Heather Lawrence – Pursuit of Life

Here’s first-timer Heather Lawrence’s poignant story about how questions made her different. She told this for our July 2017 theme “Different.” 

I was 27 years old, standing with a band I’d put together in front of a crowd of 120 people, leading them in one of my lifelong favorite hymns when I realized I couldn’t pretend anymore.

These may be my people, but I was pretty sure that once they knew everything going on49-Different inside my head, I wouldn’t be theirs anymore.

This was a Sunday morning in early May, and I was just trying to last until June in this job, but that morning I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I knew I didn’t belong.

As I led the congregation in worship with the hymn I used to call my heart song, I broke it down line-by-line inside my head, thinking, “this line is still okay,” “I definitely don’t believe that anymore,” and “I’m still not sure where this idea even came from;” and I knew my faith was on the verge of a jenga-style collapse. I told my team I only had one more week in me.

Cue: total deconstruction.

I’d already resigned from my job two months ago at this point, but my co-worker/pastor/boss (professional church relationships are very confusing) had asked me to stay until June. So like a cracked and broken vase, I held the pieces in place until I got far enough away that I could be sure my deconstruction wouldn’t hurt anyone else.

See that’s the thing about being a pastor: you sort of get paid to be right—or at least to be confident in your beliefs. I’d spent the last three years leading up to this point keeping my ever-expanding cracks in my belief systems off-limits from anyone else. I mean, sure, I could talk to other leaders about it, but I had to be careful about how candid I was with anyone who had the power to remove me from my position, because job security.

I sure as hell couldn’t talk to people I was pastoring about it, because I had about 5 verses memorized that told me exactly what happens to someone who causes problems someone else’s walk with God.

I also couldn’t really talk to any peers or friends about it, because most of my peers were either uninvolved with theological dialogue or so closed-minded that my “progressive” ideas were never even entertained. So I was left to debate both sides inside my head—which, if you’ve never been in an ongoing intellectual debate with yourself, let me tell you that it will drive you crazy. My daily bible-reading (yes, there really are people who read scripture every day) turned into an academic text analysis of multiple topics at once. I honestly made myself sick getting so stuck in my head.

And the hardest part of all of this is that I was really hoping for my understanding of Scripture and my evangelical worldview to still stand after answering my questions; which meant I had to be careful not to toy around with these ideas too much because they may well lead me down that slippery slope I’d been cautioned against all throughout seminary.

No joke: day one of class at this Southern Baptist school: the president was teaching my first class, and he walked up to the podium and after his introduction, I can still picture his weird speaking mannerisms he had as he said, “you’re going to be tempted to question your views of morality because of the world around you, but I am warning you that it’s a slippery slope from asking whether the bible really prescribes gender roles, to then asking whether the bible really condemns same-sex marriage, and before you know it, you’ll be sliding all the way to being an agnostic or atheist,” (which, to the community I was a part of, really didn’t need to be distinguished because both needed to be “saved” anyway.)

I remember sitting in my seat horrified that I might lose my faith, my community, my future plans, my whole identity and everything I knew to be true…all because I started asking questions. So I didn’t. At least until I couldn’t pretend anymore.

So back to that Sunday when I was finally honest with myself. This church I was about to leave, my coworker and I had built it from the ground up. It had been kind of my last hope for the institution of the church. When we started it, I ran headfirst into this mission because I believed in it, and I just knew it was going to be the answer to all my frustrations with the megachurch I’d been working in previously.

We were going to do it differently. We were going to be about people, not about an event on Sunday. We were going to be about community, not about numbers. We were going to be about healing, not about programs.

The drift away from all of that didn’t happen overnight, but one of the biggest problems for us was that I was a woman. See, my coworker was invited into church-planting cohorts and supportive communities of other men doing the same thing—all of which I was explicitly not invited into on account of my gender. Turns out the conversations that happen in spaces like that will really shape the direction of an organization…and if one of the two leaders of the organization isn’t involved in that, she might slowly lose her opportunity to influence the direction moving forward…

It hurt. Like hell. But I’m really grateful for it, because it sped up my deconstruction. It took heartbreak and feeling that I could no longer be proud of this church we’d started for me to let myself fall apart.

