1.10.2013

one last note to my fallen (read: risen) hero.



"Good Morning everyone. On behalf of my mom Kathy, my brothers Joe and Chris and my sister Maria, my grandparents Connie and Joe, my aunt and uncles Paul, Mark, Mary Ann and Steven, and everyone else in the extended Gallant and Fougere families, I want to thank you all so much for being here to help celebrate the life of the greatest man I’ve ever known. The love and support you have all shown us over these trying days has been nothing short of incredible, and if I know my Dad at all, I know he’s up there taking careful notes on everyone to whom he now owes favors.

"I’d like to take the time now to say a few words about our father and I thought the best way to do it might be to start from the beginning and tell you all a condensed version of his story, the way I have always known it.


 
"On October 15th, 1956, in the city of Chelsea, MA, our Nana and Gramps welcomed their first child into this world, a little baby boy. And like the generations of first Gallant sons that came before him, they named him Joseph, but agreed upon the common shortened form “Peter” for everyday use. Our dad grew up on the North Shore in the city of Revere, and like all little boys, he brought an abundance of joy and an endless supply of stress to our grandparents’ lives. There was a story we have often been told of the time our dad decided he was bored and wanted to stir up some trouble in his house by disguising himself and pretending to steal a bike out of his own backyard. Upon hearing the ruckus outside the house, Uncle Paul looked out the window and yelled to Gramps that someone was out there stealing the bikes. Gramps immediately went outside and saw what he thought was some hooded punk taking bikes from out of the yard. He began to yell at the kid in not so many words to kindly put the bike down and get away from his house, and instead of fessing up to the joke and giving himself away, Dad decided to  simply make a run for it. He hopped on the bike and rode away as fast as he could with Gramps chasing after him, yelling all sorts of colorful language as he tried so hard to get his kids’ bike back from whatever ne’er-do-well stole it out of the yard. At no point in this episode did our father stop and reveal himself, not even after Gramps tore his Achilles tendon in the pursuit. He just kept riding, all the way to the home of his Nana, where she welcomed him in with open arms and, most likely, a plate of macaroni, roast beef, and gravy.



"As Dad grew over the years, so did the family at 88 Beach Street. He became the loving oldest brother to my Uncle Paul, my Uncle Mark, my Auntie Mary Ann, and my Uncle Steven. He fit that role so well and would often recount the evening he sat in a rocking chair in our grandparents’ living room talking to Auntie’s date, steadily rocking back and forth, fulfilling his brotherly duties by giving the poor guy a death stare and doing what he could to intimidate him. And even as the chair broke and slowly tipped over sideways and he ended up on the floor, he continued to grill the kid about where they were going, what they would be doing, and what time my aunt was expected back home. 



"Dad attended Malden Catholic High School, where he became a phenomenal football player. He then attended UMass Amherst and, like many UMass freshmen, lived in a dorm room in Central that Nana still to this day compares to a prison cell. He earned a walk-on spot on the UMass football team, but somehow managed to absolutely destroy his shoulder during practice and never actually saw any playing time. So one day, in true Peter fashion, he boarded a Boston-bound protest bus and made his way to the admissions office at Northeastern University, where he soon started over as a student in the school of criminal justice and began to answer his calling to a life in public service. It turned out that getting on that bus was probably the best decision he ever made—his co-op experience as a summer special led him to his very first years of police work in the Nantucket Police Department, where he met fellow Officer Kathy Fougere, the love of his life, our mother. Dad married Mom on November 1st, 1985, and soon after this they settled down and planted their roots in the greatest town on earth, the city of Boston. Dad began an honorable 23-year career in the Boston Police Department, while mom somehow found a way to balance a full-time job and life in general with four crazy, beautiful children who were always vying for every last fiber of her attention and sanity. 



"In light of recent national tragedies, there is a Mr. Rogers quote gone viral reminding us all that we should always look for the helpers. Dad was a helper through and through, and that was what made him so phenomenal at his job. His life was his work, his work was his life, and he had a way of so gracefully combining his world at home and his world on the police force so that they always complimented each other, without ever letting one get into the way of the other. I’m sure each one of us kids has a memory of watching the five o’clock news and hearing another scary story about another bad guy somewhere in the city, but resting easy because we knew if nothing else, our Dad would find him and get him off the streets and the entire city, or at least the other five of us at home with him, could once again sleep soundly under his protective watch. He never failed to come to the aid of anyone who needed him, be it family, friend, acquaintance, or stranger, and would at times be highly offended if he was not the first one called to help take care of any situation, no matter what the nature or size. His job was to protect his city, but his compassion and caring nature as a husband, father, brother and son gave him the ability to console that city as well. 



