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Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

Soul Mates: 8 Snapshots

September 21, 2015

By Elissa Wald

1.

When I was in the eighth grade, a boy in my class (let’s call him A.) stopped talking to me. We’d “gone out” for maybe a week, which meant we’d couple-skated at the roller rink once or twice, and my mother was supposed to drive us to a movie the following Saturday, but I called it off before that could happen. I liked him but I felt squeamish, not yet ready to do things like hold hands or kiss.

A. was slightly pudgy with tinted glasses and listless blond hair. I’d known him for years. Even in elementary school he used words like “relatively” and knew facts like the speed of light. He could play “Another Brick In The Wall” on his trumpet and it was from him that I first heard of the game Dungeons & Dragons.

I don’t remember just how the breakup went, but soon afterward he stopped speaking to me altogether. He wouldn’t reply if I spoke to him. He wouldn’t even look at me. If I tried to badger him into answering, he’d look skyward or off to the side and start whistling through his teeth. If I called him, he’d hang up.

Soon I could think about no one but A. Sometimes I would console myself by imagining a chance meeting with him on the street in 30 years. I took a certain strange comfort in the idea that when we were in our forties, he would surely not still be holding onto this grudge from boyhood.

At that age it didn’t occur to me that reaching 40 was not guaranteed to us. I assumed we had vast swaths of time. I also seem to have assumed on some level that our connection would endure, no matter how many years or even decades it spent on ice.

 

As it happens, A. and I are in our forties now, and we talk – with mutual warmth – all the time. But by now I’ve come to understand just how far from a foregone conclusion this was. Just before our college graduation, his best friend from those middle-school years – a boy in our class — jumped off a bridge that spanned a deep ravine. And whenever I think of this, the same phrase always comes to me: no water under that bridge.

 

2.

When I was forty-three, a man – let’s call him B. — unfriended me on Facebook. We had known each other a long time by then.

We’d gone out for maybe a year when I was twenty-one and he was twenty-six. The relationship ended badly and we didn’t see much of each other again for the next decade or so. He was angry at me and it seemed he meant to stay angry. He didn’t want to be friends

 

Then ten or eleven years after breaking up with him, I was in my neighborhood library when I saw a book he’d written on the “New Releases” shelf. It was a hardcover, deckle-edged and drenched in sepia. I checked the book out of the library, crossed the street to my apartment, and found his fledgling author website. In the event section, it said he’d be reading at a midtown pub later that month.

During our relationship all those years ago, we’d each had dreams of becoming an author. Secretly I’d thought of myself as the better writer. I didn’t think he was especially talented and I didn’t think he would do anything with what talent he had. When he was stressed out, he would lie on the floor of our apartment and crayon aimlessly and this – among many other things — made me squeamish in much the same way that A. had once made me squeamish.

Since that time, I’d published two books. The first one made a racy little splash and was generally — in its small-to-moderate way — well-received. The second one made a lot of the people who knew about it very angry and was a deep source of heartbreak.

B.’s book, on the other hand – his first serious book (as opposed to a couple of packaged ones he’d written for money) – seemed to have every critic in the country prostrate with adulation. The week of the reading, it was emblazoned across the cover of The New York Times book review.

I read this (very fine) book and wrote him a fan letter in response to it. I brought this letter with me to the pub on the night of his reading, wishing to keep a low profile until the moment toward the end of the event when he would be obliged to sign my book. One look at the crowd assured me this would not be difficult. B. was standing in a throng of people at the bar, deep in conversation. I began making my way past them with my head lowered and my face averted. Without a break in whatever he was saying, without even looking in my direction, B. reached out and grabbed my arm.

When I woke the next morning, an email from him was in my inbox. He thanked me for coming and for the letter I’d written him. He suggested that we meet sometime soon and catch up on each other’s lives. He wrote: I’d like to see what the last ten years hath wrought. Continue Reading…

Binders, Grief, Guest Posts

Of A Piece: The Days After 9-11

September 11, 2015

By Bernadette Murphy

It’s two days after the World Trade Center collapse and I am unable to function. I watched yesterday, with my kids as they hoisted on their backpacks ready for the school day to begin, scenes of destruction that I am still unable to fathom; it will be months if not years, I fear, before the scope of what’s happened can penetrate my mind. As the second tower imploded, live in Technicolor on our screen, my six-year-old daughter, Hope, ran to her bedroom to get her ceramic angel. The angel, which had been a baby shower gift when I was expecting her birth, used to be a nightlight, but Hope’s since removed the inner working and keeps the ceramic angel as a playmate. She came back to the television set just as CNN showed the first of countless repeats of the horrific scene. Hope held her angel to the television screen so that the angel could see the destruction, confident in the belief that the angel would be there with the wounded and dying. This image continues to haunt me; I wish I could believe today as simply as Hope believes.

Later, I tell my friend Marjorie about Hope’s actions. I e-mailed her because I’m as yet unable to talk with people about these happenings. Marjorie’s older brother has been fighting the fires at the Pentagon, the very place where her father, as a military physician, had worked until recently. Marjorie grew up an army brat on bases around the world; she’s also Arab- American.

“Hope was well named,” Marjorie e-mailed back, telling me she’s as stunned and incapable of normal action as I am.

I’ve been watching the news nearly nonstop since the attacks. When I get sick of seeing the same scenes before my eyes, I switch off the TV long enough to read every word of coverage from the Los Angeles Times. I can think of nothing else. It’s a huge relief when the school day comes to an end and I’m forced to turn off the television and function as a mother, if only at 10 percent capacity.

