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Abuse, Guest Posts

Closet Shots

April 20, 2018
closet

By Adele Zane

Your father just shoved you into his bedroom closet and slammed the door, entombing you. You tell yourself to get a grip, but your ears still pound and your hands still clench. You pant through your nose, purse your lips, squeeze your eyes shut, and grit your teeth. You do all of this so your head won’t explode like a watermelon rifled against a wall. So what, you tell yourself, this is nothing. Why not view it as a refreshing alternative to his usual forms of discipline? This one beats a harried chase through the house till he corners you in the dining room where you drop to the floor and curl up like a pill bug.

His fancy eel skin belt, the buckle flying, raining down on your back and thighs. In fact, when you think back through the fifteen long years of your life, as far as his punishments go, this shut-in-the-closet one is easy. It hasn’t involved belts, wooden spoons, or yanking of hair. So get ahold of yourself, calm down, and above all, do not cry. He hates that. He says it’s manipulative and that he’s way too smart to fall for what he calls crocodile tears. Whatever that means.

It’s Saturday afternoon and time for his nap. No one in your family will want to wake him once he falls asleep. Even as a toddler you knew not to go near him when he slept, but if you had to, to wake him for a phone call or because it was dinnertime, it was safest to stand at the foot of his bed, and say, Daddy, Daddy, several times with increasing loudness. If that didn’t work, then you would touch his big toe lightly, recoiling fast so he couldn’t clobber you when he came up from his dreams, arms swinging at imaginary assailants.

You realize you could be in here for hours. The door doesn’t have a lock; you could open it if you wanted to, but you won’t and neither will anyone else. Now that you’ve calmed down, you better find some way to entertain yourself. You slowly turn around and move your arms like you’re doing the wave at a football game until you find the pull chain to the overhead light. You wonder if turning it on is against the rules of his new made-up-on-the-spot punishment. You decide to chance it and pull the chain, real slow so it doesn’t make a clicking sound. The bare 40-watt bulb illuminates two identically tailored pinstripe suits, one brown and one navy, from Roos/Atkins, his favorite store, and lots of work pants and shirts from Penney’s and Sears.

On the floor are his polished black dress boots and his dusty work boots—the ones he whistles for you to come and remove from his feet when he gets home from work. You quell the urge to kick his stupid shoes and yank his dumb clothes from their hangers because you know your father can go from charming to ballistic in less than a second without discernible provocation. This would be too discernable an act of provocation. You could go through his pockets—maybe there’s something interesting in them—but he’d know you looked, for he’s all-knowing or so he tells you and you can’t take that risk even though you doubt he would really know. You dare yourself to look in his jacket pockets anyway. Nothing much—a silver lighter, a toothpick, and a couple of pennies.

What is interesting is what’s lined up against the wall to your left, almost as tall as you are. Careful not to touch, you use your index finger to count them. There are a total of nine zippered cases of soft beige suede, each holding either a rifle or a shotgun. You don’t know what makes a rifle a rifle or a shotgun a shotgun. Is there a difference? You’d never realized he had this many, but then again, you’ve never hung out in his closet either. To your right are shelves he built. On the shelves are boxes and boxes of bullets and a pair of sheathed hunting knives. He’s got enough firepower to kill every deer, duck, and quail in the state of California, and maybe Nevada too. At least that’s what it looks like. He’s even got handguns nestled in boxes. You read their labels: .44 Mag, .357 Mag, and something called a 1911. Why the heck does he need all these? To sneak up on an unsuspecting pheasant? You think it’s extreme overkill to own so many guns and smile to yourself at your wittiness.

You hear the thwack, thwack of a tennis ball being hit back and forth. Your father, now lounging on his bed atop a faux fur bedspread the unnatural color of a teddy bear, smug in the knowledge that his oldest daughter is confined ten feet away, has resumed watching the Wimbledon finals, a match between Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. You hear him fire up a Camel no-filter. His chain smoking makes your family and your house smell like you all roll around in dirty ashtrays.

But back to the guns. He didn’t put you in here so you could peruse his gun collection, choose your favorite one.

For a moment you flirt with the fantasy of hurting yourself, but it seems too obvious a move given the situation. Too bad you didn’t pay more attention when he first showed you how to load his BB gun, then how to aim and shoot at the paper target he’d taped to a stepladder in the basement. A good starter gun he’d called it. You’d bawled and made it clear that unlike him, you weren’t interested in weapons or hunting or killing animals. Besides, your eyesight is so bad you didn’t even come close to hitting the target itself let alone the bullseye.

