A dear friend recently asked me, “Do you have a bio that you LOVE?”
I don’t, so. I will write one.
I was born on the 22nd of June, 1986, in a small town called Radford, Virginia. My mom was nearly 37 years old when she had me and I wasn’t part of the “plan.” Doctors had, in fact, told her she was barren. She muses that, since she started to show around Thanksgiving time, she was just getting fat because she’d been eating too much turkey and stuffing. Either way, my dear ma had a C-section because, as she puts it, all the turkey must have gone straight to my fat head. My dad divorced my mom a year later.
They stayed in touch, my dad only lived about 15 minutes from my mom and I spent time with both of them. It’s important to note here that my Father, Wilson, worked for the same company for almost forty straight years. First it was C&P Telephone, then it was Bell Atlantic, then it became what is now the enormous Verizon Telephone. Dad was a systems technician and he never missed a day of work. He retired at the age of 54 and continues to be a representative of the type of American Dream that seems as far away and intangible as the Sun itself. My mother, Maggi, is of course, an “artist.” She’s a stained glass, fiber arts, tile, photography, pencil and paper type of extraordinarily talented artist who can do anything besides hold down a “typical” job or maintain a “normal” level of mental sanity. She moved to the mesa of New Mexico when I graduated from high school, bopped around out there in the sagebrush in pursuit of the perfect sunset for a while and, eventually, bought a house a few miles south of the Colorado border at nearly 8,500 feet. She lives out there, through those New Mexican winters, all by herself, although she did have a pet rock squirrel named Rocky who stole her toilet paper for a little while.
As a kid, life seemed pretty good. My Dad went to work and played the piano, my mom cried a lot but that seemed fine, too. I didn’t cry much and I never got sick. I was extremely cute and, especially when I was a kid, my hair was the color of a carrot on fire. I got through all the predictable levels of schooling and was a stupendously involved student in high school. I was President of the Student Council, president of the Astronomy Club, played flute and trombone (not at the same time) in the marching band, I ran varsity cross country, I played soccer and I took five Advanced Placement courses my senior year. Upon reflection, the only evidence at this time I can see of my soon-to-be rebellious ways was when I penned an essay about how utterly ridiculous calculus was on TOP of my AP Calculus exam, rather than solving any mathematical equations. In the long run, this proved not particularly helpful as I, obviously, failed the exam, as an essay was not what they were looking for, and the AP credits didn’t transfer in my future years. I’d still like to read that essay. I bet it was good.
My high school graduation is the first screwy event in a trend of screwy events that seem to somewhat color my life. If I have guardian angels, they are drunk. I took the SAT’s and the ACT’s and I received high marks. I had a recommendation from my high school principal, I was a super-duper student, my GPA was high! I did all the right things and, so, and I applied to all the super-duper colleges and universities. I lived in Virginia, so it was places like William and Mary and the University of Virginia. I applied to some less academically inclined places, too, but the end of the story is that they all flat-out rejected me. Not wait-listed, just rejected. Firmly. From every college I applied to. I still don’t understand it, and neither did anyone else.
I knew a Mennonite girl named Cheryl. She was always nice to me and I liked her family, they made delicious food. After being firmly rejected from every other school, I went to visit Cheryl at HER school, Eastern Mennonite University. Like Cheryl, the rest of the students seemed really nice. I’m not religious, mind you. I am especially not Mennonite. But, the university said they’d accept me and, sensing no other options, I accepted their acceptance and found myself enrolled in a very expensive, private, Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
At EMU, I thought I’d be a dual photography and English major but I also dabbled firmly in the art of bulimia, which I now understand is often a version of self-abuse that manifests when you are extremely uncomfortable in your surroundings or body and have no idea how to talk. I didn’t fit in, at all. For some reason, they chose me to be the “Residential Advisor” my sophomore year and I remember laying on the floor in my single room with a pile of hot laundry on top of myself, the air conditioning turned on and all the lights turned off, sobbing and ignoring all the other girls who knocked on my door for something or another, and realizing I wasn’t the “right fit” for what I had undertaken. After an Amtrak train trip around the country with my friend Kristen during winter break, throughout which my bulimia continued to escalate, unchecked, I dropped out of EMU in the middle of my sophomore year.
I went home, to Radford. I went on walks with my Dad and to therapy for some time. Apparently, at some point I convinced everyone the solution to my inner unease was to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine and, since my grandmother had left me some money when she died, that is exactly what I did. I started in April in Georgia and I continued walking until I got to Maine in October. I had a Lyme’s disease scare, fell down a few times and met some nice people, but, mostly, that long walk continues to be one of the easiest things I have ever done. All you have to do is walk, eat and sleep and then repeat. It’s great.
Sadly, though, a 2,175-mile walk wasn’t enough to abate my bulimia, and I carried that right along with me into the post-hike disillusionment, pausing only long enough to transform it into anorexia as well. I helped my mom move another load of art supplies from Virginia to New Mexico and then wiled away the days by participating in another of my favorite pastimes: picking up hitchhikers!
