On my birthday, it was hot and we drank outside. 
The sun was persistent, staining my cheek a cherry red. Matt and I had lunch and beer and a new friend, Erica, joined us. We talked for a long time until the sun buried itself in the west and I changed into my dress and went to Nikki and Jacek's, where my friends sang me happy birthday.
Rachel and my aunt and uncle took me out for a wonderful birthday dinner and Erin met us, straight from the airport. I fell asleep here in Los Angeles, my head heavy and happy, warm on my pillow. 
Two days later, Erin and I got into a rented Chevy Aveo and pointed the compass North.
We headed up the 1, a packed 24 hours in Santa Barbara behind us. 
I sat in the passenger seat, afraid to drive, that a quick and thoughtless jerk of the wheel would send us careening over the rail and into the Pacific.

The 1 starts to open up like the beach roads I drove down as a kid, but as you wind north, the terrain becomes craggy. Juts of exposed rock dot the sea, pointed and sharp.
And although visibility is shit, there is real clarity in this view, on this stretch from Los Angeles to San Francisco. 
We watched the narrow road take us north to Carmel. The car filled with laughter and gripped knuckles and corny statements that you'd find on bumper stickers.
But when I said I was so fucking lucky to live this life, I meant it.
We stopped for grilled cheese and french fries, desperate to be in Big Sur by sunset. I had heard it was breathtaking, but I was not sure the beauty I'd seen could be beat.
We were lost and then found, three miles too far. Stalled in traffic by beach goers with a similar mission, I hopped out of the car and jogged half a mile in boots, my camera swinging around my neck.
Erin caught up and we trudged through a wooded alcove that suddenly, inexplicably, led to the sea.
To this.
I ran up the rocks, determined to find the best view. But after falling in deep pools of ocean more than once, I put my phone and cameras down so I could experience the sunset with my eyes, instead of through the lens.
It's hard to really see when you are surrounded by beauty that forces you into a tizzy, desperate to capture every last inch of the wonder. To find a way to download the beauty and keep it with you, forever.

We stayed until the sun had finally set and we headed to Carmel, anxious for civilization and cell service.
Erin was cold.
Five days later, we ambled along Haight Street, trying to make a decision.

Do we do it? Do we get tattoos?

For years, I've had wrestled with the decision to get one. Most of my peers have at least one, but until the past year or so, drawing on myself with Sharpies was just enough.

I have a complicated relationship with my body. Not in a normal "OMG, my sweatpants are tight" way, but as someone who has never felt ownership over her own self.

February 4, 2012

I am constantly being examined by strangers, and poked at for science's sake. I have scars that are big and deliberate, proof of a trauma I did not court.
There's a part of me that has always wanted to mark my skin myself, and to do so in a way that felt real, and meaningful. 
February 26, 2012
So, on Thursday, I decided on what I wanted and where. I wanted a paper airplane because it represents writing and travel, all in a small design. And I wanted it on my forearm, because it is so often the site of my scars and bruises. 

I wanted to see something new.


As I watched the sun set in Big Sur, I had the feeling that I could be anywhere, and as long as I had my writing, my camera, and my credit card, I could be content. 

I found comfort in knowing that what we call home can be changed.

And that gives me peace, peace I first found in the trip I took to Paris and London by myself last spring. It continues now, as I live 3,000 miles away from where I was born.

I am slowly building a life that allows me to see the sunset in Big Sur, the Macy's fireworks over the Hudson, and my f'nieces on the sand on the Jersey Shore.

That is more than enough.

Everywhere else–everything else–is gravy*.

San Francisco Beach, February 25, 2012

*: Donations to my travel fund greatly appreciated



Obligatory Note ThingThis is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed are my own.


Non-obligatory Note, Part 2: If you know me at all, you know I read a lot about death. Sort of obsessively, one might (and has) observe. It's possible that my struggles with cancer and lupus have led me to bury my pain and fear of death in the tales of other, greater tragedies. But in these works, I find connection and reassurance. They make me a little bit braver.