To kill time, you imagine the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle, if you successfully loaded a gun, and managed to fatally shoot yourself in the closet’s three-by-six-foot space. Poor Misunderstood Girl Shoots Self Dead in Father’s Closet. Now you’re feeling sorry for yourself. How about Trapped Teenage Girl Shoots Self Because of Idiot Dad and Stupid Family. Your attempts at amusing yourself wear thin, and you collapse down to sit cross-legged on the cherry red shag carpet to wait him out. You cover your face with your hands.

You’re lulled into sleepiness by the sound of the television audience’s polite applause and the announcer’s soothing voice as he loudly whispers Love, Fifteen. Your dad’s rooting for Connors. You think Connors is a hotheaded jerk and hope he loses to the black guy Ashe. If your father knew you were dozing during your punishment, it would anger him even more. You don’t want to do that because he can be inventive. Besides his trusty belt, he has a dog whip for special-occasion infractions. It stings like hell and leaves the nastiest welts, worse than the belt buckle. He’s careful to hit you above your knees so the marks aren’t visible below your skirts, but his thoughtfulness doesn’t keep you safe at school. It’s against the rules to take your gym clothes into a bathroom stall to change, but you do it anyway. You don’t have a choice, you have to; you know instinctively that if anyone were to see your body, it would be too difficult and embarrassing to explain.

You imagine standing in front of your dresser and contorting your body in the mirror so you can count the multicolored welts that adorn your butt and thighs, fingering them gently, monitoring them day to day as they change from angry red to mellow yellowish purple. Proof of his unfairness or your uselessness. You’ve dozed off but wake up fast when you hear your mother’s voice. Maybe she’s come to remind your father you’re still in the closet.

“Manuel. Wake up. Ashe won, but Wide World of Sports is about to start or maybe there’s some soccer on. Want me to get you some Sanka?”

You’re happy Connors lost. Then you hear the jingle of the keys that hang from your father’s belt. A sound that elicits fear in your family because it tells you he’s coming but doesn’t telegraph what mood he’ll be in when he gets to you. The closet door opens before you can jump up to pull the chain and turn off the light. You pray he doesn’t notice.

“Had enough?”

He looks down at you on the floor. You look up, squinting against the daytime brightness. You pull yourself to a standing position using the ammo shelves as leverage. Your legs don’t quite cooperate. You remember to drop your eyes to the carpet because looking directly at him is considered a challenge to his authority. Yes, I’ve had enough, you tell him, because that’s what he wants to hear.

“Good, I hope you learned your lesson,” he says.

“Can I get back to my algebra homework, Daddy, please?” you remembered to say please.

He flicks at a speck of cigarette ash on the ratty terrycloth robe he wears over his work pants.

“Say sorry to your brother then go make me some Sanka. Not too hot, and don’t fill it too full either.”

“Yeah, say you’re sorry.”

You raise your eyes at the sound of your seven-year-old brother’s voice. Across the bedroom, he stands next to your mother and little sister, his arms folded across his chest like an angry genie-child denying wishes. You grit your teeth and take a deep breath through your nose, careful to keep your face blank. He is the worst brother anyone could ever have in your opinion, but you don’t want to sit in a gun-filled closet for the rest of your life so you apologize to him.

“I don’t believe you,” he says, tapping his foot for emphasis.

“That’s enough Mark,” your mother says, “she’s been in the closet for hours.”

You blink your eyes slowly and force your mouth into what you hope passes as an apologetic smile and try again.

“Really Mark, I’m sorry,” you say, “sorry I yelled at you. I just got to study.”

Your brother looks at your father, then back at you and states, “I can come in your room anytime I want.”

You admonish yourself to stay calm. Yes, your father shut you in the closet because you yelled at your do-no-wrong brother, interrupting an important tennis match, as well as your homework; however, this closet punishment trip wasn’t so bad, you handled it.

“Sure, anytime you want, Mark.”

He smirks with triumph.

You remind yourself that in three years you’ll graduate high school, you smile for real at the thought and head to the kitchen to try to make your father the perfect cup of Sanka.

Singer and songwriter Adele Zane was born in Brazil, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with the fine artist Richard Rosenblatt and their rescued terrier, Wally. She has taken memoir writing classes at both FreeBird Writing Workshop and Gotham Writers Workshop.

