Like Family

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I work a lot. Sometimes it feels like I spend most of my time at work and less and less time at home. Over the course of nearly two decades, I’ve passed my time in the office with people who are now like family to me.

We fight about politics, debate the merit of stories, and discuss our assignments. We mourn deaths. We eat snack, tell jokes, and tease one another. We applaud achievements and support each other’s causes. We celebrate births, weddings, and birthdays. And, tonight we gathered to wish Lori Stokes well on her next endeavor.

We are sad to see her leave our newsroom. But, to everyone smiling in the selfies, her happiness is paramount.

So, She may not be there when we got to the office on Monday. She may not be on the air in her usual anchor chair either. But, she will always be like family.

 

No Nonsense, No Excuses

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Every bone in my left foot, knee and spine hurt as I made my way home. I was tired and still rattled by the news that my longtime co-worker/friend abruptly stepped down from the anchor desk.

I’d arrived at work in time for our morning show producer, Tyler, to tell me that Lori was still inside. I’d missed her goodbye speech and cake but I was determined to say farewell to her in person. Lori was standing, talking to other people when I arrived in the newsroom. I waited to tell her that I wished best and that I knew she would continue to honor her father’s legacy.

Lori turned to me and said, “I’ve told you before. You are one of the strongest people I know.”

I forgot back tears as I embraced her. I tried not to think about what her loss meant to me for the rest of the day. But, suppressing my feelings left me mentally exhausted by 6:15. I couldn’t wait to get home. My body made getting there difficult.

I dragged myself the final block to my townhouse. Then, I decided to stop at the mailbox. There was package wedged in it with a name on it that was unknown to me. It was clear the package was for me because my entire first name was written on it, not just Nika.

16 stairs later I ripped my shoes off and leaned on the kitchen counter while I opened the package. Inside was a t-shirt that read “No nonsense. No excuses” in purple glitter; that’s the name I gave to my Autoimmune Walk NYC team. My cousin Darcelle told me she had a shirt made for me to wear but I’d forgotten. I was so thrilled to see it, I didn’t feel the pain as I walked into the living room and slipped it on.

I stared at myself in the mirror and repeated, “no nonsense will deter me from making it through work or anything else every day. And, there are no excuses for not living my best life by showing the strength others see in me.”

#LoriStokes #tvnews #noexcuses #nononsense #autoimmunewalk #chronicpain #chronicillness #autoimmunedisease #igg4

A Career To Remember

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I was in the middle of doing a cut sheet for an insert on Charles Schumer’s fight to restore mandatory sleep apnea testing for Metro-North engineers and writing and editing Vo Sot Vo about the British model who claimed to be kidnapped when the camera crew arrived. I’d reluctantly agreed to take a photo and provide an on camera quote as part of my company’s celebration of my 20 year anniversary.

I’d chosen a job behind the scenes decades ago, in part, because I can’t stand the sound of my voice on tape and doing hair and makeup aren’t things I enjoy doing. Yet, I flat ironed my hair for the occasion. Unfortunately, the moisture in the air took out the curls and made it puff up.

I placed my cane behind the assignment desk and waited for instructions. When the lights were turned on and the camera was pointing towards me I almost decided to cancel.

“How does it feel knowing you’ve been here for 20 years?” The producer asked.

I paused and and replied, “Do you really want me to answer that?”

“I can ask you something else,” the coordinator said. “What’s the best part of spending 20 years with the company?”

I responded as I looked around my corner of the newsroom at all the faces. “I’ll answer.”

I thought for a second and said, “The years have flown by. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years; most of my adult working life. I’ve had steady work for the last two decades covering world events. I’ve written about fires, births, deaths, wars, trials and elections. I’ve learned about budgets, foreign affairs and health breakthroughs. But, the job isn’t what I’ll remember most; the people are unforgettable. The people make the long hours, the irritation, and the writer’s cramps worth it. I didn’t intend to be in the news business this long now I don’t know what I’ll do next.”

#tvnews #journalism #disability #chronicillness #chronicpain #autoimmunedisease #nomakeup #anniversary

Half My Life Recording History

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“Can everyone gather in the middle of the newsroom?” My boss said. 

I cringed.

I don’t have time for this, I thought.

I was looking for new video of a stranger punching a bicyclist in the face when my boss called out. I was also waiting for the Belmar drowning package and looking at an update about the jury in Cosby Sex Assault trial. 

“Nika!”

I didn’t know who called my name but I figured I’d better take a few moments away from my desk to see what was going on.

As my boss strolled towards me, I realized all eyes were on me. 

In a panic, I turned to walk away. When I did, I hit a cup in my co-worked Bryan’s hand. Soda covered his jacket and t-shirt. I broke away from the gathering, limped over to to my desk as fast as my cane would carry me, and grabbed napkins.

“Where are you going?” 

“I don’t want to leave Bryan soggy,” I replied. 

Seconds later, I felt a hand on the small of my back.

“Nika has been at ABC 20 years,” my boss said as she extended her hand forward. It contained a pin.

Wow, I’ve come to this place for nearly half my life, I thought, as she continued speaking.

“She always comes in with a smile on her face even though she’s been through so much. She deserves to be here. She deserves to be on this Earth.”

Her words choked me up. They made me think about all I survived in my years there; it’s enough to fill a medical journal. In fact, I had one of my two mini strokes when i was sitting at my desk.

Despite my health battles, I showed up to give a voice to other people’s pain, as well as the struggles and triumphs of the world. 

Through my medical strife, my job was a refuge. For eight or nine hours a day, I didn’t fret about the tests, the pain, the pills, the surgeries or the bills. I didn’t worry about my mortality. 

