Sonny and Cher broke up. Then Donnie and Marie went off the air. That’s when I knew the world wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I was alone. I was adrift among boring people who were not a little bit country, nor were they a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. They didn’t have long, black, sleek hair and narrow waists and tiny slits for belly buttons. It was a sad world. I wasn’t with raconteurs who could playfully banter back and forth. The world I was in moved slowly and lacked rhythm and sludged along like a broken worm.
I was eight. I knew I needed excitement. I knew that there was more out there than puffy cheese bake and my sister’s hand-me-downs. It was right there on the part TV/ part table: sitting right under Grandma Barbara’s ceramic Christmas tree was a cathode ray window to a life bursting with possibility and sequins and feathered hair.
I lay my head back on my Wonder Woman pillowcase and pulled my blue and white striped blanket that my great-grandma Ellen had knitted for me up to my chin. She was 95. The oldest person I ever knew. She said that if she ever went blind and couldn’t knit, she’d rather die. I thought that was a fair thing to say because it was clear that she loved to knit. She had knitted blankets for all of my nine brothers and sisters. Eventually, she did go blind and she did die.
I stared up to the plaster ceiling – the one with the swirls and points that looks like frosting. I thought, “How do I get out of here?” I looked at my pink record player spinning unevenly and the needle doing its best on a warped surface as it played the soundtrack from “Bambi.” It was about the twelfth time I’d played it. I didn’t particularly like it, but it was the only record I had. It was the day after Christmas. I had opened the “Bambi” record just as my older sister, Sue, was opening her “Grease” album. I thought that was a really stupid thing for my Mom to do. I liked “Grease,” too. I just wasn’t allowed to see the movie because it was too racy. “Bambi” was for babies. Sue told me all about the movie anyway and the pictures on the album told the story. There was this proper looking pretty girl in bobby socks and saddle shoes who transformed into a sexy, leather-wearing, wild-haired bombshell. I didn’t get it. Killing Bambi’s mother was ok? The mere thought of it put a giant lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow past.
So, after Sonny and Cher and Donny and Marie, I guess the record was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew I had to run away. But how? Even though Br’er Bear told Br’er Rabbit, “You can’t run away from trouble.” I knew I needed to get the hell out of dodge.
This place, where I had to pick up after myself, where my sister got better presents under the tree, where my brothers were getting too strong to wrestle and where life was drab and dull and you could get in trouble for just sticking your finger in the peanut butter jar, was clearly not for me. Everyone else was downstairs playing with their new toys.
I could hear my brother riding his Big Wheel down the hall and “Bambi” was not doing a good job drowning out “Grease.” My sister had it blaring on the stereo in the living room and she was practicing her ballet recital to “Summer Nights.” The smell of the pot roast wafted up the stairs and into my room.
I thought about things that would be practical to take. A couple of bathing suits, my favorite Barbie, my piggy bank. I had been saving up for this day. The piggy bank was going to be a problem because it was really heavy and about the size of a football. My brothers had claimed I stole a lot of the coins from their room but I didn’t consider it stealing when my life was at stake and my future hung on a teetering see saw in the balance.
No one even noticed when I tip-toed down the stairs, carefully skipping the step that made a loud creak. I hated hats and mittens. They just made me itch. I did have my sister’s hand-me-down plaid coat with a hood and her hand-me-down Barbie rubber boots. I closed the door quietly just as my brother, wearing a Daniel Boone hat with the raccoon tail came roaring down the hall on his Big Wheel.
“Why do you want to run away?” My mom had spotted me out the kitchen window. I hadn’t planned my exit strategy that well. I should have used the back door. She approached me in the yard just at the edge of the woods; because I wasn’t “running away”, I was just walking away. Her moo moo was see-through and her arms had goose bumps since she had only draped one of the many afghan blankets across her shoulders. Her rabbit slippers barely covered her feet.
She eased herself down on the bench to the picnic table. She moved like she was pregnant even though she wasn’t. My younger brother was five.
Words couldn’t form so I just shrugged my shoulders to my ears. “Are you upset?” I could see she was mocking me. “Are you not happy here?” I stared at her but there were so many problems I didn’t know where to start. “Well,” she said, “What did you pack? Can I see?” I handed over my fairy princess suitcase. She unclicked the latches and the hinges splayed open on the frozen front lawn revealing the satin pink fabric inside and my important belongings. She started to smile but caught herself because she knew she was this close to losing her ninth child to the unknown. “There’s not much in here to stay warm at night.” She was right. I had actually meant to grab my Black Beauty sleeping bag but forgot. “And, what about food?” I glanced at my piggy bank. “Oh, that was smart.” I nodded. “But maybe you should get some food from the pantry in case you’re walking a long time before you get to a store.” She rose from the bench and I got a faint hint of her sweet mom smell as she moved. I followed her into the house. “Maybe we should make those Christmas cookies we never got around to making.” She held the door for me. “You could take them with you.” My Mom’s tone was fun. Even excited. I knew that cookies weren’t practical for running away and a box of cereal would be better but I was actually hungry. I could almost taste the cookie dough. “I will run away another time,” I thought.
