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Monday, November 3, 2014

Walking With The Dead: A Self-Guided Tour Through Zombie Central

Walking Dead fans, heed this advice: STOP EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW AND GO TO SENOIA, GEORGIA.  No, seriously.

The quaint little town, home to less than 4,000 people, is THE holy land for fans of The Walking Dead.  My family and I found ourselves there sort of by chance recently (I’ll touch on that later), and it was one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had.  Here are the fool-proof instructions for a once in a lifetime zombiepalooza:

Make a weekend of it. 

We made the mistake of only allotting ourselves a couple of hours in Senoia, as we were just passing through on our way from Michigan to Florida.  Big mistake.  We easily could have spent an entire day in Senoia alone, not to mention all of the other nearby filming locations we didn’t get a chance to explore. 

Book yourself a room at the Dolce Atlanta Peachtree.

 There is only one bed and breakfast in Senoia, and from what I hear, it books up pretty quickly.  (I also hear that it’s lovely, so it’s worth at least checking into.)  Being that we were traveling with two children who’d just spent twelve hours in a car, I didn’t want to spend the whole night shushing them, so we decided to stay in a more “hotely” hotel where rambunctiousness is expected.

Peachtree City is less than a fifteen minute drive from Senoia, and has several different hotels available for your choosing.  I booked our room through, which was offering an awesome rate on rooms at Dolce.  (Think less than $100 for four people on a Saturday night.)  The pictures of the hotel were gorgeous, but I know looks can be deceiving.  In this case, they were not.  Dolce is not just a hotel, it’s a resort.  Nestled deep in the Georgia woods, it has a campground feel, and offers many amenities that we simply were not there long enough to enjoy, such as an indoor pool, fitness center, restaurant, bar, biking and hiking trails, volleyball, tennis, basketball, billiards, horseshoes.  Basically, you could make an entire weekend out of just staying at the resort.  The rooms are nothing special, but they’re efficient enough.  I was beyond impressed with Dolce, given the fact that our stay was so cost effective.  (I had to show my husband the receipt, because he didn’t believe me when I told him what we paid for it.)

Dolce Atlanta Peachtree in Senoia, GA

Start your trip at the Woodbury Shoppe  

Trust me.  For us, this was not an option as we arrived in Senoia at 10am, but the Woodbury Shoppe didn’t open until 1pm, so we had to do our exploring on our own.  I say to start your trip here for two reasons.  One, it’s awesome.  The upstairs is full of one of a kind TWD memorabilia, and the downstairs is a veritable  TWD museum, complete with movie props and signatures of the show’s stars all over the walls.  Two, at the shop, they sell a Locations guide for $25.  I’m gonna go ahead and guess that the locations guide corresponds with the numbered plaques we found all over town, pinpointing filming locations.  As we’d already done all of our exploring and the Woodbury Shoppe was our last stop, we didn’t invest in the locations guide.  If we had it to do all over, though, we would have started there.  It would have made things much, much easier.  You also never know who you might see there!  During our visit, one of the walkers was there signing autographs.

The boys outside the Woodbury Shoppe.
Daryl's Bike
The Hospital Doors
Hanging with zombies.
Bicycle Girl

The Wall o' Norman

The Governor's Chair of Torture

The Prison Cell

Prison Cell

Penny's Cage

Go exploring!  

There are many different ways to do this.  You can do a self-guided tour using info you’ve found online (like we did) or using the Locations Guide sold at the Woodbury Shoppe.  If you choose to try to map it out yourself, one excellent site to use for that is Walking Dead Locations.  There are also guided tours you can pay to take part in.  I hesitate to endorse any particular tour service, as we didn’t go that route, but I imagine it would take the guess work out of things.  (We got lost and turned around quite a few times.)

The first and most obvious landmark is Main Street, which served as Woodbury in season three.  No mistaking it.  We called this “ground zero” and visited it multiple times.  From the intersection of Main St. and Travis St. (where this photo was taken), there are several exciting locations to visit, all within a short walking distance.

On the east corner of Main St. and Travis St. is Senoia Coffee and Café, awesome for lots of reasons.  A.) Because when filming in Senoia (which, as I write this, they are), the cast frequents this spot in the mornings for coffee and breakfast.  B.) It’s very recognizable as the Woodbury Café.  C.) I hear their food is excellent.  (They are closed on Sundays, so we didn’t get a chance to try it.)