So in my disappointment with this church, I let myself re-engage with the questions.

And my questions led to more questions, and more questions, and more questions…until I couldn’t even categorize all the things I wasn’t sure if I believed anymore. By the time I left this church, I hadn’t read my Bible in 2 months. For the first time since even my youth group days, I wasn’t in a position of leadership, and I finally let go.

One of the phrases I found myself repeating in countless debates during my three years of full-time ministry was that I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

It rang through my head as I found myself pushed to the edges in conversations. I had no way of predicting how subversive this idea would be to a community claiming to follow the most compassionate person who ever lived. But as my ideas got more and more challenging, as I moved more and more into gray areas, I clung to it as though it had come from the mouth of Jesus himself.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

This phrase would escape my mouth as I was walking away from yet another debate with a biblical literalist about marriage equality or baptism or who is and isn’t allowed to become a church member, or even about what is or isn’t a sin.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

Sometimes it was loaded with anger and accusation—you just want to have everything figured out, but life isn’t always so black and white, so how about you shake up your safe little boxes of morality and make room to love the people around you.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

Sometimes it was dismissive and defeated—I know we’ll never agree, and honestly, you may never hear me because I’m not convinced by your interpretation of scripture.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

I couldn’t be a rule enforcer anymore. I couldn’t continue to drive forward an institution that was more concerned with obeying a text from two millennia ago than about loving the people right in front of them. And I couldn’t worship a God that expected that of me.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

Different – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our July 2017 theme “Different.” 

Tonight, Nashville, we were different.49-Different

We broke free from a life-time of well-ordered good behavior, and the forced conformity of red aprons and charted gardens, and asserted our difference head to head with the district manager…and made Mary Kay cry.

We played a different instrument from a different part of the country, singing songs about the difference between Coke and Sprite…and we had a child with a different number of chromosomes. But in the end we learned to love in the present, and discovered our souls are all the same.

We discovered what it means to be a different lawyer in a man’s world, where we needed more make-up and higher expectations. But we learned that a brilliant woman in court is as intimidating as a typing monkey.

The threat of lip-reading classes lured us into a life of espionage, with blue plastic glasses and snacks under our desks, spying on opera-singing neighbors and a Cuban spy named Oscar who just thought we were weird.

Expanding cracks and internal debates led us down the slippery slope from gender isolation to loss of community to the rather different notion that we’d rather have compassion.

We had a different experience of Sadie Hawkins, and then a long-distance relationship led to dinner with our cigar-smoking friend—and to exchanging the European engagement ring for the love of our life.

We grew from being a disheveled mess with an undomesticated pin, to a “hot mess mom” who missed vaccinations and had birthday disasters and pajama day errors and burning sage…and a diagnosis that helped us accept our difference.

We learned that it is hard to be more different than an emotionally crumbled, gender fluid, Latinex, unicorn, atheist, church worker. But we helped a New Orleans conference with other whack-a-doodle liberals be a little more inclusive.

We tried to convince Dad of a different reality—that the gay hockey player from Spanish class in our basement at 2:00 a.m. was all a pain-induced hallucination. But the interrogation on the hot porch convinced us that this was all going to be a bad dream.


Thanks to all our excellent storytellers–Rebecca, Irene, Kristen, Laurie, Pam, Heather, Barbara, LynnMarie, and Kathleen! Our next Tenx9 will be at Parnassus Books on August 28. The theme? “Words.” Got a story? Let us know here!

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Show & Tell – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our May 2017 night “Show & Tell”

Tonight, Class, we had “Show and Tell.”

We showed a metal lizard that almost changed our life…until an encounter at Dead Man’s Tree revealed it was not gold—and we were a doofus.

