Archives

Guest Posts, sisters

Rebuilding

June 6, 2018
sister

By Bernadette Martonik

From the couch in her office, I can hear my younger sister, Michelle, talking to my mother, their voices muffled by one wall and the earplugs I am wearing.

“Berny was on drugs today,” Michelle says.

I scowl into the darkness. Nearly eleven pm and I have only slept a handful of hours in the last few nights, and for the record, I ingested no drugs or alcohol that day.

But there was plenty of drinking before today, plenty of group crying and my own overflowing emotions, simultaneously sharp as a pin prick and nebulous as a dream, the way I’ve learned life becomes when you are smacked in the face with unexpected death.

My sister has lived in California for nearly six years and despite the fact that I’ve been invited, I’ve never visited before. The rest of my family has left Los Angeles for their respective homes in the Pacific Northwest, and my mother and I are the last two left. We aren’t ready to leave Michelle alone after losing her partner just two weeks earlier. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

The Last Hurrah

May 7, 2018
moms

By Amy Connor

I was about 8 years old when I realized my mom wasn’t quite like all the other moms. Most other moms didn’t speak of their wish to commit suicide to their kids. Most other moms didn’t threaten to drive the car off the bridge on the way home from school when they’d had a bad day. Most other moms didn’t spend a week in bed with the curtains drawn.

My mother suffered from severe clinical depression that left her consumed by emotional anguish. She felt that life had dealt her a raw deal (and maybe it had) and she expressed her resentment of her circumstances by lashing out. When my mother felt wronged in some way, which was regularly, no one and nothing was off limits. Her objective was to hurt her target by whatever means necessary, all the while convinced that she was the true victim. This often resulted in unwanted drama at otherwise joyous family events (graduations! weddings! births!) and the innocent, notably my sister and me, were collateral damage. Making other people feel bad when she was in such pain leveled the playing field and made her feel better. Quite simply, confrontation gave her a buzz. It was her comfort zone and an area where she excelled.

My mother’s verbal outbursts were only slightly upstaged by her love of angry letter writing. When she felt she had received poor customer service, she would sit down and dash off a letter with the hopes of getting someone fired. Her angry letters were a source of humor for me and my teenage friends and would always begin by proclaiming that “[Insert company name here] is the loser!” in bold type. She’d insist that we proof multiple letter drafts and only when she was satisfied that the missive would present the maximum level of discomfort for the recipient would it be mailed. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Boys of Winter & Prairie Things

April 25, 2018

By Shannon Haywood

I was sitting in Dairy Queen on Saturday, grabbing a quick bite before heading to my friend’s husband’s memorial service, when I was suddenly, and without any control at all, overcome with tears. I sat there for a few moments, trying to stop the flow, and kept my head down, in order to hide my face from those at tables surrounding mine.

People that were with their children, no doubt fueling up prior to spending a Saturday running errands, taking the kids to indoor leisure centers or movies or even the pool. Endless possibilities and even more activities that every Canadian family has spent Saturdays doing.

Maybe even headed to play hockey. Continue Reading…

Activism, Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

“17”- A Poem Plus an excerpt from “Good Cop, Bad Daughter” by Karen Lynch

March 14, 2018

By Karen Lynch. 

17

When you were born, I nestled you in my arms and nursed you on demand to help build your immune system and keep you safe from disease.
933 breast feedings

When you were 18 months old, I cut your grapes in half to keep you safe from choking.
3,406 grapes sliced

When you were 2, I bought you the bicycle helmet ranked highest by Parenting Magazine.
5,327 miles peddled

When you were five, six, seven, I let you watch only PBS kids to keep you innocent of the violence in the world as long as possible.
1,273 episodes Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood watched.

When you were 12, I let you ride your bike across town and prayed for your safety as I waited for your call.
17 petitions offered up to the universe.

When you were sick and no one knew why, I took you to a faraway clinic and found a doctor to heal you.
522 miles driven, 4 doctors seen, 18 bottles supplements purchased.

When you were 16, I found the best driving instructor in the county. I told you to call me for a ride anytime, no questions asked.
2 speeding tickets, 1 fender bender, 0 calls for pickup.

