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Chronic Illness, Guest Posts

Floors and Phantasms

May 6, 2024
floor

I never used to think about floors that much. You raise walls and a ceiling and then the floor is unavoidably there. Floors are way stations we are always trying not to use, forever picking up socks that never seem to make it from feet to laundry bin without a break in between. Floors are perpetual works-in-progress, at any given moment requiring sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, or tidying so that, although they are arguably the most settled parts of our homes, they’re never quite settled at all. Floors are places where things are not supposed to be, but also where everything is, which is something I think about when I’m spending a lot of time on mine.

I understand why socks will not be denied their sojourn on the floor. I had been missing the form for the function while socks had been enjoying the forest for the trees. The floor is a big picture sort of place (after all, it was there from the beginning, the walls and ceiling are added details) and its form begets a cosmos. For example, there is a spot on my floor where a bit of jam has discovered a world unimaginable from behind the walls of a jar. With sticky tendrils deployed, the jam catches dog fur tumbleweed, which brings along pocket lint, and, when an errant raisin arrives, the jam has built itself a community of diverse travellers, when it had only known other jam before.

I spend the most time on my kitchen floor. It’s not a preference, there’s just an extra gravity in kitchens that feels sometimes as if it was created just for me. Of course, I’m not special, I’m just sick. And I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it does feel like I’m stuck in a tragedy every time I lose myself staring into the fridge like a thirsty sailor gazing at the undrinkable ocean. Knees buckle, spine falls, breath leaves, and hope escapes until I turn my head and find jam, and then I remember I am only trapped on the floor if I let myself be.

People would prefer that I not be on the floor. They are discomforted by my discomfort. They suggest places where bodies are supposed to be, like beds, or couches, or bathtubs; but they don’t understand that I am uncomfortable everywhere. And the floor, unlike a bed, or a couch, or a bathtub, is always there. Besides, it’s not so bad, lost in the in between, taking refuge at the way station.  Settled or unsettled doesn’t matter in twilight purgatory, where grey is soft instead of dull and time is neither stopped nor moving. The floor is where things are not supposed to be and neither am I but, also, neither was the jam.

Here’s something you can try on your own floor. Lay your cheek flat against it and imagine that your ear is a mussel’s foot, holding you fast so you won’t get carried off by a wave. Listen for the messages that are stored there, having bubbled up from the earth below. Messages that have come from everywhere, tapped out by feet on the other side of the world or carried by roots from the park across the street. It is profound to think that all our floors connect to the earth and the earth connects to everything. These ordinary, taken-for-granted places are, in fact, portals to anywhere we want to go.

It was on the floor that I discovered that there is a portal inside me too. If the floor can build worlds with jam, dog fur, pocket lint, and raisins, I can build a world with the small things at my disposal too. These little things are called phantasms, and you also have them. They are the things you see with your mind’s eye; they are your imagination; they are in your head. And the floor promotes adaptation, so I call mine Phantasmavision. Phantasmavision is what happens when you nominate yourself the conductor of an orchestra of electricity and synapses. You might call this “daydreaming,” but, please, let me have this one, because calling it “Phantasmavision” makes my time on the floor feel important. It’s one thing to write a symphony in your head that only you will hear, it’s a slightly less depressing thing to tell yourself that you’ll write it all down one day.

On Phantasmavision, I am the manic pixie of my very own dreams. I am in a rock band, I am a poet, I am a professor, I have been to the moon and survived the apocalypse and you can call me, “Barbie.” I have lived a thousand lives and loved a thousand loves. I am not sick or broken. On Phantasmavision, the only correct answer is, “yes, and…”. Yes, I will write a novel in a Parisian cafe, and I’ll be a veterinarian in a small town by the sea. Yes, I will grow old with my high school sweetheart, surrounded by children and grandchildren, and I’ll spend my life floating from one love affair to the next, never staying in one place long enough to be missed. Yes, I will pursue a career that interests me, and I’ll be able to afford a reasonable standard of living. Each fantasy played to perfection by an improv troupe made up of only the parts of myself that I like.

