Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It's Latin for "I Need You Now"

You know, I had been wondering what this blog is for – whether it matters, what I have that's even worth putting here.

Suffice to say that I'm no longer wondering.  And I am about to need you guys more than I ever have. So if you've noticed me being especially raggedy-edged over the last few weeks – well, strap in, because here's what's up. 

Some of y'all have heard me tell the story about my first day of Latin class in grad school. The professor was explaining the basic declensions to us: nouns work like this, adjectives and adverbs do this.

And I turned to the student next to me and said "what's an adjective?"

Don't even get me started on the pronouns.
Because somehow I'd gotten through twelve years of high school, four years of undergrad, and a year and a half of grad school – that's two and a half novels, a bachelor's in history, and three-quarters of a master's in literature – without ever getting a clue about grammar. I just winged it in English class and it worked.

Until suddenly it didn't. I needed that class to graduate, and there was no way I was going to be able to do a year's worth of Latin AND catch up on English, all in eight weeks.

But that student next to me saved my bacon. She invited me to study with her. We shared colored highlighters and quizzed each other for hours on end. We became great friends. And after I graduated that spring, we moved in together.

And it was glorious.
(My photography skills considerably less so.)
And she kept right on saving me. She was the first Christian to tell me that I was enough, just as I was, without converting or changing anything. I can't tell you what that did for me. She was a spiritual comfort when my grandparents died - the first time I'd ever lost anyone. More than that, I was 24 years old and had never lived anywhere but home, with my parents, in the same city I was born in. I'd never had a full-time job or paid bills. I didn't know anything about being an adult.

Kristen, on the other hand, was a case study in realness. She grew up in North Dakota. Her childhood was dysfunctional, bordering on abusive. She left home at 18 and drove alone to a Catholic college in California that she'd never even visited, because it was her one chance at a better life.  She lived in half of a stranger's garage. She changed adult diapers at a camp for the handicapped. And when she graduated, she piled her things in the car and moved again to Texas, chasing her dream of a PhD in literature.

Well, she got it. She also got a kitten from the animal shelter (despite my protests), which she absolutely adores.

Believe me when I say that the trash can suited her.
And when I got married and our time as roommates ended, she went right back to living in back rooms and spare bedrooms while fought to make her student loan minimums and put herself through a teachers certification program.

Needless to say, we were DELIGHTED when she was hired by a local charter school – as a classics professor, no less. She was a part-time spring replacement, but they were so happy with her that they had already signed on to make her full time in the fall. She was getting to teach Latin – a rare privilege – to some of the brightest students in our community. She joined the DFW Writers Workshop. She had written a novel. After all her hard work and struggle, she was finally living the dream.


This is a close-up photo of a classroom projector screen casing. It's powdered steel. And when Kristen pulled down the screen on an otherwise-unexceptional Wednesday, she found that out the hard way: when this thing falls, it will crush a human skull.

That was two years ago. Kristen has long since lost her job. She still can't drive, or use a computer, or walk without a cane. She suffers from chronic migraines, spinal compression, and balance issues. Most frustratingly, the vision problems caused by the injury means that she often can't read. I don't have to tell you what that means for a writer.

We are still friends, of course. I take her to vestibular therapy on Wednesday mornings, and sometimes we'll share a frozen pizza from the grocery store afterwards. She can't read my books, but she interrogates me about the triumphs and travails of author-life with passionate, vicarious delight. We crack raunchy jokes together.

Then on the way home from therapy a couple months ago, she turned serious. "Do you think you could help me research no-kill shelters for my cat?" she asked. "I think I'm about to lose my apartment, and I don't want to surrender her somewhere where she might get euthanized."

And guys. I just can't tell you what a gut-check that was.

I mean, for one thing, we're talking about the world's worst cat. She is an objectively terrible animal. She pees on the carpet, attacks children, and looks like Winston Churchill. Literally nobody but Kristen could or will love her.

