The Day I Cut Off My Hair and Dyed it Magenta*

Large life changes happen through a severing, quick and brutal.
Large life changes happen through a series of small events that lead
to the undeniable reality that things simply can’t go on as they are.
Large life changes happen because of one event that as it evolves
changes our view of ourselves, our place in the world, our understanding of who we are.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because I realized I was mortal.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because someone I considered a friend descended into madness, threatened my life, threatened his family, and ultimately, took his own life in the most hostile, painful way I could imagine.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because I am a survivor and I would not let my rage, my fear destroy me.

I cut off my hair and dyed it magenta because, like the phoenix, it was my first step in rising again.

I kissed a girl that day out of connection and gratitude, out of celebration that we were both still alive. We were safe.

I kissed a girl that day out of sadness and anger that Alan had opted out, that he was no longer alive, that he had chosen to leave the world violently.

After that kiss, for various reasons, we went our own ways, followed our own paths.

*********************************

The phone. I answered. Her voice. “It’s about Alan.” My heart filled with dread. “What has he done?” “He’s dead. He shot himself. He called me and said ‘I want you to hear me die’ and he shot himself. I heard him die, Deborah! He made me hear him die”.” I’m on my way”, I replied. I grabbed my purse and my keys, slipped into flip flops and fumbled around as I tried to lock the door to my friend’s borrowed apartment where I had been staying, trying to keep under Alan’s radar for over a week. “Where are the kids?”, I asked. “With my mom”, she said. “Please come now”.

He’d threatened me “If someone took Deborah out, you’d realize it’s not safe for a woman not to have a man to protect her”, he’d told his wife. This was before the confrontation in the grocery store, before the threats escalated. After, I went to the police station to help her file a Temporary Protection Order against him, the police officer turned to me. “We know about him”, the police officer said. “Go someplace. Lie low. Wait.”  “Leave my life?!”, I’d asked incredulous. ”Your children should stay with their dad. Do you have someone you could borrow a car from? You need to find a safe place. If you stay where you are, all we can do is clean up the mess after.” I was stunned. The police officer said “All we can do is clean up the mess after.”, I repeated this over and over to myself. Finally, it snapped me out of my fog. ALL WE CAN DO IS CLEAN UP THE MESS AFTER.

After I dropped my friend at the apartment where she was staying, I moved fast. I called my ex-husband. I explained the situation. We made arrangements to trade cars. He went to the house to get what the kids needed. They would stay with him as long as necessary.

I called friends. I knew they had a vacant apartment they were preparing to rent. “It only has an air mattress and a couple folding chairs. I’ll bring some dishes and glasses this afternoon. Will that be ok?” my friend asked. “I don’t need much”, I said. For more than a week, I lived in fear that he would somehow find me. A friend stayed with me every night. He shaved his head thinking it made him look stronger, more powerful, intimidating even, at least when he didn’t smile. He joked that he was my body guard. Nothing felt very funny to me.

Now Alan was dead. I felt elation. The threat was gone. I felt anger, a fury like I had never experienced. How dare he! I felt sadness for the friend I had lost, now permanently to the demons that tortured him.

After I visited my friend, now his widow, after I kissed her, I called the woman who cut my hair. “I need to see you. I need to do something new, something really different.”, I said. “I just had a cancellation.”, she replied. “You sound funny. Are you ok?” “I’m ok. A friend just died. I’ll see you in an hour. Thanks!”, I replied.

My hair was long, to the middle of my back. As the blonde locks fell to the floor, I slowly relaxed. I started to feel lighter, freer. When I looked in the mirror and saw my face, so different, framed in magenta, always my favorite color, I felt fierce. There was also something different in my eyes. I was changed. I would survive this. I HAD survived, but I was not the same. Alan’s death and all that led up to it changed me. The anger stayed the longest. To be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever let it go completely.

*The names and some minor details in this post have been changed as this is about my experiences around my friend’s death.

