…but a book is currently in progress.
Yes. For real.
…but a book is currently in progress.
Yes. For real.
Every rock fan dreams of one day hanging out with his/her heroes…
It was a few months after my first encounter with the band. I heard Velvet Revolver was coming back to Los Angeles for a gig at the Gibson Amphitheatre. And holy shit, Alice In Chains would open the show.
I knew I had to go. I had to hear these bands play my songs. I bought my tickets, then wondered if I should take Matt up on his offer for backstage passes. Wouldn’t hurt to ask, right?
It didn’t hurt. He remembered me and I was on the list. I called my trusty “plus one” and we set off into unchartered rock ‘n’ roll territory: the forbidden backstage area.
There I was. Fresh out of the hospital, brand spankin’ new leg, and a heart so full of excitement, I thought it would burst. I kept remembering how I had photos of these guys in my locker and on my bedroom walls…and now I was about to hang out backstage with them. Me. A poor little Mexican girl who was just at the right place at the right time.
I get to the door and wait behind an unhappy bunch of people. They didn’t look familiar to me at all. But they definitely looked well off. A young lady with a thick fur coat was cursing at security because her name wasn’t on the list. And it was the first time I heard those god awful words that make me cringe…
“Don’t you know who the f*** I am?!”
As I made my way to the guy with the list, I gave him my name. While he was shuffling through papers on his clipboard, fur coat lady stared me down and scoffed as if I had no business being in the same line she was in. She looked at me as if I were covered in dog shit.
“Solorio? Okay, you’re here.”
Fur coat lady looked shocked. And began cursing again. I slapped on my backstage pass and thanked security.
Hope that coat kept you warm outside the show, sweetheart.
Another guard escorted us to an area behind the venue. It was such a long way. Thank goodness I had my chair. My lungs weren’t fully ready for this.
As we got closer to the VIP area, my heart began to race. I couldn’t believe I was really here.
I always had this image of Slash and the others in my head. I always fantasized about what it would be like to be around them before a show. I imagined Slash would be piss drunk, slurring, and jamming out on his guitar while ranting about what’s wrong with today’s youth.
I pictured total chaos happening backstage. Sex, drugs, groupies…I was about to witness what few fans have before. My god! It’s all really gonna go down tonight!
“Ok, go on inside. Have a good night, miss.” Security guard was so polite. Didn’t he know I had no business really being here?
As we made our way in, I immediately see a bar. I see food and a ton of people mingling about.
I see roadies and more bodyguards. The smell of whiskey and cigarettes hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Finally,” I thought, “here we go…”
All of a sudden, something strange caught my eye. I blinked twice to be sure I was seeing correctly. Can’t be another chemo hallucination. It’s been ages since my last round.
I got a closer look. What the hell was this doing back here?
It wasn’t a groupie’s bra. It wasn’t a joint, it wasn’t anything you’d expect to see at a rock show.
It was a damn sippy cup.
A sippy cup? Who brought their kids to a Velvet Revolver concert? Who the hell let kids backstage?!
Then, it dawned on me. These guys are now sober, married, or have children. It’s over.
I had completely missed the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll train. I was born too late. What on earth made me think they still partied the way magazines said they did?
In a strange way, the sippy cup relaxed me a little. It definitely brought me back to reality.
I ended up meeting wonderful people that night. From Slash’s attorney to Cindy Crawford. People were just so cool, so nice, and so…NORMAL.
Matt finally came out and made his way through the crowd to greet me. We hung out with a few others in the band and their relatives before the show. It all felt so surreal but casual at the same time.
“Hey, Slash, remember Wendy? You signed her foot…” Matt gave him a quick rundown of what I went through.
“Oh yeah!” he said, “Hey, glad you could come out.”
Hey. Me, too.
When it was time for the show to start, my plus one and I made our way to our seats. They put us in an area suitable for my chair. It was a little far from the stage, but it was safe. Away from the drunkies spilling beer everywhere.
At one point during the show, I got so excited to hear the guys play songs I had forgotten about when I was sick. Something made me jump out of my chair and scream.
A drunk man nearby saw this and flipped out, “OH MY GOD! It’s a miracle! She can stand!”
I laughed hysterically. I couldn’t believe I almost gave up fighting for my life. I would have missed out on so much. I didn’t even need alcohol. The music was more than enough to recharge my brain.
After the show, I returned to the backstage area to say goodbye to the band. We took a few photos and I started heading out.
