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At my agency’s annual fundraiser, I shared a story that I’ve kept private over this past year that I’d like to share with you now. I originally decided to keep it private because I was so struck by the darkness and the cruelty of it that it didn’t feel necessary to allow it to touch other people, but after living with it all year, I’ve come to question if I saw the best part. Maybe there was more to it. After you think about it, you can let me know.

Good evening. Welcome to Dare to Dream 2022. Welcome to the new folks who are with us for the first time tonight and welcome back to the long term supporters and the founders who gave us our original reason to celebrate rainbows and unicorns. Let’s take a quick peek at some events this year that might remind us of the importance of Youth Outlook’s work.  

It’s a bit of a fight out there right now for us. I have lost track over this last year of how many times I’ve said to people, “This isn’t right. We’ve done this before.” It feels almost surreal, the current atmosphere, this violent pushback against our community…against our kids, our rainbows, our unicorns.

Shortly after Dare to Dream last year, we entered an agreement to have a picture with Santa night about two weeks before Christmas. On the other side of that agreement were Trans Santa and Dr Klaus, and HBO films. HBO was making a documentary on Santas of all representations and had been filming Trans Santa already when we agreed to have Santa come and take pictures at the Thursday night drop in center. How fun would that be to have a Santa who represented our drop-in center members? We would do this. Our rainbows and unicorns deserved to meet Trans Santa.

So we did it. Carolyn and Andi put the whole night together planned with space for pictures with Santa and activity stations, and gender-free gingerbread beings to decorate and opened the RSVP list to community members who wanted to do pictures with Santa too. In short order, that event sold out.

Then the rumblings started. One of the local politicians picked up on the event announcement and reposted it for her conservative base to ridicule and complain about. The pressure against the host church started, the pressure against Andi started, and bad went to worse went to vile in just days.

When one of the local hate groups reposted it, we started getting threats that they’d be there to disrupt. As soon as they jumped in, the Little Boys who Like To Tell Everyone How Proud They Are invited themselves, and before we could blink twice, both groups were planning to protest the night of the event. To make matters worse, we also heard rumors that some other folks would be there to counterprotest.

Where we had envisioned little kids and toddlers decorating gingerbread people, this was now the making of an action film. This was meant to be an innocent, joyful, magical event, with wide eyed little unicorns wearing gingerbread crumbs telling Santa what to bring them for Christmas and teenage unicorns who no longer believe in Santa hanging around with friends and stuffing gingerbread people in their pockets for a snack later. We were seeing Santa, for crying out loud. This was about love.

We entered our evening with Trans Santa with 2 squad cars and a van full of Downers Grove cops at the location where we were supposed to meet, and 3 squad cars, some plainclothes cops circling the building on foot in Naperville where we had been forced to take refuge to keep our kids safe, ducked behind two enormous armed guards at the door. This was a professional and a personal first for me—watching moms carrying babies too young to walk, one dressed like an orange Ewok, past armed guards to go meet Santa Claus. About 45 minutes in, I heard that the Little Boys Who Like To Tell Everyone How Proud They Are had located us and were outside our building, held off by the two armed guards and (as far as I know) one very unarmed minister who was going down fighting if he needed to.

We’d come to celebrate. We’d come, seeking –as our Director of Operations says– “queer joy”, and in order to have it, we required firearms and locked doors, the adults keeping cheerful expressions so as not to alarm the little unicorns and that one orange ewok that I can’t forget.

This isn’t right. We’ve done this before. We’ve marched. We’ve held tarps and umbrellas to prevent the traumatized families of NIU students shot on campus from having to see the wrenchingly cruel signs that the Westboro Baptist Church members were compelled to create and display. We’ve held the hands of the kids brutalized in their schools and we held space for parents whose kids—whose unicorns—did not survive what this culture demands of them.

We have done this before and I’ll tell you this—this is exhausting. And I’ll tell you this one other thing. Even though we are tired and running low on patience, we are far from done. As a growing, visible community, we will never give up our fight. We will never stop advocating and educating. And as long as we breathe, we will NEVER turn our backs on our rainbows and our unicorns.

I saw the danger in that night. I saw the exhaustion. No doubt. I saw armed guards at the door of our drop-in center and I saw and felt a few pangs of fear. But I also saw unflagging courage. And patience. And determination. I saw an unarmed minister stand shoulder to shoulder with our armed guards as he stood his ground to protect his family and friends. I saw moms walk right by those guards, intent on giving their child a moment with Santa. And I saw Santa, warm and welcoming, sitting just off to the side of those armed guards, greeting family after family, kid after kid, and offering them a glimpse of a Santa that looked like and understood them. Surrounded by weapons of destruction and a sense of pressure, Santa offered the families…and all of us, really…a moment of peace and a blessing of connection on a cold December night that counters the looming violence. We did get to see queer joy. We did get to see love. As adults, our moments of magic are few and far between, and Trans Santa brought us magic. I haven’t believed in Santa Claus for more than 50 years. But Trans Santa? Trans Santa…I believe.

Watch for the movie Santa Camp, due out from HBO this month. Watch for the magic!

A Mouse’s Tale

Posted: 11th October 2021 by admin in Blog
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Shout out to First Congregational Church in Naperville for their local authors series, to which Urban Tidepool was invited last evening. I met some wonderful new folks and got to talk through the book with a few of my pod and with Reverend Mark Winters, who is one of the coolest guys to ever rock a clerical collar.

The whole evening was a hat tip to National Coming Out Day (today—insert Kermit “Yay” right here as you read) so of course it included references to my own coming out, which is not part of the Tidepool story, and to the coming out of the Youth Outlook kids over the years. Then our conversation took a hard left turn.

Mark asked about how I learned about gentleness and being kind to animals, given what I’d seen. How did I grow up to be the person I am with THAT history?

It was fun to speculate with the attendees why I may have turned out to be this person, and even more fun to share that moment at which I knew I was never going to be good at hurting anything intentionally. If you read Tidepool, you already know that I didn’t get to see my first two dogs through the end of their lives. In fact, I have dark questions that will never be answered about exactly how those dogs spent the last of their days. I saw an animal burned alive in front of me. Those stories that my brother Michael told about cats and firecrackers…I believe him.

But let’s go in the way back machine about this this other question. This is a good question.

I lived in a converted barn in upstate NY for about two years. It was a lovely place during the summer–acres and acres of fruit trees and the best garden space I’ve ever had. I had a boatload of critters and there was a waterfall on the back of the property. Picturesque. During the winter, however, it turned into an episode of Little House on the Prairie when the woodstove burned out on days with no degrees and we could see ourselves breathe while we made dinner, the intake pipe for our water supply froze solid, snow flew sideways between the cracks in the siding in the living room and the kitchen if the wind shifted, and we battled field mice to stake our territory.

I didn’t like the field mice. They’re messy and they smell funny so we didn’t want them in the living space, but we were aware that we were living IN A BARN for crying out loud, so we sort of expected it. There was debate on the best way to make them go away or at least keep them at a distance. I couldn’t do glue traps–too cruel. My partner didn’t want to put down poison–too risky for the other animals. We had a cat. He dozed by the stove pipe in the kitchen and I could have stuffed a mouse in his pocket most days. He needed a job description.