On Phantasmavision, I am me, but better, and this hurts more than my sharp bones against a cold floor. It can be dangerous to have a portal inside you, because what happens when you start to like the version of yourself that lives in your imagination more than the one that lives in your body? What happens when the world that feels the most like home is a place you can’t show anybody else? It is an isolating thing, to be sick, but I can’t blame illness for the solitude I choose. I worry that Phantasmavision is not an adaptation at all, but a vice and I get angry at myself for not being able to get up from the floor.

But what if I could show you Phantasmavision? What if, instead of just phantasms, I told my stories aloud, whispering them to the floor? If I did that, would you listen? Would you get down on your floor and whisper something back? If you knew the me that has lived a thousand lives and loved a thousand loves, then maybe I could be real both when I am made of phantasms and when I am made of bones.

I’m not sure why I’ve told you all of this. Maybe I’m wondering if you’re on your floor too. I think I’d like to see your Phantasmavision, if you wanted to show me. I can get to you, through the portal in my floor, if you beat your coordinates like little tremors through the earth. I have sticky tendrils like jam, and I don’t care what sort of forgotten, not-supposed-to-be-there kind of crumb you are.

So, I’ll be telling and listening, ear pressed to the floor and thinking about the sea. I’ll tell so that I will no longer be alone, neither on the floor, nor in my head, and I’ll listen so that neither are you.

Caity Goerke (she/her) is a lawyer, a grad student, and a comedian. She is new to sharing her writing and hopes that giving voice to her experiences of chronic illness and disability will inspire others to do the same. She is a queer-feminist-socialist and Irish-German settler living on the stolen Indigenous territories of the Coast Salish peoples. Most importantly, Caity is a swamp witch who grows in power every time she makes a man cry.

***

We believe that every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.

It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is not only crucial for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates and make an informed decision.

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Guest Posts, memories

The Song that Binds Us

May 5, 2024
singing

During a middle school basketball game, my period leaked through my gold basketball shorts.  The coach, a friend of my Dad’s, called me out of the game to tell me.  I ran to the bathroom and changed into sweatpants.  I stayed there for an entire quarter of the game.  When I finally came out, hoping that no one else had noticed, a boy yelled across the gym, “Hey Brooke, why did you change your pants?”  It seemed like the entire gym erupted in laughter.  I was mortified but sat down on the bench anyway.  I didn’t play for the rest of the game.  I sat there like a stone, impenetrable.  When I got in my Dad’s car after the game, I continued to sit in silence.  He was the last person I wanted to talk to about what happened.

After about a half hour of driving in silence he began to sing.  Arms crossed I sunk lower in my seat wishing to be alone.  Slowly his singing started to unlock the armor around my heart.  His song reminded me that everything was still the same as it always was.  My Dad was still singing as he drove because he couldn’t help it.  My tragedy was not his, or anyone else’s and actually maybe it didn’t have to be mine either.  I let the song take my worries away, at least for a little bit.

Now that I am a parent watching my own children learn how to cope with the ups and downs of adolescence, I think of my Dad’s singing with such deep love and gratitude.  He never sang professionally or expressed an interest in singing beyond the house or in the car, but he sang around me all the time.  I hadn’t realized until now as I write about him, that his singing is a colorful thread tightly woven into my life.   I can see now that his melodies taught me how to soothe my worried mind and how to create lightness and contentment in any moment.   How rare it is to discover something new of someone who has passed on.  He has been gone for such a long time but I cherish that voice that I can still conjure up in a quiet car ride singing Buddy Holly songs:

Every day, it’s a-getting closer
Going faster than a rollercoaster
Love like yours will surely come my way
A-hey, a-hey-hey

I am now a little older than my Dad was in that car ride.    I feel as though I am on a Ferris Wheel that keeps circling around and around with different passengers getting on and off.  There was a time when I was holding tight to my Dad’s hand, another when I sat close to a boy as my heart beat too fast and then another with an exuberant toddler clutching my body.  The songs and perspectives are constantly changing.  Now I am the parent singing around my teenagers, who roll their eyes and say, “You are so weird.”

Recently I found myself sitting at our worn oak farm table on a Saturday afternoon.  Caught in a ray of sun streaming through the south facing windows, everything felt just as it should.  The entire afternoon unfurled itself before me with no real plans or lists of things to do.  Everyone was home and happily danced in and out of each other’s orbits. I perused through some cookbooks, thinking about the magic I could concoct for dinner if I could ever wake from the dreamy October sun that had caught me like a cat.

