Independence, a blessing or a curse?

It’s no secret that I’m proud to be surrounded by strong women; my two sisters, Cherry is an incredible single mother, the women I work with- all of my girlfriends are tough cookies. My own mother is the strongest woman I know and raised me to follow her footsteps in that way. I have always been flattered to hear that I’m a strong, fierce and independent woman, because women like this aren’t born; they create themselves. Nature definitely falls to the side and nurture wins this argument time and time again. Strong women are celebrated, idolized and written about. But you know what is often overlooked? How these fascinating, beautiful badasses came to be.

After a recent mind-fuck of a heartbreak caused by my own ignorance, I was bothering Cherry while she was at work for a distraction from wanting to puke over my own stupidity. I was watching yet another role model of mine; Emma Watson, in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, where Charlie is told “we accept the love we think we deserve.” Simultaneously, Cherry, like any best friend would, text, “I wish I could take the hurt away. You’re strong and confident and he doesn’t deserve you.” Earlier in the week while talking the situation out on separate occasions with another friend of mine and my big brother, they both assured me that I’m strong, I have been through this before and I’ll come out on top and better than ever. Strong is honestly the most used word to describe me recently (thanks to all my sweet and flattering friends). While I appreciate the recognition as a badass Boss Lady; I have a bone to pick with this image:

The first; it’s fucking exhausting. Being tough all the time is mentally, physically but most of all, emotionally draining. Once you’ve created the perception of being strong, there is no going back. No one warned me of this, damn it. It is expected of me to be hardcore all the time. I call the shots, I don’t overlook any details, and everything rolls off me. Even worse, IF someone catches me in a moment of weakness, they don’t know how to react and it is just incredibly awkward after that.

The second; I have no more left to give. Each situation that forces me to put up my best effort, learn from the experience and handle it in a graceful way, kills me. Little do people know that with every heartbreak, each death of a loved one, the loss of countless friendships; part of my huge and loving heart dies inside. It’s great being an inspiration to those that haven’t experienced adversity in the ways that I have and I’m thankful to be a rock to many; personally and professionally, but part of me fades away and I hate myself for it.

Third, people think it’s okay to hurt you. Apparently, because of this badass image I have created for myself, I allow people to think I’m more resilient than others. Oh, it’s just Jo, it’s okay because she has been through waaaay worse, those around me must tell themselves. Friends, family, boys; you name it and I have heard this line or something similar before. I cringe the moment I hear or read, “you’ve been through this before, you’ll be okay.” Well NO SHIT I have been through it before, that’s why it hurts now you fuckwad! If anything, maybe being a dick to a less independent girl would be beneficial and thicken their skin… mine is thick enough, thank you very much. Despite my tough exterior, everything still aches the same on the inside. Perhaps even worse because I can only let it go in the comfort of my own apartment with a select circle of friends.

Finally, why am I being a little brat? I’m strong! I wouldn’t have it any other way. I simply struggle internally to find an elegant way to be both strong, independent and awesome yet unguarded and approachable. I fear becoming so hardened by emotional abuse externally but mostly toward myself that I begin to shut others out. So many times, my thoughts are so loud inside my own head that I can’t even sleep. If anyone does know of a balance between being tough and having a huge heart; it is my role models in Cherry, Vanessa, and the women that raised me.

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2:24

It’s 2:24am and I am wide awake in my bed awake, much to my frustration. It’s been a couple of weeks of this annoyingly new habit. If I’m not out, I’m home, asleep around midnight or a little later, only to be jolted awake just at 2am by my surroundings.

What. The. Fuck.

The first question that approaches my naturally self-diagnosing mind is, is something on your mind? Let’s see, is it the chaos at work; the fact that I move in four days and have just five boxes pack; perhaps my current dating situation? Answer: D all of the above.

It blows my mind that I have yet to pack. To say that I’m “excited,” to move is an offensive understatement. I realize that many have offered to help pack and even a few to move, what great friends I have! Wait. How many of them have committed to actually more than the trivial act of typing the Arial font on my iPhone screen? Two. One friend, thank god, offered much needed boxes from his work a couple of blocks away on Sunday. Another, bless his bitchy Boston heart, actually packed two boxes Saturday over the same number of bottles of prosecco. Earlier tonight, the poor guy helped my Lyft driver cram another fifteen boxes into a tiny Elantra. Help at last.

