For the last few months, I’ve been joking that I should get a do-over for this year and continue to be 49 until the world gets its shit together. The truth is – as crazy as 2020 has been – it has helped prepare me to enter the second half of my life.
Last year for my birthday, I traveled half-way across the country to the Sanctuary at Camel Back Spa in Arizona and I treated myself like royalty. I went for a mindfulness and meditation retreat and hours of spa services that turned my body into Jell-O and brought my mind closer to a sense of long sought-after peace. My birthday dinner was with four women from the retreat who I had never met before and who all turned out to have amazing life stories and journeys - one of whom has become a good friend. What most people don’t know as they read my posts is that I had run off halfway across the country to spend my birthday with strangers because I was mostly broken. My long-term relationship had ended, and I was in the process of trying to figure out who I was by myself. Who was I without this man who had been a part of my life for 17 years? I went into my 49th birthday with the need to be among strangers as I tried to unearth parts of myself long buried and heal my heart. It definitely jump-started the process.
My current Facebook profile picture is from my birthday last year. It started with room service breakfast and a mimosa which was followed by a whole morning of spa treatments including a mud wrap, massage, facial and hair mask and head massage. I came back to my room to find the spa had left me a bottle of champagne and a dozen fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. I took my profile picture mid-bottle and somewhere around the third or fourth cookie.
I came back from the trip rejuvenated and convinced (mostly) that I was going to be ok. I have survived worse events in my life than a broken heart and I had definitely found the right place to begin the healing. I spent every night in my private outside tub drinking champagne and looking up at the stars and imagining the next chapter in my life. I recognized how privileged I was that I had the opportunity and means to run away and create the circumstances for a hard reset on my life and that most people do not have that option.
When I returned from my trip, and after I had begged the cats’ forgiveness for my absence, I looked around and quickly determined that everything had to go. Every nook and cranny of my house had memories attached to my ex. I donated everything. I pulled up the carpets and replaced them with hardwood floors. I took all of the art off the walls. It all had to go. My family, friends and coworkers surely thought I was a bit of a mad woman (which I was but I was a mad woman with a purpose). I wanted a blank slate to start over again. I wanted to shake the Etch-a-Sketch of my life completely clean. I slept on a blow-up mattress for several months while I imagined my new life and shopped. There was one rule. Every item that I bought – right down to a spatula – had to make me smile. There needed to be bright colors and joy. I slowly began to design my home with only my joy in mind. I reclaimed my space.
At the same time, I was exercising like a beast because heaven forbid, I go into my fifties not only single but of out shape. I began to brutalize myself over what I ate and what I weighed and how hard I worked out - which was at complete odds with the peaceful, Zen-like world I was trying to create.
As it happens, life had a plan to bring me back to earth, back to center, back in balance. In January (which feels like a lifetime ago), I was putting the last touches on my redecorating efforts by hanging a bright, colorful Kate Spade shower curtain and new shower curtain rod. It became a knock down drag out fight between me and the tension rod – the likes of which haven’t been seen since Snoopy battled the lawn chair. There was cussing and tears on my end and the complete refusal to stick to the wall by the curtain rod. Finally, I said “fuck it” and decided to drink wine. I stepped off the stool, lost my balance and fell with a loud thud. My head landed between the sink and the toilet. I narrowly missed receiving one of those fatal blows to the head you see in movies or read about in books (in fact there is one featured in my book Killed It – I can work a book promo in almost all of my posts and I will because I have no shame.)
I knew instantly my foot was broken (I would later find out that I'm an over achiever and broke it in three places). I have a lot of first hand experience with broken bones – a broken elbow crossing the street on Good Friday in 1991, three broken ribs from being thrown down by an ocean wave while in the Bahamas, a broken nose doing laundry (dryer lids are evil assholes) and a broken toe from an angry (possibly drunken) flounce into my bed room on my 21st birthday.
I slowly drug myself across the floor to get to my phone (which was two rooms away) as if Michael Meyers was after me – and called my sister and her husband, Daryl. It helps to have a physical therapist in the family. His expertise was definitely needed to get me down the stairs as I sobbed uncontrollably.
January 25th began my year of isolation, almost two months before anyone else would join me. Luckily, I work from home but everything else changed. There was no way I could navigate my steep pitched open Brady Bunch stairs with a cast on my foot. I learned quickly that I had made an excellent choice in my new couch. It became my bed, my workspace, my dining room, the cats’ main napping area. I lived seven weeks of my life on that couch while I rolled around in my office chair to get to the bathroom and the kitchen.
