Updated: Oct 19
REDEMPTION IN RICHMOND
A Memoir of Resilience in the Face of Extreme Adversity
by Todd Carl
"Find out who your are and do it on purpose." - Dolly Parton -
My story, this memoir, has taken me on a rollercoaster journey that all began in the Spring of 2016. The overwhelming majority of events that have taken place in my life have left me with feelings of great pride, accomplishment and fulfillment. To be honest, I don't recall ever experiencing profound regrets, only a few minor speedbumps along the way. Then again, there were a few situations that actually left me feeling empty to the point I questioned the very meaning of life. However, there is one event in particular - something so reprehensible, profoundly immoral and dark - that makes it the only event I've yet to recover from or find words to adequately describe it. Tragically, because of that isolated event, a piece of my soul died. That, plus so many other events I have chosen to talk about in this memoir, legitimately embody the bold assertion, “If he went through all that and is still alive to talk about it, then just maybe I can survive too.”
This memoir is about an ordinary, husky, small-town boy with numerous health afflictions who cheats death on several occasions, evolves into a successful high-end jeweler, dabbles briefly in modeling and saves the lives of eight people, all while quietly battling profound bigotry, hatred and discrimination in his private life. A memoir that also includes numerous stories of his encounters, interactions and friendships with rich, powerful, famous, infamous and several key, historic individuals.
As the subtitle states, however, I've also experienced extreme adversity. A few examples are: a rare birth defect, five heart surgeries, three car accidents, rape, PTSD, extreme family dysfunction, bullying, more than ten assaults - sexual, physical and violent in nature - perpetrated by men and women alike (some before age eighteen), I have bipolar disorder and more.
One thing I need to address first and foremost is the subject of faith and religion as it pertains to me and this book. To be clear, the main theme of this memoir is not Christianity nor any specific religion for that matter. Frankly, it's quite the opposite. My life is so multi-faceted (a gratuitous reference to my diamond and high-end jewelry career) and far too complex to limit my story to a particular theme as polarizing as religion. Yes, I was raised by parents who insisted that everyone in our family attend church every Sunday. But then came adulthood and my eventual departure from the protection of the 'nest.' I was finally free to become the intrepid soul I always dreamt of as a kid! And with that coveted, newfound freedom comes decisions, and those decisions brought about wisdom and maturity, sometimes in ways no young man (or woman) should ever have to face so early in life.
That said, I am forever grateful and humbled by all the many wonderful things I've been able to experience in this life. I have never, nor will I ever take any of them for granted! As for the 'unpleasant' things I alluded to? Honestly, some of them were just too 'taboo' or 'off limits' to even consider revealing them in the past, let alone discussing them...until now. If your mind can imagine it, I've probably experienced it.
I'll probably receive some blowback for this remark, but it never ceases to amaze me the amount of people who identify themselves as devout members of the religious mainstream who instantly become cold, defensive or even fearful upon learning someone is gay or bipolar or heaven forbid...both. And then there are those who are neither empathetic or deterred from interjecting their unsolicited, provocative opinions. That's why Dolly Parton's quote, "find out who you are and do it on purpose" has had such a profound effect on my life. By deliberately taking several roads less traveled, I unwittingly ended up living a life that still amazes many individuals (myself included) and continues to defy explanation - medically, vocationally, spiritually and even scientifically speaking.
Along the way, I've also experienced the dark, psychologically damaging and spiritually untethered ritual of 'conversion therapy' in three different churches, in three different states. Speaking from vast, personal experience on this subject matter, any person who is gay - this is my perspective - is incapable of "realistically changing" their sexual orientation. It ultimately took three failed suicide attempts to finally convince me there is a much bigger plan for my life, and being gay is only one small aspect of it. Thankfully, they also convinced me once and for all that I am not an abomination or a mistake. God is incapable of making mistakes! And if He wanted me dead, I'd be dead...but I'm still here!