Now I sit awake in my bed, reading my digital book, pecking a work related email out on my iPhone, with my pile of empty boxes waiting to be filled. The constant reminder of what I need to do is hovering, like the pesky kid in elementary school as you slyly hand out invites to your birthday party at Meadowland Private. Ugh.

Not only do these boxes irritate me when I’m awake, taking on their own nagging identity, but apparently while I sleep too. I can feel their presence. And this is yet another moment that forms an all too familiar knot in my chest, a warm lump in my throat, and, if I’m just sleep deprived enough, the quick well of tears to my eyes: homesick.

Here’s the frustrating thing: if I were in Lincoln, my packing would have been done. I can picture sitting on my floor with a few different girlfriends who showed up at my door with yoga pants, a hoodie and the determined “shits goin down,” look on their beautiful face. Cherry and I would drink wine, talk about boys and neatly wrap my kitchen stuff, each box slightly less organized as the wine sinks in. My childhood BFF and I would pack my photos and clothes while eating my moms monster cookies. We would reminisce about a certain dress I wore to a college formal with her as my date, the time she borrowed this wrap for an important political conference. As we fold my sweaters, we talk about how much our friendship has grown and matured since we were getting Ivanna Cone in seventh grade. We then decide to make a late night Ivanna Cone run because, well, duh. So many other friends come to mind that would force their help because they know I’m too stubborn and independent to ask.

Thought I’ve been in Chicago for a year and truly love it, it will never be home because of the void of these people in my life. It’s possible that I’m lucky that I met these great friends before or while in college, maybe I’m not fulfilled because everyone around me is developing their career, their relationship with long time significant others, or they’ve checked out of Chicago and have their sights on their upcoming move. Either way I have learned this:

Nebraskans are true to their word. If they say they will help, you bet your ass they will be there and, even better, with some sort of food or libation to make the process more fun. People here seem to be full of empty offers. Is it that they have good intentions but something better comes along? Probably but that still isn’t an acceptable excuse in this cornfield born and raised girl. These limp, folded boxes are the nagging mother in my apartment telling me that it’s up to me to get my crap packed because No one else gives a shit whether I move this weekend, next week or never, really. I try not to look around at books, wine glasses or two shelves of jewelry anxiously awaiting to move to Streeterville, and decide I should sleep.

Just before I doze off, I think knowing that if I want something accomplished, I have to do it myself is singlehandedly the most empowering and infuriating notion. I imagine all the guys that have complained of my “independent woman complex,” feeling my energy as they sleep. To shake off the frustration of my stubbornness, wow, I’m craving Honest Abe’s , crosses my mind. A true Nebraska Girl.

My Storm Cloud

In the light of the saddening news of the incredible talent, Robin Williams, I am thankful that the focus is not on the vulnerable and private details of his method of choice to escape his life, but, rather, it is placed on the reality of depression and suicide awareness. Yes, I’m aware that there are terrible things going on just south of my Lakeview apartment in Garfield Park, my neighboring state allowing police to kill innocent men, children in countries far away having their heads lopped off like a deleted scene from a movie. I can understand the frustration of one for the media’s attention revolving around this beloved actor. That said, I am pleased that depression, suicide and other mental/emotional disorders are acknowledged. Seeing the hotlines, awareness programs and support groups for those suffering listed at the end of every tweet, each article and on my Facebook page, proves that depression is a widespread issue that hits home for nearly everyone. 

Most of my family and very close friends are all too aware of my battle with depression. The amazing people I surround myself with have been with me in my highs and most importantly, through my lows. That said, I don’t advertise my struggle with a chemical imbalance at every change I get and a majority of friends likely have no idea. Of course there are small signs here and there, but to the untrained eye, it’s a string of random personality quirks. I have insomnia or I sleep too much; I’m completely dedicated to the gym and partying or the thought of leaving my small studio frightens me; one week I’m chatty, outgoing and bubbly, then you may not hear from me for a week or two. My depression fades, I have gone years without experiencing the life-altering changes that is true, clinical depression, but I know it’s always there. For me, depression is like the little cloud always following Eeyore, it isn’t always raining but the threat of a storm is always there. 