It seems that each project I become involved with takes on a life of its own. I’ve been told that is a good thing when projects do that; they start to tell you what they want to be. This is certainly true for CharityWarriors.
The first evidence of this is in the name of the project. Our project, initially called “Charity Wars,” was going to be about women in Boston, all associated with different charities and all vying for the same dollar in the relatively small town. I still don’t think that this is a bad idea for a show – in other words, showing a bit of how tough it is to raise money – maybe some cat fights, table flipping, this apparently makes for “good TV.” After all, charity is a business and I was interested at the time of getting into that story. But, it didn’t take long to realize that, at least for this show, we were going down the wrong path.
The women we met simply didn’t have that mentality. They are at war, yes, but not with other women. They are at war with the FDA to release the drug that is a known cure for their child. They are at war with the politicians and leaders of the state to impress upon them the importance for healthcare and housing for our elderly and homeless individuals. They are fighting for awareness for the education of children who would never be able to experience it in a safe, nurturing environment. They are at war with navigating the social media maze to get their message out there in a place where the average person has more than 1,000 unanswered emails in their inbox (I’m guessing based on my experience). They wake up every day to press on and perhaps not find a cure for their own child but to be able to be “this close” and say it’s all been worth it just so more children in the future won’t suffer from a debilitating disease. These women are tireless sorts. They really are Warriors.
Let me introduce you to the women and their charities. They are Erica Corsano, the MSPCA-Angell; Barbara Quiroga, Rogerson Communities; Christine McSherry, the JETT Foundation; Reia Briggs-Connor, Hip Hop for Hope; Michelle Sanchez, the Epiphany School. All the money they raised through www.charitywarriors.org will go directly benefit their cause and one will be awarded a $10,000 bonus at the end of six weeks.
From the time that Mary Chiochios and I started to document the women in their every day life, we saw the challenges. Christine McSherry has five kids! Jett, her middle son who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy has been wheelchair-bound since he was 11 years old. Reia Briggs-Connor is a former Patriots cheerleader. Her passion is dance. She decided to keep dancing and to use dance as a way to get the message out there about her son Jared’s disease, even when her first instinct was to curl up in a corner. He was diagnosed with San Filippo syndrome when he was 24 months old. There is not just one story. There are five truly touching stories of truly amazing women who live with such purpose and drive and ambition every day.
I think that this is the strongest point to me. I look at the women I have met as Mary and I have worked on this project. I see they have the same 24 hours in a day as all people do, they have jobs, families, food to put on the table and soccer games to get to. But, they manage so much more. They seem to don capes and take up swords and shields and drink elixirs that allow them to transcend their circumstances and accomplish so much more in a day. In my mind they are Warriors.
Unlike any other project I have worked on, CharityWarriors has been set up to perpetuate itself. There are so many causes to support and there are so many amazing women who buoy these causes up with their personalities, their attitude and their perseverance and resilience. I’ve become drawn to their stories. Of course we all want to support their causes but, for me, it’s these amazing women at the helm who inspire me to want to give more, be better and live passionately. On the night of Nov. 13 we will reveal who raised the most money in six weeks. If you join us at the event I believe you will walk away feeling good you attended and inspired. Will you be the next Charity Warrior? Or do you know someone who is?
For more information on the event go to www.charitywarriors.org
As I wait in line to get on the ferry from Hyannis to the Vineyard, a wild-haired, sweating woman man-handling a stroller complains that I’ve placed my bags in front of her, blocking the line. It is certainly by mistake as I am simply trying to relieve my numb hand from the bag that I had over-packed–again. I apologize, pick up my bag with the non-numb hand and proceed to the end of the serpentine line.
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I’ve never been a blogger; never thought I would, but here goes nothing. I’ve been doing some things in my life lately that I’ve never tried before. New things, things that I never knew I wanted to do. One of them is meditating. It’s actually really, really, really difficult. I find that when I close my eyes and try to focus on clearing my mind, it’s possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t think I have one breath rotation before I have to start over again.
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EDITOR AT LARGE
CHIEF FASHION CORRESPONDENT
Anna Paula Goncalves
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