Ep.3 The Life Of An Angel

It is a difficult task to dissect the relationships in any given family, yet there are some red flags when supposedly someone has to intervene, and has to help. Here’s Angel. He’s nineteen. He’s a cook at a restaurant.

“The first time I saw my dad do something in my eyes horrific was when I was I believe between six and eight. My dad had went over to his friend Julian’s house. Julian and my dad despise their neighbor. As my dad’s walking outside the neighbor pours outside. They’ve gotten into an argument, my dad gets in, he tells me to put a seatbelt on, I put my seatbelt on. My dad turns on the car and runs him over. Backs up over him and runs him over one more time. He looks over at me and says ‘if you tell your mother I’m gonna fucking kill you.’

“My dad was always selling either cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana along with having his day job. Growing up from what I can remember from my adolescence is my father coming in and out of the house with people that you would not consider good people: drug dealers, people who offer protection to people for money. When they weren’t there my dad would usually get extremely angry and he would either beat me or my mother, never really my sister though; but eventually it changes once he started using drugs himself.

“He was in a military for a year or two but through my adolescence kept up that facade and acted as if he didn’t do anything that he was doing. He of course was saying he doesn’t want me to follow his path and that is why he’s trying bringing me up the way he would have if he stuck with the military: cutting my hair short, making sure I was always home at certain times, enforcing not to who hang out with, what not to do. When he got out of military he was honorably discharged. After that he left, they gave him medication for an extended period of time which supposed to be for two weeks of morphine. The doctor accidentally gave him two months of morphine. So by the time he was done with his prescriptions, he was hooked. That is pretty much when it all started going downhill.

“When he didn’t have his pills – what he constantly smoked was crack. If he didn’t have that then he started taking stuff that belonged to us, pawning it and then going to get money so he’s able to buy more. Me and my dad have fought for multiple times and they’ve usually ended in me and him severely injured. It pent up a lot of anger. I hated him for very many reasons but it also in turn made me hate myself because I figured, I am the offspring of that, so it got me to think that I am no better than he is.

“I don’t let anyone to get close, I don’t ever see a family anymore and I feel like solitude is probably the best thing for me. I’ve learned I can’t trust anybody in life. When people say: ‘Oh, why do you hate life? Why do you try to kill yourself?’ You don’t understand, you haven’t gone what I’ve gone through.

“By the time I was seventeen he was already handing me I think it was like half pound of marijuana, telling me to start selling. After a while I started doing it, started selling marijuana and I was making a substantial amount of money. I looked in my closet, saw the safe, saw the gun, saw the weed, saw the money, and I thought about it. I’m doing exactly what he is. I’m going down the same exact path. That was the day I realized I’m not doing that anymore. I finished what I had to finish, paid off what I had to pay off, and then I was done.

“He was basically a cancer in my life and I needed to cut it out. As soon as I turned eighteen I got out of that house, started doing my thing for myself instead of living there and going through that every day. I can find a better life than what was given to me before. The saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree can’t be that right. I mean in some cases it has to be it’s very true but it’s only if you let it be true.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Lee Rosevere and Loopstache

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.2 Mother and Daughter Learning To Live With An Untreatable Condition

Drive with Gwen was short one. She was in a hurry to get on a plane that was supposed to leave soon and I tried to get her to the airport as fast as I could.  Somehow we switched the subject to her daughter, Laswen. “…and she did. She had plans, she knew what she wanted, very-very smart…” Then, while trying to make a left turn, I heard my passenger saying: “For some odd reason she would hit that point of complete desperation late in the night.”

“May I talk to both of you?” I asked.

LAWSEN: “My name is Lawsen, I’m eighteen and I just graduated high school. So I started out high school and I had a goal of trying to fit in and just trying to be accepted. I was playing volleyball, getting straight A’s. It was about November and I got a back injury. I started getting super tired and I mentioned it to my mom and we thought oh, it maybe just from the mono I had the year before. So we went to the doctor and it was the first doctor of many because they just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”

GWEN: “When your child becomes sick and then when the answers aren’t there you feel helpless. And as each week turned into a month, turned into months, turned into years, I spent more and more time trying to find a new doctor, a different doctor.”

LAWSEN: “I was terrified. We had no idea of severity of what was going on. If it was cancer or if it was something mild. So I really went from living a completely normal, fourteen-year-old life to completely different.”

GWEN: “A year pass that we realized we have to stop messing around. We had to go to the best doctors and Mayo [Clinic] is our answer. You know, that was hopeful. Somebody is going to figure this out.”

LAWSEN: “And within two days of being there they diagnosed me with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It’s a mouthful.”

