Hamilton and Survival

A few days ago, maybe a week or two, I began doing the NY Times Crossword. I got my grandmother the Weekender for her birthday and I did them occasionally, but now I had downloaded the app and paid the subscription fee. I felt elated when I could fill out a Monday or Tuesday without much or any Googling. I felt like a genius the day I finished a Wednesday without help. And I felt like an ignorant fool when I got stuck, a waste of space, my lack of knowledge all my fault simply because I have chosen, in many instances, to not do the work.

I remember the most feedback I had as a kid from teachers or parents or coaches was that I had potential that I squandered. And really, that’s the worst sort of thing that you can do. You’re stupid, fine, you don’t know any better. You’re a terrible writer, you don’t write. You can’t sing, you don’t try to be a singer. But to know I could write and chose not to, out of fear or laziness or sickness, or whatever, to squander: this is worse. We are all complicit in our shortcomings and downfalls and I was willfully rejecting the advice I had been given since the 5th grade. That is shitty.

SO much of what will be remembered about this year or the year before and for most of my twenties is the progression of my illness, the degradation of my body. I read the other day something I had written at the end of last year, wherein I posited that it could probably not get any worse. And what a foolish and arrogant thing to say. Because of course it did get worse. Because of course it got so much worse! I got so much worse!

There was my stint in California, where I landed in the ICU, and realized all my time in California were only ever going to be stints as long as this was how my body felt and operated. If I kept being me, then my life would continue to be scattershot across the continental USA: places I spent time briefly before being forced to come home to New Jersey and recover, and then to relapse and recover. It did not feel like I was building a life. It felt like I was running out of steam.

I could not keep this engine going and then I finally faltered and fell apart in the most physical and metaphorical way possible: I was paralyzed, atrophied, broken. I fell, literally. I had so many falls, so many bruises. There was a moment when I was on the floor of my rehab hospital--this was July, not even six months ago--and I knew I had to call for help, and I knew it would be terrible, and the staff would have to write a report, and I would not be in trouble but I would feel in trouble, and I just lay there for a minute more, trying to steel myself and found that I had no more steel in the reserve. I could not brace myself because I had run out of ways how. And so I pressed the call button.

This time of year, especially this specific week between Christmas and New Years, always feels lazy and incomplete to me. My friends are away on vacation and I am always here, watching reruns of dumb television shows in bed. I consume an insane amount of media--probably more than I had in six months prior. I am sleeping all day and reading and listening all night. I am making promises for the new year. I am trying to believe in the reset button.

December always sinks me. I mean to look at the tree and inhale the scent before it is tossed out with the gift bags and wrapping paper and yet every year I do not. The last two Decembers I narrowly missed Christmas in the hospital, and yet being home and not sick is more depressing to me. It reminds me that there are things I could be doing that I am not.

I have been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and reading everything about Alexander Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda. And for both of these men, their eerie sort of premonition and feeling about an early death motivates them. (Read the New Yorker profile of Miranda for more on this. He thought he was going to die before his first play opened on Broadway.) This inspires me as much as it confounds me about my own motivations or lack thereof. If I am dodging death and illness, why don’t I work on things when I am not in the hospital? Why am I not writing the stories I want to write?

And it’s because that other illness that plagues me, the deep depression, comes and finds me as soon as the adrenaline of surviving has left me. So much of depression has to do with one refrain running through your brain: what would happen if I died? Would death be so bad? I wish I were dead. Maybe I’ll die soon.

At least this is the refrain that runs through mine as soon as I cut the hospital bracelet off. A slackening sets in. All the color is out of the balloons and I’m left breathing the dead helium floating in the room. Technically, yes, I need to rest. I am exhausted from the suffering and pain and illness but more I am tired of the come down from painkillers, the body unfolding itself into another barely pulled off survival. I can’t write, and sometimes I can’t read. I don’t listen to music and I don’t see movies. I can only sit through television shows that don’t challenge me. I can’t comprehend anything new; I cannot get out of bed.

I am living and yet it seem so much harder with each year. The traumas build up, stack in my brain like debris and I cannot shake them. I worry that they will tumble to the floor and I will finally cave in. But writing to me is survival. It is the only thing that will fill me out and up and I think that for this end of the year post, a thing I was sure i would be unable to write, I have to thank the Hamilton soundtrack and freestyle rap battles on YouTube and the elasticity of the language that I love to play with. This year is done, it is over, I have survived and I will endure another. I know I will. I do not want to die.