Sure, some nights I’m just really into the book I’m reading (Paint it Black, Janet Fitch) or Orange is the New Black and just don’t go to sleep. However, the other nights? I lay, staring at the slats in my ceiling either vibrating with emotion or I gaze out the window to see the antennae of Sears Tower, feeling nothing. Of course I have lazy days like everyone else where I desire nothing more than to eat Twizzlers and binge-watch an HBO series while I scroll through twitter. I know that I need to keep my endorphins high by exercising daily, maintaining a routine and eating well. Despite that powerful knowledge, there are times where I find myself so consumed by the threatening thoughts of my own, that I can’t stand the feeling of my clothes on my body, feeling the natural light outside or being surrounded by strangers in the crosswalk. The promise of making small talk sends chills through my skinny body but, worse, the idea of a meaningful connection with my best friend makes me physically nauseous. Will they ask about how I’m doing, or could they notice that my eyes are black, my skin is washed out and my hair is dirty? The last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself. Worst of all, is when I can feel my value as a friend slipping away. I love my friends, that is no secret. There are few things that make me happier than hearing about my best friend’s search for a law school and cute things she and her boyfriend do on the weekends, or when Cherry is glowing over a guy or telling me about her daughter’s artwork, my sisters update me about their families (one has two boys, the other a chubby dog and kickass boyfriend). It’s a catch-22, I’m self-aware enough to know that these conversations are like therapy, getting me away from myself and reminding me of the people I love unconditionally. Even with that awareness, I feel myself pushing them away. Maybe I don’t respond to their text when I see it or answer their phone call even though I’m doing nothing but sitting at my breakfast bar and looking at the clouds outside my window. Weekends go by and I don’t want to do brunch at Ann Sather, no way in hell am I walking down to North Avenue Beach, going out in River North or even Boystown is absolutely out of the question- it would require me looking presentable and putting on a smile. Things I just don’t have the energy to do right now. 

My relationship with depression is two-fold. I both struggle with it and have had too-real experiences with it harming those that I care for deeply. My first high school boyfriend tried to commit suicide, to later be diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder. Another friend of mine died the week I graduated high school after losing control of his car. No, it wasn’t suicide, but he and I would talk about our depression and anxiety issues, our ways of self-medicating and I can’t help but feel that he’s at peace now, or that’s what I tell myself when images of the crumpled car flashes unexpectedly in my mind. He sparked my interest in getting my bachelor’s in psychology and sociology; I thank him for that. My own family struggles with depression, substance abuse, and I’m so blessed to have three understanding women in my life. A few years of working in non-profits, with children in foster care, struggling teens and adults in the county court systems for both domestic and child abuse, drove the reality of mental health disorders even closer to home. I saw that no matter the ethnicity, socioeconomic status, popularity, family, education, anything, really, there was always a possibility of life being ruined by depression. The beast that is depression doesn’t care. 

Whether “normal life,” being violently ripped away or slowly, painfully scooting further from reach, mental and emotional health holds as much of a threat as cancer, heart disease, anything. I can’t wrap my head around why depression and other like disorders continue to be taboo. Following a celebrity suicide, there is always the speculation that it wasn’t intentional; no, they couldn’t have ended their life on purpose, their life was perfect, we ignorantly think to ourselves. It’s time to stop shaming, undermining and ignoring those that need help and offer a safe place. I have my safe place; my family and friends, but few people are so lucky. 

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

eeyore

Socially Depressed

Since moving to Chicago, I’ve been experiencing the not-so unusual twentysomething crisis. Some bitch at a table near me at Moody’s in Edgewater last night thought this was the most ignorant and immature thing said and proceeded to laugh at my BFF and I for making such claims. However, it is nearly impossible at this point to live comfortably, have a social life, maintain a personal life and appear to be a fully functional and self-sufficient human being. I’m failing miserably on all accounts, in case you were unaware. Do you know what makes a shitty situation even worse? SOCIAL MEDIA! Ugh, as I’m struggling to find a job that doesn’t make me want to drown in Lake Michigan, I have five forms of social media constantly teasing me. Yes, I am thrilled for my friends with their perfectly photographed engagements, their Pinterest-worthy weddings, and graduations from Medical School. However, seeing photos of tropical vacations on Instagram, tweets mentioning a promotion, and status updates of a pregnancy on Facebook, make me feel like I’m more of a late-bloomer than I already am.