When you left for school today, I gave you an organic Fuji apple with your whole wheat almond butter sandwich. I reminded you to eat fruit and veggies in college next year.
2,367 Fuji apples washed and sliced.
1 Valentine slipped into your backpack.

When the deputy called this afternoon, I was selecting your senior picture.
17 dead. 15 wounded. 152 shots fired.

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Wintertime

January 31, 2018
grief

By Demetra Szatkowski

I took acid the day before my brother’s accident.

I rarely tell anyone about it. My first and only acid trip that went horribly wrong. I saw souls and was outside of my body and I thought for sure I was going to die. We went to a light show at the zoo and I cried the whole time.

My friends kept insisting I listen to music so that I would relax. I thought it was a conspiracy against me, but it was true: the music made me see pictures that calmed me down.

I fell asleep that way, headphones in, music blasting in my ears.

The next day I woke up and the world felt different. Tangible. Sensational. I wandered through that day in a half daze, wondering what I was going to do now, that the whole world had changed.

And then I got the call that Damon might be dead. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings, On Being Human

Poopy Pants aka New Years Resolutions!

January 1, 2018

Hi, hi. A #realmotherfuckinglife post for New Years! That’s my hashtag. My jam, if you will. I am committed to sharing my real motherfucking life with you, and well, if you don’t like it, that’s ok. (Check it out on instagram if you want more but beware, that shit is real. There’s not much hashtag soblessed on there. It’s mostly talking about boring day to day stuff and depression and life with toddler and grey hair and small things that bring me joy like peanut butter cups and Dyptiqye candles, which I cannot afford.)  There’s a ton of pretty shiny perfect fake things out there and I wouldn’t judge you for liking them because sometimes we all need some of that. Right? I used to love looking through the trashy magazines when I worked at The Newsroom for one million years. It was a restaurant with a news theme and a news stand and I took so many magazines from there that I should be in prison. I mean, I worked there for almost 14 years and I would take US Weekly and People home all the time, so. You do the math. I would always want to bring them back but a) by the time I brought them back, the new issue would be out and b) I usually read them on the toilet so they were all waterlogged and gross and c) I never brought any back so I should stop lying. Anyway, sometimes we need to check out and look at “perfect” things so we can wallow in our own suckery. (Please stop doing this. Please stop wallowing in your own suckery. You don’t suck and there is no such thing as perfect so stop being an asshole. I will too.)  Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Relationships

Tub Stories: Sex Ed

November 13, 2017
tub

By Dru Rafkin

I stared at her soaking in the tub.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I lied to my mother’s face without looking at it. “I just feel really cranky and sad.”

I sat on the edge of the toilet in her tiny bathroom, my knees fist distance from the edge of the tub. I wanted so badly for her to be soft with me, to comfort and advise me. I was 18 and had just lost my virginity the night before to my 23 year old boyfriend, Tom.

Tom worked at the corner gas station near our old apartment. My father was disappointed in my choice of a motorcycle-riding-gas-station-attendant boyfriend; my mom really liked him. Tom was charismatic, kind and protective. After a year of making out I knew he’d waited long enough.

I craved the closeness and warmth of kissing him, being near him and holding his hand, but our frequent make out sessions had always left me feeling dirty, used up and violated; I thought I loved him but felt no connection from my body to his. I wanted to want to have sex but, really, it only seemed like the next necessary step to having a real relationship. When he lay on top of me, kneading my breasts with his rough hands and kissing my neck I felt like a mountain that was being climbed – my body provided the route of handholds to get him to the top.  Afterwards he would climb down, elated and spent. I’d feel remorseful and sick to my stomach, wishing I could set the clock back an hour each time I gave him access to my parts. I had hoped that having sex would provide the missing link to my feeling connected to him and to myself, but now I only felt more alone, vulnerable, disconnected and ashamed. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, The Aleksander Fund

To My Sweet Baby Girl, After Her Death.

October 31, 2017

 

By Dannielle Gallagher

CW: This post discusses infant death. To learn more about The Aleksander Fund or to donate please click here.