Reflections on Remembering and Forgiveness: Part 1

My approach to life has always been to accept that people do their best, to forgive and forget. I don’t hold grudges. I am incredibly optimistic and positive. I live my life in joy. I also try to see different perspectives, to understand standpoints, constraints, limitations others face, points of view. I don’t generally take things personally (even when they are).  I have taken this philosophy so far as to mindfully forget painful events in my life. Most recently, I forgot the face of the man who robbed my son and me at gunpoint because in that moment I realized that I was a threat to him if I could identify him. I forgot because it was safer to do so. I have approached many events in my life this way. If it is not safe to remember, I forget. I had no idea how strong this ability had become.

My best friend and my ex-husband used to marvel at my ability to forget. They said they held my hurts for me, remembered for me. I remember one evening,  after the three of us had enjoyed dinner together, we sat in the living room and they recounted all the wrongs people had done me in the time they’d known me. I was awed that they remembered. I was surprised that they cared about these things. None of the events they recounted were strange to me. I knew they had happened. I had simply chosen not to remember them, not to let them impact my life, at least not consciously.

My strategy has been to try to keep the lessons, but leave behind the emotion, especially the pain, to forget the details. In my work over the last year on healthy relationships, a culmination of over 20 years of work, I have learned that my strategy has at times crippled me. When I forget the details, the lesson is weaker. I am now working to embrace the details, keep the lessons, and forgive.

Here is my problem: When I forget, I remain positive. I remain optimistic about possibilities. I seek to understand the other. When I forget, it is easy to forgive. But, when I remember, the lessons have more weight behind them, are easier to sustain, have a stronger foundation. When I remember, it is sometimes harder to remain positive, optimistic, to forgive.

I am struggling with forgiveness in this. I don’t want to hold grudges, but I do need to keep appropriate boundaries. Forgiveness, to me, implies understanding, that “it’s ok”; forgiveness opens the possibility of a reconnection later, for second, third, maybe fourth chances.

In some cases, that simply cannot be.

As I try to embrace mindful remembrance without emotion so that lessons will have strength, I struggle also with forgiveness and separation. We all make mistakes. We all learn. We all grow. No one is perfect. But at times, doors do need to be closed and bridges do need to be burned.

I am trying to find the balance.

Musings on time, this week in my family’s history, and growth

Three years ago this week, my daughter Alyssa shredded her knee, severing her ACL, MCL, tearing her meniscus, and bruising everything above and below her kneecap. Through hard months of waiting, finishing the semester on crutches and a motorized scooter, surgery, PT, recovery, learning how to bear weight, learning how to dance, she persevered. Today she is again an amazing dancer. She is lovely and graceful, strong and passionate. Today she is a college graduate off on her own. So much has changed in 3 years.

Two years ago this week, I fell on the steps of Elliott Hall the building where I work at Wichita State University. I tripped and sprawled on the steps on my newly healed wrists. I sacrificed my right ankle, which I badly bruised, to keep from landing fully on my hands and arms, but it hurt. It really hurt. I sat on the steps and cried, injured and afraid. I was too shaken to move as one colleague walked around me on the narrow steps, the contents of my purse and computer case strewn all over the landing. Her disregard hurt worse than the fall, her ignoring me as I cried on the steps. The Elliott School’s administrative assistant Bill, the lifeblood of the ESC, came to my rescue. I was finally able to recover my cell phone, and I called him, crying, to come help me. He did. He picked up all my stuff, helped me stand, using my elbows, so he wouldn’t hurt my wrists, and helped me to my office. Today I am at the two-thirds point of an amazing yearlong sabbatical, three months of which I spent on a writing retreat in Florence, Italy. Today my wrists are healed and I can again do hot yoga. Today I am contemplating what I want to do with the next phase of my life. So much has changed in 2 years.

