6 wing, mild sauce, extra lemon pepper.

When you get out of surgery
I’m gonna bring you
a 6 wing, mild sauce,
extra lemon pepper.

Remember when you
swallowed that chicken bone,
as we laughed at suburban moms
with their floral blouses,
sunglasses perched on their heads,
ordering a breast and a wing.

I said “girl this ain’t no Popeyes.”
and you burst into stitches,
bone falling down your throat.
You asked me if you were gonna die.

You’re not gonna die.
They’re gonna get that bullet out,
just like that bone from your
6 wing, mild sauce,
extra lemon pepper.

We were gonna order take-out
that night
you didn’t come home.
Mom asked me what I wanted.
For some reason I couldn’t
figure it out.

But now I would know
exactly what to say.

I would say
I want you
to had never gone to that party,
to had never wore
those brand new Nikes,
to hear your voice
returning my seven missed calls
saying that your phone was just on silent,
to say you were on your way home
and then you would let me play your PS3
because I told mom
to order you a
6 wing, mild sauce,
extra lemon pepper,

to say “I love you.”

But we never got take out
that night.
You never came home.
You’re still in surgery.
Harold’s closes in 30 minutes.
Dad said he’s gonna run
to get me some food
since I’m on the night shift,
waiting for you to get out of the ER.

Don’t worry.
He knows our order.

 

 

Elder

You wrinkle your nose when he walks in.
I trace my fingers through the wrinkles
on his skin.
What am I attracted to?
The ignorance,
of not knowing.
He holds that key,
to what lies in the shadows,
to that whisper I’m afraid to call out to.
I go on these adventures, but am I settling?
And, if so, to who’s standard?
When you look at nature, where is the beauty?
Is it the color of the trees?
The sound of the birds?
The strength of the ocean’s wave?
I always found the beauty of nature was
the calm.
Merely the calmness that settles,
within my spirit.
When he holds me close, I can finally hear
what my breaths sound like.
He allows me the silence to actually hear
what my breaths sound like.
Can a spirit be sexier, than a chiseled jaw?
Do I even care if it’s sexy?
How do blind people have sex?
They love.
Let our energies spark and nothing else.
And when we’re naked let them see.
that I am not ashamed of the cracks.
Because, you see, I have scars of my own
that many have been afraid to touch
But he, traces them with his fingers.
He’ll die before me but I’m not afraid.
A widow at such an early age.
I’m more curious of what they’ll write on
his tombstone.
How old he was?
No, my love, I’ll write our vows.

A Vincentian Warrior

Matt Merkt before stroke

DePaul’s Liturgy Coordinator Matt Merkt enjoying a nice autumn day, months later his life took an unexpected twist.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Merkt

October 17 started off as a normal day for DePaul’s Liturgy Coordinator Matt Merkt. Merkt, who’s known on campus for his sassy jokes, effortless pianist skills and contagious energetic spirit, had just come back from celebrating his cousin’s wedding the past weekend in Wisconsin. It was a typical Monday in the office, and Merkt was just going about his normal weekly duties.  He had just finished his liturgy team meeting with the student leaders on campus that are involved with Sunday Night Mass. Once he was sure they were all set for next Sunday, he moved to his next meeting of the evening at the St. Vincent DePaul Parish, to discuss if everything was all set for the various Parish Masses. But, it was halfway through that meeting that Merkt noticed he wasn’t feeling like himself. However, he couldn’t put his finger on what was going on. He didn’t have the flu, and up until that very moment everything, health-wise, had been just fine.

He told his friend (Suzanne Gillen), the associate music director at the Parish, to grab him some water from the kitchen. Later he would learn that Suzanne found this request quite odd. Why couldn’t he just grab the water himself?

Merkt assumed that he wasn’t feeling well because he hadn’t eaten anything. He hadn’t had breakfast that day, or lunch the day before. If he just ate something he would be fine.

Towards the end of the meeting, Merkt became quiet. The introverted-extrovert, as he calls himself, didn’t want to draw any attention. He asks Gillen if they can move privately to her office. He wants to just sit and relax on her nice comfy couch.