Recently a friend asked me if I am discouraged by another year of trying to fly and finding that I only became paralyzed more. I wondered if that is how everyone sees my life, as pitiful a narrative as can be. Even I do not feel that badly for myself. (OK, maybe sometimes.) There were as many beautiful moments this year as bad ones, and I’m going to try to remember the beautiful ones a lot more. Rooftop breakfasts in Istanbul, a new niece, shiny and red, my West Coast girls, the California sunsets, the first swim I could take in the ocean after I learned to walk again.

It could be worse. It can get worse. I learned that, this year. 

But I survived.

What’s next?


Kelly Bergin: Published Works

Hello, my friends. Are you still there? I am sorry I have abandoned you but life has just been so exciting lately, what with Hulu introducing original programming and all my fall shows returning. I promise to write a real update soon.

I did recently write and publish an article for Beyond Type 1, an awesome organization that my friend Sara helped found. She's doing all their graphic design stuff, so that's why it looks so awesome--SHE is awesome. I love her and her family and can't wait to get back to Friday Harbor to visit all my friends there.

Here's a link for some of my published works. Hope you enjoy!

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Alright! There we go, for now. This all reminds me of what a wallop this year has been and how eager I am to get writing again.

I took a long time off from writing when I was sick and depressed but I am ready to go. I never stopped being a writer, I just couldn't access the emotions it took for me to motivate myself to do what I do best.

I am excited to begin again.

Thanks, as always, for your love and encouragement.


Sadie at Three

When I moved to Los Angeles in February, I cried for 8 days straight. I, who rarely sheds a tear, who basically has to watch Parenthood if I want to cry, wept. I missed my niece in a way I did not think it was possible to miss someone.

Birthday girl!

We'd FaceTime every few days and sometimes I'd have to get off the phone early because I was too emotional, because I missed her so damn much. And though she was barely two and a half, I know it affected her too. I'd see her get sad and refuse to say goodbye. My sister would tell me that Sadie would remark that she was sad Auntie lived in California now.

It got better, as things do, and the less I felt sad about it, the guiltier I felt. I hated missing her little milestones.

When I came home to visit in May, she was a new kid. Hypertalkative, a little bit clingier to Kristie, and so, very, very funny. Silly. She made up songs about her surroundings, about robots and superheros and princesses. She had blossomed while I was gone.

In July, I came back to New Jersey for good. And then my body deteriorated in a way it had not ever done before. It scared me, and it scared my family. 

My sister started taking Sadie to visit me in the hospital. I spent most of July at two different hospitals, and Kristie, pregnant, would drive to see me. (Because she is the best.)
Laying on the floor with me, helping me exercise.
When I got home, I had work to do and Sadie was excited to help me. We set up her gymnastics mat and I got the big exercise ball and she used her volleyball. "Am I doing it right, Auntie?" she'd ask. 

Yeah, kid. You're just fine.

Here's my annual love letter to my best girl.

Dear Sadie,

Sadie, you're three now. You love school and tea sets and tools and fixing stuff. You question everything, bargain with me mercilessly over chicken nuggets, and tease me. You love New York City. You talk about New York City all the time, and you ask when we're going again, and when we can take the train, and when we can see the dinosaurs. When we went to NY in May, you whispered "This is so awesome" as we left the Museum of Natural History.

Dude, YOU are so awesome.

Thank you for insisting you help me check my blood sugar, for checking my heart beat with your toy stethoscope and beatboxing as you do so because that's what you believe hearts sound like. Thanks for only wanting to listen to music on the record player, because it makes me feel I'm doing my part to raise a music snob.
I don't know if you know, kid, but I was deflated this summer. I was so close to giving up. I had never had to wheel around in a wheelchair, or need help showering or going to the bathroom. (Potty buddies!) I'd never been so weak that I could not sit up without assistance. Somehow you knew how to cope with these things better than I ever could.

You pushed me to make my recovery into a game, and wheeling around the house with you as you giggled in my lap took my focus off of my pain. I don't think I'll ever forget your insistence on pushing my chair through the hospital hallways. I want to help Auntie, you said. And boy, did you.