Six weeks ago this week, my son and I were robbed at gunpoint by a young man who kicked open our locked front door.  That day I had pink highlights put in my long blonde hair. For me hair is a toy. I’d worked on my website: http://DrDeborah.co with my friend Davis.  It’s still a work in progress, but that was a watershed day. I was happy and content. Then I was scared and threatened. Today, I have magenta and purple highlights in my long blonde hair thanks to the talented Jessica, and my son Stefan and I have moved into a new apartment, a lovely apartment. We are moving on with our lives. So much has changed in six weeks.

Time is an interesting thing. In the middle of rough moments it seems to stop, then drags so slowly when it finally begins to move again. In the beautiful, life affirming moments, time often moves so quickly. Time, as the cliché says, also heals.

This week has led me to reflect on the past, something I don’t do often, to examine the path that got me, that got my son and daughter, to where we are today. These events are simply a small part of our journeys.

I believe we have a choice about how we view the happenings in our lives. We can choose to view things as crises or adventures. As I reflect back on those three events and the emotions they raised, the ups and downs of negotiating them, I recognize our choices. None of us would describe ourselves as victims. We simply do not view things as crises. We are optimists. We do what needs to be done. We deal with what needs to be dealt with and we move forward. We learn and grow from our experiences.

We are stronger, as are my wrists, because of these events. We see the world differently than we did before, because of the events of this week over the last three years. I am inspired by the words of Anne Lamott on Facebook. Yesterday she wrote , “Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things”. I am inspired by Japanese Kintsugi pottery, the art of reassembling, of repairing, broken pottery with gold. We are each like a precious piece of pottery. The world tosses us about, breaks, chips, and often shatters us. We reassemble ourselves , often with the help of those who love us. We are remade, more unique, more different, more precious than we were before.

wood-fired-bowl-kintsugi-repair

Image of Kintsugi Pottery taken from: http://lakesidepottery.com/Pages/kintsugi-repairing-ceramic-with-gold-and-lacquer-better-than-new.htm

A Love Letter to Las Vegas – <3

As you know, dear reader, I am FINALLY in Las Vegas visiting my wonderful daughter Alyssa. I fell in love with Vegas several years ago when I spent 6 weeks here after my dancer daughter shredded her knee. Surgery had to wait until after the semester, so we lived in the other wing of her dorm in a double room. This gave me plenty of space to work on my WSU classes with the help of wonderful colleagues, like my friend Glyn, and students with whom I skyped and phoned. It also allowed me to stay close to my girlie in case she needed me.

Looking back, it was a truly amazing time. Las Vegas is absolutely beautiful in the spring. While it took me several weeks to realize it, I fell completely in love with the campus, with all the green spaces and nature paths filled with wild, desert flowers. I loved the clarity of the early morning air, the way the breezes caressed my skin and blew my hair, before the sun turned too hot. The wild flowers inspired me. I started photographing them on my phone, posting them to social media as a way of staying connected with friends and family. Based on the encouragement of my friend Pam, I ultimately turned some of these photographs into a calendar that I gave to friends and family for Christmas.

I trolled the campus each morning, sometimes running the steps outside the Thomas and Mack Center, listening to music on my iPod. I fell in love with a sky blue Lotus Elise often parked near the campus desert garden. I was tempted to leave a note to let the owner know how much I appreciated that car. I never did. I still look for it when I’m back on campus. Since Alyssa’s graduation, I don’t have an excuse to troll campus any more. I miss that.

I got comfortable with the shops near the university, especially those on Maryland Parkway. I frequented Einstein’s Bagels. I’d often stop there near the end of my 1 ½ hour walk to pick up yummy breakfast for Alyssa to start her day. We could eat healthy on fresh fruit and veggie drinks, or enjoy bagels with eggs, meat and cheese, or bagels with plain or flavored cream cheese. Alyssa’s favorite was strawberry cream cheese. We also found a car wash and nail salon I still visit whenever I come to town.

