I’ve always been the one behind the camera. On the Edge. Arrogant. Confident. With a Devil May Care Bad Attitude. National Award-Winning Photojournalist. #2 in my news sequence Graduating Class at Kent State University. Top Photojournalist in the school… The resume sounds good and I have all the stories and adventures to boot but there was always an enormous cost to my achievements.
I wasn’t there for my brother, Robert, to save him from suicide. I was so focused on keeping my grades up and on my own survival that I missed the desperation in his voice that night. When others were out partying I was studying. Hoping for that golden future promised. I interned at top newspapers and got a full-time job right away. I put out 5 resumes and got 5 interviews while others put out hundreds. I picked a gritty local paper to work for and felt I could take on anyone. I had to work harder and be better so that the awards I won would cover the isolation I felt as the only women on the photo staff. I had to be tough enough to see past the hazing and survive in the ultra competitive take no prisoners abusive news environment where you were only as good as your last picture.
But this lifestyle took a toll. I saw too many horrific things. Some days were so bad I would cry in my car all the way home. In 1995 on the way to cover a plane crash for a local newspaper I was a victim injured in a three car hit and run crash involving a Drunk Driver. It took me more than a year to get off disability, another three years to get off most of the meds and another ten years to get out of debt. More crashes and more injuries over the years took a toll but I always bounced back. It got to a point where it just wasn’t worth it any more. I decided to walk away. I did freelance magazine work for awhile but the contracts were only worth the lawyers I could pay to enforce them. My clients would take a one time use payment and make it a forever we own this use. I tried being a nanny and teaching preschool, VPK, Kindergarten. Rewarding and loved the kid’s but car crash injuries always took their toll.
In 2014 a glass van whipped out into the path of my car. It was like a bomb went off. I remember lying in the middle of the street with a doctor and nurse working on me and firefighters cutting off my clothes and I just knew no matter what happened I was not going to let this destroy my life. I was left with a choice: I was told that I would need five more surgeries to help repair the damage to my body. This was after already having an aircast on my foot for months, enduring countless painful therapies along with numerous shots and invasive procedures.
Five more years of pain and recovering from surgeries that no one could guarantee would fix me. This was more than I was willing to do. Instead I chose to have a stem cell procedure in hopes that that cutting edge technology can help. The effectiveness still remains to be seen. I still deal on a daily basis with varying levels of chronic pain. Now I own a vintage toy store. The kid’s call it T’s Toy Heaven. It’s lots of fun but as always the car crash injuries are sometimes unsurmountable.
Chronic pain and the financial cost of dealing with it does something to me that I don’t like. It takes away the laughter side of me. This past year I made a decision. I would make the most of moments that matter. My New Years resolution was Fun and Hope. That change of attitude which I still struggle to keep positive has already made so much difference. I started doing things I never would have done before. Supporting causes of those who like me have also had cancer scares. I found a group that combines fundraising with the most amazing celebrity events I have ever attended. Sandyovarian.org
This leads me back to the part about getting kissed by Tristan Rogers a.k.a. Robert Scorpio, the fictional former Police Commissioner of Port Charles, a character on the TV show, General Hospital. My first cop crush. Role Model. Back then when I was a kid rushing home from school and then work to watch the show, I didn’t even realize it. That this larger than life character chock full of charm, adventure, romance and integrity would have such a drastic lifelong influence on me.
How Robert Scorpio treated people on screen set an example for me that didn’t take root right away as I dealt with my own demons and the anger surrounding my brother of the same first name’s death. The tenderness of his affection with onscreen daughter, Robin, and wife, Holly, as well as the stand up way he took care of his friends and then later his ex, Anna, helped to make him such a beloved character that he almost seemed real. He also upheld the law in a way that made sense. The dramatic way in which he and his tv cop wife were honored as killed in the line of duty WSB agents I didn’t see until many years later. I saw it years after I had begun my own journey to honor those real police officers who did make that ultimate sacrifice.
