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Abortion, Guest Posts

This is my abortion story. No, it’s not. Yes, it is.

July 18, 2018

A portrait of the author at twenty.

By Caroline Leavitt

Let’s start in the 1970s in Boston, where abortion is so illegal, it’s spoken of only in an appalled whisper. You’ve seen the photos, right? Young, naked women,  crumpled like puppets, bleeding out on a floor, from coat hangers, from poisons, from desperation.  Dead girls. Ruined girls. Only wealthy girls can get safe abortions if they fly somewhere, or know a doctor. And none of us is wealthy.

I’m 17, and my older sister is my best friend, my heroine, the person I most want to be. My sister has a charmed life. She’s in college and loves it. She’s so beautiful; photographers stop her on the street to ask to take her photo. Her whole life shines before her like a star she could wish upon. She’s going to get her degree, just one credit left, then she will work, and travel and live by the ocean and be a writer, something she’s already amazingly talented at.  And, best of all, like always, she promises to take me with her when she does.

But suddenly, my sister begins locking herself in her room, sobbing, not even coming out for dinner. “She’s got a stomach ache,” my mother tells me. When I know on my sister’s door, she doesn’t answer.  One day, I just open the door, and there she is, curled into a comma on her bed, sobbing. ”What’s wrong?” I keep asking, but she just cries harder, and when I ask my mother, she shakes her head and says sharply, “It’s not your business.”

But I love my sister and that makes it my business. She’s always taken care of me, made sure I was okay after a dance when the boy I liked danced with my best friend, given me her coolest, hippest clothes when she’s done with them, and even taken me to the local clubs that would never let me in otherwise. “Let me help,” I beg her and she turns over so her back is to me. “What could possibly be so terrible?” I ask,  “What is it? Tell me so I can help,” I beg her, and then she turns around and sits up and I see the misery mapped in her face.

“I’m pregnant,” she says.

I sink down on the bed. I know she has a boyfriend, but I don’t much like him because he’s condescending, telling her how she looks better in tailored clothes than the hip Indian prints she prefers, giving her a list of books he thinks she ought to know, even though she reads all the time and doesn’t seem to much like the titles he gives her. But my parents like him, especially my mother, who keeps telling my sister that if she “plays her cards right,” she could be married and settled by next year. She could be taken care of. “She can take care of herself,” I say, but my mother ignores me. “A woman needs a man,” she says.

I don’t think that’s true, but even if it was, where is he? Since my sister’s begun crying, he hasn’t been by our house or even called her. Shouldn’t he be with her now?  I know enough not to ask her that question, to make her sadder. Instead, I ask “What are you going to do?” and she swipes at her eyes. “I can’t have a baby now,” she says.

But my mother, and Deb, my sister’s boyfriend’s mother know what to do. They take over. Deb lives in Baltimore, where abortion, under certain circumstances, is legal. “I know people,” she tells my mom. The two of them plan it all out, while I creep into the far bedroom and listen in on the extension, holding my breath so they won’t know I’m there. And then finally, my sister gets on the line and I hear the plan and it all makes me want to scream, though my sister is so silent that my mom has to say, “Are you still there? Are you hearing all this?” My sister will have to prove that she’s abandoned by the father and by her own family. She will have to say that she has no recourse, that she is becoming psychotic and will kill herself if she cannot get rid of this baby she doesn’t want.  She should scrape a razor across her wrists, not the right way, the vertical way that can kill you, but horizontal, just enough so it will look like she means business. Maybe she could even say she has no idea who the father is. I listen to them talking, practicing and when my mother hangs up, and then my sister, I quickly move to my room, bumping into my mother.

“I know what’s going on,” I say and my mom stiffens. “I heard,” I say.

“They only had sex once, you know,” my mother blurts, and I blink at her astonished that that is the one thing she chooses to tell me now. At 17, I actually know about lust because I’ve been lying all summer about working at a day camp, and instead hightailing it to my boyfriend’s empty house so we can have sex all day long, using the condoms he steals from his older brother. “When is she having the abortion?” I ask and my mother’s mouth becomes a line.

