In-betweeners: Sickly Sweet

Note: This is a part of a small collection of short pieces written when I couldn’t decipher what emotion I was feeling. There I found the “in-between.” These pieces were written in haste and then lightly edited later.

It’s funny how easily we push away the goodness that we truly deserve.

We taste the sweetness of genuine affection, appreciation and respect and grow to think that it’s only a treat.

A treat that we can’t have a lot or else it will make us sick.

But instead, your brain is already ill and develops a taste for something much worse for you in place of that “treat.” It’s an addiction to poison but you’ve tricked yourself into thinking it’s good for you.

You’re too numb to notice it’s not.


Sad Fad (by Kyle Gunby)

I was going to write a blog post about how “Inside Out” made me cry because I felt like Joy and never understood sadness for the longest time, but then my very perceptive friend said it all for me (and better). Thanks Kyle.


Today, at lunch, I heard a child crying. My first thought was, “I get you, tiny human thing.”

Typically, I don’t think much of infants. Subtract moisture and they’re plastic dolls. The only difference is one can be used as a blunt object to attack your little sister. And, no, I’m not going to make the joke that the other is a plastic doll. I feel similarly about dogs that fit in pockets.

That’s not a dog. That’s a hacky sack.

The young mammal it-creature was crying because its parents gave it an iPhone upon exiting the birth canal. After having its ass flogged, all it’s seen are headlines like this:

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As far as that child knows, everyone is dying. Apparently, Frank Gifford is the bomb at it.

But, in the midst of its weeping, I found that I respected the sentient larva. There it sat, in its own filth…

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Lively words

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“I lived a world of words long before I knew it,” said acclaimed Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.

I was going to write a mostly angsty #FreeWriteFriday about the power of words such as bitch and tease that have slighted me (and many others), but Ebert’s diction power was all I could think about today.

Today, sitting in squishy, slightly squeaky theater chair in the Lake Street Screening Room on the 16th floor of 70 E. Lake, I entered an atmosphere that mixed memorial with networking as women spoke of their red carpet run-ins and exchanged cards, and with a film critic powwow that I was most definitely not invited to. I was there to see a screening of “Life Itself,” Steve James’ documentary on Roger Ebert for a section dedicated to him in the Sun-Times that I am helping with as part of my internship.

Being the modern journalist-in-training that I am, I sent off a quick tweet before the movie started:

My tweet ended up seeming quite juvenile compared to the crop of critics I was rubbing headrests with. Some of their tweets got retweeted by the “Life Itself” account and mentioned the air of melancholy that accompanied seeing this great film and some explained sentimental gestures:

I felt an air of responsibility weigh down on my neck in the “Chicago Sun-Times” embossed in white ink around my press badge lanyard. There I was, little ole intern me, representing Ebert’s home base among people that probably were learning from his work when I was still reading about how Kirsten, the American Girl Doll, survived the tough prairie winters.

The slight panic-induced claustrophobia inching in on me was relinquished when Ebert said at the beginning of the documentary, “The movies are a machine that generates empathy.”

Empathy. Togetherness. Words that emitted warmth, the warmth and shared energy that I was seemingly immersed in. All of us laughed and stifled sobs (not as hard for me as for others) whether they were a veteran or rookie.

Ebert had been using his words to change the landscape of film reviews and the film industry in general. He was doing the pre-internet equivalent of live-posts with his constant writing of reviews and hosting of his special segment of the “Sneak Previews”  show during Cannes. When he had no voice due to the removal of his jaw as part of his battle against cancer, he had words. And even some of his final interview responses to Steve James were extremely poignant just because of the desperation of the text whimpering, “I can’t… I’m fading.”

But, he is far from faded. Even me, a newbie to Ebert’s extensive history, sensed a palpable presence of him that will live on in Steve James’ moving documentary, roses placed in back aisle seats and Pulitzer-prize winning words published under the Chicago Sun-Times masthead and on his blog up until the day he died.

Everlasting word.