"In a moment of selfishness the other morning, I found myself infuriated, asking God why it had to be him, why our dad, husband, brother and son had to be taken from us. It did not take long for God to answer me. The world we live in today is far from perfect—it is confusing, chaotic, and at times just downright scary for all of us. Looking out at all of you today, there is no doubt he touched countless lives while he was here on earth, but God needed to bring our Dad to be with Him, where he can now do the most good for the greatest number of people, where he can wrap himself around everyone at once and shield them from the all the sorrow, hatred and despair that exists outside these walls, where he can bring light and love to anyone in need, where he can rescue everyone from the bad guys the way he rescued all of us for so long. And as I stand here before all of you, I can almost guarantee he is sitting in his easy chair in the clouds, cigar in his mouth, Fox News on TV, a plate of greasy Chinese food on one side and his Nana’s macaroni, roast beef, and gravy on the other, waiting for the next chance to comfort yet another troubled soul.



"I cannot imagine trying to live life without my Dad by my side. And I guess I am very lucky in that I will never have to know what it would be like to even try. His body may be leaving us, but he exists within every person he has ever served over his lifetime. All I have to do is look at my siblings and I see him shining outward from each and every one of them. I see him in Joe’s ability to calmly step up and take control in any crisis. I see him in Chris’ willingness to come to the aid of anyone who needs it, asking no questions and passing no judgment. And I see him in Maria’s contagious laughter and the way she can brighten the darkest rooms and bring smiles to the saddest faces. As for me, I can only hope I am able to be half as strong a support for my family as he always was for all of us.


 
"His life was too short, but his story is so long, and his legacy will be everlasting.

"Joe, Peter, Detective Gallant, Dad—enjoy your rest. May God hold you the way you held us all your whole life. We love you, we miss you, and we’ll see you soon."



5.07.2012

it makes me crazy that i'm drawing inspiration from taylor freakin' swift

of all people, but she sings a ridiculously chipper and unfortunately catchy song about things that shine and I can't get it out of my head.

I can't even begin to tell you the number of times in life that people have told me to do what makes me happy. We all go through it. Before we're shoved out of childhood and into young adulthood, it's the number one piece of advice anyone will give us. "Follow your dreams. Listen to your heart. Reach for the stars. Do what makes you happy."



Lately, for whatever reason, I can't seem to get away from people who are concerned about my happiness. Yes, it's great to know I have people looking out for me. And yes, I know I'm blessed to have that kind of care and concern in my life. But when the casual "and how are things going for you these days?" turns into an interrogation about the choices I make and the things that are actually making me happy, I start to feel a little less blessed and a little more ticked off. Not at the person asking, but more at myself.

Here's the problem: I'm turning into someone I don't like to convince everyone else that I'm doing alright. And I'd love to know at what point in my life I decided that I had to live by any definition of happiness other than my own. I'd love to know when I decided it was important to convince anyone else other than myself that I'm happy where I am, the way the things are.

Seriously. Where did that come from? Why do any of us ever try to change what we do for the sake of what other people think? Doesn't Dr. Seuss teach us all at the age of 5 to be who we are and say what we feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind?

As of this moment, I'm officially done pretending, done trying to play a part that I just don't fit. I'm done listening to what everyone else tells me I should do or how everyone else tells me I should feel, because I can't afford to do anymore damage than I already have.

I have a good thing going right now. I don't need anything more and I certainly don't need to change who I am.  I'm happier than I ever have been, and I'd like to keep it that way.

At the end of the day, the only person who really knows what you need is yourself. God love her, Tay Swift has a point. The stakes are high and the water's rough, but this love, this life, this happiness, this whatever belongs to you and you alone. And if people wanna throw rocks at it? Just say f*ck 'em.

No need to keep worrying your pretty little mind. :)

5.01.2012

"you're welcome to come over and bitch about it all whenever you want,"

she tells me as we leave her screened-in porch. "Because I'm telling you, the next year of your life is going to be hell."



And as I say goodbye, get in my car and drive back towards 495, it sets in. It's finally happening, I've finally been given the chance to get out of the what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-now rut that I've been stuck in since May 15th, 2010. I'll be starting nursing school in four months. And working full-time. And trying to keep the little bits of my life that aren't already consumed by work intact.

Yes, indeed, the next year of my life is going to be hell. The worst part about that statement is that right now, I feel like I only barely have a hold on my life and my sanity as it is.