To my Sweet Baby Girl, Poppy:

The minute I discovered I was pregnant I knew you were girl, just like I knew we would be the best of friends – that is after you outgrew some of that fire you inherited from your Daddy. I knew I loved you more than I ever thought possible, all before you were the size of a pea. I knew that you would grow to be brave and strong and determined. I knew that you would grow to also “know” things in that same deep down way that I sometimes do. I felt that about us, that we belonged to each other, right from the very start.

 

What I didn’t know, was as you grew inside my belly (and my heart) you were sick. You see as you were growing, your tiny heart didn’t form quite right. There was a little valve inside it that wouldn’t close, so as you grew from a tiny seed into our beautiful little Poppy, your heart became too large to fit into your chest, it expanded to squash the organs that would make it possible for you to ever take a breath. Your official diagnosis took up most of a page, it started with your heart, compounded with a series of devastating complications, and ended with three serious looking specialists in an ultrasound room, telling us that your condition was “not compatible with life.” Those words will haunt me, always. The moment I learned that I wouldn’t get to watch you grow into the extraordinary woman I dreamed of, was excruciating. It was also only just the beginning of my heartache. Your diagnosis also came with a recommendation of medical termination.

I won’t say I didn’t have a choice, because I did, but ultimately every option I was presented with still ended in your death. So I picked the option that sucked the least, the one that I thought I could best live with. I made the decision to love you enough to let you go in peace, surrounded by those who love you most in this world. It wasn’t a choice I wanted to make, but I made it, because sometimes being a Mother means doing what is best for your child, even though it breaks your heart to do it. I want you to know that If I could have chosen to have you live a healthy and full life, I would have given everything to give you that. Its devastating to know that even with all of the medical miracles we have in this day and age, there wasn’t a miracle big enough to save you.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, On Being Human

Wait, it’s over? Already? Or: F*ck Scarcity

October 27, 2017

By Jen Pastiloff

I’m on the plane. I have Game of Thrones on in front of me, paused on Jaime Lannister looking at the sea, mid-sentence, and the back of Cersei’s head, post-haircut. If you have not seen it or don’t watch it, I don’t know what to tell you.

 

I have seen this episode before. I caved about six weeks ago and started watching (7 years in, I know, I know) and I didn’t stop until I was up to date. You should’ve seen me in London, hiding under the covers, trying to download season 6 damn it, or in Tuscany telling my retreat peeps I was “going off for a nap.” Lies! All lies! I was watching GOT. So yea, I have seen this one. Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone. I was sitting in front of the fake fireplace at my rented apartment in Putney when I first saw it. (I will now imagine moments of my life according to where I was when I saw each episode.)

And here on the plane there are no subtitles so thankfully I have seen this one or I would be pissed because they all sound like they are underwater, with faint English accents, but underwater. Why doesn’t everything have subtitles always? What kind of crock of shit is this? I demand a do-over! Give me better ears or give me subtitles! All. The Time.

 

I said I was going to start writing more. Taking down notes and details and memories and moments but I didn’t. I am on the plane after ten days away. I first went to New York (wrote about that, see last blog) where I met with my agent to celebrate my book getting sold. I took her and one of my childhood best friends to see Tiny Beautiful Things at the Public Theatre and I sobbed my face off. Which is weird because I really don’t cry because: meds. But there I was, crying like a baby. Along with the rest of the (packed) audience. I tried to look at my Adriann, my agent, but she was all nope, not making eye contact, because she too was weepy af.

I needed a witness. Oh my God, can you believe this? Look how snotty I am. It’s like when you witness great art or something so moving, a perfect sunset- I don’t know- something, where you need someone else to remind you that you aren’t making it up or that the beauty won’t kill you or that you aren’t crazy for thinking it is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING ON FUCKING PLANET EARTH.

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

To Mom with Dementia

October 22, 2017
dementia

By Caroline Leavitt

You are alive but not alive. You, who used to try to know every single detail about me as if it were your own, don’t know who I am anymore. “Who?” you say. I try to get you to remember something, anything we can hang our relationship on. A song about a turkey sitting on a limb that you used to sing to me, but you don’t remember. “What turkey?” you say. “What song?” I ask about your boyfriend Walter. “Who?” you say.