We settled on snap traps, reasoning that it would be fast, they’d never know what happened…until that first morning I found one with just his front leg caught and I had to decide what to do with him. Or her. Or them. I didn’t ask. They didn’t specify.

Yup. You better believe it. I cried on and off all morning at work and questioned my competency at this homesteading thing.

Then came the night I was setting up the kitchen snap traps and also setting up my coffee pot so it was ready the next day. I opened a cabinet door. There was the coffee can. There was the snap trap. And there was this cute little field mouse, standing next to the coffee. I closed the door right away and steeled myself for the snap.

Nothing happened.

I sat down at the kitchen table that we’d bought through This End Up and waited some more. That kitchen table could withstand a bomb blast. It was perfect for a converted barn. That night, it absorbed some nervous fingertip drumming and a couple of beads of sweat while I waited.


I felt awful, knowing I was about to hurt that cute little feller who was just checking out the coffee supply. What had they ever done to me? I kept waiting, fingertips drumming faster.


After several minutes that felt like hours, I settled into a sense of relief. I knew how to handle this. I reopened the cabinet door, snapped the trap myself, and left the mouse a little pile of peanut butter as a snack. And then I went to bed.

It’s so true. I am not cut out for this homesteading thing when it includes hurting another being. Hey y’all. Do you know today is Meatless Monday?

At any rate, shout out to Reverend Mark and the pod and the visitors who came to talk to me at First Congregational last night. I didn’t mean to talk about mice, but I enjoyed it anyway! If I’d known ahead of time, I would have brought you all a peanut butter snack.

Have a great week, starfish supporters! Be gentle with the critters that surround you. We’ll talk soon.

Moms, Dads, and Memes

Posted: 4th June 2021 by admin in Blog
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Nancy Mullen

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A thought for my many, many ally friends on this wonderful first Friday of Pride month. I’m seeing a lot of posts saying “I’m your mom now”, and “I’m your dad now.” I believe these are prompted by nothing but the purest and kindest of intentions and the sentiment behind them is beautiful.


The relationship that many of our LGBTQ+ youth have with their parents is so powerful and so complicated, I wonder if (in our wish to make them feel loved) we are dismissive of that powerful, complicated nature.

None of us –however hard we try–will ever be able to replace someone’s parent. The trauma of losing parental attention, respect, nurturance, and support is much deeper than we can address in a meme. Those of you who have LGBT kids or who have taken in homeless LGBT kids know how delicate and complex this issue is. Family rejection, let alone from a parent, can become a years-long process to heal. Some of my friends in their 50s and 60s are still working it through.

Please DO bring the topic to the forefront. Please DO publicly and privately support LGBTQ+ kids, especially those whose families have cast them out or made them feel less than. And please also think before you meme. If you love them, respect them, want to support them, would fight for them…say that. If they truly have lost a parent, even temporarily, allow them the space to feel and heal that. A meme will never do that loss justice.

Carry on, warriors. We’ve got some Pride month work to do!

5Christina Berry, Nadine Franklin and 3 others2 CommentsLikeCommentShare

Fat Boi Biking!

Posted: 8th November 2020 by admin in Blog
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A repost of one of one of my most popular posts from 2017 just for fun.

Fat Boi Biking!

This weekend, I spent $27 on making a bucket list item come true. It’ll probably be the only bucket list item I can do for $27 and that’s okay. It’s also two years behind schedule, but when it happened, it happened so good, I cannot complain.

I established many blog posts back that I am not athletically inclined. I don’t find it difficult to organize my life or my thoughts around that idea. I do things with this body that entertain me, like the occasional racquetball game or the occasional bike ride, but I’ve said it outright before—I’m no one’s idea of a jock.  Never have been.  In fact, I’ve joked about my “concerns” that the Lesbian Association of the Midwest (LAM, for short) would eventually figure out just how much not a jock I am and revoke my Lesbian in Good Standing status.  And where would I be then?

Oh yes…of course…I’d probably be standing in my lawn in my moose slippers and flannel shirt while watching Spike, the tow truck driver from LAM, back down my driveway, run a big hook through my LAM membership card, and cart it away.

But I digress. Y’all are probably used to that by now.

So this weekend….I did it. I took my non-jock, almost 52 year-old pudgy self and registered for a long distance bike ride with the local Kiwanis Club. None of my friends could sign up with me, so I signed up just as me. Maybe I’d run into some folks I knew once things got under way. Going alone was not about to stop me.

If you’ve checked out some of my earlier posts, you know that I’m not the most confident person in the world about my low level athletic ability. I find it kind of funny. You also know that over many years, I have (as many of us have) tolerated critical, often outright nasty, comments about my weight from significant people in my life…which I think tends to make all of us a bit shy about participating in athletic events. I don’t think that’s unique to me at all. If you hear often enough how fat and awkward you are, or bluntly if you’re called a “fat, useless fuck” often enough, it takes a toll on how you operate the body you’ve been put in charge of this time around.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this venture. I wasn’t even sure how I’d start when I first got the idea a couple of years ago. Where does one even FIND cycling shorts when one believes that one’s ass needs its own zip code? Check the stores. You’ll find lots of Smalls, the occasional Mediums, a rogue Large and the miraculous XL…which looks to be about a size 6 when I hold it up against myself. No offense, designers, I just haven’t been that small since I was in grade school.

As an aside—athletic clothing companies, take notice!  There are lots of us out here who could and would be more active! Being able to find appropriate clothing in the right size would be most helpful! After a tip from a good friend about Aerotech Designs, I figured it out and started to practice.

I’d love to say that if I did this every day, I’d fit into something that appears to be a size 6. But reality check…when I look at everyone else in my family…we are not slender beings. My siblings, my cousins, my nephews…If you’ve seen one of us, you’ve seen all of us. We are solid Irish stock.  I’m low to the ground and sturdy. There’s probably a step-stool somewhere in my lineage that no one is talking about.

As part of the Turning 50 Bucket List, this was a little harder to come by than some other things I want to do. During the summer that I turned 50, I bought a new bike to get ready to do this event and on my first ride, I ruptured my ACL and tore up a bunch of other things that one needs inside of a knee and spent most of the summer, including my 50th birthday, crashed out on the couch unable to walk. I signed up again last summer, one week before my 51st birthday, thinking it would still count. I was still 50, after all. I woke up that morning to a major thunderstorm and all cyclists were held at the registration site. The downpour continued all morning. Only the serious cyclists with their foul weather gear attempted to go.  I was not one of them.  I put on my sad face, collected my bucket list at the door and went back home.

So this was the year to make it happen!  Once underway, I had no idea what to expect. The roads were different than the rails-to-trail path I normally ride. It wasn’t as busy as I thought it might be, so there were long stretches where I was the sole rider on a road—no one else in sight. That was okay. It was quiet.

There was one moment of hesitation when I faced the sign that said 23 Mile Riders turn right, 46 Mile Riders turn left. I almost turned right. I could do the 23 miles and then just SAY I did the 46 I signed up for. No one else was out there with me, so who would know?