Haunting Hope

The familiar “kerplink” alert of a Facebook message on my phone at 9:56 p.m. on March 31 wasn’t followed by the normal “Yoooo Veeee” that one of my best friends, Ian, has claimed as his signature, virtual greeting.

This message was from Beth Hendren, the mother of the late Cody Hendren, the former Battle High School freshman I had had been trying to write a Life Story on before break that ended up just being a Missourian obituary because of the lack of willingness of sources to talk to me, expectantly so with the surrounding circumstances. Family and friends said a few things to the Missourian about this bubbly boy at his memorial ceremony at Peace Park.

She apologized for just getting back to me and said how the vigil was that upcoming Saturday if that was any use to me. The time had passed for any Life Story to be put out but I still welcomed her information. She told me how they had raised over $500 at that point for suicide awareness and are wanting to continue to focus on prevention and knowledge. Beth had already thought about the possibility of going to the schools to talk about it.

“Ding!” rang the story idea bell in my head.

I was invested in this story, in this family, in Cody. The fateful GA shift in which this obit fell into the inbox of Katherine Reed pulled a trigger of something that wouldn’t really know was there until I ended the day sobbing on the phone to my mother.

Katherine had been talking to me when she received it and instinctively asked me to take it.

“Oh no, he was 14,” she sighed. That number seemed arbitrary until I connected it with the idea of age, the age my brother Frank just dismissed as his own in October.

This Life Story was to be about a child. A freshman in high school that was just getting into the groove of what high school really is. A kid that did kid activities, like goof around with friends and listen to his music too loud.

“He was the same age as my brother,” I muttered as she handed me the printout.

Katherine gave me a sad puppy dog face, knowing that this wasn’t going to be easy in any sense, especially with our presumptions of suicide being the cause of death based on the “In lieu of flowers, donations are accepted for the Boone County Suicide Prevention Coalition” skirting the edge of the obit. But, I threw on a weak smile and said that I would still take it.

I reread the obit looking for clues to see what I could write about, ask about, who to contact, etc. when things started to hit a little too close to home. Fourteen and 15-year-old boys tend to be similar in a lot of facets, but some of the main descriptors in this lovingly written obituary by his mother matched up with things I commonly use to describe my brother Frank. Both of them love skateboarding, are amazingly academically gifted, love just listening to music on their iPods, etc. Typical for a young teen boy, right? I about lost it sitting there in the newsroom when I read ” and he loved playing Minecraft with his brothers.”

My mind flashed to me clomping down our unfinished stairs to bother Frank while he played Minecraft in the cool, cement cavern of our basement during the summer. He would tell his friend Jacob, who he played online or in-person with, that I said “Hi.” Or, he could be surrounded by my other brothers, Vince, 18, and Jack, 12, giving him advice on what to buy with his coins, where to build, etc. I would sit in to just joke around about the purposeful “8 bit” look of the game while gaining some nerd culture knowledge. Minecraft would be a casual conversation topic that I would use with my angsty and stoic brother on the phone when I called home.

All day I tried to secure some confirmation on the cause of death (it is Missourian policy to make every conceivable effort to report the cause of death for those who are under 60 and to report if suicide was the cause of death if it is confirmed by family and/or close friends) and to reach anyone to tell about the vivacious and unfortunately short life of this bright boy. His gifted program teacher talked to me and gave me such a beautiful view of a hard-working, goal-driven individual, someone he never thought that “this” would happen to. He dropped hints and words of suicide but said that he couldn’t confirm based on the orders of the compassionate guidance counselor staff at Battle High. The ACEs wanted me to try to contact a couple more people the next day as they sent me home for the night for me to retreat into the crying-safe confines of my room in Jones Hall.

After going through my nearly daily routine of accidentally using the office key for my door and turning the key the wrong way (our locks are backwards, it’s not my fault I follow lock logic), I collapsed against my raised bed into heavy sobs. With quavering breathe and shaking hands, I knew I had to call home and just talk to Frank because someone so similar to him was gone to the world.

