Category Archives: New Book

The Randomness of My Life

I was reading back over my blogs the other day and released that there’s not really a theme. Was I supposed to have one? I noticed that most bloggers write about a certain thing–fashion, food, travel. But I can’t seem to focus. I can’t seem to choose one thing. I realized then that my blogs are just as random and unorganized as my life.

It made me think of a writing assignment I was giving a few years ago. What was the best year of my life in a 5-year span? I still don’t know how to answer that. Nothing actually stands out in my mind. I have never climbed Mount Everest, sailed around the world, or performed a heroic feat that saved another person’s life. Maybe I didn’t know what to write because I couldn’t think of a specific moment that turned my life around. I have never married. I don’t have children. I have never won the lottery. My life instead has been very different. It has been a day-to-day process. It has been a continuous unfolding of insight and understanding. I see my life as being an endless progression of trial and error.

Maybe I am trying too hard. Maybe I am overthinking the question. Maybe I should think about the happy moments of my life. Maybe I should think of the times that have made me feel alive and joyful to be in this world. I think of my miraculous moments. I have seen angels and other visions. I have helped people heal through massage and energy work. I have traveled extensively around the world. I have gone to several different schools and graduated with honors. I have taught in several different schools and helped others graduate with honors. I have waded in the oceans. I have gazed at mountains shining purple in the sunlight. I have received hugs from family and friends. I have experienced painful breakups of relationships. I have watched friends and family suffer and pass through my life no matter how hard I tried to hold onto them. I have read great books that showed me a different way of life. I have seen great movies that have inspired emotions deep within me. I have listened to amazing music that moves my soul in the same way it moves my feet. I have screamed for victory at sporting events. I have competed in the race of life for an attainable victory. I have tried to be kind, though I know I don’t always succeed when I am tired or stressed. I have taken beautiful photographs and have become frustrated when others don’t see the amazing things that I do. I have been strong at times and shown amazing courageous. I have been shy at other moments and cowered away from perceived threats. I have held babies. I have watered plants. I have cared for pets. I have treasured objects that would have no value to anyone else. I have lived life to the very brink of its existence. I have slept and being lazy on warm summer days. I have eaten great food and then worried about my weight. I have exercised and loved my body. I have hated my body and every one of its flaws has left me depressed and feeling unlovable. I have moments when I have doubted God’s existence. There were days when I have doubted my own existence. There are times when I have been a great believer just because I saw a sunrise or a drop of rain. I have great faith that won’t diminish even on days of sadness. I have great sadness that can sometimes diminish my faith. I have had a life filled with many years of great joy and tremendous sadness. I have had many years that I want to live again and others I would wish to erase from my memory.

So to answer what is the best year of my life, what can I say? Maybe I haven’t lived enough. Maybe I have lived too much. I can’t concentrate on one idea. My life is swirling in front of my eyes as if I am about to pass over into a new existence. When I finally do pass over into a new existence, will I look back on the best year of my life? Will I know then when the best time of my life had been? No, I will only know that I had a life…


Highway to Freedom

My mother walked back into the busy waiting room with bitter tears streaming down her face. She hadn’t passed her exam and would have to repeat the process again in a few weeks. Though I was only 5-years-old, I could tell that this failure was heartbreaking for my mother. Her chance for independence had just slipped away from her. At 34-years-old, Mom was hoping that getting her driver’s license would be the first step in leaving an abusive marriage. Driving could have been Mom’s chance to break away.

Without my father knowing, Mom had been secretly studying to get her driver’s license. My grandmother was her willing accomplice and driving instructor. Every afternoon for one summer, my brother, two sisters, and I were crowded into the back seat of my grandmother’s old white Oldsmobile, lovingly named “Oldsie.” My mother sat behind the steering wheel with my grandmother in the passenger seat giving her continuous instructions. Every afternoon, Mom would drive us round and round Chapel Hill Cemetery as she anticipated a life away from my father.

