A droopy smile that lingered for a little while

Here is the original link to my article on Popsugar.com. Thanks Nancy for all of your invested time. It turned out great!!!

http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/What-Bell-Palsy-42807604

As the singer, I often griped at my bandmates for being too loud. But on this particular day five years ago, the volume was deafening, downright painful. “I’m in physical pain!” I hollered. “It’s too loud!” My bandmates looked confused; they stared at me as I fell to the floor in a state of panic. “I think I’m having a stroke,” I shouted. “Someone call 911.” I felt like I didn’t have any function on the right side of my face. Something was off.

I ran to the bathroom to get a look at my face. It appeared normal, but I could feel a difference. Then, my mind rewound back to when I was a teenager and my friend Brian got an odd disorder called Bell’s palsy. 

My  band members in 2011

My late husband, Justin, loved to tease me and deemed me a hypochondriac. But who could blame me? Since the age of 5, I’ve encountered a string of bad luck, and I’ve learned to prepare for the worst. I have broken my left arm twice, been in numerous car wrecks, almost burned my childhood home down when I was a teen, gotten run over by a car while on foot, had a diseased gallbladder forcing me to have emergency surgery, been hospitalized while eight months pregnant with fetus-threatening food poisoning, and, most horrifically, recently lost my husband to unthinkable circumstances.

“What if I have that thing Brian had when his face was paralyzed?” I said. “Bell’s palsy.” Justin chuckled at me: “Are you serious?” I could hear the other guys whispering and realized I wasn’t convincing anyone. While I don’t recommend using Google as a way to self-diagnose (especially for a hypochondriac like me), on that day it actually gave me some answers, and I knew that I needed a professional opinion, so off to the clinic I rushed. 

When the doctor entered the room, he looked at me like I was nuts and assured me that it couldn’t possibly be Bell’s palsy. Then he tested me anyway and discovered that my suspicions were correct all along. Yet, he still couldn’t tell me what had caused it or how long it would last. All he could tell me was it was going to get worse before it got better and most people fully recover in a month or so. I walked out of the clinic that day with nothing but a diagnosis, a prescription for steroids, and a referral to see an ENT specialist. I was freaked out, depressed, and even pissed off. What frightened me the most was the uncertainty: I wanted an exact timeline, a detailed explanation, and a treatment method. But unfortunately for Bell’s palsy diagnoses, this is not reality. 

Bell’s palsy can occur at any age and causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. According to the Mayo Clinic, Bell’s palsy “makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.” Doctors don’t know the exact cause, but it’s thought to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls one side of your facial muscles. It might also be a reaction after a viral infection.

For most people, Bell’s palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. Some symptoms of Bell’s palsy may include:

  • Total paralysis on one side of your face
  • Facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions, such as closing your eye or smiling
  • Drooling
  • Increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side (hence my aversion to my bandmates)
  • A decrease in your ability to taste
  • Changes in the amount of tears and saliva you produce

 

Christmas 2011. Still a few signs of facial paralysis

Having half of your face paralyzed would be a major blow to anyone’s self-esteem, especially a young woman. As a professional singer, I was devastated. Every weekend, my job was to stand on stage and sing in front of strangers. It required that I be the center of attention, but now I wanted to hide. I convinced myself that people would point and stare, causing me to chicken out and cancel all of my gigs for a month. In hindsight this seems superficial, but at the time it was what I felt I needed to do.

Bell’s palsy affected my daily routine in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I am an avid coffee drinker, but while I had Bell’s palsy, I gave it up. My reason for doing so? The first degree burns I received on day three while brainlessly attempting to take a sip. Remember leaving the dentist after having a cavity filled? That’s what it’s like while consuming liquids with Bell’s palsy. Any slurping, sucking, or sipping abilities for the time being are long gone. You may as well forget straws were ever invented.

All food tasted pretty gross, and even chewing it was a dilemma. I discovered this one day when a piece of bread I was attempting to chew ended up in my husband’s beer. Also, the drooling side effect is no joke. I always carried a rag or handkerchief to blot my mouth. I recall petting my dog, Axl, one day only to realize he was soaked with my saliva — payback for all the times he drooled on me?