The abundance of life in that moment got me singing.

It doesn’t really matter what I am singing.  Often the same songs get stuck on repeat.  For weeks I had been singing Suzanne by Bermuda Triangle

You love Suzanne and I love you
Where is she now, go and get her
She don’t want you but I do
She makes us lonely here together

As I begin to sing, my shoulder’s drop, my breathing becomes deeper, and I start to slowly stretch my neck and back.  I sit taller.   It is like a gust of goodness and well-being sweeps over me.  Singing is my favorite medicine, a contentment I purposely unwind into, as a practice of happiness.   The effects are subtle but over time I have come to rely on the feelings of contentment that splash over me like gentle lapses of warm waters.

In all of my years of singing I can’t remember ever singing in anger.  It is unimaginable.   When I am singing everyone in my family knows that I am relaxed and happy.  It is a sign post at the door reading, all clear, Mama is in a good mood.

Knowing so well that singing is a beacon of happiness, I am hyper aware of others who are singing.   Happening upon someone caught in song draws me closer to them.  I am a voyeur in these moments, secretly entering into a magical sphere of music someone else has created.  The experience captivates me.   I feel as though I am chancing on a mating dance of a rare bird.  Is this how I look when I am lost in song?  There is something so universally binding about this happy singing that connects me to these passing singers.

A study by Loersch, C., & Arbuckle, N. L. (2013) theorizes that early human beings began singing for social necessity.  Singing bound us closer together to work collectively, ultimately enhancing our chances of survival.   The social connection was an important outcome of singing, but what kept us making melodies was how good it made us feel.  Scientific studies have been able to distinguish how our neurochemical make up changes while singing.  In a comparative study, Dunbar RI, Kaskatis K, MacDonald I, Barra V. shows that singing triggers a great endorphin release, evidenced by increased pain tolerance.  In another study Grape, Sandgren, Hansson, Ericson and Theorell found that oxytocin levels increase while singing, indicating an overall sense of wellbeing.    When we sing it simply feels good and the benefits of our songs are boundless.

Last winter the snow fell relentlessly for months.  Our snowbanks were over 12 feet high making it impossible to shovel the snow from our driveway as there was nowhere to put it.  Despite Winter’s intention to keep up us holed up like the Donner Party, my daughter Maya and I had to go to San Francisco for her dance audition.     As we drove back home, I could see the clouds puffing their billowy chests into massive dark forms.  The wind was roaring down the mountain toward us making the car sway back and forth.   We should have pulled over and got a hotel room.  Maya was insistent, “We should just keep driving.  It won’t be that bad.  I will drive.”  It was 11:30PM.  Maya was 16 and had only been driving legally for a couple of months.  There was no way she was driving.

With no other cars on the road, the wind had made snow drifts across the highway, making my minivan feel like a sled careening down the road.  I drove 20 miles per hour, white knuckling the steering wheel over the entire pass.

When we finally got home, Maya said that I sang for three hours straight.  “I did?” I asked.  “You were singing something when I fell asleep, then later I woke up in a complete white out and you were singing Lizzo.  By the time we got home you were singing Gillian Welch.”  She had fallen asleep in the middle of my panicked driving as only someone young enough to be oblivious of the real danger they are in can do.  It was just me and my songs in a white world of uncertainty.  Singing got us home.

One night recently after all the lights had been turned out and I was cozy under my blankets with a book, I heard Samuel, age 12, singing to himself in bed.  I couldn’t make out the song.  It sounded like popcorning notes exploring the borders of his voice.  It was loud and high-pitched sounding almost like Freddy Mercury singing “I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the Fandango.”

Samuel is naturally a quiet kid who doesn’t put too many unnecessary words out into the world.  He is thoughtful and intentional with his communication.  The juxtaposition of this night time singing was so wonderfully unconscious and free.  The sound of his uninhibited joy was magnificent.  It made my whole-body smile.   Despite the weight of his day that he never really talked about I knew in that moment that everything was going to be ok.  I closed my eyes and  heard my Dad’s voice in his song.   I imagined him singing a sweet little melody of contentment as he found a home with his grandson of the same name, whom he never met.

