Rest in Peace, Stephen “tWitch” Boss

Trigger warning: suicide

You’ve made your way to this blog. Thank you for reading. I want you to know that you’re not alone. I love you, even if I don’t know you yet, and you can talk to me.

When Stephen “tWitch” Boss exploded on the dance scene, appearing on So You Think You Can Dance, I was instantly entranced by his larger-than-life grin, expressive eyes, and incredible dance moves. He had a magnetism inside of him that was made of 100% pure love. He was one of those people you couldn’t help but adore, and to the outside world, it looked like it couldn’t get much better for him. His wife and three beautiful children added to his seemingly perfect life, and they danced right alongside him.

Like tWitch, my life was permanently altered by dance. I may not have met my spouse on a reality dance show or achieved world-wide fame, but dance came to me at a point in my life where I needed the exact focus and direction it provided. At 24 years old, I began belly dancing thanks to my cousin Yemaya, and it had a huge part in making me the person I am today. From the first day I saw tWitch embody the music with his passion and positive spirit, I was inspired.  

If you’ve been on social media (kudos to you if you’re on a break, we could all use one), you’re most likely aware of the devasting loss that the dance community felt with the announcement of his suicide last week.

Finding out he had passed away was a shock. Realizing that he had actually taken his own life was something I was completely unprepared for. My head felt tight and my chest ached; I clutched my face in my hands and held my breath, hoping it wasn’t real. Tears stung my eyes. All of my thoughts immediately went to his wife Allison and their kids. I couldn’t imagine what kind of horrific pain they must be in if I, a stranger, felt like this.

Next, I felt complete confusion. Why? Why had he done this? Why had he decided that his loving light wasn’t meant for this world any longer? Where had his light gone? It seems clear that we as the general public won’t be able to make sense of his personal tragedy any time soon, if ever. That is for his family to get through. But something that his death triggered in me was an inherent fear that I was possibly missing the signs in the people I love.

Society paints a picture of depressed people walking around with clouds over their heads and happy people with the sun shining all around them. At the height of my depression almost 20 years ago, that’s exactly what it felt like to me, though I didn’t like showing it. Reading about tWitch’s death reminded me of a conversation I had with a coworker during this time. I had confided in her that I was taking antidepressants, and she looked at me in surprise.

“YOU? You’re depressed? But you’re always so perky and happy!” And I realized that even though I wasn’t purposely trying to hide this part of me, I did make it a habit to appear chipper, never wanting to put my emotional baggage into someone else’s trunk. I didn’t want them to think it was their responsibility to make me smile.

The thing is, it partially IS their responsibility. (I know not everyone is going to agree with this, and that’s totally okay!) Relationships are a huge part of what makes us human. We have good ones, we have bad ones. The hope is that we’ll learn the lessons from the bad ones, and the few that stand beside us consistently will have our backs and help us get through the hard times. We need to check in with our people.

If we don’t tell them, how can they help us?

On the other hand, our responsibility, when we feel down, is to reach out when we’re in pain. It’s one of the hardest things to do, because as much as we value a community, it’s also astonishingly hard to burden them with our troubles.

So, we’re expected to obtain a utopia wherein we easily talk to our friends and family when times get tough, while also having the wherewithal to make sure every single person in our life is happy and content? I’ll be the first one to say that’s nearly impossible. But please, try. Please. People need to know they are loved. Maybe it’s not the person you might expect. Maybe it’s the friend with the picture-perfect Instagram photos. Maybe it’s a stranger on the bus who could use a random smile or compliment. And if you’re the one feeling down, do the hard thing if you possibly can. Reach out to someone, anyone, and tell them you’re not okay. It’s the hardest, bravest thing you might ever do, but it will be a life-altering thing.

Last week I knew I wanted to write something about tWitch, because his existence made mine more joyous. I knew it would roll into a mental health conversation, but I need to end this blog on tWitch. I still have to process my sadness, but I’ll forever be grateful that the world I know had tWitch in it. Without ever having met him, I can say that he made an impact on me as a dancer and as a human being. I hope he is at peace now.

Static

A friend of mine recently introduced me to YeahWrite, a community dedicated to the craft of writing. While exploring their website, I discovered a section called Super Challenge. I was intrigued! Turns out, this group puts on a writing contest every quarter. Winners receive fun prizes, and even better, street cred for winning a writing contest! Entrants have 48 hours to write on a specific prompt that is sent to them by email when the clock chimes 7 PM on a Friday, and must be completed by 7 PM on Sunday. I decided to do it, and to my absolute astonishment, I won my first round! Since Round 1 is now officially over, I am able to post my essay to my blog. I would be honored if you read my mostly-true, essay. Please see below for the prompt and following response. And if you’re curious, I just finished the second and final round of Super Challenge. I’ll be sure to let you know the results when I get them! Wish me luck.