Everyone has read the articles linking social media to depression, anxiety and narcissism. Talk about first world problems, right? I realize that though my friend from elementary school may post adorable ‘grams of her and her husband having a picnic in the park but she’s cheating on him and that promotion another friend just got is because his dad golfs with the CEO. I get it, their lives are probably shitty too. That doesn’t make me feel better though. What I don’t understand is why is life so challenging for recent graduates? We do all the right things; we’re killer networkers, we’ve had years of internships in undergrad, we’ve all spent sixty hours a week at work only to get paid for forty, and what do we have to show for it? Prematurely grey hair, unhealthy eating and sleeping habits and drinking problems.

More of my friends have either entirely said “fuck you,” to corporate America and went back to service industry or retail jobs or at least work part-time on the side in order to pay rent for their $1200 studio apartment. We all feel the pressure to appear like we have our shit together and it sucks. Why can’t post-grad life be like college and it’s somewhat trendy to be broke, working at a bar, doing freelance work, and living in a crappy apartment or dorm? It’s pretty much what we’re doing anyway so we should just own up to it and stop allowing our peers to feel inferior. Do you know what makes a bad situation worse? Feeling obligated to put on a show that you’re happy. My previous job appeared glamorous on the outside, which made it impossible to admit to feeling disappointed in the actual role. The problem then snowballed and here I am.

So, what should I do? Yeah, I read the Thought Catalog and Elite Daily posts that pop up on Twitter and Facebook about keeping focus, unplugging from social media, and whatever stupid and over generalized crap someone blogs about (ironic, no?). Here’s my advice: do whatever it takes to make you clear your head. Maybe it’s tucking yourself into a booth in Panera to quietly cry after some psychotic homeless lady yells at you, perhaps it’s going to the gym every day and sometimes twice to work out some anger, or maybe it’s reading the same terribly depressing book three times in three weeks. It’s only embarrassing if people know about it so just keep your mouth shut, focus on yourself and maybe have a few good friends that will check on you if you are actually sobbing at a very public spot like a crazy lady. The last part is crucial.

Bandwagoner or Patriot?

Unlike the annoyingly smug Alexi Lalas, I am no soccer analyst. That said, I have been a USMNT fan by proxy since high school. Ironically enough, most of the men I’ve dated have been soccer players or at least soccer-obsessed. Pardon me while I dissect shared qualities of soccer players and assholes. The American Outlaws were founded in my hometown by an amazing and incredibly fun group of men. Needless to say, I watch soccer just enough to know carry a conversation and I won’t look like an asshole like those that Jimmy Kimmel found while asking about Donovan’s “best play,” in the World Cup. Seriously, watch the video, it is hilarious. US soccer has been the only sport I have had the attention span to follow, attend games, and even watch on TV. Sadly for some, I’m simply not into sports.

So, unless you have no access to the outside world, you’re aware that the World Cup is going on and that the USMNT just lost to Belgium. Four years ago, I had a snippet published in my hometown newspaper about the importance of the World Cup and my feelings have only grown stronger on that stance. The World Cup allows the opportunity evenly for every country on the planet to compete. It’s the most easily accessible sport, all you need is a ball and an open space, which each nation can provide. It focuses, unlike the Olympics, on the teams, the fans, the countries, more so than the individual athletes, and that is what I love about the World Cup. Unity, patriotism, and passion are the driving force between the men competing as well as the countries standing behind them.

That is why I am a World Cup addict. I don’t care if your opinion differs because, as I mentioned, I have little credibility since I’m not a sports fan, and your opinion is likely wiser than mine. What bothers me is all of the recent hostility regarding the “bandwagon,” soccer fans. Here’s the thing people, it’s not bandwagoning if it’s your own country!! True, they probably haven’t watched a soccer game before and don’t know the rules. Maybe it’s a girl that thinks Ronaldo is sooo sexy and not a floppy douche on the field. Perhaps they think that Donovan bit Chiellini’s ear off, not Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. It’s definitely possible that they think America’s Sweetheart Tim Howard is Common’s doppleganger (no, wait, that’s me!). That said, who cares if they’re not sure what they’re talking about? These fools are wearing their Red, White and Blue, chanting I believe that we will win! just as loud as the legit soccer fan next to them. I can promise you that the 30,000 fans at Soldier Field were not soccer experts but the metal covering the 50-yard line shook with the U-S-A cheers as I stood on it anyway.

