Goodbye Dear Christopher

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Granted this is something I wrote three years ago, the sentiments and the thoughts still resonate deeply today. With Thanksgiving arriving this week, it is a time when I reflect even deeper upon who and what I am Grateful for. I am Grateful for having had a friendship with Chris. He taught me a lot in such a short time… And I truly believe had it not been for him, I doubt I would have had the chance to befriend his dear and talented wife, Melanie Manson, who I believe is yet another gift he bestowed upon me.

Furthermore, I would not have continued to embark on my journey the way that I have – his death encouraged me to take more risks and say yes to more opportunities Life has put in my path. 

Oh Chris, Ah man, I am sorry we didn’t get to connect on Saturday before you...left. I will always think about the day we could have had that conversation, the day we could have had that rendezvous.

Our conversations ranged from provocative and shocking to dark and sordid - sometimes cynical and shameless.

We were not down with the popular agenda. And that was fun to talk about. But I only shook my head with a cheeky smile at your snide and disruptive interjections during announcements and speeches at different gatherings.

You didn't hold back. Zero fucks given.

You lived a Life most marveled at. But a thread throughout it, from what I saw, was strung with such abysmal pain.  And it is something that very few - that only "we" - or, at least I, can say with confidence, I - understood. The feeling was deep, raw, real, beyond mutual.

I felt every shred of emotion and description of the profundity of physical pain, the uncontrollable crazy-making experience of constant infections. The wanting, the seductive desire of just laying down having had enough and just wanting to be at peace.

I struggle so much in the writing - in the difficulty of expressing - my thoughts over the last several weeks. This is about you, of course - but, in a very profound and real way, it is also about me.

To question existence, to question one's own life, one's own purpose, is unto itself the very innate question of every human being, I sometimes think. But maybe that's just a bullshit, moot, irrelevant thought. You know, statements we may roll our eyes at...much like clichés we spit through clenched teeth.

In June 2013 I wore a dress for the first time in nearly 10 years. I was pressured into it. I felt very nervous and unconfident. Despite the anxiety, I made it to the gym for our evening Transcendental Meditation session. The minute you saw me, you didn't even say hello. You looked me up and down and with this wry smile said,  "Dude, ditch the jeans - I dig this." In that super-laid back-cool cat-SoCal-Valley-boy voice. You know how that made me feel.

I always got a kick out of you.

I wish I hadn’t lagged on scheduling (for over a year) a photo shoot with you. I think back to multiple conversations about concepts, style, ideas, photos that I admired by Testoni and Demarchelier and you. You wanted to shoot me in a pool of water - it freaked me out! (I definitely wasn't as fearless then as I am now.)
That moment, that experience will never be. It makes me sad but I understand that everything that happens is in alignment with what is to be; things happen as they should. And in accepting that one finds much more peace...(People say I'm supposed to get over it: but I won't "get over" you.)

Admittedly, I have not been able to come to terms. I've been judgmental, sad, hot-tempered, and uneasy, and even just popping in on Facebook once in a while and seeing posts about you has irritated me.

But now I'm getting it out. I am saying my piece/peace. I have to and I want to share it.

In the very few conversations I've had about your death, people have brought up Robin Williams. In terms of suicide and depression, of course, not comical talent. *wink* I can very easily connect with that because of my decades of battling depression and suicidal ideations. I must admit that most of these conversations have pissed me off more than they've provided insight or comfort only because I find that people are far more interested in the conversation that explores the macabre details as opposed to the life of the person. You. Christopher Voelker.

Truth is, I do not know your whole story. What I DO know now, and must recognize, is that your choice to end your life has created an opportunity - a chance to have frank, real talk, with the people I have connected with in my life thus far. Particularly, perhaps most importantly, the community both you and I were "destined" to join: those afflicted with Spinal Cord Injury.

It is time a proper discussion happens, takes place in a space we all can fill. There are far too many of us dying. Quite often, whilst scrolling through my contacts on both my phone and Facebook, I pause as I scroll over the name of yet another dead friend. And, I don't delete these contacts. It does not seem right to me. You may think that I'm keeping the memory alive but I believe it to be a chance to remember, reminisce and render them peace.

You are missed. You are loved. And you, Darling, YOU are unforgettable.

Love Eternally,

XX,

VO

 

Photo: Alan Sahakangus

RIP Christopher Voelker and Smeagol

Legs And All

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I woke up and saw the undercarriage of the Toyota Land Cruiser poised on top of my body. My friends told me that the first thing I asked, in a very calm and polite manner, was, “If you wouldn’t mind, when you get a chance, could you please take this truck off of my legs?” At that moment I sensed something was wrong but didn’t know the depths of what had just happened. Yet, I instinctively knew I needed to be extracted from where I was currently laying in the cool Dubai desert sand, so as to not lose my legs. Over the next hour, my existence vacillated between consciousness, dying and unconsciousness. There were periods of eerie tranquility mixed with threads of severe panic. The feeling of life leaving my body and blood oozing out was surreal.