Reader, I have one request. This is a very raw and, again, mostly-true essay, and even though it talks about painful things in my recent past, this writing is about ME and not the other person. Writing this helped ME get through my pain to a more peaceful state of mind. I know you will probably have opinions about what you read, but please remember that we are all human and I’m sharing this with a tiny bit of fear in my heart about judgments. I truly appreciate your discretion and compassion as you read, and I ask that you hold space in your heart for the beauty of the pain that we as humans endure as part of our growth.

Love it or hate it, you’ve probably slept alone at some point in your life. Tell us about it. Persuade us that it’s the best, or the worst, way to sleep. Tell us a mostly-true story about the first time you slept alone after moving in with your partner. See where the prompt takes you!

YeahWrite Super Challenge #23, Round 1 Essay

Sheets can feel deliciously tranquil when they’re fresh and haven’t been mussed up by the complexities of love, resentment, or anger.

I was putting new sheets on the bed by myself for the first time in four years. I should have been thrilled with the smell of crisp Egyptian cotton and the opportunity to spread my limbs starfish-style, but I knew feeling happy again wouldn’t be that easy. Getting the courage to move to the middle of the mattress would mean admitting he wasn’t coming back.

Truthfully, the bed hadn’t been all that comfortable when I’d shared it with Miguel. We were both hot sleepers, and a queen size just didn’t give us the freedom to separate when we needed to, but we couldn’t afford the king we so desperately wanted. I actually didn’t mind it, considering that I thought we were so giddy in lust with each other that we didn’t want to stop touching even for a moment, much less eight hours.

Laundry was one of my chores. I began working from home because of the pandemic, so it just made sense for me to do it while attempting to get a few extra steps in during the work day. Miguel was in sales and had to continue to go into the office every day, and yet still made it a big deal if I didn’t fold his t-shirts the way he liked.

You’re lucky I’m doing your laundry at all, I would mutter to myself as I folded the T-shirts the same way I’d done it for the last 20 years. But tonight, neither one of us were lucky. As per usual, I dumped the clean load on our bed and started rescuing underwear and socks from staticky t-shirts. I pulled a pair of what I thought were strangely feminine boxer briefs away from a ripped-up Metallica tee that he refused to get rid of, and placed both on his side of the bed.

Later, when he returned from his office and settled onto the couch, he pulled me close to him and kissed me. A static Pop! exploded between our lips and we both exclaimed before blaming each other for the shock.

“You’re wearing wool socks!” I huffed.

“Well, you practically shuffled all the way over here!” He volleyed back.

Around 10:30 PM, we hauled ourselves upstairs. He glanced at the clothes on the bed and began putting them away. He picked up the underwear I’d blinked at earlier, and threw them on my side without a word.

In the one second that it took those women’s boyshorts to fly through the air and land on my side of the bed, I’d figured it out. Instantly I knew who they belonged to and when it had happened. And clearly, it had happened in my bed. Our bed.

The bed that I am now sleeping in alone.

Did you know that static electricity happens when positive and negative charges aren’t balanced? When an object has extra electrons, it has a negative charge that causes a spark, and in this case, that spark blew up our life together.

Waves of rage ran furiously through my body the first few nights I slept by myself. I punched the mattress that had been witness to the destruction he had caused. I cried into the pillow he’d bought me for Christmas. I refused to look at his side, much less touch it.

I had to force my body to stretch out, and eventually started to wiggle my way towards the middle. There were many nights that my heart would infiltrate my brain, making me think I was being disloyal to the other side of the bed, and so I would straighten up and go back to my side. One night, though, I woke up around midnight in what felt like a death match with an octopus, desperately needing to pee. I struggled with the blankets, trying to grasp my edge of the bed so I could escape and stumble down the hall to relieve myself. It felt like it took forever.

When I got back into my bedroom, the covers looked as tormented as I felt. Sheets had been heaved aside in my quest to get to the bathroom; blankets had twisted into one another. There was a street lamp just outside my window, and the glow it gave off allowed me just enough visibility to see that I had completely torn up my bed for no reason. I’d wiggled and writhed to get out of the bed on my own side. I hadn’t even given it the thought that I could have just slipped out on his side and made my night a whole lot easier.

After that realization, the migration began. Those next few nights, I left the bed on whatever side I wanted, and my midnight pee felt like a victory.

It was a victory I needed.