“It’s not an abortion,” she snaps. “Don’t call it that. It’s a D & C.” She enunciates the letters carefully, as if she wants me to memorize them.

Everything changes then. My parents don’t talk about it. My sister won’t talk about it, no matter how much I plead and when I ask what I can do, she says, “You can leave me the fuck alone.”

I don’t get to go to Baltimore with my parents and my sister, though I desperately want to. When she and my parents come home, everyone is silent and angry, and my sister goes back to her bed and I go into her room to get whatever story she’s willing to tell me.

It’s a horror story. Her boyfriend had stayed in Boston, living his life, finishing college in the city, working, and my parents stay in a hotel, she goes all by herself to a doctor’s office in a strange town she doesn’t know all by herself.  She has to talk about how alone she is, how she has no money, how she is hearing voices, even now, because of the stress, but she isn’t sure the doctor believes her.  She shows him her wrists, which she scraped with a razor that morning so it might look as if she tried to kill herself, but the doctor looks mildly at her wrists and says that looks superficial. “So I smashed my head against the wall,” she tells me. “Then he said yes to me.”

Alone and young and terrified, she’s let into the hospital, the girl who has no one and nothing, they think, though my parents and Deb are just a half hour away, busy plotting her future. She’s put under and gets the D & C, which of course, is really an abortion. She wakes up and the first thing she does is put her hands on her belly. A handsome young doctor comes in and sits beside her all night, talking, then flirting, and half of her hopes he will ask her out and whisk her away to another country with him, and the other half is so shamed, she wishes for a blindfold. He leaves and then a nurse briskly comes in and tells my sister that some day, maybe a year later, maybe sooner, my sister will think of this day and wonder what her baby would have been like, and that is when my sister screams and screams and screams.

My sister goes back to her old life, but not really. It still has to be a secret, a “tell no one” moment, and she’s changed, as if her skin has hardened into a shell.  She doesn’t want to walk to Belmont and take a subway to shop in the city with me. Movies with me are out of the question. “You can go back to your old life,” I tell her.  I hope she’s going to break up with her boyfriend. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” I tell her. “It was the right choice.”

But she looks miserable, and my parents act as though my sister still has to somehow pay, as if the abortion isn’t a necessary freedom; instead, it’s a kind of punishment for having sex, for wanting to have it. “You’ve had your fun,” my mother tells her.

“Get birth control,” I advise and my mother repeats that my sister and her boyfriend only had sex once. “You don’t plan on it!” she says, as if it is something terrible. For my sister, it is. She drops out of school. My parents push her to marry this boyfriend. “But why?” I say. “She doesn’t have to! There’s no baby!”

My sister is so different.  Something was lost here. Not just a pregnancy, but something deeper in my sister. She marries the boyfriend I don’t like and I cry at her wedding because I keep thinking: you don’t have to do this. You have a choice. But, she seems happier now. She’s moving forward.

The next day, I go to a doctor and get fitted for an IUD.

Then, it’s twenty-some years later. Hurray! Abortion is legal. Birth control is plentiful and everyone I know is on it because we all happily want to have sex with whomever we please, when we please, and we all want to decide if or when we want to have kids. Still no birth control is 100% and a few of my friends get pregnant, and because they are alone, or they have no money, or any number of reasons, they have abortions. Safe, clean abortions from private doctors. From Planned Parenthood. No one dies. Lives resume for them.

Still, It’s never easy. I watch relationships break up because the woman is too broken afterwards to sustain a relationship. Because the father feels guilty or changed his mind, or maybe because he realizes that it is not his decision to make at all, it’s hers.

So what about me, how do I fit into this?  What’s my abortion or not abortion story?

