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Stockholm Syndrome

I feel like I’ve been living in a dreamlike state for the past few years

As if I’ve been asleep and under an illusion

Hypnotized by the lure of starting somewhere completely new 

Building a new life with new people and new adventures

But cracks are starting to form along the surfaces 

Exposing the reality beneath

I’m beginning to realize that not everything is as I thought

Or hoped or dreamed they would be

Sometimes I wake up for brief periods of time

Tears streaming down my face

Heart bruised and battered

I scream and cry and try to see life as it really is

But I am guarded by a beast that knows neither compassion nor empathy

This beast is my keeper 

Feeding me with little poisoned truffles of doubt and blame

Frightening me into submission

Part of me wants to escape and be free

The other part wants to see if I can conquer and tame the beast

Changing the fear into a much stronger love

I know there is potential

But I fear that it is doomed to remain under the enchantement

Only time will tell

If I’m able to fully wake and break 

Free from this glass prison 

Of doubt, fear, blame, jealousy

I do know that I cannot trust anyone around me

They are illusions of sincerity

At any moment they could turn

Thus Sleeping Beauty blinks awake for a brief moment

Takes a deep breath

And closes her eyes once more

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When I first saw Thirteen Reasons Why available to watch on Netflix, I thought to myself, “Oh, another one of those teen shows about drama in high school that’s probably based on a Young Adult novel.” It turned out that I was correct in my suspicions, but, after watching the first episode, I had plunged into something much bigger and more emotional than I had expected. I ordered the book on Amazon because I needed to delve deeper into the story. I have since finished both the Netflix series and the novel, and I realized that I needed to write down my thoughts in something more detailed than a simple Facebook post. So many emotions ran through me, as I’m sure happened with others that may have watched or read Thirteen Reasons Why. Some people stayed away from it and refused to watch it because the subject matter can be triggering. Some people think that it should never have been made into a TV show. Some people loved it and felt that it should be required viewing for adolescents. Since you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what I think. And to be honest, it’s a mixture of both good and bad reactions. I will be comparing the show to the original novel. Be warned in advance, there will be spoilers.
Anything that explores high school, bullying, teen suicide, and the like naturally brings out my own memories of the hell that was high school. I was the intelligent over-achiever that was involved in everything, especially the arts. French Club president, section leader and drum major in marching band, National Honor Society, you name it, and I was involved in it. Except the popular party scene. I was never the person they would invite out to parties where underage drinking abounded. I was teased and called “Little Miss Perfect” or “Teacher’s Pet.” I was teased and mocked because of my weight and the fact that I had large breasts. Every time I had the courage to tell a boy that I liked him, I would experience nothing but laughter and rejection. At one point during my senior year, I had a major manic-depressive episode and was hospitalized for over a week. I remember the rumors that spread like wildfire, the whispers behind my back, the “friends” I had that showed their true colors and proved that they really weren’t friends at all. My first thoughts of suicide began at age 14, and for the next 8 years they would slip back in my mind at various points of depression and mental suffering. I remember that one morning the principal came on the loudspeaker to announce that a student had passed away. I believe it was suicide. I didn’t know her personally, and no one really reacted that they cared that she was gone. Her death seemed less important to them than the other students who had perished in a car accident. And looking back, it makes me sick that no one had helped her see that she did matter and was loved and important.
Now let’s return to the land of fiction where Thirteen Reasons Why explores a high school in the aftermath of a student’s suicide. A student whose reputation had been blown out of proportion with vicious rumors of her alleged promiscuity. A teenage girl that was tormented by the bullying of others to the point where she decided to take her life. But before she did, she recorded tapes naming names and denouncing those who she felt ruined her life and were thus responsible for her death. First of all, while I think it’s important that we call out bullies and show them how their behavior is destructive, Hannah Baker’s approach to send every person that affected her life in a negative way tapes where she completely destroys their character with her words and accusations is straight up malicious and extreme. I can understand leaving a note, but the way she spoke and laid bare her feelings and painted the other students made me feel even more angry but also sad for them. Instead of being approached and corrected, they are hit with guilt as Hannah blames them for her death. And in all honesty, while others can push someone to feel as if they should take their life, the decision to kill one’s self is someone’s personal choice. Yes, the bullies were horrible, but Hannah chose to take her own life in the end. Placing the blame on anyone else is just cruel. Imagine if you learned that someone said you were responsible for their death after the fact. The guilt would haunt you for the rest of your life. Suicide just passes the pain onto someone else.