Those who lived their real life the way Robert Scorpio did on TV. My journey to document those family tragedies took many years and encompassed so much emotion. But everything came full circle when I had the unique opportunity to meet Tristan Rogers in person at the fundraiser last week. Thirty-four years after I first remembered him on my TV screen.
I got to observe this iconic man’s kindness to a fan in a wheelchair when he called her grandmother on the phone personally. I saw him patiently sign autograph after autograph for hours. His demeanor with fans. His humor when he laughingly told the audience how he was able to cry on cue by thinking about the salary he made performing. What truly revealed the kind and compassionate man that he is was the lengthy discussion we had as he fortuitously for me was seated next to me at dinner. After asking everybody at the table their names and a little bit about what they did we got to interact just like normal people would. Well as normal as you can be speaking to an icon of your childhood.
“Oh My God,” I said. “Do you have any idea what this feels like sitting next to my childhood hero?”
Tristan just smiled and took it in stride just as he probably has done his entire career.
We talked about everything from Barbies to his early start in acting. He likes to say he was not that good in the beginning but Gloria Monty must have seen then what we all know now. That this character she created was not that far off from the man who walked in to play him.
But I think the thing that touched me the most this day was what he said in response to when I told him how nice that was-the phone call he made to that fan.
I didn’t write it down so I will just paraphrase as much as I can. He looked me in the eyes inches from my face and said this… When you have the opportunity to do something that really makes a difference in someone’s life you should do it. I just felt that it was the right thing to do.
We continued talking about what had happened to me with my injuries and someone asked me if I ever got married. I said no I was engaged once but he left because he couldn’t deal with my medical problems. Tristan’s face looked surprised and sad. He lightened things up by saying something like you know what you need is a man to take you away for a great weekend. We all laughed and then talked more about Barbies. Turns out he owns a collection and I offered to help him figure out the value of it. He asked me for my business card which I gave him. I don’t know if you will call but it felt nice to be appreciated for what I do.
As we lined up to get pictures with Tristan before he left to go to the next table one girl asked if he would kiss her on the cheek for the photo which he obliged. I kind of laughed and said wow you’ll have to start kissing everybody now. I really didn’t think he heard me and I don’t know if you did or not. I certainly didn’t expect anything. I was just really happy to be there and meet you. I posed for a picture with you and I thought that would be it.
“Look at me,” Tristan said.
I turned to look up at him and he kissed me on the lips. And held it for probably about 10 seconds so that The Kiss could be in the photograph. Robin (Cohen) told me later that this unnerved her so much that she was shaking and almost didn’t get the picture. I mean who would not want to be kissed by Robert Scorpio? And now I learned what it’s like. Magic. I felt like Cinderella at the ball getting kissed by the handsome Prince Charming. But what impressed me the most was that this kind man knew full well what it would mean to me and wanted to do exactly what he had said earlier. It just felt like the right thing to do. Perhaps that is why to this day he is one of -if not the- Most Loved Character and real person who graces the screen on daytime television.
I felt like I could have listened to you speak for hours about the stories only you could tell. Maybe someday I will get another opportunity to speak with you. But most importantly maybe we should all take a life lesson from you Tristan Rogers.
Make a difference. Do what matters. Touch someone’s life in a positive way whenever you have the opportunity. And remember that no matter how dark you may be feeling in one moment there is always the possibility of a light at the end of the rainbow. Thanks Tristan for being that light for me.
I was pulling out of my apartment complex very early one morning when I saw smoke coming up from the trees across the street. The fire trucks had just arrived and there was a flurry of activity and smoke swirling up from back in the trees of the wooded area. I felt a sense of dread. It was a gut feeling in the pit of my stomach. Onlookers seemed frantic. I feared the worst.
“Children in car…” I heard.
We had pulled over and stopped on the side of the road. I grabbed my friend’s camera off the seat and jumped out quickly. The first shots I took were of a female firefighter coming out of the woods carrying an injured little girl. Another male firefighter came running out of the woods behind her carrying a baby boy limp in his arms. I took pictures as both firefighters tried frantically to resuscitate the boy and save the girl. Both children were dressed in their pajamas.