So then I start thinking: what's changed? Where did I mess up? Things are falling into place. I have a plan. I finally have a purpose. So... why do I feel more lost now than I did two years ago, when I had no idea what my next move was going to be?

And it hits me. Maybe it's because I stopped writing.

Anyone who knows me knows that speaking up is not my greatest strength. I surround myself with people who are loud and extroverted because I admire their ability to do what I just haven't figured out how to do yet. I have a lot to say, but I have no idea how to say it.

The purpose of this stupid overly-pink blog has always been to give me a place to process the millions of things that go through my mind every second; a place to speak without speaking, to share with everyone around me all the things I want to say to them instead of burying it all inside until I find myself doing clinically troubling totally emotionally stable things like driving 2 hours to Sandwich in the middle of February to sit on the beach for 5 minutes and get a coffee from Mary Lou's because I just need to take a break from existing for a while. My Honda has been in poor health lately and just can't keep taking on that kind of responsibility.

I forgot about this thing for so long. Which is really too bad, because as I look through some of the old entries, I'm realizing that the things I write say more about me and about who I am than I've ever been able to say about myself.

Big changes are coming. Big steps, big moves. And for the sake of my mental health, I can't afford to keep going through life without telling people what's really going on. Will I take up the offer to sit on a screened-in porch and bitch about it all? Most likely yes. But for the times I can't do that, I need somewhere else to go to let it all out.

Watch out, friends. I'm back. I have a lot I need to say. And you're all about to get an earful of it.

8.02.2010

about 174 days a year, you tell me you couldn't give a sh*t less about what i think.

But I've known you for 22 years. I can see right through you. And I know that statement is a lie. I know that what I think really means everything to you.

What I can see is that something's got a hold of you. I don't know what it is, but it has been eating you away from the inside out for the latter half of my life. It's taking over your actions, your words, your emotions, your entire being. Whatever it is has been slowly tearing you away from me, to the point where you need to stop at the liquor store to find something to numb the pain before you can even set foot in the house after work. This thing has you thinking that it's not as worth being there for me as it is worth being there for the people in your office or for the benefit of a few lab results at the doctor's.

As a 12 year old, I spent almost a month being terrified to speak to you because I knew that whatever I said, the conversation would always end with you yelling at me for being a bad student. But we reconciled, and I thought maybe I had you back as long as I tried harder to be a better kid. As a 15 year old, I cried as you called my little brothers liars and told me I was just the same for defending them. But I told you how much it hurt to hear you say that about your own kids, and I thought maybe I had you back as long as I kept my mouth shut. As a 17 year old, I gave my boyfriend many embarrassed goodbyes and asked my mom what  kind of girl you thought I was after you would yell at us for being alone together in the living room at 9 PM. By then I had already learned that nothing I could do would bring you back; instead, I just think a little more before inviting people over anytime after 5 because I know at least a third of the bottle will already be gone by then, and I'd rather keep up the charade that we're all happy and full of rainbows than try to explain anything to any outside audiences. Today, at 22, I still don't bring guys home, my stomach still knots up and my face cringes at how you might react if I tell you I found a leak earlier in the bathroom sink, I still apologize multiple times or even cry myself to sleep if I think I've done something to make my parents' lives more inconvenient than they already are--whether it's forgetting to take pizza dough out of the fridge or not cleaning up well enough after my brother throws a party or not getting more financial aid for school. Today I find myself looking at my baby sister and hoping she doesn't have to feel this same way ten years from now, while hating myself a little because I can't be as strong a person for her to lean on right now as I wish I could be. Today I find myself looking at you and wanting you to tell me where I went wrong, what I could have done to fix it, how I can get you back.

Look, while it doesn't help that you still feel like you need to drown me and the rest of the world out with a bottle and a half of white wine every day, I know I can't pin all my broken pieces on that. I have some huge problems--problems that are exacerbated by but run a little deeper than helplessly watching alcoholism take over the life of the only man I could ever love this much. These are problems I have had for a very long time, and it wasn't easy for me to finally admit to someone that they were there. So yeah, even though you say you don't give a sh*t less about what I think, I get how this feels. We are constantly taught that we all make mistakes, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But really, nobody wants to voluntarily point out their weak spots. Nobody wants to readily admit that they can't do it all. It takes an unbelievable amount of strength, willpower, and self-confidence.

Only the strongest people can admit that sometimes, they need help too.

You once told me that you would do whatever you needed to do to make sure I was safe and happy. I know that deep down, this is still true. Whatever happens now, however many times you continue to tell me my feelings are not worth it, please don't ever forget that you have always been and always will be my Superman.