“Tell me something,” I say desperately. You do. You tell me that you are going to take a streetcar and go home, that you have gone to a restaurant and gotten lunch for yourself, chicken and pie, that you are going to see your sister Teddy. I know streetcar is an old term and anyway, you never leave your room. I know that Teddy, your sister, has been dead for years.

You can’t hear me on the phone anymore. “What?” you say. And then, “Who is this?” The last time I came to visit you told me to leave after half an hour because my presence agitated you. I cried in the car and Jeff, my husband, took us out to dinner.

Oh, Mom.

The only way I can tell you what I need to is through writing now, to imagine how you might respond, how we might work our relationship out.

First, I want to talk to you about all the things you did for me because I want you to know, again and again, how I appreciated it, how I knew you did things that some other moms might not have. I want to talk about how when I was in second grade and I failed a test where all the questions were about Jesus and Mary, and you marched up to the principal and demanded they retract the F I received because I was Jewish and who gives a Jewish child a test about Christianity? You demanded an apology, too, which I got from my teacher, though after that, she never quite liked me again. I want to mention how in junior high when I was denied entrance into the National Junior Honor society, because I was Jewish, you went to the school board and fought for me, and even though they refused to give in, I felt your fierce love. We went shopping and then to eat and then to the movies and then for hot fudge sundaes and we laughed. Oh, how we laughed! I want to remember with you, how when my fiance died, you flew up from Boston at three in the morning. You sprawled on the bed with me and held me while I cried. There was the time, too, when I was critically ill, and you came to stay with us for over two months to help us.

You loved me. I know that. Maybe too much, because you didn’t like when I went off on my own. You didn’t approve of my choices. You hated that I moved to New York City. You despised my wild hair and how I dressed. (“You like that?” you’d say, your eyes gliding up and down my body.) You hated my boyfriends, except for my first husband. “If I were fifteen years younger, I’d take him away from you,” you told me, which stung. You were proud that I was a writer, yet you walked into the bookstore for my reading loudly announcing that no one would show up. Once, when I got a bad review, you went into a bookstore with that review in your hand and asked them if they would stock my book despite this terrible, terrible write-up.

It wasn’t until I was an adult with a husband and a son that I really got to know who you were, and I came to understand you, to feel a deep well of compassion. You were one of 8 kids, the runt of the litter. You grew up with a mother who didn’t really like you or try to understand you, who preferred your shining twin brother. You had buckteeth that your parents wouldn’t fix (You, at twenty, found a kind dentist who let you pay a little every month.). Your fiancé ditched you and you carried a torch for him forever, and you married my father on the rebound, a nasty brute who would punish you with silence, sometimes for weeks. It was the 1950s and you couldn’t divorce, not with two little girls. When I was seventeen, when I decided I couldn’t stand another silent vacation with you and my dad, I ran away from our cottage, and before I did, you shouted at my dad that if I didn’t come back, you would divorce him. He found me, hitching at the side of the road, and because he was crying, something I had never seen before, I came back. As soon as I came into the cottage, I saw your face, how you were packing. I saw you were disappointed, that I had ruined your chance at escape.

I wanted you to change. I begged you. But it wasn’t me who changed you. It was my dad dying. Your life opened up. You traveled! You seemed happy. You and my sister were close as sardines, which made you so, so happy, but I had my own life, and I know that hurt you because you told me so. I was so happy when you fell in love at 90! So happy that you had four years of bliss with Walter, and that when he fell and died, you already started dementia and never knew your one true love was gone, that even today, you are sure you still see him.  You made me realize there is always another chance.

Except for us.

I can’t yell at you for being so cruel sometimes and get you to understand. I can’t thank you for being so loving and make you feel good. We can’t come to any understanding about anything.  Not now.

I write about you. You were Bea in my first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, the woman whose fiancé jilts her. You were Ava in Is This Tomorrow, the Jewish woman in a Christian neighborhood who fights back. And most wonderfully, you were Iris, in Cruel Beautiful World, the woman who falls in love in old age. You never recognized yourself in any of my novels, even after I told you. “That’s not me!” you said.

I know, at least some part of me knows that even if you didn’t have dementia, you probably would not hear this. You’d tell me what you always did, that I am selfish. That I am too independent for my own good, that we’ve always had this problem with me. That you were a much better mother than I ever was a daughter. And as always, I’d be silenced by you. I would know if I said one thing in my defense, you would shut me down again.