“I said to myself, something is not right,” said Merkt. “I got up and I couldn’t walk.”

All eyes were on Merkt. Is he okay? Why can’t he walk?

Merkt, however, was still determined to get to that couch.  His friend (Robert Beatty), the director of music at DePaul’s Parish, came in to say, “What is wrong with you?” After relaying to Beatty that he hadn’t been eating well, Beatty rushed to grab him some food from the kitchen.

After Merkt had eaten, 10 minutes passed by, and the verdict was that food wasn’t the remedy.

“I was dizzy. I look at my phone and I could not text. I knew that was weird,” said Merkt.

Beatty suggested that Merkt go to the hospital. They immediately called 911, and paramedics arrived quickly to the school.

Merkt relays to Gillen to text his roommates that he wouldn’t be coming home, and to also let his mom know what was going on. Merkt then begins to tell the medical team that he wasn’t on any drugs before they loaded him up into the ambulance. This was his last vivid memory. Halfway through the ride, Merkt blacked out. His memory would remain faded, until Thanksgiving.

Merkt had suffered a stroke.

A MOTHER’S WORST NIGHTMARE

Matt and mom at the park.JPG

Matt and his mother, Debbie Merkt, enjoy a nice game at the park. Matt’s mom has been by her son’s side since his stroke in October.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Merkt

Miles away in Wisconsin, Merkt’s mother would get a text that every parent dreads to see. However, Debbie Merkt wouldn’t see that initial text from Gillen saying her son had been taken to the hospital; she was in the shower. In fact, she was too preoccupied by her trip to Ohio the next morning, for work, that she wouldn’t even check her phone. Instead, she would crawl straight into bed. It’s the call from the hospital that woke her up out of her sleep at 11:30 p.m., that would send her rushing to Chicago.

She arrives at the hospital, with her sister-in law, around 1 a.m. and is greeted by Gillen, Beatty and Fr. Jeremy Dixon. An hour later, roommates and friends of Matt start pouring into the hospital, as well. Friends and family are then told that Matt will be heading into surgery starting at 3 a.m.

Once surgery was underway, Fr. Jeremy relays to Debbie that he would let Matt’s boss, Amanda Thompson, know that he wouldn’t be in the next day. He then heads off, along with Gillen and Beatty. Next to go, around 5 a.m., are the roommates, all having to head off to work not knowing the fate of their dear friend. Debbie is not left alone, however. Thompson joins her around 8 a.m. and stays with her for the rest of the day.

Debbie cannot fathom losing Matt. Especially, not right after losing her husband of 37 years, Matt’s father Thomas Merkt, this past July.  Another blow, like that, would devastate her. But, the following day she’s given a slight glimmer of hope that assures that her son will be okay.

“We were at lunch and we got back, (and someone) said ‘He’s moving, He opened his eyes when we talked to him’,” said Debbie Merkt. “Then, we knew he was going to be okay. But, it was going to be a long road.”

However, the DePaul community, along with a host of family and friends were there at Debbie’s side to assist her every step of the way. During that first week, while Debbie stayed at Matt’s apartment, Thompson arranged transportation to and from the hospital. After having a conversation with Fr. Patrick McDevitt, Thompson then arranged for Debbie to stay at the Vincentian Residence for the duration of Matt’s recovery.

With her residency set and transportation not being an issue, since the residence was near the hospital, it’s not long before Debbie develops a routine. Every day during the week she would visit Matt in rehab downtown, and then on the weekends head back home to Wisconsin to get her mail and see the family.

Before she knows it, it’s mid-December and Matt is well-enough to go home. With students making frequent trips to come visit Matt during his hospital stay, Debbie thought it’d be best for both them and Matt, that he stays at the Vincentian Residence during his recovery. Fr. Pat was quick to make these accommodations.

Debbie extends a sincere message of gratitude for all they have done for her and Matt.

“The Vincentians have been very good to us. They would do anything if we needed something,” said Debbie Merkt. “The VSCO Department was stopping every week when he was in the hospital. Their regular Wednesday meeting was come and see Matt. Amanda comes over. While they’re visiting, I could just take a walk, which you need. You need to take a break.”