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death, Guest Posts, healing

Dance of the Not Dead

April 18, 2018
funerals

By Elizabeth Fournier

As long as I can remember, I was always dancing around the house. Mom and I were fans of Donny & Marie, so I always got up and danced when they came on TV. My mother would be lying on the couch because she was always sick, but my dancing would make her smile. I danced my heart out for her.

One time, I shook, shook, shook my booty and Mom’s smile disappeared for a moment.

“Good girls don’t do that,” she warned.

What! It seemed so natural to move my butt when I was dancing. Why not? I tried not to do that move any more, but it was hard.

My formal dance training in tap, jazz, and ballet started at age four. Dance class was super fun because I had a natural talent for it. When the music started, most of the girls hung back, uncertain. Not me; I pushed to the front, eager to perform. Having practiced all week, I could execute every move with confidence. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

You Can’t Quit Motherhood: On Privilege, Motherhood, and Effort

April 16, 2018
effort

By Laura Leffler

In bed one winter morning, when I was so pregnant with the twins that I spent hours each day icing my fat feet, propped high on pillows, I floated around personality traits as if they were names. I think the girl should be creative, I told my fiancé. She’ll carry a sketchbook wherever she goes. And the boy will be a bookish type with round glasses. They’d both be terrible at math and sports. I was laughing at myself, enjoying the ridiculousness of it, knowing that these little people growing inside me would be who they were no matter that I planned for them.

But my fiancé grew serious. “You know,” he said, “I want them to be scrappy.”

I recoiled – I could actually feel my lips twisting into a sneer. I scanned through the list of things I wanted my children to be: happy, healthy, and kind, of course, but also, more secretively, bookish, artistic, beautiful, popular. Scrappy made me think of a shaggy little dog. Scrappy made me think of the pugilistic kids I knew back home, kids who showed up uninvited to parties, straggly kids, kids who tried too hard. Scrappy was not on my list. Continue Reading…

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts

On Brothers and Other Solar Systems

April 13, 2018
brothers

By Jen Fitzgerald

Flagstaff, AZ feels like a place where it is safe to be in between. Maybe not between any two things as tangible as a wall and a bear, but in between way points, between jobs, between mountains, or in between a question and the possibility of its answer. The geographic placement of the city mirrors the position of Megrez, the star that marks the end of the Big Dipper’s handle; Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff then pouring into the deep bowl of the Hopi Nation and branching out into the entirety of Ursa Major.

Those from Flagstaff don’t stay in Flagstaff for very long without feeling some sort of way about it. The reasons are varied, but all seem to loop back into, “Flagstaff has got a lot of problems but it’s better than where I was.” I could like it there until it became too familiar. I could like it until the novelty wore off and I was the only stationary creature. I could enjoy the train coming through until the first fatality, the first near-miss I witnessed— until it solidified as a place where things happen.

There is much to love about this Dark Sky City, one of our rare 13 in the United States. The come as you may and are vibe is a holdover from the golden days of Route 66 and the Santa Fe Rail Line. Almost everyone there is from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is mostly Phoenix, with Tucson at a close second. This is a city that prizes movement—and I know what it means to move. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Pregnancy

My Pregnancy Journey: A Leap of Faith

April 11, 2018
fertility

By Dana Mich

I glanced down at the two pink lines gazing up at me from their glossy plastic eyelets. I set the First Response test on my bathroom sink and bit my lip as I ran the tap. It felt too good to be true.

It was the day of my thirtieth birthday, and Mother’s Day. May fourteenth, twenty-seventeen. The previous evening’s cake and candles, and that morning’s sunlit family brunch—gilded with yogurt parfaits and a medley of quiches—hovered in my peripheral view. If anything, those two little tick-marks should have been the cherry on top of an already serendipitous twenty-four hours in my life. But this was my third positive test in nine months with no baby or expectant bump to show for it. Instead of rejoicing on that first day of the decade I’d slated to be my parenting years, I pleaded to the universe: “Please just let me have this baby. I swear, I’ll be so careful.” Continue Reading…

aging, Guest Posts, parents

Trapped Out of Love

April 6, 2018

By Martina E Faulkner

I always think it will get easier.
And I’m always wrong.
Every time.

 It’s not easier over time, it’s more numb. Consistency and frequency only served to create an existential morphine-like balm to the frayed nerve endings of emotions swirling through my body and brain.

 And now, when there are gaps in time, the nerves become more sensitive, just like withdrawal. Only, the solution is not more ‘heroin’… the solution is recognizing the inescapable truth that it doesn’t get better from here.

 And even that, I’m afraid, is no solution at all.