The only downside of these “bandwagon,” fans? After the Belgium goal in the 111th minute, booked it out of Soldier Field. Hey people, if you’re going to support the USMNT, you do so until the very last second, like the American Outlaws taught me while watching the 2006 World Cup. These fans don’t understand that the fascinating thing about soccer is that the game can change at any minute. The high school soccer coach, Ben Damen, always said that 2-1 was the most dangerous lead. The low, sometimes slow scoring is why people label soccer as “boring,” but I think it’s the suspense that makes it exciting.

The benefit to these fans? We now have THAT MANY MORE people that are slowly being exposed to, and inevitably falling in love with the sport. I wasn’t the assistant soccer chick in high school because I liked or even played the sport, it was because I wanted an excuse to skip class and party. Once I started watching though, I fell for the sport.

See you in Four Years, soccer fans.

#ibelieve

Biting my Tongue

The following is what I have wanted to say to the boy (yes, that is a deliberate choice of word) that my previous posts have mentioned. Why have I bit my tongue and chosen to take what some people would consider the high road? I could say that it’s moral grounds and Midwestern values, that it’s not my job to teach him a lesson, that I’m embarrassed, but in all honesty? It’s out of defeat. The whole reason is that I don’t see the point anymore. So here it goes…

I feel used. Taken advantage of. Emotionally, physically, mentally violated. These are just a few of the phrases that I have strung together while talking things through with my girlfriends, the gays and T&V. It’s very rare that I find myself at a loss for words but the last few weeks have left me close to silent. While off the radar, I have done nothing but try to process the stupidity of my actions, distract myself with the occasional night out, delve into the World Cup and spend a lot of time feeding the ducks at Belmont Harbor. Maybe don’t tell anyone about that last part, it’s kind of dorky.

If, a) I felt I could handle it, and b), he cared enough to listen, I would tell him that he has defeated me. That there was a reason that, days prior to allowing him to move into my home for an undetermined amount of time, I pleaded, “Just please don’t hurt me and let me regret my efforts to be nice. Okay?” I didn’t send that text as a way to fill conversation. You’re likely thinking HE MOVED IN?!?!, which is totally fair. He had about a month between his lease being up and graduation so I was compassionate and opened my cute but tiny studio apartment to him. Since none of his friends were empathetic enough to allow him in their homes, I chose to do what my roomie had done for me and pay it forward. I have what appears to be a sixth sense and I can feel when I’m about to make a big mistake (such as this) but, unlike the kid in the movie, I don’t put two and two together. I was smart enough to say “don’t hurt me,” but by not seeing that the fact that I have to express says more than anything he could have responded with.

What I can’t stop wondering is how I found myself in this situation in the first place. Was it that I actually liked him or was it simply that I found someone that I had fun exploring the city with, the homesick feelings went away when we were together and that he made me feel wanted, sexy and fun for the first time in a long time? Either way, those fun butterfly feelings that consumed me for three months were ripped away. He was so wrapped up in his own problems that he failed to acknowledge what I was going through; health problems, losing a friend, grandparents in the hospital, feeling lost without my family and friends, all on top of feeling taken advantage of at work. We often allow our own lives to put up blinders to what those around us are dealing with. I knew it was a bad idea before I agreed to it but I told myself it was just for the weekend and he would see how welcoming I had been.

So, what would I say?