I have not let myself grieve to the point of being at peace. I am still in trauma state. My head and heart worked together long enough to end the relationship and kick him out, but I still haven’t processed everything that led to the explosion of my relationship. What I do know is that I can’t remain static. I have the whole bed, and the whole world, in front of me.

Goodbye. Hello.

Dear Becky at age 12,

The desire for love is going to hurt. It’s going to rip open parts of you that you didn’t know could tear. Emotionally, your parents’ divorce messes you up about men in ways that will reverberate for decades. For a time, you will look at fathers—all fathers, all men in fact—differently. The most trusted men in your life will seem threatening for no apparent reason. You will not understand their role once your father has left and your mother seems to be doing both jobs. Your mother wants what’s best for you. It’s incredibly hard to see this because of the stage you’re in and the trauma you’re experiencing. But try to have faith that it will all make sense eventually. She’s trying her best while your father is figuring out his own demons. But that’s fine. It turns out we’re all broken. It’s what we do with the broken pieces that matters. 

You are not going to believe me when I say this, but in some ways, being an overweight young woman will benefit you. You will grow to develop a strong character, surrounding yourself with people who care solely about your insides. Friends will be ferociously, relentlessly loyal and you will quickly be able to tell who is real and who isn’t. But you’re going to feel a lot of pain when it comes to romantic interests, and get rejected more than the others. That’s just how it is sometimes. It will get you down, and that’s okay! You are allowed to feel those feelings!! They are valid. Sometimes you’ll get chewed up, and if I’m being honest, you won’t get to do a lot of chewing. And that’s okay too. You want to know why? Because those few times you do show up with a black heart, it’ll make you feel like shit and you’ll be reminded why you’re so incredibly special. You are SUNSHINE.

It will take what feels like forever to give your heart fully to someone. And in the end, they will break it, but that leaves you more ready for the next person. Every single experience is a lesson. Remember that when you’re crying to your ride-or-dies. These friendships will carry you through oceans of despair and the happiest days of your life. You would do anything for them, and they would do everything for you. 

Boundaries are difficult. There are only a few things you’ll regret in this life, and undefined boundaries are ALWAYS the cause. Try to remember that.

Goodbye.

Dear Becky at 42,

Hello.

Some nights, if you had a knife you would have slit his throat after what he did to you. The pain he caused you is something you haven’t felt before and now you’re processing the who-what-why. He made choices that purposely broke what you two had, and it’s hard to understand. You’d never felt so confident of someone’s love and so taken by complete surprise at the way it was ripped out from under you. 

And yet. You will set him free. You will honor the place he had in your life. You will genuinely wish him nothing but true happiness and enlightenment for his next life—because you loved him, truly and wholly, and unconditionally. He didn’t know how to accept that within himself and so he couldn’t recognize it when you gave it to him. All you can do now is hope that he will learn from these lessons.

You gave all of yourself to Boo Bear. You did the best you could. You will never regret a single moment, and you will probably always love him. You will miss so very much about him. Inside jokes and memories will constantly pop up, making your heart pull and crack. It will stop at some point, but you’re not there yet. You’re going to see someone wearing his flannel shirt and it’ll take your breath away for a moment, replaced by the emotions of a bittersweet memory. You’ll remember laughing until you cried with him. Maybe you’ll think that he’s the only one who could ever make you laugh that way, but it’s not true. Someone else will make you laugh like that. Louder, even. The thought of someone wrapping their arms around you the way he did will make your heart sob, for a time. You will be held like that again

Keep moving forward and don’t regret where you came from or the mistakes you made. They happened for a reason. 

I love you.

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I won’t leave, if that’s what you were frightened of.

I just want to move with you.

My back has carried several lifetimes of heartache, but I’d take it off your shoulders first, if I could.

I don’t know what it feels like from the bones, but I know pain. I recognize the half-mast eyelids, heavy from words of masters.

Monsters.

You’ve sewn in hair from Brazilian slave drivers’ ancestors; how does that feel?

Does it make you want to dance?

Do you look at each strand and sob from your diaphragm?

Do you feel the pulse of the motherland as you raise your clenched hand?

Would you let me fall in step beside you, chins pushed up from both our chests?

Do you want me to play with your shadows, slip in and out between them, like the sun?

Groove to voodoo beats—or is that wrong?

We could dance.

We could just be.

You can tell me.

I won’t leave.

Flying South

In June I led my writing group in a series of writing prompts that brought some thoughtful conversation, moments of bonding, and a ton of laughter. The first week I presented a list of writing prompts to choose from, and by a strange coincidence, every one of us chose the same prompt: Write about a bird migrating south for the winter. Our format was to write in 3 ways, first, second, and third person. I thought it might be fun to put them out into the world for others to read. If you know me, make sure you read them in my voice. If you don’t know me, just make it the most nasally Birdielynn and New York savvy Frank you can come up with.