I also gave up wearing any and all makeup. I saw no point in accentuating a droopy lip and one considerably larger eye. Plus, any mascara would have just ended up all over my cheeks from the excessive watering I caused by constantly rubbing my eye in an attempt to close it. 

In the end, the absolute worst “functioning” side effect had to be my loss of eye movement. My right eye would not close on its own, which presented a major problem. Not only did it look creepy as hell when I attempted to close my eye — my eyeball rolled back in my head — but it made it utterly impossible to fall asleep. After watching a few YouTube tutorials, I took advice from others and opted to tape my eye shut at night. This was incredibly uncomfortable and required that I wake up multiple times a night to readjust, basically ripping my eyelashes off in the process. I was never so thankful for fake eyelashes!

In the end, I managed to recover fully in about 60 days, with my worst symptoms lasting around three weeks. Most recent reports show 5 to 9 percent of Bell’s palsy patients report a recurrence with an average timespan of 10 years in between. I learned that for every bad situation you endure, you’re never alone. With the internet, you can find tons of people with comparable circumstances, and it’s beneficial to rely on one another when necessary. Reading blogs and watching YouTube videos helped me the most. It was why I decided to document my own experience, in an attempt to help someone in my situation down the line.

Check out my youtube video documenting my experience with Bell’s palsy.

 

I also applauded my husband (Justin Ayers was an amazing man!) for effortlessly putting up with a nightmare of a woman and never once complaining about it. After it was all said and done, I had gained a new perspective in life, I was actually thankful. My disfigurement only lasted 60 days, and I know I’m lucky; people who suffer from strokes often endure permanent damage and endless challenges. But most of all, I learned that life will always be unpredictable, with a mix of good and bad. The good is what we think what we want in life, but it actually teaches us nothing. It’s the hard times that we can learn from and that allow us to become the best or worst version of ourselves.

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The Day the Music Died

This latest blog entry has also been recently published by POPSUGAR, a popular online media forum. You can find the official link here:

http://www.popsugar.com/moms/Coping-Grief-After-Husband-Death-42193197

 

There I sat, my 3-day-old infant in my arms, trembling in fear as chaos and horror played out in my living room. Muffled by my bedroom door were sirens, chattering voices, and screams that will forever haunt my dreams. Frozen and in a state of shock, all I could see in my mind was the lifeless face of the only man I ever intended to love, his lips white and his body lying on the floor in an unnatural state. “I couldn’t feel a pulse, but he has to be alive,” I told myself. A police officer slowly opened my door and disturbingly made his way to my bed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the willing arms of family members reaching out for my infant son. As the words “He’s deceased” came out of the officer’s mouth, all went black.Websized (59)

A stray bullet is how the news reported the story, but we will never know the whole truth. The bullet that killed Justin went against pure logic and had a statistical probability of one in infinity. In a drunken stupor, my backyard neighbor fired his 9mm semi-automatic handgun. The bullet managed to travel through his screen door (dodging dozens of trees) over 200 feet to our home. It crashed through our glass door and blinds, continued across our living room, and finally stopped when it hit Justin in the head at the very second he jumped up from our sofa.

It’s been two years since that tragic day, and at 33 years old, I see myself a much sadder but wiser girl. Going through something so horrific and life-altering not only changes the way you see the world, it transforms it. Grief is a very personal thing, and while I would never claim to be an expert on coping, I do know firsthand how to live with it. I like to compare it to a scar. More specifically, an internal scar on your heart and in your mind that follows you everywhere. A dark cloud that hovers over everything good and beautiful for the rest of your life. For one to truly understand the full gravity of the situation, you have to know the story as a whole, not just the ending. Therefore, I must jump back 19 years.