I wrote those words yesterday as I sat in my car, throat choked up and dry cheeks. No tears would fall, even though they were there. They were dammed up inside me, bottle-necked… stuck. Trapped might be another word for it. My tears were trapped, just as I have been, as I have felt. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, No Bullshit Motherhood

But, What If…?: Confessions of an Anxious Mother

April 4, 2018
anxious

By Catherine Jones

I suffer from anxiety, which is debilitating at times.  I have suffered for as long as I can remember, both mentally and physically.  And while I’ve tried many methods that help to alleviate my symptoms, I know my anxiety will never completely go away.  It only got much worse after my child was born.  I had a lot of time during my maternity leave to come up with some truly unreasonable, completely invalid fears.  One of my biggest issues with anxiety is that I know I’m being silly, but I can’t help it.  I know there’s no reason to be afraid to ask for help finding an item at the grocery store and there’s definitely no reason to contemplate all the awful things that may happen to my child.  I hope some anxious mothers out there can relate, or at least be relieved that they’re not nearly as imaginative (cuckoo) as me.

When my son was first born, he hardly slept, or if he did it was for maybe an hour at a time.  He was always hungry and wanted to be nursed for hours and then be nursed again after a short catnap.  He never seemed particularly tired, but I was getting loopy from a lack of sleep.  When he did manage to sleep at night for a few hours at a time, I kept getting up to check on him, straining my eyes in the darkness to make sure his little chest was still rising and falling.  When he switched to formula and actually started to sleep through the night, I was terrified.  Why was he sleeping so much?  Was something wrong?  Infants are supposed to sleep for most of the day, but not my baby!  I slept on a cot in his room for months. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

21st Century Woman: A 20-something’s Ascent into Feminist Ethics

April 2, 2018

By Maria Prudente

On the night of the presidential election, a breakup of mine coincided with Trump’s victory. I couldn’t help but notice the symmetry of two completely annoying things happening simultaneously: a win for a man known for objectifying women and a breakup initiated by a guy who had spent several months objectifying me. One event was meaningful to me so, sorry to the dude who promptly unfollowed me on Instagram but our breakup was small potatoes. I spent the rest of the year dedicating myself to things that were more important: my career, education, health. Men were left off that list. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Hidden Love

March 30, 2018

By Jamie Della

She was a mystery, a ghost as close as my skin. I discovered her love through the scent of old photographs and White Shoulders perfume. And there she was: Della Ruiz Martinez, my nana.

I bought a bottle of White Shoulders when I discovered it was her favorite perfume. I was 19. The first whiff of bergamot is astringent and sharp, like her acerbic tongue. They say she could cut you to pieces with her words. She was a Scorpio woman: born on November 12, 1920 and died November 14, 1967 – 39 days before I was born. They say she happily anticipated the birth of her first grandchild. But liver disease prevented her from holding me in her loving arms. She became two-dimensional and flat: a framed image of young Della at four-years-old, a brown-skinned cherub with a crown of baby’s breath at an altar. They gave me her name as my middle name: an angel and a legacy. It was nearly twenty years before I saw another picture of her. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Unbasic Bitch

March 28, 2018
imperfect

By Sarah Huffer

Fitting in is the most miserable decision of my life.

I’m clumsy and mostly awkward. Weirdly happy and bright. Somewhere in life, I decided I needed to blend. Like ya’ll blend eyeshadow. I smudged my personality until I became one watered down fragment of a soul without any defining characteristics.

I agreed with the crowd. I contoured my face(I still suck at this). I worshipped fall. I pinned Pinterest projects. Should I buy a salt rock lamp or eat kale? I was powerless to Target.

Even more, I highlighted the best parts of my life to portray my life. In reality, I couldn’t keep up with the dishes. I burn bread. My kids were feeding their healthy desserts to the dogs. My youngest daughter is, literally, pissed off all the time. She only smiles when you are hurting yourself. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Only A Whisper

March 26, 2018
mother

By Vincent Fitzgerald

The opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth blared through my cell phone, and I knew someone died. I assigned it as my mother’s ringtone to honor her knack for breaking news of neighborhood fatalities. In somber tones she eulogized the deceased and made death feel safe. That was before Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) ravaged her lungs, and withered her voice to a rasp. Now when she calls, screeches and gasps remind me her end is near, and what remains of her voice will go with her.