Claire Bidwell Smith's The Rules of Inheritance is a gutting but beautiful memoir about the author's loss of her parents, at a young age. When I read a short synopsis before I agreed to review the book, I was immediately reminded of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a book I once examined as a literature student. While the situations each author faces are similar, these are two very different books, both sharply rendered in the retelling of unthinkable tragedy.

In The Rules of Inheritance, Bidwell Smith recounts the illness and death of her parents, first her mother at 18, and then her father at 25. The book is written in the present tense, even as she writes about the past. Her pain, drawn out in the current, is both thrilling and gut-wrenching. 

The narrative, much like the healing process itself, is not linear. Each section is headlined by one of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of grief. Rules of Inheritance jumps between these stages, so that in one section, Smith may be 21; in another, 28. 

Reading this felt like a shock to my system, in the best way. Starkly beautiful in its gritty, unflinching honesty, the narrative will easily draw you in. Her pain is intense and it is real, left for us to absorb. 

Unquestionably dark, she recounts her relationships, struggle with alcohol and wandering twenties. But ultimately Bidwell Smith builds toward a hopeful ending, as she reaches her early 30s and becomes a mother, wife, and grief therapist.

What Bidwell Smith achieves with this book is a work that will serve as a connection to between her grief and the grief of readers. But even those who haven't experienced tragedy will connect with the book, from her desperate need for love and security, to the risky behavior she indulges in as a twentysomething. (Someting I know nothing about!)

Such a big part of growing up is coming to terms with the past, with all its ugliness and beauty. Bidwell Smith manages to capture her past self as it was, as it happened. In doing so, she has written a riveting memoir about grief, and left us with the reminder that life can still exist, even when it seems that you have lost it all.

(Follow along with the BlogHer book discussion, here: http://www.blogher.com/bookclub/now-reading-rules-inheritance)


san francisco

we arrived late monday afternoon and unpacked the rental car, shedding three days worth of inhabitance and shaking the lint and dust off our jeans. i lost my debit card in the debrief, but i would not know this until later.

i stretched my arms out fully and widened my shoulders. i grabbed my bags, and we walked out into a sunny San Francisco. 
"let's take a look in here," my friends said. every shop we stopped in was busy, flush with tourists and natives, off for President's Day.

my knees ached and my calves seized. i sat in a chair as they shopped. i took off my sunglasses and without a prescription, i saw shapes and hair, nothing concrete.

i confused a stranger for a friend and admitted that i'd never felt more in tune with a city's style. every shirt being sold looked like something i'd already owned.
we got in the car and went down the curviest road in the world. the curves reminded me of the parking garage at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a place where i spent a lot of time as a child.

my mom would gun the gas, likely topping out at 30 MPH. but for me this was a roller coaster ride, the best part of the trip.

we'd get happy meals after, and this too allowed me to tune out the negatives of these visits and focus only on simple, childhood rewards.

ten years after my last visit to CHOP, and i miss that garage, that time with my mother.
i woke up yesterday in a strange bed, in a new place. 

i walked to the bank and then to coffee and i bought myself a blueberry pancake. and i felt so warm, sitting there, reading a book that i must review by tomorrow.

this is my favorite part of being a nomad: finding a piece of an unknown city that feels like mine, and settling in there, if only for a moment.

san francisco makes me feel like things are possible. that it's another place that i feel home, that i could possibly be one day.

i've felt this way about new york, and paris, and los angeles.

and there is still so much more to see.


twenty six

Twenty weeks ago, I rode my bike around the neighborhood with my father, inhaling the summer air.

"I can't wait to get to LA", I said. "The weather will always be like this."
I spent four weeks at home for the holidays, sandwiched between the mid points of December and January. I found myself rapidly regressing–no fault of place or season, just my own state of mind.

As I woke up to another debilitating hangover from another embarrassing night that made me cringe, I wondered why I did this. I could not be at peace at home, and the reason for that was the same that made me want to stay.