17151_343319827570_747901_nI was barely a teen, a 14-year-old girl in the eighth grade, when I first met and fell in love with Justin Ayers. He could play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix and crack a joke like Jerry Seinfeld. He was a smart, talented, adorable, funny, passionate boy, and I took notice. As I think back on our love story, a specific song lyric comes to mind: “Each night I ask the stars up above, Why must I be a teenager in love?” I would sob, “Why can’t we just get married today?” My friends and family (with the exception of my mom) would chuckle at the idea, dismissing us as just kids who would grow up and realize it’s just the hormones. But I never once doubted. In 2003 (one year after I graduated high school) we finally tied the knot.

287220_10150352076777403_517877402_8146827_1769927128_oOver the next 10 years, Justin and I made our own rules in life. We had several goals we wanted to pursue, so we decided to wait to start a family, knowing we needed time to grow up. We formed multiple bands, traveled for leisure and work, and wrote and recorded an album together. It was definitely outside the norm, but it was our norm, and we savored it. Then one morning, I woke up and suddenly felt different. I wanted a baby! And Justin agreed. We’d been married for 10 years, and we both knew we were ready to become parents. We got busy between the sheets and in September 2013, I became pregnant with our son, Jax.  

IMG_0110On June 14, 2014, I remember looking at my infant son and realizing, “I finally understand!” His hair was thick and silky, his lips were bright red, and his eyes were captivating. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, bringing a child into this world has to be one the most incredible feelings a woman can experience in life. A few minor birthing complications cost us an extra day in the hospital, but on the third evening, we were released and went home to be a family.  

We tend to refer to the next day as “the day the music died.” I had a 3-day-old baby and now a dead husband. I was a brand-new mother and now a widow at only 31 years old. I never had a chance to tell Justin goodbye or tell him how much I loved him. I like to think he already knew.

We buried Justin on a Saturday, exactly one week after Jax was born. The day after his funeral, the crowds were starting to disperse, and my support system was dwindling down to a much smaller group. It seems incomprehensible to try to portray the level of darkness I slipped into. A darkness that is so scary, I wasn’t “allowed” to be left alone for one second. NOT even to take a shower.IMG_0109

“Jess, you okay in there?” my friend Casey hollered as she banged on the bathroom door, “Jax is crying and needs to eat. Do we need to break the door down?” Time seemed frozen as I realized it had been two hours since I’d snuck away to the bathroom, granting my first chance to be alone since losing Justin. I took it as my only opportunity to bask in my own misery. The light from the hall shone brightly under the door as I lay in a pool of tears staring at everyone’s feet pacing back and forth. With the chill of the bathroom tile on my cheek being my only comfort from the pain, I decided in that moment that I was ready to completely give up. I wanted to die.    

I could hear multiple voices in the hall way all pleading for me to open the door. But in the distance I could hear a tiny voice that resonated in my heart. It was Jax, he was hungry, and I knew I was his source for food. “We are sending someone to the store for formula,” my mom said to me. That was the defining moment when I had to make a choice, life or death. I realized that even though the life I’d worked so hard for was gone, I could try and start a new one. My son needed me to survive, and I needed him. It took me over 10 minutes to actually stand to my feet, but once I did, I felt a little hopeful. Life is a series of choices, and this choice to live started with my decision to get up off the bathroom floor and feed my infant son.

IMG_1501Over the next year, I was like a chameleon. I became so many different versions of myself that I didn’t know who I was anymore. Was I Justin’s wife or his widow? Was I a stay-at-home mom who used to be a musician or would I sing again? Would I ever have the opportunity to have another child? I had always wanted three. The endless questions and constant wonder consumed me from the inside out. For close to 10 months I disappeared from any social scene, social media, or social circle that didn’t include a few select people. I was hiding from the world and wasting away to nothing, a shell of my former self. Then it happened again. I looked at my now 10-month-old baby and felt ashamed. That hungry infant, once crying for mommy’s milk, was now starting to talk, walk, and think. Looking at my gorgeous baby boy I once again realized that it was time for me to make another choice between life or death!