We showed little Sarah with the frayed edges, the only one we trusted when Angie left. And years later, when he also left, we curled up again by our lifelong best friend.47-Show and Tell

We showed our hands that bounced her while we walked miles and miles, and that shook her bottle and beat her back…and raged at God. But they also showed her every day that she was loved.

We showed a black flag which we discovered after beer with Hungarian metal heads and kissing border guards and a subway ride to Ost-Berlin—where we learned that lonely figures are trapped between the armies.

We showed Beulah’s aging scrapbook, and told of Mom’s scrapbook full of boy pictures, and our own scrapbook with a “love-a-lint campaign.” And we are destined by the stars to be the keeper of the memories.

We showed our Turkish “football” jersey which we purchased from peddlers like flies on a dog turd. And we found the value of Caucasian Drivers Licenses and a Tennessee Drinking Licenses.

We showed a piece of Duplo and remembered Julie, and signing number songs and the biology of flies—and fleeing the torture. We have lost her, and found ourselves…and we don’t know how it ends.

We shared her perfect horse skull—which we found in the deafening hum of a slave cemetary, having become one with the land. She was present at bonfires, and presided at ordinations, and still whispers of the seasons to come.

We showed the food bowl that once belonged to a spherical mass of angelic fur—the “rabbit of the Andes”—whose birthday had been spoiled by a dead orphan bunny and our misunderstanding of the point of our ethics exam.

That was tonight’s “Show and Tell.”


Thanks to Wendell, Christy, Jeannie, Jordan, Amber, Irene, Caren, J.W., and Evert for your stories! Our next night is June 26 in partnership with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Got a story? Let us know here!

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Trouble – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our April 2017 theme “Trouble.” 

Nashville, tonight we encountered trouble.

We drove all night and took a secret route into trouble at a border station, where we annoyed a guard till we led a convoy of good ol’ boys and farm workers into Mexico—but we’re not sure we learned any lessons.

We encountered passport trouble when we tried to replace a damaged passport in two 46-Troublecountries with some help from civil servants, travel agents, and a police officer with a curly mustache. But we finally got it done…one minute before we were going to die!

We ran into trouble when we took a 3-month renewal trip in an RV—which would have been more relaxing if didn’t have to worry if squatting gets an RV under a bridge, and hadn’t impaled our trailer on a bank, and had found a space at “Big Bone Lick” …but thank God for Larry!

We rode a decorated bug into trouble at a party with Brer Fox and Brer Bear, and teaspoons of a funny pink powder, and dancing around a fire. The trouble eased—but we don’t know the rest of the story.

Trouble shocked us when the phone rang in the middle of the night, and the tragic news of a truck on a dark road and a heart attack led to the slow dissolution of our once idyllic family life.

In a contest with classmates in Catholic school uniforms, 10 seconds led to 10 months of trouble. Despite laughing through group therapy, we came to the surprising revelation that all we needed was attention.

One troubling night taking care of an old rickety building, we hear a new noise. The sound of walkie-talkies led to a new friend with squinty eyes and a crew cut, a near victim who cleared us, and cops with shot guns playing ping pong!

Life became more troubled when the news we would move led to sneaking cars out in the night, pillows over alarm pads, and saying “yes” so he would remember…but no one saw us.

We drove the least crappy car into trouble when our 16-year-old brain knocked us into the horror of cherry Slurpee, and the fear of what father had planned. But we were given the keys to a monogrammed tank with a falling ceiling and an AM radio!

Those were our troubles.


Thanks to all our tellers–Donna, Gayathri, River, Taylor, Sonia, Wendell, Deborah, Jenny, and Anne! Join us on May 22 for our theme “Show and Tell.” Have a story about an object of significance in your home? Bring it and tell us the story. Pitch your idea here.

47-Show and Tell

 

Do No Harm – The Understory

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from “Do No Harm: Stories of Healthcare,” our April 2017 partnership with Meharry Medical College. 

