Jenny from the block

The Super Bowl halftime show got me thinking about my own brush with J.Lo, which would never have happened if I didn’t have bipolar disorder and get fucked over by white liberal men.

Let me ‘splain.

In 2006, D and I decided we were ready to try having kids. I went off birth control, which kindled some underlying hormonal problem, and ended up catatonic on NYE 2006. Full mental breakdown. And D couldn’t find a doctor to take me to who didn’t have a four month waiting list. And he had the Cadillac of insurance programs through Apple.

D had to call my office for me and tell them what was going on. One of the partners had a connection to a psychiatrist who could see me the same day as a favor. I showed up at her office in pajamas and cried/babbled for an hour. At the end of my rant, she let me know that I had bipolar disorder.

The diagnosis was terrifying, but mostly I just wanted to get back to being “me” as soon as possible. I thought the meds would work, but they never seemed to. Over time there were more and more but I never got better. And the pills were so expensive. Everything mental health related seemed terribly expensive, even with health insurance.

In 2008, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands–the result of being too sick to work as an attorney. We had plenty of money, fortunately, so I could devote my time to whatever interested me. At the time, it was taking journalism classes at Pima Community College and checking out the slate of Democratic candidates for president.

I was won over in the course of half an hour after seeing the person I found capable, charismatic and brilliant–Michelle Obama. She spoke at the Fox Theater in Tucson without notes. She was a brilliant orator. But since she wasn’t running, I’d just have to settle for her husband, Barack

Politics had become personal to me at this point. I knew that, but for my financial situation, I could be stranded without medical attention, mentally unstable, out on the streets and exposed to all sorts of dangers. In Tucson, one didn’t have to look far for evidence of that. Health care reform became the battle I would fight for.

I volunteered on Obama’s campaign (Obama For America) both in Arizona and New Mexico. I felt invigorated by the work and all the people I met. It felt like we were working towards progress. It felt like a groundswell of good.

Obama won, as we know. I found out at the University Marriott Pima Dems party while helping a reporter for KVOA. When the Michigan results came in, MSNBC called the election. I was standing on a chair at the time. I started shaking and crying. My law school friend Alison called me and I told her to book the tickets to DC for the inauguration. This was something I needed to see in person.

Come January 2009, Alison and I were on a plane direct from Phoenix to Washington. Everyone on that plane was going for the same reason and the air was kinetic. Women sang hymns on the plane. That plane could have made the trip fueled only with the hope in our hearts.

The day of the inauguration itself was freezing. Fourteen crisp degrees with a wind chill. I was covered in layer after layer and I still wanted to die. But dying would have been very inconvenient for witnessing history.

We braved the crowds, of which I’d never seen the like. When we realized we would miss the inauguration if we waited at the Secret Service checkpoint, Alison and I just hustled with the fur adorned, high heeled boot trotting women further back on the mall for over a mile down towards the Washington Monument. From there we watched the inauguration on a jumbotron, surrounded by Americans all there to celebrate the coming of a new era. Roll your eyes, but we were young then. And in great need of hope.

As the crowds dispersed after the swearing in, we searched for shelter from the cold. We couldn’t get anywhere far as the parade had begun, cutting us off from Georgetown. The streets emptied and the city looked like a ghost town covered in Starbucks cups.

Night fell and we got to see something else interesting, women clad in gowns and men in tuxes, rising from the Metro to attend inaugural balls. So fancy. It didn’t seem real. I thought to myself how well connected these people could be, while I was just happy to get to rub elbows with them on public transportation.

Back in Arizona at the end of the week, I decided to volunteer for Organizing For America (OFA) which took the infrastructure created by the Obama campaign to act as a two way communication route between the White House and grassroots. First on the agenda was health care reform.

We did a lot of work. I believed in the cause and nothing was too much for me to give. I stood on busy street corners asking people to sign petitions. I went to Gabby Giffords’ town halls to talk to people in line. There was a lot of…resistance. I got called things. I got laughed at by people who knew better. None of it deterred me.

OFA asked us to think of novel ways to reach out to our communities. I didn’t have a community as such, but my sister Andrea had matriculated to medical school in Tucson and I had access to her friends. For some reason I thought I could create a heath care reform forum for medical professionals. And for some reason, people believed I could do it. I managed to pull together the med school, pharmacy school, nursing school and public health schools for a talk at the med school, sponsored by the med school student association. I asked a young doctor/politician if he’d be willing to talk as well, so as to give the talk some kind of authority. He said sure. It seemed too easy.