The disease has no cure; there is only relentless progression and the passage of time. My mother’s lungs never forgave her for thirty years of smoking, supplemented by tons of second hand smoke. When I was a child I often mistook her cigarettes for a sixth finger. She smoked in place of breakfast, and didn’t even pee until she ingested at least two. She always leaned against our washing machine with crossed legs while I wondered how those nasty things could be better than peanut butter. Continue Reading…

#metoo, Guest Posts

The “Me” in #MeToo

March 25, 2018
#MeTooButNotMyGirls

By Jessie Kanzer

#MeTooButNotMyGirls. That is my declaration today, on this blistery New York Sunday, after my three-year-old’s swim lesson, and before my one-year-old’s gym class. I’m not here to go into the sordid details of my own pain body: the minutia of inappropriate sexual contact when I was a wee girl, the play-by-play of getting seduced (date raped?) by my college internship supervisor. We can talk about our wounds until we are blue in the face—and we should—because change is happening as we speak. But, for me, an eternal self-help’er, it’s also important to look at the “Why.” Not why they harmed me — that’s their problem, and that will be their reckoning. But why I was the easiest of prey. Why I often relinquished my power before I was even asked. What messages did I absorb during my childhood and young-adulthood? I need to know. Because, #MeTooButNotMyGirls.

“Be nice.” “Be pretty.” “Know your place.”

My formative years took place in the Soviet Union. I was taught to obey authority from very early on (I still have an inexplicable fear of cops and principals). The strictness of a Soviet daycare center was just what you would imagine it to be. And then in school, we were further stripped of our individuality and self-esteem. I was a born people-pleaser to boot, and I worked very hard to please my young parents and stoic grandmother. My strict teachers, my relentless gymnastics coaches. The passersby who expected me to smile. The family friends who expected hugs and kisses. “I’m a good girl, a very good girl,” was my motto since the age of two. Polite? Check. Cute and neat? Check. Obedient? I bucked that one at times, but not without consequence. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pets, Relationships

A Doghearted Thing

March 23, 2018
dog

By Jenna Clark Embrey

After a year and a half of dating, my boyfriend Steve and I decided to sign our first lease together and adopt a dog. It was the first time either one of us had lived with a significant other, and the idea of a pet went hand-in-hand with cohabitation in both our minds. This step forward felt like a promise, as if taking care of living thing together meant that we could tangle our lives together permanently. We had talked about marriage and children, but always in slightly dreamy, slightly ambivalent terms. I thought Steve’s enthusiasm to get a dog meant that his ambivalence had turned into something more concrete. It didn’t occur to me to ask him.

Steve and I first gravitated toward each other because of our similar natures. We were both relentless in our ambitions yet also deeply indulgent during our rare moments of relaxation. We loved margaritas and vodka sauce pizza and 24-hour news networks. We celebrated birthdays and holidays with day-long extravaganzas. From the earliest days of our relationship, we felt like a unit that was solid and sure.  Steve and I wanted to widen this circle just a bit, just enough to include a creature with four legs.

When we went to an adoption event near our new home in Brooklyn, I saw a large black pitbull who was standing still while people and animals swirled around her. When we came up to pet her, she sat down on Steve’s feet, and the connection between the two of them was immediate. I felt in my gut that this was the right dog for us, and I told him so. Steve had always trusted my instincts. Two weeks later we brought the dog home. I suggested that we name her Roz Doyle, after the character on the 90s sitcom Frasier, which I had been recently binge-watching on Netflix. Our Roz quickly revealed to us that her favorite things were eating, running, and sleeping, which luckily mirrored our own priorities for relaxation. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

The Thing About Grief Is…

March 21, 2018
grief

By Stacey Shannon

The thing about grief is:

I can’t trust myself.

No matter how I rail against this part of my life/year/self, that is the bottom line.   It is part of me.  And though I may disregard it for 11 out 12 months of the year, it’s always there.  It WILL come  at me like Shane Stant came at Nancy Kerrigan with a club. When it arrives, it does what it always does.  It hobbles my knees and runs away as I fall to the ground, asking “Why, why?”.

No, I’m tired of asking why.  I’ll never really know.  Moving on, next question:

When?  Nope, done asking when.  When will it be over?  The answer to that one is always the same and it is this: never.

How?  That’s a good one. Let’s unpack that. (Don’t you hate when people say that?  It’s so douchey. “I know you are feeling rotten right now, let’s unpack that’!  How about, NO?)   How best to navigate these two weeks every winter, every fucking winter, 18 winters and counting.  How?  I’m not going to answer that.  Because when I do answer that question, I  immediately discount my own answer. Simply because: I can’t trust it. Continue Reading…