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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Path Not Taken (Update)


Due to 'The Path Not Taken' getting much longer and much more traffic than I anticipated in the beginning, I have moved it to a new site:

Here you will find the most updated content for The Path Not Taken (several more chapters have been posted, although it's been reformatted so that the chapters are now longer), as well as my new SOA fanfic, Young Guns.  Enjoy!

The Path Not Taken

Young Guns

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Truth About Fort Hood

When bad things happen in our world, it's become the norm for people to take to social media to express their outrage/shock/sadness and offer condolences and prayers.  But since the shooting at Fort Hood yesterday that killed four (including the shooter) and wounded sixteen others, I've seen very little of that, outside of from those who are part of the military community and from mainstream media.  The general public doesn't seem to care a whole lot about this event, especially in comparison with other mass shootings in recent history.  At first, I didn't understand why.  But now I think I get it.

The first time there was a mass shooting at Fort Hood (in 2009), I was not yet married to a Soldier.  I knew nothing about the Army, had never been within a hundred miles of a military base, and had never thought much about the lifestyles of our troops and their families.  Not because I didn't care, but because it wasn't a world that I'd ever had any sort of exposure to.  I thought, like many of you are likely thinking now, "All of those Soldiers who have been to war, are trained to kill, walking around with guns all day- something was bound to happen at some point."  Due to my lack of understanding, it wasn't entirely shocking to me (at the time) that gun violence would take place in a military setting.

However.  That was before.  Before I married a man who was stationed at Fort Hood.  Before America's largest military installation became my second home.  Before I knew.  So I thought I would share with those of you who might be as uninformed about military life as I once was the truth about Fort Hood.

Whatever you picture a military base too look like is probably completely inaccurate, unless you've actually visited one before.  First of all, they aren't small.  Fort Hood, for example, spans 339 square miles.  That's roughly one hundred times larger than the small Michigan town I hail from.  The population is over 100,000, which is not only twelve times greater than the population where I live, but about the same size as the population of my nearest "big city."  So, Fort Hood isn't just a "military base," whatever you believe that to be, it's an entire city.

Sure there are the things you'd expect- lots of indiscriminate military looking buildings, more people dressed in uniform than you've ever seen in your life, and streets with names like Hell on Wheels Avenue and Tank Destroyer Boulevard.

(Yes, really.)

There are road closings for parades and marches, and guarded lots full of military vehicles (most of which I still don't know the names of.)  Every morning at sunrise, bugles play Reveille as the flag is raised, and every day at 5pm, Retreat is played as it is lowered.  (During which time the base goes eerily, heartwarmingly silent.)  There are Soldiers training, guards on duty, and humvees roaming the streets at all hours.

But there are also families.  Lots of them.  There are houses, apartment complexes, elementary schools, and playgrounds.  There are hospitals, gyms, bowling alleys, churches, movie theaters, hotels, and motels.  There are convenience stores (called shopettes) that sell the most delicious do-it-yourself milkshakes.  (Seriously, I was obsessed with those things.)  There are grocery stores (called commissaries) and department stores (called PXs or Exchanges) that sell everything from military gear to furniture to Barbies and Legos.

Just like any other department store, right?

There are concerts and festivals and parks and baseball fields. There are museums and gift shops and restaurants and fast food places.  There's even a Chili's Restaurant near the main entrance now!  There is a beautiful area known as BLORA (Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area) that boasts cabin rentals, a campground, a gorgeous beach, pavilions for picnics, a waterpark for children, mountain trails for biking and hiking, and even the frequent wild cow sighting.  (Yes, for real, just cows roaming all over the countryside like it's their job.)

Belton Lake- easily my favorite part of Fort Hood.

 And then there are the things that are a wonderful collision of military and civilian life, things you can only find on a military base.  Like Cooper Field, where hundreds (thousands?) of military families go every year to await the return of their deployed Soldiers.  Like a Blackhawk airfield across the street from a gas station.

Not your average view when out running errands.

Like beautiful memorials dedicated to our fallen Soldiers, and outdoor museums displaying military vehicles and weapons used throughout history.

Just a couple of the many amazing outdoor displays.