When my mom answered the phone my voice cracked and the sobbing started all over again. She sympathized with my sadness when I told her all the triggering similarities and commanded me to get control of myself so I could talk to my overly apathetic brother.

He was none the wiser.

We talked about his soccer team, his utter boredom with his classmates’ antics, how he was watching Psych and not the Blackhawks game (weirdo) and some of our inside jokes. My youngest brother, Jack, was trying to put in his two cents on everything, giving the call a natural end and passing on to him, as if I just called to casually catch up.

I felt immensely better after talking to my brothers, but Beth’s recent message to me reinvigorated my investment in this story. I would do anything for my brothers. I cannot (and will not) imagine what it would be like to lose any one of them. The similarities in that obit triggering me to think of my brother was the closest I hope to ever get to that feeling ever. I carry that pang of the triggering thoughts around with me, and I am reminded of it whenever I see the print version of my Missourian obit on my clippings bulletin board. I only hope I can continue tracking however Cody’s brightness will be spread, either through a story of my own or just in passing because a little bit of his light is with me and I don’t think I can just let it out.


Sisseton, South Dakota

My participants actually learned something and liked our trip. That is all that I could ask for.

Rachel Swinney

It’s been four days since I left South Dakota. As a child of military parents, I’ve been through most of the United States, but I don’t think I’ve ever before rested my head against a window and watched South Dakota go by. I went there for my spring break, which I suppose deserves a little explanation. I applied last fall to be a participant in my school’s Alternative Spring Break program. In the application, you choose the top three issues you’d like to work with over the break. My top two were Native American Issues and Women’s Issues. I think the third was Environmental Issues, but that’s not important, because I was selected to go to Sisseton, South Dakota on a Native American and Women’s Issues trip.

It was pretty much as I’d imagined. Not terribly different from Missouri, just a little more flat. It was a nine hour drive that…

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Snow Happies/Sads: #FreeWriteFriday

11:31 p.m.

I played in the snow by myself yesterday.

Lying in the snow is the only time I am completely comfortable with being utterly alone with my thoughts (or lack thereof). I let the snowflakes hit my face and I smile as the cold makes my cheeks numb and tickle my closed eyes. I don’t let anything bother me.


So what, one of my younger brothers wouldn’t come out to play with me, even though I kept throwing snowballs at his window. I scampered around and jumped on my trampoline until the snow took my feet from under me.

The snow in front of my house was perfect. The plows had pushed it up nice and high around my stone fortress-esque block of a mailbox. Perfect enough for me to scale up the mounds of snow and sit atop that mailbox fortress. Hell, I stood on top of that fortress and claimed Greene Ridge Drive as my own.

It was around 5:30, so it was dark and I could watch the cars slide past on the dim street from my roost. I could jump down and lie on the front lawn and make a snow angel and just melt into the snow as if I wasn’t there.

One with the snow. One with the happy.

Today, though, today it rained.

Not just a slight drizzle, but steady, like you are in a car wash, water streaming down the windows, rain, piercing my snow like little liquid knives.

People tell me how they looooove the rain, oh how it is so soothing and relaxing.

This rain, no, this rain just made me sad. It was quite literally taking my happy, starting to eat away at my beautiful snow.

That snow envelopes me and makes me feel safe and free and something about this rain, the clouds, clouded my mind with sads, all the things that kept me caged. All my worries came rushing into my brain just as that rain rushed from the sky to the ground.

My dad came in from being and work and exclaimed, “It is disgusting outside.” Hmmm, close. It is some sort of icky that makes you wonder why the sun isn’t there.

I replied with, “It’s sad outside.”

Sure, maybe it’s weird that I, an almost 20-year-old, played in the snow, squealing and laughing, all by myself. And, sure, maybe it is crazy that today’s weather casted a cloud of insecurity that led me to tears for pretty much no reason.

But, this is my kingdom. And I can’t sit on my mailbox throne if the steps are melted.

11:52 p.m.