“…she suffered so I didn’t have to.”

Aunt Karen (left) Me (right)

⚠️ trigger warning this article mentions suicide ⚠️

On March 14, 2021, I sent an email to Brandon from Humans of New York. If you don’t know what Humans of New York is, I highly suggest taking some time after reading this to check out Brandon’s Instagram @humansofny. It’s simply amazing. In summary, it is a space where humans share real, raw stories from their lives. HONY has helped me feel all the feelings: inspiration, happiness, sadness, love, hope, devastation, sympathy, empathy, and so much more. Overall it has helped me feel more connected to the beautiful humans on this earth. ❤️

Usually, Brandon meets people throughout the streets of NYC or different locations that he travels to. However, during COVID Brandon was receiving emails to share people’s stories. After a while of procrastination, I decided to send one of my stories. It is deeply personal, but writing this story felt therapeutic and oddly comforting. I made some minor edits, but here it is…

I had a feeling something was wrong. I called my mom to check in on my Aunt Karen as I was 1,000 miles away. About an hour later, I received a call from my aunt’s phone. I let out a sigh of relief and answered. On the other end of the phone was my mom screaming that Aunt Karen was dead. My mom got there just in time for my aunt to pass away in my mom’s arms. Her death was ruled a suicide due to the number of prescription pills that were in her system. A month or so later, my mom and I went to the police station to get the police report. In the report, there were scribbled notes that the officers found in my aunt’s apartment. The only thing she wrote addressed to me was, “Deana Marie has a knack for fashion.” My family and I were in denial for a while. However, my mom was devastated, and she was never the same again.

After Aunt Karen died, I went into a downward spiral. Weed and alcohol seemed to be my only coping mechanisms. Similarly, to my aunt’s coping style. This continued for years. One day, I had a realization that if I did not get help, I would end up just like my aunt. I often prayed for a miracle, but I felt trapped and helpless. I was financially, spiritually, and mentally bankrupt. I wanted to die, but I didn’t want to kill myself, especially seeing my mom’s state after what had happened to my aunt. Thankfully one day, God answered my prayers, and my road to recovery began. I found a new way to live, without looking to weed and alcohol to cope and solve my problems.

It has been five years since I sought help. I am now the Founder and CEO of my own clothing company (OGCJ), a brand my aunt would have loved! I am also a college student studying Television Production and Digital Media. I try to create as much as possible and do things I enjoy; going on adventures, spending time with loved ones, cooking vegan food, reading, laughing, watching movies, and trying new things. I have so much gratitude in my life today and every day that God gifts me. If it was not for my Aunt Karen’s tragic demise, I doubt I would be where I am today. I honestly feel as though she suffered, so I didn’t have to.

Nine years after my aunt died, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. As I held her hand as she passed away, I was heartbroken yet, somewhat relieved because she would not be in physical pain anymore, and I knew how happy she would be to see her baby sister again. They would finally be in peace, together.  I miss them both very much, but I feel their love, and I know how proud they are of me. I am doing what they both could not do, one day at a time.

Written by: Deana Marie Loria

Edited by: Katelyn Miscioscia

My story did not make it to the HONY page, but I did receive a response, which was pretty cool. It stated, “Thank you so much for submitting this story. We have received thousands of emails and Brandon is only able to share a tiny sliver of them. Rest assured that we are reading them all, and I just want to say that we are so sorry for your loss.  It’s a very strong story, but a lot of times it’s a huge puzzle to put narratives into short form, so most of the stories are not featured even though they are really powerful and moving.  But thank you so much for submitting this.  Hope you are staying safe during this time.” Roshni S. – Manager, Humans of New York

❤️

Today, June 16, would have been my aunt Karen’s 63rd birthday. She passed away on September 30, 2008. I often wonder what life would be like if she were still around. Until we meet again…

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please, contact your physician, go to your local ER, or call the suicide prevention hotline.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or message the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both programs provide free, confidential support 24/7.

