pulitzer prize-luminary commended author
BY GINA LUMSDEN KROPF
The plane jostles me awake as it begins its descent in to Raleigh Durham airport. I reach up to
twist the little round knob on the ceiling that is spewing out ice cold air into my eyes before
glancing out the window to see the familiar view below of the little houses that look like the ones
on a monopoly board. Subdivisions. Trees. Ugh. I feel tired. I quickly grab the last sip of my
flat diet coke before tossing the empty plastic cup into the flight attendants trash bag. I’m back
to the ‘burbs.
At the house, I walk into the vast foyer. It looms large over me, with its bright yellow walls and
its hollow echo. My art graces every wall and seems to yell out to me in all of its black and white
glory. The place smells clean. Not like a house where we raised 2 cats, a dog, 2 rats, and way
too many replaced and look-alike hermit crabs and beta fish to count. The largeness of it feels
empty, like a tomb. My shoulders feel so heavy as I walk up the steps to my old bedroom. I have
to resist the urge to crawl. The brightness of the sun meets me the moment I walk into the
room. The bathroom is larger than I remember, and the bathtub alone is the size of my
bathroom in my east village apartment . I brace my shoulders as I look in the mirror. The face
staring back at me appears older here than it did when I left the city. Maybe its all of the
glorious light and the gigantic mirror. Its a lot different than the little mirror that graces the wall
of my dingy little New York City apartment bathroom. I like the way I look there better, I think, as
I dim the lights and walk out, swearing to never own a full-length mirror again.
After my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia 5 years ago, my life came crashing to a halt. My entire
identity had been shaken. Since giving birth to my daughter, and surviving an abusive marriage,
I had rebuilt my life as a sober woman, built a photography studio with my very own name on it,
new wife, homeowner, and kept my demons at bay with daily trips to Spin class at my fancy
local gym. Like a good southerner, my shell looked fine on the outside, but on the inside, maybe
not so much. I was still trying to fit my highly irregular peg self into the smooth, round hole of
Southern Culture in which I had been raised. I don't remember exactly when the debilitating
fatigue hit, or if it was the excruciating pain that came first. But I was in Hell. I cried a lot.
Fibromyalgia is a Mofo. And what did I do to deserve such a strange and obscure illness? My
husband barely recognized me, as I spent entire weekends in bed with my friends Ben and
Jerry. You are what you eat, they say, so my body was starting to look like Phish Food. My
business was gone. My large home was a hurricane of dirty laundry and items purchased that
seemed like a good idea at the time. The life I had built for myself now just kind of came down
I refused to live like this. What was going on, what was my body trying to tell me? I had to
address this problem from a spiritual, emotional, and physical angle. But Damn! I have already
overcome, or rather survived, a childhood riddled with abuse and abandonment, Bulimia,
alcoholism, and drug addiction. That’s enough! So far, both a medical doctor, a holistic doctor,
and a chiropractor have offered me relief of various kinds. Perhaps the best lessons have come
from working with my psychiatrist. Through our many conversations, I have learned what it
means to go through middle age, to adjust to a different body with different needs, and how to
be kind and gentle with myself in the process. Our weekly talks led me, for whatever reason, to
New York City. Or maybe I just needed an excuse. My trips began with renting Airbnb
apartments in various neighborhoods throughout the city. What started as a vacation turned into
an extraordinary love affair that left me begging for more. I could no longer tolerate my southern
hometown. It became my prison, with my big home, my two big cars, and conversations with
others that never really left the realm of what was being cooked for dinner, or what our kids were
up to. Every day as I walked out of my house, I would see the vast emptiness of the landscape
devoid of people, or if they were around, they all looked the same, all adorned in their Jack
Rogers sandals and pastel tunics. Conformity seems Key in the suburbs. I think I prefer to call
what I was going through Divine Discontentment, since when one door opens for me, usually a
much better one opens.
I begin in my closet. Its more like an extra room, except that it slopes with the roof , so you
bang your head as you walk in. That’s where I got the huge scratch on my glasses, so I think of
the ceiling every time I look through that scratch. Before I left at Christmas, I threw everything
in it that is of any value to me into it. My dad’s t-shirt says “Jesus loves you, but the rest of us
thinks you are an asshole”. It has a little picture of Calvin and Hobbs on it. I pick it up and am
immediately embraced by the musky sweet smell of the cologne he wore. If the smell is still
there after 6 years, it must have really been strong before. My dad, the stud. I kept all of his
books. Everything from the Bible, to Fidel Castro, Oscar Wilde, and even Kim Litrell’s book on
better Sex. My shoulders tighten a little more. Behind the books, I see every single figure
drawing I did in my 4 years of Art school. One of the little old lady hunched over her chair, toes
curling up like a vine around an old post. She had fallen asleep that day on the pedestal. I see
the one of the 20 something hippy chic with the tampon string in full view. I am glad I decided to
capture that little detail now. I spent way too many days in the art studios from California to
St. Louis. I go to move them, and the black charcoal comes off onto the dry skin of my fingers.
It smells like old newspaper and youth. As I wash it off, I glance over to see the green box of
my daughter’s baby clothing. The onsie with the sweet-tart on the front that really says Sweetheart.
She was wearing that the day I loaded her and Charlie, the Cocker Spaniel, into the car
to flee her biological dad. We flew down I-40, the temperature above me on the little clock
saying 110 degrees. She was silent , Charlie was panting, and I could hear my heart coming
out of my chest as I adjusted my legs from the leather seats that they were sticking to. I felt like
I would die as I called my mother to tell her to make a bed for us.
As I walk out of the closet to turn off the light, I take one more glance at my wedding dress and
my extensive running shoe collection from my days of being a personal trainer in college. I
have to relive 28 years of life in three days. Part of me wants to light a match to everything, but
I decide to instead just get rid of it all. Coming to my senses, I settle for going to the post office
to ship the truly important things up to the apartment, knowing they will never fit in my little
corner of Manhattan. I feel traumatized as I succumb to my bed. I must have drifted off to
sleep, because when I wake up, it is dark out, and my bed in situated in a sea of stuff that
accumulates in a lifetime. I pry myself out of the darkness, remembering why I chose this to
take this amazing journey, ( and what an adventure it was!) and get to work. Soon I will
embark on the second half of the life I decided to design this time. I’ll sleep when I get home, I
tell myself. My shoulders are now all the way up to my ears, and the pain radiates.
The pilot announces our descent into JFK, I am in complete and total awe of the shimmering
little island that exists in the middle of the sea. Every light that dances in the distance represents
fresh opportunities, vast arrays of stories from lands that I could only dream about, and
experiences I have never fathomed. Here, my Southern Twang is just another one of the many
accents that add to the music of this incredible city. I was Charlie-In-The-Box, and I had finally
arrived at The Island Of Lost Toys. (If you need that explained, google Rudolf the Red-Nosed
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. "Rabbi" his disciples
asked him, "why was the man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?"
"Neither", Jesus answered. "This happened so that the power of God could be seen in him."
How can God use all of my broken pieces today?
Gina is a Survivor in all capital letters. After being sober for many years, as well as recovering from a host of other addictions, she found herself ready to move on from being a victim of life to being a designer of one.
She is a recovering southerner who found her true home among the many shapes and sizes of the creatures of Manhattan. Part of her journey is to give back to others who struggle down the same paths that she has, resulting in an upcoming memoir. As a constant student, she attends a very fulfilling writing workshop on Thursday evenings in the East Village.
She has a BFA in fine art, with an emphasis in photography. Since closing shop on her photography business, you can find her roaming the streets of New York City stealing shots of her fellow citizens.