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…
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…
By Dannielle Gallagher
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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 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).
By Jen Pastiloff
I don’t blog often here on the site anymore but I wanted to share about my last Italy retreat. I so rarely stop and write things down and for that I beat myself up. I regret that I didn’t do it because I forget details so quickly. But do we? Do I? Don’t they stay in us somewhere? All the things, all the people? All the forgottens? My son is clawing at my feet and I am trying to type this quickly in my terrible nogoodineverlearnedtotype typing fashion. He is trying to grab my coffee cup. He wants to push the keyboard. He wants my boobs. (How does anyone ever get a thing done with a toddler?)
Jet lag has been rough. I have been to so many places and dealt with far greater time differences but this go-round was particulary rough. Charlie couldn’t adjust so our whole house (the 3 of us) were backwards for a few days. I feel like I am just coming out of a fog and I am missing Italy and the people who came something awful. Continue Reading…
By Vincent J. Fitzgerald
Parenthood was the furthest thing on my mind when you were thrust upon me, but I undertook the charge, and its grown-up responsibilities, because part of me desired to be a grown up. You were fragile, vulnerable, and needed me close. Fatherhood was the first time in my life someone needed me to survive, and although often confounded by its tasks, I adapted, and was saved from reckless games my peers played. I never looked back, fixed my eyes on you, and hoped your future bright.
Divorce darkened that future for a while, but I remained a steady presence during the death of our family. Infidelity and deception devastated you, and although you had grown some, you still needed my shoulder to provide your tears a place to land. The whole affair rocked you at peak suggestibility, and although my wounds were also deep, I ignored them to ensure I tended to yours.
You had been hospitalized for a million days during which I prayed for your return. The moment you felt the victory of verdure, we imploded, and I feared you would return to where people never smiled, and medicine was measured by voltage. It was more worry than could fit in me, but mine was a malleable mind, and it expanded to the point of burst synapse. Continue Reading…
By Sarah Dwyer
I didn’t want to exist today. It’s not that I wanted to hurt myself or remove myself from the Earth forever. I just didn’t want to exist—just for today.
I got up to get ready for work, took a shower, and forced myself to blow dry my hair while tears dripped down my red, blotchy, scrunched up face and tightness pulled across my chest. I had this infuriating desire to do a handstand into a somersault—or to burst every inch of bone, muscle, and organ out of my skin. I didn’t just want my insides to escape my body, I wanted to be the one to initiate the explosion, to be in control of the process–to push the button. 3, 2, 1…be free.
At that moment, I was (and I still am) physically incapable of both doing a handstand into a somersault and exploding, so, naked and sobbing, I climbed back into my bed, pulled my tangled sheets up to cover myself haphazardly, and lay there on my back with the sun shining brightly through the shade and curtain in my window. Continue Reading…
By Carmen Calatayud
When my son died
a thousand miles away
I made my arms a cradle.
~Kelle Groom, from the poem “Marguerite”
In the dream, it’s wintertime and I hate winter. I’m scared of the cold in the dream as well as in real life because my body can never get warm enough.
There is a hill with a naked tree, its limbs shivering. There is snow and wind and a dead grey sky, as though winter will never end. I’m not sure I can survive if there’s no escape from the cold.
Then a voice: I know this is the winter of your discontent. I have not forsaken you.
I wake up sobbing and realize I was weeping in my dream. I’m weeping into my pillow even though there’s bright desert sunlight streaming into this bedroom in Tucson. This voice, a mixture of Shakespeare and Jesus, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a dream. I’m convinced it was the voice of some deity or higher power that hasn’t forgotten me. With a broken voice, choppy from the sobs, I tell my boyfriend about the dream.
This dream comes one week before I learn the reason I’ve been feeling so sick for the past 2 ½ months, much more than usual. I’m pregnant.
When I was the moon, I wasn’t whole. Just a blue half-circle drifting through the sky. After I sloughed off pieces of myself I became a quarter moon, a sliver of light that gingerly rocks back and forth like a porch swing.
This is what I remember after the abortion—just a sliver of me being left, and a sliver of a child being sucked out of my uterus with a vacuum that hurt more than I could have imagined. It hurt so badly that I asked the doctor to stop. He couldn’t. I got dizzy from the sharpness of the puncture and suction.
My son was sucked out of me and spit into the sky. I couldn’t imagine where else he could go, so I saw his pieces in the Sonoran Desert darkness.
Each small star was a spark of my boy, glitter above me every night.
I go to the doctor because I feel sick, more than I usually do from what is chronic fatigue syndrome. Since the doctor is concerned about an ovarian cyst, she does a sonogram. I look at the screen as she drags the gel-covered wand back and forth across my skin, until a black and white picture appears.
“Are you sure?” I’m stunned and feel my cheeks burn from the shame that I’m pregnant and didn’t know it. I’ve been nauseous for weeks, and had missed my period, but my period was already erratic. I thought it was the flu.