I’m happily married, pregnant with our first child. We have a home and jobs we love and enough money, we hope. I sing to the baby. I keep my hands on my belly and I eat only fruits, vegetables and grains. (Giving up chocolate is hard.) I sail past the third month when everything is supposed to be fine, and I tell everyone, even strangers. One woman at the job where I am working, who knows I am pro-abortion, says quietly, “Bet you think different about abortion now, don’t you? Bet you felt that baby was a person the second you knew you were pregnant, didn’t you?”

I stare at her and then I tell her that I think that women really give birth twice, the first time you claim the baby inside of you—if you ever claim it and want it–and when it arrives.

“Rightttt,” she says in disbelief.

I’m four months pregnant, just before the amnio, getting a sonogram, when my doctor goes quiet. “What’s wrong?” I ask and that’s when I see the flat line.

Of course I fall apart. This baby was wanted. Needed, maybe my last chance because I am older, a high-risk mom. My doctor is kind. He tells me I can deliver if I want, (a dead birth!) but he suggests that I don’t. Instead, he wants to give me a kind of D and C, put me under as if I am dreaming, and when I hear that word, I think of my sister and her abortion that my mother would only call a D& C, the soak of shame in our household.

It’s still a choice for me, and this time it isn’t about sex at all.. I can deliver a dead fetus induced, or I can have a D & C.  I chose the D & C.

They do the operation the next day, and for two weeks afterwards, I cannot get out of bed. I cannot eat. Jeff sits besides me holding my hand, telling me it is going to be all right. I’ve never felt a loss like this, a wound that keeps opening.

And then we get the autopsy results. My baby had so many problems that even if it had managed to live and be born, it wouldn’t have survived more than two months. The baby had faulty lungs, a badly damaged heart, and Down syndrome. Jeff and I curl up on the bed and hold each other. If the baby had lived, if we had known about the damage, would we have opted for abortion? How could we have gotten rid of the baby? But how could we have not? The baby would have suffered. The baby would not have lived. We would have depleted all our savings in medical care. I think about choice, how impossibly difficult it would have been to decide, how impossibly difficult to say yes to all that misery, how impossibly difficult to say no, too. But it would have been a choice. My choice.

Years pass. I have a son (!) Roe vs. Wade is on the chopping block, already bleeding. I can’t help but think that this time, abortion isn’t about sex or controlling our own body. This time it’s about fear of women because they hold power, because they can make choices now. But out lives are not a story that men—or anyone else but us—should get to tell.

So here is mine.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times Bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow, Cruel Beautiful World and an as yet untitled novel, which should be out around 2019 if she is lucky.  She is a book critic for People, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Boston Globe and she finally got a film agent and has written a pilot and two scripts  Visit her at www.carolineleavitt.com

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beauty, cancer, Guest Posts

Accessorizing

July 11, 2018
chemo

By Annarose F. Steinke

At first the jewelry takes me by surprise: chandelier earrings, layered necklaces, sequined infinity scarves that have no business in a room where store-brand cans of pineapple and orange juice are the only drinks served. A big show is made of giving these things ample space on tiny end tables alongside Dixie cups of Tylenol. Companions are ordered to remember these silver hooks and spirals once the session ends, and in the meantime, to keep an eye on the table should the items’ owners need to use the toilet. Simply standing up while making sure to lift the arm so that the wrist retains the IV and the IV stays attached to the machine that must be wheeled into the bathroom while managing the door lock with the free hand, all while the first dizzy spell begins (no, thank you, I can manage) is such an all-consuming task that asking after your Alex and Ani bangles set in that moment is out of the question.

I used to wonder why they won’t leave these things at home, but now I know why all of it must be worn, even if only in the lobby. I recognize the sigh from the woman two seats down as she uncoils ropes of translucent orange beads from her neck: it matches my tone when telling the scheduling coordinator to hold as I shake out receipts and crumbs and broken pens from three different purses when I could just as easily store the Medical Record Number card in my wallet with my driver’s license and the other items anchoring my everyday. Now I understand that “fighting cancer” does not mean doing certain tasks with gusto but refusing to grant others the time and care they’re supposed to deserve.