Brooke Chabot has published extensively in her local paper,  Moonshine Ink. Brooke has a background in education and music. She teaches, performs and writes about music because she is forever intrigued by the depths of beauty that music encapsulates.

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Your voice matters, now more than ever.

We believe that every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.

It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is not only crucial for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates and make an informed decision.

Remember, every vote counts in creating a better and more equitable society.

Friendship, Guest Posts

Confidentially

May 2, 2024
Jill

At the checkout counter of the produce store near campus, Jill slipped a copy of The Star into her basket along with the apples, oranges and blueberries she’d picked out.  I was right behind her with three containers of flavored yogurt in hand.  A professor who taught logic, ethics and women’s studies, Jill relaxed by reading celebrity gossip, horoscopes and outlandish tales of alien visitations.  She took a moment to tuck The Star’s screaming headlines underneath the fruit in her brown paper bag, out of sight so no other colleague might glimpse her clandestine vice.

*  *  *

I was fantastically lucky to be paired with Jill for team teaching my first year as a college instructor.  She demonstrated how to lecture in a competent, unflappable tone while leaving space for students to express doubts, incomprehension or challenges.  Whenever I asked her how to resolve a problem with a student, she offered sympathy and common sense.  Despite the age gap, our rapport quickly ripened into a friendship closer than sisters.

Slightly taller than me, with fluffy white-blond hair and a trim figure, she dropped the professional air outside of the classroom.  Over lunch at the Faculty Club or out to dinner downtown, she would primp her hair while her eyes roved around the room, trying to pick out men who might represent prospects.  Jill was divorcing her husband, whom I never met because he ran a particle physics lab halfway across the country.  “It wasn’t the commuting that doomed the marriage,” she confided.  “He didn’t want kids but wouldn’t say so, and now I’m almost over the hill to have a baby.”

*  *  *

Jill often started conversations with me with “Don’t you dare ever tell anyone, but…”  Yet she loved to dish about colleagues – both those she’d known for years and those who started at the college when I did.  “What do you think Mona’s secret is?” she asked me, for instance. “I’m studying her.”  Mona, a new sociology instructor, had two princely professors plus an old boyfriend vying for her affections.  Intensely friendly, Mona had green eyes, springy yellow hair, a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks, and an eight-year-old daughter from a failed marriage.

“It’s not a matter of technique, Jill,” I told her.  “And remember, if you’re looking for someone willing to be a father…”  She nodded before I finished the sentence, but she kept preening and interviewing with her eyes any single or divorced man in the vicinity.

*  *  *

That Thanksgiving and Christmas, I celebrated with Jill’s family.  My own parents had just moved abroad.  Her father, who taught at a nearby university, said grace at a festive table with Jill’s fairy-tale-sweet mother and her three brothers and their wives – all highbrow professionals whose crosstalk, kidding and in-jokes never stopped.

The following Thanksgiving, when I went into her parents’ room to add my coat to a pile on their bed, a framed photo on their dresser caught my eye.  Lined up from Brian, the youngest brother, at about eight, to Jill, the oldest at seventeen or so, were Matt, Michael and a girl I didn’t recognize.  Matt walked in then with jackets in his arms, and I pointed at the photo.  “Who’s the other girl?” He set the jackets down, replied simply “Oh, that’s Sandra” and left.

*  *  *

Jill didn’t find attractive any of the barely employed, artsy men I dated.  So we could natter like teen pals of different sexual orientations about our romances, flops and crushes.  I confessed that I’d had fantasies about a professor I met with weekly for an independent study course back when I was a sophomore.  This mustached guy with dirty blond hair that often seemed literally dirty had been in her graduate student cohort.  “Dan?” she hooted.  “Did you ever notice his crooked teeth?”

“Listen, if I tell you something about Rob’s sexuality,” she said one day – Rob being her physicist ex-husband, “do you promise never to put it in any of your books?”  Jill knew my writing ambitions backwards and forwards and brought them up this way a lot.  I wouldn’t promise, and though she seemed bursting to spill this revelation, she held it back.