As I made my way back to my desk, there were hugs and shouts of congratulations. Sometimes I said thank you. Other times, I said, “is this really good news? I still have another two decades to retirement.”

I was uncomfortable with the attention. But, I was glad anyone cared that I reached a milestone that I wasn’t sure I’d live to see 20 years ago. 

Am I Losing My Humanity?

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Am I losing my humanity? That’s the question that went through my mind when my boss called a meeting in the newsroom and told us our co-worker, Mike Lynn, passed away. I felt numb when I thought I’d crumble.

Seconds later, my chest began feel heavy; it was weighed down by my sorrow but the tears didn’t come. My head hurt and I wasn’t thinking clearly but I knew there was no time to break down. I only had minutes until the 6 p.m. show.  And, I still had work to do. 

I tried not to think about the fact the Mike collapsed feet from where I was sitting. He too showed up for work today feeling under the weather but I was less than a half hour from going home while he wouldn’t.

Honestly, I didn’t see Mike often. He worked the overnight shift and I was on days. However, we were hardly strangers. His scripts were always filed in the rundown. I often used them as a base for my work in later shows. Whenever there was a snowstorm he worked late and I came in early. On those days, he’d stop to catch me up on his kids, office politics or current events. In recent years we became friends online. He’d like my posts, sometimes comment and occasionally send me a note in messenger to let me know he’d eaten some of my candy so he left me cash for some more.

It’s hard to believe that one of the most reliable co-workers I’ve had since the 90’s is no more. We are, or should I say we were, the last two full-time writers. Now I am alone and I don’t like it.

I will miss his wit, his humor, his intellect and his stories.  This thought made me cry on the train ride home. I guess years of covering tragedy hasn’t stolen my humanity; I still feel the pain of losing another co-worker suddenly and far too soon. 

A Gift from Beyond the Grave

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I almost never exclaim with glee in the newsroom. All too often I’m in the verge of tears because I’m covering one tragedy after another. But, this morning I was overcome with happiness. On my desk was a box containing candy from my late co-worker Mary Lilly’s husband, Jim. 

I hadn’t spoken to him she passed suddenly in December. The truth is I’m still in shock over the loss. I miss her stories, her kind words, her constant inquiries about my health and willingness to help, and her boisterous laugh. I miss my friend. 

Seeing that candy made the smile for the first time in months. Memories  of Mary providing lollipops and mints to the right side of the newsroom in edit room four came flooding back. I would supply the left side of the room.

I gladly shared that candy with my co-workers in her honor. I told everyone who gave us the unexpected treat. It was a sweet reminder of the little things Mary did to make every aspect of my life better.

#rip #marylilly #coworkers #randomactofkindness #tvnews #journalism #chronicillness #autoimmunedisease  #nyc 

Worst News Possible

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The stress of holding in my tears caused my shoulders to ache, my back to tighten and my head to hurt. I knew I had to hold in my tears;  that was the only way I’d get through the rest of my day at work without breaking down into an ugly cry.

I knew something was horribly wrong when I saw people surrounding Donna in the back of the newsroom. Donna’s makeup was running. Her face was red and there was a line to hug her. I knew it was bad but I didn’t think it was the worst news possible.

I figured out I was wrong when I overheard Donna say she got a call. What call? I thought. From who? What happened? Just then our six o’clock producer passed me. I blurted out, “what’s going on? ” I saw his mouth moving and I heard the words but my brain couldn’t process what he was saying. He said, “Mary died.”

My heart hurt. So I clutched it and muttered, “Oh no. No. It can’t be.”  I realized how dramatic I was acting so I turned to him and said, “thank you for telling me.”

I turned back to my computer screen and my mind was blank. How the hell am I supposed to break down these stories when I can’t think? I wondered. I tried to calm myself by breathing and stretching. I was okay until my boss came, placed her hand on my back and asked how I was doing, how my dad, who had also been ill, was doing. Tears clouded my vision as I blinked rapidly to hold them in. I said “I’m okay. He’s okay. We’re still here.”

Moments after she walked away, Donna walked towards me looking dazed. I did what I don’t normally do. I reached out, grabbed her, pulled her to me and told her I loved her. I wished I could’ve done something more to ease her pain but I knew I couldn’t.

Donna and Mary had practically become sisters; they were the best of friends. Donna provided all of the updates on Mary following her visits to Mary in the hospital. 

Mary had fallen a few months back, breaking what I believe to be her pelvis. She spent some time in the hospital in Connecticut then was transferred to a rehabilitation center near home in New York. 

I thought she was on the mend, especially because she posted a message on my linked in page a few weeks earlier. Yet, a couple of weeks later, we learned that Mary was back in the hospital. Rumors swirled: her liver was failing, she was in a coma, she was suffering from a life threatening infection.

 Last week, Mary’s boss purchased a card for the staff to sign to cheer her up. By the time I got to it at 11 am, it was full. So I went out at lunch and bought another one. This one had a basket on the front. Mary loved to make baskets for baby showers, weddings; really any occasion. She made them for me during my many hospitalizations due to my chronic illness. And, she always made sure there were a pair pajamas in there for me. She knew I collected them. 

Donna took the cards to Mary and then reported back. She told us Mary was improving but not out of the woods. Still, she hoped Mary would get transferred to a regular room soon. She hoped and we hoped. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. 

Mary left us before I could visit as I had promised on Christmas Day. She left us with the snowman filled with candy she bought to make everyone’s day brighter. She left me with the fiancé she encouraged me to have a milkshake with six years ago. She left the station with a body of work that won’t be forgotten. She left the world devoid of one more kind, loving human being. But, she left us all better because we knew her. Rest in peace, Mary. I loved you!