Just a little further east down Travis Street is this bridge over the train tracks, which we saw in season four, episode fifteen when Glenn and Tara decided to go through the tunnel while tracking Maggie, and Abraham and his crew decided to go around it.  This is the same tunnel seen in season four, episode ten when Tyrese, Carol and the girls find a Terminus sign.  (Side note: Further west down these same train tracks is where Rick, Michonne and Carl saw their first Terminus sign.)

If you return to ground zero (the end of Main Street) and go west on Travis St., you’ll very quickly happen upon Milton’s lab from season three on your right.

Hang a quick left on Pylant St. to find two notable locations from season four- the house Rick and Carl take refuge in after escaping the prison:

In the lower photo, you can see one of the numbered plaques I wrote about earlier.  They are located all over town.  I assume they correspond with the locations guide for sale at the Woodbury Shoppe, but I can't be sure.

 And Carl’s chocolate puddin’ house:

Now, back to ground zero for the most awesome filming location of all.  I’ve saved this for last for two reasons- one, you always save the best for last, and two, depending on when you read this, it may no longer exist.  Directly south of the intersection of Main St. and Travis St., visible from Woodbury itself, is what’s known as THE WALL, where they are actively filming season five.  HOW EXCITING IS THAT?!  While we couldn’t get too close due to security staff, we were able to see the actor’s trailers and their current set, which includes a burned out church, some half-built townhouses, and a giant aluminum wall.  (For privacy, or for filming, or for both, I’m not sure.)  I did hear someone say that they only film during the week, and who knows how long they’ll be there, but if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the cast where they’re currently filming, GO AND GO NOW!  (And go during the week.)

Just outside the downtown area are even more filming locations, a few of which we visited.

The bar where Merle had his last stand, luring walkers to his car as he drove into the governor’s camp, can be found at 34 Chestlehurst Road, and is pretty easily recognizable.

Also located on Chestlehurst: THE PRISON (!) located at 600 Chestlehurst.  Now, don’t get too excited.  This is really just the location of Raleigh Studios, where the prison scenes were filmed.  Rumor has it that when the prison scenes were being filmed, you could see the watch towers, the buses, the tanks, and all kinds of stuff scattered about.  Now it just looks like this:

Lastly, and I shouldn’t even probably list this because I’m not sure whether we found it or not…but it’s said that Hershel’s farm is located at Chestlehurst Rd. and GA-85, with an entrance on each road.  I know we must’ve driven past it, as we were all up and down both Chestlehurst and GA-85, but it’s private property and can’t be seen from the road.  So whether we really found it or not remains a mystery.

Hershel!  Where are you?!

 Aside from The Walking Dead, there have been lots of other shows and movies filmed in Senoia, which are proudly boasted on their walk of fame.  (My favorites: Sweet Home Alabama and Fried Green Tomatoes.)  The shops are adorable, the restaurants looked interesting, and the most exciting thing of all is the feeling in the air of never knowing who you might run into.  (I’ll admit, I looked for Norman every time I heard a motorcycle.)

Hanging in a shop window in Downtown Senoia.

 Aside from Senoia, there are multiple filming locations for The Walking Dead in Georgia- Atlanta, Grantsville, Sharpsburg, and more.  You could easily make an entire weekend out of it, and I wish we had.  

If I had it to do all over, I would make more time to enjoy the rustic charm of the Dolce Atlanta Peachtree.  I would BUY THE LOCATIONS GUIDE at The Woodbury Shoppe.  I would go during the week, when everything’s open and the cast and crew are there filming.

And if I had any vacation time left at work, I would DEFINITELY do it again.  With as much fun as we had in Senoia, I was worried about how the rest of our trip would measure up.  And sure enough, even after a week at Disney World and Universal Studios, our afternoon in Woodbury was all the kids could talk about on the long ride home.    

Friday, August 8, 2014

August 8th

Every year on this day, I am awakened by a familiar, unwelcome feeling.  It tugs at me like a fish on a hook, trying to drag me down into the deepest, darkest depths of my memories.  It’s the heaviness in my chest and the half smile on my face that is always just a moment away from turning into a sob.  If I hear the wrong song.  If someone says the wrong thing.  If I allow my mind to wander, even just a little.  It’s the summer of 1995 all over again, the last summer of my true youth; a forever open wound in my life story.