Please, Superman, this is when I need you to be the strongest man in the world. Maybe I'm being selfish, but I need you to ask for help.

I need you to save yourself, so that you can save me.

7.08.2010

eight thousand and thirty days' worth of blessed.


"My vision is going," I sigh into the phone. "And my hearing. And all my joints are starting to hurt. And I get tired more easily. And when Maria is the same age as I am right now, I will be 32 and maybe even hanging out with MY KIDS. And now mom is giving me dirty looks."

My father laughs at me on the other end of the line.

"That's because you don't even know the half of it. Wait another 30 years til you're 52 or 53 like us. Then come talk to me about it. Where you are right now is the best part of your life."

As of 9:35 this morning, I have been living on this earth for 22 years. Eight thousand and thirty days. I've blown out 253 candles and grown 67 inches. I've completed 16 years of school. I've come a long way from the 7 lb. 6 oz. 20-something inch pink bundle that I was 22 years ago.

Sometimes we all go through periods of time that just really....well, really suck. I won't get into details, but I would not be lying to you if I said that 48 hours ago, I was sitting on my kitchen floor, unable to stand up, completely broken, feeling unloved, wondering if I would be okay. I would not be lying if I told you I felt like my world was crashing down on me, like life had stabbed me in the back, like I was paralyzed and could not move at all. I would not be lying if I told you that 48 hours ago, the only thing I wanted was to fall asleep on July 7, 2010 and wake up in the nursery at Newton-Wellesley Hospital on July 8, 1988, back at the beginning, safe with the knowledge that I was like an infant version of George Bailey and the 22 years I thought I had been living this whole time were only my guardian angel's way of showing me what awful things could happen to me and my family if I didn't live my 22 years exactly the right way. But I think that's a story that only works in old Christmas movies.
What God gave me instead was this morning, July 8, 2010, the morning I woke up and realized that no matter what, I can and will be okay. The morning I woke up and realized that no matter what, I am loved. He gave me a day full of sunshine and laughter and hope for whatever lies ahead of me. He gave me families and friendships made out of the greatest people on this earth, hands down. He gave me the realization that the past 22 years have been the best years I could have asked for, and that I am truly lucky to have lived each and every single one of them.

My father is right. This is the best time of my life. I'm not old, just growing up. This is only the beginning. I have a long way left to go, I know that. But if the rest of my years could possibly go as well as the past 22 have, then I guess I will be the luckiest girl I know, because in the 22 years already under my belt I have been so blessed. Eight thousand and thirty days' worth of blessed.

That is the single best birthday present I could have ever asked for.


7.01.2010

the train is crowded for 9 pm on a tuesday.

I sit in my seat next to the left-side door, looking down most of the time, being careful not to make eye contact with anyone around me so as not to have an awkward moment. At each stop, the car fills up a little more: a man with rap music blaring from the earbuds stuffed in his ear at Stonybrook, a woman talking loudly on the phone in Cantonese at Jackson Square, a group of college girls from Northeastern at Ruggles. Each new person to walk on keeps to himself or to the group he came with. Nobody interacts with each other except for an occasional "excuse me."

Like it or not, we have been trained in this day and age to think that a friendly "Hello" is a thing of a Pleasantville past. We are told from a young age to mind our own business, to be wary of strangers, to keep a tight hold of our possessions, to not let our guard down and be 110% sure of our surroundings at all times in an effort to prevent an unwanted hand from invading our personal bubble and wreaking havoc. We are brought up to automatically assume that aside from most immediate family members, the only person you can really trust in the outside world is yourself. Who knows who might have ulterior motives? An act of kindness could be a theif's key to your wallet, or the hand that invites a sex offender's touch.

So I sit on the Orange Line, making my way to State Street on a late weekday evening, silently processing my own throughts, keeping my head down and my eyes away from anyone who might be looking for them.

My silence is shaken up when a group of three friends make their way onto the train at Mass. Ave. They are an eclectic mish-mash of a group: an older Hispanic man, a heavyset black woman with a cane, and a thirty-something blonde woman with a long denim skirt and a top I've seen and wanted so badly to buy while window shopping. They are carrying three garbage bags that seem to be full of clothes and a few smaller items. Without saying a word, the person originally sitting across from me gets up so the woman with the cane can have her seen. Denim Skirt Lady sits next to her, and the older man stays standing.