Matt and mom cubs game.JPG

Go Cubs go! Debbie and Matt are huge Cubs fans. Going to games together is one of their favorite past times.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Merkt.

But, Debbie was needing more than just a break. She was needing her son’s lively spirit back that she hadn’t seen in months. It’s not an easy adjustment needing to have your mom by your side, when you’ve been on your own since college. Debbie recalls those first months being bumpy, not having Matt’s lovable personality that made their bond so strong. After weeks of them staying at the Residence, it was in January, that Debbie finally gets her wish.

“There was something that happened and he just started giggling. And, I said, ‘that’s the first time that you laughed,’ said Debbie Merkt. “He started to get his personality back. It was hard not to see that smiling, joking personality since October.”

With his spirit restored, this dynamic duo has been relentlessly walking down the road to recovery. Rehab every day, frequent trips to Sunday Mass at DePaul and the occasional trips up to Wisconsin together.

For Debbie, she would do anything for her only child, simply saying

“You just do what you have to do.”

STUDENTS AND FRIENDS RALLY FOR A SPEEDY RECOVERY

Matt with friends and baby

Matt celebrates a new addition to the family with friends Evan Snyder and Brian O’Neill. They were one of the many that showed support during his road to recovery.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Merkt.

“It’s just me.”

This is the response that Matt Merkt had when he finally can read the abundance of cards, letters, texts and social media posts that he received from around the world, praying for his recovery. From friends in France sending him well-wishes, to a community of loved ones creating a go-fund me campaign to help his mom pay for medical expenses, it’s apparent that Merkt has a crowd of people cheering him on with love and affection. These acknowledgments come as no surprise to anyone close to Matt, but for Merkt he admits that when he first came across all the posts he was caught off-guard.

“On Facebook, when you have a birthday and like 100 people wish you a happy birthday, that’s normal. When I posted for the time (after the stroke), over 600 people liked my post.” Merkt said. “I was like, who cares about me? Apparently, a lot of people.”

Especially, when it comes to the lives of students that Matt has touched here at DePaul University.

Matt with students, matching ties

Nothing screams love more than matching striped ties. Matt Merkt poses with senior Ben Gartland and junior Matthew Verive. Verive credits Merkt for helping him navigate college.

Photo Courtesy of Matthew Verive.

The last time junior Matthew Verive had saw Matt Merkt was at the liturgy team meeting, just hours before Merkt had suffered a severe stroke. Verive serves as Matt’s liturgical musical assistant on campus, where he weekly assists Matt with getting music together for both DePaul’s liturgical choir and orchestra. When it comes to his college experience, Verive credits Merkt for keeping him sane when life got too difficult. Ever since that fateful evening in October there has been a void in Verive’s life of no longer having not only his mentor, but his friend.

“My initial reaction was. ‘Matt’s not able to get things done right now, we got to get things done.’ Then Mass, that Sunday afterwards, was my mental breakdown of complete bawling, realizing the gravity of everything,” Verive said. “It’s hard seeing someone perfectly fine and functioning and the next time you see them, it’s hard for them to talk. It was a shock that someone we loved so much was in such conditions.”

Junior Stephanie Lehocky, who works underneath Merkt within Campus Catholic Ministry, was taken aback when she first heard the news. Like Verive, she had saw Merkt the previous day, so when she found out what happened it came as a complete shock.

“It’s not like he’s old. It’s not like you would expect it to happen. It seemed surreal.” Lehocky said. “He’s an angel and such a beautiful presence in the office. I joined liturgical choir at the end of my freshmen year, and (I appreciated) how welcoming he was. It was mind-blowing how sudden it was. It broke my heart.”

However, when Lehocky, along with Verive and a few other students, went to visit Merkt in the hospital this past December, she couldn’t help but feel grateful that they didn’t lose him.

“I had that moment of gratitude that he’s still alive. Heaven forbid, if he was somewhere by himself something worse could’ve happened. So, I was at the point of just being happy to see him,” Lehocky said.