But I cannot fix problems that are unfixable, and I cannot save those who refuse to be saved.

It took me four weeks to book a return ticket and I will admit that a big part of getting back on that plane was pride, proof I hadn't failed at this big adventure I had hyped.

But mostly, I did not want to blame illness as an excuse for staying put, even when I knew I could.
On Martin Luther King Day, a car picked me up at 4 am and I slept as we flew up the New Jersey Turnpike and into Queens.

I disembarked, grabbed my bags and waited for my plane.
Matt said: "I didn't think you'd come back."
Erin said: "I can't believe you came back."
Rachel said: "I was sure you wouldn't come back."

No one thought I was coming back.

But four weeks have flown by. I have settled completely into a new job that is challenging and interesting and allows me to work from home in my 1987 Phil Simms jersey (G-MEN!!) and workout shorts that haven't seen much of a workout lately.

My memories of last week’s hospital visit are already fading. They faded as they happened, my brain fuzzy with Morphine, my body limp with pain.

These things have slowed but not stopped me. My last hospitalization had me in bed for a month but this time I am moving slowly, trying to catch the slow winter light as it tumbles from the back of my building into our front courtyard.

In four weeks, I have gone to my appointments, filled my medicines, slept, drank margaritas, took notes, bought a car, and decorated my new bedroom with empty photo frames.
A few days before I flew back to California, my lovely cousin Liz had a baby boy named William.

When Liz was pregnant, her doctors noticed a mass on the baby's lungs. No one was sure what would happen at birth, so we sighed and cried, wrung our hands, drank our whiskey and whispered silent Hail Marys. I wrote his birthdate on the beach like a prayer, and although he waited until the next day to appear, rendering me incorrect, I think he was readying himself for us, for our love.

And he came out screaming like a champ. Next month he will have a CAT scan and a meeting with a pediatric surgeon. He'll have to be sedated, this blonde gem of a boy, while he undergoes his first tests. He won't remember, or be traumatized.

He will not know another normal.

On Friday, I was asked to be William's godmother. It's possible that three years of having "Whatever Gets Me Godmother" as my religious affiliation on Facebook has finally pulled through, but I think I was asked for a different reason than that.

I think baby William is going to kick ass at this and any other medical test, and I think he will be stronger for it. I think he will impress doctors and knock out ladies with his blonde hair, and I think he will be fine.

He will be fine.

Because that's just how my godson and I roll.
My dad told me recently that I sounded happier out here, happier than I've been in a long time. This is where I am meant to be, as I leave twenty five behind and inch closer to twenty six, fully embracing what my gut has told me.

Go where the light is, it says. Follow that light.

This year, I learned to listen. To get better without getting better. To allow change.

And to find that brightness and to keep it with me, wherever I go. 

(Let's do this, 26.)


Baby's Got A Brand New Ride

The day has finally come.

I, Kelly "She Can Drive, Officer, I swear!" Bergin, am now the proud owner of a bitchin' 2007 Ford Focus.

Subwoofer included.
Eusebio, named after the dude who sold it to me for $500 less when I played the cancer card. 
It took a long time to get here, folks.  

Four whole months without wheels is tough. I refused to take the bus because I was afraid I'd screw up the token/card thing and my whole bag would spill out and everyone would see my lame 'good thoughts' journal because my life is an endless cycle of blushed faces.

I left the dealership last night with my title in hand (I think that's what this paper is, I don't know, there's so many, oh my God, I'm such a woman!). Pacific Auto Group, with their tagline of: "no credit because you maxed out an American Eagle card in college? no problems!" seemed to have served me well. I think I got a good deal because in only 36 months, Eusebio will be mine! Free and clear!

The excitement was palpable as I got into my car and turned the ignition. It was then that the problems began.

In an attempt to back out of the dealer ship, I dinged a Porsche for sale, worth way much more than Eusie. As I pretended to be on the verge of tears, the PAC owner backed it out for me and checked for damage, all the while mumbling about how chicas can't drive. I would have been insulted if he hadn't been so right.