Looking back on the last two years of my life, I realize how many choices and decisions I had to make to arrive where I’m at today. I needed to find “me” again and that required throwing myself back into my biggest passion, which had ironically become my biggest fear: music. My love for performing and music was something I shared with Justin, and it was now something I was forced to explore on my own. By sheer circumstance, I reconnected with a former bandmate and was presented with the opportunity to fill in on a few gigs. With much hesitation, I accepted. Declining the opportunity and turning my back on what I used to love would have been the much safer bet. But, I knew it would mean I would end up spending the rest of my life running away from the pain and the joy it would bring.

IMG_3389The rollercoaster of emotions I go through during a Fortag show are endless. However, I choose to face them every night because in the end, the good outweighs the bad. I maintain the idea though that the happiness I experience day to day is by my own choosing. Every single day I wake up like everyone else and I’m faced with a choice. Some days I hate life and choose to be sad, angry, hurt, scared, resentful, and lonely. Other days I feel blessed and choose to be happy, optimistic, thankful, forgiving, and compassionate. Each day is a new decision, and with each decision brings a new outcome. I can only hope I’m making the right choices for my future, especially for Jax’s.

IMG_3746When I close my eyes at night, I like to tell myself three things. I will be eternally grateful for you, my mommy! I will forever worship you, my Justin! And I will always love you, my Jax!

Some of the greatest quotes in life come to us in the form of song lyrics. So, I will leave you with these words:

“Life’s a journey, not a destination. And I just can’t tell, just what tomorrow brings.”

Aerosmith

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New Beginnings

IMG_3671Plenty of new things happening in my life these days, and I’d love to catch everyone up! I’m currently in Anchorage, AK with my band Fortag performing at Koots (Chilkoot Charlie’s) for a month. Jax is here now and I’m loving every second. I see strangers constantly scratching their heads in amazement (he’s very high energy), and cracking up at his incredible sense of humor. Sense of humor you say? Yes, my 2-year-old is one of the funniest people I know and his father is to thank for that.

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My love of performing has always been my biggest passion in life, but my love for writing has taken me by surprise. Back in March, when I was also in Alaska, I met a sweet little firecracker named Nancy. I wrote a profile on Nancy for my journalism class that I posted on my extras page (in case you missed it, check it out). To make a long story short, Nancy is the VP and executive editor for Popsugar and has offered me an opportunity to write for them. I happily accepted and my first article is currently in the editing process. IMG_3712I was asked to write a very difficult essay on “My Story” that took me close to three months to work through. It will be featured on the Popsugar website and they are giving me permission to post it on my blog as well. I plan to continue to write my blog and write for Popsugar, but I’ve also started the process of writing a book. I never wanted a life that could be turned into a book or movie, but you can’t choose your path in life, it chooses you. Sharing personal details of when I lost Justin takes away a piece of my soul and I can only hope it will help others going through similar circumstances.

 

IMG_3693When Justin died, I was so far removed from the world that I couldn’t fully appreciate the outpouring of love and support from my local community and beyond. Looking back on it now, I’m amazed at how much people wanted to help Jax and I. Money was raised through multiple fundraisers and I opened hundreds of cards filled with cash, checks, and gift cards. I think it might have taken me months to actually go back and read them all. I was blessed to have so many people wanting to help Jax and I, but, not everyone gets that kind of support. On my Facebook page and website, I’ve received many private messages from women who lost their husbands and are in need of support. Everyday a young mother loses the father to her child/children and is left with not only a broken heart but a busted bank account and hungry mouths to feed. I always knew I wanted to start a charity in memory of Justin, but not until recently did I know what I wanted it to be. Jax2016(23)I’m excited to announce that I have decided to turn The Singing Widow into a foundation for young widowed mothers. My hope is to start with one a year and work my way up, it all starts with one. I will be heading up a fundraiser to kickstart it that will feature multiple bands (myself included). If you would like to get involved. then please reach out. I will need bunches of help and bunches of talent.

 

I will be working on all of this while traveling the country with my band Fortag and raising my adorable 2-year-old. Come check us out when we are in your area, you can go to Fortagband.com for our full schedule. Thanks again to everyone who is still thinking of us and please know it means the world.the singing widow blog logo

Can you believe it?