It was during all those lonely nights in the hospital that I was worried my world would collapse around me, that everything would become colorless again. For me, you are hope. You are, like our girl Emily D said, the thing with feathers. I can't help but watch you soar, and it makes me so damn happy to see.

You'll always be my first niece, the first true love of my life. We're going places, kid. I'm so glad to have you along for the ride.

I love you forever,


KPB Does Rehab: God, We All Saw This Coming

Wait. No.

I'm in the OTHER kind of rehab, the kind of place where the median age is legit 82 and my roommate was born in the NINETEEN TWENTIES.

I seriously assumed everyone born in the 1920's was dead. Do they have rehab for not being good at math?

After my fun adventures in Los Angeles, I lost all feeling in my legs and reentered the hospital because I just missed Jello too damn much. After five days of testing me for scary diseases and finding GREY MATTER ON MY BRAIN (something I haven't googled JK I'm mostly gonna be fine), I was discharged into a rehabilitation hospital to try and fix my stupid garbage body.

I go to therapy for three hours a day and I hate it so much I have cried six times today. My legs are amazing at being useless right now. I feel like Jason Street at the beginning of Friday Night Lights which shows how fucking dramatic I am because he was like, paralyzed forever, and I'm hopefully gonna walk out of here in ten days.

Ten. Days. 

I don't want to whine but this is the WORST SUMMER EVER. I have been to the beach once. I have swam in the ocean zero. I have cried like every day.

And tonight for dinner I ate applesauce, which I have deemed the least scary food here. This is because it's made by Mott's. 

Let me just say the PC stuff: I am really lucky not to be 99 and here, because I would be so pissed off they were making me walk after I had survived like 7 wars and so many presidential scandals. 

I am also very grateful to have family and friends who want to visit this octogenarian nightmare. This place is straight up reeking of age. At night the walls whisper "Mr. A died in that bed, you know..."

My roommate is 87 and she tells everyone how she's gonna be 88 in October. She is really focused on making it to 88 so we're all pulling for her. We are about equal in terms of strength. We also both have dentures but I don't want to talk about it. She has terrible hearing so the TV, which is always fucking on, is on volume level 85 the entire day. I'm wearing two pairs of headphones on top of my ears right now to deal--OMG, guys, she's praying out loud right now before bedtime. I am such a jerk. 

Anyway I actually really like Margo and I hope we become friends by the time one of us leaves, but right now I'm at the stage in my inspirational film where I am cranky and young. LifeTime will soon air The Kelly Bergin Story so keep your eyes peeled.

It's past 9 which is an hour past my bedtime, so I must go. I need at least 16 hours of sleep these days. Three hours of therapy will definitely take it out of you.

Thanks for all the support and please stop Instagramming about the beautiful weather. I wish humidity and bad hair for every one of you at the beach.



July, July! You Never Seemed So Strange

I am so lucky to have people to tell me that it's going to be okay.


Tuesday night. I am in the car, on the New Jersey Parkway. Inexplicably, I have made it back East. 

I sat with my parents on the flight. I can't recall the last time I flew with them; surely it has been five years or more. I looked over at them. 

What happened?


The nice lady pushes me through the airport. We breeze through LAX. She tells us most people don't say thank you. 

I watch her pocket a tip from my dad as I disembark from the wheelchair.


The flight out to LA was long, and there was a layover in Texas. I drank a mimosa in Dallas and choked on the citrus, burning my throat. 

I could feel my throat beginning to close but I shook it off.

I landed in LA. I went to an AirBnB and slept for 18 hours.

Claire picked me up and we went to see Jules at school. We watched her birthday celebration. She kept looking over at me and saying "you're here," her face all scrunched in a smile.

The next day we saw Marine One land at the Santa Monica Airport and the girls were so excited, it was so cool. Vera told me it was better than Disneyland, which no. But it was so fun.

I tried to sip a Coke at lunch and faltered.

The girls went home and I told them I'd see them on Monday for our movie date.

On Friday I texted their mom and dad and said I thought I had the flu. I ordered in ginger ale and Coke. I couldn't swallow. Bones told me I was going into DKA after I threw up twice. 

On Saturday, I climbed into a Lyft and on Saturday night, I fell asleep in an ICU bed.