Suddenly, I had to learn to be dependent on people which has never been easy for me. Asking for help was almost painful because I have never wanted to be a burden on anyone. But I did. And as a result, I found out that it was comforting to lean on another human for help. If someone offers to help, most of them really do mean it. If you need help, take them up on their offer. My sister brought me groceries and took me to her house to shower since my bathroom was unreachable due to the staircase from hell. Also, I wasn’t quite ready to visit the scene of the crime. Sheila, my best friend brought me food and wine and tales from the world outside including her adventures in learning how to tap dance and sing in front of an audience to be in a musical.
I wallowed in self-pity on occasion as I felt the weight I had struggled to lose start to creep back on and bringing with it several extra friends. But for the most part, I didn’t drop down into a well of depression and anxiety which I have a tendency to do. Thanks to me, my therapist got some practice in telehealth Zoom sessions before Covid hit. I found myself repeatedly whispering – “let yourself heal” – and I meant more than my foot.
Freedom came in the form of a hot pink knee scooter. Sheila would help me navigate out of my house and in and out of the car in order to take me to Nomada, my favorite bakery, owned by some of my favorite people. I would set up at one of the tables every Sunday for five hours to eat (calories be damned), write, read, watch people, and visit with my friends. Those trips saved my sanity. But my freedom was to be short lived. I got my boot off and was ready to drive again three days before Covid shut everything down.
During the early days of Covid, my life reverted pretty much back to normal. I had progressed enough to crawl up and down my stairs and sleep in my own bed. I had made amends with the shower curtain which Daryl had finished hanging without incident. I had everything that I needed to nest comfortably. All of my furniture brought me joy. I was thankful that I was not trapped in a house full of old, painful memories everywhere I looked. It was if somehow, I instinctually knew that I had to create my dream home immediately because I wouldn’t be leaving it any time soon. And I’ve not left the house much this year. I pick up my groceries, I order in food, I have two single friends that are in my “pod” who I will go to their house or they will come to mine so that there is at least some actual interaction with people. I have Zoom happy hours. While the weather is still nice, I have occasionally gone to Nomada, masked up, and sat on their outdoor patio to eat their fabulous food, write my get out the vote postcards, and people watch. It takes all of my effort not to yell “put a fucking mask on - you motherfucking ratlickers” when I see selfish people acting as if the world hasn’t changed.
So, I’m going into this birthday with a different mindset from the last. I can’t run away to a fancy spa, there will be no party or celebrations other than with my cats. I’m perfecting the art of drinking champagne and eating cake in the tub. I’ve found peace through meditation, yoga, Ayurveda, and an eerily accurate Jyotisha astrology reading. I have everything I need for spa days at my house with masks for my face, hands and feet, and a foot and neck massager that leave me limp and in need of a cigarette afterwards. I take a bottle of champagne to the tub and sing poorly along with whatever music I tell Alexa to play for me.
I’m hearing the voices of Ally and Tristan Malcom talk to me again as I gear up to write the sequel to Killed It. Creativity is finally finding its way back in my world again. It had left me for a bit. I’m finding my way into some magic, not the bunny out of the hat kind, the charging your tarot cards under the new moon kind. The tearing up 20 years of journals and burning them under the new moon to release their energy from my life. I’ve gotten in touch with my inner thirteen-year-old self and rekindled my love for stickers and I’ve gotten over the anxiety of being afraid to permanently affix them to things. Yes, I gave myself a sticker for that life-changing achievement.
Everything that has happened since my last birthday has prepared me to go into the second half of my life stronger and more at peace than I was last year. I’m a bit heavier weight wise but I’m much lighter emotionally. I have gotten to know myself better – you have to with this much solitude – and I discovered that I am quite delightful, if I do say so myself. At least I enjoy my own company and that is the most important thing. I am starting to use the home gym I created but I am not killing myself to obtain some “perfect” body. I’d much rather be healthy and rocking a caftan than look great in a pair of leather leggings.
I’m going into this year with a sense of urgency about participating in democracy and trying to be a more responsible citizen of the world in terms of recycling and volunteering and listening to the needs of others and figuring out how I can help even if it is just donating money. I’ve learned to appreciate the slow quite moments of life – like throwing a shit ton of sunflower seeds on the front porch for all the wildlife. Watching the cats watch the birds, squirrels, chipmunks and voles while I drink my morning tea.
