Fire, it keeps burning

Funny thing about fire.  As much as I have tried for the last several years to stop it, it just won’t burn out.  I did try.  I stomped on the embers, hoping they would go out.  But they wouldn’t.  Fire has kept appearing in my life and I think I’m ready to capture its flame again.  Well, I will try.  At least, I think I will.

Do you wonder what inspired my comeback to the blog?  I hope so.  There were many points in the last few years that I wanted to return but resisted.  And then, I got the call.  An agent I thought had dropped me, since I stopped auditioning.  I stopped doing so many things in the last few year.  She said a casting agency requested me to audition for Chicago P.D.  Ugh, I thought.  On-camera.  A long shot.

But it was Chicago P.D.  National TV.  The venerable Dick Wolf franchise, moved to Chicago with Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago PD and the soon-t0-be launched Chicago Justice.  The sets were down at Cinespace, Western and 16th, in that mini-Hollywood set of sets.  I hadn’t been down there.  So, I agreed.

Drove down to the casting agency and did the audition.  Just one line.  Was not impressed with my performance.  Just two takes. In and out.

The next day I got the call.  I booked it.  “Do you know your character is also appearing on Chicago Justice?” the agent asked.  What?  “You are in the cross over event launching Chicago Justice so you’re character will be in Chicago P.D. and Chicago Justice – it’s a three hour show on March 1.”

The scripts arrived.  My character — Mrs. Collins also called Tamra’s Mom — was the mom of a 25-year-old young woman burned in a fire.  Wait, the mom of a daughter burned in a fire?  What are the chances?

Since I am the daughter burned in a fire.

It was simply enough to get me back on the blog.  There are a few stories to tell.

In the meantime, if you have time and interest, watch on Wednesday, March 1.  It’s the three-hour crossover launch of Chicago Justice.  Starting with Chicago Fire on NBC at 7 CT/8 ET, you will see Mrs. Collins in Chicago P.D. and then in Chicago Justice.

Might I be back?

 

 

 

Pain, Pain Go Away……

X-Ray of the HipsThe day had arrived for my appointment with the pain specialist and it was, appropriately, gray and rainy.  As I thought about the appointment, my heart started beating faster.  I was in my 20s when I had the last appointment with the plastic surgeon for my leg and I’d forgotten the anxious feeling that always arrived with those appointments.  It was back.

I breathed deeply and tried to exhale the anxiety, which probably only made it worse.  I’d had maybe 20 plastic surgeries and debridement procedures for the burn.  When I had the last surgery at 18, I remember waking up in the middle of the procedure lying face down and gagging on the breathing tube.  Then the memory went back further.  I was maybe 3 years old and I couldn’t walk.  During the roughly three months in the hospital, I was kept immobile in a crib covered with netting so I couldn’t get out.   It took months of painful physical therapy to re-learn how to walk.

These memories swirled in my head as I sat in the waiting room, feeling increasingly light headed.  “Gallagher,” the receptionist called.  When the nurse walked me to the exam room and took my vitals, my blood pressure, normally 110/70, had inched up to 140/80.

Dr. F. walked in and immediately put me at ease.  “I read all your forms,” she said as she examined my burned leg and did a reflex check of both legs.  She asked again about the injury as she had me do a series of movements with my arms and legs.  “I’d like you to have x-rays taken but I think I know the source of your pain.  It’s an SI injury.  We can fix this.”

SI, or the sacroillac joints, connect the spine to the pelvis.  The most common symptom of SI joint dysfunction is pain, often experienced in the back of the hips, the thighs or in my case, the groin.  “How would I have done this?” I asked.  Apparently even stepping the wrong way can create this condition but any condition that alters the normal walking pattern can put stress on the SI joints.

Among other things, my prescription includes a series of manipulations to my pelvis to move it into alignment and six weeks of physical therapy.  Dr. F. offered me steroid injections as well to treat the inflammation and relieve the pain thought I’m not so sure how I feel about that.  I’m not partial to shots.

It’s nice to feel ‘fixable’ and even better that this really had nothing to do with my burned leg injury.

“We see injuries all the time,” Dr. F. noted when she did her exam.  “Nothing really surprises us any more.”

I should have known.

 

Au Revoir et Merci 2011*

*That’s simply “Goodbye and Thank You 2011” in French.

As the sun sets on 2011…thank you to all my Anne on Fire blog readers.  Between the champagne and your choice of revelry, please post a comment on what you would like to see written in 2012.  For anyone interested, a summary of this year’s stats from the blog is compiled below.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

 

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Perspective From the Newspapers

The first roll of microfilm threaded through the library’s reader as if it were on a mission to be viewed.  I smiled, hopeful that with a new set of film covering five months of the 1965 Green Bay Press-Gazette from there would be some clue about my childhood accident — was there even a fire call?

I’d already viewed a year of Green Bay Press-Gazettes from 1964 and found absolutely nothing.  This didn’t completely discourage me since my mother had made entries in my baby book about the accident’s dates as both November 1964 and 1965.  Other than those baby book entries, the stories I’d heard and the whispers behind cupped hands, the only empirical verification I had of my burned leg accident was the leg itself.