But this was BUCKET LIST. This was meant to be a challenge for my almost 52 year old, pudgy self.  I turned left. Not long after that left turn, I found myself pondering the mother dying at 47. She never saw age 52. I was seeing age 52 on a bike on a country road, feeling  my quads burn on hills and the pain at the base of my skull from being hit by a car a few months ago.  The mother is probably the one person in my family who might have qualified as skinny…but I think the technical term is “wasted”. She was thin when she was dying. I pictured myself, low to the ground and sturdy, and I kept pedaling.

I wondered if there would be any negative reaction to me being out there. I noticed very early in that I didn’t look like anyone else I ran into. But everyone was friendly. Everyone asked how it was going and if I was having a good ride. I also noticed after I made that left turn that everyone I ran into had a really nice bike and they were serious about this shit. They blew by me on hills, muscles bulging, greeting me with a sideways “Hey!” or “All good?” as I plodded on. That stood out for me. Here were these folks who were serious about this sport, all checking in, holding up thumbs to make sure I’d respond that I was okay, asking if I needed anything.  As a friend described last year, I was moving like a turtle stampeding through peanut butter. Did I need anything? Just time, kids! I need some extra time to make this happen!

Somewhere around mile 30, alone on a road lined by cornfields, I started to sing out loud.  “Just what makes that little old ant…think he can move a rubber tree plant…anyone knows an ant can’t…move a rubber tree plant…But he’s got hiiiiiigh hopes…he’s got hiiiigh hopes…he’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes….” The cows lined up at the fences seemed to appreciate it. I invited them to join me and sang louder, out there all by my lone.

That was when the SAG vehicle pulled up alongside me. I’m guessing that some farmer called in a report of a free range, out of tune boi biking down his road singing about ants and the Kiwanis said, “Oh, that one is probably ours!” and dispatched the support team.  They were very nice, my new friends in the support vehicle. They paced me for maybe half a mile, and I stopped singing immediately (not wanting to hurt them), and they eventually decided I had not truly departed from reality and went about their business.

At the rest stop at mile 32, I pulled up on my little Trek hybrid among road bikes that cost thousands of dollars and people wearing race shirts. Don’t get me wrong—I have a perfectly nice bike. For me. For the things I do. I was in a different world at that moment. I was the only recreational rider in the group. Okay. Set brain to setting:  Prepare for negative comments!

The last 8 miles were mostly into the wind. On hills. When big gusts would come along, I was forced to downshift even more than usual and could barely maintain 5 mph. The big kids on their many thousand dollar bikes swept by me like I was driving a Big Wheel and the sideways comments continued.  “You good?”  “You’re almost there!” “You can do this!”

I can do this, dammit!

At one point, I struggled to get up to 7 mph on a hill and the raw spots on my leg burned and I almost started to cry, wondering what the hell I had done this for.  My quads were about to give out. I had jello legs and I seriously considered calling the SAG vehicle to pick me up to take me in. Then I’d hit a stretch of downhill and gain a little speed and I’d be determined all over again to ride into that final stop under my own power, even if it was only at 7 mph. 

Those last few miles took over an hour. I stopped to stretch out a cramp as I got back into the city limits and a nice woman in a car pulled over to ask if I had hurt myself and did I need any help. Thanking her, I got back on my bike, acutely aware of my burning raw spots and melted spikes and my pudgy, not athletically inclined- self and I pedaled to the destination spot.

I am no one’s idea of a jock. Oddly, despite all of that effort yesterday, I woke up this morning still pudgy and even a little achy. But last night…oh…last night I fell asleep thinking, “I did it. I really did it,” and wanting to dream of buckets.

Come and git me, Spike. I dare ya!


Pivotal Moments: Publishing

Posted: 9th August 2020 by admin in Blog
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When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. I read everything I could get my hands on and wrote short stories and envisioned myself someday rubbing elbows with Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Now, Carl Hiassen. Wouldn’t that be a highlight?

The father questioned me about this once, oddly curious what skill set I might acquire through this work. It appeared to him to be a means, not an end.

“I want to be a writer,” I informed him. “Like Stephen King.”

He snorted derisively. “You better find something else you’re good at if you want to be able to pay your rent.”

That was the end of that conversation. As things in our house had a pattern of doing, it never came up again. I stopped writing altogether after his death–there was too much energy to put into surviving to wonder if I’d ever meet Stephen King. I did exactly as he suggested–I found a job that paid my bills and put away the writer fantasy for a long time. Even better, I found jobs where I could write, albeit technical writing and not nearly as entertaining as storytelling, but it was something.

If y’all have talked to me you already know I didn’t set out to write a book when I started writing Urban Tidepool. I was simply collecting memories and laying them out, sharing with my spouse and a few very close friends. I guess it doesn’t matter so much that I didn’t mean to write a book because as I continued along, it was definitely shaping up to look like a book. So I bought some artwork and imagined it on shelves in bookstores and available as a download.

It was a slow, excruciating process to pour those memories out, then hold each one up like an offering to the group of beta readers. Would this new information have any effect on the friendship? And what of the people who worked with me? Our donors? Our agency stakeholders? What would they think?

The process was two-fold. The first pass was always to evaluate the writing. Did I express that clearly? Did it have typos? Are there any awkward sentence structures? That was the easy part. The second pass was more personal and was more about emotionally and mentally processing what the readers had just read and what I had recently written. How could these things have happened? Why wasn’t anyone watching? Why didn’t someone stop this? Parts of the story are difficult to read so you might imagine how difficult it was to write and then evaluate. For example, in reading the story of the death of my mother when I was seven, are there any typos? Are the sentences well structured? It was far easier to take that higher level overview and make corrections than it was to re-immerse in the event to be able to describe it, then be able to talk about why it was happening and why it could continue.

I finished writing in 2013 and put Tidepool away. It was a rattlesnake curled up on my driveway and I knew if I got too close, it would strike. I put away the thought that I might be a writer, let alone in the calibre of Stephen King. There it sat, on the closet shelf, for seven years.

Early this year, I decided this was the year I would get it moving again. Behind the scenes, I’ve been working on edits and a few minor updates. I gathered everything I needed to launch a Kickstarter campaign and not quite two weeks ago, the campaign went live.

In 11 days, I raised 100% of the budget goal, so my project is a go. The campaign ends on September 11th and I’ll take my orders to print. I’ll put my book, this ten year project, into people’s hands late this summer, or early in the fall.

Hey, Dad! Are you watching? I did what you said and I got the job that lets me pay the bills, and guess what? I’m a writer now too!


To order a copy of the book or just support the Urban Tidepool Kickstarter campaign, you can find me here. Click on the link and it will take you to my project.





Yesterday, I had the honor to address the Youth Outlook graduates, Class of 2020. It was our first Lavender ceremony; typically we attend when the schools have them and invite us. Since we knew many of our drop-in center members were not going to be able to attend a commencement, let alone a Lavender ceremony given the disruption to our routine brought by COVID 19, we wanted to celebrate our 8th graders, high schoolers and associate degree recipient. Cheers to the folks who are taking their next steps starting today!

Hello, Lavender Graduates Class of 2020!

Greetings, parents, family and Youth Outlook friends!