When I woke up on the morning of August 8, 1995, I had no idea that before the day was over, my entire life would change.  Summer was drawing to a close and I was trying to squeeze every last bit of fun out of it that I could before I entered my sophomore year of high school.  In the 1990’s, August was music festival season in Michigan.  People would criss-cross the state from one end to another, just to stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other intoxicated, overheated fans, watching their favorite bands play in open fields under the blazing sun.

My concert of choice that day was the Hootie and the Blowfish show at MichiganFest.  Across the state, Boyz II Men was headlining another festival.  Pretty much everyone I knew was going to one show or the other.  I was excited, because the friend I was going to see Hootie with was related to the drummer of the band- and not just distantly related.  They were first cousins!  That meant we got the MichiganFest royal treatment, if there was such a thing- backstage both before and after the show, autographs, VIP seating, even a regrettable interview with a local TV news station.  With Sun-In in my short, bobbed hair and my new denim bib-overall skort on, I felt like royalty as I stood next to Darius Rucker (or Hootie, as 99% of the world calls him) and smiled for photos, showing off my new, braces-free pearly whites.  I think back on it now, and I still can’t believe I didn’t feel it happen; that I didn’t just inherently know something was wrong.  Was I really too caught up in all the fun I was having to notice the gravity shift beneath my feet the moment my lifelong best friend died?

I don’t remember the day I met Anna, because we were both too young at the time.  We were just babies- two sweet little girls with hippie mommies and badass daddies who’d been friends since before we were born.  Our friendship was never a conscious decision.  It just…was.  I knew her phone number before I knew my own.  Bumblebee ballet, first day of kindergarten, first slumber party, first scary movie, holidays, birthdays, vacations- we did it all together.  I remember stealing fresh green beans out of her mother’s garden in the summer, and the day we became ketchup sisters- inspired by an episode of Punky Brewster, but too chicken to actually poke our fingers and become blood sisters.

I also remember my first real heartache, when Anna and her family moved from just down the street to a neighboring city.  I laugh when I think about it now, how close she actually was- just a 20 minute drive away.  But to an eight year old little girl who was used to running back and forth between her best friend’s house and her own whenever she wanted, it felt like a million miles.  I remember running through the cornfields behind her new house in the country, pretending we were hiding from the “children of the corn,” and the time we got into a huge argument because she wanted to play basketball outside while it was drizzling, but I’d just gotten my first perm, and couldn’t get it wet.  (I already looked like a poodle, I didn’t want to look like a drowned poodle.)

A year after she moved away, she moved back.  Same neighborhood, but a little further down the street.  Most importantly, though- same school.  Brownies, Girl Scouts, matching poodle skirts on Halloween with all of our friends.  Roller skating, note writing, boyfriends.  Petty vandalism, petty larceny, petty fights.  Walking home from school and stopping at the party store to buy sodas in brown bags, then pretending like we were drinking beer and acting drunk the rest of the way home.  We lived in the ghetto, so nobody ever seemed to notice.  And if they did notice, they didn’t care.  And then…growing pains.

My middle school self was a bit straight-laced and had this innate desire to fit in at all costs.  Anna remained her wild and carefree self, doing whatever she wanted without the slightest bit of concern for what anyone else thought.  She was so…audacious.  We ran in different crowds, but there was always a deep bond that kept us tied to one another.  We didn’t have to be friends all the time.  Because we were sisters.  We would always be sisters.

The last time I saw Anna was on our last day of 8th grade.  We walked home together with our usual group of friends.  I had my Walkman on.  Ace of Base, “I Saw The Sign.”  We walked close enough so that Anna could hear the music through my headphones.  We laughed, we talked, and when we reached my house, we hugged goodbye.  We were going to different high schools in the fall, and even though we avoided the subject, we knew it would change everything.  I remember watching out my front window with tears in my eyes as she and the rest of our friends disappeared down the street, toward their own homes and separate futures.  I knew nothing would ever be the same.  But I had no idea I would never see Anna alive again.