FIRST PERSON

“It’s not that bad!” I said to Birdielynn.

“Frank, it’s time to go. I can feel it in my feathers. We’re at the point of no return. And you know what happens to whippoorwills who stay too long.”

Together we recited, “Don’t outstay your welcome or you’ll die in a freak snowstorm.”

“I know, Birdielynn, stop bugging me. I just have one more project to finish up before the season’s through.” I said.

“You can finish your novel in Argentina! Jesus, Frank, they have books there too.” Birdielynn was pissed.

Last year we’d nearly missed the migration because I wasn’t finished mentoring Cardi B on how to molt properly. I know what you’re thinking. Not the pop star. Cardi B stands for Cardinal Bird. But she really loves it when people mistake her for the rapper.

But I digress. I’m no dummy; I read the Farmer’s Almanac. Snow isn’t coming for at least a month. And she knows it.

Grab this adorable kitchen towel with “Cardi B” on it from Etsy.

SECOND PERSON

You swipe the birdseed to your side of the nest with your good wing. “It’s not that bad,” you plead to Birdielynn.

Birdielynn looks at you with daggers in her eyes and you recoil at her sharp gaze. “It’s time, god damn it, Frank!” She starts ranting about freak snowstorms and whippoorwills who get caught in them. You think to yourself, Nah, urban legend! I could fly out of a snowstorm if I needed to. Besides, you have a novel to finish and you want to get it just right before you pack up for Argentina.

You realize you may be slightly at fault for her paranoia. Last year you nearly got left behind in a huff of underfeathers because Cardi B was having a struggle learning how to molt. It’s not difficult, Cardi, you sigh disgustedly. Fucking cardinals. They think they are so cool because they’re the state bird of Ohio. Ohio! Come on. It’s a flyover state with a few good colleges. And The Ohio State University. And buckeyes. No, those aren’t the same. Buckeyes are a chocolate peanut butter hybrid of delights that, once you place one upon your beak, you’ll never forget it.

THIRD PERSON

Birdielynn and Frank appeared to be in a standoff.

“It’s time!” She chirped shrilly.

“Birdielynn, calm down! No need to ruffle your feathers! We will be absolutely fine, I promise.” Frank tried to appeal to Birdielynn’s softer side, “Don’t you want to see the first snow? It could be so romant–“

“Won’t you be too busy writing that novel, Frank? I mean, that’s why we’re here, right? Or was that just an excuse?” She snapped back.

“Besides,” Birdielynn continued, “You know what happens to whippoorwills who stay too late in the season.”

Frank motioned with both wings. “I would never let you get caught in a freak snowstorm, my sweet worm catcher. I love you too much, my little nest snuggler.” Birdielynn just rolled her eyes.

She had reason to be ruffled. Frank almost ruined last year’s migration because he insisted on teaching Cardinal B how to molt the right way. Birdielynn wondered how Cardi B had made it this far in life without knowing how. It seemed ridiculous.

But Frank was her mate for life. She knew it. He knew it.

Poetry of the Body

Underneath, I question;
Temper the mind so that the
body does not shake.

Resplendent, he would say
if he owned such a
vocabulary.
I read it in his hands instead.

I can’t understand
why he feels what he feels
with the palms of his hands
against my skin,

but I am raw with
the hunger to go
along for the ride.

The journey my body takes
when reveled in by another is,
in a word,
fickle.

I feel the feather duster tickle
when he wants to tease, and the
hard press of his desirous fingertips
while exploring the point where my breath
catches.

Inside, a firestorm of inquiry begins
and I start to wonder
how a body so staid
and a mind so mutable
find the ability to survive together.

Words of accusation rip
through the fabric of my rapture
and the facade begins to tumble.

I want to hold on as long as I can,
because I know,
eventually,
it all will end.

Gorgeous,
he would say
in his own
vocabulary.

I have to agree.

Shorts :: The Jungle

This short piece was written in the jungles of Costa Rica, about two and a half hours’ drive from San Jose, weather / traffic / landslide permitting. This was my second trip to my family’s permaculture property in Lanas, VerdEnergia Pacifica, where the nearest neighbor is several kilometers away and we sleep in open air structures, listening to the sounds of the night. A full telling of my experience will follow in the next few days after I get my bearings back.
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In the meantime…
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I walk my eyes from front to back, methodically. Over creek, through canopy of wide-heavy planks, colors of the jungle peek through fronds–the fuchsia, the amarillo, a population of green vast as the ocean’s blues.
I find the twist in my stomach questions many flavors of life; tongue stumbles on unknown textures, prickle here, tickle there, sour-sweet thing with no known ceiling. Sun blinds the limits of the jungle, and the moon illuminates mischievous beings.