I went for a run the other day and started making a mental list of all the things I wish I could tell you. It’s been two years since I lost you, and at times I still feel stuck in between worlds. The world I shared with you was very different than the world I now share with Jax. He’s starting to really blossom and I constantly wonder what life COULD have been like.

So, I’m writing this letter to you and for others, hoping it will help get me through the two-year anniversary of your death, the worst day of my life.

Many things have occurred since you passed and I’m constantly thinking, “I wish I could tell Justin that,” or “How could this have happened and Justin isn’t here to experience it?”

I’ll start off with something not so obvious.

IMG_3496One of your lifelong dreams has come to pass and YOU didn’t live to see it. Something we constantly wished for, prayed for, hoped for, but NEVER thought would happen has happened. In fact, if I told you I had tickets to see Guns N Roses in concert, you would probably faint. That’s right, they are back together. And even though it’s minus Izzy and Steven, it’s close enough. Can you believe it?

IMG_3492Your son is completely obsessed with pigs. Don’t ask me why or where it came from but he loves pink pigs. He got to pet one at his birthday party because we had a petting zoo. He walked around patting all the animals on the butt and then pulled a feather out of a duck. I’m pretty sure he gets this behavior from you, not me! LOL! Can you believe it?

I haven’t written a single song since you passed, but I do sing in a band with Ricky and Cody again(Fortag). We went to Alaska for three weeks and we are going back in July. Yeah, it’s IMG_3165that same place I was looking into booking us four years ago. You would love it there! Previous bands who performed at Koots put their stickers all over the stage area and two seconds before I started singing my first song I looked up and saw a Radio Daze sticker, front and center. How odd is it that! They were the first professional band you ever played with and their sticker was in eye’s view the entire time. I stared at it every night by the way. It made me feel like you were with me in some odd way. Can you believe it?

IMG_3265Your son looks like both of us. He has beautiful long locks that I’ve only cut twice and he does get called a girl all the time(That ALWAYS pissed you off). I put it in a man-bun a lot to keep the hair out of his eyes. I always loved it when you’d wear your hair in a bun. Remember when I had to help you straighten your hair and you’d fuss when I’d accidentally pull it? Well Jax fusses everytime I mess with his. Hmmmm, sound familiar?

13417481_1331338253547375_7606222705987077296_nYour amazing cousin Shelby and awesome aunt Lori are two of my “special people”. We kept in touch and stayed connected after that horrible day and they both came to Key West to watch me sing. Can you believe it?

IMG_3497Jax is so in love with your mother, I know how happy that would make you. She goes by Grammy and he lights up like a Christmas tree when she’s around. But THAT wouldn’t surprise you!!!

There are quite a few celebrities who have passed away since you. The ones that would bother you are: Robin Williams, Scott Weiland, Prince, David Bowie (AKA The Goblin King), B.B King, Wes Craven, Joan Rivers, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Can you believe it?

I like whiskey now and Dexter is coming back, can you believe it?

My brother got married to Becca!!!! He seems so happy and they live in Tampa. Can you believe it?

Your son took off in Target today. I was in the dressing room with him, trying on a bathing suit when he quickly rolled under the door and grabbed his birthday pig I had under the buggy.IMG_3172 I wasn’t wearing anything but a bathing suit bottom so I ran out toppless, realized it, then grabbed my skirt and threw on a shirt as I chased him down the aisle. I’m sure someone had to get it on camera somewhere. So, there might be a video of me on Youtube chasing Jax half naked as he runs away barefooted in Target holding a stuffed pig. Can you believe it?

 

I could go on for days, but, for now, I love you, miss you, and you are constantly on my mind.

 

With Love,

Jess  

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A Mother’s Heart

I’ve always been a Daddy’s girl at heart. When I was sixteen, I purchased a cheesy “Daddy’s Girl” license plate to go on the front of my red Mustang. Before Justin, my dad was the apple of my eye and he has since IMG_3248reclaimed that title in many ways. I’ve mentioned my dad quite a few times in my blog entries. Written of his selfless acts and what an amazing male figure he’s been in mine and Jax’s life. However, the person I mention quite often only in passing, tends to hideout on the sidelines.