“Annie, why are you looking for this stuff?” my friend Mr. Baum asked me in his endearing but quizzical manner.  “Are you not quite right in the head?” he chided.   As a reporter, Mr. Baum asked questions for a living for more than 40 years.  They were questions worth posing.

Even though I felt confident that the stories I’d heard about burning my leg on a stove at age two were probably right-on-the-money accurate, I couldn’t help but look for some verification outside of the pool of relatives who served as my sources.

“There are some things a person just wants to know.”  It wasn’t the most scientific of answers but it seemed to quiet Mr. Baum, at least for the time being.

The microfilm reader hummed as I paged through images of the newspaper from 40 some years ago.  My mother’s entries in my baby book said that in August I put my hand to the stove and burned it, a spooky foreshadowing of the larger injury to come.  But the August newspapers didn’t carry a fire call and it was more likely than not that this burn was treated at home or the doctor’s office.

As the November dates approached, I felt tension.  Would it matter one way or the other if there was a news item or fire call on Tuesday, November 23rd?  I knew it wouldn’t but kept paging through the microfilm just to check.  “Clearing and cold tonight.  Low near 23 degrees,” was the weather report for that day.

An annual solar eclipse occurred November 23, 1965. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partially obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth.   Depending on which literature you read, “eclipses are dramatic tools the universe uses to create change (http://www.astrologyzone.com/eclipses/).  A solar eclipse is always a new moon and in astrology tends to mark new beginnings,” explains the astrologer Susan Miller.

Solar eclipse of November 23, 1965
SE1965Nov23A.png

Any news of my accident was eclipsed as well.  There was no mention.  Not on the November 23rd, not on the 24th and not on the 25th, which was Thanksgiving Day.

For a moment I felt sad and stared ahead at the microfilm reader, only half-reading the Thanksgiving Day editorial.  “On Thanksgiving Day, Americans need to give thanks for weathering national perils, and for the victories we have achieved over disease, hunger and the inhumanity of war.  America has come a long way since that landing day in 1629…..Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient onto the day is the evil thereof.”  If you took the 1965 date off the editorial, it would have been just as relevant today.

In my case, the morrow indeed took care of itself.  I’ve been blessed with good health, good work and good friends.  My accident shaped me but never defined me.  I couldn’t say the same for my parents, gone since the 1990s.  From everything I learned, the accident changed them and their relationship for the rest of their days.  I was oblivious to it until I started searching around for clues in the last couple years.

I thought of what their Thanksgiving Day 1965 would have been like, with a child in the hospital and no assurance she would live.    I couldn’t imagine it.  I didn’t want to imagine it.  When I started searching microfilm, I was looking for my own perspective.  But the newspapers found a way to give me theirs.

It didn’t seem to matter much that I hadn’t found a news item or fire call in the newspapers.  In fact, now I was kind of glad none appeared.  My heart ached for my parents.

August 5th: When Memories Remember You

Driving across the Indiana border into the country today, the Queen Anne’s lace and yellow coreopsis ran wild in the fields along the road.  The sun beamed into the car and a soft warm breeze blew in the window, opened just a crack to bring some summer air in.  When I wiped my face, I felt warm tears and wondered if the breeze made my eyes water.  With a tap to the automatic control, I closed the car window but the wetness still puddled in the corner of my eye.   Now that I’d noticed it, the tears seemed to slightly increase their pace.  The drive was pleasant and I had no reason to cry.

I’ve had enough mystical experiences to know that when the body overrides the mind, there is something I’ve missed that set off a physical reminder.  And then it hit me.  Of all the days of the year, August 5th is the one that started my journey into Anne on Fire, though I didn’t know it at the time.  On August 5th, 1996, my mother died after a six-month battle with liver cancer.

I glanced at the car clock and it showed 12:30, within an hour of the time my mother died on that August 5th morning, a morning much like today with the sun streaming in to the windows of her bedroom and the flowers blowing softly in the breeze outside.  Can the body really remember what the mind choses not to?

That morning I sat with the hospice worker and held my mother’s hand.  It had grown frail and bony like the rest of her body as the cancer withered her athletic frame.  Her breath rattled and I gave the morphine pump another squeeze to ease her pain.  When the hospice worker told me we were close to the end, she suggested I make a couple of telephone calls to let the family know.  I slipped out of the room and into the kitchen, dialing my aunt Mary — my mother’s only sibling.  I had begun to tell Aunt Mary the news when the hospice worker hurriedly appeared before me and whispered, “It’s time.”  I told Aunt Mary I’d call her back shortly and strided into the bedroom, grasping for my mother’s hand.  One breath.  Then another.  Then silence.  Her grip faded slowly from mine but I grasped even more tightly.

And then the most amazing thing happened  Her spirit seemed to separate from her body.  A transparent mirror image floated upward in excruciating slow motion.  I gasped loud enough to startled myself.  Then I realized my hands were hot, feeling intense heat in each one so much so that they began to tremble.  I watched immobile as the transparent image of my mother floated up out of the room.

She was gone and at the same time I knew she was with me.

Awe-struck I turned to the hospice worker, who quietly told me, “You have been given a gift from your mother.  Treasure it.”

“But what just happened.  Tell me?”

“Death is as precious a gift as life.  Not all of us are allowed to witness it.  Your mother gave you the gift of being with her for her journey.  We all choose when to die and who will be with us,” she said and I knew then this woman had witnessed many deaths and was a very special person to share this with me.

The rest of the day dissolved in a blur of activity.   Aunt Mary arrived as did my brother Jim and sisters, Kathleen and Susie.  Funeral people were called; arrangements began to be made.

Something unique had happened and I watched the activities unfold as if in a trance.  Something had changed in me as well.  I couldn’t put my finger on it but everything was different.  In the days and months and years that followed, I began to receive signs from my mother.  These were the signs that set me on the Anne on Fire journey.

More to come.

Eileen Gertrude Stark Gallagher.   1930-1996.  Rest in peace.

Silly Good Writing

St. Joseph Academy Green bay WI picture

When I think of writing, stories always filled my pen. 

By 5th grade, my teacher Mrs. Brunmeier told me my stories were too avant garde for class distribution.  In 8th grade, I wrote the definitive, imaginative story of our class in a final report format.  In high school, I became the editor of the paper and won a first-place award in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s contest for writing, an expose of the National Honor Society.  And the list goes on.

But the stories I remember best were the ones I wrote with my friend Donna. 

As high school students at all-girls St. Joseph’s Academy (now Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, www.notredameacademy.com), we yearned for life experiences yet to come.  We dreamed of prom dates and life successes far into the future. We wondered about the diminishing quantity of nuns who taught us and what would happen to their order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, as more lay teachers entered the fray.  We imagined life in big cities and created imaginary all-knowing and all-powerful alter-egos while suffering through the realities of study hall.

For all those things that didn’t yet exist, we’d pen hand-written stories instead of dissecting frogs in biology class to make these lofty dreams come true.  Of course, we’d write each other as main characters and every wish, however small, would come true.  Oh, there would be conflict but ultimately we’d emerge the victors. 

 When Donna had a crush on J, I created a lengthy narrative for her full-bodied hair flowing in the wind, her wily charms on fire, and her witticisms dazzling a high school party crowd.  J could only hope but to fall prey to her charms.  Twenty pages later, Donna would have her man. 

A week later she’d hold the pen, my success held in limbo by her imagination.  Would I crush an opponent or merely lob an ace every serve in a tennis game?  It mattered not.  We would persevere and win.  We’d howl in delight, knowing we’d always be the heroines of our own stories.

Donna moved to New York.  I moved to Chicago.  When I’d least expect it, a hand-written note would appear in my mail, continuing my high school story line.  No explanation needed.  It spurred me to continue her tale, jetting her from country to country, adventure to adventure. 

When I found an old letter buried in a tangle of papers the other day, I quickly picked up my pen ready to resume the quest.  Donna died of colon cancer several years back.   Silly good writing had put her in a multi-million dollar home, lavished her with furs and jewels, and made her insanely happy.  She would have been pleased.

The Power of Validation

Yesterday my sister Kathleen, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, won the coveted and prestigious Pulitzer Prize for reportinghttp://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/120091754.html).  It was a triumph on many levels and today when we talked, the conversation turned to the power of validation.  Early in her reporting career, she was told she didn’t have the chops to be a reporter.  It was a comment that stayed with her.  I remember some of her early struggles to get a toe-hold in this competitive field, all of which made her award more tender and meaningful to me.  We laughed about how it only took her 20 years to be an overnight success. 

While the award is wonderful and hopefully opens doors for Kathleen, she is the same sister I’ve always known.  We joked about that as well.  She was the prototypical bohemian college student who wore her hair in cornrows and shopped at Ragstock on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.  I was the preppy overachiever who joined all the clubs.  Yet she was determined (we might have called it stubborn back in the day), smart and sassy then and is now. 

But there is something about getting the professional validation that the person knew was there all along.  Suddenly people pay attention and as Kathleen said to me, “They listen now.” 

I ain’t no Pulitzer Prize winner to be sure but I get “validation” in a way I didn’t anticipate from writing this blog and working (albeit slowly) on my book.  None of the stories I’ve told about myself are revelations to me.  I feel like I’ve told these same yarns for years to different people in different ways at different times.  Compiled together they have a power that they didn’t have separately and spoken stories.  “I love reading your blog,” or “This must be cathartic for you,” or “I never knew you felt that way” or “Do you think you need therapy?” — are all variations of comments I’ve received and appreciated. 

What I’ve learned is that there is a power in compilation, in written synthesis, in telling personal truths that are essentially, variations on the same personal truths that everyone thinks about, feels or chooses not to think about.  It’s more enjoyable than I might have thought and the little blog posts here and there motivate me to continue on in what is the somewhat laborious process of taking life’s story and turning it into readable literary arc.