*  *  *

On a snowy night when Jill and I were relaxing at my apartment, I finally broached the mystery of the photo in her parents’ bedroom.  “Who’s Sandra?”  I asked.  Jill paused for many moments before answering.  “My sister,” she said, as quiet as a prayer.  “She killed herself when I was in graduate school.”  In the moment, I didn’t know what to say, realizing that the boisterous family that had warmly taken me in actually held an aching gap.  I never learned much more than that, though I got the impression that Sandra was why Jill had been in therapy for years.

Another winter, Jill called to let me know she was on her way home early from a conference because her mother was desperately ill with pneumonia.  Looking for her mom in the hospital, I bumped into a classmate from college who’d become a lung specialist.  When I told him who I was there to see, he looked down at the floor.  Despite the savvy signified by his white coat and stethoscope, he couldn’t save her.  Another secret surfaced when I asked Jill where the funeral would take place.  “The Mormon church near the university,” she told me.  I blinked.  She’d never mentioned that she, her brothers and sister had grown up Mormon.

*  *  *

Apart from academics, we peered into the window of Eastern spirituality together.  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki gave us catch phrases that we sprinkled into our gabfests.  “Keep don’t-know mind,” I would intone when Jill bemoaned again not having a baby.  “Don’t serve your thoughts tea,” she would quote me when I was wrestling with a housemate problem.  When Korean Zen master Joshu Sasaki Roshi visited the college, his riffs of snappy, ironic paradoxes left me awestruck.  Jill gravitated more to a hushed Tibetan tulku, the scholarly sweetie of a friend of hers.

I introduced Jill to Est, an Americanized version of Zen that engineered a two-weekend enlightenment in a packed hotel ballroom.  Though we went through the Est training separately, we jointly attended follow-up seminars.  We furiously scribbled in stapled lined notebooks lists of issues we’d never resolved and goals for the next one, five, ten and twenty years.  For me the golden orb was my novel published to critical acclaim, while for Jill a “little bitty baby” was the fervent dream.

*  *  *

Through an improbable series of events, my new husband’s sister, a doctor, delivered a baby that the mother left in the hospital and that Jill adopted and adored.  Jasmine grew from a picture-cute baby and toddler to a reticent schoolgirl to a defiant teen while Jill juggled single motherhood and teaching.  Over the years, junk piles multiplied in their apartment, consisting of stockpiled cans and toilet paper, knick-knacks purchased on a whim, every draft of papers Jill struggled to finish writing and every book Jill ever bought.

My husband and I now lived 100 miles apart from Jill and Jasmine, but we got together often.  Since their place had too much clutter to host guests, we met at a nearby home-style Chinese restaurant, with high-spirited chatter and fun distributing shrimp, broccoli and scallion pancakes to everyone’s plates with chopsticks.  At our house in the country, Jill would duck out to a meditation center for the afternoon while Jasmine complained about mosquitoes persecuting her when I took her out for a hike.

*  *  *

By the time lung cancer made Jill weak and almost housebound, her hoarding left just skinny paths in their hallway.  Only Jasmine, when she flew home from college, Jill’s brother Matt and I were allowed in the apartment.  My husband wanted to visit Jill with me, but she refused.  “He’s too critical,” she explained, meaning critical of the mess she’d never managed to tame.  I gave her a skeptical look.  “He never said so,” Jill returned fiercely, “but I could see it clearly in his eyes.”  I’d kept to myself my worry that her home was a fire trap, as well as a burden for Jasmine.

Jill and I had once talked about the physiology of dying.  My father died while my mother, my siblings and me were cocooning his bed, and afterwards I gave Jill an hour-by-hour description.  “There really is a death rattle, and I swear I saw his soul leave his body,” I told her as she listened, intent, to each detail.  “One moment he looked like my dad, and whoosh, the next moment whatever made him him was gone.”  Though I never learned whether her wishes were followed, Jill left instructions for passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead she wanted read aloud just after she died to help her detach from this world and enter the next.

*  *  *

Early in her career, Jill wrote about a logical puzzle posed by Bertrand Russell.  Is the present King of France bald?  Since 1789, of course, there has been no King of France.  According to the sacrosanct Law of the Excluded Middle, for every statement, either it or its negation had to be true.  Yet neither “The present King of France is bald” nor “The present King of France is not bald” seemed correct.  Jill critiqued the complicated theory of descriptions that Russell invented to smooth away this intellectual crinkle.