I remember with gratitude her teachers, especially those in the dance department at UNLV. They recommended surgeons and physical therapists, encouraged her to safely push the limits of her physical capacity. They told her she would get better, that she would dance again. Their support was priceless.

Alyssa’s and my pattern this trip is different now that she’s graduated from UNLV. She works as a concierge at Monte Carlo Resort. Each morning I get up, take Greyson, her Australian Shepherd, for a walk. This year, it is the bush and tree flowers that are just starting to bloom that speak to me. They are quiet, gentle. I photograph them.

pink flowerspansy

Each morning, I hang out with Alyssa before she has to go to work. I drive her to work and get on with my day. I do something useful, get the oil changed in her car, fill her tank with gas or get her car washed. I get a mani/pedi (no, it’s not ALL about doing things for my daughter). Then I find a Starbucks to write.

As I settle in with my iced chai latte with soy each day, I have a feeling about what I’m going to write. Rarely (never actually), do I write what I think I will. I write whatever comes out, whatever inspires me in the moment. This post was not what I had planned for today, but it is what I wrote.

As I reflect, I guess my message today, dear reader, is that life happens in the little day-to-day moments as well as when I have to rise to the occasion to deal with whatever challenges face me. Life happens when the beauty of a flower stops me short. Life happens when I pause from what I’m doing to listen for my daughter’s voice. Life happens as I run the steps at the Thomas and Mack Center or take Alyssa’s puppy for a walk. Life happens as my favorite song leads me to move faster on my morning walk, or an unexpected song triggers a memory. Life comes when the conversation of those next to me in Starbucks demands my attention.

I found beauty as my daughter healed from a traumatic, painful injury. I found beauty in flowers and the feeling of sunshine on my shoulders, a soft breeze on my neck. I fell in love with where I was. I fell in love with Las Vegas! I wish for you the same. Fall in love with your day! I’m off to finish mine.

White flowers 1 yellow flowers

white flowers 2

A Love Letter to My Daughter: You Inspire Me! <3

Alyssa looking down

My Dear Alyssa,

I sit in the airport beginning for at least the 8th time to write you this letter. I sit in Starbucks for the second day in a row in Vegas, writing this letter. I’ve been writing this letter to you since before you graduated from UNLV in December. In fits and starts I’ve written, starting fresh, talking from my heart.

Alyssa and Stefan

Every important letter I’ve ever written you probably includes the precious sound you made when the doctor lifted you from my body. I can still hear it. The tug on my heart was visceral. I didn’t want you to leave the safety of my body. I didn’t want the connection between us to be severed. I wanted to see your face, hold you in my arms, smell your smell, touch your skin. I wanted to watch you grow, crawl, walk, run, dance. I wanted you my whole life, dear one.  I have loved watching every moment of your growth, even the hard parts because they have helped you become the woman you are today. Both joys and sorrows will help fuel you to be the woman you will be tomorrow. You asked me if it’s hard for me to see you grow into an adult. That is the path you have been on since the moment of your birth. It is all I ever hoped for. I cherish it!

I once told you that coo sealed the deal, that from then on you owned my heart. To be honest, you owned it long before that and you have claimed it so many times since.  I love you, dear daughter, with a passion for which I have no words, me who always has words. At times it makes me fierce and fearless. I would stare down any demon, any monster, for you. I would protect you with my life. At times it makes me weak and tender. I can cry when I think of you, when I see your precious face. The love I have for you is beyond anything I could ever have imagined. My heart is bigger, stronger, fuller, richer because of you.

You have always been one of my most important teachers. Do you remember when we did the presentation for OSCLG on love languages and how we like to give and receive love? That was such an incredibly powerful experience for me. Showing love to and receiving it from Stefan has always been so easy. With you, often, you did not receive my love in the way I intended it. When we did that analysis, I understood. I still love it when you say “talking, Mom”, when I’m trying to support you as you work through an issue. It helps me realize that I am acting out of my comfort level, not yours. It reminds me to adapt to your style, to give you what you need, which is always what I want to do in those situations.