I’m also disappointed that mental illness and depression were not brought up. Feeling sad and empty were just passing thoughts and emotions. It was Hannah’s depression that led to her death; that was the true cause. Her efforts to seek advice and help from the counselor showed how little we are prepared to handle speaking with someone with their feet dangling over the edge. It may have been the author’s decision on his portrayal of the counselor, but I felt that he was more concerned about administrative consequences of Hannah saying that she had been raped than actively trying to help her find emotional relief and solace. It was as if he couldn’t read the signs she was showing. I was very frustrated at that. The counselor should have been properly trained and educated to be able to see the signs of severe depression. Maybe she would not have taken her life if she had received the proper help and care that she needed.
The series really glorified the act of suicide, I felt. The novel focused more on the emotional response of Clay as he listened to Hannah’s tapes and processed his own feelings of anger, guilt, and loss. The show almost made it seem like it was a “cool” thing to do, to take your own life, which I find horrible to promote. How many impressionable teenagers may have watched the show and thought to themselves that maybe killing themselves would be the best way to escape the pain. I’m not sure if this is actually true, but I heard that there was a rise in suicides after the show was released, as if it inspired adolescents to go the same route. I hope that was just a rumor. In the book, Hannah committed suicide by swallowing pills. In the Netflix series, she slit her wrists in a bathtub and actually showed the act. The writers probably chose to change the method to be something more dramatic and difficult to watch for the shock factor. Was it really necessary to show the scene in detail? I’m not so sure. Again, it’s showing potentially impressionable young teens how to go about carrying it out. I don’t think that’s really a good idea.
However, the bullying Hannah endured was very important to portray. It really captured the essence of high school life and the suffering some students face. And the fact that this show has become so popular has hopefully shown how not to behave. It’s a wake-up call for some to explain how others can interpret and process taunts and teasing. Calling someone names, spreading lies and gossip just to paint another in a worse light than yourself is just projecting your insecurities onto someone else. Why is it really necessary to be rude and horrible to each other? Wouldn’t life be better and less cruel if we stopped tearing each other down? Take some time to think about how another person may interpret your words. And taunts last forever. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words cut deeper. They are planted in the mind of the person suffering and grow into painful fruit that rot their thoughts. It’s already difficult to love one’s self; replaying hurtful words and acts make it virtually impossible to find that inner love.
I do recommend reading the book and watching the series. If you’re a parent worried about your teenager watching it, take some time to watch it yourself and be prepared to discuss it with them. Help them understand the importance of the impact bullying has on others, and also stress the fact that you love them. Explain that you are always there to listen and that if they ever feel unable to continue on that you will be there to get them the help they need. And if they make mistakes, forgive them. Let them know that hope always remains. Life and love can continue in full force towards a brighter future.

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Why We Marched

To everyone who thinks that the people who participated yesterday in the Women’s March for Dignity were just “snowflakes” whining about Trump being elected since none of our rights appear to have been taken away:

You have completely missed the point and are speaking from a glaring position of privilege.

We marched for the women of color who are treated like “troublemakers,” being thrown off a train for laughing too loudly and being glared at for having a boisterous personality.

We marched for all the men of color that are killed by unnecessary force and police brutality.

We marched for the transgendered woman who is treated like a pedophile monster just for needing to use the restroom and having the simple desire to go through the door that matches how she identifies.

We marched for the gay couples who want nothing more than to adopt and have a family but are turned away because they are two men or two women.

We marched for Matt Shephard and the thousands of other people that identify as LGBT+ and were murdered in hate crimes.

We marched for those that receive discrimination in the workplace and are even fired from their jobs because of their sexuality.

We marched for Standing Rock.

We marched for women who are treated by their husbands and partners as trophies and objects designed solely for the man’s pleasure and limited as homemakers to bear them children.

We marched for women who are called “sluts” for what they wear when they feel confident about themselves.