Conversion therapy, a commonly used evangelical ritual that attempts to reverse an LGBTQ person's sexual orientation through fear and intimidation tactics - something I naively bought into, fearing eternal damnation - wound up being the most unlikely catalyst I needed to not only embolden me to reject this form of heresy, but also to finally accept and embrace my sexual identity once and for all. As such, I feel compelled to write about this topic with the sincere intention of saving as many unsuspecting LGBTQ individuals as possible from being ensnared by this warped ideology; an ideology which attempts to inhibit them from having the option of accepting or rejecting their orientation on their terms, if they so choose. Today, the notorious ministry of Exodus International, once a world-renowned conversion therapy organization, is defunct.
Everything I've written about occurred either naturally, by personal choices, my vocation, genetics or just plain dumb luck; being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For instance, the assaults I alluded to earlier, the ones that took place before age eighteen. Many were violent, all were disturbing, all of them persisted for several years and all were committed by the same two people - things no one should ever have to encounter during their youth.
Regarding the other assaults, there are two that stand out above the rest (if that's even possible). One involved a female coworker in a high-end jewelry store, in an ultra-high net worth zip code on the west coast. The other involved a rogue male RN during a lengthy hospital stay - also on the west coast - while lying in bed and fighting off a life-threatening case of MRSA, all while being administered a powerful, bacterial antibiotic intravenously.
Despite having to remain vigilant my entire life in order to keep those and other painful memories from impairing me psychologically, I can proudly say I live a pretty normal life - normal by society's standards, that is. In fact, without my faith and intestinal fortitude which I've relied upon all along, I seriously doubt I'd be alive, let along writing a memoir about all of it.
When people write memoirs, sometimes there's really no easy way to relate certain things to the reader without upsetting, turning-off or offending someone, somewhere. But for me, the very thought of lying, embellishing or varnishing the truth just to appease everyone is a personal affront. As a result, I've gone out of my way my entire life to avoid flimsy, diluted narratives and the people who crave them. Facts are facts, and evidence is evidence. Beyond that, let the chips fall where they may.
After reading all that, you'll probably find it impossible to believe that the real inspiration behind this book was actually the very dysfunctional, abusive, love/hate relationship between my father and I. Ironically, I'm now convinced that his death in 2015 was far more than the culmination of a lifelong quest for redemption. His death unintentionally played a vital role in reinforcing my psyche and faith to prepare me for future upheavals and turmoil in my private life.
The secondary vision for this book is to genuinely encourage and inspire everyone to never allow the weight of their circumstances to break them or cause them to give in to various, devastating events they've survived or are currently going through. People are so much stronger than they give themselves credit for. I know, because I have the luxury (finally) to speak from the vantage point of 59 years of experience.
Historians are increasingly lamenting how society is breaking down when it comes to how we interact with each other. The human spirit was never intended to be abused, bent or broken, but inexplicably, it has an uncanny ability to overcome even the worst challenges one could possibly imagine. Humbly, and once again, I'm living proof.
No matter who you are - young or old, male or female, rich or poor, religious or irreligious, and despite ethnicity or sexual orientation - there is hope. “Healing is the offspring of courage." - Todd Carl -
Fortunately, we live in a time when people are finally stepping forth from the shadows, pulling back the veils of their fear and courageously saying "Enough!" People who've been victimized for years who need to be given their long overdue recognition as people who "have value and add value" to our society. (Dr. Jack Hettema, VCU, Richmond, VA). And the mindset, "that's just the way things were" is fast becoming a distant memory, albeit a painful and dark memory for some.
In a profound way, the voices of few are forever changing the landscape of society for many. An age-old adage, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow's a mystery. But today is a gift, that's why it's called The Present!" has become my life's mantra.
A renowned psychotherapist on the east coast once asked, “How are you alive?” When I answered, "I don't know.", he replied, "I know; because your will to live is stronger than your desire to die!"
I've chosen to end every chapter of this book with lyrics to a song - a song I felt best summarized that chapter’s subject matter. And now, I’d like to conclude this introduction the same way with some appropriate lyrics taken from the song ‘Pure Imagination,’ from the iconic motion picture, Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.
“Come with me and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see, into your imagination
We’ll begin with a spin, travelling in the world of my creation
What you’ll see will defy, explanation…”