You have the strongest sense of fairness and equity of anyone I know. It grew in you in funny places, like your dislike for the Honda Accord because it had seat warmers in the front seat, but not the back. It didn’t matter to you that you still had to sit in your car seat. It was simply unfair that you had to sit in the back and there weren’t seat warmers there. No cajoling that one day you’d be able to sit in the front mattered, because, as you pointed out, whoever sat in the back wouldn’t have seat warmers.

It grew in your understanding of family, friends, relationships, your certainty about how you deserve to be treated, your unwillingness to let those who don’t deserve you have any place in your life, your knowledge that some people are simply not worthy of your time. I marvel at your strength and clarity. It humbles me that I have been an anti-model for you in this area. I am so glad that I have you as a model for me in this.

You were also a model to me when you hurt your knee. You were fully present. Of course in that kind of pain, it’s hard not to be. You were open about your needs and communicated clearly. Your need for touch was so strong at that time, one of your preferred love languages. You slept entwined with me, your arms or legs always against mine, your head on my shoulder. I believe I made you feel safe, secure, loved. You let me know what you needed and I cherished the ability to give. I treasure the memory of the long morning walks during which I fell in love with Las Vegas. I took pictures of flowers and often ended up at Einstein’s Bagels or someplace else getting breakfast to bring back to you, waking you gently to start your day, helping you with showers, washing your hair, helping you dress and eventually get to classes, helping less as you could do more for yourself. It was my pleasure to do these things. You were so strong and you made me feel like my support helped ground you. I loved that Stefan came to stay with us. In those days we proved again that we are the family I hoped we would be. I would never have been anywhere else but with you. Neither would Stefan. Know that I will always be there for you should you need me.

Your model helped me when I was so dependent after breaking my wrists. I had always been great at giving care, but lousy at receiving it. How you were with me after you hurt your knee helped me relax into needing care and being dependent on someone else. I had loved doing it for you. You helped me realize that others would be fine, even enjoy, doing it for me.

Watching you come back after that and reclaim dance in your own time, at your own rate was so inspiring. Your strength and tenacity impressed me. Again, it was your clarity, your strong sense of self, your confidence in who you are and what you wanted, your understanding of your body and your capacities, regardless of what medical providers or dance teachers told you, your willingness to fight for  what you wanted.

Before I had children, I wished for them to be independent, strong, and loving. You are these things and so much more. You are intelligent, insightful, witty, funny, incredibly graceful. I see you relaxing into your life, into yourself. I see a competent, confident, happy woman. I delight in you and am so happy I’m your mother. I cherish every moment of your life and watching what you will do next.

So, what words of wisdom do I have? Trust yourself. You will find your path step-by-step. There really is no right or wrong choice as long as you are true to yourself. It is all about what you do with the choices you make. I wish for you that you live your life to the fullest, in technicolor, no regrets. Choose whatever you choose with love and passion. Change your mind. Choose a different path, whenever you desire or need to do so. Apologize. Love passionately. Live fearlessly. This life is a gift that deserves to be made the most of. As the song says, “I hope you dance”. I don’t care if it’s actual physical dance or not (although watching you dance makes my heart happy). I hope that you embrace your life fearlessly and make of it whatever you choose. You are amazing, my darling and I love you dearly.

Alyssa and GreysonAlyssa at work

My Leadership Awakening: Following My Mission & Visioning the Future

I took part in an AMAZING Leadership Awakening Workshop in Dallas, TX, offered by Scott Black of Like it Matters, LLC. You can find them at www.likeitmatters.net. I can’t begin to describe the workshop beyond saying it was intense, insightful, life-affirming, and life changing. We built an amazing team in 2 days and I brought back changes I am integrating day-to-day into my life. I learned so much about myself.