Much less throw her cat birthday parties.


More than that, though, I had not realized just what kind of dire straits she was in. I knew that she couldn't use her own medical insurance to pay for treatment. I knew that workers' comp was giving her the runaround. But there is this gene in our shared American DNA that says you don't talk about money, you don't rely on charity, and if you ask for help, it had better be something you can pay back in kind: a reference for a job application, someone to watch your kids, someone to drive you home from the doctor. No matter what, the checkbook of favors and obligations has to stay balanced.

And for two years, Kristen has done exactly that. She lived off her savings. She lived off her credit cards. She lived off support (practical and financial) from friends and strangers the local Catholic community.  And when all that was finally exhausted, she didn't come to me and ask, "can you help me with my rent?" She said "can you help me find a shelter that won't kill my cat?"

And I said, "No."

No, I will not help you find a shelter. No, I will not let you surrender your home. No, I will not let the world do this to you. You are thirty-five years old, and you have earned your 500 square feet of independence.

"The line must be drawn here. This far - no further."

I know that Kristen is not special. I know we all know somebody who has worked hard, played by all the rules, and been ground up and pulverized for their trouble. There is a sickness in our system that has grown so deep and pervasive that sometimes it feels hopeless to try and fix it. It is terribly easy to do nothing, because we can't do everything.

So here I am, writing to you in the space between nothing and everything. I have to help my friend. She took care of me when I needed it, and now it's my turn. But my effort alone isn't enough. By myself, I am not enough.

So I'm cashing in my chips – right here, right now. If I've helped you in some way, if I've banked any goodwill with you, if you've ever wanted to do something nice for me – please, please help me help her. Go to her Patreon page and add what you can. A dollar a month. Five dollars a month. Give her anything besides the nothing she has now.

And then do one more thing. After you've become a patron, you will be able to add a "patron post" to her page, where everyone can see it. Write there and tell her about the Kristen in your life – the person who played fair and got the short end of the stick, the person who deserved so much more than they received, the person whose life you would have done anything to fix. Her life is so small right now, and she needs to hear that she's not alone.

She is mine. Who's yours?
Today is her birthday. Saturday is the two-year anniversary of her accident. In between those two things, I want to make this right. I want to pick her up for her doctor's appointment and say "guess what?"

And when I do, I will read to her every word that you write, about every person you've wanted to help. And we will make it our shared mission to tell the world about them. No, we can't do everything – but every one of us can do something. This is the other, better part of our American DNA, the truth we feel in our bones: if enough of us do something, we can change everything.



Te egero nunc.

85 comments:

  1. Perfect! I'm so glad you're doing this for her.

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    1. Hey, thanks, ma'am - that means even more coming from you. Thanks so much for listening to me talk about her on the phone, too. I really want to introduce you guys.

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  2. Beautiful said. I have Kristen's in my life. Not alone.

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    1. Oh, Clover, I am so glad to hear that. It's so easy for the people who need help the most to become the most invisible, too - and that part we can definitely change.

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  3. You are a writer for a reason, Tex. What a beautiful tribute to the friend you must love so dearly.

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    1. I do, Nichole, and I know you know that feeling. I am so much in awe of how passionately you take care of your family, and I wish the whole world could feel that!

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  4. You called...I answered! It's really as simple as that. :)

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    1. You are a miracle man, DL, and I have ALWAYS said so.

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  5. This was a beautiful tribute to your friend. <3 I hope she is able to enjoy audio books, at least. I can't even imagine not being able to read. The thought makes me cry.

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    1. Sorry about that - I didn't mean to make you cry! But don't worry: she is a voracious audio-reader, and you are so kind to think of her.

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  6. Rebecca ThomasonApril 6, 2016 at 5:33 PM

    This is wonderful and I love you all the more for helping out our dear, mutual friend in this touching and active way. She deserves so.much.better. I am going to talk to the hubs and see if we can throw in again, either on that site or directly to her, since I know she will do well with it. Keep on entertaining her and keep her spirits up. She is such a fighter and will defeat this broken system and terrible injury as she has overcome so many extraordinary events in her life.