I picked up these two guys in front of a gas station outside of Taos one afternoon and they said they were going to Tucson. I thought the taller one, who had a big facial tattoo, a black trench coat and smelled like wood smoke, was incredibly attractive so, despite that I had no idea where Tucson was located and was driving my mom’s Ford Taurus, I said I would take them there. It was a fourteen-hour drive so we had plenty of time to get to know one another and, once we got to Tucson and slept in a fucking tunnel underneath the city that is used for runoff during monsoon season, I had decided I was terrifically in love.
As love tends to do, though, by the morning I decided I was clinically insane, effectively ran away from the two fellows and drove back to my mom’s house. They hitchhiked BACK to Taos and found me. Further proof that this was love. It had to be love. We stayed together, on and off, for the next five years. He was schizophrenic, an alcoholic, a heroin addict and abusive, on all fronts. Mentally, physically and verbally. I had nothing to compare it to, I had never dated anyone before him, and we bought a 28’ boat together and were frequently isolated from everyone else. We drove my cars back and forth across the country, we sailed my little boat all over the place, I bought his booze and he “taught” me how to tattoo. I learned how to ride a freight train, how to sleep under bridges, how to “fly a sign” and how to get arrested. I also learned how to sail and how to make major and minor repairs to a fiberglass boat. I also tattooed my own face in a strange and sort of sad attempt to get him and his other dirty, heavily tattooed friends to like me, and that’s the truth of that story.
Over the years, I started to realize he wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. At one point I got so pissed at him that I single-handed my little 28’ boat, Dolphin, from Key West, Florida, to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. He called me when I got to Mexico, told me he loved me and I went back to him. He then returned to Mexico with me, after I worked for six months to get him a passport, and we and another friend sailed to Guatemala and up the Rio Dulce river. He said we should sell the boat, I said ok, and then he flew back to California while I stayed in Guatemala. There are a thousand more stories packed into this paragraph. I brought the boat back to the states alone and, there, I sold her to my old friend. I supported us all along the way through the strength of my body and of my art.
I flew back to Cali and we broke up, once and for all. I had started doing yoga. He went to prison for manslaughter soon after. As far as I know, he’s still incarcerated.
I dislocated my left knee working on a weed ranch and had surgery on the right one the next day. I couldn’t walk for a while, I started selling my paintings for more money. I moved across the country again and I bought my old boat back. I hauled her out for eight months and did an absurd amount of manual labor, funding it all by selling weed, tattooing and doing the brunt of the work myself. There’s the honest truth, again.
In 2016, my best friend and non-blood sister Kimberly committed suicide in St. John, USVI. As I always expected, as of now I have ascertained that her husband actually killed her. Either way, her death fucked me up in every way possible. I was living in Key West at the time, aboard Dolphin, and I recall distinctly looking around and finding no one to hold me. So, I did what I always did, I ran. I sailed to New Orleans, up into Lake Ponchartrain, and I spent a very hot minute living aboard in New Orleans without electricity or running water. Looking back on the decisions I made during this time, I can only assume that I was practically insane. People are not meant to be that temperature for that amount of time. It wasn’t a very good look. I acquired even more questionable tattoos and dated a guy who honestly thought he was a werewolf.
At some point, it was decided that I would leave my boat and possessions and travel to Black Rock Desert to work as part of the Department of Public Works (DPW) building the giant festival in the dust that we know as Burning Man. I worked with DPW for three straight months, as part of the power crew, laying the giant, underground, temporary grid that powers Burning Man. I also walked in a straight line with 250 other people across the desert for three straight weeks as a part of “playa restoration.” I learned a lot about festival culture and was paid a sum total of $350 for my efforts. At the end of the season, I drove my truck, full of all my most expensive and precious possessions, to Oakland, California, where the entire vehicle was promptly stolen. I had been to Oakland before, the first couple times they only stole a stereo and a battery. I should have known better. To make a long story short, I got the truck back thanks to the ingenuity of some tow truck drivers and cabbies in the area, but most of my stuff was gone. Strangely, the only things left in my truck were the frame to my longbow and a yoga mat. I imagine everything else got hucked off the side of a cliff somewhere, besides the power tools. They were all Dewalt or Makita.
I felt I was very close to a nervous breakdown at this time. The weird acupuncture exorcism the guy I had been sleeping with in the desert had performed wasn’t helping, either. My best friend Zac showed up and took about nine billion photographs of the drive from Oakland, California to New Orleans, Lousiana, and he paid for hotel rooms and reminded me to eat food. We got back to New Orleans safely.
I decided it was time to make a change, to re-orient the set of my stars. I decided to sell my boat and pursue a “career” as a “professional” mariner. Someone told me about an apprenticeship program that was “free” in Piney Point, Maryland, and they accepted me. I applied for, and received, my Merchant Mariner’s Credential and my TWIC card. I sold the boat for $3500 to my friend Logan, making absolutely no money off the situation, and beat tracks for Maryland.