One of the things I learned was that I can’t “think” my way out of or into everything. I’m an academic. I live in my mind. It’s in many ways, my greatest strength. Sometimes though, I learned I just can’t do things with my head. Fortunately, I also have a big heart. I care deeply about people. In this workshop, I had to release my intellect and focus on feeling. It was amazing!

Fear of my wrists is one of the things that has been holding me back. As you know, dear reader, I broke my wrists in a dancing accident over two years ago. I know, in my head, that the bones in my wrists have healed more strongly than before I broke them. That said, I’ve still had a lot of pain and some issues with flexibility. Until this workshop, I held stress in my wrists and hands as well. You know how you get a stiff neck when you sleep wrong, I get stiff wrists when I’m stressed about something. My wrists ached and stiffened throughout the workshop until I had my watershed moment. After the workshop, I asked to be allowed to break a pine block, something I’d done for a different purpose with my foot earlier in the workshop. I wrote “fear that I can’t” on one side of the block and “hot yoga, confidence, and no limits” on the other side. I wanted to break that board with my right hand, the one that had healed from a triple fracture. The first hit, I didn’t break it. Scott looked in my eyes and said “visualize your hand touching the floor after you break the board”. I did and I broke it. I BROKE A BOARD WITH MY WEAK, DOMINANT HAND (yes, my dominant hand was the most badly damaged)!!! I have not looked back. Since I got home, I’ve taken 2 full 90 minute hot yoga classes and I’ve done a 90 minute weight lifting session. I have not held back. Although they are sometimes still a bit stiff and ache, I have my hands and wrists back.

If you want to live your best life. If you desire to live your life as if it matters (which it does), this Leadership Awakening experience will give you tools to take forward to meet those objectives. I cannot recommend it enough. A caveat: Your experience will be different than mine. Your needs, wants, expectations, strengths, abilities, blocks are different, so what you get out of it will be different.

Every morning I read my mission statement, often looking in the mirror and into my eyes. I’ve always been great at keeping my promises to other people. I am now great at keeping my promises to myself as well.

Here’s my Mission Statement:

My Mission – By Deborah S. Ballard-Reisch, PhD

Written: 3/7/15

Affirmed: Daily

I commit to living a fully authentic life!

  • I am present
    • I learn and grow from the lessons of the past but leave the emotions and experiences behind. I can do nothing to change the past.
    • I live now.
    • I am aware of how the “now” influences the future and advances my mission and vision.
  • I am mindful
    • With passion and a narrow, clear focus, I make a difference in the world.
  • I am open and honest in my relationships
    • I communicate clearly and establish appropriate boundaries.
    • I take time to see, to listen, and to nurture those I love.
  • I have integrity
    • I commit to myself; I follow through.
    • I commit to others; I follow through.
    • I commit to act “as if” whenever I need to do so.
    • I push the “GO Button”

On Surviving and Thriving after an Armed Home Invasion

As many of you know, my son Stefan and I recently received a life lesson from a gun wielding home invader. Many people have asked for my story, so I’ll share it here.

Tuesday, February 24th had been a really awesome day. I’d gotten gorgeous pink highlights in my hair done by the wonderful Jessica Shoenhofer. I’d spend 3 hours working with my friend Davis Sickmon on my website: www.DrDeborah.co. I was excited about how it was coming along. Stefan had gotten a haircut and was feeling better after his back injury several weeks before and his WSU classes were going well. I was excited to see him at the end of the day and share our stories.

I drove home, first singing along with the Pippin soundtrack playing in my car, then checking in with my friend Andrew on the phone. I was in a fabulous mood. I pulled into the driveway, flicking the button to open the garage door, pulled into the garage, shutting the door behind me. I got off the phone, got out of my car, unlocked the back door to the house, entered, dropped my purse on the floor of the mud room and called for my son.