Matt walked us out to the gates and reminded me to keep in touch.
“Remember. Anytime you wanna come to a show…”
…and we’ve been friends ever since.
I remember not being able to sleep that night. I was too high on everything I saw, felt, and heard. It had nothing to do with being star struck. Someone or something bigger than me was letting me know that better things are ahead if I just keep pushing through. Stick around, and you’ll see your nightmare was all for a reason, Wendy.
I’m definitely on the list. I am a permanent name on the universe’s VIP list. That’s for sure.
I take it very seriously when people tell me I’m an inspiration to them. I know that not everyone is open to my crude sense of humor when it comes to having cancer. So if someone can make sense of the words I say, I’m grateful. I never strived to be inspirational or super tough about the whole thing. I’ve been honest in my longing to die years ago rather than undergo treatment, and I’ve been dead honest about how much I hate doing things with a prosthetic leg. Most of all, I’ve been dead honest when it comes to how grateful I am that I was chosen to fight such a nasty war. When we see our loved ones slowly getting sick by such a horrible disease, we often stop to think, “If I could switch places with this person, I would.”
I was suffering, but I was grateful to be in my place. In my dark, sick, “don’t want to live another day in so much pain,” place.
I can’t imagine the level of helplessness my friends and family felt every time they saw me slowly wither down to bald skin and bones. Standing there watching knowing there was nothing they could ever do to save me. I’ve been on both sides of this disease. I prefer to be the ill one.
What I went through was also gift, allowing countless “what if” situations to become a reality the moment I decided to come back to life.
And reality, is exactly what they became.
Yahoo! Music and RCA Records have chosen you and a
guest to attend an exclusive taping of Velvet Revolver
for Nissan Live Sets On Yahoo! Music…”
Now, I had already been a Guns N’ Roses fan for years. Appetite For Destruction was the soundtrack to my years in high school. I know that album from start to finish. From the first few chords of Welcome to the Jungle, to the last few notes of Rocketqueen.
Everyone who knows me, knows that Slash has always been my favorite guitarist. Yes, that statement is debatable. But hey, you can’t control which musician catches your ear when you’re first testing the waters of rock n’ roll.
I had become deeply disappointed with what Axl had done with the band. I had caught the new GnR lineup back in 2006 and regretted it completely. My heart broke when I heard what these newbies had done to the songs I love so much. For starters, Axl was more than two hours late. The crowd was on the verge of rioting and I was dodging beer bottles that were being launched at the stage. When they finally began their set, Axl started singing…from backstage.
He was backstage a lot. In between verses, he’d go back there. While his guys were onstage murdering all of the guitar solos, he went back there. At one point, I remember the guitarist attempting to jam out on stage while the rest of the band took a break in the middle of their set. It took me at least 15 minutes to realize this goon was trying to play “Don’t Cry” on the guitar. For your information, that song is only about 4 minutes and 45 seconds long. Imagine it.
I wasn’t too far from the stage. I could see the audience growing tired of the terrible sounds and leaving. I even saw people leave their GnR merchandise behind. It was such a devastating experience for me. I vowed to never see Axl again. And I haven’t ever since.
I started following what Slash, Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan were doing with Scott Weiland. It seemed like the next best thing if I wanted to hear GnR songs done RIGHT. I won’t get into the problems that were visible among the band…all I need to say is that when they all hit the stage, they delivered. Velvet Revolver was a great band to see in concert.
I had scored two tickets to catch a live taping for a Yahoo music thing. I was excited. I knew this gig was going to be much more intimate than the arena shows. And I almost gave up my chance to see them because of how hard it was going to be to get into the studio…
The information they sent me on HOW to get in, was exhausting. I still wasn’t walking well on my own. The people running the show sent instructions that involved walking here, waiting here, walking there, something about crossing Santa Monica Blvd, waiting, and walking a few more blocks and then a shuttle will take you inside the studio.
Oy. There was no way I could do it. I emailed back and explained my situation and figured they’d give my seats to someone who had the legs to attend the show.
That’s when I learned I need to stop giving up so easily.
My name is John, I’m in charge of the guest list for
the Velvet Revolver taping presented by Nissan
Livesets and Yahoo Music. I’ll do you one better,
I’ll arrange so you can be dropped off right by the
stage and your guest (I’m assuming he’s driving you)
can park in the parking lot. All you have to do is go
through the main entrance to the Fox Studios and tell the guard you’re here to go to Stage 17 for the Nissan/Yahoo event.