Piney Point was an incredible diversion from everything I had known. It is a militarized program, we slept in barracks and marched in lines to class. I met a guy named Charlie and thought it would be smart to sleep with him on the roof of the building after hours. It wasn’t. I made it through the first phase of the program, the second phase being a 90-day apprenticeship on a ship of their choosing where you spend 30 days in galley, deck and engine departments. Piney Point has, effectively, become a funnel to the service department of Norwegian Cruise Line, but you can’t work for Norwegian with facial tattoos. Trumped! I waited at Piney Point another two weeks and was then picked up by Alaska Tanker Company and flown to Cherry Point, Washington, to begin my 90-day stint aboard their oil tanker Explorer.
Working on the tanker was pretty neato, but it was also extremely difficult. I got through it, but I got a bad evaluation from a single, Chinese chef who didn’t like me. She said I, “had a bad attitude,” and gave me a poor review. Despite my “superior” ratings from the deck and engine departments, both the actual directions I wanted to travel in (I am not an enthusiastic cook), Piney Point dropped me from the program when I submitted my project upon my return. They never gave an explanation, but I wouldn’t have had a chance to digest it, anyway.
When I read my journals, I realize that my stomach had been hurting for years. I had about 15 pounds of extra weight I couldn’t explain, despite routinely running 6 miles on treadmills aboard oil tankers and the like. I felt slow and strange. Health care had never been my priority. I just never got sick. After being dropped from the program at Piney Point, I did it again. I ran. I got in my car and I just started driving. The guy I was sleeping with at Piney Point was on a boat that was due into Houston, Texas, so I drove down there. I ran into another ex-boyfriend, Jason, at a bar. I decided that I loved him. I told Charlie. He said he didn’t care, so I stayed in Houston and hung out with Jason.
The story of my cancer diagnosis is a long and complicated one. I have told it at other points in this blog. I had an eight-pound tumor in my right ovary and this, eventually, became large enough to eclipse my bladder’s ability to function. My bladder nearly ruptured and killed me but I received a catheter just in time. My surgeon’s husband was a sailor on the tall ship Elissa and she decided to save my life. They removed my right ovary, fallopian tube and twenty-six lymph nodes and then the tumor was diagnosed as cancerous. Stage three ovarian cancer. I underwent six months of BEP chemotherapy, all my hair fell out and I turned into a skeleton. Jason was drinking nearly a handle of whiskey a day and wasn’t a help. My friends started a GoFundMe that raised over 18K. I had already sold my truck and everything I owned, though, but I got through it and I didn’t die. The chemo worked, they knew it would. My type of cancer was the rarest and most curable kind. There’s that drunken guardian angel again.
We bought a van from Jason’s roommate, packed it with our shit and drove down the Baja of Mexico. Jason wouldn’t stop drinking. We tried to go to Reno, Nevada, where my friend had a spare room, but he wanted to go back to Houston. Eventually, he took the van and left. I have no idea how he’s doing now. I bought a cherry red BMW and drove it to Philadelphia, where another friend had a spare room. I stayed with her until Philly got to be too much and yet another friend said there was a place I could stay in Maine. I had heard of Camden because schooner Appledore sailed there from Key West in the summers. I moved to Camden, Maine and I spent an entire year there healing from my dramatic experience in Houston. I endured chronic staph and UTI infections that were “wicked” gnarly due to my weakened state, but the hardest thing I endured in Camden was being utterly, absolutely unemployed. I applied everywhere, but no one would hire me. I was forced to ask my Dad for money when I ran out of fuel oil in the middle of the winter and there was no foundation under my shitty rental house. It was negative temperatures INSIDE the house.
I realized I had been living in Maine for a year and Maine Maritime was nearby. In-state tuition policy stated I had to live in Maine for one year. This was perfect. I applied. They accepted me. It felt like the hand of God herself had reached down and plucked me from oblivion, Maine Maritime was my salvation! So, I moved to Castine once the weather thawed out and worked as a house painter until school started.
Freshman year went well, I got great grades. Last summer I translated my apprenticeship onboard Alaska Tanker’s Explorer into a Co-Op opportunity and I received a 100 on the project. I participated in the Race to Alaska and sailed from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska aboard a 27’ trimaran without an engine, and then I worked a summer alongside my ex-boyfriend aboard a terrifically shady salmon tender, packing 250,000 pounds of salmon into her hull at one time and transporting them around Prince William Sound.
At MMA, I am on the Dean’s List, was invited into the Honors Course and am Chief Mate of Schooner Bowdoin, the school’s training ship’s, club. I am 30K in debt so far and will sit for my 200T license in April. I am a writing tutor. I am, also, suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, seeing a counselor for trauma and have chemotherapy-induced Raynaud’s in my hands. I’m finally in a relationship I feel good about. I own a 38’ steel yawl named Cu Mara that I have never sailed. I sell everything I have every painted or drawn but I have absolutely no fucking idea how is best to proceed forward from this point.
And now, we are here.