Last year, as I soaked in my private outside tub at the spa and drank champagne, this was not the life I had imagined for myself. Honestly, I can’t even remember what I had envisioned. But it is all working out as it should. In my astrology reading, I learned that my spirit in this life decided not to bring any merit with it from prior lives for this journey. My first response to hearing that was “why the fuck did I do that? Can I send for it now?” However, the more I settle into this life that I’ve created for myself, the more it becomes clear that maybe my spirit had the right idea – I can get through anything on my own with the help of my dear friends. If things go wrong (which clearly 2020 has taught us that they will) then I will just continue to follow the sage wisdom of Miley Cyrus – “can’t stop; won’t stop.”
For my birthday – please get out and vote. Democracy depends on it. And if anyone finds a very fashionable bag of merit laying around could you please return it to me?
I decided to take my grief and write about my long, weird road to having the honor of appearing before the Honorable and Notorious RBG (it is a bit long but I've tried to make it entertaining and informative – enterformative(?):
RBG was appointed to the Court in 1993, a year before I entered law school. Now, here's an embarrassing admission that I have to make about myself to be fully transparent a writer - I was a staunch conservative at the time. I'm from WV and I was raised from the cradle hearing all of the conservative talking points and taking them all in and fervently believing them. I tried to envision myself as a compassionate-conservative, but I don't know that I always was, and I have been trying to atone for that since I became "woke" as they call it during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. I mention my background not only to be transparent to provide some hope that yes, conservatives can be reached and once reached they too can be flipped to seeing the light and become fierce liberals that join the fight for justice. It might take a crisis to open our eyes but once they are open, they never shut again. A lot of people will never open their eyes and these rat lickers who won't wear masks are probably among them but there are reachable ones and we are having a new crisis every day.
Even as a conservative lawyer I was impressed with RBG and admired the hell out of her. Once I became "woke" I became a super fan, but she was always a role model because we had so few as women in the law.
I started my legal career as a writ clerk for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Essentially, it was my job to read the appeals in criminal cases and child abuse and neglect cases (the things I saw in those cases are for a whole different post and none of it involves Q). I would then present both sides of the cases to the Justices in chambers and they would vote on whether to take the case or not.
I have always had a deep respect for appellate level cases. It is literally how we protect the rule of law in this country. It is why I'm so fierce about protecting the legitimacy of our Court systems. I don't think we survive as a democracy if the Courts become politicized which is what McConnel has been doing rapidly and aggressively for the past three years. It legitimately frightens me. Because in my years as a clerk I did see instances of pure politics in the chambers when they were voting on whether to take cases. In addition, as I will get to later, the case I was in front of RBG for was about politicizing the Court.
I felt honored to work in the halls of justice, especially right out of the gate of law school. I had also clerked for local Judges during the summer I was a first-year student. I have deep respect for the work that they do and at one time aspired to be a Judge myself. Every time I stepped foot into the Court it never got less impressive or less magical. The WV Court was designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert in the early 1930's. The Court is impressive, stately and beautiful. In fact, it was so impressive, stately and beautiful that Gilbert replicated the design for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935.
I never took for granted the history and precedent and weightiness of my job. It was an honor to work there and the stories I have from behind the scenes could fill an entire book. So, imagine my surprise when years later the actions of the West Virginia Supreme Court would take me to the hallowed halls of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.
At that time, I was working for a firm, which along with two other firms, had obtained a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Coal and Don Blankenship, a true scourge on society, in a case for fraudulent misrepresentation, concealment, and tortious interference with existing contractual relations. Instead of paying the verdict, Blankenship pumped $3 million dollars into the 2004 judicial election to get a "liberal" incumbent judge booted from office with a vote margin of fewer than 50,000 votes - (voting fucking matters!) The Justice who got elected on the back of the $3 million-dollar expenditure refused to recuse himself from hearing the appeal and ultimately voted with two other Justices (it’s a 5 Justice Court) to overturn the jury verdict. It was a move that attracted so much national attention that John Grisham based his novel "The Appeal" on it. (Fun fact, after the decision came out anonymous photographs appeared at our office that revealed that Blankenship had taken one of the other Justices to the Grand Kingdom of Monoco while the case was being heard, however, this corruption was not part of the appeal).
I worked with attorneys from the two other firms drafting one of the most important legal briefs of my career. We brought in nationally renowned counsel Ted Olson to argue the case. Ted Olson famously represented Bush in Bush v. Gore (I know - boo! - also my sincerest apologies for my vote for Bush - I hadn't seen the light yet). Olson has since redeemed himself by defeating the homophobic Prop 8 in California and telling Trump "that's a no from me dawg" (possible paraphrasing) when asked to join his legal team in 2018.