For months before the talk, I prepared my power point presentation. I was a young lawyer and not a health professional, but I knew employment law, insurance law and bankruptcy law. I knew the public policy behind government led health care reform. Plus, I was a great public speaker.

Eventually it was the day before the presentation. I went into the OFA office and Democratic headquarters in Tucson to talk about what would be going on the next day. The student association had paid for food. I had sent out press releases to local and national media. I had my laptop on me, and I showed my presentation to OFA personnel from the state office and the young doctor who would also be presenting. Everyone seemed to be impressed. Everything was set to go. It should have gone smoothly. But it didn’t.

At 12:04 a.m. the following morning, less than 12 hours before the talk, I received a call from someone at OFA. He thanked me for my time and informed me that, after some consideration, I wasn’t needed at the talk. I could attend, of course, but it wasn’t necessary.

I was not going to miss my own talk.

I showed up bright eyes and bushy tailed, with a smile on my face and ready to help with whatever needed helping. Of course, immediately before entering the hospital, I’d spent five minutes psyching myself up for overcoming humiliation.

I worked the sandwich line and passed out napkins. And when the talk was ready to start, I was amazed at the size of the crowd. There were hundreds of people, all there because I’d had a crazy idea and followed through with it.

The doctor got up to speak, and I could tell it was a mistake from the word go. His power point presentation was just data sets, which he pointed to with a laser pointer. But then, all of a sudden, his slides were clear and to the point and his discussion became focused. Because he was now giving my presentation with my slides. I followed along with the paper copy of my slides I’d brought with me. At this point I’d like to mention that this doctor was running for state representative. His name is Matt Heinz.

I didn’t say anything at the time because I wanted to make sure the words that did come out had power behind them. So I waited a few days and then called the Arizona president of OFA.

I told her that they’d fucked things up royally. And to top off the substance of the fuck up, there were the optics. They’d replaced a woman of color/attorney with actual experience in the field with a young white male doctor who couldn’t speak to the issues from experience and, moreover, couldn’t really speak at all.

I think I yelled. If not, I was really assertive. I don’t remember this. But someone who was at the Phoenix OFA office who’d known me from the campaign in Las Cruces the year before later told me that my call had been put on speakerphone. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I felt double-crossed and made fun of to boot. It was a bad time for me already, battling depression and the effects of medicine, not having a job in my field, and then this debacle.

And then I got this in the mail:

I thought it was a cruel joke. Or maybe a clouded attempt at a fundraiser. But no. It was real. It came with an RSVP card. D’s friends did background on the phone number and email address for the president’s social secretary. It was legit. I’d just been invited to the White House.

I know, right? Crazy.

For the second time that year, I got on a plane, this time with D, and headed for D.C.

I paid $200 to get my hair done for the night.

I’m glad I did. The dinner took place inside the White House. We were tended to by military members in dress uniform. I was surrounded by illustrious people. I stopped counting how many but I did talk to Gwen Eiffel for a bit. And this lady who’d just been given a seat on the Supreme Court:

That’s Sonia Sotomayor.

After dinner, the night continued to a tent behind the White House. This was no ordinary tent. It had a view of the Oval Office. I passed David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. I talked to Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar fame. At the time he was working for the White House. Honestly, I was the least illustrious person in that crowd of 300 people.

The show was hosted by Eva Longoria, George Lopez and Jimmy Smits.

You can read about the concert here.

It was a banger. And the star of the night for me was Mark Anthony.

I didn’t like him before but he gave me plenty of reasons to like him that night.

At the finale of the show, everyone came on stage, including J.Lo and the whole first family.

After the show I rushed to the front and gave J.Lo a hug and asked her to sign my little autograph book. I asked if I should call her Lola. She said no and laughed. Lola is her nickname.

Part of me still can’t believe it happened. Why me? Why did I get thrust into that situation that night? Why? Because I stood up for myself. And at a time when I had nothing to fight for but my mind and my hard work. I’d been stripped of everything that I thought made me me, and yet, there was still a fire in my belly.

Here’s me at the end of the night.

No one ever connected the dots…you know, told me that this was my payback for getting fucked over. They didn’t have to. After that, fighting for myself got a little easier. It was a lesson that would come in handy as my world fell into further chaos and I’d have to emerge from utter failure into becoming a writer and liberating myself from a lot of trauma and people who thought I’d really amount to nothing. It was a godsend.

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