I wish we could be doing this in person. We have these moments over our lifespans that are pivotal, that we remember for a long time, sometimes forever. If we were doing this in person, I’d tell you thank you for inviting me. I wouldn’t be here unless you invited me. Isn’t this the oddest thing that Youth Outlook invited you all to your own graduation? So…since I haven’t exactly been invited this feels more like being included in one of the most important milestones you’ll experience.

When the program leaders and I started talking about convening this ceremony, we were busy dividing who was going to do which job to help get us ready. I would tell you that I offered to keynote nonchalantly, but the truth would be more that this was something I really wanted to do. When so much of what we take for granted is out of reach, it felt so important that we show up for your graduation and celebrate …so it wasn’t really an offer—I asked to do it.

Before we consider where you might go on your next adventures, let’s take a moment to consider where you’re coming from. Y’all have wonderful history. Y’all have beautiful, talented community. You’ve started to meet that community in the drop in centers, but that only soooo the beginning.

Youth Outlook launched just a couple of years before our Associate’s degree recipient was born in 1998. As I got started in my new job here, we were looking forward to a new show called Will and Grace that actually had openly gay characters. Our college students have been around long enough to see that show in its first run and then in its remake over the last couple of years.

An associate degree recipient is part of the graduating class born mostly, if not entirely, in this century.  That’s kind of a fun fact to own. The number one song in the country in the year 2000 was Breathe by Faith Hill. Looking back over what has happened since you arrived, that may not be simply a song title. It is an excellent suggestion for how we’re all going to get through a global health crisis brought to our doorstep.

There are some interesting tidbits to LGBT history and what topics folks of different generations will recall.

Kids of the 80s—a lot of the drop in center staff folks– will recall the beginnings of HIV and the panic that struck the gay men’s community, and the support that poured in from the lesbian community to take care of our brothers. They will remember the emergence of the bisexual and transgender identities in a new and more assertive manner—people who had been key members of the LGBT movement from the beginning who were rightly insistent that their existence stop being written out of our culture. Our reflection on the night of June 28, 1969 had become a movement, a demand for our recognition as a community and a culture, one in which we refused to be defined by the limitations of a public health crisis.

Consider that. …Our demand for recognition as a community and a culture in which we would not be defined by the limitations of a public health crisis. Consider the headlines we’ve been greeted with for the last three months. If our history is any indication,you will not be limited by this.

Kids of the 90s grew up in the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, a decision that was meant to keep military folks safe and closeted, and it was suggested to us that safe and closeted was an improvement over a dishonorable discharge. And then…then it happened. Then we had Ellen.

We know that what we see today is not how things got started. Ellen’s decision to come out publicly in 1997 was unprecedented. Her show was canceled. The actor who played opposite her couldn’t get work for a year after playing her role. Oprah, who played her therapist in that episode, got hundreds of messages telling her to go back to Africa.

When I moved to IL in 1998, this area was soooo different from what I was used to. The western burbs were devoid of rainbow anything. I had never lived anywhere that LGBT people were so invisible. Well into 2002, when some of our high school graduates were born, school representatives often refused to speak to me, or hung up on me, or argued with me about the very existence of LGBT youth. Over and over, I was told that high school students were too young to know if they were LGBT. Or if there WERE LGBT students in a school, the counselors got them help, making it immediately clear that having an LGBT identity equated needing help. Sometimes I countered that comment with my own question—Get them help? How about if they just want to make friends?

There was exactly one GSA operating in DuPage County. There were none in any of the other counties Youth Outlook serves and the thought that middle schools at some point might launch them was out of the question.  Well, until you came along. Students were regularly told that they couldn’t take a same gender date to prom. When a faculty member at another DuPage County high school organized the first ever gay prom, the subsequent public outcry called for her termination.  The demand that LGBT students stay safe and closeted, very much like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, was so loud, it often drowned out the rumblings of support from faculty allies.

That was your lifetime, high school and associate graduates.

Right as you were arriving was when our movement started to gain traction and we were pushing back against those recommendations that we stay safe and closeted and obedient.  In April 2000, estimates say up to a million people gathered for the Millennial March on Washington,rainbow- flag- waving, pride- tee- shirt wearing or no-tee-shirt-wearing, respect- demanding queers. You arrived to the queers in full rebellion and I suspect some of you came into this world already waving your own rainbow flag!

Since you joined us, we have seen the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We have seen the end of the Defense of Marriage Act. In 2000, Vermont become the first state to legalize civil unions between same gender couples and in 2015, we saw the outcome of the Obergefell lawsuit, allowing same sex marriage.

When we do public speaking about LGBT youth, we often speak of their challenges. Today, let’s flip that and talk about your courage. College students arrived here when we were in an uproar over Y2K. Everything was supposed to crash and life as we know it was supposed to stop because of computer coding. It was one of those pivotal moments. And yet here we are.

High school graduates, if my math is correct, you are the first class born into our yet again new world post 9/11 when our country was attacked on our soil. Everything crashed and life as we knew it stopped. For days, our skies were empty, our roads were empty and there was a short stretch where we didn’t even know where our president was, because he’d been squirreled away. In that uncertain time, your moms brought you into the world. You are the first generation of people to arrive after that pivotal moment.

8th graders, you arrived as the state of Illinois banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. You arrived to a rebellion in high gear, and you have introduced to the rebellion causes that needed to be added—your generation is the wave that is redefining gender as a dynamic concept, paving the way for the gaybies and the queerlings that follow to have a much smoother path.

Class of 2020, all 3 levels of you, we commend you for your monumental courage. You are, from the start, warriors and survivors and this blip on our radar…this current public health crisis will not hinder you and it certainly will not be what defines you. I am quite happy to imagine a world in which you lead the decisions that protect us from such situations—a safer, kinder, more compassionate world. For that, I thank you in advance. We need you. We need your courage.

As you head out on your next adventures, remember this. Take it with you today that you have an intricate cultural history as part of the LGBT and allied community. You belong to a movement where you…where we…have always been recognized as an important part of the effort, where we are warriors working for social change, sharing our knowledge and our sense of belonging with the next generation down, and the next, and the next.

To summarize:

Remember your history.

Remember that you are a key part of the movement that helps shape our shared future.

Remember that you are a warrior and a survivor.

Even though you are a warrior, remember to be kind. We all need each other to be kind.

Remember you have a tribe.

Remember to be someone else’s tribe. We need that too.

Remember the world according to Peter– Glitter is an acceptable hair product, art supplement, and drink mixer.

Remember Faith Hill’s suggestion and BREATHE when things feel like a rollercoaster.

Most of all, remember how very highly we think of you and remember that you are loved.

Congratulations, Lavender Classes of 2020, and welcome to the rebellion!

Lav grad

Love a Social Worker Today

Posted: 1st March 2019 by admin in Blog

Friends and starfish supporters and starfish supporters who are also friends, it’s National Social Work Month! Did you know such a thing existed? I’ve been in the field for three decades and this may be the first time I’ve ever heard of it!