But I watch you vanishing. From me. From my sister. From yourself. I feel the tears and the rage boiling inside of me.  I remember when my dad died, I slept beside you and you woke in the night, holding me, crying, “I want him back!” even though you hated him.

Sometimes I hated you. I can admit that. But mostly I loved you. I really really loved you.

And I want you back.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times Bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow, and Cruel Beautiful World, as well as 8 other novels. She hopes there is a cure for dementia because love is fair and dementia is not.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

 

 

Guest Posts

Persister.

October 19, 2017

Hi, it’s Jen Pastiloff here. I never blog on the site anymore but here I am in New York, breasts engorged because I am without Charlie (cry cry cry), hanging with my friend’s adopted toothless dog, Benji and I thought, I feel like sharing my story so, pour yourself a cuppa and settle in. Or pour yourself a glassa. I won’t judge. I have a headache because I drank too much wine last night at Cafe Cluny in the West Village but it was worth it. I had a 5 hour flight without Charlie and it needed celebrating. I can’t tell you how joyous it is to fly without him. I miss him so bad that it hurts (and it hurts my boobs) but I do not miss flying with him, not for one stinking second, no sirree Bob as my dad, his namesake, would say.

I truly think mom and I should have a reality show. We are literally the worst travelers in the world together. I am embarrassed for us 99.9% of the time. We would make a great show. We would have so many haters who would think we were annoying but we would have some ride or die fans that would just laugh at our mishaps and foibles and squabbling and people would take to Twitter and ask how in the hell do they have their own show? And it would be like a train wreck you couldn’t look away from- so it would stay on the air, just because it was so bad. After the HELL journey (truly you guys, I’m not a good enough writer to EVER describe the terribleness from Rome to NYC with a sixteen month old) and after we decided to stay in Queens at the Fairfield Inn and delay getting home just so we could NOT GO CRAZY AND SO CHARLIE WOULD NOT MAKE AN ENTIRE PLANE GO CRAZY… when we landed in LA, this happened. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, The Body, Young Voices

To the Moon and Back

October 9, 2017

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Hannah Guay

The day I decided to get a tattoo was rather spontaneous. The idea, of course, wasn’t. I had planned on getting one for almost two years before I finally went through with it. Some of you might be thinking, “Who let her do this, doesn’t someone have to sign for you?”

The answer is yes. My dad did.

Most parents might not do that, but after losing my mom, the decision was easy. I just needed a little help from my sister. Sunday morning I woke up around 10:30am and texted her. She called Freak Show Tattoo and made an appointment for 6pm. The rest of my day consisted of getting ready and sitting around impatiently until 6 o’clock. As soon as it seemed an appropriate time to leave, my dad and I piled into the car. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, death, Guest Posts

Bugs

September 6, 2017
bugs

By Katie Guinn

I work at home, alone, with lots of bugs.

As lively as these insects are, various sizes and luster, many frighten me. I admire them. But mostly they remind me of death. But that’s because most things remind me of the inevitable ending. No one knows exactly when, but “if” doesn’t exist when it comes to death. I love my life so hard that death would be such a buzz-kill if it robbed me at an early age. Or if it took my precious daughter. Or my husband, or his daughter, and from there, well, this is just a sampling of how my wicked brain works against me.

Does death taste like kerosene? Like the sharp, bitter flavor of ants that crawl around my computer desk, dancing gleefully around the rim of my boring water glass? The very ants that if absent from the peony plants, their blossoms would not emerge.

Sitting at this desk I often hear shrill screams echoing from the school one block over. The school my daughter attends. The screams shock me into visuals of terror, of guns, of attacks, of my daughter falling victim with other unlucky children to a madman’s unattended rage.

“It’s happened to other children. It could happen to us,” I tell my therapist.

“Yes, but it isn’t happening to you right now,” she says.

They’re only playful excited screams, I have to remind myself. Children still know how to shriek with absolute elation when released from their studies, the endless direction to be quiet, to stand in line and not talk, touch, or move. To sit at their desks and shut up. These screams signify their freedom. It’s OK.