My mother had become desperate. She continually practiced, refusing to give up on her own survival. Driving represented autonomy to her. It was her freedom and her chance to prove she was not stupid as my father always stated. She refused to quit even when her everyday life seemed an insurmountable challenge.

When she received her license after her second attempt to pass the test, driving became Mom’s escape. When my father’s rages became too violent, Mom would grab her car keys, load her children into the car, and drive–just drive anywhere until she was sure it was safe to go back home. Many times, we would drive around for hours, not returning to the house until long after midnight. My siblings and I didn’t care. We loved watching the moonlight reflect off the water of Wyandotte County Lake as Mom drove over the winding side roads on hot summer nights. On some evenings, we would drive around the rich neighborhoods picking out houses we daydreamed about owning someday, or looking at all the beautiful, sparkly lights of decorated homes and businesses over the holiday seasons.

Mom would sit forward in her seat to reach the pedals and grip the wheel tightly in her small hands as she slid effortlessly through traffic. Mom loved highway driving. Heavy traffic didn’t scare her. There were times she was almost fearless when she drove. She refused to let me drive at all the first time we traveled together to New Mexico in 1995, and it was something we argued about for hundreds of miles. She later told me she just wanted to prove that she could do it, that she could drive all the way from Kansas to New Mexico and back again. And she did it! Even receiving a speeding ticket on the way home. It’s true. We were traveling through Oklahoma. I was dozing in the passenger seat when I suddenly heard Mom exclaim, “Oh, my, there’s a cop car behind me!” I was immediately fully awake as Mom pulled over to the side of the road. My sixty-two-year-old mother had been driving twenty miles over the speed limit. She had just lost track of her speed as she sailed down the highway, reveling in the purest sense of joyful self-determination.

I know exactly how she felt. When I was twenty-two-years-old, Mom taught me to drive in the Chapel Hill Cemetery just as she had learned. I drove around the headstones for hours at a time with Mom in the passenger seat trying to give me subtle instructions.

The road was always our salvation. I feel safe and free when I am driving down some random highway in America. I may not even have a destination but that doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t matter to me where I am going. It is all about the journey anyway.

In 2002, Mom and I decided to run away. We were searching for a home, a place where we could feel safe and at peace. We didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t have a plan or intention. All we wanted to do was drive through all 50 states of America. We didn’t use a GPS or an array of maps. We didn’t make hotel reservations and never knew where we would stop for the night. We were guided just by God’s plan and our own sense of wonderment and adventure.

We had finally found our place on this earth. Being on the road presented us with endless lessons of faith, love, relationships, and self-discovery. The best place to live is within the human heart.

And the adventure continues….

Journey From Abuse

It was a hot Kansas summer morning. My family was walking towards the door of the church on our way to Sunday service. My father was in the lead, walking in long stride—long for his short legs—to get into mass on time. I quietly strolled along with my siblings. I kept my head down and walked as far away from my father as I possibly could. My mother was in her usual place. She was walking in between all of us, a tender buffer between my father and his children. Mom was talking to Dad, but I couldn’t hear her words. I just knew from her movements that there was some problem. Mom was taking small birdlike steps. She skittishly flapped around my father like a tiny hummingbird. She would hop forward, say a few words to Dad, and then hop back out of striking distance. I couldn’t hear what Mom was saying. She usually talked in a timid voice to my father. I don’t know if it was her words or her movements that irritated him. But suddenly, predictably, Dad stopped in his steps, turned to my mother, and I heard him scream, “Stop nagging at me! Or I will kill you, goddamn it, I will kill you!” With that outburst, my father walked into the church, blessed himself with holy water, and knelt down to pray.

My siblings trailed in after my father as I stood with my mother outside the church. “He said he would kill me,” she whispered, her eyes wide and terrified. “He just said he would kill me.” I stared into my mother’s eyes for a moment before we both walked into the church and took our seats in the back pew. My mother knelt down beside my father and forced a smile. Walking into the church had transformed us into a happy Christian family for the other parishioners to see. But I couldn’t concentrate on my prayers. The incident that had just occurred kept spinning around my head. I don’t know what upset me the most: my father threatening my mother or my mother having reason to believe him.