I don't remember anything else, and it's clear to me that this is perhaps for the best. I had sent some disorienting, insane texts but deleted them after I wrote them. An act of self-preservation that has driven me mad all week.

But I was mad--psychotic, actually, from a heavy dose of steroids and pain meds. I kept thinking there were pets in my room. I knew, intellectually, that my bag wasn't a cat. But I thought it might be, anyway.

My dreams are still confused with reality. I don't remember, I don't remember. I keep saying this. I wonder if anyone believes me.

I press my parents for details and they offer some and shrug. You were like this, my dad says, exaggerating a stuck-out tongue and popped-out eyes. 

Like nothing I had ever seen before, he says.


I had a molar removed six days before I went inpatient. Despite my best efforts, it combined with my body's natural fungus and turned into a growth, an infection. 

It coated my esophagus and showed up in my lungs. It began to slide over my vocal cords and threatened to close my throat, and that's when I went to the ICU.

This alerted my type one diabetes and I went into an extremely scary condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which maddeningly sounds like a Mary Poppins song. (Sing it with me now...supercalifrigiKETOACDIOSIS/you can sing it too if you have the diagnosis!)

DKA, as it is commonly called, must be treated in the ICU with an insulin drip. I had a nurse at my bedside, checking my blood sugar (glucose) levels, to ensure I did not die. My blood was poisoned.

My body had totally gone to shit.


On Jules' birthday, I thought I might be getting strep and so I went to the UCLA Urgent Care as a precaution. The doctor told me I was fine.

She said she couldn't see anything wrong, and that my doctor was right to take me off those antifungals in April, they were killing my liver.

Okay, I said. I went to Walgreens and bought Cepacol, and the storm began.


It's almost Friday, and the weekend is due to arrive, full of bright lights and patriotic messages and I am feeling pretty pumped about Obama's Big Week, though I remember none of it. I am so happy about #LoveWins that I'm considering getting a rainbow tattoo. 

I am not depressed. I do not feel bloodless. I see color. 

It's hard to swallow, and it's hard to talk. But a week ago I had suction tubes in my throat, swallowing for me. I did not speak aloud at all, and the silence made my fingertips go mad.

Right now I can sip ice water and chocolate pudding and ice cream. So it's okay.

My anxiety reached a feverish pitch last night and I broke down the way I did on the drive home from the airport, silently crying and then moaning as the tears burned my throat, still infected, only just starting to heal.

Why does this happen, I railed. What is the fucking point? What is the fucking POINT?

My anger keeps me alive. My anger keeps me questioning.

Someday I will know, and the resolution will be the peace I have always searched for.

Until then, I read and wait and recover and walk and heal and play with Sadie and think of baby names for my unborn niece and I live, quiet, assured...



(Thank you for all your support. I appreciate it now more than ever. I love you.)


Weird Shit I've Hallucinated While In The Hospital: A New, True-Life Story

Hi guys. I live in California now. It's great.

Okay! Update over.

Last week I moseyed on over to the UCLA ER in Santa Monica for a skin infection called MRSA. I've had it before, I've had my pits ripped open and drained, and I've got stupid non lightning-shaped scars to prove it. I love me some MRSA, man. Just a shitload of pain and then ugly scars.

So I headed in and one thing turned into another and now I'm on my FIFTH day here. And until last night, I hadn't slept more than two consecutive hours. Which I'd almost gotten used to what with all the small children around me, but this lack of sleep has been jarring to say the least. 

Sidebar: here's some tips I have for staying awake when it seems darn near impossible: 1) shake your head vigorously until one of chemically goldened curls gets caught in your eyelash and you MUST stop to look in the mirror and admire you and your natural beautiful hair (narcissism comes in handy here) 2) Drink coffee until vomiting. 3) Eat some Play-Doh; living on the edge will keep you up and excited!

After waking up in what I was convinced was a smoke filled hospital room, I told the doctor I thought I was going nuts. Dr. HotterThanMe shook his own beautiful mane of curls, pulled the bridge down on his top of the line Warby Park's and looked at me, "Listen, kid (ouch). You are at a dangeous level of sleep deprivation. It's THAT, not the Dilaudid. (yeah, okay). Just sleep for a couple hours and ou'll feel brand new..."

NOPE. And while I do feel slightly better today, I'd be remiss not to mention my favourite hallicanations over the past five days.

