sense of loathing. I make questionable school lunches. BUT I have a 401(k). Whenever shit goes south, I remind people that hey, I have a 401(k) so I must be adulting at an acceptable level. (It’s not even at the default 3% either, it’s at like 9% so suck it haters.) I’ve only ever had three jobs, which is either a sign that I’m reliable or something, or it’s a sign that I develop Stockholm syndrome pretty quickly. I kind of pay some of my bills on time and I do an okay job at grocery shopping. I buy yogurt that is trendy and hip and very low in sugar but high in protein. I read The New York Times and The Washington Post and talk about current events. I go to the gym and pretend that I like to run, but I really hate it and prefer the stationary bike so that I can watch Amy Schumer and pretend to ride majestically over tall mountain peaks. I sometimes post witty things on Twitter, even though I’m still not completely sure what Twitter is all about. I have a LinkedIn page that I never use but made because I heard it was an adult thing to do.

I wear sweatpants a lot and don’t wear makeup when I’m not at work because I’m not 19-24 anymore and don’t feel like the world is going to end because I did not put mascara on before going to CVS. I pretty much only wear eyeshadow when I make plans to go get drunk–which basically means that I go out with my friends, nurse one or two drinks all night long, and then proceed to make sure none of them kill anyone else or end up in jail. I’m so over hangovers and spending half the day slumped over the toilet bowl or puking in my shower. I’ve developed a general disdain for people that I’m not friends with because I have learned over the past ten years that you don’t have to like everybody, so I limit the list of people I like down to the ones who like me already. Making new friends is exhausting and I like to limit the activities that wear me out physically, emotionally, or mentally. I don’t pretend to like things that I don’t like anymore. I don’t hide my dislike of anything “lite”, “light”, “diet”, or “fat/sugar free”. I like food and I’m going to eat it in all its fatty, sugary, caloric laden glory. I drink whole milk because I like it. I still live for the sprinkled up sugar cookie madness that is the McDonald’s holiday pie every December.

I’m super single and I’m okay with that. I get my needs taken care of, but I’m not actively searching for a gentleman lover (haha I love using that phrase because it just sounds like something an old lady named Edna would use in describing her love life) to fill the void in my empty and meaningless life.  I do feel a bit of a twinge of something when I scroll through my Facebook news feed and see photos of engagement rings and weddings and new babies…but then I remember that I have a 10 year old who is pretty awesome and I don’t ever want to get married, so I drink some wine and go watch a Vine about thug cats. Seriously though, I have learned that men are no longer a priority in my life. I have been single for a good chunk of my twenties, and for the first part of the decade, I remember feeling trapped and panicked and hopeless and lonely because I was alone and all my friends were getting engaged and then married. I felt like maybe I was a failure because I hadn’t met my Prince Charming who would sweep me off my feet and give me my happily ever after. I learned that no one can give you your happily ever after but yourself. I can make myself happy, I don’t need a man to make that emotion possible. I have been unlucky in love, but I have learned some pretty amazing things about myself along the way. I have learned that I am strong, that I have standards for myself, that I am not desperate, and that I have both self-respect and know the value of my self-worth. I have learned that even the most beautiful of men can be pigs, and that people will say and do anything to get what they want from another human being. I have learned that life goes on, you do meet someone else, and you fall in love again–it’s a guaranteed part of life that stays on repeat. I’m in no rush to settle down, I don’t plan on getting married, and I am proud of my independence. If I want that brand new Kate Spade purse, I can go out and buy that new Kate Spade purse. I don’t need to rely on anyone but myself and it’s an amazing feeling.

I feel prettier now than I did ten years ago. I remember reading an article saying that women are at their most beautiful between the ages of like 34-36 or something (it was an old Allure article) and so I’m looking forward to seeing if that’s true. I finally grew into my face, and thanks to me learning about skin care, I finally got this acne nonsense under control. I am more comfortable with my body and it’s curves and my face that is quite the mix of ethnicities. I still have those days though where I look in the mirror and wish that I was exceptionally gorgeous, that my face was a little slimmer, a little more soft, a little more delicate, a little more feminine, that my skin was clear and less oily, that my eyebrows were more fuller and didn‘t betray the over plucked trend that we all followed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I wish that my nose was more slender when I smiled, that I didn’t have my mother’s strong and vaguely masculine facial structure, that I was the kind of girl that people stopped and stared at because she was that beautiful. But I have also learned that I shouldn’t care, because beauty is overrated. Mixed race kids are beautiful in their own ways because we are a fabulous blending of nationalities–my face is like the goddamn U.N.  And the oily skin that I hate so much is actually helping to slow the ravages of time, so I guess I can learn to hate it less.

All in all, I keep hearing from my old ass friends (love you guys) who have already turned 30 that it’s actually not that bad. They say that their thirties were their best decade so far and that there is less pressure from society for you to be a productive adult because they already assume that either you are good at being a grown up or you’re a lost cause. You become more comfortable in your own skin because you realize that there are people who are going to like you and people who just aren’t, and there’s honestly nothing you can do to change their opinion of you. I’m down with a decade of giving zero fucks after this emotional hot mess of the last ten years! I’m actually pretty happy with who I am and where I’m at, and I can only assume that there’s some room for self-improvement. I don’t need to be sad about not being that super trendy and funny New Yorker who drinks Starbucks in Central Park and writes super successful witty and vaguely acerbic fiction based loosely upon my life in the Big Apple, because I can be that writer from Cleveland who drinks Starbucks at Edgewater Park and writes super successful witty and vaguely acerbic fiction based loosely upon my life in the Big Plum (a nickname I still don’t fully understand). I just need to get off my ass and stop procrastinating.