GWEN: “She has no control over how her blood flows or how her stomach digests. She can’t say: ‘Stomach! Start digesting, blood start flowing.’ Those are automatic things your body is supposed to do.”

LAWSEN: “I kind of thought that that would be where things changed and when things would start to get better but it is not what shifted things or turned things around because there’s no easy fix or pill or anything they can really do to get you back to normal.”

GWEN: “She thought that would be a doctor who’d come and would be the savior; it would be me or her dad or someone else, not her. I do recall her many times saying: ‘I can’t do this anymore.”

LAWSEN: “Until one night I can remember. I was in so much pain, it was in the middle of the night. I couldn’t even cry, I couldn’t move. I was laying on the couch and my mom was across the room sitting in a chair; and I just remember I did not know what to do. So I just started praying and in the midst of this overwhelming amount of pain I felt peace.”

GWEN: “Then it became just part of our lives. I mean it was a part of our lives to basically roll with the punches.”

LAWSEN: “Before it was hopeless kind of pain and it was all consuming. Physical: my entire body felt like it was closing in. Same with mentally: it just felt like it is taking over my entire life, whether it had to do with friends, or school, my grades, my social activities. So I was lost. And then I’d say after I found God and found faith it didn’t seem so hopeless and pain seemed to hurt less. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel but I had hoped there was one.”

GWEN: “We didn’t know whether she was going to be able to graduate from high school. There was even a discussion at one point for her taking an extra year to go to school. But she was there. I really didn’t know if I’d be able to keep it together at graduation. To see her walk across that stage, you know, that was…”

LAWSEN: “Because we walked through so much we’re so much closer, we’re like best friends. I think it’s weird for people because she’s my mom. Even if she didn’t have the answers she was the person I confided in and we’d spend nights talking or hours spending at doctors where normally I’d be like at volleyball practice or something like that.”

GWEN: “I mean I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but we all have our unique path in life and we’re all affected by that. I’m much more compassionate for people in any circumstance.”

LAWSEN: “Once you feel that kind of pain so deep it goes on the flip side too. I mean you feel happiness so much more. There is a Bible verse and it’s like the pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that is coming and I think that is so true. So yes, it affects you, it also affects how much better things can be too.

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Chris Zabrinskie and Loopstache
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

Ep.1 “I can still feel her presence”

Here’s Bill Biddix. I remember the night I picked him up by the call center he works at. We chatted a bit and he said it feels as if the doors are finally opening for him, after being suicidal for three years. But, why?

“I was going to college and met my wife. She was a multimedia artist, absolutely wonderful woman. We spent sixteen years together, fought cancer together and when cancer decided it wanted to repeat, she fought through chemo radiation first time, second time decided she just wasn’t going to to it; two weeks of the day she was diagnosed she was gone.

“I had plans with her to open a restaurant. She’s gonna run front of the house, I was gonna run the back. We had huge cookbook of handwritten recipes and whole business plan: we had investors lined up, everything. And then she died. I had planned a lot of things in my life but being a widower at 35 was not one of them.

“After she passed away I taught myself to knit. I started going to a farmers market back in Columbus. I was knitting there, had a lot of people asking. I end up turning around and selling teddy bears I was making. Had a couple of policemen and firemen come up to me saying how much they liked them; wanted to know possibly getting few for the young kids that get involved in a situation where police and firemen have to show up.  I ended up donating over ten thousand teddy bears to children’s hospitals, firemen, policemen. Now and then I just came across kid walking around with one of my teddy bears. I knew they’ve been through something bad that they ended up getting one, but it made me feel good that I actually provided some sort of comfort to somebody I didn’t know.

“It’s been difficult over the past few years to find someone I could compare to her let alone replace her. I ended up having to leave the house we shared for eight years because the memories, the ghost just kept following me and I was ready to kill myself. It was either I left the state or I left life. I ended up putting the map on the wall, through a blindfold on and threw a dart. Ended up in Phoenix. A lot of people laugh but it honestly why I am alive, because I got out of state. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t be.

“When I got to Phoenix, I put application out for job, got a call back within five minutes, had a job next day. In my professional life, in my personal life, friends, finding a place to live – everything just fell into place, just nobody to spend time with. I think she’s blocking me. She might be a little bit jealous – she was a Leo, so. I always feel her presence. Something comes up she’s the first person I want to talk to about it. It always just fixes itself. I can actually feel her here in the backseat here… kind of embarrassed.

“I still see her in my dreams on regular basis. She comes to me with advice. Beats me up in my dreams if I’ve done something really stupid. Every time there’s a blockade in front of me I get something that just steps around and pushes it all the way for me. I can only think that my wife is still watching over me because there’s nothing that I’ve done different than I did back in Ohio other than not have her around.”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Lee Rosevere and Loopstache 
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.