Nashville, tonight we encountered episodes in health care.

We discovered a troubling cyst, but left the patient as we dashed home to find a crying daughter and a disintegrating tutu. We hitchhiked to the rehearsal, and in spite of everything, it all had a happy ending.

We encountered a blue-eyed Ryan Gosling in a psych ward and his imaginary social SPECIAL-Healthcareworker. And we learned never to assume—especially if it involves assassinating a president.

Maurine would always leave against advice—but this time the blood pressure was too high and the heartbeat was too low. And she said, “I’m gonna die.” “Not today,” we said…but we were wrong.

She had ADHD, made no eye contact, gave short answers…and slept with a knife. On-again-off-again treatment and heavy drinking led us to wonder how we can “do no harm” when the system harms.

We faced a birth defect with no benefits, but the Affordable Care Act spared us from an illness without insurance. We watched the vote with anxiety, then relief, and a conviction to help others.

We graduated from “My dad can remove your brain” to campaigning to close the coverage gap. Then we went from cocktails in Frisco to shocking results and unemployment…but with more hope than Bruce had.

We left Chicago’s winter for Lima’s beauty. But at the campsite we presented a mind-boggling health plan to a 10-year-old boy who could no longer play. And we wondered how to do no harm when we will kill him either way.

Life changed when a frustrating, troublesome young woman, whose life had led from pregnancy to addiction to rape to desperation, told us “you don’t want to know.” And she was right…but now we do.

We went to a…gynecologist with really good shoes…who…uh, opened up a sink hole…and…gave a… procedure…that I’m pretty sure men are not allowed to talk about, much less laugh at, and certainly not summarize…so let’s just leave it at that.


Special thanks to all our tellers–David, Lloyda, Kristen, Michael, Tamkeenat, Theodor, Veronica, Christy, and Stephanie. A wonderful night. Be sure to join us Monday, April 24th for “Trouble”.

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Christy Lynch – Not Safe for Work

Here’s Christy Lynch’s story from our April 2017 partnership with Meharry Medical College for “Do No Harm: Stories of Healthcare.” It’s a hilarious story of her first visit to the gynecologist. A must hear. She first told this story at Tenx9’s May 2016 theme “LOL”. 

School Days – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our March 2017 theme “School Days”

Tonight, Nashville, we went back to school.

We remembered the profound truth that childhood school days made us who we are. We remembered hanging our coat on the floor, and strange aliens, and strangely dark songs, and dolls with complexes, and a second-grade Casanova…maybe that’s why we need counseling.45-school-days

We came perfectly prepared to the first day of school, and met Mrs. Amazon Doubtfire. Our green smiley faces gave way to broken crayons and statues on toilets and wet pants—and getting into trouble for doing exactly what we were told!

We realized that a cold was cancer, and we were going to lose our loud Italian mother. We returned to a hair-covered apartment and tried to lose our minds by immersing ourselves in stuffy, esoteric subjects taught by a golden-haired bag lady…and we learned that it’s ok not to be ok.

We were the new kid in our seventh school, when snickering boys with lurid imaginations pushed us over the edge. Our tiny fists pounded the male pride out of the bully—but the bully’s bully father knocked the fight out of us.

We took our first college road trip to a girls school with 700 women! A night on a laundromat massage bed led to wading in the snow to a summer house, and to monthly phone calls, and our best friend became our best man. And 52 years later we “remember long after Saturday’s gone.”

In high school, we met a west side redneck punk rocker, but we were seeking acceptance in a north side “service club.” After kissing an elephant and having Heet improperly applied, we sat in an icy creek and realized that friendship shouldn’t be this hard.

A snow day gave us time to plot our escape from the grief of rejection from a high school club. And off we went to an adventure at New York boarding school. But our last big night at the frozen yogurt shop led to answered prayer with a chocolate-covered wallet—and the realization that we must live with an ironically ungraceful name.