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    1. Hey, thanks, Rebecca - that means even more coming from you. This is absolutely a team effort, and I'm so glad Kristen has you in her camp. (And YES SHE WILL!)

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  7. Just signed up. I have a cat, I inherited it when my youngest daughter went to college. "Patches" is a black & white English short hair. She's 15 now, and she listens to me [sometimes]. Tex, this is a wonderful effort, I wish you the best.

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    1. Aw, that is so nice, Roger! I am just so amazed at how many people have shared their own stories - and the cat-stories are some of the best :)

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  8. You're blitzed! And what a fabulous blitz you are. Will give. Can't give much (I have a born son with a rare brain disorder). He's my Kristen. But it will come from my heart. I'm a Christian who thinks you are wonderful. You must love her very much. Happy Blitz Day! And thanks for what you're doing. God Bless you!

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    1. Hey, thank you so much, Robyn - that is just tremendously kind. It never ceases to amaze me how the most generous people are usually the ones already carrying the heaviest loads. Thank you so much for this, and for all that you do. If each one of us could take care of just one person, the world would be an even more amazing place.

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  9. P.S. Oh, and DL is such a great writer dude! :-)

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  10. Hi Tex.
    I'm Paul. We share a mutual friend, Emma L who boosted this post for you.
    I also went through the Workers Comp wringer. I was a NYS cop who was crippled on the job. No sign of any money for, at least, two years, so I can empathize.
    The only reason I didn't wind up homeless was because a friend of mine had a finished basement that he let me live in while my case went to court. Of course, I paid him back when my case finally settled, but everyone has the possibility of losing everything at any time.
    Since I'm retired and living paycheck to paycheck, unable to ever work again I can't contribute monetarily to the cause, but I do have an extra, furnished bedroom that I'm willing to offer Kristen, no strings attached.
    I live with my girlfriend, have 3 cats and we cook all of the time. I'm a geek, a responsible adult and you can feel free to ask Emma about me.
    I'm in Chandler, Arizona in a decent rented house. If she needs, the offer is open. You can go to my profile for my email or just reply here. I can't help her get here, but I'm sure that you guys can organize it if needed.
    We're both drug free, not religious and dependable.
    All I'm offering is a safe place for her and her cat, meals, and the opportunity for me to pay back the kindness that was shown to me.

    All my best,
    Paul

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    1. Paul, I'm days late in saying so, but I have to tell you: your letter has already made a huge difference. I read it to Kristen, and she kept saying "Really? Really?" She could not believe that this could happen to a police officer - especially one in a state like New York. (We have spent a long time thinking that Texas is uniquely broken, and in a lot of ways it is, but if it can happen to you - it can happen to anyone!)

      Anyway, don't worry about money - so many people have been so generous already - but let me know if it might be all right for us to talk to you again. Your story is incredibly moving, and has already worked wonders.

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  11. What a horrible thing to happen to such a special person in your life. I hope she keeps fighting for the disability she's owed. We have friends in a tough spot like that - he's been on disability for mental issues for years (inherited from his mother) and she lost her job last year. The financial struggles they've gone through are overwhelming sometimes and we've done a lot of little things to help them, because like Kristen, they won't ask.

    This is the perfect time for your Blitz Day.

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    1. Diane, that is incredibly touching. I'm just amazed at how many people have their own Kristen, their own story. Thank you so much for sharing a little part of yours - this really has been the best blitz ever.

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  12. This is a very moving post and wish all the best to you and Kristen. I'm so glad DL decided to blitz you today!

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  13. I'm back...and I brought a few of my closest friends. I hope this moves the needle a bit! :)

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  14. What an incredible individual Kristen is, and you as well for doing this for her. Happy Blitz Day! (Hope this day helps. :) )

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  15. My heart breaks for your friend. I'll be praying that disability and workers' comp come through.

