Thoughts on the Death of a Grade School Classmate

“Ya’ll, Tony Skalas is dead,” read the first text I noticed in a group message between two of my grade school friends and me. I haven’t seen Tony Skalas since grade school. We’re not even friends on Facebook. But he’s dead, and that in and of itself is shocking.

It’s not like we were friends. I would never have called us friends. But of all the dickheads I went to grade school with, I never saw Tony as a problem, which is more than can be said of 96 percent of them.

In fact, I actually respect Tony. I don’t think he always had it easy, but somehow he made it through. I respect that about him.

The most significant thing I remember about Tony is that we share the same birthday: Christmas Eve. You know, I think about him every year on my birthday. I always contemplate whether or not I should send him a “happy birthday” message on Facebook, but evidently, I don’t think I ever did.

Tony is the kind of guy I would tell you I knew in a past life, someone who I used to know and who I certainly still know of. But there’s something off about this situation. It feels like this story just doesn’t fit. He can’t be dead, right?

Apparently, he was in a band. And apparently, he was pretty talented. Maybe that’s the worst part: that the talented don’t always get the proper allotment of time to fully pursue and make the most of that talent. Maybe Tony felt different than I. Maybe he felt fulfilled. Maybe he didn’t. It’s easier to believe that he did, though that’s not necessarily the truth.

It was strange reading his name in the Post-Dispatch’s article on the car accident. “Head-on crash in St. Charles County kills one, seriously injures four,” the headline reads. And it seems kind of cold to realize he is the “kills one” the headline is referring to. I’ve written a story similar to this, and it didn’t feel cold. Mostly, it felt sad and a little lonely. I hope the writer of this article didn’t feel like Anthony T. Skalas was just a name tied to a body. I hope he saw Anthony T. Skalas as a real, once living person with dreams and goals and people who loved him and possibly people who didn’t. I hope the writer, at least for himself, could recognize the complexity of the person whose name he put in his article. Though I can’t say I blame the writer if he chose not to; news is tough to read, and possibly tougher to write.

Lastly, I keep thinking about his mom. I remember her fondly. She was around school a lot, the type of mom who was there for classroom parties and probably volunteered to read books to us when we were younger. She always said hi to me. She loved Tony a lot, as far as I could tell, and I can’t stop thinking about how she must be feeling. And I’m truly sorry for that.

Actually, I’m sorry for this whole thing. It seemed like Tony had quite the life in front of him. And it’s gone. Tony’s tragic and premature death is the kind of event that makes me stop and wonder what it’s all worth in the end. It’s the type of situation that makes you wonder if you’re living right and what you might do differently and if you even have the time to do that. I most certainly take time for granted. I always assume there will be more of it. And one day there won’t be. One day, like everyone else, my hourglass will run out. And then what?

And then what?

In Consideration of Cheating

Cheating. It’s something that I will never understand. I don’t get why people do it, and until recently, I didn’t get why people tolerate it. But I’ve heard some stories and done some thinking, and now I’d like to tell you what I’ve discovered.

The way I see it, there are two types of cheating: romantic, where one cheats on their partner, and professional, where one cheats in a manner related to academics or work. Interestingly enough, I’ve had conversations about both in the last week.

Let’s start with professional cheating. Now, largely, this type has to do with plagiarism. In the art world, sometimes this is justified as appropriation and so is not always seen as straight-up stealing someone else’s work. My roommate is an art major. She’s in a graphic design class with this boy named Andrew or William (he gets called both names by two different professors, so she’s not sure what his real name is). Anyway, she came home the other day and was telling me about how they had to design a book cover for this class a couple weeks ago. She told me the other day she was scrolling through Pinterest and stumbled across a print that was identical to the one Andrew/William presented as his book cover in class. The only difference, as far as she could tell, was that he had slapped on a book title.

This discovery caused an internal conflict for her. Should she tell her professor? Should she keep it to herself? Ultimately, she decided not to say anything. Upon questioning her about it, she said he has kids and a wife, and he’s trying to rebuild his life. Even though it’s not right for him to steal work, who is she to potentially ruin his life by bringing it up with the professor?

At first, I disagreed with her. But after thinking about it, I get it. No one wants to be a snitch, but moreover, she felt she didn’t know nearly enough about the situation. As far as she knew, he had talked to the professor about this, and the professor had decided this would be appropriation of someone else’s art and not in fact plagiarism. She decided it was not her place to interfere. As long as her work is original, she said, what he does is between him, the professor and the other artist.

I’ve also been having a lot of conversations about romantic cheating lately. Primarily, they’ve all been with the new guy I’m seeing. He was cheated on in his last relationship both physically and emotionally. He still has feelings for her, despite all of that. It’s not easy, he said. She meant something to him then, he said. Regardless of the residual feelings, the last girl he was with has made it hard for us to be together because it left him with the sad belief that maybe there really isn’t anyone you can trust.