"You wouldn't happen to have a cigarette on you, would you?" Cane Lady asks Denim Skirt Lady after they settle into their seats.
"Of course!" Denim Skirt Lady says as she pulls a box of Marlborough Lights out of her bag. "Take whatever's left. I don't need 'em. Would you like one?" she asks Old Guy, who says he's all set.
"Quit 'em three years ago," he adds proudly.
"Oooh, good for you!" Denim Skirt Lady says, visibly impressed. "Wish I could put them down too!"
"Like everything else," adds Cane Lady, "usually you don't really know how bad they are for you until it's too late."
Denim Skirt Lady and Old Guy agree.

The group gets talking about their jobs, their history in this city, where they're headed and what they did all day. They joke around with each other like all good friends do, laughing and calling each other out on every slip-up one makes.

I hear snippets of what they say to each other. Old Guy sometimes has a solid amount of odd jobs, Denim Skirt Lady works for an agency that collaborates with the Boston Housing Authority. In the midst of the conversation, one thing becomes clear: Cane Lady doesn't have a permanent address. The clothes in the bag are hers to carry around everywhere as she bounces from room to room, place to place, shelter to shelter. Old Guy is there to lend a hand, to help carry her things and to make sure she's set up alright for at least a little while.

As the train pulls past Downtown Crossing and rumbles towards State Street, Cane Lady pulls a blank envelope out of her purse. Denim Skirt Lady hands her a pen and recites a telephone number.
"That's my work number. Just give me a call anytime before 5 and I should be there. It's extension 32, but you can also just give them my name and they'll redirect you to my phone," she says as Cane Lady quickly writes down all this information, then recites it back to verify.
"Got it," Cane Lady says. "I'll give you a call tomorrow. And--I'm sorry, I feel silly asking now--what is your name?"
Denim Skirt Lady smiles and holds out her hand. "I'm Janine. What's your name?"
"I'm Vanessa, and this is Tommy."
Janine shakes hands with Vanessa and Tommy as I leave the train and go back to walking with my head down, my eyes more focused on my destination than anything else.

But I can't help but pray that maybe Janine's friendly smile in a dark subway station paid off.
That maybe, because these three new friends were willing to let their guards down, Vanessa might finally find somewhere to call home.

I guess it's kind of amazing what a simple "Hello" can really do. Imagine what this world could be like if we were all a little more willing to share one with one another.

5.21.2010

every day i find another gray hair on my head.

Maybe it was the stress of graduation, but my brand-new Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology leaves me more likely to believe that the real reason is because my genetic blueprint has me set to start showing this sign of growing up somewhere in my early twenties. I'll be 22 in a little over a month.

All week, Nicki and I have been texting non-stop. I was the first to get a "big girl job" offer for a teaching position; she was the first to actually start a "big girl job" as a long-term sub.

"i got drooled on so much today...but got tater tots. why is this job so 50/50"
"i feel like 50/50 is the theme of the real world"

"life at leitrims was just so much easier."

Meanwhile, Kim has started "big girl apartment"-hunting for her year in graduate school, looking to live in a place where the main decor on the living room walls is not a wrap-around of side panels from cases and 6-packs of beer, but maybe something a bit classier. Although she was living with us, Becca has been in a "big girl job" since February, where she will continue to be until she moves to New Mexico. And while she technically has yet to really say goodbye to her undergrad experience at Assumption, August will be here soon enough, at which point Maggie will have to be a "big girl volunteer" on her own in Houston.

We're not old by any stretch of the word. We're babies, just finally becoming real people with real purposes making real contributions to society. Little baby adults.

Adults. Grown ups. People who must now make the neccessary moves to be on their own.

This becomes clear to me sitting in Starbucks on a Thursday afternoon with Liz, who has also recently found herself with a Bachelor's degree from UMass to her name, a little unsure of what is supposed to happen next in this new chapter of our lives titled "Adulthood: The Early Years." Maybe she doesn't know where exactly she's supposed to go, but she tells me the one thing she does know for sure is that she is outgrowing the bedroom she still shares with her younger brother.

As we finish our iced teas and discussions of what post-college life holds for both of us, she leans in to ask me something in secret:

"The lady by the door, in the pink shirt, with the long black hair...is that or is that not my 7th grade Earth Science teacher?"
"Yeah...Yeah, that's definitely her. Wierd. How many years has it been since then? 6 at Latin, 4 in college...that's TEN YEARS. A full decade."

When we're back outside, she argues my calculation.

"7th grade was the 2000-2001 school year. We haven't quite hit 2010-2011  yet. It's really only been 9 years."

And with that, we continue on into adulthood and the real world, holding on tightly to that one-year difference as if it will let us stay in the blissful days of childhood just a little while longer.