I remember how my brain could not comprehend the words “Anna” and “dead” in the same sentence.  How was that possible?  She was always so vivacious, so full of life.  Was it because she had a lot of living to do and not as much time as the rest of us to do it in?  Was the knowledge that her life would be a short one somehow woven into the fabric of who she was?  I still couldn’t process it, even seeing her lying there so still, so beautiful.  I just wanted to shake her and tell her to “Wake up!”  I remember clinging to the other two members of our childhood gang “The Four Musketeers” during those very difficult weeks and months that followed.  There were only three of us left.  And we couldn’t lose one another.  Not ever.

It’s been nineteen years since Anna’s death, and I still hear her laugh every now and then.  I’ll be in a crowd and I’ll hear it- that boisterous, unmistakable laugh.  Then, before my brain even registers who it is I’m searching for, my heart reminds me that I won’t find her.  Some people think that death is the end of a person’s life, the conclusion of their story, but I know that’s not true.  Anna is still with me just as much as she ever was.  She’s constantly teaching me lessons and giving me reminders when I need them- like to never stay too mad at anyone I love for too long, no matter what they did.  To forgive, forget, and move on, because life is short.  To love my life and the people in it.  She’s the reason I occasionally throw caution to the wind and do something completely reckless and impulsive, not giving nearly enough thought to the consequences.  And she’s the reason I always worry when my phone rings in the middle of the night, and when my children are traveling in cars with other people.  Almost two decades later, and I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Today I mourn the loss of my best friend, my sister, and the life she could have had- the one I wonder endlessly about.  But tonight I will celebrate the life she did have, and the impact she continues to have on the lives of those who knew her, with the only two other people in this world who feel her loss the exact same way I do.  Somehow, over the years, we’ve remained close through marriages, kids, tragedies and triumphs.  But we will never be “The Three Musketeers.”  We will always be “The Four Musketeers Minus One.”  We love you, Anna.  Always.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On My Own Two Feet

 I’ve started to write this a million times.  Every time I reach an important milestone in this journey I’m on, I think, “okay, NOW I can sit down and write it all out.”  But then I decide I’m just not there yet.  I like to reach the end of a journey before I reflect on it.  The catastrophe has to be over before I can look back and say, “Wow, that was really fucked up.  But I made it.  It’s over now.”  I realized today, though, as I reached yet another major goal in my new life, that this particular road I’m on- it has no end.  All I can hope is that it becomes easier to travel.  And it is, little by little.

It all started on a cold winter morning, one Sunday nearly six months ago.  I was meeting a couple of friends at a local coffee house to discuss some not-so-pleasant things.  We were in the midst of the winter from hell, and the entire world was frozen, it seemed.

So it was with caution that I parked my minivan in a parking lot that had not been properly plowed, in a spot as free of snow banks and slush puddles as I could find, and navigated my way inside the café.  I was early for my meeting that day, which is very much unlike me, so I grabbed myself a hot chocolate and a lemon poppy seed muffin and took a seat by the door, watching traffic out the front window.

As I waited for my friends to arrive, I thought about the million things I had to do that day before another hectic week began.  Grocery shopping.  House cleaning.  Errand running.  You know, the usual.  My friends arrived.  We talked, we cried, we laughed, we hugged.  We spent a good hour in the café.  And then when all was said and done, we headed out the door.

The café was a little busier and the parking lot a little fuller when we left, so finding our way back to our cars proved even trickier.  There was a line of cars parked right in front of the coffee shop, with snow banks in between them all.  The sidewalk was patchy with ice and snow and slush.  While one of my friends decided to be brave and take the shortest route to her car, climbing over a waist-high snow pile in the process, I was not feeling quite as adventurous. 

So I walked a few parking spaces down to find the path of least resistance, a snow mound that looked at least passable.  I said, and I quote, “I’m going to go a little further down so I don’t bust my ass.”  And then it happened.  In one second, my entire world changed.  Forever?  Maybe not.  But at least for a very long time.

I was stepping down off the curb, and I slipped.  I didn’t fall.  My body never hit the ground.  But the jarring movement was enough to quite literally tear my leg in half.  The pain was beyond excruciating.  I could hardly find the breath to call out to my friends and tell them that I needed help.  I leaned into the closest car to me and reached my hand down, knowing what I would find.  Protruding, twisted bones.  My kneecap clear on the back of my leg, 180 degrees from where it should have been.

“I’m hurt,” I managed to choke out, clutching for my friend that was just a few feet in front of me.