Aside from how romantically cheating on someone can mess with them, I’ve come to wonder if cheating itself is really the problem. Obviously, to some extent it is. It breaks any semblance of trust the non-cheater can have for the cheater. And for some people, cheating is the ultimate deal-breaker. It certainly doesn’t help the relationship, but I don’t think cheating itself is what ruins a relationship. It’s the lie(s) that usually accompany it that deal the real KO.  The way I see it, the cover-up of the cheating, the hiding it is what makes cheating hard to overcome.

In a broader sense, the lie is what makes cheating as egregious as it’s usually perceived, whether professionally or romantically. The act of cheating itself is a problem. But the kill-shot is the lie. When people are honest about having plagiarism in their work or having slept with another person that one night, it’s problematic but there is at least some merit in having been honest about it.

What I hope you take away from this is not that cheating in any capacity is okay, so much as that we’re human, and we make mistakes. Sometimes, really bad mistakes. And while that doesn’t right the wrong of cheating, some compassion makes it worth further consideration. It’s easy to write off these kinds of acts, but there is usually a greater reason for it. Should that make plagiarism unpunishable? No. Does that mean you should stay in your relationship with that person who cheated on you? Not necessarily. All I’m trying to say here is that compassion and consideration of these things on a case-by-case basis might be a good idea.

Young Writer Drowns, No Water Found, Just This Poem

Do you ever

feel like you’re drowning,

Not from water,

but from time?

 

Too much pressure

over top of me,

too much pressure

within me.

 

I’m choking on

sand from time’s hourglass.

 

Sputtering from

the words in my throat.

 

Asphyxiation sets in,

My soul writhing, writhing,

My head pounding, pounding.

 

There’s no rhythm here,

there’s no meaning here.

 

I’m panicking,

No breath,

Can’t breathe.

I’m panicking.

 

And yet,

the clock still runs.

The words still need writing.

 

Save me.

I need time.

I need words.

 

Spiraling,

I need more,

MORE!

 

There’s not enough,

There’s not enough.

The Year of Single: The Resolution Realized

“Sounds to me like you’re looking for a movie romance,” he said to me. I was explaining to him what I want that I wasn’t getting from him: a spark that is exciting, romantic and passionate. And that was his response. In truth, he’s not wrong. I do want the movie romance, but I want a lot more than that too. Which is why I broke it off with him.

Last year, I decided, was going to be “the year of single.” And like every other year of my life, it was. I may have started dating, but I never really left the zone of being single because I was never fully committed to anyone outside of myself. What’s funny is that when I set out on my “year of single,” I was hoping to tip the universe off that I was secure enough in myself to date someone. But what dating someone for the first time ever taught me is that I don’t really want to date right now. Throughout the month (lol) that we saw each other, I kept thinking to myself how much I didn’t want this, how much I don’t want to settle down right now or maybe ever, and how much I truly love being single. Being with him, I missed being single, and I never thought I could miss this.

The year of single was intended to be the year in which I actively decided to be single because I never had before. I can say that I saw that resolution this week when I broke it off with the guy I was seeing. Despite the fact that he is a good guy, it wasn’t enough to make me want to be anything but single.

What I’ve found is that single is a chosen relationship status like any other. For so long, single felt like it was supposed to be a state of waiting, waiting for someone to come around and finally choose me. But that’s not what it is. Single is about cultivating love, like the other statuses. It’s just about cultivating self-love, and what dating has taught me is that if that relationship is not the quality of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, then I don’t want it. And that is intensely liberating.

Thoughts from the Doctor’s Office

10:10 a.m. 

I wanna be done. I want to not feel panicked anymore. I want to feel better. I want to work again. I want to see my friends. I want to stop itching and taking medication. I want to look like myself again.
“You look pretty miserable,” the nurse says to me, while I sit on the examination table red, blotchy and uncomfortably warm all over.

“Thanks,” I respond sarcastically. She laughs. It is a little funny, I guess, considering I was here around this time yesterday. But at this time yesterday, I only had a rash on my hands. Today, it’s all over my body. I feel like a walking sunburn that occasionally becomes itchy.
At least the fever I had yesterday at the onset of this spreading has gone away, as have the chills. Now, it’s just me, a rash and this grey-walled, Cardinals baseball-themed examination room.
“Wow,” my nurse practitioner says, both shocked and amazed at the fact that at this time yesterday she was telling me I was making a healthy recovery. Now I’m beginning to feel like Matt Smith from the Doctor Who episode “The Crimson Horror.” The difference is this isn’t Victorian London and I’m not the 11th Doctor, or any sort of doctor for that matter. In fact, it is a bleak an chilly Tuesday in suburban St. Louis.

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At any rate, I end up being prescribed steroids after my nurse practitioner consults with my regular doctor, who happens to be in London right now. (See? This relates to Doctor Who in more than one way.)

3:27 p.m.