As for me, I wear my great-grandmother’s rose gold chain, its sharp rectangles falling just below my collarbone and exactly where a chest port would be if I needed one. My grandmother’s accompanying note reads “I want you to wear her things. NOW!” and I honor her demand. Wearing this chain, I grasp the concept of a “statement” necklace: this piece states that I’m not here long enough for a chest port, this searing jab to my wrist is truly a perk of this good-kind lymphoma, and the nurse is visibly annoyed at the extra work so my demeanor had better be accomodating since my small veins are not. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

This is not the end

July 8, 2018

By Tina Porter

In the Fall of 2014, when I knew the job I had held in a place I’d been working for 10 years was ending (though not yet officially), I did what anyone would do: I went on a trip with my mother and sister to Northern New Mexico.

Actually, this story starts much earlier. Does it start in April of that year when I am offered a demotion or no job at all and I take the demotion because we are in the process of closing on a condo for our daughters to live in while they attend Indiana University in Bloomington? Or a year earlier, when it is obvious I am struggling while juggling different roles and different requirements from different stakeholders?

Or does it start in 2009, when I take the promotion I think I want and that I am kind of good at, as it is defined in 2009 and three weeks later I am diagnosed with Lupus? Or does it start in 2008 when my father dies? Or in 1986 when I am a young woman at odds with her understanding of herself, or in 1976, when I am a teenager who doesn’t fit in and finds the options available unsatisfactory but I don’t know how to ask my mother or anyone for help? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parents

Intergalactic

July 6, 2018
reality

By Amy Fowler

Several years ago, my mom started existing in a parallel but alternate reality. Her interdimensional trips began slowly at first, with the briefest of blips spent on the Other Side. Much more quickly than I care to acknowledge, Mom’s time-space jaunts became more frequent and lasted longer.

A lifelong fan of Star Trek, I’m quite sure she didn’t think this was what Captain James Tiberius Kirk had in mind when he said, “Beam me up, Scotty.” She preferred The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, anyway. I mean, who wouldn’t pick Patrick Stewart over William Shatner?

I know that Mom doesn’t enjoy her extradimensional travels. The time she spends out of this world leaves her frightened and flummoxed. And there’s nothing I can do, but sit and watch as she rockets toward the place where the ionosphere gives way to Outer Space. There’s nothing I can do but await her return, my eye trained on the sky through the twenty-inch Ritchey-Chreiten at Banner Creek Observatory. There’s nothing I can do.

Theres nothing I can do. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality

Celebrating Pride: An Open Letter to my High School Biology Teacher

June 29, 2018
gay

By Chris Shorne

Dearest Paul:

Well. This is all very strange. For starters, me addressing you—Mr. Witt—as Paul. A first name implies life outside of being my high school teacher, which you were for four years, in ninth grade Biology, eleventh grade Health, and senior year Advanced Biology (Honors). I graduated twenty-one years ago and I’ve seen you half a dozen times since then, but in my imagination, you mostly stayed static, a known quantity. I’m not sure why it feels different now, after seeing you last week for brunch. Maybe because I haven’t been back in the country long or because I’m sorting through my files, reading poems and school reports I wrote as a teenager.

I remember the first article I read for extra credit. From your biology classroom, I followed you through a door to the science office that I hadn’t realized was there. You opened a storage closet: metal racks floor to ceiling, file boxes wall-to-wall, each box full of photocopied articles and newspaper clippings. You flipped, quickly, to the one for me: “Disabled Doesn’t Mean No Sex.” In the article, a guy talks about people not seeing him as sexual because he uses a wheelchair; on top of that, he explains, he’s bisexual and people think bisexuality isn’t even a real thing. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

Leaning Into The Pain

June 27, 2018
nest

By Claudia Hinz

“Ooh, look at the babies!” my daughter exclaimed at dinner. I hurried around to her side of the table from which she had a clear view of the park outside. Over the years, we have all held to our assigned spots at the dinner table, although my husband has moved into my 19 year-old daughter’s chair since she left for college. The other seat, my son’s seat, has been vacant for a while, but I leave a fresh cloth napkin and a placemat for him.