Bullies and a teacher who couldn’t see sent us to a dairy farm private school, where theater melting exercises and stampeding cattle led to a desire to live, and to write…and to an irrational fear of cows.

Getting dumped by a girl led to taking confession at a Victoria’s Secret and having our sexual identity mistaken. We studied why were driven to study women…maybe it had something to do with sixth-grade witchcraft in a sweater vest.

Those were our school days.


Thanks to all who told stories–Cherie, Katy, Colleen, Grace, Katy, Bill, John, Christopher, and Darlene. Join us for TWO Tenx9s in April: April 19th with Meharry Medical college on stories of healthcare, and on April 24th for our theme “Trouble.” Send us your story proposal here!

SPECIAL-Healthcare46-Trouble

Anything Irish – The Understory

Here’s another great Understory from Rob McRay for our early March 2017 collaboration on “Anything Irish” with Sister Cities Nashville

Tenx9 Summary, 3/6/17, “Anything Irish”

Tonight, Nashville, we journeyed through all things Irish.

We had several pints and some good craic in an Irish pub, and picked up a waitress on a break-up date. We journeyed from Galway to Nashville—and turned many pages along the special-anything-irishway.

We chronicled our journey through Ireland, with the blonde leading the blind through the Irish magic of pub gigs, aggressive swans in Limerick, jamming in conference rooms—but nothin’ to do in Doolin.

We learned in Northern Ireland to say nothing, but heard deliciously curious sayings about chest hair in Cork, peeing on the floor, and getting something good for Christmas, and about the good old days—except for the bombs and guns and murders.

We head Irish accents in Georgia that echoed a distant homeland, which led to a shillelagh, a tea time map, and a missed wake—and we contemplated the meaning of an Irish prayer.

We learned the story of mother and her “Aunt Mary”—of Irish orphans, and untimely births and untimely deaths…and embittered silence beside her deathbed.

Our mediocre driving in Ireland took us through double-parking in Dublin, dinging a double-decker, and dodging the Death Star—but failing to dodge the road that rose up to meet us!

We met a courageous Irish chaperone from whom an ocean separated us when love at Christmas led to a home for unwed mothers, and a family that crossed the street to avoid her. But she raised her child, forgave her father, and gave us the gift of knowing a devoted peacemaker.

We bought drinks for surprise relatives, took an interminable bus ride, and explored the cliffs above town—but the vanishing road and Irish quicksand made us late for dinner—and we were more afraid of tardiness than death!

We took a mission impossible to the home of a match-making festival, in our just-in-case undies, where we encountered socially awkward party guests, and a sheepherder with WiFi, and laughed crazily at the handsome stranger, and fell in love—with a lovely Irish town.

This was our Irish journey.


Thanks to Kathleen, Dave, J.W., Michael, Deborah, Chris and Christopher, Irene, Brendan, and Fran for their stories! Hope everyone will join us on March 27 for “School Days”!

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Pam Smith – One Choice…and Then More

Here’s Pam Smith with a moving story of family at February’s 2017 theme “Choices.”

You see, for me it all started in isolation.

We’d been married only a few months, back then in 1975. We were still figuring out all those things that newly married people, particularly those young of age, need to navigate. 44-choicesAnd what we thought was stomach flu turned into his call telling me that he was going to the hospital and would be in isolation.

I came home from the hospital that first night, and my mother-in-law, Mildred, came to our home to unburden herself. She brought gifts. Gifts contained in boxes. Gifts of information – photos and letters and words – gifts that she wanted me to have so that she would be relieved of the weight of them. I knew, of course, that Earl had been adopted by Mildred and her husband.

Yet what I was seeing were photos and letters and words of Earl’s birth mother. I was daunted, in over my head. What was I to do with this?

A few days later, Earl came home from the hospital and was healthy again; so I unburdened myself of Mildred’s gifts and offered them over to him. Photos and letters and words. He was daunted. “What am I to do with this?”