Now that Jill has been gone for almost fifteen years, I wrestle with a similarly knotty dilemma.  Considering her secrecy and her touchiness about criticism, I wonder: Do I hurt her by writing about her?  She’s a character not just here but also in a memoir I’m laboring over.  Alive, she would detest having her confidences and secrets disclosed, despite my having changed names.  The whole time I knew her I wasn’t even sure of her age – a fact she staunchly kept locked up.

As with the present King of France, though, there’s no “her” now that I can hurt.  I don’t believe Jill exists now in a spiritual realm or is waiting someplace to be reborn.  In my mind, I’m clear of betrayal.  But as Jill’s idiosyncrasies showed, not everything in life is rational.  It comes down to this: I loved her and I knew her quirks.  And I miss my friend.

The author of 17 nonfiction books as well as essays in the New York Times Magazine, Ms., Next Avenue and NPR, Marcia Yudkin advocates for introverts through her newsletter, Introvert UpThink (https://www.introvertupthink.com/). She lives in Goshen, Massachusetts (population 960).

***
The ManifestStation is looking for readers, click for more information
***
Your voice matters, now more than ever
We believe that every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.
It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is not only crucial for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates and make an informed decision.
Remember, every vote counts in creating a better and more equitable society.
aging, Guest Posts

Keep On Rockin’

April 28, 2024
Neil

No one has ever compared me to Neil Young.

No one but me.

When your heroes are Jesus and Jimmy Fallon, and your aesthetic is Strawberry Shortcake, you accept that many will deem you tame. This is fine. This is an occupational hazard of being stubbornly innocent, which is the wildest quality ever underestimated.

But undomesticated earnestness confuses critics. It is no surprise that few would guess my most feral friendship.

I encountered Neil the way most of his younger buds do, on the paltry sampler platter of classic rock stations. Perched between Bruce’s garlic knots and Bon Jovi’s bruschetta, there was an artichoke heart of gold.

I loved him instantly, that anguished voice with its audible ache. The old man with the harmonica made me inexplicably happy. I found my way to Ohio and bayed beneath the Harvest Moon.

When I finally found a picture of my friend, Neil was somehow exactly as I’d pictured. His hair was an independent animal, his hats a declaration of independence, his eyes amphitheaters for thunderstorms.

He always appeared to be wearing too many layers, suedey coats and grizzly flannels his only protection against the infuriating world.

He loved the world, though, loved it enough to howl and growl and kick and rock. He believed we could do better. He wheezed the exasperation known only to lovers.

By the time I was old enough to know I was uncool, I realized how much cooler Neil was than his collaborators. There was a wearied, wild warmth under all those jackets. No Crosby on earth could keep up with this bleeding heart of gold. No hypocrisy was safe. Every harmonica was holy in Neil’s care.

But Neil needed care, too.

There are salty facts that come to you like lightning. When trivia comes close to the bone, it’s like discovering fire.

I did not go looking for “Neil Young’s chronic illness,” but this nontrivial information sought me. There it was, fact-checked and boggling: Neil had lived with Type 1 diabetes since age six.

My type 1 diabetes.

My exceedingly uncool, exasperating type 1 diabetes.

He doesn’t speak of it often, but neither does he deny it — nor the polio that made a run for his life, nor the epilepsy that still encroaches.

I stared at the screen, glowing into the dark. It was one or two in the morning, and I was awake with bratty blood sugar and out-of-tune ketones. I have an arsenal of strategies against self-pity on such nights, special teas and lap cats and distracting websites reserved for these times.

Suddenly, I had craggy camaraderie.

I pictured Neil, seven decades into this dastardly disease. He’d lived through the Jurassic age of endocrinology, taking charge of his life long before at-home blood testing or low-carb cupcakes.

He’d known the symptoms you can describe but not really capture, the upholstered tongue of hyperglycemia and the hollow elbows of a low.

He’d done midnight combat with the threat of complications.

He’d also done all sorts of things that Strawberry Shortcake never dared, solids and liquids and gases and ghastlies that his body surely did not appreciate.

But he was still here, body and voice and hats and thunder.

He was still rockin’ in the free world.

He was, perhaps, having a night very much like mine. Tomorrow, the world would expect us both to sing.