 

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Mother Daughter trip to Key West Circa 1998

She’s been a beacon of hope in the darkest times and the best gal pal in the world. She’s traveled countless miles to keep Jax for me while I performed and even sacrificed three weeks in Alaska. She’s washed my clothes, bought my groceries, rubbed my feet, and fed my dog. She even ditched her husband to sleep in bed with me (for over six months) after Justin passed. She’s one of the most selfless individuals and doesn’t even realize it. Who could this mystery woman be? Mom, who else!!!!  

 

A lot of us have great moms in this world, but I’m ready to argue that I have the greatest!! I can promise that no matter how outstanding you say your mother is, mine is more worthy!! Okay, I’ll take that back! I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure a lot of you feel this way about your moms. So why don’t I just let this entry be for all of the wonderful/selfless moms out there. They are the ones who sacrifice for us without thinking twice. This one’s for you!!

 

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Being crowned Homecoming Queen

My mother has always been a beauty. She was Homecoming Queen, Prom Queen, Key Club Sweetheart, and snagged just about any crown up for grabs. But by no means is any of this what makes her so special! I grew up with her accomplishments following me from the time I knew what the word “pretty” meant. My mom was freaking Marcia Brady from The Brady Bunch, and I felt inferior. As time went on, I soon realized why she won so many coveted titles and crowns. Sure, she was a tan, leggy blonde with a killer smile (who could pick a guitar and sing) but there was something else about her that ultimately set her apart from the rest. Her soul!

 

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Accompanied me to NYC for an acting/singing workshop and competition in 2001

While going through adolescence, I remember feeling a great amount of hatred for my mother. At that age, I’m quite sure this is the norm! She forced me to go to church instead of letting me go to the movies with my friends. She made me tone down my makeup and put on more clothes. She wouldn’t let me ride in the car with my older boyfriend, Justin.  She even grounded me during the MTV Spring Break extravaganza for lying to her about skipping class. WHAT A WRETCHED WINCH!!! At least, that’s what I thought at the time. Little did I know, she was just being a “good” mother. In fact, these strict guidelines helped mold me into the person I am today. If it wasn’t for her forcing me to attend church, then I would not have met Justin. I’m pretty sure he was handpicked by mom and he was always the one thing she knew she had steered me right on. “I never have to worry about you with him,” she’d say. “He’s one of the good ones.” And BOY was she right! Thanks Mom!!!

 

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Gamma, Me, and Momma

Being a mom myself, I now think of my own mom in a much different light. Cleaning Jax’s poop out of the tub, chasing him around all day, and rocking him for two plus hours are all in a day’s work. And even though it’s a hard day’s work, it still makes the grade of success! So what if he has smashed Cheerios in his hair and has snot seeping from his nose? He’s alive, fed, clean, and even smiling!

 

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Mom, Gamma, and Aunt Jo Beth

All moms have the most important job in the world and I hope to be as good at it as my mom. My mother is without a doubt the kindest person I know and would literally give her right arm to a stranger. So just imagine what she would do for her nearest and dearest. That’s pretty much what she did for over 12 months of mine and Jax’s life after we lost Justin. I didn’t have to think of anything I needed or wanted because she already had it covered. A woman of MANY MANY words had never spoken so few. I can remember the moment she rushed into my room after Justin was gone. The look of desperation on her face said it all to me. I knew from the second my mother jolted into my room that life would never be the same. My mom was looking at her little girl in the absolute worst pain of her life and there was nothing she could do to make it better.

 

Today I still can’t imagine going through life after Justin without her and I know that I am a better person with her by my side. We are a team and she makes challenges and obstacles in my life a little easier to manage. Websized (18)She gave me strength when I had none left, love when I thought it was gone, and hope for what I needed to see in my future. To call someone purely selfless is usually a false statement but I have to give it up for Sandy Hinson. Never once do I ever think she has taken a moment of her day and not thought about “other’s” needs over her’s. For that, I am proud to say she is my best friend, worst enemy, sister, mother, and idol that I will aspire to be like as long as I live.

Love you mommy!!!!

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