    I'm glad that DL picked you for the blitz.

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  16. It's so sweet that you are helping her out. Hopefully being blitzed makes a difference.

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  17. Such a horrible tragedy. She was a blessing to you - now you can be a blessing to her. And with this Blitz, hopefully a lot of people will bless her.

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  18. I feel for Kristen; what a terrible thing to have happened! I would prefer if there was a gofundme type campaign along with the patron one; would be interested in making a one time donation.

    It is a good day to be blitzed.

    betty

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    1. There is a check box to make a one time donation and just write in the amount (overwriting the $1.00 filled in).

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  19. Happy Blitz Day, but more importantly--Bless you for your care and concern to help your friend. There but for the Grace of God, go I. I was hit by one of those projector screens many years ago and only suffered a broken nose. I'm also a retired history and Latin teacher. Now, I write. I'll be giving a one time gift toward Kristen's care and a lot of prayers for her body and spirit. God bless you both.

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    1. Zan, thank you so much. I have to tell you: your story was incredibly moving to Kristen. We heard another, similar one on Facebook - a teacher who had suffered a broken arm from a falling screen. It's been a huge eye-opener for both of us - to realize that this isn't a one-time freak accident, but is a real, pervasive problem. Thank you so much for sharing your story - it's already made a huge difference.

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  20. So sorry for what your friend is going through. But it awesome how supportive you are being. We all need to follow your lead in our own lives. Happy Blitz Day!

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  21. Oh my goodness. Something similar happened to Douglas Adams' daughter and she's been struggling too. It's scary how the most ordinary things can become dangerous.
    You didn't mention that there's only one level to the Patreon and it's ridiculously easy to provide support! :-) Off to do so right away.

    Happy blog blitz day!

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    1. Oh, wow - I had no idea! That's so awful - poor Polly! I'm glad you mentioned her, and you're absolutely right (there but for the grace of God...) Big, big thanks for all your support - it's been the happiest blitz day ever.

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  22. Man, getting this glimpse of Kristen before the accident makes it so much more heartbreaking. Such a good spirit she has - who else could love such a cat? So awesome that you're doing this for her - thank you for inviting us to be a part of it.

    Happy Blitz Day!

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    1. Agreed! I'm in for $5 a month. I'm a teacher, too.

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  23. Beautiful tribute to your friend. It's amazing how one unlucky moment can change our entire lives. I hope things work out for her. Good luck to you and Kristen.

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  24. Bless you for caring so much. I think we all have a Kristin or two in our lives; what the world needs is more Ariannes. And more friendships like what you two share.

    Happy Blitz Day! Couldn't happen to a sweeter person.

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  25. The world would be a much better with more friends like you. You've made think that I must call some of my friends today just say I'm here if you need me. Happy Blitz Day!

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  26. This is so sad. What a beautiful tribute. Kristin is very lucky to have a friend like you. <3 I hope things get better.

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  27. Kirsten sure is lucky to have you as a friend. My best wishes for her and I hope she gets her due.
    She is inspiring indeed.
    Great day for your blitz as well. :)

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  28. I'm so sorry for what your friend is going through, but she's blessed to have you. You're a great friend.

    Happy Blitz Day!

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  29. Oh Tex, I so wish I could financially contribute to Kristin's campaign, but we are paycheck to paycheck ourselves for the next little while. But I have a big mouth (or is that nimble fingers here in the digital age) and have already shared this post to Twitter and pinned this post to my "Worthy Causes" board on Pinterest. Sending best thoughts and prayers. Happy Blitz Day!

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    1. LuAnn, that is tremendously kind of you. Don't worry about the money - so many people have been incredibly generous already - but thank you so much for sharing: just being heard is a godsend in itself, and we so appreciate you boosting the signal!