He’ll give you directions, and we’ll make sure you’re taken care of!
Hope you’re looking forward to the show!”
Oh. Well that’s nice. Guess I’ll get to see the show after all.
The day of the taping, I arrived an hour early. I brought a friend I knew would appreciate seeing these guys. We arrived at the gate, and it was the first time I was asked THAT question: “Are you on the list?”
Yes. Yes, Mr. Security Guard. I am on the list. So official.
“Alright. You’re good. Go on in.”
My friend and I parked close to the stage. We still had so much time to kill so we figured we’d wander around a bit.
“But what if we get in trouble?” he asked
“Who cares? I’m on the list, man,” I joked.
We saw stage sets, camera crews, nothing special. Then Eddie Murphy drove by us. So did Gabrielle Union. I began thinking that we were heading toward a part of the lot we shouldn’t be in.
I kept wandering anyway.
Somewhere along the way, we took a turn and found ourselves by a bunch of Star Wagons trailers. Nearby was the Yahoo Live Sets billboard.
“Shit. I think the band is in the trailers,” I said.
I told my friend we were done wandering. We were gonna stay here until someone kicks us out. He grew nervous but I put the brakes on my wheelchair in protest.
“I don’t wanna get in trouble” he said.
“We won’t. We’ll just say we’re lost. We’re not here to stalk the band. Relax. Chill out.”
And with those words…Slash jumped out of his trailer. I was in shock. I was right. The guys are in those trailers. Slash came out of his trailer, went into Duff’s, and then back into his own.
“Shit, dude! We’re not supposed to be back here!”
I stopped listening to my friend’s nervous rants. I decided to just keep waiting there.
Duff comes out of his trailer. Starts looking around the area, stretched his arms a little…and then his eyes landed on us.
Okay…one of two things can happen. Duff can be a douche and call security, or he can be cool and just ignore us.
He didn’t ignore us. I decided to wave when he was looking our way.
“Holy shit. He’s coming over here,” I said. “Be cool, dude. We’ll be fine.”
My heart started racing when he started walking toward us. I was trying to prepare some sort of story just in case he did ask how we got back here. Finally, he stopped in front of us and spoke…
“Hi! How are you guys?”
Okay…so far so good. We introduced ourselves to him. He was super cool.
“So, why are you guys here? I don’t even know what this taping is for. They never really tell us what’s going on. We just show up and do our thing.”
And with that, we continued our small talk with Duff. I couldn’t believe I was talking to an original gunner. I decided to press my luck a little bit…
“Hey, you think Slash can come out and say hi before the show starts?”
“Sure. He’s taking a nap but I’ll let him know you’re out here.”
Oh well okay. No big deal. My heart was racing some more. Duff posed for a few pictures with us and went back to his trailer. Way cool.
My friend and I sat there in shock. Security and the rest of the crew saw us chatting with Duff and assumed we had the right to be where we were. Nobody ever asked us to leave.
When Slash finally came out, I froze. He was immediately hounded by people and I thought he’d never come over.
When he finally saw us, he broke away from the crowd and walked over to us.
I couldn’t believe it. Slash remembered us when he woke up from his nap. How bizarre.
“Hey guys. Slash. Nice to meet you” he casually said.
I wish I could remember what we talked about. I kept my cool but couldn’t believe I was talking to a guy whose pictures I had on my wall when I was a teen. He was extremely polite and posed for pictures. Thank goodness. Totally made up for what Axl did at that concert. Faith restored. After a few minutes, Slash was eventually taken away by the crowd of press and other crew members. But just before he left, I asked for an unusual autograph…
“Can you sign my leg?” I asked.
“Your what? Oh…okay.”
He looked confused. This guy is used to women asking him to sign parts of their body a little north of the legs.
Soon as he kneeled down and grabbed the foot, he understood. “OOOOOOH…okay. I get it. Pretty cool.”
Well, if Slash thinks it’s pretty cool, so do I.
Another member of the band comes out of his trailer. This time it was Matt Sorum…
The guy pretty much has a smile on his face 24/7. We waved, and he came over. My conversation with Matt went a little beyond small talk. He wanted to know what was up with the wheelchair. I tried to sum up my story in a few seconds but it was impossible. My hair was still growing out and it was obvious I was still healing from a few things. I told him the gist of it and he paid attention to every detail. I could tell by the look on his face he was genuinely concerned. He actually engaged in the conversation and asked questions about what I went through. It was surreal.