Aunt Karen (left) Mom (right)
Mom (left) Aunt Karen (right)
Mom – I think she’s pregnant with my brother 1985 (left) Aunt Karen (right)
Mom (left) Aunt Karen (right)
Aunt Karen (left) Mom (right)
Aunt Karen & I ❤
My Mom and I as we celebrated our birthday’s together. ❤ 5/22 5/23
Me, My Mom and My Sister that I am blessed to have and do life with! ❤

Switching Sidewalks

Today I noticed something as I was walking my dog, Lily. On our walk, she kept looking at the grass and sidewalk across the street. Then when she saw the opportunity to do so, she would sneakily try to cross the street. At first, I nudged her away and kept her on the sidewalk we were on. However, she was walking very slow as she was preoccupied staring at the other side. She is a persistent little girl. I gave in, and we crossed the street. Shortly after, I realized she was now doing the same thing to the sidewalk where we just came from. I had to nudge her a few times to keep her on her path. She would be okay for a few minutes, then repeat the same pattern.

Then it hit me. I am Lily, and God is my guiding nudge. The grass is not greener on the other side, but sometimes I think that it is. Instead of sticking to my sidewalk, my path, I stop to look over and see what other people are doing. At times their path looks luminous: brighter, greener. I think about what it must be like for them over there, and then before I know it, I am full of distractions. If I am constantly paying attention to the other side, then I am neglecting my sidewalk. I am not able to appreciate all that I do have, my flowers, gifts, and beauty. Ultimately, it makes my life more challenging and at times even miserable.

As Lily’s mom, I was growing a wee bit impatient as it was a constant struggle to keep her engaged where she was. Then I thought about how God is never impatient with me. He is generous, kind, loving, understanding, and full of grace. He knows what I am doing and why I may be wandering to what may look like brighter fields. I visualize him laughing when I start to edge my way to the street “oh here she goes again.” Then nudge! Keep me in my place. I am not perfect, and I can be stubborn (my Italian genes do not help me there). So at times, I do end up crossing the street, and I learn (again) that the grass is not greener indeed. Most often though, God will graciously nudge me back to my sidewalk.

To relate this to where I am now… I have currently been off of all social media for a month and a half. It has been fantastic! When I am on social media, it is remarkably difficult for me not to compare. As they say, compare and despair, and it’s true. As a creative person, entrepreneur, and natural observer, I see what other people are doing and the content that they are creating. Sometimes I get jealous. Other times greedy and egotistic, that I didn’t think of that or that I could do it better. Then I don’t end up doing anything. The comparison freezes me, paralyzes my creative flow. I become insecure, doubtful, and full of fear. Just what the enemy wants.

I have to remind myself that God has provided everyone with different gifts to use at different times for different reasons. If I am focused on what others are doing and how they are doing it, then I am drifting farther from my sidewalk, my gifts, my grass that I am blessed to have. Everyone is on their sidewalk and has their responsibilities.

Lastly, I have learned that we don’t have to do this walk alone. I believe that God is always on the side of our walk (get it sidewalk ;). Each step and nudge of the way, whether we are aware of it or not.

September 11, 2001 — I will never forget.

It was the most sad, shocking, and heartbreaking day. However, despite all of the evil and terror something good did come out of it which changed my life forever. The peace, unity, love and rise of the American people after 9/11 is something I will never forget.

I was 13 at the time and like most people I remember play by play of how the day unfolded. Being I live in New Jersey I even remember my somber and heartbroken dad outside of the house on the front steps explaining that the dark clouds in the air was actually smoke and debris. My dad’s reaction, face, and spirit that day was so different and also became something I would never forget nor would ever want to see again.

Following the next few days and probably weeks I remember watching TV and all the news programs. I was watching anything and everything that provided me with content (even back then I liked to get as many details to the story as I possibly could).

It was as if America was shot in the heart with a missile. Besides all of the horror, screaming, and sadness during that time something stood out to me. Something positive, something different, something I have rarely seen and would never forget… people were coming together. We Americans were coming together to help heal this open wound. Everywhere I looked people were comforting one another, mostly strangers nonetheless. People were: sharing houses, food, clothes, shoulders to lean and cry on. So many people were empathizing the pain of losing a loved one. Many others were sympathizing as much as one possibly could.