For chuckles, I thought it would be fun to scan some of my old posts and see where and why I mentioned being a social worker. Professional pride? I am, for sure, proud of being in this profession. There was a tone of that here or there, but more noticeable, I think being a social worker has put a little edge into my humor. Hard to imagine, I know, but I think it might be true.

Since my Urban Tidepool blog is the intersection of my career in social work, my midlife culinary degree, and the work of writing my first book, I wanted to share some of the rays of light and insight brought to my life by this incredible career. I hope these will bring you a smile.

Tis the season where I’m writing evaluations for the student interns that work with me and I am reminded of some of the invaluable pieces of information that other interns have taken from their placements—the importance of not calling your supervisor “dude”, the fact that not everyone in social services is trying to get one over on you and they might even genuinely like you, what is the pea and the shell game, the definition of epic clusterfuck, when NOT to use the term genderfuck, how to stop drive by hugging, and of course the ever popular question, do penguins have knees?

Two social workers who like to cook. Me: “Nothing feels as good as dirt against your hands when you’re gardening.” Karen: Skeptical look. Me: “Okay. Think of it like cookie dough…cookie dough against your hands.” Karen: “Cookie dough isn’t dirty.” Me: “Dr. B, ya got me there.” She taught me everything I know about differential diagnosis.

Getting ready for a weekend trip. Deb: “What animals are you seeing this weekend? ” Me: “Winter Dolphin. And Kathy Kempke.” Silence from the hallway. Then Deb: “Now THAT is a Facebook post!”

Yesterday, I followed a pick up truck from a home repair company down Orchard Rd. It was printed on both sides and the tailgate “Christian Owned Since 1975”.
Today I’m considering having this printed on my doors:
“Atheist Driven Since 1981. I use this vehicle to get to my atheist job as a social worker where I work with people of all faiths and have keys to 5 (count em–FIVE) churches, then to go back to my atheist owned home, where I walk my atheist owned rescue dogs, chat with my neighbors who have a variety of faiths, and make sure to pay my atheist taxes every year.”
I’ll need bigger doors.

I always wanted a job where I could say, “Wheels up in 30!” I’m a social worker. I bungee-corded a Big Wheel to the roof of my car.

We call it social work because “The art of cleaning up after heartless jackals who don’t care whom they traumatize” doesn’t fit on a diploma.

As a career, social work is messy. It’s hectic. Anxiety-producing. Sometimes you don’t have time for lunch or even to run to the restroom. It’s painful. People you care about hurt. You might hurt. You will have days when you can barely breathe through sadness. You will also feel joy. And connection. And pride. And passion. Then you’ll realize you still have to pee and you’re hungry.
Welcome to social work!

Today’s observation, hanging out with another social work foodie. “Empaths are the tofu of the emotional world.”
Was there ever any question?

Did you hear the one about the atheist social worker who ran the non-prophet agency?

At my last job, whenever I couldn’t reach my supervisor, I would offer (threaten, really) to go across the street to Family Court and file a PINS on myself. That’s Person In Need of Supervision petition for you non social worky types. Oh…the possibilities…

Started to text Deb “be home asap”. It didn’t space and auto correct put in homicidal. There you are, words of encouragement from your friendly neighborhood social worker. Be homicidal. Well played, auto correct!

At dinner last night, from my favorite social work boss: “You’re such a goddamn social worker.” Taught me everything I know, she did!

During supervision with the Youth Outlook intern, discussing young people and behavior disorders– Me: “Okay, here’s my recommendation. If any of the other Youth Outlook staff EVER call out, “Damien, it’s all for you!’, and leap down the elevator shaft wearing a noose, you have my permission to hold that boy down, shave his head and find those three sixes.” Anne the intern, when she was done crying: “Thanks, Nance, I’m sure this advice will take me far in my career.” Maybe I should have mentioned that my clinical social work years are far behind me??? Nah….more fun this way!

At the Sprint store at lunch time: Clerk: “If you’ll tell me the name of your first pet, I can associate this purchase with your account.” Me (thinking quickly because the account is under Deb’s name)…and I give her the only name I can think of. Which ends up being wrong. I call Deb, while the clerk waits patiently for me. She suggests another name. Also wrong. Now I’m ready to scrap the whole thing and ask, “How the hell many pets HAVE you had?” And Deb gets all excited and gives me one more name…which works. The clerk just looks at me and says dryly, “I see you learned something new today. Ain’t love grand?” Your social work tip for today–family secrets can cause you a longer wait at the Sprint store.

One of my better observations of my skill set from today’s meeting with a board member: “This is ACCOUNTING. I’m a social worker! Don’t ask me about this! Give me a good conversation any day with someone with schizophrenia…or you…”

Repost from Maxine for more chuckles for my social work friends: “My inner child is a fit-throwin’, shin-kickin’, principal’s office-sittin’ nightmare.”

Setting up a Nancy Mullen page for work. How social work-y! I can finally friend myself!


Excuse Me, Your Myths Are Showing!

Posted: 25th January 2019 by admin in Uncategorized

Imagine the mental gymnastics of the folks who have worked their entire lives and are now at risk of becoming homeless. A repost, 34 days into a shutdown pushing federal workers to the edge of catastrophe.

2018, A Year in Silliness

Posted: 3rd January 2019 by admin in Blog
Tags: , ,

A couple of years ago, I did a blog post that was just a collection of silly social media posts that I had put up in the previous year. People enjoyed it and I enjoyed doing it, so I decided we needed a repeat performance. I hope it brings you a few chuckles. It certainly did for me.

I notice on some of the dog groups I belong to that people often give their dog a voice using baby talk. After I noticed that, I realized that if I were to “voice” Mylo, she would sound like an indignant Dame Maggie Smith. And Chip would sound like Gomer Pyle.

I always feel thinner when I take the trash out.
Admit it. You do too.

Step one. Make a Roo. Ok. But what does this have to do with making a cheese sauce?


The 2018 goal (cuz it’s not a resolution): To try to find the humor in more things.
You have been warned.

I’m trying a new technique for bonding with the dogs. Every time they get up to go into the kitchen, I follow them. So far, it’s working very well.

The nice man at Home Depot just showed me how to change out electrical outlets and light switches. I can’t wait to blow my eyebrows off!

The highlight of today- I was visiting a friend’s house and I put hand lotion on my alligator paws while I was in the bathroom. Then I realized I was unable to turn the doorknob and was stuck in the bathroom. I knocked on the inside of the door and started calling, “Kellie? Jules? Brittney? Crystal? Can someone open the door? Let me out?” No one answered, so I called Kellie’s cell. Around then, my hosts and their friends started looking for me but I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t even answer the first time they called for me.
Yeah. And I’m going to change light switches and electrical outlets. As soon as I figure out how doorknobs work!

Best conversation this week–

Karol: “I bought a copy of the Stonewall documentary to show the kids at group but someone stole it when it was delivered. Can you believe someone would steal a movie right from the front of my house?”

Me: “Can you imagine the surprise of the person who stole it? They probably thought they were walking away with a porn flick with lesbians in giant hair and nails like manicured daggers waiting for whatever delivery guy with bad 70s jazz playing in the background, and they got a documentary about the queers throwing molotov cocktails in Greenwich Village!”