So after my husband and I confirmed that all of our close friends stationed at Fort Hood were safe yesterday (which was quite the harrowing task), I began thinking of others- and not just the Soldiers who were injured and killed.  I thought about all of the Soldiers recently returned from deployment- thousands of them in the last couple of months alone, many of my husband's friends included, who were just letting their guards down and starting to feel safe again.  Now this.  I thought of the little boy in the red t-shirt who was so awestruck by the outdoor museum, he kept getting in trouble for trying to climb on all of the tanks and planes.  I thought about the sweet old man at the main gate who was always so sincere when he said, "Welcome to the Great Place."  I thought about the families I saw with their children at the parks, the barracks full of young Soldiers that remind me much of the college community near my hometown, and of all of the faces I've seen and paths I've crossed at Fort Hood- people who will undoubtedly carry yesterday's events with them for a very long time.

I thought of the eyesore that is the location where Fort Hood's most notorious prisoner is housed- the animal who massacred thirteen people and injured thirty one more in a mass shooting on post in 2009.  They had to build a monstrosity of a "secure location" to guard him, one so big it is impossible to ignore, no matter how hard you try.  I remembered the building right across from my husband's barracks room before we got married, the one where the massacre took place.  (Which has subsequently been torn down.)  And I wondered, how could this happen again?

As the media began to suggest that inadequate security was to blame for the gun making it on base, I thought about the security at Fort Hood.  The ultimate "gated community," there are over a dozen different gates at Fort Hood, which serve as its only entry and exit points.  Unlike the quaint little iron gate you might be imagining, the gates are more like what you would find at the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge or Disney World (although with much less touristy fanfare)- massive structures with multiple lanes, often backed up for miles.  There are a number of security measures employed at these gates, including armed guards, explosive detecting dogs, and ID checks, just to name a few.  Random vehicle inspections are performed routinely, but it would be nearly impossible to search every inch of every single vehicle going on post any given day.  There are answers to be sought, definitely, but I don't know that they'll be found in the form of security lapses.

The gates at Fort Hood.

When bad things happen in our world, we tend to compartmentalize them.  It's easier to cope with a loss like the one at Fort Hood yesterday if we feel like what happened could never happen to us.  So I believe that much of the public is dismissing yesterday's tragedy as a risk of living in a military community, something they don't have to worry about, something that's not their problem.  But here's the truth about Fort Hood:  It's not just a military base.  It's much more like the towns we live in than anyone would like to believe.

All photos were taken by me during trips to Fort Hood (hence the poor quality).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Austin!

I cannot believe that I am the parent of a 15 year old.  Holy schnikes.  Happy Birthday to my intelligent, talented, strong-willed, ridiculously handsome oldest son, Austin Quinn.  I love you!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Casualties of War

You’ve all heard Lupe’s story.  Many of you have heard Yery’s story.  This is my story.  I do not write this with any ill intent or to start any sort of drama.  It is simply to clear the air on many half truths and accusations being tossed around so that hopefully the fighting can stop and the healing can begin.    

When I embarked on the “Fight for Lupe” campaign nearly ten months ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Life is unpredictable under the best of circumstances.  Throw in a variable like cancer, and there’s simply no telling what the future holds.  And people…I’ve learned that people will always surprise you, in both wonderful and horrible ways.  Still, I never predicted the tragic ending that awaited this tale.

In the beginning of all of this, I didn’t know the Maldonados well.  My husband had served with Lupe for a brief time at Fort Hood, and Yery and I were Facebook friends who chatted now and then, but had never (and still have never) met in person.  What I saw was a loving wife, outwardly frustrated by the lack of treatment her husband was receiving from the Army for an unknown stomach ailment, who was devastated to find out, after months of misdiagnosis, that her husband had colon cancer.  Knowing that Yery was a fan of my writing, I asked her if she’d be interested in me writing about their story.  She and Lupe agreed, and the result was Fighting for Life: One Family's Tale of Unspeakable Tragedy and Unwavering Strength.

About the time I was publishing their story, the Maldonados’ friend and neighbor Sammi Jo, who I also only knew through the internet, was starting a support page for Lupe called Fight for Lupe.  I was somewhat familiar with how to run Facebook pages, so I offered to help Sammi Jo and Yery get the page up and running.  From there, things blew up bigger and faster than any of us were ready for.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of crazy.  Lupe’s story was shared around the world, and there were thousands upon thousands of well-wishes and prayers and messages coming in- faster than we could read and respond to them.  There were media requests from newspapers and TV stations, charitable organizations offering services, people wanting to start fundraisers.  It was amazing, but it was also overwhelming.  I don’t think I slept for about two weeks!