I’m home now and I’ve taken a dose of steroids and a dose of Zyrtec. I look and feel less like “The Crimson Horror” and more like a tired Micki, which I am. On the way to the pharmacy, I treated myself to a spiced sweet cream cold brew and a slice of gingerbread loaf (which actually has candied ginger in it, as a chewy, spicy, holiday surprise!) I’ve also started the book “The Night Circus” by Erin Morganstern, which is dark and fantastical and everything I want on a cold, dark Tuesday.

So that’s me for now. I’m going to go watch that episode of Doctor Who now. Have a happy Thanksgiving and great week!

Haunted in Edinburgh: A Story of Humanity in the Medieval City

I’ve heard many sad stories. More than I care to entertain. But this had to be one of the saddest I’ve ever heard. The worst part is it’s true.

On a cool July night in the medieval city of Edinburgh, I happened to be on a haunted tour. For a little while, maybe 30 of us walked around the city with our guide telling stories that were probably scary but not memorably so. That is, until we went underneath the streets into the underground vaults.

Scotand Under.jpg

To my recollection, these vaults were built back in medieval times when disease plagued the city. The bodies were put out onto the streets and so the rich people lived up, in apartment buildings, and the poor had to live underneath the city in stone rooms, underneath the streets. These rooms were packed with families and when day turned to night, the rooms became so dark that you couldn’t see a hand in front of your face, or a scary man standing right behind you.

And so there was a fire that rolled through the city. Most of the men ran up from the vaults to the streets to help tame the fire, while the women and children stayed behind. What hadn’t been anticipated was that the stone vaults would essentially become ovens as the fire rolled across the streets above. So it was that the elderly began to die first from the heat. It is said that, since it was so dark in these rooms, that some of the adults would come up behind the children and slit their throats thinking it was a faster and less painful death than basically being baked alive.

Our guide told us before heading into the vaults that what truly made them unsettling was how it was haunted by human interest, not necessarily ghosts themselves. But there was one spirit whose story kept me up at night long after returning to the States.

It was that of a girl. A younger girl, who died in her early teens, if memory serves. She died in the vaults, assumedly by having her throat slit. While she now haunts a room in the vault, she was originally spotted by a man on the street. The girl had dark hair and a green plaid skirt. She appeared to be young and also crying. He asked her if she was alright, and she screamed a high-pitched wail. Understandably, the man was freaked out. But when he looked back she was gone. In Gaelic lore, she is a specific type of ghost known as a banshee. A banshee is a female ghost whose wail indicates death, either to the person who beholds her or to one of their loved ones. The man’s mother died unexpectedly the next day.

Typically, banshees aren’t violent ghosts, just foreboding ones. But still the thought of this little girl screaming kept me up for weeks to come after this tour.above-an-edinburgh-street

The tour guide was right, though. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts or not. But I do believe in being haunted. Haunted by the past, haunted by ideas, haunted by reality. Despite the ghosts and folklore, the scariest part about those vaults, and actually Scotland as a whole, is that it is a place that reminds you that humanity is truly the most sinister monster of them all.

Thinking Out Loud: the Olympics and What It Means to Be Great

I love the Olympics. I hate sports. But I love the Olympics. Maybe it’s the grandeur, the cultural aspect of it or the fact that it makes me feel proud to be an American.

Rio

I appreciate a lot about the Olympics, but there’s something I’m reminded of every time I watch it. And that is this idea of what it means to be great.

I’ve been considering success and what it means to be great for a while now. What is great? Or rather, who is great?  I used to think the Kardashians were the epitome of success and greatness. Pretty, acclaimed, rich, famous, household names. That’s all it takes, right? But it doesn’t really, does it? Pretty, acclaimed, rich, famous, household names- that doesn’t really make someone great.

Greatness is an ideal that is totally subjective. Everyone sees the idea of greatness differently. For example, now I find Olympians to be the epitome of greatness, not the Kardashians.

Olympians are my idea of greatness because they are people who are capable of making the rest of us believe that we can achieve our dreams too. Most Olympic athletes don’t come from famous families who buy their ticket to the Games. Most Olympic athletes turn back into pumpkins after the Games. And there is something strangely comforting about that.

Consider this: an Olympic athlete could be shopping at your grocery store and you might not have ever known. Why? Because most of them appear just like the rest of us. Unless you’re a Michael Phelps character, the media won’t remember you after the Olympics and you’ll go back to training or decide that you want a different job and retire from your respective sport. But you’ll always have that medal you won. You’ll always know what that felt like, to be great.

Aly-Raisman--Rio-2016-Olympics-Games--Team-Qualifications-19-662x441

So I ask you: what does it mean to be great? The way I see it, greatness is not about money or fame or material things. It’s about the way you see yourself and what you’re doing with your life. Greatness can be understated. In fact, I think it’s far more attractive that way. If I’ve learned anything from the Olympics, it’s that greatness might be as simple as nailing a backflip in your floor routine. Not the acclaim that comes from having a winning backflip, just the sheer joy of knowing that you accomplished it. In the moment when it mattered, you did something you’ve been working for. At the end of the day, maybe greatness is just doing something that feels important to you, and makes other people feel good too.