I didn’t know what to do. I was just a child trapped in the middle of a familial war. I was young, but not innocent. I had been a witness to my father’s anger from a very young age. I was also fighting my own battles. Due to a speech impediment, my first grade teacher labeled me as “retarded.” The teacher would hit me for every word I mispronounced and lock me in closets for the afternoon. My mother and I never spoke about the abuse but we both knew. We became silent comrades, a bond forged from grief, anger, pain, and depression. We found solace in each other. There was no other safe place. We were, in a sense, “emotionally homeless.”

In 2002, Mom and I set out on a quest. We began our journey across America. Our plan was to drive through all 50 states in search of a home. However, instead, we found ourselves journeying through never-ending lessons in relationships, insight, and compassion. The journey became an exploration of love, death, and endless self-discovery.

Did we ever find a home? Unfortunately, Mom passed away from complications of colon cancer in 2010 when we had just four states left to explore. Her memory gives me strength though to continue the journey. I haven’t found a home yet, but I am discovering the dimensions of my own heart, which is proving to be the safest place to be.

My Writing Journey

When I was 16-years-old, one of five poems I had sumbitted to a publishing company was selected for inclusion in a quarterly journal. However, there was one small stipulation. My poem would only appear in print as long as I was willing to purchase 5 copies of the journal. Ignoring my father’s comments that the deal was a scam, I took $60 out of my next paycheck from McDonald’s and sent it to the publishing company. Three weeks later, the journals arrived. There, on page 59, was my poem, which I had written for my mother. One poem–16 lines–with my name printed underneath the title “Songbird.” My grandmother stared at the page for just a moment and then looked up at me. Her eyes sparkled excitedly as she squealed, “We have an author in the family!” I looked at my grandmother in surprise. It was just one poem. One poem on half a page of a hundred-page journal and my grandmother called me an AUTHOR. I turned the word over in my head and thought of the way Grandma’s voice had rang with pride. An author–me? Well, it could be a possibility.

I am one of those people who can’t NOT write. Due to a speech impediment, writing has always been the best way for me to get out my emotions when I stumble over my words. I have kept journals for most of my life. My journals are always very detailed. I record everything—where I was, who I was with, what we were wearing, what words were said. Recording the events of a lazy Saturday afternoon usually takes up twenty pages in my journal. I can spend a weekend in Vegas and write a 100 page essay on it! It’s not just about expression. Jounraling is also my way to hold on to the special moments of my life. I want to record and relive the major moments of my existence.

For example, I want to remember in detail the year I lived in England and the days I spent roaming around Europe. I want to especially remember for the rest of my life what it felt like to backpack alone across Malaysia. I want to recall my shocking reaction to the unusual foods. I want to relive the amusement of the kind strangers who mistook me for Princess Diana one day in the town courtyard. I want to remember the night I was attacked by an amorous baby lizard on a moonlit beach. Details, details, details….

This attention to detail served me well when I worked as a reporter for Hullfire, in Hull, England and The Los Alamos Monitor in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Working as a reporter also helped me become more observant. My personal journal writing became even more intense. It was my sister, Theresa, who suggested one day that I publish my journals. I’m not sure if she was joking or not…I chose to take her seriously.

Two years later, my first book, The Sweetness of Life, was published. From all of my adventures, I chose to concentrate on the journey I took wit my mother. Mom and I set a goal to drive through all fifty states in America. We made it to all but four states before I lost my mother to colon cancer. I will always treasure those moments with my mother as we stumbled around America and discovered more than just the states. My mother taught me a lot about life, love, and death…and it’s all in my journals and, now, in my book. Oh, details, details, details…..

And I really hope now that Grandma is saying to some random angel somewhere in heaven, “We have an author in the family!”