One day a few months later, when I was at work Earl came to see me.  He had never done this before. And – the way he was dressed! Sports coat, tie, polished shoes. And the look in his eyes. His whole self was bubbling over. “I did it,” he said.

And he went on to explain that he had re-opened the box with the photos and letters and words, had followed the clues and made his way to a nearby town where Rosemary lived and worked. He met her for the first time and had lunch with her. He could hardly contain himself. “I have four brothers!” (Earl and I both were raised as only children.) And he went on to tell me what he had learned.

As a young woman in 1940, Rosemary was a student at a small Roman Catholic nursing school. And there was that night with that young man and a few weeks later she realized she was pregnant. The shame. Rosemary made a plan – a plan to end her life. And, so that she would leave more for her parents than grief and disgrace, she bought a life insurance policy. She went to the doctor the insurer provided – his name may well have been Marcus Welby, MD.

After the examination he said to her, “I know that you are pregnant,” and the whole story tumbled out of her lips. He dissuaded her from her plan to die and told her about a couple he knew who were hoping to adopt a baby – Mildred and James. It was an open adoption before we even coined that term.

At the end of that lunch that day, as they parted ways, Rosemary said, “there can be no more of this – my husband would not understand.” And so the door closed as quickly as it had opened.

The years passed, more than twenty-five of them. I watched Earl gnaw on this, struggle with this, wonder about this. Is she still alive? What is she like now? And what about my brothers – I so want to meet them.

Year upon year, time upon time. Earl would say, “I just want to know…” And year upon year and time upon time, I urged him to make a choice – do you want to seek this out or do you want to let it be? Either is ok. But, please my love, do not be choked by the wonderings and quandary. Make a choice.

My work took me to places distant from our home in St. Petersburg for extended times. In 2002 when I was on assignment in Chicago, my cell phone rang. Reception was horrible! And I was consulting for a mobile phone company who would NOT want me to say “can you hear me now??” All I heard was my beloved sobbing. He couldn’t speak. I couldn’t hear. My husband, beyond words. He choked, “I’ll call you back” and hung up. My heart darted to all manner of dark places as I waited in worry.

Earl called me back to tell me that he had made a choice. He explained, “I asked Ralph to help me find Rosemary.” Ralph was a friend of ours who was an attorney in the area where Rosemary had lived. Ralph found a phone number for one he thought may have been Earl’s Rosemary and called it and said, “My name is Ralph Howes. I am an attorney and my friend Earl Smith is looking for Rosemary, who may be his birth mother.”  There was a very long pause.

And Rosemary said, “Tell him I am his mother and I pray for him every day.”

Moments later, Ralph called Earl and told him that Rosemary was waiting for his call – a call that, once placed, was filled with tears, tears saved up and pent up over the decades.

And from this first call came an avalanche of others within hours. The second to me and then another between Rosemary and Earl that held talk of her other sons, Earl’s brothers – those four he learned of some twenty-five years earlier. Jim and John and Mike and Dick.

Earl said, “Mom, I would really like to know my brothers.” “Oh my,” was her response. Followed by quiet. And then “I love you’s” and “Talk to you soon.”

Rosemary’s next call was to her youngest son, Dick, to tell him about this long-held life-long secret now coming to light. I can’t imagine her trembling fingers dialing the phone. Then Dick called Jim and Jim called John and John called Mike and Mike was so stunned that he took the next day off.

And on that day off, Mike called Earl and there was another conversation of tears of wonder.

Within just a few days, plans were set for all of the brothers to gather with their mother. On Friday, September 13, 2002, Earl and I drove from my small apartment in Chicago to a nearby small town to pick up Rosemary. Then we drove to John’s house in Indianapolis to meet the family. Not a reunion, exactly, instead a uniting. And not only the brothers, but of their wives, many of their children. Earl and I with two of our sons walked into the family room and saw brothers and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews for the first time!

Over that fall of 2002, we became family, fell in love with each other, learned some of each other’s peculiarities, and began navigating this new way of being  — together.