We marched for women that are shamed and not believed when they come forward about sexual assault because “surely they were asking for it.”

We marched for women to have the right to bodily autonomy and to choose when they are ready to have children, if they want a child at all, while still being able to express their sexuality without shame.

We marched for women who still don’t receive the same salary as men for equal work.

We marched for the young girl who was raped at 12 years old that is forced to bear the child.

We marched for the girls that are virtually sold as child brides before they even reach puberty.

We marched for the girls in Africa that are raped because they are virgins and to infect them with HIV.

We marched for the girls and boys that are still subject to genital mutilation.

We marched for Flint, Michigan, still waiting to have clean drinking water.

We marched for the men who are raped and feel too ashamed to admit it because other men would laugh about it.

We marched for the fathers who don’t receive fair and equal treatment with custody cases in divorce court.

We marched for the fathers and mothers who struggle to have the opportunity to be with their children as new parents due to little to no family leave granted.

We marched for the parents who are worried about how they will afford health insurance and treatments for their child dying of cancer.

We marched for the refugees who are fleeing from their bombed homes and called “terrorists” by the people with whom they’re trying to seek asylum.

We marched for the young girl that experiences hushed whispers and less clapping at a school assembly because her last name has an Arabic origin. 

We marched for so many more reasons.
Open your eyes and realize that this goes beyond a presidential election. We raise our voices to be heard. We raise our voices for equality and positive change.

It was around the 1940’s, while World War II was in full-swing, hopefully to be over soon. In America, soldiers would go to bars to flirt and have some fun before they got sent off to their next assignment. The ladies enjoyed themselves as well, but if a guy got too fresh with them, they had pointed hairpins that they could use to set him straight.

At one such bar, a young man named John Thomas was socializing and having fun. He had his eye on an attractive lady with great legs. Claire Ewalt was sitting next to him, minding her own business as best she could in a noisy bar, until that clumsy guy accidentally spilled his beer on her fancy new green skirt. His attention tore away from the other woman, and he profusely apologized, offering to have her skirt cleaned. Claire declined his offer and said she would wash it herself. Unfortunately, in washing it by herself, she ended up ruining that skirt. But it did bring John Thomas into her life.

One thing led to another, and they ended up falling in love. He wasn’t Catholic, so Claire’s parents didn’t quite approve. Love won, and they ran away together to get married in 1950. John and Claire Thomas began their new life together filled with the utmost love and devotion. He did end up converting to Catholicism which blessed their marriage with faith and love.

Over the years, they moved several times as a military family, living in Illinois, London, England, elsewhere, and eventually settling in South Dakota. They had four children, one daughter and three sons: Cynthia, Lawrence, John, and Stephen. While they didn’t have a lot of money, they still maintained a life of simplicity, love, and a close family bond.

As their children grew older and settled down with their own families all over the United States, Claire and John ended up moving themselves to Texas where they finally put down roots to remain. Throughout my life, they lived in the same house in a great retirement community with a golf course in their backyard. I always loved visiting them and can even remember the welcoming smell in their house. My family and I lived in Saint Louis, Missouri, so it was a lengthy drive, but I always looked forward to visiting with them.

There’s even a family video recording of my grandparents meeting me for the first time after I was born when we flew up for a family reunion in South Dakota. My grandma had tears in her eyes as she welcomed me. As a child, my brother and I would play dogs with my grandma and grandpa. I can remember with fondness how compassionate and loving they were. It was always a great treat when Grandpa and Grandma Thomas came to visit. Throughout my adolescence they were always so supportive of me and were always so proud to hear about my accomplishments in school, band, choir, theatre, and beyond. They were even able to attend my Senior Vocal Performance Recital, which was the culmination of my Bachelors degree in Music at Webster University.

The love between my grandparents was always visible. They were always holding hands, placing their hand on the other’s leg, stealing kisses, and being affectionate with each other. I remember one time while we were driving somewhere with my Dad and Grandpa in the front while Grandma and I were in the backseat. Grandpa reached back to caress his wife’s leg, but he didn’t look behind him, which caused him to touch my leg instead. I cleared my throat and said, “Grandpa, I think you’re touching the wrong leg. That’s mine.” It was a funny moment.