It’s a few days before the 12-week cut off for legal abortions, so the doctor reminds me that I have to decide quickly.
“I’ll support you whatever you decide,” she reassures me, her voice steady, warm. Then she pauses and I hold my breath.
“But you need to know that this is going to be a difficult pregnancy.”
I imagine what it would be like to hold my son. What he would look like, how he would sound. An August-born boy. I consider who his father is: a father of two young children who need and deserve attention, a heavy drinker, cocaine user and gambler who insists he is my soul mate. All of these addictions wash through my insides and create a pool that never drains. My body is heavy with this water, swollen and scared.
Little boy, if circumstances were different, I might have had you. I might have weathered being sick for nine months straight. But I didn’t believe I could survive what my life had become and hold you above it.
I sit outside the apartment door on a warm winter night in the desert. The stars are out. I see pieces of you float freely and sparkle in this universal life of yours.
You race across the Milky Way while my life stands still on Earth.
I’m stale and pale white, afraid of your father, an empty future, and the shrinking amount of change in my jar.
Poet and writer Carmen Calatayud is the daughter of immigrants: a Spanish father and Irish mother. Her book In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and a finalist for the Andrés Montoya Book Prize. Recently her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Origins and Cutthroat. The Boy with No Name is an excerpt from her memoir. Visit carmencalatayud.com.
By Joyce Hayden
No, I wasn’t poor. I didn’t have five children. I wasn’t disabled in any way.
I was college educated. Privileged, white, middle-class. Had parents and siblings who loved me.
Friends who cared. I had a job and a checking account. I had a car, or at least access to one.
It’s difficult to recount how love became control in such a short time. Or how long it took for me to see it. And then accept. And then take action.
I’m not sure any of the reasons make sense of it. But, it matters, because:
- Though I often doubted it on wind-lashed winter nights, I was never the only one. We are countless. We are too often the silent countless.
- Too many of us continue to remain stuck, unable to put the first first down. To stop the ride.
Kevin was my partner on Magical Mystery Rides in our shiny orange Karmann Ghia on dirt roads through New Hampshire and Vermont. He was smart. He was funny. He was street wise. He was handsome. He was an artist, a writer, a wood carver. Using sharp metal tools and sandpaper, he could smooth the bones of a leaf fairy’s ankle skin soft in thick basswood. That’s right: he didn’t carve stout orcs and wart covered trolls or guns and muscle cars. He carved leaf fairies and forest gnomes. And I was in LOVELOVELOVE!
It’s true he was my gatekeeper. My tormentor. My abuser.
He accounted for every second of my time and every cent I made.
It would be impossible to count the days and months that added up to years of living in real or expectant fear.
As a result, sometimes the rebel in me needed to yell and I would start something. Purposely press his buttons, even though it would have been so much easier to walk away. Like the time I gave a co-worker a ride to the restaurant, and after our shift, she finished first, she went to the nearby bar, the bar Kevin had forbade me to enter, and I had to go fetch her for her ride home. Would it have been just as easy to say No, when he asked if I’d gone to the bar? Of course. But some nights I was tired of so many rules, so many seemingly ridiculous demands. Rules made from possession and jealousy. So instead, I stood my ground. In my purple mini skirt, my bare legs, left hand on my hip, I threw my long blonde hair back and said “Yes. Yes, I did go in. I had a beer. Then I got Shari and we left. What’s the big fuckin’ deal?” Well, I should have known not to turn my back and walk away. I had carpet scrapes on my knees and elbows, cauliflower shaped bruises on my chest for weeks after that.
But the main reason I didn’t shake a fist and run, grab the keys and speed away, was this:
He was the first human being I ever told that I’d been molested as a kid. He said exactly what I needed to hear, and feared I never would. It was Christmas time, two months after we met. We’d just bought a tree together at Faneuil Hall one snowy night, threw it in his pick up, and half drunk, pulled and pushed it up the three flights of stairs in my Brookline apartment building. When it was standing up right in the red metal base, and a couple strings of colored lights adorned the branches, Kevin motioned me to his lap, and although I can’t recall what prompted me to say so, because we’d already been having sex, but I confessed that I’d been molested. I didn’t dump the full trilogy on him. I just told him about one time when I was 12, lying on the gurney, alone with Dr. Palmer in the examining room on Hinsdale Drive. I don’t know why, but I needed Kevin to know. To know then, two months in, not in two years or 20. And Kevin, seeing me turn red in the telling, probably feeling my body stiffen, contract, pulled me closer and said something to the effect of, “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t change anything.” And for a sparkling moment, I too thought, “Right. It doesn’t matter.” But it did. It did for years. It made me feel wrong, feel guilty. As if I’d lured the doctor, as if I’d seduced him, though that word was not part of my vocabulary back then. But Kevin’s consolation helped ease my mind. Helped me put the PTSD on the back burner for awhile. That might seem insignificant, but for me, who had held the secret for years, Kevin’s response was a tremendous gift. I was accepted, not blamed, as I had anticipated.