The Plan

Jamie Jo Zunick. Like most children, I hated my name while I was growing up. First, the other little kids used to tease me about having a boy’s name. Second, the last name of Zunick always kept me firmly situated at the back of any line. Finally, my mother told me that I was named after my father. His name was Joseph John Zunick. We have the same initials. Unfortunately, that’s all we ever shared. My father and I never had a relationship even though we lived in the same house. That was partly my fault, though. I was terrified of my father. I would try to avoid his emotional and verbal abuse by staying as far out of his presence as I possibly could. I don’t think he ever missed me. I don’t think he even knew I was gone.

Unforunately, I couldn’t hide from eveybody. Going to school was always miserable for me. Other children would laugh and tease me because I had a very bad speech impediment. I literally spoke my own form of gibberish that no one could understand. My first grade teacher thought I was “retarded” or just lazy…or maybe both. Her solution was to hit me for every word I mispronounced… I got hit a lot. I became mute for many years.

Even though, I stopped talking, I continued to think and to dream and to explore. There was a will inside me to never give up. I wanted to prove that I wasn’t retarded or lazy or worthless. I began to read a lot of classic books like Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, and Les Miserables. I put myself through college working three jobs while going to school full time to gain my Bachelor’s Degree. I lived for a year in England and explored Europe. I spent an eye-opening and soul-searching few weeks backpacking alone across Malaysia. When I returned to America, I studied massage, energy reading, energy balancing, and chakra therapy. I owned and operated a large private office in New Mexico for seven years. I still continued to do energy and chakra readings in California. I am a teacher now at a college in Southern California. I hope to teach my students more than Basic Math and English. I want to teach them about following dreams, about leaving behind the past, about moving forward, about confidence and self-discipline…all the things I am still discovering. I just recently published my first book, The Sweetness of Life, which details my life events. Over the years, I’ve realized one constant: there has always been a plan for my life. I had to go through everything in my past to get to where I am today. I have been so blessed. I am a woman, strong and determined. I am a teacher, sharing my wisdom. I am a healer, helping others through the confusion and pain of life. I am a storyteller, crafting tales of life’s adventures. I say my name with pride now. I am Jamie Jo Zunick.

My Amazing Journey

Two years ago, I was in a classroom with 24 students discussing goals, challenges, and life in general. College Prep is my favorite class to teach. Every semester, I have the opportunity to guide anxious new college students on a new direction in their lives. In this class, I have heard many amazing stories that make up the lives of these hopeful, eager adults. The students talk about overcoming addictions, illnesses, abandonment, alienation, and violence. The experience is life changing for all of us.

One day, some of the students asked me to tell my story. I was hesitant at first. As the teacher for this course, how much information should I reveal? Would it be appropriate for me to show any vulnerability? Could I talk objectively about my life in a professional, positive manner? Then a thought occurred to me. Maybe my story can help other people.

With a deep breath, I began. When I was a child I had a horrible speech impediment, which was so bad my first grade teacher called my mother and told her I was “retarded.” The teacher demanded that I be immediately removed from the classroom. My mother refused. I was then challenged with intense psychological and intellectual exams. My mother was venerated when she was told I scored close to the genius level. When I returned to my first grade class my shocked teacher decided that I just must be lazy. With this in mind, she would hit me for every word I mispronounced.

The abuse continued at home as well. My father agreed with my teacher’s assessment and method of discipline. At home, I was verbally and physically punished for every clumsy word and movement. The experience left me mute for years. Not a single word would I speak to anyone, except my mother. After a year of speech therapy and a lifetime of experiences, I slowly began to regain my voice. Today, I am a teacher and public speaker.

At the end of my story, my students were quiet for a moment as they assimilated the details of my story. Then, from the back of the room, one of the students raised her hand and asked this question: “Then how come you’re always so happy? You went through all that and yet you’re always here smiling.” She sincerely and anxiously asked me, “How do you do that? How do you get to that level?”

Before I could think about it, this word came out of my mouth, “Faith.” The word even stunned me for a moment. Then I continued, “I just always had faith that life would get better.”