As a freelance writer working for myself, I have no clocks to punch, no bosses to appease; if I wish to spend my entire day in the pain and sadness of this tragedy, I can do so. In some ways, I think of this as a blessing. It seems vitally important to me, somehow, to be a witness to these events. To not brush them off and get back to normal as soon as possible, but to feel as deeply as I must the heartbreak and incredible grief that swamp me. While everyone talks of retaliation and patriotism, buying flags and making God Bless America signs, I can do nothing more than feel the huge, overwhelming pain of these events.

I don’t want to talk about why someone would do such a thing. I don’t want to analyze what America’s response should be or how our world is forever changed. To do any of those things requires an ability to intellectualize something I haven’t even begun to process emotionally. Some might accuse me of morbidity, but it seems important to be present with this destruction, to feel it deeply and honestly, to recognize how badly this hurts. Only when I can fully embrace my own sense of woundedness will there be any hope of determining how to move forward.
By the second half of the second day, I can do one thing other than watch the news and read the papers. I can knit. It seems stupid to think of this craft as anything important in the light of what has occurred, but still I do. I need to center myself again. It’s not fear I’m battling, though knitting is a good antidote to fear, but deep, abiding sadness, irreconcilable loss, the sense of things being torn asunder. A good friend of mine who’s a native of Manhattan (but now an avowed Angeleno) is grieving as well. We both agree that instead of waving flags, what we feel like doing is following the Jewish rite of mourning, which involves wearing a piece of black fabric pinned to one’s garment, fabric that’s been rent to show the irretrievable nature of loss. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood

Sixteen

September 10, 2015

By Debi Lewis

Sixteen times, I’ve stood at the side of a raised gurney in an operating room and sung my daughter to sleep.

Sixteen times, I could faintly smell the scented oil the anesthesiologists rub inside the mask, the mask that delivered sleeping gas, the oil they put there to cover the smell of the gas, the gas she could still smell and taste, making her grimace until she was overcome.

Sixteen times, I kept singing. Sixteen times, I planted a kiss on her still-warm skin above the mask. Sixteen times, I walked back to the pre-operative room and gathered up my husband and our belongings, and sixteen times I shrugged and stiffly shook the vision of my limp and drugged daughter from my head.

“She’s fine,” I answered my husband when he looked at me, questioning. Though who knows? By then, many times, she may have had tubes down her throat, things pinching and scraping her insides in places I would never see with my own eyes. Fine? I suppose.

****

Sometimes, I must have cried, a little. Most times, I don’t believe I did. The routine of it makes them all blend together; the coffee sipped while we waited, the nausea rising at the smell of a hospital breakfast, the same sixteen pages of sixteen books read a hundred times, all of them dull and timeless. Always, I wondered how she could still be in there. Every time, the clock was a demon, moving slowly as they mucked around with my daughter’s insides. My eyes and mind paced when she was asleep, circling around the room.

No matter the conversations I had while we waited, I walked and moved to the beat of the song I’d sung as she fell asleep, my eyes locked on hers so that, if she didn’t wake up again, my face would be the last thing she saw in this world. She was born into medical equipment, strange doctors’ faces, suctioning, poking, bright light. I would not let her leave like that. Let the end be a comfort, I always thought, and so I always found myself as focused as a yogi at her bedside in the operating room. I imagined myself an angel, a guide, and I stared peacefully into her eyes and sang. I sang lullabies from my childhood and hers; nursery rhymes when she was a toddler; a pop song called “You and I” that she was learning to play on the ukulele. I sang and held her hand and I was not scared. I did not want her to think I was scared. And after I walked out of the operating room, my soul was alert for the sensation of hers, leaving or staying.

So if she asks, “what did you do when I went to sleep in the hospital?,” how can I ever tell the truth? Played cards. Checked my email. Barely noticed the time going by; it was so quick!

**** Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood

The Other Side

September 10, 2015

By Debbie Weingarten

The afternoon brings long rays of sun through the window, and specks of dust float around us like stars. We live in a home the size of a postage-stamp, and it is full of a baby and a toddler, a broken mama, one dog, one cat— all growing, healing, mucking through the days together.

I have begun to think in motivational phrases:

Orient towards the light. Take a step. Repeat.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

We are never given anything more than we can handle.

This is a brand new year, I say to myself, through the lull of the afternoon. The baby stretches in his sleep, as if he knows that new years are for waking up.

With the second child, time does not seem quite so cavernous. It’s like walking a familiar path, recognizing this crooked tree, or that patch of wildflowers, or the wooden bridge just beyond the rhododendron. The baby will cut teeth, learn to walk, say bird and dog, sprout little blonde hairs on his legs, ride a tricycle, finally sleep through the night. And I— tired rings below my eyes, yoga pants for days— will marvel at how time has somehow robbed us and kept us prisoner at the very same time.

I could feel the divorce before it came. It circled us for two long years, disguised as stress from sleep deprivation, an infant, a demanding business. It has been a year since I woke up to the abuse and control, since my son and I fled in our pajamas, the baby still the size of a fist in my belly.

I have been ushering us through the weeks, each one its own journey and wall of grief, each one bringing new layers of deconstruction, clarity, documents from the lawyer. For a time, I am set adrift on my own solitary raft, letting the warm ocean wash over me. I am tired of crying, and I cannot eat. Instead, I spend time sorting through all of the lies told to me so casually. I turn them over like seashells, put them in a bucket, scream. It is all one big mindfuck.