Stefan called back. He was in the kitchen making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I entered the kitchen carrying my computer bag and dropped it on a chair at the table. Stefan and I talked about his sandwiches and my website, laughing and smiling. Then we heard an ear splitting crash, followed by a second crash. We looked at one another, startled and headed to the living room. Stefan was ahead of me rounding the corner. He turned around quickly saying “He’s got a gun”. We both moved back into the kitchen on either side of the table and the gunmen entered, his gun in his left hand out in front of him, pointing toward us. He pointed it at Stefan first, then me and demanded my bag. I picked up my computer bag and handed it to him, my right hand to his. I raised my hands. He took my bag and I told him to just take it and go. He waived his gun back and forth as he backed away telling us to stay in the kitchen. I told him it was all good and we weren’t going anywhere. As he rounded the corner, he told us that if we called the police, he’d come back and kill us. Then he left running.

I was aware of several things: 1) He wasn’t wearing a mask or covering his face in any way and the hood of his grey hoodie was back. I remember thinking, he has a reason to shoot me. I’d seen his face. So, I forgot what he looked like. (I will remember!) 2) When he asked for my bag I had this quick, smug insight that he thought my computer bag was my purse and that it was safely behind me in the mud room. It was a gift from my daughter and I was happy not to lose it. 3) For a split second he looked at my hands, raised. I wear a lot of rings, but he couldn’t really see them as my hands were up, facing him. I remember thinking, please don’t notice my rings. I only wear rings that mean something to me. I would have hated to lose them. I felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi. “These rings are nothing. You have what you came for. Leave now.” I thought. 4) I was amazingly calm. I could tell he was scared and my immediate goal became to get him out of the house as quickly and smoothly as possible. I didn’t even think this. I knew it. 5) My communication skills training kicked in without a beat. I wanted to appear cooperative and nonthreatening. 6) I felt the solidarity between Stefan and me. I saw us as surrounded by white light, the invader, like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons, preceded and surrounded by a grey dust cloud. 6) I thought that he, the invader, was new, scared, hadn’t done this before. I was worried that he might panic, but also glad that I might be able to get him to leave quickly. I wondered if this was a gang initiation.

After he ran out, Stefan ran after him and slammed the door. Then, I lost it. I mean I REALLY LOST IT! I have never had a panic attack before and I was crying, shaking, and hyperventilating. I was terrified. Stefan got me a chair, which we used to block the broken door, told me to sit down, and told me to call my friend Andrew. I couldn’t speak clearly. I was shaking and sobbing. Andrew asked if we’d called 911. I remember saying “Yeah, right, call 911. That’s what I’m supposed to do. Call 911.” I hung up and called 911. I couldn’t remember anything. I couldn’t answer any question the kind, steady, female operator asked me. She stayed with me on the phone until the police arrived. Stefan made me move back toward the middle of the house to talk with her, reminding me that the gunman had said he’d kill us if we called the police. I moved back, but never let Stefan out of my sight.  He was so calm and composed. He answered all the questions the operator, and then the police asked when they arrived. I was still in shock and could remember very little. I was amazed at Stefan’s poise and presence, his ability to remember details I had blocked. My friend Andrew soon arrived and when the police and the crime scene investigators were done, we grabbed bags and headed to his house. His sons waiting for us, had already made a place for Stefan and his computer in their game room. They all welcomed us with open arms. They made us feel safe. I will never be able to express my gratitude.

There have been good and bad days over the last several weeks. We both went to see a crisis counselor. That at least helped us know that what we were experiencing was normal and what we might expect over the next several weeks. I was supposed to leave the day after the invasion to visit Alyssa in Las Vegas, but I couldn’t leave. I had to feel safe first. I had to get my feet back under me. I will finally go to see her next week. Stefan and I have found a new place to live with better security. We’re getting back to normal. I wouldn’t say we’re thriving yet. Our biggest hurdle is packing our house to move. I still get tightness in my chest whenever I go there and the idea of spending hours there packing is almost more than I can stand. That said, that part will all be over soon. We are moving forward!

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