And then in February of 2003 fewer than five months after the family uniting, on one evening, the emails began flying and the phones began ringing. Rosemary had suffered a stroke and was being taken to a hospital closer to me than to any of the others.

I went. They came. Earl flew. We all gathered around Rosemary’s bedside, this love-encompassed bedside. And on February 12, 2003 Rosemary died.

Choices of distant years. Choices of more recent times.

Choices wrapped in love.

Rachel Gladstone – The Last Laugh

 

Here is Rachel Gladstone’s humorous story from February 2017’s theme “Choices.”

I have never been a pill-popper. I’m more of a good glass of wine, hit on a joint kind of girl. You see I can’t understand the thrill of the pill because for me, there is no thrill. There’s only sleep. And it’s not a restful, dreamy kind of sleep; it’s more like the slee44-choicesp of the dead from which I awake hung over, my hair standing on end like the Bride of Frankenstein with a long, crusty trail of drool, once liquid, caked to the side of my face.

Half a Valium renders me unconscious for a good 12 hours. And despite the fact that Benadryl should be innocuous, since it’s over-the-counter and everything, for me, this little pink pill is the legal doppelganger of the Quaalude which, by the way, I’ve never tried, because unlike the song, I wouldn’t be partying like it was 1999, I’d be partying like I was 99.

So there I was, living life as a pill-free woman who didn’t wake up every morning looking like she’d survived a sandstorm in the Sahara. But then it started: the pain. Torturous, constant, debilitating pain began screaming from my knees 24/7. And for the next 10 years, I limped along, icing my joints, overdosing on Aleve and turning a deaf ear to the double knee replacement surgery that was calling my name. Then one day, I caught a glimpse of myself walking towards a full-length mirror and my reflection literally stopped me in my tracks. I was so bowlegged and bent I looked like a gymnast caught in a perpetually bad dismount. I looked like a cross between my Jewish Grandmother and a Leprechaun or maybe Roy Rogers after a long trail ride. It was in that moment that I realized I had two choices: get the surgery or buy a green suit and get a gig selling Lucky Charms.

The thought of surgery was frightening. I knew I’d be in for a world of hurt and a world of little white pills and honestly, I couldn’t decide which I dreaded more. So I tried to look at the impending surgery, and the two weeks following that I’d spend stoned out of my mind in rehab, as a vacation with pain.

They’d be calling in the big guns. Your Percocets, your Vicodins, your OxyContins. The bad news was, I’d be comatose for at least six weeks. The good news was I wouldn’t feel a thing. Not the mind-numbing pain that would come with the territory of having my bones sawed in half and retrofitted with bionic parts. Nor the unbearable torture that would ensue at the incision sights and plow through my muscles like a monster truck at a demolition derby.

The meds would wrap my mind in a soft, velvety cocoon and everything would be all right. At least that’s what everybody told me. But I’m here to tell you: everybody was frigging wrong!

The cocoon that I got was anything but velvety. It was more like a sticky spider web that strangled every happy, peaceful feeling out of me. Not only could I still feel the pain, but my brain was about as useful as a bowl of partly-congealed Jell-O salad. And I found that things that had once been easy, like the ability to form complete, coherent sentences, were lost to me, as the opiates I was on held the launch codes of communication just out of reach, and I was helpless to do anything about it.

On a couple of occasions during my second week of recovery, I made the mistake of trying to change things up, by altering the “stay ahead of the pain” plan my doctor had dictated. But I found that if I delayed taking my meds, even for 20 minutes, the pain would become so bad, so quickly, that I wanted to strangle myself with the negative 450 thread count sheets that barely covered the plastic mattress on my bed.

More than anything, I wanted to be keeping a journal of this nightmare. After all, it’s what I do. I regularly chronicle the highlights of the low points that run through my life. I am what you might call a sharer; maybe even an over-sharer. Given half a chance, I’ll tell you that I’m wearing my underwear inside out because I haven’t had time to do laundry. And whether I tell all in print or in real life to some random woman in the ladies room, I feel the need to behave like the human equivalent of Mt. Vesuvius.

