To Them, I Owe My Wings

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| This is the 328th story of Our Life Logs |


My beginning was safe. I had a mother who loved me unconditionally and never let me out of her sight. But, even unconditional love and a safe home can harbor rough seas when you are the only one keeping the boat afloat.

My mom had me out of wedlock in Gonzalez, Louisiana, in 1955. Either she never knew who my father was, or he hurt her so much, she couldn’t ever speak his name again, because I never knew who he was or where he lived. I badgered my mom about it for years until in 10th grade she looked at me and started crying. My mom never cried. What my mom did do is control every minute of my life. You think I exaggerate?

She was a beautician who operated her beauty salon in our home. She was always there. She cooked beautiful dinners just for me and her. We watched TV shows that she liked and approved of for me. I never went anywhere without her. When I turned 16 and took driver’s education at school, my mom went to the principal’s office to withdraw me from that class. She told me and the principal that I would never be permitted to drive. When I graduated high school, I wasn’t allowed to attend graduation for fear I would slip away in the crowd. Instead, she had the school mail my diploma to the house.

I don’t exaggerate.

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I cycled through the next 20 years while my mom did everything for me. She ironed my sheets. She cooked my meals. Every time I tried to help do anything, even making my own bed, she would start having an anxiety attack. Twice, we had to go to the hospital emergency room because her attacks would be so powerful. We would go by ambulance because I still couldn’t drive. She would discharge herself against medical advice because she was afraid to leave me alone.

My mom wanted me to join her and become a beautician and, while it wasn’t my dream job, I truly didn’t feel I had any other option but to do what she wanted. After I turned 18 years old, I quit trying to have a life. I graduated from beauty school with my mom taking me and picking me up every day.

Love can suffocate someone. Her love did suffocate me. When I was 38, I was like a perpetual caterpillar stuck in a cocoon weaved with love that I couldn’t get away from. Neither of us had friends. We had each other, but we didn’t have a life. We only had customers.

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One day, my mom sent me to the storage room to get some hair dye for a customer she was working on and by the time I got back, she was laying on the floor without a pulse. The customer told me she just fell over. Not a word came out. No sign of distress. Just as if someone unplugged her from the wall and she quit ticking.

When I buried my mom, I found out for the first time she was only 16 years older than me. I was surprised to learn how very young she was when she had me, but I had no desire to find out what happened. My life, which had never really started, was so far away from me that I had no interest in anything.

I did have to learn how to drive because I needed to go get beauty supplies and groceries from time to time. If you are waiting to see the moment when I grabbed a new car, hit the road, and never looked back, then you will be disappointed. I just picked up where she left off when she died. I kept the beauty salon open, took over her customers, and never went anywhere other than the store. I wasn’t afraid of life. I didn’t know what life was.

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A couple years went by in a cycle, but finally, life made itself known to me. The day started normally. I finished my last customer of the day and headed off to the beauty salon store. I remember purchasing the items I needed, getting in my car, putting my seat belt on, and safely backing out of my parking spot. When I got to the country road that took me to my home, a drunk teenager came around the curve in the opposite direction and hit me head on.

I don’t remember the crash. I found out much later, the drunk teenager didn’t stand a chance as he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Because I had my seat belt on, I survived with a broken back. When I woke up, I was told I would never walk again. Don’t get me wrong, it scared me when the man in the mask told me that, but I never believed him. I can’t tell you why I didn’t believe him. I just knew he was wrong.

I had no visitors except for a couple of customers. I admitted to myself, maybe for the first time, no one would care if I lived or died. I even thought about my funeral and having no one show up. After all, no one knew me or anything about me. Even if someone did show up, what could they say about me? I had lived in a void for 38 years. I wasn’t anyone’s aunt or cousin. I had no friends. I knew no family. I thought to myself, I almost left this world without ever touching life or being present.

I made a vow to myself then and there, no matter what happened and whether I learned to walk again or not, I would find my life. I would live to know what life was.

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The one thing I had that I didn’t have to worry about at all was money. I never knew where it came from or how my mom had it. It was possible she made it from the beauty salon by saving every penny. I knew I had enough money for almost any eventuality and I was damned if I was going to spend it in a wheelchair. It was time for me to break my cocoon forever and learn how to fly. I just had to get my legs to work again. I committed everything I had inside me to make that happen.