Stop being so selfish. Put on your big boy panties, see that everyone is going through something shitty, and act like a man. No one should wake up six days after giving up a three day weekend to help you move, to feel like an idiot. Three emotionally damaging messages showed up on my phone: the first was an email with lab results from my doctor’s office indicating the need for another minor surgery, the second was a Facebook message regarding a friend’s suicide, and the final was a message from a mutual friend that your dick has been in someone else’s mouth. Not to mention that the night that it happened was after my body had been pumped full of poison. Please, please explain to me how you conned your way into my vulnerable heart and did this to me. I don’t want to make the same mistake and be taken advantage of yet again. Finally, I would like to say thank you. Thank you, señor, for using me for my apartment, for my connections, for my time spent helping you move and do homework, and who knows what else you took advantage of. Thank you, for validating every feeling of low self-esteem and self-worth I had while capitalizing on the fact that I’m both homesick and literally sick. I’m sure that many of my exes, the “nice guys” that I have turned down for guys like you, even my mom, are slightly satisfied by the lesson that guys like you continue to teach me. And one more thing? I hope you don’t do the same to the next girl that’s foolish enough to fall for you, she doesn’t deserve it. You definitely don’t deserve her.

Must-Knows

My buddy J is a smart, adorably awkward and handsome man. Obviously he’s gay. After wasting his limited time on some guys that were such big douche bags they we’re fit to be used by a whale, he’s questioning what he did wrong. Natural, right? Of course. However, I received some amazing advice from T&V last spring prior to the Summer of Yes. V said I need to come up with my five NON-negotiables for a relationship. She didn’t get married until she was thirty because that’s what V wanted-they have been a nauseatingly loving couple for over fifteen years. I definitely chose the right people to admire and model myself after. I shared with my upset friend that the lecture regarding non-negotiables I received from V and demanded he do the same.

It’s fascinating to me that I give such great advice to those that i love but my thick head won’t translate it to apply to me, isn’t it?

J has the homework to think about his top five to keep him from settling for whale-sized vaginal sanitation products. In the meantime, I will also request that my lover and friend Cherry do the same. Just call me Professor, kids. So what’s the point in this list? I’m not someone that believes in a lot of dating rules or a mental checklist. That said, I don’t want to settle for the wrong person as I have come so close to doing but I may not continue to dodge those bullets. I’m sure my list will continue to evolve as I get older (oh, god!), but the foundation should remain the same. Confession: my non-negotiables are still evolving as it has been so long since I’ve been in a relationship that my opinion matters. That said, I have five qualities that I cannot and will not budge on for a partner, mostly as a direct result of my personality type.

Humble. A man that is kind to waiters and tips at Starbucks for my iced green tea. He doesn’t scoff at the homeless woman wearing a hijab with her head down outside of work or judge when my buddy and I buy McDonald’s for her. It’s easy to treat loved ones in a compassionate way but the true colors come out when how one treats strangers. And god knows I have an eclectic tribe of friends and family to put up with.

Passionate. Of course passion in the sack is crucial but that’s surprisingly not what I mean. Few things are more attractive to me than a man that has his own ambition to succeed, grow himself for the better and finds hobbies. I’m what many might call a bleeding heart; I studied psychology, my first jobs were in nonprofits and social work and I continue to volunteer. It’s important to find what makes us tick.

Inspired. This sort of goes hand in hand with passion but I need this in those around me. I’m neurotic, self-doubting and sometimes need a push. Like my friends, I want to surround myself with those that breathe positive into everything around them. To look at the people I have in my life and see that they make me a better person, employee, sister, friend, whatever, is the most incredible feeling.

Patient. For many reasons that are extremely evident throughout this and all posts, I’m aware that I’m not the easiest to deal with. I can be stubborn, guarded, and erratic at times and I know that. This is why kindness, compassion and ambition make up some of my must-haves. To love my quirks and insecurities is no easy task but I promise it’s worth the time to understand.

Mature. This final one is something I hope evolves over time. Right now, it’s simply a man that doesn’t play games. I don’t do the waiting game. If I’m available when he texts me, I’ll respond. If I’m free the night he asks to hang out, I will probably meet up with him. If I had a great time on our date, you bet your ass I’m going to tell him that. Men my age are too involved in themselves, their stupid Tinder bullshit and whatever else goes on in their heads (sports?). I can’t. Period.

All I want from my two students, J and Cherry, is for them to finally see themselves from my point of view. I was of course watching Sex and the City, and the moment Carrie realized she and Aleksander weren’t right for each other, she said, “well, maybe it’s time to be clear about who I am. I am someone who is looking for love; real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love. And I don’t think that love is here.” I can only hope that the three of us are smart enough to realize what will make the happy-ever-after love, the T&V supportive love, the best-friend love for us.

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