I have seen disasters and watched people come together before, and after 9/11, but this was different. It didn’t matter the color of your skin, your age, gender, where you were from, anything. There was substance of pure love and no judgement. I remember thinking about these terrorists; yes they caused terror and harm, lots of deaths and pain, families were lessened, but something happened that they didn’t intend on and that was people becoming closer. Communities were rising. The love of America and Americans became deeper, stronger and more connected.

The “God Bless the USA” song was playing on loop on our computer and the Proud to be an American theme was everywhere. Sadly though after we stitched up the gaping wound and time started to heal it, the connection and feeling of community slowly distinguished.

Even though I am 27 now and 9/11 happened 14 years ago, I never forgot the peace, unity, love, and rise I felt and saw during that time. It’s with me every night when I pray. It’s reflected in my current project/mission to connect and unite America (coming soon!) and you can see it in my clothing brand, OGCJ. A few weeks ago I went to the local library and stumbled upon a huge book on 9/11. As I flipped through the pages tears filled my eyes with the same feeling I felt on that day. However, this time these tears flowed to my heart and ignited my reassurance that what I am doing is necessary and has a great chance of success. Especially when I saw the pictures of people most likely strangers, holding hands and helping one another. This can be us, now… it should be us now… God please help us.

I understand we are a country filled with every single different type of person, and God, but at the end of the day we are Americans and we are supposed to be United. It saddens me that the only time I have truly felt this in my life was during an unimaginable, but realistic time on September 11, 2001. I will continue working and praying so that it won’t be the last, and that we won’t have to wait until terror and tragedy strikes again. I will never forget, and I will never stop trying.

I can’t finish this without mentioning the bravery I have also learned through 9/11. To see and hear the stories of the firefighters, police officers, medical aides and anyone who ran towards the towers that day have the highest honor of bravery in my eyes. To see people want to help other people considering the risks and that type of circumstances I have few words… May God bless them and their families always.

God Bless The United States of America.

Rest In Peace to all of the Souls / Angels. ❤️

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZIApwWq1AU

September 11, 2015

The Day I…

The Day I Taped My Mouth Shut
For a good cause

I woke up knowing it wasn’t an ordinary Saturday. The dress code was all black so I threw on my black leggings, black OGCJ tee and black vest, tied my black sneakers that have a pop of neon color and loaded my mini book bag with essential items for a long city day. Before heading out of my apartment door I debated wether or not to grab my light faux leather jacket or not. I chose not to. Down the 5 flight of stairs and out my apartment door building I went en route to the train.

On my walk to the train I didn’t listen to music. Instead pondered on my thoughts of what might be in store for today. It was a bit chilly. Darn, should have brought my jacket. I also thought will I be seeing any of my friends there? and if not, who would I talk to? Shortly after that I realized all of those things don’t matter as today is a different day and the last thing it’s about, is me.

I hopped on the train and in 6 quick stops (Saturday morning commutes are such a breeze) arrived at my destination, 23rd Street. We were to meet at Madison Square Park. Like usual after I got out of the subway station I started walking the complete opposite way of the park and realized it about 5 minutes later. Once realizing it I stopped, turned around and headed to the park, in the right direction.

After redirecting and walking a couple of blocks I turned the corner and saw a bunch of people wearing all black. Yes, I made it and with 40 minutes to spare. It’s great to be early I thought to myself. Spotted my friend who was volunteering so we chatted for a bit then she pointed me to the area where people were lining up. I went in that direction and luckily there was a bench so I made myself comfortable.

That nervous feeling in your stomach before you do anything new is alive and present. I’m also feeling excited. After observing my surroundings for a bit I realized mostly everyone around me had a friend and was talking to someone. The more time passed the more crowded and louder it seemed to get. I decided to embrace some conversation with the girl next to me which happened to be from South Africa. Her and her 3 friends we’re really nice.

Shortly after a girl started passing out black tape. She mentioned that if anyone on the street asked us any questions to not talk to them (they have people that will be there specifically for that). We we’re not to talk at all. We then all lined up in a single file line. The line went as far as I could see in front and behind. I stood behind the girl from South Africa and her friends. I wasn’t thinking much at this point, just ready to go. I put the black piece of tape over my mouth, adjusted it a bit and before we knew it the line started to move and we were off.