The baby goslings tottered around after their mother who nosed them in the right direction of the water. The sun was low in the sky and my eyes are not what they once were, so the goslings appeared as electrified yellow balls. Cute, as my daughter pronounced, but also dangerous in their vulnerability. I knew that in mere days they would be transformed into gawky, unsteady juveniles, the cute baby stage left behind.

This morning, there is the smell of perfume in the kitchen. She has left but I still smell my daughter in here with me. It is her voice on our answering machine. A message recorded when she was probably in middle school, the voice of a young girl, my baby. She is now 18. She just voted in her first election and will be headed off to college in less than four months. Still, I can’t change the message. We never use the home phone, but I am reluctant to cancel the service because I cannot bear to lose my daughter’s voice on the machine. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories

Good TImes

June 21, 2018

By Sara Lippmann

It was the night Paul Pfeiffer came into the bar in Hancock. We’d been going to Good Times all summer, a corner dive in a ramshackle clapboard, baby blue, pulp exposed instead of siding, where the dirt met the road, where the railroad ran alongside the lumber mill whose raw planks stood out like Lincoln Logs in all weather desperate to be put to use, emitting that downed forest smell. Segments of the sign’s neon coil had blown so above the Genesee logo in the window it read GOD TIES, which felt right. Apparently you could rent a room upstairs, but the steps were barreled off with galvanized kegs, we were summer people, we poked tongues through pink sheaths of bubble gum, we weren’t about to cross.

Someone had a car, had legality, the rest of us had youth, a partial paycheck, and thirst. We had to be quick, quick about everything, the potholed parking lot, puddled dark roads, careening around the bends swerving for deer, over the rusted one lane bridge across state lines to the sour rot of mahogany worn soft and sticky from other people’s nights, then sling back for curfew, which meant we were in the car for as long as we were inside polishing off pints and embarrassing ourselves at pool. We were terrible. It didn’t matter. We were camp counselors. Let strangers stare.

Paul Pfeiffer wore a slicker on account of the rain, the yellow hood cinched like a periscope. It wasn’t raining that hard but he taught drama at a nearby camp, he told us, and what do you expect from the dramatic. I forgot his real name. It was Italian not Jewish. Same diff, he said, unzipping, twitching his damp nose. I played one on TV! and proceeded to recount Paul’s bar mitzvah in a halting nasal pitch, real generic like Baruch Ata Adonai. We were not impressed.

No way, we said. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Fear, Guest Posts

All Fathers Want to Hurt Their Sons

June 17, 2018
hurt

By Brian Zimbler

“I feel like you’re doing everything in your power, verbally and non-verbally, to tell me not to say anything negative,” I say to Randy, my therapist.

We’re doing a phone session.  I’m propped up on Nora’s side of the bed against an ornamental IKEA pillow.  Nora and Myla are downstairs, watching Elliot.  It’s his 12th day.  It’s a snow day.  I have my jeans on, which is a total Nora no-no (no outdoor clothes can touch the duvet) but I am being passive aggressive because I want her to love me more than the baby.

“I’m not forcing you to be positive,” Randy parries, “If anything, I’m asking you to stay in — “

“I know, I know, stay in the good feelings.  I am.  I’m trying.  You gotta admit, I could’ve spun into the real dark telling you the parents-at-the-bris story just now, but I stayed good.”

Elliot’s bris was last week.  My parents came down.  The mohel, in the prep documents she sent us, let us know she would need an assistant to stay by her side throughout the process.  Nora and I decided this would either be my father the doctor or my mother the therapist, we would decide day of; however, day of, I decided – though I can’t really call it a decision, more a clear loud message from inside – that I would never ever let either of my parents be with my son at his most vulnerable, ever, and that I would be the one to usher him through.