My Grandpa always had a positive attitude. He was silly, laughed all the time, and created different voices and sounds to put everyone in a good mood. In all my time with him, I never saw him complain once. He was completely devoted to his wife. He was an admirable man with quiet strength. When my father played the guitar during their visits, my grandpa would always chime in singing.

I last visited my grandparents in 2012. It was after that time in August that my grandpa’s health began to steadily decline. They moved to a nursing home where he could receive more care. In December of 2013, he was hospitalized for serious issues, and we thought that we would lose him. But he surprised everyone and held on. Over time, he gradually lost the ability to speak coherently. My family would FaceTime Grandma, and she would include him in the video calls. One Christmas, we called them, and I sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for him. He opened his eyes to listen. It hurt to see his health declining so much.

Last Sunday, on the day before my father would go into surgery for a major spinal fusion, we received word that my grandpa, his father, had passed on to Heaven. We were in the middle of Costco shopping for our dinner that night. We all just formed a big group hug and cried together in the middle of the store. And that night we grilled some great New York Strip Steaks with salad and red wine, toasting a great man.

His body was blessed, and he will be cremated. He will be buried in a major cemetery for veterans in the Dallas area. That internment ceremony will be next year when my father is able to fly to be with his family. I’m very glad that they will be waiting for him to be there along with everyone else. I wish I could be there too, but France is very far away, and I won’t be able to afford the plane ticket.

I haven’t had the chance to really and truly cry and grieve the passing of my Grandpa Thomas, but I wanted to take the time and write a brief account of the love story between my grandparents that lasted 65 years. Their story and enduring love is an inspiration for the entire family and everyone who knew them. I can only hope that my marriage will endure all those years into the future as well. I never knew my maternal grandfather because he died the year my parents married in 1984, but I had the privilege to know John M. Thomas throughout my 25 years of age. I will miss him dearly, but I know that he is in a much better place at peace and able to run, jump, laugh, and speak in Heaven. He is no longer suffering and in the arms of his Father.

We love you, Grandpa.

Easter 1991

I Feel Haunted By Death

I feel haunted by Death

She entered into my life

When I was fourteen years old

And hasn’t ever left

I feel haunted by Death

She took my cousin when he was ten

She took my uncle and husband to my godmother

Who was also the father of my cousin

She took my grandmother

She took my husband’s father

She took my husband’s godmother

She has taken so many lives

Close to me and of people that I never met

I feel haunted by Death

She plants seeds of thought

That turn into ideas and feelings

Images that involve me and her

The thought that she may take me someday too

Sometimes I imagine how she would take my hand

And lure me into her home in the underworld

I feel haunted by Death

These ideas aren’t new

They’ve been around for years

I’ve never actually attempted

The temptations have stayed in my mind

Sometimes I tell others

And then they help me through it

I feel haunted by Death

I know that I have a lot to live for

I know that I am loved

I just got married

My new life is across the Atlantic in France

Don’t take this as a sign that I need professional help

I’m just sharing my feelings

I feel haunted by Death

But she won’t take me until I’m old and ready

death and the maiden

-Jenna

You might think that you know me

But you don’t

You formulate your biased opinion

Based on your own life experiences

You judge me

Because it’s impossible not to

Decide whether or not you like someone

Free from your own personal viewpoint

You might think that you know me

But you don’t

I try to be kind with my words

I am a compassionate human being

I enjoy discussion

I believe in diversity

I like to be respectful

I don’t mind if you have a different opinion or viewpoint

But when you become personally disrespectful

I have a problem with that

You might think that you know me

But you don’t

Once my trust in you is broken

We’re done

It’s difficult enough to build trust in the first place

So if you betray me

You’ve lost me forever

That’s not my fault

You should have thought about how I might feel

Before you chose to do it

You might think that you know me

But you don’t

I don’t have time to waste on you

Especially when you don’t care about my feelings

Or myself as a person

So I’m just going to move on

You might think that you know me

But you don’t

Guess what?