“Did you slip?” she asked.  She was smiling, not at all aware of how badly I was injured.  I was still standing, after all. 

“I dislocated me knee,” I told her.  “Like, really bad.”  My voice began to tremble.

“Can you walk?” she asked, reaching a steadying hand out to me.  I grabbed onto her and squeezed, maybe subconsciously wanting to pass some of my pain onto her?  I don’t know.  I’m just glad (and surprised) that I didn’t break any of her fingers.

“I can’t move,” I whispered, tears stinging my eyes.  I tried to blink them away, afraid they would freeze on my face, it was that cold.  I leaned a little more onto the vehicle beside me.  My friend called out to our other friend, who had just conquered Mount Snowbank.

By this point, people inside the coffee house, many of whom had seen me slip, came outside to help.  I was trying so hard not to panic.  There was a huge lump in my throat, and my stomach was twisting and turning, threatening to return my hot chocolate and muffin to the parking lot of café they’d come from.  And my leg- well…I’ve known physical pain in my life, many times, in many different ways.  I’ve pushed two humans out of my body, for God’s sake.  So believe me when I say that it takes a lot for me to make this statement- IT WAS THE WORST PAIN I’VE EVER EXPERIENCED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.  It was a sickening, irrevocable pain.  The kind that I knew, I absolutely knew, would change everything.

“Let’s get her inside,” I heard them saying.  “It’s too cold out here, we need to get her inside.  I think she’s in shock.”  Their voices sounded far away.  And my voice was non-existent as I tried to protest while strangers wrapped their arms around mine and began to pull.  The feeling of bone grinding on bone snapped me back to the present pretty quickly.

“No!” I shouted.  “No.  Please.  Don’t touch me.  I can’t move.  I can’t walk.  Just leave me here.  You have to leave me here.”  Dramatic, right?  To this day, I find it deeply concerning how quickly I was willing to completely give up on life.  I would definitely be the first to die in a zombie apocalypse.

Someone brought out a chair, and I screamed bloody murder as a group of do-gooders lowered me into a sitting position.  But at least I wouldn’t have to move again.  Ever.  That chair and me- we were bound together for life.

“I’m calling your husband,” my one friend said, taking my phone out of my jacket pocket.  “I’m calling an ambulance,” my other friend insisted, dialing 911 as she stepped away from me in hopes that I wouldn’t hear her telling the operator how gruesome my injury was.  I did.  “I’m taking pictures of this sidewalk,” a cute girl wearing bright red lipstick and a concerned scowl said.  “The condition of the ground is just awful, it’s no wonder you slipped.”  Thanks, love, but could you get out of here with your cute face and your working legs?  That’d be great.

At some point, while I was sitting there, an employee of the store came out with a grande sized coffee cup and began sprinkling salt ON THE GROUND AROUND ME.  That poor boy still has no idea how very lucky he was that I was physically unable to move.  I would have snapped him like a twig.  And if I ever see him again, I still might.  He quite literally poured salt on my wound.

The Looking Glass Fire Department arrived from the next town over- before my husband, who was less than half a mile to the west, and before the Delta Township Fire Department, which was less than half a mile to the east.  I still don’t know how that happened.  “You see what I’m seeing?” one EMT said to the other.  Yes, dipshit, he sees it.  It’s bone protruding through my jeans, a leg that looks like it was beaten by the Hammer of Thor.  He sees it.  WE ALL SEE IT.

I was worried about my husband being there, for some reason.  We’d only been to war and back (in a very literal sense) since getting married three years prior.  Maybe I was worried that seeing him would push me over the edge that I was so loosely clinging to, and I would start panicking.  Or maybe I was worried about the way he would react- I’d never seen him in a crisis before.  I imagined him doing one of two things- completely freaking out, or trying to act like everything was normal and converse about shit like the weather and his plans for the day, making small talk with the crowd around us.  He did the latter, in case you’re curious.  I almost killed him that day, too.  But he was also comforting, holding my hand and avoiding eye contact with me as I whined and panted like a coyote stuck in a trap.