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Shorts :: Full Circle

This is the second short story I wrote at “The Next Season” writing retreat at Hidden Lake Retreat in Eagle Creek, Oregon. It was inspired by the picture below, and got a few laughs when I read it aloud. I hope I’m half as sassy when I’m their age.

Women Wearing Colorful Bathing Caps
Photo courtesy of Pinterest

 
In the era we grew up in, it wasn’t expected for us to be giddy in this next step. In our time, we were supposed to be somber grannies, holding our breath every second until the grandchildren burst through the heavy door of the house that Edgar and I designed ourselves.
Happiness was not to be ours once our partners passed. By the time I hit retirement, I was supposed to be a semi-professional in knitting and cross-stitch, staring at the picture of my wedding day that hung over the television while making scarves with soft wool.
Instead I am a competitive synchronized swimmer in the group we named the Gorgeous Grand-Goddesses. You didn’t expect that, did you? Did you know we have two gold medals and a bronze? No, not the Olympics—Regional Championships. After all, we’re in our seventies and our bodies do have their limitations.
Long before Edgar passed, the girls and I decided to bunk together once our husbands all made the long trip south.
It wasn’t the plan to end up here, but we decided that my house worked best. It was plush with the warmth of familial love and welcomed the other two girls with open arms.
We each had our own bedroom to decorate as well as a training room. Jane Fonda videos, resistance bands, and yoga mats float among pictures of the Grand-Goddesses and yes, some cross-stitch. That’s Mary’s area; I fought it briefly before compromising with her: if they were cross-stitches of Pierce Brosnan or any of the Beatles, they could stay.
She refused my suggestions, and so we ended up with posters of the Beatles on one side and framed beach scenes on the other, an echo of the debates I had with my husband. And yet, here we are, giddy.

Shorts :: Marcy and Martha

Recently I attended an all day writing retreat entitled “The Next Season” at Hidden Lake Retreat in beautiful Eagle Creek, Oregon. The grounds were absolutely magical, with several acres to explore.

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Serenity in the woods


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The surging fish ladder


During the morning session, 12 writers participated in 15 minutes prompts. The first one started with a chuckle. One of the facilitators removed a sheet from the floor, which had been covering a mysterious lumpy pile of…shoes? She asked us to each pick a pair.
We all got up a bit hesitantly. My eyes slid to the pile, and instantly I knew which shoes I would choose. Can you guess why?
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Marcy                     Martha


Then she said, “I’d like to know what these shoes are saying to each other.”
…really?
Well, it turned out to be the most fun prompt of the day! So, here goes. It’s not going to win a Pulitzer, but it sure was fun to write.

“Your edges are curling, Martha,” Marcy sneered.
“You’re no spring chicken yourself, Marcy.”
“At least I’ve managed to pretend I have some class left,” said Marcy.
“Who needs class when you have a story?” Martha retorted.
“Remember Cinderella and the Glass Slipper? The shoe that got left behind ended up in the hands of a prince! No one cared about the shoe that stayed with Cinderella. Sure, it may have looked better, scratch-free, but the other slipper will always be remembered as the one who brought Cinderella to her prince!” Finished Martha.
“God, Martha!” Marcy huffed, “Why are you such a drama queen? That’s just an urban legend. Besides, you’re just a $20 slide from DSW. Get over yourself.”
Martha simply replied, “I know you are, but what am I?”

 

Cherry

I’m new here.
Take me in,
Show me your
Ants on a log.
Show me your
Childish smile, your
Sanctuary.
It’s nice to be by myself, but
Hands clasping hands
Brings me to the somebody else I could be.
I’ll let her out.
I can push away the disappointment
I once had when I was younger,
A pin in a row.
I’ve opened my eyes and stepped in,
Toe by toe, then
pull back into the cold.
It feels good to be here,
My solitary pen dripping fuel
Of a new me
Onto a medium I have yet to explore.
I’m not sure if I’ll let it explode, absorb my words,
Or lick delicately my fingertips,
because it’s intoxicating.
Alone, my table is full of containers to satisfy.
Below, empty space holds colors of smiles,
Smells of dirty feet unafraid to stain shoes.
Even better, sweet toes tapping the uncertainty together,
A lush feeling.
A youthful submission to consciousness.
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