So here I was in the midst of recovering from double knee replacement surgery, full-to-bursting with the funny takes on what most people would probably view as the worst moments of their life. And more than anything, I wanted to jot down every horrifying second of it to file away for future laughs. There was the horrible food that looked like it came straight out of a 1980’s prison movie. And the frighteningly bright, Demerol-induced, 3D, Technicolor dreams that transformed my eyelids into an Imax movie screen night after night. One night I dreamt I was on tour with the Rolling Stones which was great until their tour bus was stolen from my driveway, and I had to run through a strange city barefoot in the dead of night trying to recover it. This was the night I woke up in a cold sweat at 3:00 am and afraid to go back to sleep, began to watch QVC for the first time in my life. It only took five minutes before I was hooked and I called the number on my screen and ordered a complete set of bake ware for just four easy payments of 29.99. And then, after refusing the operator’s kind invitation to say hello to the on-air host, due to the fact that I was cacked out of my mind on Demerol, I quickly hung up the phone.

Another night terror came in the form of a passive-aggressive nurse who looked like a female version of the Pillsbury Dough Boy come to life dressed in a skin tight, white pantsuit. Nothing jiggled on this woman; she was like a solid block of moving flesh. Her cloyingly-sweet perfume, which I suspect she wore in an attempt to mask her ripe body odor, would hit me the second she pushed open the door. This made me want to lose my cookies. But because she was there to dispense my pain meds I learned how to ignore my nausea, hold my breath and swallow at the same time, a talent that’s sure to come in handy the next time I have a third date.

The thing I hated most about the pills was that they made me barf on a bi-hourly basis which was no picnic. The nausea got worse as the day wore on and the only thing that would ease it was smoking pot. So every night, I’d persuade a different friend to come for a visit and push me out to the parking lot in my wheel chair where I’d smoke one of the joints I’d smuggled in. Then they’d wheel me back to my room, calm, happy and trailing a sweet smelling perfume of my very own.

There was definitely humor in all of this. But because the part of my brain that was totally getting the joke couldn’t connect to the part of my brain that remembered how to tell it, I felt like a fly on the wall of my own life, viewing everything through the specs of a beady-eyed insect who likes to eat dog shit.

I felt like a toothless woman trying to eat corn on the cob. And oh, how I longed to get all up inside the sensation of that hot, buttery corn bursting between my teeth. I found myself starting to panic: Would I ever be able to write again? Were these drugs going to have the last laugh; and was the joke on me?

It took eight weeks living life as a junkie with a legal prescription before I was able to ease off the pills a bit and begin to alter my med schedule from popping a pill every four hours to every five; then six, then seven, then eight. Some days the pain was so intolerable that I’d volley back and forth through these medication time zones, yet always with an eye towards quitting the stuff that was making it impossible for me to be me. But even though I was taking fewer pills I found that the fuzz factor was just as great as ever, and I realized the only way to stop the madness was to stop the pill-to-mouth connection all together. I knew there would be pain, but I knew I had no choice.

Going cold turkey wasn’t half as bad as I’d imagined. Aleve and I had a reunion of epic proportions and the stuff that had been so funny in my head, but couldn’t translate to the page, returned with a vengeance. I felt like Tom Hanks in that movie where he’s shipwrecked and finally, against all odds, makes it back to civilization. I had been one deflated volley ball away from madness and yet, I’d found my way home.

It’s been several months since I was sliced and diced and put back together, and everything in my world feels right again. The only thing I’m overindulging in these days is my penchant for oversharing, which I’m sure is entertaining the hell out of strangers in the ladies room. Those little white pills might have held the jokester in me hostage for a while, but I finally broke free. And I’m happy to report that I’m the one who’s having the last laugh.