As the class ended and the students filed out of the room, I was shocked to hear some of them say that my story was inspirational. What?!? I had never thought of it that way. It was just my life. Me? Inspiring? No.

I then asked myself this question: “Who is the most inspiring person I know?” I immediately thought about my mother. My mother was a small, delicate, graceful woman. She was barely five feet tall, 90 pounds, with dark hair and brilliant green eyes. She was a tender, passionate daydreamer too sensitive for this world. She would spend the majority of her life bravely battling depression and forty years of domestic abuse.

That night, I began to read all of the journals I had kept over the years. My main focus was the journey my mother and I had taken together through America. We had set a goal to drive through every state. It was an amazing experience as we explored together the golden expanse of the country and our own lives. Could this be inspirational?

Slowly a book idea developed. The book would detail our journey. There would be three parts. The first part would focus on the abuse my mother and I experienced. The second part would be our adventurous tour of America as we searched for peace and tranquility. The last part would present my mother’s diagnosis and subsequent death. I would lose my mother to complications of colon cancer. This shared experience of death was as bonding for us as our journey through abuse and salvation. Death was another part of our journey together.

I completed the manuscript for The Sweetness of Life in August of 2013. The book was published in March, 2014, by Balboa Press.

My mother always used to say to me, “My life would make a great book.” I believe my mother still traveled with me as I wrote and published this book. It has been another one of our great adventures.

So, now, here it is. Our story. The Sweetness of Life—one more stop on an amazing journey that has more adventures to come.

Emergency breaks

Driving was always very important in my family because it was our main mode of transportation. We never flew anywhere. Family vacations were always taken by car. Every summer we would either head west to Colorado to visit family or east to St. Louis where the construction company Dad worked for had offices and hotel rooms he could write off at a discounted price.

Having to use the bathroom on a long, two-day drive wasn’t always fun. My father may be hard to motivate to move but once he was on the road, he didn’t want to stop. One time, my father finally got tired of our cries and moans and pulled over at a gas station so we could quickly (“You have two minutes only or I leave without you!”) run in to use the bathroom. My maternal grandmother insisted that she was fine and didn’t need to “spend a penny”. (“Spend a penny” was my grandmother’s usual euphemism for peeing. She referred to toilet paper as “hockey tickets”.) So, once all the kids had piled back into the car within ninety seconds (we had reason to believe Dad), we were back on the highway again.

About an hour later, Grandma began to twitch and groan. “Uh, Joe,” she called up to my dad in the front seat, “I need to use the bathroom.”

“We just stopped an hour ago, Edith,” Dad insisted. “Why didn’t you go then?”

“Didn’t have to,” Grandma responded like a five-year-old child.

Dad sighed, breathing heavily in order to gain control of his temper. “Well, let me find a place to stop…” And we drove for another hour. There was no place to stop. No gas stations for miles. Grandma was becoming more uncomfortable with each passing minute. She was not a small woman and her seated peepee dance was causing the car to careen in several different directions as we continued down the highway. Finally, totally exacerbated, and seeing no other choice, Dad at last pulled over by the side of the road near a clump of trees. “This is the best I can do, Edith,” he told her. “Just go back by those trees.”

Grandma looked absolutely horrified at the thought. “Listen,” Dad tried to convince her, “we haven’t found another gas station. We haven’t even passed another car for miles. This highway is empty right now. There is no one else around. It’s getting dark. You’ll be fine. Nobody is going to see anything.”

Grandma reluctantly climbed out of the car and looked up and down the long, lonely highway. Okay, it looked safe enough.

She moved over to the clump of trees, raised her skirt, lowered her underwear, and…

…Twenty-five, thirty cars suddenly materialized out of nowhere, zooming past my grandmother with her pants down on the side of the road, their headlights illuminating her bare white bottom. She yanked up her pants and ran back to jump into the car. Dad took off while Grandma cussed him for the next three miles as if he had purposely sat up that particular experience to keep anyone from asking to stop to pee again for the rest of the trip.