One of my favorite memories from those early days is the Skype date my husband and I had with Lupe, Yery, and Sammi Jo one night.  They’d had a hell of a couple days.  They were all still processing Lupe’s diagnosis and Lupe was in horrible pain, but they all had smiles on their faces and were constantly laughing.  I was in absolute awe of their strength and resilience.

Say what you will about the decay of today’s society, but one thing is still true- when people see a family hurting and in need, they want to help.  And when they don’t know how to help, they start throwing money around.  So it was not at the request of the Maldonados, but at the requests of hundreds (if not thousands) of followers of the Fight for Lupe page, that we set up a Go Fund Me account for the family (to which only Yery and Lupe ever had financial access to), and began to hold fundraisers.

That’s when things started to get a little crazy.  I began getting messages from fake Facebook profiles and emails from strangers accusing the Maldonados of “running a scam,” and calling their character into question.  I knew enough to know that there was no scam involved.  Lupe had been diagnosed with cancer.  That was an indisputable fact.  The family wasn’t asking anyone for money, people were just giving it to them, out of the goodness of their hearts.  They didn’t come to me about taking their story public, I went to them.  These truths fell on deaf ears quite often, but they were truths nonetheless.  As far as their character- I’d been nothing but impressed by Lupe’s love for his family and Yery’s dedication to her husband.  Sure, I didn’t know them “personally” and hadn’t known them all that long, but I didn’t concern myself with what a few anonymous internet trolls thought of them.  They were a family in need. I had a way to help them.  I was going to continue to do that.

People often sent gifts to the Maldonados, and were constantly asking, “what can I do for them?”  Lupe was in no sort of shape to take a vacation, but he did express to Yery his desire to have a real wedding- to marry her in a church.  So with the help of those following their story, a beautiful wedding was thrown for Yery and Lupe by their family and friends, which I wrote about here: A Wedding to Remember.

Despite all of the support, Lupe’s condition continued to worsen.  He was in constant pain, and there seemed to be complication after complication with even the simplest of procedures.  But here’s the thing.  At NO POINT did I actually think he was going to die.  I wore my Fight for Lupe bracelet on my wrist every single day and continued to share the Maldonados’ story.  And I knew without a doubt that someday I’d be helping Yery and Lupe write a book about their triumph over Lupe’s cancer.

In early November 2013, the Fight for Lupe page was abruptly shut down, with no explanation as to why, leaving many to speculate and wonder.  Those who are good at context clues and internet stalking might have stumbled upon this, which about sums it up: Fighting No More.

Now.  I realize that this is only one side of the story, and Lupe’s version of events is likely much different.  However.  These facts remain: Lupe WAS arrested for domestic abuse.  There were multiple witnesses to Yery’s injuries, which I saw the photos of myself.  And there is, as I write this, still an active Order of Protection against Lupe.  So any attempts to downplay what happened or shift blame from the guilty party to the innocent are misguided.

I was in an abusive relationship for over a decade.  I have zero tolerance for domestic violence, regardless of the circumstances.  So I could no longer support a man who was guilty of such a deplorable act.  Was Lupe still a war hero?  Yes.  Was he still battling cancer?  Yes.  Did he still need the support and prayers of his family and friends?  Absolutely.  But I no longer considered him a friend, and thought it best to leave the “fight” to those who did.

I kept in touch with Yery, who I considered a very close friend by that point.  We’d been through quite a bit together in a very short amount of time.  I was so proud of her for how strong she was.  She left and never looked back.  I understand that some may see that as cold, for a woman to leave her dying husband and take his children away, but until you’ve been in those shoes, you can’t judge.  I’m a mama bear by nature, so I was in awe of her steely resolve to never put herself or her kids back in that situation, even though I know it killed her at first.  But she moved on quickly.

Yery has made no attempt to hide the fact that she’s in a new relationship, and has been since shortly after moving back to her hometown.  It’s common knowledge among those who know her.  Personally, it wasn’t a decision I understood, but it wasn’t mine to understand.  Maybe this guy was “it” for her- her Prince Charming after so many years of heartbreak and sadness.  I’m a big believer in grabbing any chance at happiness you find with both hands and never letting go.  Sure, the timing was awful, but who is anyone to judge true love, or when and where you will find it?  Still, I knew the things the public would say if they found out, and I prayed Yery would be protected from that.  I wasn’t 100% behind that choice, and I’m still not, but it was so refreshing to finally see her and the kids with smiles on their faces.