1) Cindy Crawford! Turns out it was just a woman. I just really wanted to see Cindy Crawford. She looks better than ever. 

2) A huge, monstrous spider that crawled up and down my door as I peed. I was about to scream when I lunged forward to catch it and ended up picking my bare ass off the floor. The spider was but a speck of pain that Maintenance WILL be hearing about.

3) My ability to speak Spanish to my nurse. I was weirdly confident, jumping into a conversation about hombres (?) that I felt I could land a good voice too. I got three words in French before Maria gently rested my head back on the pillow and told me to be quiet now.

4) My room's painting of Mario and Luigi that turned out to just be dumb shells on a dumb beach.

5) A man from Tinder who's messages I've been ignoring. I freaked out for a moment and then he came closer and I realize wait...THAT'S DEFINITELY HIM. His job was to carry my urine to the lab all night, so I'm pretty sure that love match is over.

Excuse the typos. I haven't slept in fourteen hundrend days.

Much love for UCLA Hospital, send all gifts to Claire Bidwell Smith and sorry to everyone who's call, text, facetime, and,uh...visitor's pass that I did not resppond to.

I shall return.


My Friend and Mentor, Lisa Adams

On Friday night, our friend Lisa Adams died of metastatic breast cancer. She was 45.

Much has been said about Lisa, about how she was a warrior, about how hard she fought, and I nod my head and echo those sentiments. Lisa stood out because Lisa was a different type of cancer patient; she defied the very stereotype of a dying person, doling out inspiration and comfort by the fist.

I say this because I think that Lisa would agree: Lisa wasn’t here to bring us comfort. Her disease and suffering did not exist to inspire us. They just existed, and she hated it as much as a mother dying of cancer should. Lisa was not prone to personal sob stories; instead she fundraised and educated us on the disease and the brutalities of metastatic breast cancer. She wasn’t writing for sympathy, or to comfort us.

But she did bring comfort, the hope that one day we would, too, live tenaciously, live beyond what our diagnoses dictated.That we could be as strong as Lisa.

Sometimes reading Lisa’s blogs confounded me. How could she be so steely, I wondered, so full of reserve, so full of fight. She was, at times, airtight and clinical. She was patient with her readership, knowing that they did not fully understand the world that she inhabited. Lisa explained things, gave knowledge, shared tips on how to be a better patient. And then Lisa would share a poem, or write about her children, and your heart would crack at the unfairness of losing this young mother, this beacon.

Earlier this year, I began to emerge from a two and a half year illness that had taken me out of my busy, twentysomething life and placed me in the apartment above my parents’ garage. Throughout this time, Lisa was as close to me as she had ever been. She was always a message away from helping me, and I greedily accepted her knowledge. She answered my questions speedily. She referred me to a hematologist who helped revive my blood counts. I knew Lisa online for five years, and throughout it all, no matter what she was facing, up until this very last month, she wrote me, checking to see how I was.

I recently found the first correspondence we ever had. It was in 2009; I was holed up in NYU hospital, battling a lupus flare and the first emergence of diabetes. Through Julie Klam, she had found my blog and even as a stranger, sent me good wishes and offered advice.

She sent me more than that over the last five years. She sent strength and beauty and delight. I loved how she loved my niece, and how she cheered me on.

I won’t ever forget her. I won’t ever want to stop asking how she is or hear something funny that her son Tristan said. I’ll never forget how much she went through to stay alive, for as long as possible.

And the next time I face a health obstacle and want to give up, I’ll hear Lisa in my ear, telling me to persevere. To keep going. That there is beauty outside and I must go and see it.  

When I recently admitted to her that I felt guilty that I had survived, and that she wouldn’t, she didn’t let me finish my sentence. She made me feel that I deserved the sunshine.

But she deserved it too. And God, I wish she had longer in the light.

Goodbye, Lisa. Thank you.


This Is 2015

Joe Dirt 2, Starring...

A Reluctant Kelly Bergin

Yesterday I reclined in the oral surgeon's chair and inhaled the sweet smell of laughing gas.

The assistant inserted an IV full of Valium and Michael Jackson Drugs and soon I was out.

I remember waking up and coughing on the blood and joking about how to date with dentures: maybe my grandma will have some advice? Shit, she hasn't dated since the late 40's.