Suddenly I was in the hospital. And I was completely paralyzed from the neck down. A few days later, the realization hit me: MY body was no longer MINE - I no longer could control anything. In one fell swoop, I had lost all motor and sensory function.


When I was given my official diagnosis, it didn’t make much sense to me. My reality hadn’t truly settled in. Ten days later, I had been transported via air ambulance to the US, where I quickly became hyper focused on both my physical and occupational therapy. During this period, my father would whisper acronyms of strength, quote powerful people who had overcome incredible adversity, and encourage me to treat my in-patient rehabilitation like I was training for the military.


My therapists, Isa and Sheena, were amazing and I took advantage of every opportunity given to me to do as much as I could to get my body working. My team of doctors were incredible, especially Dr. Steven Kirshblum, and I was even afforded the opportunity a couple of times to meet the great Christopher Reeve, before his passing.


I struggled with DADA - denial, anger, depression, and acceptance - from the onset, whilst PTSD and grief settled in soon thereafter. I had been moved from my home of Dubai and learnt ten days after my car crash that I had lost the love of my life that same day. Although he too struggled like I did to breathe and stay alive until our rescue showed up nearly 90 minutes after our car crash, he just...didn’t make it. He was dead. And even though I felt as if my heart was too, I remembered that how, from a young age, I had been amazed at how resilient the heart is. So I did not allow his death to break me. I knew on a profound soul level he never would have wanted that for me anyway.


Recently I came across this quote from Abraham-Hicks: “Someone asked us recently, ‘Is there any limitation to the body’s ability to heal?’ And we said, ‘None other than the belief that you hold.’ And he said, ‘Then why aren’t people growing new limbs?’ And we said, ‘Because no one believes that they can.’”


I have found it to be incredibly true, that what we choose to believe can indeed dictate what we achieve. There is nothing more important than a positive mental attitude to bring us out of the depths of despair and help us rise to the challenges we face in life.

 For it is ultimately, these challenges that not only shape us, but also teach us profound lessons that we must carry through this life to enable us to keep getting better and stronger. And if we are truly lucky enough to still have A LIFE then I believe we have a duty to teach others and be of service where we can, with an open heart and attitude of Gratitude.


XX,

VO

 

 

Photo: Margaret Malandruccolo

Hair, Makeup & Styling: Melanie Manson

Kaftan: Asa Soltan


 

 

 

The Write Way

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I have been writing since I was five years old. I mean, I was probably writing something before that, but as far as detailed, chronological history of what I’ve written, I have dozens upon dozens of dated journals and notebooks and loose papers that are organized into folders that have always solidified my belief that I would have my art: feelings, thoughts, and memories expressed via the written word.

My maternal grandfather was an excellent writer and was an editor for at least one newspaper on the East Coast that I’m aware of. Being of proud Irish heritage, he had a regular column aptly named, “Behind The Old Gal’s Back”. My mother is an avid writer as well and I realize that I have learned so much from her over the last few decades. (Thanks Mom for all your feedback especially during the agonizing college essay period of my life!)

What did I like to write and what do I like to write? Well, it hasn’t changed much! There has always been the inane babbling within “Dear Diary” entries of various lovelorn stages of my life sometimes containing incredibly poignant poetry, precociously imaginative short stories and other times, lengthy stream-of-consciousness alongside drawings that upon reading back make me laugh and cry - sometimes simultaneously. 

My injury may have taken away my ability to physically hold onto a pencil and feverishly flick two of my fingertips on the keyboard as I lost the use of my hands due to my Spinal Cord Injury, but let’s face it – I was never a proper fast typer ever since I cheated in Mr. Ackerman’s sixth-grade computer class! However, there’s really something about the entire physicality of the process that I still fantasize about and miss so damn much. I did not stop writing – in fact, several months after the injury, someone brought a laptop computer to rehab and shortly thereafter I started to chronicle my crazy life-changing experiences. Once back at home, I continued writing; albeit my “newfound reality” relegated me to using voice dictation via Dragon Naturally Speaking as a means to do so. 

It’s not the way I want it to be, but it’s the way it is now. And what I’ve been hearing from mentors and coaches is that it really is a PRACTICE and that I should write every day: even when I’m NOT feeling it. And so I’m trying...

Here’s to a happy November and cheers to more production of content - whatever it is - just get it out and share it with the world. I’m consistently reminded, “this is NOT a dress rehearsal!” from one of my best friends, Elia - it’s true - LIFE is in session! 

XX, 

 VO

 

Photo: Margaret Malandruccolo

Hair, Makeup & Styling: Melanie Manson

Dress: Free People

Bracelet: Vintage Silver Sautoir