The show was about to start and the crew informed us that the rest of the audience was about to be let in. We were to make our way inside immediately.
I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe I had just met those guys. It totally made me forget about the previous year, even if it was for a few minutes. I wasn’t Wendy the cancer survivor. I was just Wendy the music lover again. Minus the drunken/party all night stuff.
Matt posed for a quick picture. As I said goodbye, I remember what he said just before I left.
“Hey kid. Anytime you wanna come to a show…backstage passes on me. Get better soon.”
Aww. That’s nice. That also sounds like it’ll never happen. The guy’s a super busy rockstar. He must meet a hundred people every day.
I waved goodbye and made my way into the show. The guys played incredibly. They were loud, the chemistry was good, and they had our attention the entire time. It was good, pure, honest to goodness, raw, LIVE music. Just the way it should be. Nothing looked or felt dishonest. These guys were in their zone.
I watched Matt pound on the drums like a maniac. I then leaned over and whispered to my friend, “Ten bucks says he’ll never remember me after today.”
Well, let’s just say Matt ended up being a man of his word.
Having to deal with a suspended license was truly annoying. But I guess the state wanted to be sure a left leg amputation wouldn’t result in me accidentally running over someone. Whatever.
I felt confident when I drove. I felt safer driving than I did walking. That’s for damn sure. That didn’t matter the day of my “life after cancer” driver’s test. Confidence meant squat that day.
I arrived early to my appointment. Being his usual “take no chances” self, my dad drove me to the Long Beach DMV for the test. We made sure all the lights worked, I studied like crazy and was ready to get this over with.
The DMV employee who rode shotgun this time was extremely cranky. Nothing like the nice lady I had when I first turned 18. No, this guy was angry to be spending his morning testing a 21-year old with a suspended license.
Hey. I just beat cancer, asshole. Your mood and this test is NOTHING compared to what I’ve faced before. I kept my cool and didn’t let the growling in his voice affect my concentration.
I adjusted my mirrors. Showed him that my signals worked, did all the hand-and-arm signals…I was on a roll.
“Ok, now pull out of the parking lot and drive down Willow street.”
Got it. No big deal. I pulled out of that parking lot like a champ. Sure, I picked an appointment time where I knew there’d be light traffic, but whatever. I was doing great.
“Ok, now I want to do freeways. Start heading toward the 405.”
Shit. The 405 ALWAYS has traffic. But it’s okay. You’re ready.
I was a couple of miles away from the on-ramp, when I saw a light on my dashboard go on…
Now, of all the things that could go wrong during a driver’s test, especially one where I need to prove to the state that I more than deserve to keep my license because I studied so hard and regardless of my physical status and everything that my body has suffered, I am still a very smart and talented girl with a bright future ahead of her…
I forgot to put gas in my car.
I lost my cool. I quickly turned the car around and started heading back to the DMV. If I was gonna end up stranded somewhere in Long Beach, I better not have Grumpus in my car.
“What are you doing?! The freeway is back there!”
“I don’t know how to say this sir….um, my gas light went on.”
…the next few seconds heading back to the DMV were agonizing. Yes, I was embarrassed. But I had to try so hard not to laugh. Homeboy was a-n-g-r-y.
“Who the hell forgets to put gas in their car before a driver’s test?! Who?! WHO?!”
Me. It would only happen to me.
“Unbelievable! Never in my life…test is OVER! You will have to come back another day. Jesus Christ.”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew that if I talked, I’d end up laughing uncontrollably and probably give this guy a heart attack.
I got back to the DMV and parked. The guy handed me some paperwork and stormed out. He walked by my dad who was waiting outside. He was still mumbling some angry nonsense. My dad looks over to me still in the driver’s seat with that confused Ricky Ricardo face. “Wah happened?”
Finally, I let out the laughter. You gotta hand it to cancer sometimes. It can make the most embarrassing situations seem like the best part of your day.
I never went back. I guess the DMV guy felt bad about his temper tantrum. I received my license in the mail the following week.
The universe has a profound sense of humor. It can put you in situations when you least expect it, just to get you to realize something. Things we often see as tragic or devastating may be put in place for us to reevaluate our lives. Even the most random and seemingly pointless situations lead you to something else.
I had never really paid attention to it before. Every little move you make could be the start of something big…
So you can imagine my surprise when I realized that scoring tickets to a small rock concert would soon lead me into one of the most exciting and most asked about chapters of my life.
