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. 

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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! 

From Fearless to Fearful and Back

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I’ve been joking a lot lately with old friends and acquaintances that the old “Nika,” the girl they knew who was quiet, sweet and naïve is dead; that she was gobbled up a long time ago, transformed by life experiences into a new woman; one that is vastly different from the one of their memories. However, I recently realized the metamorphosis I’d been kidding about has truly happened. I used to be fearless or at the very least less fearful than I am these days.

So, what caused this epiphany you might ask? Two days ago, I lost the stop guard for belly button piercing.  A simple, small thing that jolted me into noticing that for the first time in nearly ten years I was without my midsection marker.  Looking at the empty hole where my silver bar used to be, I wondered if I, the woman I am now, have the stones to wander through Greenwich Village, walk into a random shop and allow a stranger with a bone through his nose, disks in his ears and tattoos all over his body, run an upholstery needle through my stomach so I could get a hole to adorn with jewelry.  Disappointed, I came to the conclusion that the answer is probably not.

Of course, the train had left the station and I couldn’t stop myself from pondering if I could do other things I had the courage to in my youth like could I could quit my job and move to another city without a job just because I needed a change; if I could hop in the car, drive to a tattoo place in another state, drop my pants in front of room full of people and get a piece of artwork carved into my hip; If I’d hold another alligator, ride a motorcycle, climb a rock wall, go white water rafting, or learn a new sport like skiing then hit the intermediate trail at Killington on my second try.  More importantly, I thought about whether I would sit down and write my first book, Dark Recesses, without a clue how and continue to plug away at it for years without any prospect of a publisher.  I’ve also seen and helped my friends survive much of the same.

In addition to the things that have drained me, I’ve gained new responsibilities too.  I’ve become an aunt and a godmother, bought a house, a car, maintained a long term relationship, helped my brother through school, and moved up in my career. I’ve written two other books, Eyewitness and I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married, and, I’ve become a sounding board for my friends and family. I could hear her fight back tears trying not to think about losing her only surviving parent, yearning for a time not too long ago when we were young and had never known such loss.

As I heard her voice crackle, I wished there was some way to go back to take away her pain and mine. Unfortunately, I knew there wasn’t. If only, I thought, we could go back to being those fearless girls who were going to change our lives and not let life change us.  But, we can’t.  We’ve already seen how much can be lost and how much can be gained in a lifetime; how fortune can turn on a dime, turning joy to grief, love to loneliness, friendship to bitter rivalry, nurturing to care giving, health to chronic illness, prosperity to poverty and fearlessness into fear.

A wall of depression came over me until one thought hit me. Neither she nor I need to go back to overcome our fear of the future.  We need to go forward; to continue on this difficult journey together, as friends.  You see, we weren’t scared to do any thing back in our youth because we, she and I, could always lean on each other.  We still can so there is no reason to be afraid.  Love is the gift we’ve all been given to get over our fears and live fearless lives.