Another ambulance arrived.  More EMTs.  More oohs and ahhs over my injury.  And then, disaster.  “We have to move her onto the stretcher,” they said.  I AM NEVER MOVING AGAIN!  I pleaded, I cried…but in the end, it was no use.  Four men dressed in blue lifted me from the chair onto a stretcher, then lifted the stretcher into an ambulance.  My husband stood in the treacherous parking lot, talking to me through the open doors of the ambulance about where he was taking his kids and when, who he was going to call, when he would be at the hospital. I DON’T FUCKING CARE!  And then, while the EMTs were starting my IV and trying to figure out how to strap my mangled leg to the table, my husband THREW MY PHONE TO ME…like I had the ability to jump up and catch it.  It hit me square in the leg.  Yes, that leg.  I reached for the scalpel on the shelf beside me so that I could chuck it at his eyeball, but it was just beyond my grasp.  Lucky him.

Every bump we hit on the ride to the hospital, I thought I was going to die.  I wanted to die.  The EMTs were surprised that my blood pressure was through the roof.  They were perplexed by the fact that I was burning right through every kind of narcotic they put in my IV.  MY LEG IS FUCKING TWISTED IN HALF, DUMMIES!

As they lowered me down out of the ambulance and wheeled me into the hospital, I actually began praying for death.  I tried to remember if I told my kids I loved them the last time I saw them, so that I could go peacefully into the light.  (Again, dramatic.  But these were dire times.) 

Finally, we reached my trauma room.  And then the worst thing in the world happened.  They told me they had to move me from the stretcher into a hospital bed.  I begged, I threatened, I maybe even screamed- but apparently, nobody in the ER listens to reason.  I was already in a bed with wheels.  Why did I have to be moved to another one?!

Once I was in the appropriate bed, the real fun started. A woman in cat print scrubs and 1970’s glasses came in with a giant pair of scissors and began cutting my jeans off me.  “These aren’t your good ones, are they?” she asked with a smile.  Yes, bitch.  My husband arrived.  My mother arrived, then promptly had to leave the room a dozen times because she couldn’t stand seeing me like that.  My father-in-law arrived.  My husband had called everyone we knew to tell them about what happened.  Apparently, it was a party.

But I tolerated it, because peace would soon come.  I was in the hospital, where they had the GOOD drugs.  They would dope me up, do their thing, wrap my knee with an ace bandage, and send me home.  In my heart, I knew it wouldn’t be that simple.  I had to hope, though.

They gave me a heavy dose of pain killers so that they could take me down for x-rays.  I felt nothing but pain.  As soon as they could, they gave me more.  Again, nothing.  They finally decided I was just going to have to deal, so they sent me down to x-ray writhing in pain, expecting me to wear my big girl panties.  You cut my big girl panties off me, motherfuckers!  Remember?!

Because I hadn’t been tortured enough, the chipper young bitches in x-ray felt the need to contort my leg in a dozen different ways to get the pictures they needed.  I feel like the residents of the next county over could probably hear me screaming.

More pain.  More drugs.  Talk of taking me to surgery.  My mom cried.  My father-in-law cracked jokes.  My husband stood by looking lost and helpless- a look I’ve come to know well from him in the past six months.  While I screamed in agony, a doctor tried to manually push my knee cap from the back of my leg to the front.  It wouldn’t budge.  They decided to sedate me.  But every time they tried to put me under, I stopped breathing.  They almost had to intubate me.

The ER staff was at a loss.  For several hours I just laid there, my leg twisted in half, my will to live fading.  (Drama.)  And then a beautiful, wonderful man with a name I can’t remember came in wearing turquoise scrubs and a look of determination.  “I’m not gonna do anything, I’m just gonna see…” he kept saying in this gentle, calming voice as he lightly caressed my thigh while my husband looked on.  In hindsight, it was a weird scene.  In the moment, I was too freaked out to care.  “Please don’t,” I begged.  “Please, please, please don’t.”  I’m on to you, Dr. McLiar Pants.  I know what you’re trying to do.

He tried the shock and awe thing, and attempted to jam my kneecap back into place unexpectedly, but he ran into a snag- literally.  My knee was wedged beneath my femur bone and wouldn’t budge.  I finally reached a stage of acceptance.  He was going to have to manually work my knee back into place, slowly and painfully, and I was going to have to find a way to live through it if I ever wanted to leave that hospital room.