I then drove to on the freeway for the very first time. The car began to shake and an awful noise echoed throughout Eusie. I immediately began to curse the gang at PAC for selling me a lemon when I realized I was driving on the shoulder, and the noise was actually coming from the tred marks on the side of the road. Shaken up but firmly in a lane, I headed to Target with Erin without incident. (Unless you count spending the rest of my car money on tea candles an incident.) 

After a successful parking garage experience where I hit no man, woman or child, my confidence was bolstered. I relaxed at Sean and Erin's, jangling the keys in the face of everyone I came across. 

And then...it was time to head back to the Castle, or what you non-castle dwellers call an 'apartment building'. Ilga, my roommate and owner of my new cat, Sophia, warned me the space was tight and that I ought to back in. Immediately my brain flashed back to two hours before and the screams of the good salespeople at PAC. Parking was never my strong spot.

I stalled for awhile but eventually, I arrived at my ancient building. I popped half a Xanax and proceeded to spend forty minutes backing into a spot. 

I banged my mirror twice against a large foundation pole. Only minor damage was incurred, but I sure am glad I got car insurance, even if I did have to legally change my address to San Diego for a cheaper rate. (Thanks, Reuben!)
Now that I have this glorious hunk of metal, I intend to see...the world. Arizona! The OC! Walter White and Jesse in Albuquerque! Wherever the 4 President's heads are. Las VEGAAAAAS. Seattle, if my belief that it's a 12 hour drive is true. And maybe Portland, to find some vegan meatballs!

I'm quite excited about my new ride, even if it does stay in the garage, lest I break it more. Maybe in a few weeks I'll make it back to Trader Joe's for some more sea salt brownies, but it's enough knowing it's there, for my use. One day Eusie and I will see those Presidential Mountain things, and life will be grand.

Till then, this is Carpooling in California, signing off.
(Note: Allow me a moment to thank the men and women who selflessly drove me around (sometimes in exchange for free drinks and tuna salad sandwiches.) Rachel, whose 2009 Jetta makes my 2006 Ford Focus look like a Pinto. Matt, who drove me to bars in his  Maddy-mobile without complaint or acceptance of cash. And Sean, who allowed me a seat in the back of his New Jersey-plated car. I would literally be nowhere without you all.)


A New Place

It's 1 am and the floor is quiet. I am up, limited to the line that runs from the IV into my arm, but I am up, cleaning and pacing the floors and trying to enforce in me the exhaustion I need to sleep.

Matt dropped me off nearly twelve hours ago and I came prepared, because you must be. I can pack for the hospital in less than 10 minutes: computer, chargers, sweatshirt, boy boxers, deodorant, eyeliner, books.

That's all I really need.

The nurses here are different–they are skinnier but somehow rounder. Their eyes are bright and not haggard and I think they've all had some work done, which is so very Los Angeles.

(At least their roots match their hair, which is more than I can say.)

Earlier, the attending doctor in the emergency room clucked her tongue as she looked over my chart, and then looked at me and said "Well, I can tell you do a lot of living with bright eyes like that!" She said this without irony, and she was not rushed. It was an odd reminder that I am not in New York, that I am 3,000 miles away from the crowded, noisy NYU.

Later, her daughters arrived and I played with them. The older girl wore a uniform almost exactly like the one I wore as a child. Jumper, blouse, tights, Mary Janes.

Around 3, I got word that I'd be moved to a different hospital. I guess UCLA has several campuses, so they strapped me into an ambulance and drove me 4 miles west. The cute paramedic/driver promised me an ocean view, but all I see are bricks.

Levi, the other paramedic, sat with me in the back. He bragged about the celebrities that have been in his care, and I clamored for details, swearing that I was good at keeping secrets. Which, of course, I am not.

He shared a few, and after mass texting the details to twenty of my closest friends, I wish he had told me more.

We arrived at the Santa Monica Hospital (so close to the ocean) and the clean, bright halls gave me a headache. 