Most of the teeth on the top are gone now. My gums are bloody and swollen and I sound like Sadie when I tried to say my S's. (Her lisp is way cuter than mine.)

On Thursday, I'll get my new falsies, just in time for my move back to Hollywood.


On Christmas Day, I took a Dilaudid for the wicked mouth sores that accompany lupus. I have been deservedly prescribed painkillers by pain care specialists for over two years now. 

Besides the occasional Dialudid, which is similiar to morphine, I have a standing prescription for a Vicodin and Tylenol mix. Depending on how severe my pain was, I took anywhere from 1 to 4 a day.

Used long-term, these medications can cause liver failure and memory loss. And, of course, terrible addiction. 

I do not believe I abused them or that I was addicted to them, but when I was in the hospital, I craved the liquid Dilaudid. And the days following a hospital release had me itchy with pain and lust for the drug.

But I used them as a crutch; I took it to anticipate the pain, without thinking about it first. I took it thoughtlessly. I swallowed a Vicodin with my morning coffee. They never made me feel stoned; just lighter, more able.

So on Christmas Night, I decided to quit painkillers. Cold turkey. I am bull-headed like that. I did not want to become a slave to addiction. I wanted to remember more. I wanted to sleep less and do more. 

I am trying to do things with purpose. To think before I speak. To consider what I eat. To think more about my autoimmune diabetes and how different foods affect me. 

I never took them when I drove. I didn't mix painkillers and booze. I wasn't physically addicted to them, though a different person might become addicted with that sort of dosage. But mentally, I leaned on them.

They made my days easier. I deserved easier.

I coveted easier.

When I went cold turkey, I had intense itching for about 36 hours and then it was done. I wanted them; I took a few when I needed to. I will not deny myself relief from extreme pain; that is ridiculous.

But I wanted clearer days. I didn't want additional medical conditions that might arise from long term painkiller use. My decision isn't for everybody. None of my doctors encouraged me to quit. This was my decision, and mine alone.

At the beginning of the New Year, 6 days without pills, I read my horoscope for the year. I used to laugh these off, but now I figure that more guidance, even hokey guidance, can't hurt.

I translated my horoscope, with it's rounding generalizations and usual sort of BS, into something else:

If the world is asking you to be brave, then be brave.
On New Year's Eve, Gen and I flew out to California. And on January 3rd, we had the immense pleasure of watching Meghan and Declan get married on the beach in Santa Monica.

It was one of the best weekends of my life. Surrounded by my second family and all my very best friends, I never felt happier.

I stayed out in LA for a week longer. I almost didn't get on the plane home.

In Claire's kitchen, I decided to apply for graduate school. I'm getting my Master's in psychology with a focus on child studies. Depending on how quickly I get in and secure student loans, I will start in Los Angeles in either April or July.

I want to work with sick children. I want to counsel families in hospice. I want to take my experience and use it for good. I want to run a camp for sick children. I want to do something with this unfortunate knowledge I have, and I want to use it to help. 


It's been 30something days since I decided to start feeling my pain. In that time, I've taken a handful of pills for extraordinary pain.

Some days, it feels as if I have sloughed off a layer of protective skin. I feel so raw and I can be so moody, feeling this pain. The pain of the everyday, and the pain of these inflammatory diseases.

When my knees swell, I look toward non-drug treatments. I use heat and ice. I take vitamins and probiotics. I can digest food now. I feel newer, even as the days wear on.


I move to Los Angeles in six days. I am ready to come out. I feel excited about who I am and who I will be.

I am scared. I am nervous as hell. I'm feeling everything, for the first time in forever.

And I can't wait to feel brave.


I don't think I could do anything without the support of my family. They push me. They believe in me.

These last two and a half years at home have been so hard. I hadn't lived at home FT since I was 18, and then I came back at 26 for three months that turned into two plus years. I have fought and yelled and resisted. I have felt anger and rage. 

But now that this time is coming to an end, I can only feel gratitude. My parents took care of me. My brother runs to the store for me. My sister is my best friend in all of this. My brother-in-law shows up with Sadie when he knows I need to see her.

And Sadie saved my life, more times than I will ever tell her. During the deepest sickness and depression I have ever known or hope to know, she was the reason I kept myself alive.


Thank you all. See you in California, where I plan to stand in the light, all day long.