Is this what death sounds like? The same as ultrapure happiness?

The ants keep me company at my computer desk. Not that I invite them. In fact I’m constantly trying to kill them.

I’m a driven career woman, tackling many facets of creative work. The corner desk handmade by my lover, stained deep red, solid wood, this is where I attend to my various computer tasks.

It sits so perfectly in front of the window, so when I stop for a second to think about things, I can peer out on to the street. I see my neighbors coming and going. My role as “head of neighborhood watch” is just an excuse to spy on them without seeming creepy. Often I see houseless humans pushing carts, scoping for cans and bottles left alone in driveways. Some appear to be on the edge of death themselves, holes in their shoes exposing black rotting toes, 5 months of dirt piled on their winter coats, skin so weathered it’s sunken in and wrinkled well beyond their years. Some of them twitch and gnaw at their toothless jaws, gums deteriorated by white poison. We housed one of these humans once.

I often see fellow parents hurrying off after collecting their children from the school we share, paying no mind to ones who live and play on this block, as their cars race down our wide side-street. This triggers visions of my child being run-over as she mistakenly goes in the street without looking.

The ants play death with me as they find their way into my bra, biting my tits for escape. Their only solace is to escape breathing as I smash them furiously and call them mother-fuckers for biting my beautiful fleshy orbs of life. I’ve tasted the bitter death of more than 10 of these tiny soldiers as I blindly put the rim of the glass to my mouth and drink naively. It doesn’t take much to smash their tiny bodies between the tongue and bumpy roof of the mouth.

What happens when you go hunting for scraps of bacon in my house, little ant? Death. It’s waiting for you everywhere here.

These same ants give life to the precious peonies in my yard. They will not bloom if the ants refuse to slowly pull them apart, allowing them to live.

Does death smell like musty basements? Times a million? My grandparents’ dirt-walled  cellar seemed close. My basement is semi-finished and hosts my sewing studio. This is where the real big gnarly siders dwell, along with the centipedes who are furiously faster and eat the spiders.

On a gloomy, rainy day, I was sitting at my machine stitching away and listening to an interview with my first favorite woman author, Monica Drake, when I saw it, It ran so fast up on to my machine that I screamed loud and jumped. That centipede was the swiftest runner I’d ever seen and it was barreling straight toward me! It slid across the fabric barely missing my hand and flew at me as I jumped up and back. It was as if it had been an arrow released from a bow aimed at my body.  It landed at my feet and I fumbled, heart thumping, I chased it trying to squash it, but it found a hidey hole and stayed there. Its long flat brown body carried into hiding by its 28 feathery legs.  I was done sewing for the day.

The week before that when I got up to take a lunch break from my sewing, I felt a light tug on my head and a tickle. I looked in the adjacent mirror to find a spider had woven an entire web from the ceiling beams to my hair and I didn’t even notice as I sat there for a half an hour.  I screamed and maniacally tore at my hair as I rushed my head to the bathtub faucet. These stealthy little assholes can crawl in your ear at night and nest, they can find your mouth and tunnel down your throat to squat inside your body. They can bite you as you roll over on them or hunt for your neck, looking for a bloody snack. The amount of days I’ve woken with a swollen neck and face, a pussy wound, itchy and bruised from God knows what is more than I can count. Every time I truly believe I’m going to die.

Spiders are beautiful creatures, yet freakishly ugly, maternal yet ruthless, scared yet brave. I love garden orb spiders because they stay outside and live off the bugs that eat my beloved plants. I cannot technically claim to have a “spirit animal” because I’m a Scandinavian white girl from north Portland, but I am deeply connected to garden orb spiders. They can carefully dismantle and re-build a web in one day, acting as nature’s artists. They collect the nasty afids and mosquitos that eat us and our roses. Their markings are like a piece of delicate art. I love to admire them as they sit so gracefully on their prized homes. They protect their eggs as furiously as a black bear, willing to splay their vulnerable, smashable bodies over their unborn babies. I too, would do anything to protect my daughter from death or pain.

I had a year of panic attacks that created a cycle of living on the edge of death. Or so it felt.