I have embraced things I was never allowed: a frivolous coffee routine, afternoon naps, frozen foods, shitty milkshakes. I find comfort from things I never thought I would: signs of synchronicity, self-help books, kind sister strangers, internet support groups, old songs with new meanings. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

The Heart Learns Nearly Nothing, But Just Enough, in One List

September 8, 2015

By Erin Khar

 

  1. Begin your sexual history, at least the consensual part, at age thirteen, with someone you don’t love and who probably doesn’t love you, and stay with him for two years, even though you are so young and don’t love him. (Do some heroin so you can ignore this problem.)
  2. Spend the rest of your adolescence in love with someone who will break your heart and don’t have intercourse.
  3. Begin sleeping with people as a way to distance yourself emotionally.
  4. Sleep with older guys who want to possess you but you’re on drugs and they don’t know it and you feel dead inside and they will want you more which is confusing.
  5. Realize that they haven’t always worn a condom and freak out every time you take an HIV test because you’ve slept with men with questionable hobbies and you should know better because you grew up in the age of AIDS after all and you end up okay but you know you dodged a bullet or more.
  6. Move in with a twenty-six year old man when you are eighteen and cheat on him and make him crazy, so crazy that he tries to poison your spaghetti dinner and you throw up all night, but don’t find out until after you broke up that he put fifty phenobarbital in said spaghetti.
  7. At the age of nineteen, on the heels of the spaghetti fiasco, have an affair with a forty-five year old married British singer who has a small penis and likes to hit you during sex.
  8. Abruptly end your affair with the married British singer over red wine and Leonard Cohen, and begin sleeping with the guy your best friend is in love with. (Rationalize this with the fact that he doesn’t love her back.)
  9. Spend the next two years in an open relationship with the guy your best friend loved, while starting and not finishing many many relationships, leaving a trail of angry men behind you, including the celebrity who stalks you because you keep telling him, “”
  10. Find out that the guy you loved when you were sixteen, who broke your heart, the one who you still loved, find out that he died of liver failure after drinking himself to death in the span of four years.
  11. When you are twenty-one, abruptly decide to leave your country and boyfriend and half-begun relationships and dead ex-boyfriend and move to Paris.
  12. Spend some months sleeping with rich Americans and a few Frenchmen, vowing to never fall in love again.
  13. Fall in love with a Frenchman who has a girlfriend.
  14. Attempt a friendship with said Frenchman, but then begin an affair and feel heartbroken all the time because he won’t leave the girlfriend he has had since high school.
  15. Feel relieved when Frenchman finally breaks up with girlfriend. (Later you will find out he didn’t really.)
  16. Return to Los Angeles with the man you love, who may or may not be disentangled from his previous relationship.
  17. After a disastrous couple of months, ship the Frenchman home and start using heroin again.
  18. Get strung out on heroin, using the money you have that you don’t deserve.
  19. Go back to being a heart-breaker rather than the heartbroken and do things like jump out a second-story window when the guy you just slept with tells you he is falling love with you.
  20. In a drug-induced flight of fancy, return to France and accept the Frenchman’s marriage proposal.
  21. Hide your heroin addiction from the Frenchman, at least until he catches you with a needle in your arm.
  22. Go to rehab at the age of twenty-three.
  23. Break up with your French fiancé while in rehab because you know he can never forgive you.
  24. Start sleeping with the thirty-three year old restaurant mogul you meet in rehab who didn’t do heroin like you but had a thing for cocaine and vodka and women.
  25. After rehab, break it off with the restaurant guy and feel bad when he starts using cocaine and vodka and women, again.
  26. Have a couple of unsatisfying one night stands with guys you meet in twelve-step meetings.
  27. Meet a thirty-two year old photographer who is also a recovering heroin addict and move in together three months later.
  28. Right after you fall for the photographer, meet a thirty-four year old writer who makes you dizzy and let him go down on you.
  29. Although you probably are falling in love with the writer, you shun him and stay with the photographer for three years, during which time you remain faithful.
  30. Until you meet the washed up rockstar who makes you laugh and is so much fun.
  31. Leave the photographer for the rockstar and then immediately regret it.
  32. Try to win the photographer back to no avail.
  33. Become depressed and then even more depressed when you realize that you are pregnant and don’t want to be.
  34. Have an abortion which destroys you. So, drive to your old dealer’s house later that day and begin a relapse of epic proportions.
  35. Drag your washed up rockstar boyfriend into the relapse and start smoking crack too.
  36. Go to rehab again and break up with the rock star.
  37. Focus on yourself for a few months, although you secretly fall for the guy you are recording music with to no avail, and have some meaningless dates with guys whose names you can barely remember.
  38. Meet a man who seems all wrong and avoid him.
  39. Sleep with the man who seems all wrong and ignore your friends’ warnings to stay away from him.
  40. Spend three months with the man who is all wrong, only to have him break up with you suddenly and break your ego, if not your heart.
  41. Allow your bruised ego to win him back stealthily, even though you know he’s no good for you.
  42. Find yourself pregnant again at twenty-eight, and marvel at your irresponsibility.
  43. Accept the wrong man’s marriage proposal against all better judgement.
  44. Come back from your honeymoon, only to discover that your husband has impregnated another woman.
  45. Somehow make it through a depressing pregnancy, avoiding all thoughts that your marriage is a sham.
  46. At the age of twenty-nine, give birth to a baby boy, and instantly be changed, instantly love him more than you hate yourself, let this little man in a baby’s body teach you how to love.
  47. Begin to realize that you know nothing, but still try to make that sad marriage work.
  48. Catch the man who seems all wrong who became your husband cheating on you.
  49. Catch the man who seems all wrong who became your husband cheating on you, again.
  50. As the love you have for your child grows, you know less but are sure of more. Finally, after two long pitiful years, leave the man who seems all wrong who became your husband.
  51. Enjoy a period of celibacy and know you know nothing.
  52. Finally, break your celibacy by sleeping with a bartender/artist.
  53. Get in to two long-distance relationships back to back, with men who live in New York, while you live in Los Angeles.
  54. Stay in the second one for more than four years, break up and get back together many times and break him and let him break you and begin to finally see your lack of experience.
  55. Break up with the guy who lives in New York, realize you have learned things but still know nothing.
  56. Meet a man who is like no one you have been with before.
  57. Fall in love with the right man, the man who is like no one you have been with before, despite yourself.
  58. Make some mistakes with the right man and don’t run away because of them.
  59. Let him teach you how to be loved.
  60. Marry him. You are finally still, with love. You know that your son taught you how to love and your husband taught you how to be loved. You know nothing else, but that’s all you need to know.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood

Unravelling

September 4, 2015

By Jennifer Meer

Whenever my husband travels for business, I have the same thing for dinner almost every night. I will own that it is so disgusting that I will not eat it in front of him or my children. It is always post bedtime when I sink into that delicious and rare moment in time that is uniquely my own space. I take a bag of pretzels and dump them out on a plate and then I cover them with a slice of American cheese which I then microwave.

Everything about it is wrong.

It tastes amazing.

I suspect that the actual taste of microwaved processed cheese melted on top of pretzels has little to do with gastronomic pleasure and everything to do with the taste of freedom, the taste of what it feels like to not be wanted or needed or touched. It tastes like the freedom to unravel.

Mentally, sometimes I picture that this is what is happening at the end of these days that are both centuries and mere moments long. That after a day of logistics and questions and to dos and toys and tasks and dishes and laundry and diapers and none of which are bad, I literally imagine myself wrapped in their love and tasks, like gauze slowly winding and tightening itself around me all day long. I wear it proudly, like a corset. It keeps me cinched in, and from instinctively pursuing things that are hard and emotionally complex. I am not sure this is bad. But at night, in the dark when no one is around and the cheese is still bubbling on the pretzels, I literally unravel myself. Layer after layer. I am scared that if I unwind too much too far or too fast, I will reveal what I fear to be true. That there is nothing underneath my corset of loving. That the process of loving and doing has become so all consuming, that I am losing the person at the center of it.

The next day, pre-dawn, I smuggle myself out of the house much like a cat burglar to go for a sorely needed yet far too rare early morning jog. It strikes me as strange how much I feel like I am getting away with something, escaping while they are all still asleep. Why does love always come with this requisite push and pull? I need them close, I need more, I need myself, I need escape.

As I run, the sounds of Bon Jovi and vintage Sambora fill my ears. I think of the lost art of the guitar solo in all of its faded glory and perfection: equal parts embellishment and improvisation. Another bygone relic of my 80s youth, it gave that band member used to working so hard to blend in, a rare moment to give everything to just the opposite: standing out. It is so easy to love them. It is so hard to turn in and up. Am I using my loving them as an excuse to avoid the hard work of learning me? Is this season of mothering an opportunity to love or hide? Continue Reading…

Binders, Friendship, Guest Posts, travel

Manolos and Genocide: A Love Story

September 3, 2015

By Hillary Kaylor

“What shoe size are you?”

This is how she hired me. At twenty-three, I was looking for an identity, and found it by becoming the assistant to the publisher of the most coveted foodie magazine in the world. A magazine glamorous in a gleaming midtown office building over a hundred years old that used to house carnival acts in old New York at the turn of the century. The place was wild with beaming chefs’ events and exclusive parties and in its office on the 9th floor, multiple test kitchens roasted whole chickens, prepared six different crusted pies for the November issue in the cold spring months, cinnamon-spiked hot chocolate in July, all manners of honeyed fruits and roasted vegetables, and next to our own wine-tasting room, a nearby counterspace where a bounty of fancy boutique packaged cookies and tins of toffee stood unscrewed and slashed for testing. It was a gate to a heaven of kinds.

As soon as I said 7 ½, she went over to the sleek metal locker. As she slid it to the side, I held my breath.

The shoes. Oh, the shoes!

Prada. Dior. Chanel peep toes. Sky-high wedges by Sergio Rossi. Leather and suede, silk and satin, all colors and styles. There were shelves and shelves of them. All size seven and a half.

“Yes.” I nearly shouted when she offered me the job. I would become like her. I would be queen of New York—gorgeous, rich, important, and well fed. Just like her. I could be someone.

The most beloved pair of shoes she gave me in the years that I worked as her assistant, was zebra pony skin pumps with a knife-sharp toe and an un-sensible heel.

They were also the shoes that I wore to her funeral.

Working for her was complicated, though we formed a close relationship from an intense routine. She was organized and put-together and I fell in line. Because everyone knew her, everyone had to know me, and it gave me purpose. I was important enough to run someone else’s life, and I rose to the occasion in a way I didn’t in my own.  I filled her fridge with glass-bottled organic milk while the cheap stuff curdled in mine. When she needed her designer bags to be curried to the high- end vintage shop, or when she needed a personal trip booked door to door to Hong Kong, and I could deliver, the world changed. It seemed conquerable.

Each morning I shrugged out of my boyfriend’s arms early to pick up the morning papers and arrive at the office. Then, I cut out the front-page news, anything business-related, and the fashion sections. Once the sheets were cut and pinned, I ordered her morning fruit shake: strawberries, de-seeded black berries, skim milk, a shot of bee pollen, blended with extra ice, served with two straws.

At 8:30 AM sharp, she would roll into the office, dressed to thrill in stilettos and a Balenciaga skirt suit, fresh from a personal session at her pilates studio, and I would stand, wearing what I thought at the time to be a particularly good knockoff Chanel jacket.

She’d eye my outfit, furrow her ash blond brows, take the papers and drink and retreat to her office, closing the door.

When she invariably complained her shake was too icy but demanded I did not remove any of the ice, I’d shove it into my lap and cup both sides of it, warming it between my stocking legs.

I continued on. I had broken through to something. It was a world of fast deadlines and style, of travel and class. Once I had to get her a new passport because hers was already full of stamps. I held it in my hands like a badge of honor as I went to the passport office. When I returned, she merely tossed the old one back at me to shred. As if it was nothing! I kept it instead in my pencil drawer for years. I wanted her world for my own. I loved her, and she loved me almost as much. She remembered everything: my birthday, my favorite color, wrote me cards, treasured my work.  I went through boyfriends with a vengeance, but whenever they told me I had to choose between my job and them, I always chose her. The boys came and went. My boss and I were here to stay. Our love lasted through my twenties, as long as it took for the magazine publishing houses to begin to fold.

She began having long meetings in her office with the door closed, and then for a while, no meetings at all. A promotion was pushed upon her to assist another magazine in the company. Then she was fired. Or downsized. Or reorganized as an outside consultant. The company never said why, and I was too polite to ask.

When she walked out of the doors of her office for the last time, she said, “It’ll be an adventure!”

“I’m going to quit,” I told her. “I’m not staying without you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she gathered her favored calendar: a buttery, camel-colored Tiffany book. “Anyway, you know I’m going to call you for help.” She showed me: she’d already marked up the “Hillary” days.

She called often at first. I spent months setting up her home office, reorganizing her contacts, and typing up job prospects in her living room.

Later that year, she was invited to just six of the many usual Thanksgiving cocktail parties. When Christmas came and she still hadn’t gotten a new magazine job, she was invited to none. I attended three, and lost an expensive gift bag in the cab home.

More time passed, and she called me to help her less. She never contacted to see me socially and when I asked, she was suddenly busy. She’d been hard to love in life at times, even harder to love unemployed. Her edges sharpened, her niceties became lax. She seemed bitter and angry; people whispered.

“Did you see how FAT she got?” a pretty and interminable gossip who Anna had been particularly cold to, nudged me from behind, and thrust her phone forward with the offending photo. That’s what people said about her, if they said anything at all. I’d since gotten two promotions since she left. I felt the strange pangs of survivor guilt.

Soon, her presence faded from the circle in New York that she’d valued the most, her place in pictures filled in by fresher, hungrier faces. Once it was gone, she didn’t seem to want to find another. She stopped taking my calls. I walked by her apartment on occasion on the Upper East Side, a far cry from my Williamsburg tenement, and rang the bell. She never answered.

When I was told she was found dead, I sobbed in the ladies’ room as my cashmere skirt dipped into the toilet bowl. The world was big again; dark and wild territory. That summer it seemed to rain every day, hot rain, soaking through everyone’s bright summer clothes. The city itself began to wear black. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

Indelible

September 3, 2015

By Claire Handscombe

On the road we sang Jean-Jacques Goldman. We sang about love. We sang about dark grey and light grey. We sang about the lure of communism and anarchy and the dream of flying away from responsibilities. We sang about Jewish children in the war. We sang about a woman who leaves breadcrumbs on her balcony for the pigeons, who lives her life vicariously, though we had no idea what vicariously meant. We sang, improbably, about women having babies without men. We sang about the indelible footprints that people leave on our lives when they go.

We sang though we should have been sleeping. At four a.m. we had been up, the countdown over at last, school out for two glorious months, all the maths and the Latin and the Dutch lessons done until September, which was an eternity away, so far away that there was no point thinking about it, because it did not exist. At four thirty we had picked up our heavy duffle bags, tried again to squeeze our sleeping bags into their covers, failed, and told ourselves it didn’t matter, that we would just fold them up and sit on them all the way down to the South of France. And at five there we had been, in a pre-ordained car park on the outskirts of an ugly Belgian industrial city which we loved because it had come to symbolise tea towel fights and midnight snacks, whispered secrets and campfires.

On the road it was dark and cold. On the road it was warmer and lighter and then almost unbearably hot as we drove south through France into the heat of the day. On the road it was mostly monotonous motorways until it was windy and nauseating, but we didn’t care about any of that because we had landed a space in the Mahieu family van, and that was the only place in the world we wanted to be. Singing to the same 80s pop cassette. Sharing out sweets and biscuits. Unwrapping sandwiches that had been lovingly wrapped in tin foil by our mothers. Poking small cartons of orange juice with straws and spilling the sticky drink onto our laps. Laughing with Marianne, who sat in the front rubbing her belly, pregnant for the fifth time, dispensing instructions on driving and life to her long-suffering husband.

The first night we slept in beds in the stone house. It was late and we had earned it with all that sitting, and no one had the energy to pitch tents. We wriggled into our sleeping bags and whispered about who would be in which team for the week’s competitions. We thought about the boys we had crushes on. We wondered who would be new this year and hoped they would fit in and not mess with the well-established order of long-held friendships. And in the morning, we waited.

We waited for the others to arrive, cars and vans full of Belgian adolescents. We waited, feeling as though we were the owners of this paradise, preparing to welcome guests to our home. We waited, slightly smug that we knew already who was going to be on washing up duty tomorrow.

We put on suncream. We put on shorts. We put on t-shirts, and the boys took theirs off again by lunchtime. We put on the blue and red scarves that said we belonged together. We put up the big blue tent and chose our sleeping spots, rolling out our sleeping bags over our airbeds and saving a space for Hélène next to us. And we waited.

The vans arrived and tired families tumbled out, families whose parents were leading the camp and had all of their children in tow, from the eldest who was one of us to the baby in a carseat. The cars arrived and holdalls and rucksacks were lugged to the tent. The cars arrived and we kissed  everybody’s cheeks three times, Belgian-style, introduced new people, and the sounds of anticipation and welcome echoed throughout the grounds, from the stone house to the back of the field where the next day we would play handball and chase each other with water pistols.

In the girls’ tent, all was order. In the girls’ tent, we put our bags at the foot of our airbeds and took out our torches and maybe our Bibles for the morning. In the girls’ tent, we lay facing each other in two rows of eight. In the girls’ tent we inwardly cheered that we had made it this time, that at last we were in the inner sanctum, right by the people we most wanted to be close to, the people everyone wanted to be close to, not like the last year’s camp when we had been put in a room with all the other misfits and new girls. This time we were next to Hélène and across from Anne-Laure and this was the way life should be. In the girls’ tent, we giggled until we saw the flashlight against the canvas in the darkness, and knew that it was time to be quiet because we did not want to be told off on the very first morning. We did not want to be told off ever, because we were good girls who wanted everyone to like us.

In the mornings, we listened to the crickets from our airbeds, our airbeds which made us all smell faintly of rubber. In the mornings, we ate bread and chocolate spread for breakfast. In the mornings, we lined up, waiting for our turn to have our hair French plaited. In the mornings, we sat in the chapel and sang again, not Jean-Jacques Goldman this time but our favourite church songs about days of joy and days of victory and about God being love and listening to us when we called. In the mornings, we sat under the shade of the tree across form the tent and talked. We played volleyball. We were called in for potato peeling duty. We were told to chop vegetables and were too scared to say that we never did it at home and didn’t know which way to cut an onion.

We sang in the mornings. We sang in the afternoons. We sang in the evenings, in the chapel again, but different songs this time. We sang about the story of a sock with holes weeping on the edge of a bin. We sang about spending the night walking around the Champs-Elysées. We sang campfire songs that made no sense but whose sole purpose was to get louder and louder until we almost lost our voices.

We didn’t have mobile phones. There was no phone at all, or maybe one, but long-distance calls were expensive and unnecessary unless someone was dying, which of course no one was, because we were young and invincible. There was no post, even, because our parents would have had to write to us two weeks before we left so that we got the letters on time. There was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. Some of us had cameras but not a lot of pocket money for films or to have our films developed, and so we took twenty, maybe thirty, photos in total over ten days and we hoped for the best and later we were excited when the photo of our favourite family came put well enough to be blown up and framed and hung on a bedroom wall in memory of the perfect summer. We lived in the moment and years later we marvelled that our memory had taken its own photographs. This, too, Jean-Jacques Goldman had sung about, so we should have known. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Inspiration

A History of Listening

August 28, 2015

By Donna Steiner

I had a lover who whispered to me.  Not just in public, to say something private, and not just in bed, but often, as though we had two distinct languages, one audible and one intimate. “I made you pizza,” she’d whisper, and it was thrilling, although I don’t think she was trying to thrill me.  We were surprised by one another, gliding into relationship, building a new thing of hushed tones, notes and silences, pauses.

Throughout my 20s I lived in big, cheap apartments in central New York.  The locals called them flats, and they were laid out like ladders, one room after another, stretching the length of three or four story houses.  Typically the living room would be at one end and the kitchen or a bedroom at the other.  Living on the top floor was the best in that it was the quietest.  The other floors usually meant you could hear upstairs tenants walking, which always sounded like large men wearing heavy boots or women in heels. I thought of myself, then (and now), as exceedingly quiet, but I practiced on occasion one noisy habit.  I liked to lie on the floor in the living room and listen to music turned up loud.  Those were the days of large stereo speakers.  We had two and they were crate sized.  I’d lie right between them and put on “Jungleland” by Bruce Springsteen, feeling the base pulse up through my hips and shoulders and thump against my ribs.  I’d wait for the 4-minute mark where Clarence Clemons’ saxophone came in with a long, slow, lamenting riff and I’d feel transported, in love with everything.  And then I’d play the song again.  And again.

Once, perhaps in retaliation, the downstairs neighbors embarked on a course of John Cougar Mellencamp songs, a full album, played on repeat.  For weeks.  To this day, I have a bit of difficulty listening to Mellencamp, and the names “Jack and Diane” send a little shudder through me. Continue Reading…

Binders, feminism, Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts

Carry-On Baggage

August 27, 2015

By Anna March

My husband, Adam, paraplegic, is waiting for a search of his wheelchair, and I am cleared but lingering for him. We are at the TSA checkpoint in the airport in Honolulu. The trade winds blow warm and humble. The sea sky and bowing palm trees frame us in the open air terminal.  I am staring at a purse the color of a ballet slipper in the window of a store just beyond the stark security inspection lanes.  Its Siren’s call: to feed my pocketbook-buying habit. I notice a federal guard with rigid posture frowning, staring at me. I point toward Adam, tell her, “I’m waiting for my husband,” and she says in a tone as crisp as the knife pleats in her blouse, “I know. I’m going to pass you his belongings.”  I snarl,  “I don’t carry his bags.” She puts her hand on her hip, bellows “EXCUSE ME?”  “You heard me,” I snap.

Adam, calm as ever, smiles, put his hand on the small of my back, “Why don’t you go to the store? Leave your bag here, I’ll bring it.” I lean my heavy carry-on on the wall in front of him, glaring at the guard, taking only my phone and credit card with me.  I was cracking with anger, disgusted by the agent treating me like Adam’s servant and choosing to talk to me about his things rather than directly to him.  This happens many times a week, people ignoring Adam and instead speaking to me about him, but only today am I enraged over it. Why is this particular exchange scratching me so harshly? I know it has something to do with the perception that I should carry my husband’s bags but why does that rankle me this much?

I huff into a coffee shop wafting fresh brewed Kona to mull. I know that what’s bothering me is somehow mixed up with gender. Questions I’ve spent my life asking are suddenly swirling.  What does gender even mean?  What is perceived as womanly, manly and why? Why are we all so screwed up about gender roles to the point that we still want to squeeze everyone into a narrow binary? What do power and ability really mean?

As a woman, my whole life I have been treated as less physically capable than men. The world’s default mode when I’m with an able-bodied man has always been that he is going to be the athlete, the one to lead, drive, carry the heavy things, and that if anyone needs assistance it will be me, the woman. In the world’s hierarchy man trumps woman but woman trumps disabled. Everything about the existence of these pecking orders repels me. Yet somehow I know that I am rankled today at least in part because I want everyone to see Adam as strong, capable, like I do. But why? Continue Reading…

Binders, feminism, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts

What I Am Thinking When You, a Stranger, Shout “Hey Baby You Look Good”at Me When I Walk By on a Crowded Street

August 26, 2015

By Amber Sparks

Should I smile?

I should smile. That was a compliment – it’s polite to smile. It doesn’t take any effort.

God, I hate that other people are looking at me now. I feel like I have to respond. Are they trying to figure out what looks good? Are they judging me? 5 out of 10 stars? Nice ass, softish stomach, teeth need work?

Maybe just a little smile. A no-teeth smile. A thanks but stay away smile.

I smile too much. That’s what the women in my life tell me. Stop smiling so much. You don’t owe that smile to anybody. Stop giving it away.

I can say I have a husband (true) and a baby (true). I can say I’m taken.

But that’s bullshit. I don’t belong to any man, including my husband. I’m not “taken.” If you respect me because I’m wearing a ring then you’re just respecting another man’s property. You’re not respecting me. I should say this. I should make this shit known.

But I don’t want them to think I’m a bitch. What if they were just being nice? I was raised to be a nice person. Polite. It doesn’t hurt to smile.

I do look good today. I like this dress. I’ve lost some weight and my hair looks good. I did my makeup today. They’re just seeing that, you know? Seeing the effort I put in. I should be validated, right?

But this effort is for me, not for other people. This is just for me.

Am I a bitch? Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Damaged

August 26, 2015

By Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons

Three months before my niece started sixth grade, we were walking to the local commuter trains station near my house. I was taking her to the symphony for her birthday. “I can’t believe you’re starting middle school,” I said. “Are you excited or scared?”

She thought for a moment. “Both.”

Out of the blue I said this: “Lizzie, if anything happens you don’t feel comfortable about, I want you to tell me. Or your mom. Promise?”

She looked at me as if she wanted to say what could happen to me? It’s just sixth grade. Part of it was I’ve been writing about a cold case about a girl who was killed years before. But it was something else, something more personal. In sixth grade I experienced something that was so awful, so shameful that I never wrote about it, nor did I ever talk about it. I wanted my niece to skip middle and high schools and go directly to college. I didn’t want her to be bullied. I wanted to protect her from the world.

It was two weeks before Christmas. Eighth grade girls were choreographing a dance set to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” while others were singing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in the hallway.  All the girls were wearing Guess jeans. I wore Gitanos. One came up to me and said in all seriousness: “Oh my God, are you poor?”  Not only did she have Guess jeans, they were stonewashed.

I hated sixth grade with a full passion. I hated my core teacher, who had a thing about making sure we knew about prepositional phrases, making us diagram sentence after sentence. One time I forgot my reading book in my locker. She threatened to give me detention. She changed her mind, saying that she would write it on my progress report instead. When my mother read it, she looked at me and said “Well, stop making mistakes in that class. She wants a robot, not a student.” Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: I Just Got Dumped.

August 25, 2015

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Carena Liptak.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. 

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Dear Life,

You don’t know me, but I’m writing to ask for your help. My boyfriend of 18 months broke up this past week. He told me he needed time for himself and to focus on getting his life in order. Well, come to find out he has been cheating on me. My heart is breaking. I feel like I can hardly breathe. I feel wobbly. A once strong, confident, determined woman has been chopped at the knees. Can you help me feel better? I’m not feeling strong enough to live myself right now. I feel sad, alone and confused. Help. Please.

Signed, Confused

Continue Reading…

Binders, death, Grief, Guest Posts

How to Have a Dead Child, The First Five Years

August 20, 2015

By Adina Giannelli

Live in a state of fog, half-submerged in water. Everything is fuzzy, cloudy, gray. Feel as though you’ve been anesthetized, but badly. Quickly you realize that what you thought was a general anesthetic turned out to be a local; the pain comes through the haze in sharp shards, and there’s no one you can sue for malpractice.

Cry, seemingly at random, at strollers and strawberries and the number 23. Living after death is not rational. Even through the anesthesia you see that. Exist as unhealed wound, sore and open, vulnerable to everything, yet somehow impenetrable. Scar tissue forms keloids around your head and heart; refuse to be moved.

Stare coldly at strangers who ask questions; stay angry. Exercise until you’ve lost all discernible body fat and rip your hair out at the root. Cry in your bed, in your car, in your office, at the gym. Wear age-inappropriate clothing that hangs on your gaunt frame like a signal light, a warning sign, a red flag.

Imagine yourself pregnant, feel phantom kicks; dream, occasionally, that your dead child is reincarnated as younger sibling. Become pregnant, accidentally but essentially on purpose, by your dead child’s father—a man you once loved and now hate.

Go to Russia where you sleep for fourteen hours a night and cry silently into your cheese grater cot at night, hoping for another day to pass, willing yourself to forget all you’ve left behind. A voice so small it is nearly inaudible whispers in your ear: remember, remember.

Two

 Move to a beautiful apartment in an idyllic little village an hour from where you work, where none of the faces are familiar and no one knows your troubles or your story or your name. Strangers stare, no one bothers to ask. Walk the streets in the day, to the library and the cooperative market and the village’s flower-covered bridge in rainy mornings, sit in your living room chair late into the evening, staring out the window and wondering why.

Your water breaks in the living room late one evening on the precipice of winter. A fierce cherub is born in the bedroom shortly thereafter, apparently healthy and squealing. Your midwife Kirsten catches the baby and places him on your swollen breasts; silently, in a manner discordant with your tradition, you pray.

Do not name the baby for eight days, less for religious reasons, more because you’re scared he won’t survive. His father, if you can call him that, wants to name the baby Uzi. You want to name the baby Ariel. His father is nowhere to be found for most of that first year, visiting occasionally as you monitor your second child’s breathing and anticipate the moment at which it might cease

Cry sparingly, for tears do no good. Winter births spring as you birthed your December baby, who passes through the five-week mark easily and without fanfare and tell yourself that if you don’t get too attached to the idea of his permanence, there is a very small chance he might survive.

Give strangers death stares when they ask about your husband, how many children you have, if he is your first. It is just you and this small infant this first year. Wake every fifteen minutes, checking his breathing, which steadies your own. You call this baby Samuel, a Hebrew name meaning God has heard. You are not so sure.

Three

Exhaust yourself with work and the task of raising a needy infant alone. Stress yourself with thoughts of your own poverty, the loneliness of a solitary future, the uncertainty of how you will survive. Realize you have no idea how to parent this beautiful baby when no one parented you, when you exist in a state of fog, when half of your heart is buried miles away, encased within a tiny white casket in a verdant cemetery plot, left to earth beneath the shade of ancient maple and pine trees.

Visit the cemetery and the other half of your heart as frequently as possible. Watch as your second baby is reborn a toddler through a sort of fog which offers a strange clarity, even in a haze of grief.

Repeat, as a mantra to guide you:

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Sometimes it will work and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your days are better than others, even good. See that life is extraordinarily beautiful, at times; feel happy. See that life is extraordinarily blessed, at times; feel grateful. See that life is extraordinarily difficult, at times; feel angry. Your daughter did not deserve to die. Your son did not deserve a dead sister, an absent father, a mother teetering on the edge. Resign yourself to the fog, lean into it and hope that like all other weather patterns, it will one day lift. Some mornings it is a challenge to lure your body from bed, the fog is so heavy, but you rise. Even on the worst days, you find yourself lifted.

Four 

Struggle. Become so busy with teaching and work and the labor of parenting a toddler that you have to remind yourself daily of your reality. You don’t feel sad, most of the time, you feel so overextended and exhausted by the activities of daily living that you nearly forget you have a dead child. Cease speaking about her, as a means of self-preservation.

Listen as people ask if Samuel is your only child. Tell people you had a daughter but she died; comfort them as they work through imagined grief. Learn to lie when people ask if you have other children, so as to maximize everyone’s comfort. Think of her daily; cry less frequently; try to move forward and upward and on. Feel guilty, as if by approximating a life you have betrayed your dead child, your buried half heart.

Realize that the fog very nearly overtook you, but it was merely an overture: a necessary beginning, but a temporary one. Recognize that even if you don’t know how to get it, you and everyone around you deserve something else.

Five

Decide you really have to get it together, to get off the treadmill of stagnant, unspent grief where you’ve stationed yourself in the years since your daughter’s death. See that every bad decision you’ve made in the last half-decade has been a function of indecision, a failure, driven by fear, to make a move, to take your life by its own balls and do the thing you were initially driven to do.

Realize that though your daughter is dead, you are not. Recognize that though you have tried desperately for the better part of the last five years to match her in her death state, it is physically impossible. You cannot be dead while you are still alive. The realization is shocking in its simplicity, and somehow profound, if only for the fact that you’d never considered it before.

Recognize your process was blocked, and you need to get unstuck. Act accordingly. Throw yourself into exercise, and friendship, and work. Help everyone who asks. Be kind to everyone who crosses your path. Write and read and teach with fire burning beneath you, from the place where for five years, half your heart’s been buried.

Pitch stories to editors and proposals to agents, knowing that many of them won’t be accepted. Eat ice cream after you go to the gym and have three drinks at dinner with your beautiful cousin and her wonderful husband, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Wrap your arms completely around the broad body of the man you’re casually dating but beginning to love, even if you don’t know where things are going, even if it means your heart will be broken and badly. Your heart’s already broken, and if you’re very lucky, it will break again, and again, and again, anyway.

Go to the cemetery at dusk on the evening of your daughter’s fifth birthday, and cry into the grass while your son runs circles around you. Walk down the hill to the nearby playground with your preschool aged son. Stay there until well after dark, blowing bubbles on park benches and chasing your boy on the pavement, summer fireflies lighting the night around you, long after he should be sleeping. When you arrive home, read him seven books in bed rather than the requisite three. But I’m three, Mama, he will protest, conflating his nightly reading load with his chronological age. Yes, but you’ll be seven someday! you will tell him, and you will mean it.

Maybe it is G-d working in and through and for you and this revelation is holy. And maybe it is for your daughter and maybe it is for your son, maybe it’s for your favorite cousin or that man you are only casually dating but find you’re beginning to love. Mostly it is for yourself, but it isn’t selfish. Your child has been dead for five years, but you have walked among the living, even if half your heart’s been buried since. If you are going to have a dead child you must find a way to be alive. You start by choosing to live.

 

*

 

A writer and teacher whose essays has appeared in publications including Role Reboot, Salon, and The Washington Post, Adina Giannelli lives and works in Western Massachusetts with her son Samuel. She is currently at work on her first book.
Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her Vancouver, BC workshop Jan 23. The workshops are magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being

Visit Tuscany with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Italy retreat! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Click photo to book.. Just be a human being. June 17-24, 2017, Siena, Italy. Email Italy@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions.

 

 

 

 

Featured image by Barbara Potter.