“It’s never the dad,” said the mohel.

“This time it’s the dad,” I said.

And I did it.  I stayed with my beautiful new son even through the part upstairs where she pulled my beautiful new son’s foreskin back and clamped it, to prepare him to be cut.  Even through the part where he was brought downstairs covered in a tallis on a sick infant’s gurney.  Even through the part where all the sugar water in the world could not put my strong son to sleep. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Health, Young Voices

Choices

June 15, 2018

By Kelsey Brey

My life has been abuzz with talk of “choices.”

So and so either made or did not make a choice to end his life depending on whom to talk to, or what train of thought you best find yourself hopping aboard. A good friend of mine wrote about how he was told as a child that he could be anything. I imagine most of us were, even if not by our parents-we were indoctrinated with this message from the educational institutions we attended. “Choose to shoot for the stars and if you fail, you land among the moon” said the poster in my elementary school.

Choose to attend college, choose to have that fourth, fifth, sixth drink.

I wanted to write some well worded prose on what it means to be lied to by a society where the choices are already made for us, and choosing to not choose only alienates. Choosing to go against the grain isolates. But, now I’ve gotten to this point and that idea is losing its appeal for me. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, memories

Mother Knits Me A Sweater

June 13, 2018
sweater

By Sara Chansarkar

I miss Father as my sister lights the candles on my birthday cake which is sitting in a stainless steel plate on the scratched glass-top coffee table at my parents’ house in India. My birthday is the 24th of December and I visit around this time every year because it is also my son’s winter break from school.

After I blow the candles and cut the cake, Ammi lays a gift − neatly wrapped by my sister − in my lap. I carefully open the gift, plucking the tape off gently, so that the wrapping paper can be reused. It is a finch-pink sweater, soft and warm, with shiny buttons adorning the front.

My lips and hands start trembling, unable to cope with the happiness. Ammi hugs me, runs her hand over my head, and dabs her eyes with her dupatta.

As I sniffle, my sister narrates the tale of the sweater: Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

The Howling Wounded Thing

June 11, 2018
howling

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Beth Cartino

“I just want to get really high and then go to sleep forever.” They sits across from me in a dreary, unadorned office, knees tucked under their chin, arms hugging their legs tight to their chest, eyes peering out at me from behind a veil of midnight blue hair. This is the pose they adopt when they’re feeling exposed and vulnerable. They are in middle school, but they have the experience of someone twice their age, and right now, at this moment, they look painfully young.

“Have you been thinking about suicide?” My voice is even, my eyes unflinching. I notice a physical urge, like the one you get when you want to scratch your nose, to mirror their posture. I don’t. I ask myself a question I frequently ask when working with a kid who is thinking about suicide. What could somebody have said to me when I was twelve that would have stopped me from trying to kill myself?  I never can come up with an answer but this is the message I try to convey, not only with my words, but with every cell in my body: “You are loved. I see you. I will not judge you. I am here with you.  I am not going anywhere. You are not broken. You are not a problem that needs fixing.”

*** Continue Reading…

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…

Family, Guest Posts, sisters

M45

June 4, 2018
sky

By Katie Duane

The first time I saw them was last winter,  just before dawn, outside of a yellow house with green shutters, not too far from Lake Ontario. It was cold, too early to be up, the sky a deep indigo when they registered at the edge of my vision. They floated perhaps thirty degrees above the horizon, a small cocoon of glittering lights, trapezoidal, a collapsed version of the Big Dipper.

Pleiades, I said aloud, not having realized that I already knew their name.

I drove to school that morning craning my neck skyward, trying to find them overhead while navigating the slippery darkness. I spent my free periods learning about the Pleiades instead of preparing for classes. I learned that the visible members of this cluster are called B-type main sequence stars. I learned that they are young stars, and that they won’t live very long because of their mass, because of how much hydrogen they must burn in order to sustain themselves. They are extremely luminous and hot and blue—it had not been the sky that gave them their color. In some ancient cultures, the ability to see more than six made one a good candidate to be a hunter.

