I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I got up eventually and now I’m sitting with my coffee on the couch. Ricky is nearby, sleeping in his sister Millie’s old spot. It’s Christmas Eve morning. I have to work in a few hours then I’ll be off for a few days. It will be in the 70s today in Los Angeles, but the temperatures throughout much of the country are supposed to hit record lows. I’m glad I’m here in LA. I was just in Kansas and I was glad to be there when I was there but now I’m glad to be home.
My mom and I had a busy few days while I was in Kansas. Eating at restaurants, seeing family, going for drives, visiting Ruby and the family who adopted her. One of the more meta conversations we had was when I told her that she had kind of, sort of achieved a certain TikTok notoriety. Not that she knew exactly what TikTok was. “Sort of like Facebook, but just videos. And people are meaner, ” I told her. I explained that in August I posted a video of her saying goodbye to Ruby before I took Ruby to ARF, the no kill rescue group that took her in. My heart-tugging caption said, “This is my mom’s last day in her house before moving to assisted living.” Tiktok is an odd medium. You either get a lot of people to watch your video or you’ll get 4. And most of us only get four. But this video struck a chord. And, you probably see where this is headed, it went viral (viral-adjacent, to be fair) because most people watching the video were convinced I was the worst person in the world for separating my mom and her dog and sending each to variations of jail sentences.
I told my mom that 500,000 people watched the video and 70,000 liked it. (That is a slight exaggeration. 452,000 and 68,900 are the true numbers.) She told me she wanted to see the video so I showed it to her. It plays with a sad cover of “The Winner Takes it All.” “I want to read the comments. Can you read me the comments later?” I told her that no, we do not need to sift through 2500 comments, 80% of which (NOT an exaggeration) are telling her what a horrible son she has. While many folks praised my mom, Ruby and the family who adopted her, I was the crystal clear villain. (It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.)
A few friends and even more strangers have asked why I posted the video. On some level I knew that if more than 4 people were going to watch it, a certain amount of vitriol was going to come with it. But I guess we all want that taste of notoriety, some of us more than others. When the views and hate comments started escalating, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was being told repeatedly and colorfully, I was a “piece of shit” (a quote and also the recurring theme), but on the other hand, I was getting views. Like, lots of them.
Few of my real life friends are on Tiktok. And as the hate piled, my friend Linda, aka @lindaistoooldfortiktok was the first to wade into the mire to defend my sterling reputation. I appreciated her efforts, but as those early days wore on, she saw how it affected me. “Maybe it would be best for you to delete the video.” At that point, I had 28,000 views. More views than I’d ever had on anything. “Maybe I will,” I told her. But I didn’t. Instead, I did what Jennifer Lawrence and Adam Sandler do, I stopped reading the reviews.
Instead of reading the comments, I posted a few more videos, giving more of the story. I talked about Ruby’s new home, I shared that my mom has adjusted well in her assisted living, that she had already known people there because she had worked there years ago. I praised senior caregivers and healthcare workers. I advised people on how to find no kill rescues and shelters in their area.
Eventually, I did revisit the comments and tried to respond to folks who said they were negotiating similar situations. I thanked the commenters who said they work in assisted livings and take pride and care in their work. Did this stop the judgment? A little, maybe. For a few weeks there, people were pretty invested, and then the views dwindled, then eventually, it stopped. Frozen at 452,000, destined to never hit 453,000.
Desperate to reinvent myself like Meghan Trainor and JoJo Siwa before me, I posted a couple videos about winning on a game show. Those two received 10 views, collectively. Even my most recent video, my mom being reunited with Ruby, only garnered 300 views and a smattering of likes. (Zero hate comments to date.)
“What makes a Tiktok go viral?” my mom asked sadly after I told her the reunited video wasn’t hitting great numbers. “Ahhh, that is the eternal question,” I sagely told her. If I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn’t be waiting tables on Christmas Eve. I’d be posting a holiday dance collab with @chris.
I will say this about that video. I posted it roughly a year after the day it was recorded. August 2021 was a very rough month for my mom and me. She hit a point where she could not live alone. Though we considered me moving home, we knew that Ruby and my dogs would never safely coexist in the same house. No one we knew wanted to adopt Ruby. It was heartbreaking and bleak and I did not have a playbook for how to proceed. My mom and I did the best we could with what we had. And then in August 2022, I stumbled upon the video and it was an assurance that it ended much better than I feared it would.
I don’t know what you’re going through today. Holidays can be overwhelming and depressing. On these days, we tend to take the magnifying glass out and scrutinize what we’ve done wrong or who we’ve failed or why we aren’t any number of things we were sure we’d be by the age we are. If you’re feeling that, you’re not alone. In fact, if you’re too damn happy right this moment, you might be the only one.
I’m glad I didn’t take my video down. I can only say that because of the time that has passed because truthfully, the comments did hurt me. But I didn’t delete the hate. Even in the videos where I defended myself, I tried to say, it doesn’t matter if you hate me, but please, offer grace to the people who are truly in your life and not on some dumb app.
If you’re reading this, you are the ones in my life. You know my story. You know my many flaws. Y’all know way more of my failings than Tiktok does! To you, I send wishes of joy and grace in this holiday season. I have to go now, Ricky and Veronica are both pawing and moaning to take them outside for their morning walks in the California sunshine. Merry Christmas, I love you all!
Marla here from Lawrence, KS – grew up in Cherryvale – grandparents lived in Indy. Happiest of holidays to you and your loved ones. I have been in your shoes – sending love and prayers.
Happy Holidays to you too, Marla!! My mom and I drove around Cherryvale looking at the Christmas lights just a few days ago!!
Ray, you are such a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing this slice of life. My parents moved into assisted living this past year and it isn’t an easy transition. Sending you love. Merry Christmas! xo
Ray you are truly a bright and shining star. You touch so many of us by your words. Never doubt what a blessing you and Eric have been to both of your parents. Blessing to you both and Merry Christmas. Ps. Private message your moms address to me please.
Ray, I so love your writing! I too know what you have gone through! Not only because I have known you for 39 years, but also because I have been in your shoes! Making the decisions you and your mom had to make is NEVER easy, and you both did what needed to be done! I applaud you for being the fantastic son you have always been, and I know you have always done right by your beloved parents! Much love and Merry Christmas!
Thank you for sharing a most difficult time in your life. Many of us are not prepared for the decisions we’ll face later in life. Your story may help someone prepare, whether it be mentally, emotionally or physically. And, for some of us, it’s a great reminder that we are part of a community.
Merry Christmas, Ray!!
Your mother is a kind mother, I will always pay attention to your updates