Yesterday, I received word that Lupe is not expected to live through the weekend.  My reaction was not anything I would have expected, because that news was not anything I ever expected.  I started bawling, right at work, in the middle of my busy office.  It’s hard to have contempt for a man who’s on his deathbed.  And I really, truly, believed that Lupe would beat his cancer.  I thought he would recover, seek therapy for his PTSD, and then go about making amends with his children.  His marriage to Yery was irreparable, I knew that, but I hoped they could at least make peace.  Despite everything that happened, I still wanted some sort of happy ending for this family.  I was invested.  Too invested, maybe.  But I think we all were.

Instead, he’s going to pass without having had the chance to make things right with his kids.  For reasons that are not mine to understand, Yery has decided not to take the children to say goodbye to their dying father.  The last memory his children will have of their daddy is of him being handcuffed and taken away in a police car after assaulting their mother nearly three months ago. The word “heartbreaking” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

In the midst of my grief, the guilt started to set in.  Through my stories, I’d started the very public “Fight for Lupe.”  And I was the one who put an end to it.  When he felt like the entire world was fighting for him, he was fighting.  And when that stopped, he stopped.  How do I ever make peace with that?

I reached out to Yery to see what I could do to help.  I spent the better part of my day yesterday trying to find a way for her and her children to make the six hour drive to the hospital where Lupe will likely take his last breath.  I hoped that if I could just do this one last thing for the family, it would bring everyone involved some degree of peace.  But that was not to be. 

I reestablished the Fight for Lupe Facebook page, because I knew how much all the prayers and well wishes meant to Lupe, and thought maybe having them back would bring him some comfort in his final days.  But I’ve had to constantly monitor the page for nasty comments from both sides of the fence- Team Lupe and Team Yery.  There should be no teams at this point.  Everyone should be united.  There’s nothing left to fight about.  It’s all over.  And nobody wins.  We all lose.

Lupe will lose his war against cancer and the battle with his personal demons.  Yery lost the fight for her marriage that she’d invested so much in.  The Maldonado children lost first their hero, and now will lose their father.  Lupe’s family will lose a son, a brother, a cousin, a friend.  His Army family loses a mentor and an integral part of their team.  And we all lose that hope for a happy ending for the Maldonado family.

I’m reminded today of a lesson I’ve learned many times in my 30+ years on this planet- sometimes life’s just not fair.  Sometimes good people make bad choices, and sometimes bad things happen to good people.  We’re all flawed human beings.  We all make mistakes.  Some bigger than others.  And sometimes we don’t get the chance to do things differently or make amends.  Sometimes you put your dog in the wrong fight, and don't realize it until it's too late.  Sometimes you go to battle for someone or something, you fight the good fight, and you lose anyway.  Sometimes we’re all casualties of war.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

He Just Reads the Articles...

What man wouldn't kill to be able to say, "my wife's been in Playboy?"  That's a dream I made come true for my husband last week.  I just hope whoever he brags to actually reads it for the articles, otherwise they'll totally miss me.

In a very strange turn of events, one of my stories was featured in the Playboy Tribune's 1/8/14 edition.  Not my memoir, which I've spent countless hours and way too much money promoting in the year and a half since it was published.  Not my novel that I slaved over for six years before releasing last April. was actually a piece of fan fiction, my first (and most likely only), that made it possible for me to make statments like this: "I can't wait to call my Grandma and tell her I made it into Playboy!"  Seriously, the jokes are endless.  And you should have seen the look on my teenager's face when I told him.  I think he feels like I'm invading his territory or something.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a huuuuge Sons of Anarchy fan.  Without giving away spoilers, I'll simply say that the season six finale left me completely heartbroken.  It's been over a month, and I'm still not over it.  I felt compelled to create an alternate SOA universe, one where things turn out differently.

So that's what I did.  Just for fun.  Just for me and some other die hard Charlie Hunnam fans I know.  And now, because of it, my website is getting more traffic than it's ever seen.  And I wound up featured in Playboy.  In the articles, of course.