So I began breathing like pregnant women do in the movies, all “hee hee, hoo hoo” and tried to invoke an out of body experience.  I was unsuccessful.  After nearly an hour of massaging and kneading and pushing (none of which was as enjoyable as it sounds), my kneecap was finally at a precipice, hovering on the upper corner of my femur bone.  In an experience that was similar to a baby crowning during childbirth, but on a much less beautiful scale, I held my breath and bared down as the doctor gave my kneecap one final push, and it slid back into place with a sickening snap.

“Thank you,” I cried, letting out the breath I’d been holding for nearly seven hours.  “Thank you so much.”  It was over.  Except…it really wasn’t.  In my tale of woe, this is merely the prologue.

For the first two months following my accident, I was in a brace that consisted of three metal bars that went from my ankle to the top of my thigh- a torture device called a knee immobilizer.  I couldn’t sleep in my own bed, only in the recliner in the living room.  And I couldn’t sleep with that damn immobilizer on, so I would have my husband help me take it off before bed, and then I would call him, every hour and a half to two hours, to come out from the bedroom and help me put it back on so I could go to the bathroom, or go get water and pain pills.  It was kind of like having an infant for him, I imagine.  I was the biggest, most helpless baby in the world.

I couldn’t work, and was placed on disability.  I technically lost my job for a time, but it was all a bunch of red-tape malarkey.  I didn’t leave my house for weeks at a time, and then only to go to the doctor, terrified to slip on the ice and snow.  I couldn’t even shower without assistance.  I was a complete invalid. 

I fell into a deep depression, which was worsened by the absence of individuals that I previously considered close friends- people I always went out of my way to be there for, who I thought would always be there for me.  They weren’t.  But I get it.  Life is hectic, and having a disabled friend is an inconvenience.  I tried very hard to focus only on the wonderful people who were there for me through those very dark days, rather than the ones who weren’t, but I wasn’t always successful.  Truth be told, I still struggle with that sometimes.

Two months after my accident, I was able to shed the immobilizer and upgrade to a very uncomfortable, but much more functional, knee brace.  I started physical therapy.  I began driving again, although just getting out of the house was a huge ordeal.  Most importantly, I developed a complicated system that allowed me to shower and get dressed with zero assistance.  That was awesome.

Each day blended into the next- all spent on the couch, watching everything Netflix had to offer, writing, taking on random, ridiculous hobbies and then getting bored with them after a few days.  My husband and I fought constantly- him struggling to do it all on his own, plus take care of me; me depressed and frustrated that I couldn’t cater to my family and run around playing Super Woman like I’d done for so many years.  I don’t think either of us will ever fully understand what the other has gone through over the past six months.

I began having nightmares on a regular basis, ones where I would slip and be about to fall, with the knowledge that if I did, I would reinjure my still-injured knee.  I’d wake up in a panic, my heart racing, and be unable to fall back to sleep.

We had to cancel the trip to Disney World we had planned for Spring Break.  It was the first time either me or my kids would have ever been.  I had to give up concert tickets for this summer that I bought for my husband’s birthday because I won’t be able to navigate the stadium steps to get to our seats.  I celebrated my son’s fifteenth birthday, my wedding anniversary, my husband’s birthday, and my own birthday all from the confines of the couch, barely able to move.  I missed out on my kids’ sporting events, school activities, field trips- all while just sitting at home on my butt doing nothing.

I got pretty good with my crutches, but I eventually got sick of being cooped up inside all the time, so I got a wheelchair so that I could venture out more often, and to more places.  I still struggle with being seen out in public in my wheelchair or on one of those motorized carts they have at department stores.  It’s embarrassing, but it’s a necessity.

There have been good moments too, though- like the first time I was able to go a full rotation on the recumbent bike, and the first time I took an unassisted step, over three months after the accident.  Both times, the very supportive staff at physical therapy cheered me on like they would a baby learning to walk. 

The first time I went for a drive by myself, the wind in my hair and the radio blaring, is something I will always remember.  (Of course, I had to have someone help me to and from the car, but still.)

Eventually, I graduated from my crutches to a cane and stopped wearing my brace.  I slowly began regaining my independence and venturing out on my own, without assistance.  I recently returned to work, but am still struggling to climb out from under the mountain of debt caused by the months I was on disability, only receiving a percentage of my salary.