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  30. This is an amazing thing to do for your friend. It's insane how many loopholes there are in our system, all exploited to keep help from the people who need and deserve it. I'll do what I can to spread the word about this, and I hope things get better for her soon. Happy Blitz Day to you, and Happy Birthday to Kristen!

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    1. Hey, thank you so much for this, LG, and for the Facebook share too. We are truly humbled at how many wonderful people have reached out to spread the word - that in itself is a huge boost for both of us, and has made for the happiest birthday Kristen's had in years. Thank you, thank you, three bags full!

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  31. What an amazing friend you are! She is very lucky to have you and you are lucky to have her. Happy Blitz Day!

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  32. Happy Belated Birthday to Kristen and what a lovely post you've written for her.

    Happy Blitz Day! :)

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  33. What a sad story. Life can be so cruel...
    Kristen is blessed to have you as a friend.
    This is a wonderful tribute.
    Happy Blog Blitz Day!

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  34. I too know a friend like this, except it's my sister. It's odd how our social support systems can't seem to get help to people who need it. My sister if fortunate to have a large family but like your friend, she doesn't ask for help or expect it. Praying for the best.
    Susan Says

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    1. Susan, I am so sorry to hear about your sister - she is incredibly blessed to have a family like yours. Thank you so much for sharing a little part of her story - we'll be happy to keep her in our thoughts too.

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  35. I'm a newbie to the Blog Blitz community, but feel so blessed to have found you all. Not only the obviously big-hearted Arianne, and the awesome DL, but also the many contributors in the comments.

    Happy Blog Blitz Day!

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    1. Me too, Jen - what an awesome community this is!

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  36. What a moving and beautiful tribute to your friend. I'm sure she feels blessed to have a friend like you. I wish Kristen all the very best.
    HAPPY BLITZ DAY!

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  37. Wow! I love your heart!
    Happy Blitz Day!

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  38. Kapla! life long and prosper!

    Omi ignatium pro magnico

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  39. This was beautiful. All the best to both of you!
    And happy Blitz Day :)

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  40. Really awesome of you to share this on her behalf. I really hope she gets some help. So unfair how she's being treated.

    I'm so glad that DL picked this day for your blitz!

    Heather

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  41. Beautiful tribute and perfect timing for a blitz.

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  42. By now, you know you are being Blitzed. I hope the Blitz helps to spread the word. Touching story!

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  43. What a sad and yet sweet story thanks to your kindness. Your friend is indeed blessed. Happy Blitz Day!

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  44. I'm not sure if "happy blitz day" is the right sentiment, but there you go. I hit the share button and have your post mentioned on my blog on Sunday, April 10. Best of luck to your friend. It's a cruel world. Workman's comp, long term disability insurance, all of that-- turns out that it's designed to make things as difficult as possible for someone who has hit rock bottom and is in peril. I speak from experience. We're more a "survival of the fittest" society than people care to admit, and it has strangled our cultural growth. I'm sorry I don't have the number of some big shot attorney who would go pro-bono to make everything good again at Fairy-Godmother speeds. I hope your friend and her cat find peace and security in the hard days ahead.

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    1. Hey, thank you so much, J - that is incredibly kind of you to do. And really, don't worry - lawyers come and go, but people who care have been making the world go round since the world was invented. I agree that we need to get back to our cultural roots and find better, more holistic ways to practice compassion - but people like you do wonders to make me believe that we can get there.

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  45. Everyone should be so lucky to have supportive friends like you. But it's not luck, it's being that type of person to begin with. I wish the best to you both. And the cat. Happy Blitz Day!

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  46. I know someone too who has not gotten a fair shake either. My brother and his wife. My brother also suffered brain damage at work; and now his wife my have advanced cancer and is about to loose her job. I am helping them out at the moment, but I will pray for your friend. Can you pray for my family.Thanks for sharing your heart so bravely and happy Blitz Day.