But truthfully I didn’t really think much about the Pleiades after that first day I saw them. I took note of their place in the sky each morning when I got into my car, until they disappeared into the light of spring. I had no use for stars—my life seemed permanently stalled out. Nothing worked, despite repeated attempts to fix various parts, to restart, or reignite. I’d never had a harder time finding people I could connect with. I had not painted or written a poem in years. I spent every evening alone, watching reruns of my favorite TV shows. I had memorized all the lines—they were people I could predict, people I liked, people who would always be there. I spent most of my evenings with them. I spent every Tuesday from four to five with my therapist, weekends trying to make friends in real life, and once a month I’d drive an hour-and-a-half west to see the people I loved most in this world: my family. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss, Surviving

Cross Purposes

June 1, 2018
cross

By Aimee Ross

A cross has stood in that field for three years.

Three years since he smashed into me and the girls in my car that summer night. We were on our way home from dance camp.

The girls escaped the wreck with minor injuries. I barely survived.

He died.

Fifteen minutes from home. We were almost home.

Dear Zachary,

 I’m writing this letter to you because I feel like I have to, even though I don’t know you and never will. I can only know my version of you, and to be honest, it’s not good.

 I know you were the driver of the red Mini Cooper who ploughed recklessly into the side of my gray Saturn Aura that warm July night. I know you were only nineteen, and not one of my former students. And I know that doctors declared you “brain dead” the next day in a room near mine at Cleveland Metro Trauma Center.

The cross was first pushed into the earth less than two weeks after the accident. My mom, who drove past the site twice daily on her way to and from the hospital, was infuriated by it. She thought it was made of Bud Light boxes. I’d been past the site since then a few times, but I had never stopped. I never wanted to be in that space long enough to think.

Until now.

After the accident, visitors told me rumors about you. Even my own daughters. They knew people you partied with. They also warned me of your Facebook memorial page, but I didn’t listen.

I looked too soon.

You—the party boy with swag—were loved, and by many. They called you Zach. Throwing bangers, getting baked, and blowing smoke at the camera consumed the posted memories and fuzzy photos.

 Something kept telling me to visit the scene.

And I needed closure.

So, armed with notebook and pen and ready to record the epiphany I was sure to have, I drove there alone one mid-summer afternoon. I expected to cry, feel relief, be cleansed. The trauma would finally make sense.

As I approached the busy state route’s intersection, I noticed the warning signs of road construction—at least I wouldn’t have to worry about traffic. I parked along the berm across from the site, realizing I had no intention of leaving my vehicle anyway. I would just be here, feel here.

A friend of your mother’s told me you had trouble with the law, and I know your driver’s license had been suspended at least twice before. You even spent time in a detention home. I wonder if other rumors about you and your buddies playing a very dangerous driving game to earn points for traffic violations were true.

Beyond the intersection, a cross made of two perpendicular skateboards—not beer boxes—jutted crookedly out of a grassy slope. The ground climbing from the ditch to the tilted cross was still scarred. Dry brown gashes in the earth, like my three-year-old wounds, littered the rise where energy from an inelastic collision was absorbed. The scars, evidence of an outside force. Inertia disrupted.

 And then there’s your family. Good people, I heard. I know you had dinner at home with them that evening. You asked your dad for the car, the one titled to him but given to you, so you could go to a friend’s house. You were on your way when you crashed into us. I also know your family loved you. Just moments after finding out you had passed—after being asked about donating your organs—your father and sister hugged my brother. They cried, said they hoped I would “pull through.” I imagine your mother was broken in a corner, lost in a sea of tears. I know your parents—an older, more settled couple—adopted you and your sister from another country far away. Maybe they couldn’t have their own children. Now they can’t even have you.