I woke up at 4 a.m. mumbling, “Thank you for being here. The sign-in table is just over there.” Do I even have to tell you that those lazy bones dogs did not get up and sign in?

While watching the winter Olympics–Yeah. Watch me do a triple-triple. In my house, that’s when I trip over all three of my feet and knock three things off the counter on the way to the kitchen.

How I see myself as a social work advocate. grizzly

How I suspect others see me as a social work advocate.

muppet bear

Children, gather round. It is now time for Uncle Nando’s annual tradition of buying and planting something in the berry family….blue or rasp…so I can forget where I put it and mow over the teeny sticks in June.

Things that make me go hmmmm at 3 am…If a reporter from only one newspaper shows up at an event, is he considered a member of the medium?

I don’t know if it was meant to, but all of this talk of bracket busting inspired me so I tore some curtains down.

Chip has a nice smile–kind of like a game show host. I think he might be the Chuck Barris of doggy daytime TV.

My aquatic prowess is impressive. I move like a manatee with a hangover.”

Lindsey Vonn tore her ACL and now she’s in her 6th Olympics competition. I tore my ACL and now stairs frighten me. Go figure.

Creeping Charlie would be more aptly named Running The Hell All Over the Place Charlie.

It’s Lesbian Day of Visibility 2018. If I get anymore visible, NASA will be able to view me from space.

While presenting at the PADS staff meeting today–
Carolyn: “And please don’t hesitate to interrupt us and ask us questions. Even just half questions that you’re still working on how to word. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself. What is said here, stays here.”
Me: “I’m going to come at this from a point of view I learned from my sister-in-law. There are no strangers, only friends I haven’t met yet. And since we’re all friends, I’m planning to go out of my way to embarrass myself.”

Went to see the new Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen movie. Afterward, folks were choosing which characters they related to. We had two Candice Bergens, one Jane Fonda, one Mary Steenburgen. Then someone asked me which character I would be.
“Unfortunately in THAT line up, I am Dr. Derrick–the man from The Princess Bride.”

Sometimes I like to tell Chip about the day he found me, lost and wandering around Tails Humane Society, and he took me to the desk and paid them all of the milkbones he had in his pockets to keep me and then I was his person. He likes that bedtime story.

Urban legend research:
June 26, 1963
It is rumored that JFK’s best cold war speech, given his pronunciation and his accent, was a declaration that he was, in fact, a jelly doughnut. And apparently proud of it.
This tickles me. Stories conflict about whether he really said it, but even the idea tickles me.

On the phone, trying to refill Chip’s insulin syringe prescription.
Very polite automated system: “Sorry. This phone number is not associated with that prescription number.”
Really? Has he been calling in the refills himself on a different line for three years?

Indiana Jones movies…the reason I was confused as a young queerling. It’s Pride month, y’all!

It’s possible that the agency you work for is just too gay when a board member mentions starting an event with a champagne toast and one of the staff says, “Champagne Toast! Yassssss! That’s my new drag name!”

“Tell me the story about the day when I was only half a dog high and you took me to that little visiting room and I climbed up on you and fell asleep and you knew you were my person???”35082691_10213910996362563_4734562726368509952_o (1)

Youth Outlook’s 20th anniversary is coming up quickly so I am already figuring out what to wear. It’s formal this year. So I have decided on a black table skirt, tube socks, green stilettos (to go with our theme) and, of course(so I don’t hurt myself), Yak Tracks.

I’ve often thought that Mylo is smarter than I am. In the meantime, Chip is out in the yard, eating dirt. We’re a well-rounded family.

Jurassic World…I don’t think I’ve ever been more distressed over an imaginary brontosaurus during a volcanic eruption that never happened on an island that does not exist.

Great cloud formations on the drive home! I saw a unicorn, the dude who claps the coconuts in Search for the Holy Grail, one of the M&M guys, and Timon and Pumba.

Youth Outlook volunteer: “Nance, I can’t do that meeting ’cause I have concert tickets.”
Me: “Oh, ok. Who’s playing?”
Youth Outlook volunteer: “Jimmy Eat World.”
Me: “That’ll be fun!”
Youth Outlook volunteer: “Uhhh…you actually know who that is?”
Me: “Yep, I play their 45s on my old phonograph with the crank handle.”
Don’t mess with me, son. I invented being a smart ass.

A new definition for faceturbating. (Did you know there was an old definition?)
Faceturbating: [FAYS-ter-bayting]
noun; the practice of trolling people you do not know on social media (usually the friend of a friend) by posing what appears to be a valid question so that you can them how wrong they are when they answer and start an argument

Verb; the act of getting off on telling people you do not know how wrong they are with the intention of starting an argument

Variation— Faceturbator: noun; a person who engages in Faceturbating

Today it was mansplained to me that I’m a little bit crazy for thinking that Roe v Wade could be overturned and that Stormy Daniels might not go away easily, potentially putting her at risk of further arrest, harassment or even injury. After 32 years in the mental health field, thank god there was a man to tell me what I think on social issues.

Me: “I think I broke the lawnmower. It doesn’t self-propel anymore. It just me-propels.”
Brian: “Let me take a look.”
I am so in awe of the rare species Humanamus Fixemupalus!

I spent the night tearing up old socks to make bandages for the Second Civil War and then some smart ass handed me a bottle of Liquid Bandage.

I tried this outfit today but it was so hot, the grapes turned into raisins.carmen miranda

The portajohns on 88 have all blown over. Now THERE’s a job no one is going to want.

My friend Andrea’s dog, Finn, goes to the library and lets little kids read to him and might be an extra in a movie.
Chip dug a crater in the back yard and ate a bee.
I’m so proud.

There’s a box with a unicorn head poking out of it in my garage. Every time I park, I feel like I’m in a queer version of The Godfather.

I bought some cedar blocks to leave in my dresser drawer because I like them. Now I’m being followed by three homeless gerbils who think I smell familiar. If you see me today, try to avoid mentioning it.

Attention, Walmart shoppers. There is a dog wearing Buddy Holly sunglasses panhandling at the parking lot entrance. I repeat. Dog. Buddy Holly sunglasses. Panhandling. That is all.
Really…that was quite enough!

Watched an infomercial with the sound off. If I understood correctly, if I buy THAT product right now (!), I can look like Cindy Crawford at 53. Or a cantaloupe. I’m not sure. They kept showing me both. Since I didn’t look like Cindy Crawford in my 20s, I doubt I can look like her now. Therefore, Cindy Crawford is trying to sell me something to make me look like a cantaloupe.

Some of my friends are such good allies to the LGBT community, I forget sometimes that they aren’t LGBT themselves. They’re not queer. They’re close to everything queer but they don’t live here. They’re the suburbs of Queer.

Put my spex on and they broke in half. I now have two monocles with ear pieces. It’s a very distinguished look.

I’ll need a quart of pumpkin spice gasoline for the lawn mower. I get confused at this time of year…

Kurt: “Are you going to complete the outfit with a petite clutch?
Me: “The only petite clutch I understand is the one next to the brake.

The good news! I figured out how to commune with my spirit animal.
The bad news! He bites.

I haven’t gone shopping yet this week so I ran out of bread. Crouton sandwiches are about the cutest little things I ever did see.