So…bring it on, 30. I have a 401(k) and I’m ready.

  

(Me at 20 and at 29–literally taken today.)

Season Four, Episode Eight: 14/29 Struggles

So I am still talking to said guy, who still does not have a nom de plume.  I really need to give him one.  The fact that I am talking to him still is actually kind of a miracle–not a walking-on-water-in-the-middle-of-a-crazy-storm kind of miracle, but more like a I-ate-like-crap-all-week-and-ran-once-and-somehow-didn’t-gain-weight kind of miracle–simply because I am not good at this.  At what, you may ask?  Talking?  Well…no.  I am rather good at talking.  I am not good at talking to guys that I like.  Or know how to successfully flirt.  Or nab a guy…see how I used the word nab?  I make it sound like I am a police officer who successfully caught a bank robber.  I should twirl my mustache too, while I’m at it.

*twirls mustache*

When I'm not busy nabbing guys, I like to tie young maidens to train tracks.  I'm very early 20th century mustache twirler.

When I’m not busy nabbing guys, I like to tie young maidens to train tracks. I’m very early 20th century mustache twirler.

Ugh.

But anyway, I am still talking to him.  He is still pretty damn hot and funny and delish…and I haven’t done anything too crazy to make him think maybe he shouldn’t continue to talk to me.  So…miracle.  I actually think that he finds me hilarious, which is a win.  When in doubt, let my sense of humor cancel out my awkwardness like FOX cancelled American Idol (too soon?).  I’ve gotten pretty close a few times to doing something completely batshit but I somehow talked myself out of it.  Google is a life saver.  My search engine is full of random keywords that make me sound like a fourteen year old girl.  Who knew that there were so many articles out there in the Interwebs dedicated to making loons like me feel less cray?

Because there is a lot of stuff on the Interwebs to make me feel less cray.

Because there is a lot of stuff on the Interwebs to make me feel less cray.

There is one thing that baffles me(that is a lie…there are a lot of things in the dating world that baffle me, but for sake of keeping this post short, we will pretend that there is only one), and I suppose it baffles me only because I like him, and that is texting.  Why the hell go days without texting someone (me) back?  Especially if you like me/want to get in my pants/potentially more?  I stress about that and I have successfully stopped myself from texting him stuff like “why you no text me back” and flat out asking him if he secretly hates me.  Because I am pretty sure he doesn’t hate me.  He used to text me a lot when we first started talking and it’s trickled down and I’m sure it’s no cause for concern since he is still wonderful in person.  I feel like I have gone back in a time machine and it’s 1999 and I am 14 and I have bad hair and questionable fashion sense and I am all a-giggle and a-fumble over a guy in my class.  I tell myself that I sometimes don’t hear from my best friend for days, and I have known her since I was 7.  I can go days without texting other friends/hearing from other friends, so why do I get all panicky cliffhanger soap star when Unnamed Hot Guy decides to not text me?  The only answer I can think of is because I am secretly still 14 on the inside when it comes to men.

This girl is apparently stressed because she has multiple phones/crucial conversations/potential drug deals all going on at once?

This girl is apparently stressed because she has multiple texts/crucial conversations/potential drug deals all going on at once?

29 Year Old Me is trying to play it cool and act completely indifferent.  14 Year Old Me has a mini heart attack when we sit next to each other and our legs touch the entire time.  29 Year Old Me smiles at him when I see him and act like I’m completely chill.  14 Year Old Me freaks the fuck out quietly when someone tells us what a cute couple we make (29 Year Old Me simply smiles because I don’t want to look like I am so into him–being chill is my constant M.O.) and he says he agrees.  14 Year Old Me doesn’t know how to be cool and calm and so 29 Year Old Me is constantly fighting an internal battle with her so that she doesn’t do anything stupid to mess up whatever will happen.  29 Year Old Me isn’t in a rush to get hurt again any time soon.  14 Year Old Me worries that he doesn’t like me.

14 Year Old Me is obviously Angelina because Sun-In.

14 Year Old Me is obviously Angelina because bad bangs and Sun-In.

Well, 14 Year Old Me, put down the Sun-In (seriously, put it down…your hair is orange) and stop panicking and analyzing every damn thing that goes on.  If something comes out of this, awesome.  If something doesn’t come out of this, guess what?  Life goes on.  You still have wine and Netflix and comfy sweatpants and chocolate covered Oreos–he’s the one who will be missing out, not you.  Just smile and be nice to him if it doesn’t go the way you planned.  You’re an adult, and you’re supposed to be calm on the outside and 14 on the inside.  Enjoy talking to him, because it’s fun to talk to guys.  Just stop using Sun-In.  Please.

Let's be completely honest...your hair never once actually looked like this.

Let’s be completely honest…your hair never once actually looked like this.

Season Four, Episode Five: Sweet Bug

Love

“…and she loved a little boy very, very much–even more than she loved herself.”

-From The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

(Photo courtesy of Brittany Gidley Photography, Cleveland, OH

Copyrighted by Brittany Gidley Photography, 2015)