You just inspired my newest poem

After more than a year of writer’s block

Be proud of yourself

Just remember

You might think that you know me

But you don’t

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Hiking and Bastille Day

Last Sunday, mon ange and I accompanied his brother and mother on a hike to La Chapelle Hermone, which is a tiny little chapel located on the top of (I’m not sure whether to call it) a hill or mountain that is part of the Alps. It’s not like the mountain you picture in your head with the snow and dangerous peaks to traverse but still a steep climb with trees, etc. I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase to pack my hiking/climbing gear with me when I came to France, so I made do with jeans, a tank top, and button-down shirt that I kept open. At least I had good shoes for the climb. We drove to the starting point, and as I was looking out the window, I felt like I was entering a forest realm of a fairy tale. There were even some times that I was inspired to write a piece of short prose, but I have a bad habit of procrastinating and/or starting a story that I never finish.

It’s not a secret that I’m wanting to lose weight and get in shape. After only three weeks here, I can already tell a difference in my body and energy. I have a Fitbit, and while it was difficult to obtain the goal of 10,000 steps back in the U.S. where I lived, I have now reached that goal 7 times here in France. C had the good idea to increase my goal to 12,000 steps after I’ve reached 10,000 steps 10 times. That means I’ll have to kick my rear into gear even more. The secret to reaching the desired amount is to go walking and exploring for a couple hours. I didn’t reach 10,000 steps when we climbed to the chapel, but it was a more intense workout than usual. We packed water for hydration, and I had to stop and drink every so often. We picked a day that wasn’t too terribly hot, and when we were hiking in the trees, the shade created a nice coolness.

When we were close to the summit, we discovered a series of crosses dedicated to the Stations of the Cross for Christ’s passion. I had never read each station in French before, and as I climbed, I meditated on what Jesus went through. I might have been out of breath and sore from all the climbing, but it was nothing compared to what He experienced. As I reached the top, I felt a wave of relief wash over me and took in the view with awe. I can’t remember exactly how high up we were, but on one side we could see the towns and Lac Léman and on the other, more of the Alps stretched out before us. It was amazing.

We sat down to eat our picnic of ham and cheese baguette sandwiches and nectarines at the steps of the chapel. At first we didn’t realize that it was the entrance, but when people approached to enter it we made room so they could get by. After eating, I wanted to go inside as well. On the wall just in the entry, there was a large plaque with names of people that contributed financially to the Stations of the Cross. One of the sets of names was Mary and Joseph Thomas. I thought that was interesting. Oh, and by the way, they were installed in 1840. The chapel itself was older. I can’t get over how old and historic the monuments that I come across are! The entryway to the rest of the chapel was barred in order to preserve it, but you could still peek inside and read a prayer. C encouraged me to sing something because the acoustics were great. So I sang an improvised version of O Magnum Mysterium without lyrics. In one of the corners, there was a little area of tealight candles. I lit one in memory of my Grandma that passed away this March. She would have loved coming there.

~*~

Yesterday was Bastille Day, which is the French national holiday equivalent to the 4th of July in the United States. They aren’t as crazy as Americans are with flags everywhere and all the national pride, but they do have a little celebration. We went to Evian for dinner and to watch the fireworks later in the evening when the sun went down. And if you recognize the name Evian, that’s because it’s where the bottled water is manufactured. I know you’ve seen water bottles with the name on it in your local grocery store or gas station. Well, each and every bottle came from the center here in France that’s in the town right next to where I live! We had several hours to wait between dinner and fireworks, so we explored the shops and walked along the lake. There were tents set up selling everything from churros to cotton candy (fun fact: it’s called La barbe à papa).

When there was an hour and a half before the fireworks would begin, we claimed our spot to sit and watch them. Other people had been staking out a place even longer before us. We chose to sit on some large rocks around the edge of the lake. All the lights around port extinguished when it was time for the display to begin. We oohed and ahhed at the bright fireworks. To be honest, there isn’t much difference between American and French fireworks, but I do appreciate the reflection against the water here in Thonon. Getting back home was a bit of a nightmare. Luckily, he has a scooter, so we were able to weave through the engorged traffic to get home. But 30 minutes or more of sitting on the not-so-comfortable part of the scooter tends to turn your bum numb. I was very glad to reach our apartment at the end of the evening.

And so ends the latest installment of my adventures in France….

Bisous!

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