I have spent some quiet time thinking lately about what has been happening to the Red, White and Blue that is the fabric of America. Our country is a unique beacon in the world with rich resources that are as appealing today as they were to Chris Columbus the visitor who some give credit to discovering America. The country where the infiltrators wiped out the native people of an entire continent.
We are the current caretakers. We must not be naive and think that our beautiful country belongs to us without our soldiers guarding our outside borders and our police guarding the interior. Every breath we take on this continent cost someone else their live. The elusive thing we call Freedom could be taken from us if we let our guard down. If we allow outsiders with their Trojan Horse agenda to seep and creep into the fabric of our society. Lets protect our house first. Our Family of all colors and races and the Blue and Green that protect all of them. If visitors disrespect what we stand for, if they choose to threaten what we live for or if they build a network of enemies within our own borders who want to kill us then they must leave. Like a guest who has stayed too long and disrespected us. They must leave.
We must stand our ground on this: We welcome you if you are safe but if you have come here illegally or with death intentions, well, as Lebron would say….NOT IN MY HOUSE. My house is Blue.
When LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led the Cleveland Cavaliers to victory it was surreal. it was A Dream Come True. But now we are back to reality where police and black people dying headlines the news. A war inside our country. A place of historic darkness has settled in again. A place of sadness where we will have to find light and love for one another once again.
In September of 2001, I grieved with the world over the loss of our people, especially our first responders in the form of firefighters and police officers in the muslim terrorist attacks. In December of 2014, I joined with other law enforcement supporters to stand with police families after the shooting of a black teen in a park who had been brandishing a modified toy gun in Cleveland. Today I stand with law enforcement officers around the country after more shootings of black men by police and the retaliatory killing of the Dallas 5 police officers and more. As law enforcement officers again come under fire, this time it is from a home-grown black terrorist organization. I will not stand silent.
There is a war going on inside our country. A cauldron of hate. It festers in the embers until something bad happens. Then it rages. The thin blue line gets asked to again suffer. As suffering occurs in all communities, it rains on the black inner-city communities. Pick your poison. Evil lurks. It always will. And when the thin blue line grows weary, who will protect us all?
In our country of melting pots, we all speak a different English. Some call it Mars and Venus. Others call it Ebonics and Cracker. You may even call it Bling and Ghetto. Whatever the differences you should be aware that your personal circumstances, experiences and biases determine your interpretation of the things you hear, see and do.
It is in the way you see the world, your personal or group paradigm that determines how you and others interpret the data that makes you feel safe or scared in all circumstances. It is in the translation of that data that gives us our common sense or gut feeling even if we don’t even speak the language.
It is the interpretation of that combination of body language and verbal comments that have led me to want to vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States. Here is why:
I see an influx of many who are different who come to this country. While I believe in diversity and also helping welcome newbies, I do not believe in anything that I feel would jeopardize our national security. Unfortunately, there are many who have entered the USA illegally or without having been properly vetted. You wouldn’t let a stranger live in your home and risk your children’s lives so why would you be okay with those same strangers bypassing our military and police system of safety? They may live in your neighborhood, shop at your store or be in your child’s school. is it that far fetched to imagine a parent being a suicide bomber? Think about it. We are only as safe as the protections of safety that are infrastructured around us. Sure we are not A PERFECT SYSTEM. However, if we don’t put safety first it is the most vulnerable of our society who will be the easiest victims.
They came from Thailand and Australia and around the world and maybe even from the ends of the earth. I came from Jacksonville.
Former Clevelanders and Believelanders made their way in droves unrivaled to see the transcendental transformation that Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team built for my hometown. The World Championship that seemed Biblical in proportion. The magical and memorable reversal of fortunes for a city forever ridiculed for a trash-covered burning lake, an unappreciated and neglected police department and a kidnapping-serial-killer surplus all within a few zip codes. All In became an Earned to a greater Cleveland area where it truly seems that Nothing has ever been Given. It took the Love of one man for a city and its people and their reciprocation to make the Impossible Dream Come True. A perfect team in a perfect year on a perfect day for a perfect parade for all the world to see and remember. A white cloud of hope and victory replacing the black cloud, the curse that had been my city’s legacy.