Perhaps one incident of molestation wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have misshapen me so poorly. But when they are spliced all together, from the babysitter’s foster child, to the family doctor, and the uncle, the years of fear, of hide and seek and trying to stay as invisible as possible, the ages 5 to 12, then it’s clear why that girl only felt safe in shadows. She was home alone at the house on Dixon Drive while the rest of the family went to Uncle Bob’s every weekend. She wiggled her way out with babysitting jobs she lied about having. Alone from Friday night til Sunday afternoon, keeping herself awake with Sgt Pepper and The Animals, until the sun came up, then sleeping til noon.
By the time she found a man who loved her, despite the sexual abuse, by the time she found a man she felt she could have consensual sex with, she, me, I, was 25 years old. He loved me. He accepted my flaws. My past. My body of what I then believed to be “damaged goods”. He wanted me. And that made me feel safer than I’d ever felt in my life. Ever. Why would I leave that? How would I ever find that again?
When things got tough, after words and name calling thrust through the air like swords, after wine bottles missed my head and smashed to pieces on the floor, I had one focus: To get us back to those early days. The magical mystery days. The sitting on his lap, loving me despite days. We had it all once. I was convinced we could have it again. That was my goal. If I just did xxx; if I would stop doing zzz. If, if, if, I could get us back there. Kevin gave me everything I’d never had. What I interpreted as complete passion and devotion. No judgment. He knew about me and he wanted me with him. He never used my past against me. Not once. Not the way my own mind used it against myself.
That is why I stayed for another five years after the first time he hit me. I never thought I’d find that initial approval and tenderness. Someone like me doesn’t throw love and acceptance away very easily. Not when it took 25 years to find in the first place. Not when I was convinced and repeatedly told I’d never find it again. Not when the man I loved would stop for birds that lay wounded at the side of the road, take them home, try to nurse them back to health. He did this even though the birds, despite his eye drops of water, despite him staying up with them all night, despite the worms and bugs, would inevitably die.
When Kevin brought me into his world, it was fun. It was the three of us together. Kevin, me and our black lab Crystal. It felt like a fairy tale. I don’t care what it looked like from the outside; from the inner circle of us three, it was playful, it was adventurous, it was loving, it was camaraderie, it was thick as thieves joy. And that’s it. When it comes down to it, that’s why.
We finished each other’s sentences. We knew each other from the inside out. We knew each other’s deepest secrets. One night I was driving home from my waitress job at Daniels in Henniker, NH. It was early November. I was driving slow. Really slow. My grandfather had just passed away, and on top of that, our favorite dishwasher, a kid who studied at the local college, had been killed a few hours earlier in a car wreck on black ice. So I was driving 30 mph in a 55, on a sharp curve near Lake Todd, when a car came flying around the bend, tires squealing, and he wasn’t slowing down. And he was in my lane…about to hit me head on. What they say is true: I saw my life flash before my eyes. I thought I was dead. I thought I was going through the back windshield. I thought I was a nano-second away from becoming star dust. But I turned my steering wheel to the right, quickly and sharply, and my car stalled in the ditch. Mr. 100 Miles Per Hour kept going, fast as hell in the wrong lane.
I was shaken when I arrived home. Legs like mush as I climbed the long flight of stairs to our house. The second I opened the door, Kevin bolted over to me. I shrank back. He grabbed my biceps and shook me. “Where’ve you been? Where’ve you been??” I couldn’t speak; I was still in shock from the close call and confusion of Kevin’s fear disguised as anger.
“Ten minutes ago,” Kevin said, “I felt in my entire body that you were in mortal danger. I felt your heart stop. I called the restaurant and you’d left. But you should have already been home.” We lay down together on the couch. There’d been many nights I’d come home to him yelling at me for being so late. I was used to that. It was normal everyday life. But this night I knew we were connected in a way I’d never experienced with another soul. I had nearly died. He had felt it. He knew it. How does one turn her back on that kind of love? There were more days like that than there were filled with fists.
When I love someone, I see their potential. I’m too often blinded by it. I know the goodness in them. I couldn’t leave until I saw that potential fade. Until I’d watched him throw all his chances and potential out the window. I couldn’t leave until I realized in my bones, not just understood in my mind, that nothing I’d ever done was enough to make him hit me. I couldn’t leave until my love had turned to pity, my respect to disgust. No one but me could carry me to that moment. No one could tell me it was time to go and expect me to act. People tried. They told me I deserved better. People saw who he was. They saw who I was. But I couldn’t leave until I could see it: see who he was; see who I really was. I stayed until I realized he was never going to change. I stayed until I realized that I wanted and deserved something better. I stayed until I believed that the next time he really might kill me. I stayed until I finally believed I had the right to open the gate, put the key in the ignition, and go.
Former English Professor, Joyce Hayden, recently left her job to complete her memoir The Out of Body Girl. An artist and writer, Joyce’s work can be found on her website: joycehayden.com