Rehabilitation was the worst living hell imaginable. Every time I saw my physical therapist, I wanted to throw something at her. I didn’t want to hurt her, so I thought a pillow would work great. But she read my thoughts and took all my pillows away.

Late at night, I lay in the hospital bed doing the endless, repetitive exercises that my physical therapist had me doing. It hurt so much that I bit my lip down to blood many times, but, even still, I never quit. It never dawned me I could give up.  When you are brought up without being allowed to live or participate in anything, you also never learn about winning or losing. I figured everyone has to keep doing things they hate because that’s what people do. So, I kept going.

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In the process of learning to walk again, I gained much, much more than muscle tone. I gained my first friends.

Richard was a nurse’s aide who was in love with my physical therapist who didn’t even know his name. She called him, ‘hey you,’ and he called her, ‘an angel.’ He made me laugh until I cried. The first time I laughed until I cried, I must have looked so surprised that when Richard asked me what was wrong, I told him I didn’t know I could laugh like that.

He told me that all I had to do was hang around him and he would introduce me to his family, and I would laugh until I cried every single day because his family was an Italian-Cajun mish-mash of cultures and food groups.

When I was released from the hospital and had to be picked up in a wheel-chair accessible van, I was sat outside in my driveway a few days a week for 45 minutes before the van was scheduled to arrive. I guess my punctuality led me to befriend my neighbor, Cheryl.

When people passed by in cars or on foot, I noticed them swirling their hands around in the air as if they were swatting flies. Eventually, I reasoned that it was too frequent to be incidental, so I kept looking behind me to see if someone I didn’t know was standing there.

After a few swatting-fly exchanges with my neighbor, Cheryl, I found out that these people weren’t swatting flies in their car nor was there anyone ever behind me, they were waving at me. I started crying at the realization that nameless people, that I might only know in passing but knew nothing about, were waving at me. At this, I felt like I had been crowned Miss America, and later taped a couple of Miss America shows to learn how to wave back at them correctly. What I didn’t know at the time was that many of those people thought my hands and arms had been affected by the accident I had because I was waving at them with the Queen of England’s wave!

I was so excited to find out there were people out there who wanted to be nice to me. I didn’t know how to process that nor what to do with it. Cheryl even began stopping by my house with food—I never knew having friends meant you eat so much more food—and later made appointments with me to do things together, just to do things like watch a movie or go shopping.

That’s when I figured good friends meant you helped each other no matter what, and it made me very determined to change everything in my life.

Tina and Cheryl
Me (left) and my friend, Cheryl (right).

So, I started to tell Richard and Cheryl my very limited life story. The life story that included no one but my mom and had no events in it other than my mom’s death and a horrific car accident.

After I told both of them my limited life story, I told them I thought I wasn’t interesting enough to go out and find love. Richard told me, “Opinions are the children of a closed mind and life was for the living and living life was about love.” Cheryl said that, “Life was meant to be lived in like an old coat with many pockets in it. Each one has something new you forgot you had or never knew you owned. Go live life and find those things.” My friends gave me the confidence to fly.

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I was given a clean bill of health after 18 months. I was 39 years old. I decided to book a cruise and really live. I learned to swim. I danced. I fell in love. I found that I had a sense of adventure. I learned about “bucket lists” and I got so excited that I went out and bought 10 notebooks to fill the pages of all I wanted to see and do and conquer. I spent the next year traveling to every continent and came home with a husband. His name was Stavros (but everyone called him Steve). Together, we flew.

Tina in Finland
With Starvos in Finland.

When I turned 60 in 2015, I lost my dear Starvos to a brain tumor. At his funeral, there were over 250 people. Some were there for him because he was an incredible man. And some were there for me because that is what friends do. I will be forever grateful for my life, for my wings, and for the love that I found when being present.

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This is the story of Tina Chris

Tina grew up as an only child of a single mother who dictated her every decision. For this reason, Tina cycled through the first 40 years of her life, never making relationships with anyone but her mother. Upon a car accident that hindered the mobility of Tina’s legs, she realized how important it was to live a life that is meaningful.

Tina in Egypt
Tina in Egypt.

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This story first touched our hearts on March 1, 2019.

| Writer: Samantha Seconds | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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