Why did he run the stop sign? How fast was his car moving?

 The most devastating thing I know about you, however, isn’t that you disregarded a stop sign or might have been speeding that night. What’s most devastating is that you were driving under the influence. The highway patrol officer who came to inform me I was the “victim of a crime” said so. They don’t know how fast you were going, but they do know that you had marijuana and benzodiazepine in your bloodstream.

And then the toxicology report. I researched. Benzodiazepine, an anti-anxiety medication, can induce everything from euphoria to a hypnotic state, just like the recreational drug marijuana. Together, the two would have produced an amplified high, as well as an amplified tranquilizer effect. He might have been so high he didn’t know what he was doing. He could have been asleep at the wheel.

Why did you do that, Zach? Why?

Did you smoke pot and do drugs so often you drove stoned all the time?

Did you forget you had family and friends who loved you, a whole life ahead of you?

Did you think you were invincible, maybe even above the law?

But none of that matters. The outcome is the same.

Three beautiful girls, teenagers on the dance team I advised, were riding with me on the way back from dance camp that evening. I couldn’t protect them from you. You could have killed them. You almost killed me. I believed my daughter, also on the team, had left ahead of us, but in fact, she was only moments behind in a different car. You could have killed her that night. The thought makes me sick. I love her, just like your parents loved you. Our worst fear as parents happened to them: you didn’t come home.

I stared at the cross, thinking about what onlookers would have witnessed that July evening. A car shooting from the darkness and crashing into another. Impact in the intersection. Crunching metal, shattering glass. A body catapulted through a car’s sunroof and against the unforgiving road, as momentum propels both vehicles over a ditch to rest less than twenty feet apart. Airbags deployed, windshields buckled, a smoking engine. Four trapped inside mangled metal. Passersby stop, phone calls are made, and moments later, the chaos to save lives ensues. The scene is flooded with light, engulfed in disembodied voices, and swarming with firemen, ambulances, and highway patrol.

 Your parents must miss you desperately. I imagine they didn’t know about your regular drug use. I wonder if they were shocked, horrified maybe, to find out. I’m sure they have forgiven you by now, though—you were their only son.

 It is quiet here today at this place. Peaceful, even. Bright sunshine, a gentle breeze, midsummer warmth. The perfect setting for something—anything—to offer understanding. Redemption maybe. A setting to offer forgiveness.

But I am finding it difficult to do.

I am alive, but another mother’s son never went home.

We all make mistakes and poor choices. I know this. And if you had lived through the accident, maybe you would have apologized. You probably would have been sorry, too. If you had lived through the accident, maybe you even would have changed. You probably would have stopped being reckless, too. But maybe your life ended because of how you chose to live it. Maybe change would not have been possible for you. I don’t know.

I wait.

I don’t want to hate you, Zach.And I don’t want to be so angry . . . still. I even want to try to forgive you.

Nothing happens. I don’t even cry. I slide the pen back in my purse, toss the notebook to the front passenger seat, and head home. If only the intersection had been closed three years ago. If only we had taken another way home. If only he had been sober. If only he had stopped at the intersection’s sign. Then we would not have had our path crossed. T-boned. Crushed.

But I just can’t yet.

 Four lives altered forever, another life lost.

Sincerely, Aimee, the woman whose life you changed

A cross marks the spot.

Aimee Ross is a nationally award-winning educator who’s been teaching high school English at her alma mater in Loudonville, Ohio, for the past twenty-six years and an aspiring writer for as long as she can remember. Her first book, Permanent Marker: A Memoir, was just published in March 2018 (KiCam Projects). She has also had her writing published on NextAvenue.orgwww.lifein10minutes.com, and www.SixHens.Com, as well as in Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2017); Scars: An Anthology (Et Alia Press, 2015); Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators (Adams Media, 2009); and Teaching Tolerance magazine. You can find Aimee online at www.theaimeeross.com.

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