It all starts here. I’m in the car, my husband is driving. We’re taking our kid to her grandparents’ house so we can go to his company picnic. A tight sharp pain grabs my chest and holds tight for a few seconds and stops my breath. I’m having a heart attack is what I tell myself. No you’re not, you’re fine I say. No, it could have been a small one. No, if it was you’d be passed out or dead or whatever. My heart is pounding so hard, so fast, and my body starts to constrict. I cannot escape my body, it’s all I want and the last thing I want.

I pace the premises once we get to the parents’ and I decide I need to go to the ER to ascertain I did not have a heart attack and that I won’t.

Since this incident I imagine the worst things happening while in the car. Like my body awakened this panic beast that won’t settle with chest grabs. We fly off the Banfield Loop ramp, straight in to the murky Willamette below. Intersections are where cars run red lights and blast straight into our car, forcing us to crash all around and die. A delivery truck loses control and lurks over the yellow line on a highway destroying us on impact, head on. The east wind shoves over a semi just as we pass on I-84 crushing the metal roof, then us. I once was T-boned by a bicyclist on Burnside. She pedaled past the stop sign and straight into my ‘65 Galaxie, toppled over the roof and fell off the back. So of course every bike that comes out of nowhere takes a few beats off my heart and sends it to straight to my barbed-wire stomach. I’ve always had an over-active imagination, but these visions, these moving pictures that play in my mind’s eye while I’m driving have escalated, they ensue panic so deep I often have to pull over.

In the several months following the original panic war, I had 6 more of these episodes with 3 full weeks of constant panic. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The looming cloud that hung around me, inside me and through my body controlled my every second of being. I had pains that convinced me I was about to die, and the stress was so hard on my body that it agreed I was to die, and therefore more pains arose. The cyclical manipulation of that bully called anxiety is infuriating. The power of panic. Like your body acting as its own worst enemy, no escape. Heightened awareness, yet lost conversations and interactions; the complete inability to perform basic tasks like unloading the dishwasher or reading to your child before bed.

Is this what the ants experience as they risk seeking crumbs for their Queen in my breasts, on the counter, in my water. Do they have a split-second of panic right before my lips squish their tiny bodies and release that bitter taste of their being? Do centipedes go through their entire lives panicked and running? Are their legs a vehicle to save their over-active bug brains? Do spiders’ hearts beat quicker and louder when a predator appears near their spawn? Do we live on a mile wide ant hill, that’s slowly deteriorating from their cave trails, and one day we’ll just sink down and be eaten by the ants? That would be a hilarious reversal of fate, and I’d deserve it. They do all that work to unleash lacy pink petals of the peony and I make sure to eradicate every one before I bring the stems in the house.

I was convinced for that year that I was going to die and my child would grow up without a mother. I was convinced that my husband was going to die on his way to work or on his way home so I made him tell me when he arrived at work and when he left. I was convinced that my daughter was going to be run over in the street, shot by a mad kid who had access to a gun or kidnapped from the playground. These fears ruled my every breath, my every step and every tear. This is the worst way to live in fact, morning and night being afraid of death while simultaneously killing small helpless creatures. Being afraid that this wonderful happiness will be taken away because I don’t deserve it is a dangerous way to exist. My fear of sudden or too-soon death bullied my life for a couple of years until I started painting again. Getting that nasty shit out of my body through the process of art saved me. I started writing poetry and dancing again.

I still have these thoughts on a daily basis and some bugs still make me believe they’re out to kill me. I feel genuinely guilty for killing each one that harasses me, but sometimes I can’t sleep otherwise. I take the less swift spiders outside. I still have visions of horrific events occurring. Planes overhead will never stop that rise in my chest and wide-eyed fear. Being in a car will always give me visions of what could happen. But for now that bully that tries to ruin my life by teasing me with death every god damn second can fuck off. I’m fine now. I’m living now and so is my family. “I see you.” I say, “but you can’t have me today.” I have too much love to give, too many clouds and forests to admire, too much art to make, too many flowers to attend to and too many ants to kill.

 

Katie is an artist, mother of blood and non-blood children, designer and writer, wifey, flower gardener, art teacher and lover of the beautiful, of the female brainwaves and form. She’s spent time as a contributing freelance writer for the Portland Mercury. She’s part of the corporeal writing tribe, which has changed her artist self significantly, bringing about work that’s been hiding in her lungs, liver and heart for years. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, daughter and cat.