Ted Olson was my sponsoring attorney for admission to the U.S. Supreme Court. All of the other attorneys had been previously admitted so I was the only one to get admitted on the day of the oral argument which meant that I got to sit in the front row of the Court. It was absolutely bizarre walking into the Court and feeling like I was already intimately familiar with it from my two years at the WV Court. It was the same - just larger. I was seated in front of Justices Breyer (who has a ridiculously sexy voice) and Tomas (you best believe I made sure to keep my legs crossed so that pervert couldn't see up my skirt).
RBG was on the other side of the Court but I was just ecstatic that she was actually there because it had been in doubt. The oral argument took place on March 3, 2009. On February 5, 2009, RBG had undergone surgery for early stage pancreatic cancer, the type which would ultimately take her life.
Before the argument, Ted Olson had me stand up and introduced me to the Court and gave a very brief summary of my background (first of my family to attend law school, etc). Chief Justice Roberts administered my oath (please save democracy dude - I don't want to have to rip up my admission Certificate that you signed) and welcomed me to the Court as did all of the other Justices. I will never forget the warmth of the smile that RBG gave me. Never. She was who I was focused on - certainly not Scalia or that potted-plant Alito.
Here's another side-tangent. Olson who appears before the Court regularly has taken his mother to every single oral argument that he has done before the Court. The entire Court said hello to her and welcomed her and it warmed my heart.
During the argument, Scalia was naturally all for the defendants' claims that there was no need for a Justice, who received $3 million in election help, to be required to recuse himself from a case involving the donor. RBG was simply not having it and her questions and comments (along with Breyer’s - hello daddy) completely decimated the defendants' arguments. At one point, Scalia interrupted her question to try to mansplain the issue to her. I wish I had a picture of the look she gave him and could remember the exact words that she said that cut him off at the knees but I was too busy conforming my fact to look neutral and professional when all I wanted to do was fist-pump and yell "go girl - drag him!"
After the argument, Olson took everyone who worked on the case in any capacity - attorney, paralegal, secretary etc. to a rented-out Morton's Steak House. He proceeded to go around the room and personally thank everyone for their hard work. It was one of the classiest moves that I've ever seen by an attorney of his stature. His mother obviously raised him right.
We ultimately won that appeal with RBG's vote and an opinion written by Justice Kennedy (dude really? You just had to retire when democracy was hanging by a thread? Asshat). Unfortunately, on remand, the W.Va. S. Ct. went into damage control mode (the publicity from the Grisham book was in high gear) and circled the wagons and again wrongfully overturned the verdict. It was a long, sad lesson that even with the law on your side that evil can still win. I'll admit that it damaged my faith in the rule of law.
With all of that in mind, I do worry that the days of the historical significance and reverence for the Court are fading before us. I wept for days when Kavanaugh's nomination was pushed through despite all of the allegations not only of sexual assault but his mysteriously paid off debts. I was lucky enough to be in Court on a day that happened to be an example of what the legal world should aspire to every day. But with the fast tracking of RBG's replacement and AG Bill Barr's bent toward totalitarianism we have a lot to be concerned about.
It was bitter cold that day walking up the steps to the Court, but I took in every moment and realized what a great privilege that I had to be a part of it all. How did I - a first generation attorney from West Virginia who attended state colleges (UK undergrad and WVU law school) who fancied themselves a writer - get to the inside of the hallowed grounds of our nation's Court system? I have been extremely fortunate in my career to work with some of the finest attorneys in the country. I have always tried to do what's right, what is just in my legal career and to fight for the underdog and those who need it. There were a few missteps along the way when I worked on the defense side for a few years, but I walked away quickly once I began to feel it eat away the edges of my soul.
Currently, my firm, along with many others, are gearing up to take on the pharmaceutical companies for creating the opioid crisis in our country. The trial starts on October 19th, I will be carrying RBG's spirit into the battle. Too many people have lost their lives or their loved ones to the scourge of addiction.
At the same time, I will be fighting, organizing to get out the vote, voting and calling my Senators to implore them to not let this impeached conman, who is currently considerably down in the polls, and his henchmen (looking at you fucking McConnell - you piece of shit) when voting has already started, deny RBG's last wish that she not be replaced until after the inauguration of a new President. To paraphrase Obama - don't cry - vote. We vote and we fight. We fight for RBG, John Lewis, and Elijah Cummings. We have lost a great deal in 2020 (including those who were victims of police violence and the disastrous response to Covid-19). We fight for them. We cannot give up hope or cave into cynicism. I know that I won't, however tempting it may be. We can and will be heard in Nov. Don't give up.