“This is Wendy. She’s with the band…”
I used to treat it as if it were a person. As if it were some sort of entity that wouldn’t leave me alone. Every day it kept wanting to hang out with me. It wanted to follow me to school. It wanted to go to work with me. It wanted to be my date at every family reunion. It wanted to party with me. It wanted to sleep with me.
Grief ain’t the bad guy. Grief is a natural human emotion that simply has a bad reputation. It doesn’t mean any harm. It just wants to make sure it’s there to help you heal. It wants you to know that it has the right to be felt just like happiness and anger.
The more I avoided it, the more trouble I got into. The more I pretended to be healed, the harder it tried to get my attention.
You can’t pick up where you left off and pray your brain magically erases the trauma you’ve experienced. It’ll stay quiet for a while. But then it’ll slap you across the face when you least expect it. (Like, maybe when you’re at a party surrounded by people who don’t even care about what you went through.) But that’s a whole other story…
The day I decided to make grief a friend of mine, I began to really blossom back into the “good” me. I started accepting what I couldn’t change. I took control over everything I could. (And finally embraced being a control freak.)
Gained lots of critics, lost a lot of time, but it was worth it. I learned to make grief part of my emotional repertoire. I will allow myself to feel it when I need to. For the rest of this life.
It’s just like every other emotion. It needs to be felt and then controlled in order to truly make the most out of this weird interval between birth and death.
Everyone has their bad days. Make them count.
“Hey you. Yeah you. You can’t park there.”
If I had a dollar for each time that’s been said to me, I’d be writing my blog on a gold plated Mac, and sitting on a private beach somewhere in Mexico. Okay, not really. But I’d probably have enough money to buy brand name toilet paper.
Community college was really where I started to regain my independence. It was also where I faced the most challenges with this new fragile body. I was a student at this campus before…but that was back when I’d ditch class for smoke breaks and beach days. (Is it really considered “ditching” if you’re not obligated to be there?)
My first semester was terrifying. I remembered where the buildings were but I had no idea how to locate the “accessible” entrances and exits. I remember being able to take three flights of stairs in no time at all to get to class. Now I had to wait for an elevator that makes scarier noises than my car does.
Wow, Wendy. How spoiled were you? You were so self-involved back when you were a cute, able-bodied dancer. You never took the time to notice how hard it was for other people to get around campus. You probably treated them all like they were invisible.
Guess who’s invisible now?
The parking was great. Getting hassled was not. Apparently, if you don’t fit the campus’ criteria for what a disabled person should look like, chances are you’re illegally parking in a blue stall. For my first semester, I’d make it a point to show up at least 45 minutes before class started just in case I got stopped. It was the same thing each time it happened:
“Are you allowed to park here?”
“Can I see your paper work and your driver’s license?”
(gets on phone, calls the station)
“Ok, she’s good.”
On the one hand, I’m glad they were enforcing the parking regulations…but when some dipshit looks back at me and says “Well, she doesn’t LOOK disabled” that’s when I have to remind myself: never hit a man with a walkie-talkie.
There were times when it wasn’t just the campus police who did the hassling. On occasion, an elderly person would come up to me and ask if my VIP parking pass was really mine. To that, I’d politely say yes and explain why. In seconds, their faces would go from “You awful young’n!” to “Oh, bless your heart!”
The classes were hard to adjust to. I quickly realized my brain didn’t retain information as easily as it once did. “Chemo brain” was in full effect. Took a while before I figured out how to write while keeping my eyes on the professor’s mouth.
I eventually learned different ways to study and adjusted pretty well. I passed my final exams with flying colors that semester. Then one day, I received a letter regarding another test I was required to take.
A driver’s test.
I had just turned 21 when it came time to renew my driver’s license. I was eligible to renew by mail. However, the paperwork asked that I give information about any “recent changes” that may impair my ability to drive. I casually wrote “left leg amputation” and sent it back by mail.
My driver’s license was immediately suspended.
I figured that since they gave me great parking for life, they must have been aware AND okay with me driving. That wasn’t the case. I was told that if I wanted my driving privileges back, I’d have to take their behind-the-wheel test.
Once again, I found myself doing old things but in a new way. Studying the stupid DMV handbook, remembering the OCD ways to drive like a super paranoid safety freak…just like I did when I was 18 and care-free.
My driver’s test when I was fresh out of high school was a breeze. The DMV worker who rode shotgun was nice and calm. I passed on my first try. Everything went according to plan.
The driver’s test with this new life…would end up being the COMPLETE opposite.