As the gods continued to align, they shone on the underestimated Cleveland Plain Dealer staff as they performed a Pulitzer Prize Worthy Quality performance as well. From photos to stories to headlines to unprecedented distribution by every member of the inside staff, they Delivered.
The massive crowd of 1.3 million fans -celebrity, native and gangsta- crowded the city to celebrate their hometown heroes in person. Shirtless JR, Kyrie and Iman, wrestling-championship-belt bedazzled Love, crowd-walking Mo and Rolls-Royce convertible throned Lebron, (with his newly franchised presidential protection detail), led the rest of the not-so-familiar famous members of the Cleveland team through the sometimes fan-blocked path in the streets of a confetti-gold downtown.
The eternal glow also enveloped the embattled Cleveland Police Department officers encompassed by Homeland Security Special Forces Detail as they served and protected all. Even little lost children came to them.
It ended with a grateful and comfortable Lebron and company inviting his newly-noticed international family to celebrate in traditional locker-room style. Fortunately, the 500,000 people transported to downtown via an all day $5 ticket on over-capacity RTA trains weren’t that angry when they couldn’t find their way home. My brother and I were among the tens of thousands of other stranded travelers who walked out of downtown 9/11-style from a five-hour-long parade spent in the homestyle heat enduring no loaves, no fishes and no water shortly before shots rang out. It was one for the record books that memories are made of.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around the tragic unfolding of events in Orlando last weekend, so I got in my car and drove two hours to the place some call the happiest city in the world.
As I watched the neatly manicured lawns of the neighborhoods pass by my window, I thought of how small the city seems when you get away from Disney and the amusement park area. In the Sodo neighborhood, that spans several small city blocks near one of the outdoor malls, I was again surprised to see the size of the tight-knit, usually quiet walking community. The place where some stores are open 24 hours and neighbors check on neighbors, that was caught up in the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in US History.
The bar at the center of the tragedy, Pulse Lounge, was at the end of a small road called West Esther Street, close to a fire station and a few blocks from a children’s hospital that became instrumental in caring for the injured and saving lives during and after the gunfire. Resident Donald Ato recalls having a pleasant short conversation on his birthday with one of the victims as the unwary patron left a car parked on the street across from his home and walked down to the club that fateful night. After the tragedy the car remained for days.
As FBI, local law enforcement, and other state investigators combed through the crime scene, removed bodies, and went through a complex but organized system of identification and family notification, a large entourage of media with their vans, huge transmission satellites, and tents blocked off roads outside of the police-taped area.
Less than five miles away, located next to another outdoor mall, was a second sidewalk tribute with heart balloons, notes, and candles marking the location of the other headline shooting tragedy to come out of Orlando last weekend: The Voice star and Adam Levine favorite, Christina Grimmie, was shot by another lone gunman as she eagerly greeted autograph seekers after a well-received concert in a little converted theater called The Plaza. This just one night before the mass shooting. I walked up to the door and saw a sign that read no concealed weapons are allowed on these premises. As I approached the makeshift memorial to yet another young life lost that weekend, Sophia Sullivan, age 9, and her grandmother, Susan, arrived to pay their respects. She placed balloons and read some of the messages, and then the two told me they had been at Christina’s concert. Sophia had wanted to stay for an autograph, but her grandmother said no, and they left moments before the fatal shooting.
Sophia told me she wanted to come so that she could make sure Christina’s loss wasn’t overlooked in the shadow of the Plush Lounge headlines.
As I spoke to more people, both those present at these tragedies and those who came in for the cleanup, I was left with two questions: Will love ever overcome hate? And in places where guns are not allowed, how will we protect ourselves? Long after the ringing of the victims’ unanswered cell phones has gone silent, I hope we will remember that life is finite and love is endless.
I hope we’ll also remember-and appreciate-that ongoing efforts to keep us safe are a full-time and dangerous job undertaken by many who tirelessly spend their whole lives in that endeavor, and that they do so in an environment often totally hidden from view.
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