I took the juicer out to tinker with a recipe. My observation for today–there is a reason we cannot just buy banana juice.

I ordered some of that Crepe Erase. Now I got a pile o’ nekkid bananas and Nutella on my plate. Damn infomercials.

I’m writing a musical about my life and I’m calling it Forklift Driver’s Gender Neutral Offspring.
I’ve already invited Sissy Spacek to direct.

I reprogrammed the Roomba for long-distance travel. I arrive in Naperville in about 3 days. See you there!

What is this alleged almond bark you speak of? I’ve never heard them make a sound.

I mixed up the Static Guard with a can of lemon Pledge. I’m still a little static-y but my polar fleece jacket is fabulously shiny and lemony fresh.

Being a child of the 70s prepared me for the world in unique ways. For example, I usually carry a books of matches, a bobby pin and a deck of cards in case someone unexpectedly wants to make a deal. I keep an eye out so I ALWAYS know where the beef is. I know who shot JR and I’m ready to talk. And my car is completely outfitted in the event that some stranger pulls up alongside me at an intersection and says, “Excuse me, Sir. Do you happen to have any grey poop on?” We can talk later about this tendency people have to call me Sir all the time.

I finally finished the make-over on the guest room. For those of us who journeyed through long coming out processes in the 70s and 80s, these rooms are also occasionally called the “dummy bedroom” where the “roommate” sleeps, with whom we are “just friends”. I’ve decided to keep that term even though I live alone, in an effort to convince me that I’m friends with myself. Closet humor. It’s been a long time!

Wishing you a year of much laughter and silliness~


Formative Days

Posted: 18th October 2018 by admin in Blog
Tags: , , , , , ,

Formative Days

It’s been more than three years since my divorce, but I still find comfort in some traditions that my fabulous ex-wife introduced to me. In this case, I mean the Jewish tradition of the memorial candle, or yahrzeit candle, lit on the day of a loved one’s death to celebrate their life. I am also deeply appreciative of the idea of lighting the way for them to a happy afterlife.

October is a challenging month. Starting with the memorial for my favorite aunt, my Aunt Connie, at the beginning of the month, then moving on to the memorial for my sister-in-law, landing here on the memorial of the father’s death, and ending with the memorial of the death of the brother with whom I grew up at the start of November. It is, as I have observed in a prior post, one long yahrzeit candle burning.

Formative days stay with us long into adulthood in unusual bits and pieces, as we have heard recently from trauma specialists. This experience bears out for me less in the realm of significant hurts, because so many of the bruises (though not all) fade into the blur of days as recurring events, but more in the realm of significant losses. Formative losses endure for a lifetime.

Today is the day of a formative loss and, as is my practice, a yahrzeit candle burns in the kitchen. I hesitated to write this post, then wondered why, because I’ve already written it in much detail in Urban Tidepool. And what the hell…I’ve written several humorous posts over the summer. A serious one will provide some balance.

Share a walk with me through a formative day, just shortly past my 17th birthday. I’ll appreciate the company.


An excerpt from Urban Tidepool:

October 1982

I called him in sick that morning. It’s usually the other way around, the parent calling the kid in sick, but that would be really unlike us at this point. The call itself was uneventful.

“Pennsylvania Refrigeration, may I help you?”

“I’m calling Charlie Mullen in sick.”

That was that. He really wasn’t feeling well; no lie today. I knew that. He had mentioned not feeling well the night before. The fact he wasn’t doing shit to take care of himself wasn’t lost on me. A small “I told you so” floated on the edge of my awareness. Try giving up smoking like the doctor told you, I thought. Try not eating the stuff they told you not to eat. Maybe you’d feel better.

As I returned the handset to the cradle, the phone rang. I grabbed it again. My friend Kathy asked if I had been given the message that she had her parents’ car this morning and she was driving us to school. Could I be ready in ten minutes?

Of course I hadn’t gotten the message. I’d been off making a 10 p.m. dog food run. I ran from dining room to basement, searching the dryer for a pair of my uniform socks, and then back upstairs to the bathroom. I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to pause at his bedroom door, though, and ask, “Did Kathy leave me a message that she was picking me up for school?”

He grunted, half awake. “Oh, yeah. Last night.”

“Awww…Dad, you are such an asshole!”

He didn’t answer.

I showered, spooned out some of the dog food rallied on the emergency Alpo run, kissed the dog and met Kathy on the front steps. We lived in a neighborhood of one-car families. It was a big deal to get the family car for school, avoiding the hassle of a Septa bus, or—God forbid—the Grays Ferry school bus. I was not going to miss this. We were seniors! With a car! As I picked up my work clothes, I contemplated calling out a good bye. He was probably asleep again. Besides, Michael might wake up and bitch about being disturbed—or slap the shit out of me. I didn’t need that. Never mind. I locked the door behind me.

Kathy greeted me with her usual morning announcement. “School blows.”

I could only agree. Six weeks into senior year, we were already counting days mostly unremarkable in their sameness; same uniform, same nuns, same resented expectation that we not think for ourselves. The good part of the day started when my work shift at McDonald’s did.

October 18th was a beautiful day in South Philadelphia, still warm, with shortened sunshine slanting earlier, heralding fall. By October we had golden sun, not the white sun of midsummer that made the asphalt melt and heat shimmer up off the pavement, playing tricks with your eyes. The walk from the bus stop to McDonald’s was pleasant, even enjoyable, and my leftover irritation with the father softened. I hadn’t missed my ride, hadn’t been late to school, all was well.

I changed into my uniform and clocked in without a minute to spare. I loved closing shift. I especially loved coming in directly from school, skipping that whole going home part. This was my second year at this job, my part-time, as-close-to-forty-hours-a-week-as-I-could-manage job. I had been promoted to manager last spring. Maybe it was being able to exchange the nasty polyester crew uniform for the cotton button-downs that the managers wore. Maybe it was not having to wear the crew hat that never looked right no matter where I put it on my skull, earning me the nickname “Helmet Head” from the regional manager. Maybe it was just that the regional manager had a nickname for me. Whatever it was, this was my favorite place.

A few minutes before 8 p.m., the phone by the manager’s desk rang and one of the guys on grill called me to pick it up. I expected the father and was surprised to hear Marie’s voice.

“Have you talked to your father today?”

“No, I came right into work from school. Why?”

“I’ve been calling the house and it rings and rings but nobody answers.”

“Okay. Let me call and see if he answers. I’ll call you back.”

The phone in our house rang endlessly, surely long enough that even with his hearing loss, he would have heard it. He would have rolled over or coughed or something, and the ringing two rooms away would have pulled him the rest of the way into consciousness.  My stomach tightened.

Turning to the other manager on duty, I said, “I gotta go. Something’s up.”

A friend from my neighborhood had just clocked out at the end of her shift, and she offered me a ride. We didn’t think to turn off the radio as we drove. As it had been for weeks, the theme song from An Officer and a Gentleman played.