An excerpt from this essay first appeared in Nailed Magazine in June, 2017. This is her first published personal piece.

Katie is a fourth generation North Portlander, and Columbia Gorge wanderer.

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Grief, Guest Posts

The Sacred Silence of Visiting the Dying

August 23, 2017
hospice

By Larry Patten

Before meeting my new patient, I admired her Ford Mustang. The snazzy red convertible was parked on the street, by her brother’s driveway.

The license plate frame declared: Fly Away!

While unsure if it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message represented a solid clue. I knew she was a forty-something flight attendant.

This was years ago when I worked as a hospice chaplain and spent considerable time driving to see my patients. Most of them resided in their home or with a family member. I probably visited the red Mustang’s owner on a half-dozen occasions. From our first awkward handshake to the final moments beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship deepened. She learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer wrecked her body. Even at my last visit, her short gray-blonde hair was stylish. Her make-up, aided by her sister-in-law, was impeccable.

The red Mustang’s owner never spoke a word to me.

The cancer, seemingly everywhere by the end, had started in her throat. Long before entering hospice, she’d lost the ability to speak.

***

Nowadays, I spend hours at a different hospice on the phone. According to my lengthy title, I’m a Bereavement Support Specialist, involved in what other staff and volunteers in other hospices do: contacting family and friends after a loved one’s death. Part of a hospice’s mandated requirement is to support the grieving.

I make a bunch of calls every week.

When someone answers, I try to gauge how she or he is doing and make sure they know about our additional resources for grief support. On the phone, long minutes pass with me only muttering, “I see” or “Really.” I want them to know I’m paying attention, but don’t want to interrupt their stories, questions, or worries. Most calls are brief. A few of the hundreds of calls made every month cause me to feel that what I shared, or how I listened, helped someone find a smidgen of hope in their day.

Long ago, my parents said I had “the gift of gab.” By background I am a pastor and spent years preaching, striving to capture people’s attention for at least a portion of a twenty-minute sermon. In the churches I served, there was also endless phoning: cajoling folks to serve on committees, work with the youth, or teach Sunday school. So many phone calls, so many opportunities!

Though no longer preaching, I’m still talking.

I press the numbers on a phone and reach out to another wounded, fragile person. After asking if this is a good time for a chat, I fulfill the Medicare guidelines to comfort the grieving.

***

The red Mustang’s owner never said a word.

Our first encounter was awkward with a capital A. I was a stranger, the guy from hospice. I babbled. I struggled to find questions that allowed her to shake her head “No” or nod a “Yes.” Her doting brother, who’d convinced her to move in with his family when the disease made living alone impossible, hovered in the background. He didn’t want some fool of a chaplain to upset her. This was his little sister and only sibling. Her dying would crush him.

With each visit, I babbled less and posed easier questions.

We prayed.

We held hands.

We made lots of eye contact. There were stretches of silence. Initially, it felt uncomfortable. Eventually, the silence felt sacred.

She had a million dollar smile. She forgave my mistakes and fumbling questions. She never saw my tears . . . though after leaving, passing by her red convertible as it gathered more dust every week, I would weep.

She died less than two months after our first visit. Her brother buried her ashes in a cemetery with a view of the Pacific. “She loved the ocean more than flying,” he once said to me.

***

Professionally, I understand the value of words. Even a simple Uh-huh contains the power to gently remind a person that I am still listening to her or him.

But I also know silence’s power: touch, eye contact, shared smiles.

Some dread spending time with a loved one who is dying or grieving because they don’t know what to say. So I say, say nothing.

Enter the room. Enter into their day and let them know by a caress, a nod, a grin, or a tear, that you are there.

And so are they.

Larry Patten is a writer, a United Methodist minister and currently serves as a Bereavement Support Specialist at a hospice in Fresno, California. Larry has participated in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and is published locally in The Fresno Bee) as well as in national magazines like Spirituality and Health and The Christian Century. He can be found online at www.larrypatten.com (musings about faith) and www.hospice-matters.com (thoughts on dying, death, and grief).

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