I wanted to introduce you to someone featured in my book.
The first half of Drowning Back to Life is dark, discussing the impacts of an unraveling home, traumatic relationships, abuse, depression, anxiety, and negative self-image.
The second half, called Back to Life, is how I pulled myself out of that darkness and started breathing again. It’s full of events (both good and bad) and people who made me wake up and realize, “There’s a lot more life to be had. Go get it.”
Antonia Escobar-Brown is one of those positive influences.
I met Toni at an outdoor festival, where she was a vendor, selling beautiful, handcrafted rings (if you’re from Northeastern Pennsylvania, you’ve no doubt heard of Toni’s Toe Rings). My first thought upon seeing her was that she was a real-life gypsy: she wore a long, flowing white skirt, an off-the shoulder white peasant top, had her stunning jet-black hair tied in a pony with a scarf to manage the strays, and more rings and bracelets than I could count in one sitting. After being fitted for a ring and getting to know her a bit, I friend-requested this fascinating woman on Facebook, and we became quick friends.
Toni is hysterical, to say the least. My favorite posts of hers always have something to do with her fantastic and witty children (who are all on the autism spectrum), her declarations of running for some sort of office, her insane obsession with red headed men, and anything mentioning her cats (the latest involved why she is convinced the one she calls “The Notorious B.I.G.” is a republican). But the post I will never forget was a video, on which the poem “gypsy (for Toni)” is based. It was Toni filming in a barber’s chair, letting the world watch as she had her gorgeous hair buzzed off with an electric razor after having been told she had breast cancer. But the video was not a plea for sympathy: it was a warrior’s cry for advocacy. After three years of being told she was fine, knowing she was NOT fine, at age 44, Toni underwent a double mastectomy and began 16-months of chemotherapy. This mother, wife, artist, entrepreneur, and overall lover of life had entered the fight of her life, and she would be damned if cancer was going to dim her ferocious shine. What would have sent most into a corner to curl up and mourn for themselves only made her fire rage with more virulence.
Today, she continues to battle, continues treatment, and continues to advocate for others; in fact, she and her husband, Peter, opened the Mrs. Antonia Escobar-Brown Breast Cancer Foundation at Geisinger Hospital in Danville, Pennsylvania, a place designed specifically for breast cancer warriors and their families to be together as they undergo therapy, treatment, and healing.
My poem doesn’t do her justice, and to read it, you’ll have to get a copy of the book! But that’s not the purpose of this post—Toni’s story is far more important than any book of poetry can ever be, and I wanted to share it with you today. No matter what struggle you are facing going into this new year, do it with courage, strength, beauty, and the mouth of a pirate, like a gypsy.
(This incredible photo was taken by Toni’s good friend, Tara Timpanelli.)