But I have my own room here, with a bathroom bigger than my old bedroom in New York. The pillows are comfortable. The sheets are okay.

Plus, they have cable, and I found a Kardashian marathon, and that Mason Disick is pretty charming.

The thing about morphine is that only the first rush feels good. The nurse inserts the needle straight into your IV line and that first flush–that first flush!–feels like something new.

It feels like change. The warmth the drug brings spreads its way throughout the entire body. The toes, the tips of the fingertips are deluded, but it is momentary relief.

My head clouds and I lose hours but do not sleep. I wait for choices to be made, commands to be heeded, and the next push to come. 

I'm restless and drugged, as my cells move and transform, as my body hums under the weight of activity. It's a night in the hospital, and it's without sleep.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to blog. I've slowed down, updating Tumblr instead. Micro-blogging on Tumblr seemed like an easier way to be funny and light. 

Three or four years of history sit on this website, and I'm not entirely happy about all of it. That on this site, my identity is so intertwined with this familiar cycle of sickness and wellness and all the "what does this mean?!" in between.

But there's value in looking back, if only for a moment. Maybe one day I'll like to see that I wrote about this, my first hospitalization in Los Angeles, so far from most of my friends and all of my family. (Save for Rachel, who is the Harry to my Marv, and who will visit tomorrow.)

It's not as hard as it seems right now, and it's because I have found friends and family in this city, and a three year old who draws me awesome pictures of 'ninja doctor houses'.

And that makes all the difference in the world.


Pros/cons of going to the hospital (yes, this is how my mind works)

1) Instant rehydration + possible hunger relief (I haven’t eaten/drank/talked since Monday)
3) Attention (duh.)
4) Gifts (duh.)
1) I always get admitted, due to my colorful medical history.
2) Being paired with an old roommate who yells at me for wearing V-neck t-shirts and booty boxers and calls me a slut, just like last time (see July, 2011)
3) Um, you never sleep in the hospital.
5) Every single thing about the hospital experience, including the fact I’d have to talk to the doctors, which I cannot do right now in my current state. 
6) I never look good enough in the hospital to post an emo picture of myself on Tumblr.
7) MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM IN THE WORLD IS PLAYING IN THE SUPER BOWL IN 3 DAYS! I can’t even risk missing that. There’s just no way.
Decision to be made at 10 am if I fail to get a wink of sleep (it’s 6 now.)


on a bad time

this pain is spread out across the movements that i make, as i shake from the hard edges of its existence, as i move my arms and feet in tandem, desperate to feel something else.

later i will punch the strong walls that built this castle i reside in, some 3,000 miles away from the comfort of my hospital, my NYU, where the doctors know what to do. where they recognize my face, and they smile, but not in a mean way.

i owe everyone money. i owe everyone something right now. i have bills to pay and things to do and promises i have meant to keep.

and all of that seems utterly meaningless right now, as i watch the seconds tick, as i tell you that i wish i was on east coast time, so that i would be closer to lightness that comes with evening sleep.

it's almost 3pm here in los angeles. the relentless sun fills my room. my black comforter is dotted with cat hair. i sip coffee from a straw. i make notes in my pad, and i sigh at the happiness of others. 

i am looking at a box of brownies, and longing for a taste. i try and stop, as the shock of touch delivers a roar i can only hear inside my head. 

it's like putting your ear to a conch shell and receiving soaring, wide-reaching pain instead of the ocean music. 

i wish i could make this pain away, the ones who love me say. i wish i could too.

last week the doctor said, looking at my swollen knees and face and blood work (just a little hairy), that it seemed like i was headed for a lupus flare.

A Bad Time.

i scoffed and said i felt fine, that it would be alright.

but now the cat plays with my bottle of prednisone at the bottom of the bed as i watch television and rewind because i have not paid attention. 

i'm a 9 on the pain scale. and i'm sweaty. and i'm tired. and the day seems endless, but i will wait for this time to pass, for the drugs to work, for the raw pain to end. 

i will wait and hope for that, because i believe that time will come.