I still have nightmares about falling again, although not as often, and get very nervous when walking on uneven ground.  We’ve rescheduled our Disney World trip for this fall, with the knowledge that I’ll likely have to use my wheelchair for at least part of the time.

At home, when I’m just going from room to room, I hardly ever use my cane now, although my penguin-waddle walk is a sight to behold.  I’m still in constant, constant pain.

I haven’t been upstairs, where the kids’ bedrooms are, in almost six months now.  I’m terrified of what it looks like up there.  My husband has done his best to keep our house and yard in shape, and he’s done a great job, but it’s all in desperate need of a woman’s touch.  And I can still only stand/walk for a couple minutes at a time.

I still mourn the loss of relationships I once held dear- ones that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get back, or if I even want to try.  I'm not sure if my husband and I will ever completely recover from the trauma of being in a caretaker/patient relationship for so long.  I hope so, but it isn’t easy.

I’ve become much more active in recent weeks, but every single thing I do is still a struggle, and it’s maddening.  My physical therapist sees me frustrated more than I care to admit, and reminds me regularly how far I’ve come.  I know she’s right, but that doesn’t always (or often) make things easier.

Today, I graduated from physical therapy.  I’m far from healed, but I’ve become independent enough to rehabilitate myself, apparently.  It’s empowering and daunting all at the same time.  From here on out, I’m on my own. 

If I’m ever going to be “normal” again- live pain free, walk unencumbered, be able to do the things I did before, shed the wheelchair and the handicap parking pass, get over the emotional damage- I have to do it myself.  And it was with that knowledge that I walked out of my physical therapist’s office for the last time today- slowly, wobbly, but on my own two feet.

Friday, June 27, 2014

In Recent News...

A quick look at my website reveals a very obvious fact about me- I've become obsessed with Sons of Anarchy.  Like...super obsessed.  One would think I've got nothing better to do with my time than fawn all over fictional characters all day, errday.  But one would be wrong.

Just a few things that have been on the ginormous plate here at Casa de Carpenter this year- I've spent the entirety of 2014 thus far trying to recover from a nasty accident that left me completely disabled.  Austin's neurologist pushed to wean him off of his anti-seizure meds again (against my wishes and better judgment), which resulted in a relapse in seizure activity for him.  That is always very scary for all of us.  Our population of pet ducks quadrupled (thanks, spring fever!).  We filmed a documentary about our haunted house and were approached about being featured in a reality series.  I watched every single episode of Game of Thrones in under a week, and am now dangerously close to being as obsessed with that as I am with SOA.  We redecorated the master bedroom, and it now fits in with the rest of our funky/country/antiquey house.  Ethan put a hole through his lip playing baseball, and nearly sliced off the tip of his finger off in an unfortunate beef jerky incident. And I am now the proud parent of a high school sophomore and a 6th grader.  (Whaaaat?!)

I promise to dedicate some time to telling all of these crazy stories (and more) soon.  XOXO- Jenn

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sons of Anarchy Fan Fiction Central

As I do with so many things, I've thrown myself head first into the world of fan fiction, with a focus on Sons of Anarchy.  So much so, that I had to create a website to house it all.  Come check out Sons of Anarchy Fan Fiction Central, where you'll find the very best of the best in SOA fan fic!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wardrobe Malfunction

Being a bigger girl, it can be difficult to find clothes I like.  And it is nearly impossible to find anything pop culture related in my size.  I hate ordering clothes online, because I like to know how something fits me before I buy it.  As such, I'd resigned myself to never be able to rep my favorite show (Sons of Anarchy, for those who haven't been paying attention) with a cute tee.

But the other day, I was at my local department store and found some cheap, oversized t-shirts in the men's department.  I was very excited to see that they had a Sons of Anarchy shirt.  I bought one, but when I got home and tried it on, it was very...mannish.  I hated it.  So I decided to try my hand at modifying it.  If I ruined it, I was only out $7, so it wasn't a huge gamble.  Oh, and BTW, I DO NOT SEW.  So my options were limited.

I took a ruler and a permanent marker, and measured two inches from the neck line, making little dots all the way around the collar.  Then I used the scissors to cut along the outside of the line, cutting both the front and back side of the tee at the same time.

It took me less than five minutes to turn my frumpy man shirt into a cute, over the shoulder tee.  I love it!  And I'm so excited to try this out on some other tees!