 Verive, feeling an equal amount of gratitude to still have Merkt in his life, felt there was a need for the DePaul community to show how much they appreciated him. He decided to highlight two of Merkt’s passions, his love for people and liturgical music, and throw him, and Gillen (who stepped in as Merkt’s replacement), a surprise concert. After coordinating with Fr. Jeremy, several members of the choir and orchestra, and even some alumni, they gathered Gillen and Merkt for a celebration that they would cherish for a lifetime.

Matt's surprise concert.jpg

The gangs all here. Students gather to perform a surprise concert as a thank you to Matt Merkt.

Photo Courtesy of Matthew Verive.

“I thought they probably would have a banquet, because we had one last year,” Merkt said. “I found out that they had met for the last three Saturday nights to rehearse. It was 25 people there, almost all of them. I was like, what?” Merkt said.

For Verive, and Lehocky who also participated in the event, seeing the smile on Merkt’s face was priceless. Verive, personally has taken a lot of lessons from the events in the past few months, but one of the most important ones, he says, is that life has no plan.

“It’s not your plan, it’s God’s plan. You can’t sulk too much about things that happen. You have to accept that they happen and roll with the punches.”

Road to Recovery

Matt eating ice cream

Matt was beyond thrilled to have his first bite of Margie’s ice cream, post stroke.

Photo courtesy of Katie Sullivan

There are many signs that Matt Merkt is on the path to making a speedy recovery. He’s back to eating some of his favorite food, like McDonald’s french fries and Margie’s ice cream. His speech and walking has improved drastically. He even is back to playing piano, with him and Gillen giving an amusing rendition of Beauty and the Beast to the liturgical choir a few weeks back. Merkt in no shape or form wants people to feel sorry for him. Being in the spotlight is still something he’s getting used to, but don’t be shy, he’s more than willing to snap a selfie with you to get you some likes on social media. No charge, he promises. However, what this Vincentian warrior truly hopes for is to, eventually, be able to retreat back into the shadows, spreading love and kindness but going unnoticed.

“I’m a pianist, but I never wanted to be a concert pianist. I loved being an accompanist, because you get to help people but if you do it well, no one sees you. I don’t want the show to be about me. My job is to make things happen. Make things beautiful, but hopefully no one knows what I’m doing,” Merkt said.

13 Reasons Why Mental Health Matters to Juana Estrada

As I talked to junior Juana Estrada, I couldn’t help but think about the fictional character of Hannah Baker featured in Netflix’s newest series, 13 Reasons Why. The series has been getting a lot of buzz from around the world, due to its raw portrayal of bullying, sexual assault and suicide as you follow Baker’s journey to understand why she took her life. Both Estrada and Baker embody what it means to resemble strength and courage during moments of darkness. Viewers had their heart strings tugged as they watched Baker present 13 tapes to her classmates, documenting the traumatic events leading up to her suicide. Although Estrada didn’t offer me tapes, I couldn’t help but feel the same emotion that I had felt when watching the series, as I listened to her own individual story. From being a Leukemia survivor, to the overwhelming pressure of being a first-generation student, I was in awe at all that a woman could experience before she could even legally buy a drink.

What’s special about both Estrada’s and Baker’s stories is that they are able to shine light into what mental health looks like when you are a woman. Fighting a battle with your mind, on top of society’s double standards, the male gaze and the continuous objectification of your body can take a toll on someone. It’s easy to assume when you walk past Estrada on DePaul’s campus that she has it all together. Always serving a radiant smile and on the surface it seems that her spirit is indestructible. However, underneath the beauty is a young woman that understands what it means to feel broken just like Baker.

Nevertheless, she has persisted and she’s done so with style and grace. After reflecting on her trials and tribulations throughout her life, Estrada has decided to take her experiences and put them towards her passion, her writing. LaMorenitaJuanita, a blog dedicated to exploring cross-cultural experiences through fashion, was created by Estrada with the hope of creating atool of empowerment for the many who don’t have the means to lift themselves out of their endeavors.” Estrada has not only been able to use her blog as a form of self-expression for her own thoughts and style, but also as an outlet to uplift other women, such as through her #womenempowerment series, “Expressing Confidence Through Your Style.”