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    1. Oh, Mary, I am so sorry to hear that. That must be incredibly hard. We absolutely will pray for them, and for you too - it takes real courage to support someone through a fight like that, and they are so lucky to have you in their lives. Amen!

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  47. What a beautiful post and spirit you both have~ I am helping my son who recently had a mysterious virus and was in the hospital for 18 days and had 10 doctors. I will keep you and your friend in my prayers~

    Happy Blitz Day

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    1. Ella, I am so sorry to hear about your son! That must have been such an ordeal. I hope this means he's home from the hospital and recovering!

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  48. anyone know lawyers...
    And is it necessary to hide the name of the school and it's insurance company? Put some pressure direct on them?
    I'm sure the problems with the govt are the same ones where it always takes time.
    But the school has got to have liability insurance... that could have hit a kid also.

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    1. Alan, you are absolutely right about the danger to students. There's a lot we can't say right now, but you can read more about the legal state of affairs at http://apps.texastribune.org/hurting-for-work/

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  49. Sorry I'm a bit late to the party. Today was treatment day and I was out of the house by 8 am and didn't get back here until after 6 pm.

    It does my heart good to see a solid friendship. Y'know, there are those that are born family members and then there are those we choose to be family and in this case, she's your sister as well as friend.

    At this point, I'm not sure what I can do but I will look and see what we could give. Won't be much but it will be from the heart.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

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    1. Sia, you are not late at all - you are already going above and beyond the call of duty! Thank you so much for your compassion and caring - I am so sorry you're having to go through chemo, and will be more than happy to share your blog so that other people can join the fight. Hang in there - we are many, and we are mighty!

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    2. Thank you Tex. I don't like chemo either, but like the alternative even less. :-)

      Caring for and helping others is something I do regardless of what's going on with me. Even if I only have dribs and drabs it doesn't matter. Every little bit helps another. It's a matter of the heart. My heart goes out to your friend.

      And I smile because you care enough to do something tangible. Don't ever lose that 'heart' because it's priceless.

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  50. Some people out there absolutely love the pain in the arse cats who constantly try your patience. I know I do ;)

    It's wonderful of you to do this for your Kristen. She's a lucky girl to have you as a friend!

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  51. Happy Blitz Day! Will add my prayers for your friend's well-being. You're both lucky to have such a friendship.

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  52. A genuine friend is a priceless asset. In this, Kristen is a very wealthy young lady. I hope that not only will her needs be met, but that she'll able to overcome her adversity and again be able to enjoy those things that make her so happy.

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  53. Very thoughtful. I'm a long time cat rescue-er myself :)

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  54. You are an incredible writer, and an even better friend. This is beautiful for so many reasons. Praying for Kristen!!

    And Happy Blitz Day (a day late).

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  55. Reading, praying, blitzing, and donating - in that order.

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  56. What an amazing tribute to your friend, Tex. Consider me there. It's all about paying it forward. Family and friends have been and still are good to me while I still recover from my own TBI.

    Heading over to the page now. BTW, sorry I'm late to the party, but you've been BLITZED!!! Eva

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    1. Hey, you are not late at all - I'm the one who's tardy in reply here!

      And thank you so much for sharing a little piece of your story - it has been just amazing to hear from so many other people who really can relate. (I told Kristen about your comment on the phone yesterday, and she was just floored that someone else out there with TBI had found her.) Thank you so much for connecting with us - we are so glad to know you!

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  57. It's Eva again! You're getting BLTIZED twice! :) No worries, I'll help clean the glitter later. Made my monthly pledge and will keep Kristen in my thoughts and prayers. Have a great day!

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    1. Wow, Eva - I can't even handle getting blitzed ONCE!

      No, but seriously - thank you so much for adding your support. It has been more than a great day - it's been an unbelievably wonderful, exhausting, jaw-dropping, tear-jerking week, and I blame you for that! :)

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  58. It's so heartbreaking when wonderful people have such terrible things happen to them.

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