In the first 10 minutes something profound and wrenching struck me. My eyes started filling up with tears as I started picturing myself being an actual human slave.

What a thought to have. It came and gone many times throughout the next 2 hours. But this isn’t just a thought for over 27 million people, this is reality.

The only thing I have known previously about human trafficking is from the movie “Taken” and from reading the book “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. That’s about as extensive as my knowledge went. Throughout the walk I read the signs that my fellow walkers we’re holding up so I was able to educate myself along the way. This ultimately added more layers of heartbreak.

As we walked up The Avenue of Americas I had more thoughts of what it might feel like to be in the footsteps of a slave. I kept thinking of me being far away from my family. Feeling lonely, scared, hungry, handcuffed, abused, worried with no direction or easy escape. The worst was how this “transaction” this “situation,” strips you from every single right you have as a human.

Every. single. right.

I don’t know if it would be possible to even feel like a human anymore. After having that thought my eyes started shedding some tears and I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Completely and utterly heartbroken I was, to say the least. I kept thinking too that even if the people trapped in slavery could speak… could anyone hear them? Did anyone around them who are influencing or banking off of this situation even care? And if not, how is that possible?

I remember reading once in the book “Half the Sky” about a girl who was being held as a sex slave in this horrible place (not sure which country). They drugged her, gave her very little of everything, just enough to live, but one day she escaped. She was free. But she was in another country and she didn’t speak the language. Nobody helped her and she ended up going back to being a slave because by then it was all she knew.

When I started getting overwhelmed I tried to take deep breathes and think of the mission here and the hopes of raising awareness that strikes the people on the streets of NYC. Also, this wasn’t just me, and this group in New York City it was thousands of men and women all over the world! In total there was 270 walks in 40 countries all in 24 hours*. How powerful it is knowing that.

It took us 2 hours to walk 36 blocks. There was a lot of stop and go. A lot of pedestrians took pictures and videos. Lots of people were looking at the signs that the walkers were holding. There was a few people clapping and cheering us on saying motivational things, which was extremely helpful. It was great to hear people conversing to one another about it too. Like everything else, there were a few people I heard that wasn’t very supportive. Like this one guy that kept saying “take the tape off, they need a voice.”

Even though it was a “silent” march it represented just a fraction of the people who can’t speak for themselves, I don’t believe it really was silent at all. It was quiet yes, but it radiated energy and layers of depth. Of truth. Of expression. Human trafficking is something we can no longer whisper or ignore. It should be our civil duty to do what we can to stop this.

Human trafficking could happen to anyone. I thought about that while walking as well. I saw so many parents with their kids thinking this could happen to anyone one of them. I saw young women, thinking the same thing. Sold, to the highest bidder. How is this real life?

Slavery is not a choice. Just the morning alone I made so many choices. To bring my jacket or not (it ended up being a good decision not to btw), to listen to music or not, what to eat for breakfast, to have a cup of coffee, will I see my friends?, every single question or thought arose I had a choice. The humans that are suffering in human trafficking do not have a choice of anything. Nothing. Zip, zero, nada. Fully stripped of all choices. Could you imagine?

I was looking forward to the end of the walk because I was honestly mentally exhausted. We finished the walk in Columbus Circle. I briefly chatted with the South African girl and friends and we all shared our experiences. We then held hands and prayed. It was deep, it was profound, and ironically beautiful, just like the walk.

I called my mom as I started to walk home through Central Park. I summed up in a nut shell what I just experienced of course, once again, shedding a few tears. What I just couldn’t wrap my head around was how this wasn’t like apes from “Planet of the Apes” selling humans. It was humans doing this to other humans. It just blows my mind completely. At the end of this day though it wasn’t about me or my thoughts about it, and imagining walking in their shoes, it’s about raising awareness and spreading knowledge to others.

This could happen to you, me, your sister, brother, daughter, son, this could happen to anyone. Hopefully us humans from all races, continents, backgrounds can come together like we did today to end this horrific, unimaginable, inhumane thing we call human trafficking.

There will be a walk again October 14, 2017 I will be there, will you?

For more information -> *A21 website http://www.a21.org/

All pictures were taken by me in New York City on October 15, 2016. The Human Trafficking facts are images taken from the A21 Website.