With writing being Estrada’s muse, what better way to tell her story than in the same manner. So here’s Juana Estrada, live and in-stereo, and if you’re listening to this you are about find out the 13 reasons why mental health matters to her.

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If you or anyone you know is suicidal call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

Don’t ever give up on yourself. Find out your reasons why your mental health matters.

Anxious Mind (Part 1)

I can’t explain it
Or put it into words
So I guess I look like a madman
I feel like a madman

Not being able to describe these feelings
Heightens the sensations even more
My throat is closing up, chest is pounding
As I try to find a word that fits best

If I don’t I’ll be perceived as unintelligent
Then you’ll twist your face
And say I don’t understand
Not knowing what you just triggered

I don’t like being misunderstood
But how can one understand something
That I’ve been trying to figure our since
I was 12 years old.

That may or may not be the age
I don’t know for sure
But I do know when my aura
Has been altered

I shouldn’t be writing this
Because I’m wasting time
That I won’t be able to get back
And that only will make things worse

But you see I need this right now
And when I’m better
Someone else will read this
And need this too

So I’m going to keep at it
Even if you’ve stopped reading
Saying it’s too long
And that you get the point

My worst enemy
And my best friend
I guess also my motivator
Is my mind

It races at a speed
That one can’t calculate
Even if they tried
Trust me

Breathe.

I just want a remote
To press pause
On a world that moves
Too damn fast

You know what I want
To just clear my thoughts
And then not let it drift
Into the unknown.

Or into the impossible.
Or into the repressed emotions.
Or into the unforgettable .
Or into the road ahead.

To go on Facebook
And scroll away
Not feeling pressured
To share everything that connects

To me.
You see we’re living in a age
Where we’re connecting through
Likes. Shares. Comments. Re-tweets.

I’ll be honest
Somethings I don’t read fully.
That doesn’t mean I’m uneducated.
I’ll read it later. I promise. I hope.

But most of these I do read.
And they’re beautiful
And sometimes emotional
And sometimes just too damn real

Since when did we all get so political
I’m woke.
Too woke.
That I can’t sleep.

Oppression. Privilege. Every ism.
I get it.
For christ sake.
I’m a gay black Christian man.

Not saying these things don’t matter.
They do. It’s time for a change.
But I’m focused on fixing.
And forgetting about living.

Focused on educating “the hate”
But what about lifting up “the love”
Love. I love love.
I live for love.

Love gives me energy.
Energy to be great.
Nourishment for my soul
And replenishment for my body

Too bad with it comes heartache.
And fear that pain can happen twice.
But I’m a hopeless romantic.
So I’ll never get off that roller-coaster

I fall quickly.
I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Loved ones thinks that’s my problem
I think it’s my advantage

Friendships. Ties. Bonds.
I make those in seconds.
With that forms a deep line
Of compassion that’s unbreakable.

Daddy’s Girl: A Text Thread

‘Hey Daddy. I got called in for work for tomorrow morning. IKR. That annoying new girl I was telling you about on the phone Friday is “sick.” Probably because she dresses like it’s fucking spring break and it’s the middle of November. Whatever. Over it. Over her. So, guess who will be covering that 5pm shift bright and early on her 21st birthday. This girl. Ughh. This is literally pissing me off, because I know I’m breaking our pinky promise. I mean I would skip my bio class tomorrow, if our exams didn’t count as basically half of our final grades. Dad, seriously this guy is a prick. He reminds me of my Mr. Nicholson. You remember in elementary school, when he made me go home because of my Meet the Parents t-shirt? The one that you got me for the premiere. Since when was the phrase “You’re the bomb,” a threat to the classroom?!!! When you said I’ll terrorize your life, if you come at my daughter again, I peed my pants. I wish you could come scare Professor Dickhead so I wouldn’t have to take this exam tomorrow. This is gonna be the shittiest 21st birthday. I’m like texting you as I look at my Monday schedule, and there’s literally no time for me to see you. Stupid Natalie. She’s plotting my demise Dad, I swear. But, any way guess this is the first year where our pact is broken. I’m heartbroken. It’s okay. Maybe we can hang before Thanksgiving. Mom told me she’s trying to cook again this year. I don’t care what you say, she’s envious of your skills, and STILL believes your COOKING is why I love staying at your place. Not the creepy old fart she’s dating, or the fact when I’m home she’s rarely there because she probably picked up a extra shift, or out with him. But, we’ll talk about this more when I see you. Love you so much Dad. I’ll probably talk to you tomorrow.’