My house was dark. Not a single light shone, despite it being full dark outside now. The front door was locked. Chills ran down my back and arms. Above me, the dog jumped down to come greet me. From the direction of the thud, she was in the father’s room. I relaxed a little. Navigating a few steps around the couch arm, I flicked on a lamp and went up to see how he was feeling. The door was closed halfway. I pushed gently, reaching for the wall light switch.

“Dad?” I stepped into the room. “Dad?” I stopped beside the bed, put one hand on his shoulder and shook once. “Dad?”

The information flooded in all at one time.





He lay on his back, with his feet crossed at the ankle and his hands folded together on his stomach. His fingers were waxy white. Bloodless. I was the only one breathing in the room. His shoulder under my hand was cold. When I shook him, his head rocked slightly to one side but the muscle did not recoil. I looked down into his face: the slack jaw, the pallor, and a detail that I didn’t speak about until more than fifteen years later. Oh God. His tongue was black.

I backed away, shut the light off, closed the door. I learned later that one of the neighbors heard me scream, although I was never aware that I did. This was it. I had known for months it would happen exactly this way. Years ago last night, I went on a dog food run so I’d have something to feed her this morning. Upon arriving home I sat in the car, idling at the curb, staring at our front windows and thinking, It won’t be much longer. He’s so sick. I knew. I always knew it would be me that found him. And years ago last night, I did the familiar, unwanted practice run in my head that I had been doing for months. Now it kicked in automatically.

I dialed 911. “I need an ambulance.”

“What is your emergency?”

“My father has had a heart attack.”

A few more questions followed that blurred together. I didn’t feel any emotion, only hands shaking so badly it was hard to dial the phone. I called my brother, The Major, and my sister-in-law answered. I called my sister’s house, where my brother-in-law answered. Both siblings were out. I left the same message. Send them—I think our father is dead. Still disconnected, I called the father’s girlfriend. Jesus, had it only been half an hour ago I’d spoken to her? How could that be possible?

“The paramedics are on their way, but I think he’s dead.”

“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” She was crying. Why wasn’t I? “We’ll come. I’ll find a ride.”

Marie was half an hour away, even if she had a ride and walked out the door right now, but I agreed she should come. I wanted her here. After seven years of dating the father, she was a part of this. I refused to call my brother Michael. Him, I didn’t want here.

“Okay. Come.”

Hanging up, I knew I couldn’t stay there alone. As I had practiced in my imagination, I made one more call to my aunt’s house. “My father has had a heart attack. I think he’s dead. Can someone come and stay with me while I wait for the paramedics?”

I don’t remember who answered the phone, but the first person in the door was my cousin Doreen. She was eight months pregnant. Oh God. She’s gonna have that baby right here!

The paramedics arrived next, and I took them up to the father’s room. I hovered in the doorway to see what they would do, but they asked me to wait downstairs. My Uncle Dick, definitely no fan of the father, and Joe, my cousin Maureen’s husband, came in on their heels and Uncle Dick went upstairs with the paramedics. Why him but not me? They announced they would take him to the hospital.

“He’s not dead?”

“You should get ready to go to the hospital.”

My cousin David came in, out of breath. He took one of my arms and Doreen took the other. David said softly, “Let’s walk up the block to Maureen’s house.” We needed to figure out how I was getting to the hospital, who would be taking me and staying there, since The Major and my sister were both at least an hour away.

A few houses away, Mr. Forsythe, summoned to his front porch by the flashing ambulance lights called to us, “Are you okay, Nance?”

David answered. “She’ll be okay. We have to go to the hospital with Uncle Charlie.”

My cousin Maureen greeted me with a hug and stood with me as I splashed cold water on my face. I didn’t know where she and her husband Joe had been when my call came in, but she obviously already knew what was happening down the street. “Here, take this. You need a’ be calm if you’re goin’ to the hospital.” She pressed a glass of water into my other hand and prodded me to sit down at the kitchen table.

I was just placing the water glass on the table when the phone rang. It was Joe. Maureen relayed his words. “He’s been pronounced dead. The paramedics had to wait for the doctor. No one’s going to the hospital.”

David, sitting on one side of me, held my right hand. Doreen gripped my left. I didn’t hear anything beyond that. No no no no no no no no. I couldn’t tell if I was saying it out loud. I wasn’t making any sense. Someone said they were sorry. No no no no no no no. David and Doreen held my hands, squeezing them, kissing them. Maureen stood behind me, her hands on my shoulders and the back of my head. No no no no no no no no.

Of course he was dead. He was cold. I had known. They hadn’t wanted his child there when they took his body away. His fingers were bloodless. How could he not be dead? I had known. But he had looked asleep. He had looked peaceful in his boxers and his strappy t-shirt with his hands folded on his belly and his feet crossed, and it didn’t matter what I had known because I wanted to believe we were going to the hospital. It should hurt, shouldn’t it? Dying should hurt. He looked asleep. His fingers… bloodless. I squeezed my eyes shut as hard as I could, but I could still see them. I had known. No no no no no no. They were never going to take him to the hospital. It’s possible I howled. Don’t all wounded animals?

It was close to 10 p.m. when my sister arrived. I sat with a comforter wrapped around me and a cup of hot tea in front of me, so cold my whole body shook. Just two hours ago, I had been comfortable wearing a hooded sweatshirt, unzipped, with the sleeves pushed up. This was cold like the middle of February, and the comforter and tea kept my shivers at bay with only marginal success.

I tuned into some of the back and forth about where I might sleep that night. Did I really want to go sleep in the same house where my father had just died? Would I be okay? I didn’t belong at Maureen and Joe’s. I needed to go home.

Pat walked with me, retracing the steps that Doreen, David and I had taken just a short time ago, hoping I was wrong, knowing I was right. I thought I was ready. I hadn’t anticipated the surreal feeling, walking into the living room, seeing the father’s shirt draped over the back of a chair and his shoes on the steps where he had left them.



The room spun. I staggered two steps and Pat caught me. The lump in my throat exploded and an animal-like sound swelled out. Pat sat down on the couch, pulling me with her. My head rested against her shoulder, the father’s shirt in my line of vision. The noise kept going, that animal sound. It took several moments to become aware that I was making it. No doubt about it this time. I was howling.

I was afraid I wouldn’t sleep, but the next disconnect came and I welcomed it. I prayed for it. Please take this away. Please make this stop. Several times during the night, I started to surface toward consciousness. Each time I became aware of an overpowering pain in my chest, quickly followed by no no no no no no no, words I saw in neon print on the back of my eyelids. My vocabulary was gutted. It was the only word I could manage.


Formative days, like today, bring back floods of memories and sometimes the tiny candle flame struggles against the weight of darkness that lacks words.  In four years, I will be as old as he was on the night of his death. He has been gone now more than twice as long as I knew him.  On formative days, I remember that before I referred to him as “the father”, I called him Chuckleberry and when I was very young, he would clap his hands together backwards and bark like a seal to make me laugh. As a single dad after the mother crossed over, he taught me it was okay to eat cold Spaghettios from the can to avoid making extra dishes. He wore brown shirts with black pants and when I’d comment on him being no slave to fashion, he gave me an answer straight out of the Shit My Father Says manual:  “What?! It’s clean!”

Sometimes formative days have gifts. It’s just a little extra work to find them.