Mental Floss recently posted a conversation starter question: Some dates carry broad significance, and everyone remembers exactly what they were doing. February 1, 1993, is not among them. But think back to this date (ish) in 1993. What was going on in your life? If you could give your 1993 self three words of advice, what would you say?
1993 was the year I saw someone die. It was one of the most pivotal years in my life. I was 22, about to turn 23, my boyfriend at the time had just dumped me for our new roommate (who 10 years later turned out to be the Villain of my star-crossed love story) and I ended up having to move in with my grandparents. I was a high school drop-out with no skills and only fast food job experience, and my health was failing me. I had developed the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis, only because I didn’t have health insurance and had to rely on Medicaid no one gave a fuck. It would be almost 15 years before anyone would diagnose what was going on with me, and by then the disease had been whittling away at my spinal cord and brain long enough that the damage was done. I am still bitter about the fact that I can no longer dance, run, or walk without feeling like I am trying to run underwater. My cousin was working as a home hospice care worker and needed help with a patient who needed 24hr care. The family couldn’t afford to hire another CNA, so she brought me in cheap. The woman we were taking care of was only in her 60s, but after a lifetime of an abusive husband, criminals for children, and unrealized dreams she had just given up and taken to her bed. Eventually she started to develop health problems and was having small strokes that left her confused and partially paralyzed. Her esophagus stopped working and she would choke on anything you tried to feed her. She was a no-code (meaning no artificial means of life support, meaning no feeding tube) and we literally had to watch her slowly die of starvation and thirst.
I will spare you the details of what those 9 days were like, because they were nightmarish. That she lasted that long was remarkable. That modern medicine would do nothing to end her pain was unconscionable. My cousin and I discussed various ways to stop her suffering; a pillow over her face, an overdose of her morphine suppositories, but ultimately neither one of us had the stones to do it. We were girls in their early 20s, and even though both of us had already been through hell and back (she was a former drug addict and street kid who had been having a lesbian relationship with a meth-addicted prostitute, I spent my teens as a goth chick living off beer, potatoes, weed, and sex in a barn with a rock band. Welcome to the Jerry Springer side of my family) neither one of us were jaded enough to murder another human being, even if it would have been a mercy. The woman finally died one evening as we were sitting in her room watching “Hairspray” (I still can’t watch that movie). Her breathing became labored and eventually she just… stopped. People often talk about the miracle of birth, I am here to tell you that death is no less miraculous. One moment, there is a person there, even in a coma there is life there. Then, suddenly, it is gone. As sudden as shutting off a light or snuffing a candle, and just as easy. It left me with no doubt in my mind that there is something more to the state of “life” than just chemicals and synapses.
My life was never the same after that day. I spent weeks thinking about the decisions I had made with my life. In the following 12 months I got my GED, went to college to study anthropology, and eventually moved to Los Angeles to be with my best friend and pursue a career in the adult entertainment industry. Yes, I actually sought that out, because as a sex-positive third wave feminist I wanted that experience. I had spent my entire life the fat ugly duckling, I wanted to know what it was like to be a swan. I wanted to live my life, chase my dreams, explore my being, experience life in all its facets. And live it I did. Because I did not want to die at the age of 66 in a bed with 2 white trash hussies keeping death watch, riddled with bedsores and reeking like piss after having lived an unfulfilled and sheltered life. I have seen and done things in this lifetime that I can’t even begin to describe. Between my jobs in health care, child care, and sex work I have seen the human body do just about every thing a human body can do and then some. I have learned and grown and sought and reached with every fiber of my being and every ounce of my soul. I have loved and hated and raged and laughed. I have been seduced and worshiped and battered and reviled. I have been the hero of my own story as well as the villain (and believe me, no one can fuck up my life like I can). I worn so many hats, been called so many names. I have been a companion, a friend, a whore, a slave, a teacher, a nanny, a housekeeper, a boss, a receptionist, a health care worker, a student, an entertainer, a writer, a priestess, a housewife, a mistress, an assistant, a waitress, a model, an actress, and so many other things. And I am nowhere near done yet. Middle age is proving to be a great adventure, and I approach it with every ounce of anticipation, excitement, and horror as I have every other stage of my life so far.
So my 3 words of advice to my 23 year old self?
It’ll be AMAZING!
Since that day in 1993, I have tried to live my life according to the mantra of my favorite fellow diva/drag queen/gay man trapped in a woman’s body: