Hart Island

I visited Hart Island this morning. It was my 43rd birthday present to myself. I made the arrangements weeks ago.

I knew a little bit about Hart Island before today. I knew that over the course of its long history, it has been:

  • a prison;
  • a boys’ reformatory;
  • a hospital;
  • a psychiatric institution for women; and
  • a tuberculosis sanatorium.

I know it exists largely as a burial ground for all those who die and go unclaimed from the city morgue.

I know that Hart Island has a dark history.

I also know that it’s uninhabited by humans. For me, that was probably the most enticing part. I love the idea of seeing what’s left behind after we’re no longer.

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Other than what’s written above, I didn’t know much about what to expect when I left the house this morning. I didn’t know how I would feel. I didn’t know what I would see. I was nervous, anxious, excited, and a little scared. All I was told was that someone from the Department of Corrections would take me over to Hart Island from City Island by boat. I was told that I couldn’t bring any contraband along with me and that my visit had to be completed in under an hour and a half.

I’d never been to City Island before. Actually, I’m not sure I ever knew it existed until today. It was kind of baffling that City Island is a part of New York City. I kept having to remind myself that I was indeed within one of the five boroughs. It looks so much like a small fishing town one might find along the coast of New England. Crab shacks and seafood restaurants cover the main drive, which isn’t long at all. The side streets are lined with small, beach-like homes and docks shoot off from each dead end.

It felt strange knowing that one of the biggest cities in the world was only a few miles away. When you’re there, it just doesn’t seem possible.

The sun was bright and the air crisp, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but the wind was unrelenting. Nothing could compete with the wind. It was the star of today’s show.

It was so cold.

I parked a few blocks away from the dock and stopped in at the local diner to purchase a cup of coffee. It cost me a dollar. I didn’t know you could buy a coffee for a dollar in America anymore.

I’d forgotten my gloves. The coffee warmed my hands like a hug.

I walked toward the waterfront. At the end of the road stood a tall fence. Signs read: DO NOT ENTER and PROPERTY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION. There were several trailers set up beyond the fence. A DOC boat waited at the end of a long dock. Beyond it was Hart Island.

To my right, million dollar condos were going up. Construction did its best to pierce through the wind.

I waited. I was early. I’m always early.

A few other people began to walk up. They came in groups. A guard exited the trailer and unlocked the tall fence. He checked our IDs and told us to head down toward the boat at the end of the dock.

Eight guests showed up in total. Two separate groups and one individual. All of us women.

One of the groups consisted of four interior designers from Pratt. They were collecting research for a project on spiritual space and how it makes a person feel. I guess, in this case, that spiritual space was Hart Island.

The other group of three were from a zen center in Manhattan.

And then there was me.

Several people asked me why I was there. I didn’t know what to say. (Research? Curiosity? I’ve been reading so much dystopian literature lately, I figured it’d be kind of interesting to visit an island right off the coast of Manhattan that is totally uninhabited by human beings and instead harbors one of the darkest histories ever? It was a 43rd birthday gift to myself?)

Why was I there? I wasn’t sure. I’m not sure I will ever have the answer to that.

(Does it matter?)

__________________________

Earlier, I’d been stuck in traffic trying to get over the George Washington Bridge during rush hour. On top of the usual traffic, our EZ Pass died months ago and I still haven’t gotten a new one. So I’ve been going old school and sitting in line to pay tolls to an actual human being. It’s not been nearly as annoying as one might assume. I’ve actually kind of enjoyed it. I’ve been making it my thing to be extra nice to the folks working the booths because, I mean, why not?

So, today I stopped at the base of the George Washington Bridge, rolled down my window and said, “HELLO! How much do you I owe you, sir?”

And this beautiful human standing inside this little blue booth, he looked at me and said, “Well, HELLO! I love your energy! Fifteen dollars!”

“OK! I happen to really like you too! You are awesome!”

And we both laughed as I drove away.

That kid made my morning. And suddenly the two hours it took to drive 27 miles didn’t matter all that much anymore.

Currency.

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The boat ride from City Island to Hart Island only took a few minutes. On our way, we rode past a small island called Rat Island which had recently been auctioned off to a resident of City Island for 140,000. I am not sure why, but I found that sort of awesome. I would totally buy a rocky island the size of a NYC apartment inhabited by rats for 140,000.

After we docked and got off the boat, we walked along another wooden dock. Small porcelain angels lined the walkway. Tokens of love and loss. The wind was even more intense on Hart Island as it’s only a mile long and a quarter mile wide. The trees had shed their leaves months earlier, and like the skeletons of an army of soldiers, they greeted us. They lined a path that lead to a hospital on the other side of the island. They seemed proud to be there, sturdy. Wise somehow.

I watched a truck in the distance, it was coming around the trees along the waterfront. It was refrigerated. The words “MEDICAL EXAMINER” were painted on its side.

A woman with the Pratt group asked the officer about the mass graves. He took polite offense to the term. (Our guide was one of the nicest people I’ve met in recent years.)

“What do you think of when you picture a mass grave?” He asked her.

Another woman chimed in, “I see where you’re going with this, when you hear the term ‘Mass Grave’ you conjure up visions of the holocaust—bodies and bodies on top of one another—but that’s what this is, no? I mean, they’re mass graves, no?”

He thought about this for a second and nodded.

“I guess you might say that. But I don’t see them as mass graves.” He continued. “These folks who are sent here, we bury them. We do what we can. This island, while it may not seem like it today in this wind, it’s absolutely beautiful during most months. We have a group of wrens that return to the same nest every year. It’s right over there. And they come back every year. The sun rises from over there,” he points, “and sets over there. And those trees, I tell you, during the spring and summer months, those trees are something else. I guess I just don’t see this place as a mass grave.”

We all stood silent for a while.

“Those trees are some of the toughest trees.” He said. “I love those trees. I planned the whole gazebo to face those trees.”

“I noticed the soldiers.” I thought.

A flock of birds flew overhead. An area mostly untouched by humans was bustling with wildlife.

As we stood in the gazebo, the officer pointed to a plot of green grass.

“There used to be a building there. But during one recent winter, the snow made the roof cave in so we had to take the walls down too.” He shivered. “This spot used to be a lot warmer before that building came down.”

To our right, stood the old administrative offices, an ancient building with missing windows and a door that had fallen in. The brick facade was covered in peeling paint from the wind, rain and years of neglect. Behind that building, sat an old church. Parts of it were falling in on itself but its century-old beauty protects it from judgment.

It’s hard to call something ugly, useless or unnecessary when it has so many years in its corner.

We should stop disregarding things that age.

One women asked the officer how many unclaimed bodies they get per week. “Like, three? Do you ever see three?” She asked him.

“Oh, no. Never three.”

Relief. Because three unclaimed bodies at least once a week in NYC, well, that seems like an awful lot.

“No, usually it’s more like 25.”

Silence.

“Every time they come?” She asked. “Like, every time?”

“Almost” He replied. “Yes.”

Just then, the refrigerated truck from earlier pulled up alongside the gazebo. A man got out and walked over to the officer with a clipboard. The officer signed something, said a few things we didn’t understand, or chose not to, and then the guy returned to the truck.

“What was that?” One of the women asked.

“I had to sign off on today’s burial. They just finished.”

“How many bodies were delivered today?” I asked him.

“Eighteen.”

More silence. A few tears. The wind moved about us wordless.

“You can break ground when it’s this cold?” Another woman asked.

“We do our digging in advance.” He said. “Assuming the channel is permissible for the boat, we bury the dead no matter what the weather is like.”

I watched the truck pull away and wait at the dock for our boat. Empty, it would be riding back with us, only I didn’t know that at the time. I would only realize this as we got off the boat on City Island and at that time I would say this out loud to no one:

“I’m so sorry you had to live that way.”

At one point in time, Hart Island definitely held some sorrow. It has some horrific years among its history. There are unspeakable horrors that took place there. But the Hart Island of today, the fact that the unclaimed are brought and buried there, that’s not the part that I find haunting. That’s no longer the part I find troubling. It’s not the final resting place that makes me feel sad for the unclaimed.

Hart Island itself is not sad, quite the opposite. Being unclaimed in death is not inherently sad either. Who cares ultimately what happens after we die? It’s before that, it’s life that makes that so sad. It’s the before Hart Island that makes the unclaimed so sad. It’s what lead those people to become unclaimed, that’s the truly horrible part.

No one should be unclaimed while living.

But what Hart Island does? Well, today, it makes the terrible truth seem a little less awful. And maybe it was because of the officer we had; maybe he shined a different light onto my visit today, but I have to thank him for it in the end. He made me hopeful, joyful even. Determined.

In truth, I did not expect to walk away from Hart Island feeling relatively peaceful. I did not expect to see so much life. I definitely didn’t expect to spend my morning with such a passionate, thought-provoking correctional officer, one whose words will sit with me for days, if not years to come. And while I will likely never see him again, nor will I ever have the chance to visit Hart Island again, today’s visit changed my life in such a strange and beautiful way.

I don’t want to overlook the people I live among. I’m going to try and claim them all. I will make eye contact. I will notice them. I will help whenever I can. I will smile as much as possible. I will hug them when it’s appropriate. I will make myself available to them. I will make sure that they know that when they aren’t seen, someone will have noticed.

No one in life should feel unclaimed. No one in life should feel they may end up unclaimed, even if they are.

But in death? The unclaimed are buried just like the claimed; there’s no difference in the way we decompose. And if you believe in comparing cemetery views, and that some are better than others, well, the unclaimed of Hart Island don’t have it all that bad in death.

In death we’re all the same. That’s not the sad part. Hart Island isn’t the sad part. The sad parts happen before we get to that point. The sad parts take place among the living.

I want less sad parts.

The wind from every side today; a dollar cup of coffee I embraced like a hug; the number 18; trees that stand like bare soldiers; people who must dig holes in advance; 150-year-old foundations broken up by determined grass and bushes—like a dream, all these things exist within my head now.

Whether you call them mass graves or not, in a few months, a wren will return to a nest on Hart Island where it will start a new family. And those trees that stood like soldiers will wear a new green uniform. The church will further crumble and the grass will fill its place. Life goes on in the most glorious way right before our eyes and most of the time, we’re not even paying attention.

I need to start paying attention. I need to leave nothing unclaimed.

Three Broken Toes.

I’ve been training for the DC Half, which is on March 11th. I’d been doing really well. I added hills into my routine in hopes of adding some much needed support muscles. I’m also quite fond of running in the snow, so I bought a pair of Yaktrax. Not that there’s been much snow, but every time it has snowed, I’ve made sure to hit the streets. I love snow running.

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About a month ago, the top of my left foot began to hurt. Nothing I couldn’t deal with, so I continued to run. Then it got worse and worse until and about a week and a half ago when I finished a 3-miler and was limping.

I haven’t run since.

I was pretty sure that my injury was muscular and therefore temporary and if I simply laid off of it for a while, it would heal. But it seemed to be getting worse. So yesterday I made an appointment for an X-ray. I had that done today.

The good news is, it is indeed muscular and should heal in time for my half in March. (I need to get some mileage in if I want to do any sort of decent time.) The bad news is? I HAVE THREE BROKEN TOES. WTF.

The doctor actually LAUGHED at me. She’d look over at the X-ray, put her hand on where the (very obvious) breaks were, she’d squeeze and say, “Doesn’t that hurt?” And I’d say, “Not really, I mean, I don’t know. They’re toes.” 

So, yeah, THREE broken toes. Two on one foot. One on the other. Nothing I can do about it either. They are basically useless. They don’t bend anymore at all. One looks like a frozen miniature hotdog. I might as well give them to the dog.

But I did find out something even more upsetting: I have pre-arthritic feet. Now, she reassured me that it doesn’t point to rheumatoid, which is what BOTH of my parents have. But the metatarsals on my THIRD and FOURTH toe are longer than the second, which isn’t how it’s supposed to be. That is a sign of pre-arthritic feet and that just makes me want to explode into tears.

Normal Foot:

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My Foot

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But I am not going to give up running. She suggested I start swimming. I didn’t go into the whole problem with my ears. Maybe biking. I don’t know. But giving up running is like asking me to give up my Prozac. Or food. Nope. Not a chance in hell.

So. That’s that. Stupid feet.

Ah, medical shit.

On Thursday, I have to go through another PDT treatment, which, for whatever the reason may be, was some of the worst pain I have ever experienced. I mean, I gave birth to three babies. I nursed them through bloody nipples. I had mastitis. I apparently run on three broken toes and have been for who knows how long. I feel like my threshold for pain is pretty high. But this? I don’t know if it’s because I have sensitive skin (freckles, pale as shit) or what, but it was mind-glowingly painful for me.

So I’m dreading that.

Sorry for the whiney post. I’m actually in good spirits these days—happy even.

But today? Beaten down a bit. And I’ve got some lyrics running through my head.

What a drag it is getting old
“Life’s just much too hard today,”
I hear ev’ry mother say

Rotating Corpse on Twitter

ragingbull

nincompoop

I used to LOVE doing this with friends back in college. Usually we took a sheet of paper and everyone added a line to a growing story. We would order a pitcher of beer and pass the notebook or sheet of paper around the table and create some spectacular absurdity. I wish I still had some of them. We had so much fun.

This Twitter account uses the other method, which follows the “adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun”. I wish I’d known about this version back in college. We could have combined the two somehow. Anyway, thought I’d share.

National Strike. February 17th. Let’s Do This, America.

Nearly two thirds of the economic power in this country is against Donald Trump. Let’s show him how angry we are in a language he understands: the language of MONEY.

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On February 17th, the Friday before Presidents’ Day, don’t go to work. Talk to your bosses, your colleagues, your managers, your friends. Talk to anyone you need to in order to stay home that day (without being fired). Stay with your kids, your pets, your loved ones. Keep your kids home from school. Don’t drive. Simply exist. Pretend it’s your last day on earth. What would you do? Would you show up for that last meeting? Take that last commute? Would you go shopping? Or would you stay home with the people who matter the most.

Turn America into a ghost town.

Spread the word. Stay home. 

#NationalStrike17

#NationalStrike

#GeneralStrike

Trump Voters. Republicans. Please, Help Me Understand.

I read the news. And every day something new seems to pop up that makes me scream inside. It seems to be getting worse. Now, I’m not sure if that’s because it’s piling on and I can’t process it quick enough, or if it really does seem to be getting more and more autocratic.

Please, please tell me how you can sit there and say much of what is taking place right now is OK? Please. I beg of you to make sense of this for me. If you voted for Trump, or if you voted AGAINST Hillary Clinton; if you’re a registered Republican, please help me understand what is happening and how any of this is OK.

Every hour there seems to be something new that makes me question HOW and WHY this can happen. Right now it’s the fact that Republicans are suspending the committee rules because the Democrats are boycotting the confirmation hearing.

What if it were the other way around? Would you feel totally and completely impotent and outraged? I can’t even imagine what I would be reading if the Democrats were pulling this shit.

How is this even a democracy anymore? Please help me to understand. I’m begging you.

I Deleted Facebook. Again.

I read an article the other day about Big Data and what took place last year. It plays in really nicely with all the dystopian literature I’ve been consuming lately. And I swear I am not losing my mind. I feel pretty solid as of late. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’m worried about the future of this country. This administration scares the shit out of me. And I feel like there is absolutely nothing I can do to slow it down. I feel totally powerless. I haven’t ever felt this politically powerless before. I always felt there were checks and balances and that “bad guys” with agendas could only go so far within the Federal Government before someone decent stepped up to say, “NOT SO FAST! You can’t do that! That is wrong.”

But that doesn’t seem to be happening anymore. And we the people, we have these voices and we can take these voices to the street and we scream and we can chant and stop traffic but it doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t change anything because the people we are asking to change, well, virtually ALL OF THEM seem to be who we’re screaming out against. They are all in charge.

I feel completely impotent.

I have always wanted us to discover extraterrestrial life, but now more so than ever. Perhaps if some third party steps in and says, “Wow, you people are right fucked up!” We’ll change. I mean, clearly we can’t rely on God stepping up and saying anything; we’ve given that dude like 200,000 years, six or so million if you want include our ancestors. It’s been idle silence from that bloke. I’ve given up on hearing from that bloke.

So, yeah. Alien invasion. Let them set our asses straight.

But that’s not what this post is about. Not yet. I have one in the works, but it requires actual research and I need to get my head in that space first.

This was about deleting Facebook.

I deleted Facebook because I found the article I linked to above deeply disturbing. And I can’t help but wonder how things would have turned out had Facebook (and Twitter) NOT played such a massive role in our recent election. (Brexit, too.) I feel like a toy, like a puppet, a pawn.

It’s all been very upsetting to me.

All those fake articles I saw being passed around all over Facebook. Total madness there. Plus, no one seems to be reading a thing anyone says anymore and instead they’re just becoming outraged or, worse, they have the opposition hidden from their timeline. (Guilty.) It’s becoming an echo chamber. So a few days ago, I re-followed every last person I had unfollowed and within a day I was thoroughly upset again.

This morning, when I stopped back by one last time to download my archives (yes, you can do that on Facebook!) and delete pictures of my kids, an extended family member was on there calling people idiots for protesting again and chanting “IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE.” She went on to say that if we truly believe that, then we should invite them into our home. And so, I responded. One of my very last comments left on Facebook was one letting her know that I was one of the idiots chanting that very slogan on Sunday. I went on to reassure her that I absolutely would welcome a refugee/immigrant into my home. And I mean that. I am not sure if Toby would be onboard; we would have to discuss it, but I absolutely would open my home up to Syrian refugees. I have stated as much on Facebook and I am doing so here and now as well.

It’s the right thing to do. We are all in this together. Compassion and gratitude. I repeat these words to myself over and over again nowadays. I’m trying desperately to show more of both.

We aren’t idiots. And my extended family member probably wouldn’t have used the word idiot had we been sitting around a dinner table. (At least I hope not?) But Facebook has this way of allowing us to forget that there are people reading our thoughts and the more you take in, the crazier the thoughts make you feel. This is ON TOP of the fact that Facebook continues to gather information about us, information WE GIVE THEM and then  uses it to manipulate us in return.

Nope.

So, I’m done. I’m gone. I did post a note saying as much and a few folks reached out to me with email addresses and phone numbers so I can keep in touch. And I plan on writing a LOT more over here because this is a safe place, more or less. My data here won’t be used against me and no one can force me to look at any ads. And I won’t force anyone who stops by to read any ads. I won’t sell you anything. And I won’t gather any of your information and use it against you.

You have my word on that.

So, here I am. Full circle. I started writing here back in 2001. Kept it strong through 2009. Then social media took over and I ran off to embrace that, just like everyone else had. Well, I’m back. My thoughts will go here. And if no one reads them, that’s OK too. Because quite honestly? At the end there? I think half of my Facebook friends had unfollowed me anyway.

Elizabeth Detention Center. Department of Homeland Security.

I dragged my family to Elizabeth, NJ yesterday to protest Trump’s Immigration ban outside the Elizabeth Detention Center. My dearest Elliot held this sign above his head while sitting atop his daddy’s shoulders until his hands felt numb. (Yeah, his dumbass parents forgot his gloves.)

My plan is to remain as active as possible. We need to keep up the momentum until this stops. This is NOT what America is about. Shame on us.

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