‘Thanks for the birthday wishes Dad. You’re so rude for that picture. What the actual fuck Dad where did you get that? Anyway, I woke up late, I’ll text you when I get out of class. Love ya.’

‘Why am I blessed with the best daddy in the world? How in the hell did you know where my bus stop was? And can you pleaaaase let me know where you got Ben Stiller wrapping paper. You are so weird. But you literally made my birthday. Like usual. This stupid little brat next to me on the bus laughed at me, when I read your note. He clearly has never had a pinky promise. BTW GUESS WHO SHUT THE GAME DOWN IN BIO TODAY. Dickhead gave me a 88 on the exam. Highest grade I’ve gotten. Pretty sure, that’s the highest grade ever scored in the class too. Guess, I’ll graduate after all. Speaking of that, I picked up my cap and gown yesterday…I know SCARY, but also we have to email our expected guests to our Dean. So, is it cool if I just say you and Robert? Let me know. OMG. Tell Robert, that his HBIC tank will be worn, every single day, in Jamaica in December. That is if these finals don’t kill me softly before then. Anyways I LOVE YOU DADDY, thanks for making yet another birthday a one to remember. My phone is going to die, so I’ll just text you before I go to bed. Kisses. Lol. Also remember when you said nothing can beat the smell of me passing gas at Taco Bell last month, literally, Johnny “never heard of a pinky promise or deodorant” has me beat. Kk I’ll text you late. Love you.’

‘*later.’

‘ghh’

‘Lol. That was an accident. Booty text.’

‘Rude way not to text me back. Haha just kidding, I see Robert called me. But, I’m just getting back from work. You old turds probably are passed out, so I’ll just call back tomorrow. Nite.’

‘I’m sending this text hoping praying that you are going to pop out of this bed and see this and tell me how much of an idiot you are for not getting dressed up to be in the hospital. Remember, you always said “if this diabetes puts me in that shit hole, I want to look fine as hell so those doctors know that they working with a DILF.” Btw, none of them compare to Robert. So you’re good. He just walked out of the room to get some fresh air. He’s been crying nonstop. Me too. The ugly cry. The same ugly cry you made fun of me when my goldfish died. The same cry I had when Mr. Nicholson called me incompetent and illegal. Or when Mom and I watched you and Robert say your vows last spring. He needs you. I need you. Please wake up Daddy.’

 

How To Let Go

February 14th, your favorite day of the year. A day filled with sappiness overload. Don’t be bitter, though. You’ve came a long way. Just think, it was only last year when you were drowning your sorrows away, with a bottle of Svedka, at a “crop top, short shorts” party.

As you look at your reflection, through the backseat window of your Lyft cab, you laugh. Wow, look at you, you got your laugh back! I bet you didn’t know you still had that. You are a new person. A person who has not only started loving himself, but knowing himself. Forget about your past. Now, you can get back to the old you. You can start giving back. As you pull up to the local children’s hospital, these thoughts run through your mind.

Your Lyft driver says, “Is this it?”

As you start forming the word yes, you notice a man being pulled on a stretcher into the glass doors of the emergency room.

He looks just like him.

You must have been staring at those doors for a long time because your Lyft driver asks, “Are you ok?”

You contemplate your response before mustering out, “wrong address.” As you drive off, you have to reassure yourself this is okay. Like your Mom said, “life is a growing process.” Clearly you have longer to grow.