Now, I had a new layer against the cold. My worst wee hours would hereafter be Neil Young Nights, less lonely by half. I pictured my feral friend and flexed my own claws. My heart of gold and pancreas of folly would outlast the swooping sugars.

I have a fantasy that someday I will glimpse Neil, who has been seen strolling a certain town fifteen minutes from mine. When I do, I will raise my insulin pump high, a lighter against the dark, a silent shout of solidarity.

Old man, look at my life. I’m a lot like you.

Angela Townsend

Angela Townsend is Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary, where she bears witness to mercy for all beings. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cagibi, Chautauqua, Clockhouse, Glassworks Magazine, Hawaii Pacific Review, Invisible City, The Penn Review, and The Razor, among others. She is a Best Spiritual Literature nominee. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately. She lives just outside Philadelphia with two shaggy seraphs disguised as cats.
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We believe that every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.
It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is not only crucial for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates and make an informed decision.
Remember, every vote counts in creating a better and more equitable society.
Books, Guest Posts

Screenshot of a Literary Reading

April 24, 2024
bear

The acclaimed author talks about how we all navigate, experience, bear life and because she is looking into my eyes on Zoom and because she—her talking, thinking, working image—is in this room with me, I know she is speaking directly to me. I latch onto the word bear. That’s it. That’s what I’m doing right now, bearing life, bearing art, bearing the chill in this room.

Her earrings swing, her shelved books on the neatly arranged bookcase applaud her. She speaks about unbearable scrutiny of herself. Another attendee, an editor I recognize, who is brave enough to have his video on, laughs, his head doing the friendly tilt and his shoulders the mirthful squeeze upward. As she speaks of the metaphysical nature of her concrete words, the word bear bear bear runs through my head. When I write it down, I conjure Goldilocks, who in her charming quest for perfection, did not win what she wanted. Maybe it’s spelled unbareable, the emphasis on the nakedness of emotion, but no, it’s bear.

Another person pops up in the row of boxes neatly framing the acclaimed author. I recognize this recent attendee’s face, admire her red lipstick, the streak of blond pushed off to the left. Her name—I know it! She, too, is an author, an accomplished one, whose stories I read more than once and will continue to read. I watch her reactions to the presentation, trying to decipher something unspoken, but unable to interpret anything except her wide genuine smile near the end.

On this platform, no one is sitting in the front row, and no one is whispering behind me. No one can see my hair piled up in a bun without aid of a mirror, frizz framing my face, my comfy house pants with the hole in the knee. I don’t have to reveal my reactions, my attention or my inattention. My presence hovers in a black box with my name in white letters.

I have not traveled far to be here, only from dinner table to desktop. The acclaimed author traveled to her study, along the bandwidth echoing within the interlaced highways and byways of her computer to my screen. This is an easy, one-sided connection that requires little of me physically.

Is there part of me that has travelled to her? To each attendee’s place? Are we crisscrossing the internet nether land to arrive in each other’s spaces.? Do I have a part of each person in my space? The weight of my impending or impossible future is as painful as yours. Isn’t it? Isn’t this what we are trying to understand? We are bearing life’s unanswerables together, each giving and taking and receiving words, weighted and full, their ethereal presence filling each of us.

Wendy BooydeGraaff’s short fiction, poems, and essays have been included in X-R-A-Y, Brink, Slag Glass City, Ninth Letter online, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, she now lives in Michigan, United States.
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Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

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Grief, Guest Posts

Return of Saturn

April 21, 2024
Saturn

Since I’m a trained scientist I officially don’t believe in astrology, although as a queer woman in San Francisco I’ve had to learn my chart for first dates.  In sophomore year the TA for “rocks for jocks” took us to the planetarium so he could break down the absurdity of the idea that your birthdate and the alignment of the stars would in any way shape your fate.  I still remember the hearing him hiss, “and because these ‘calculations’ were done so long ago, the stars aren’t even in the right place anymore,” as we patiently waited for the heavens to move above us before realizing that the projector was broken, leaving us forever on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini.

In astrology, Saturn takes 27-29 years to complete one full orbit around the sun and return to the same zodiac sign it was in when you were born. It’s a rite of passage, a time when you’re changing into an adult and a whole new phase of your life, and– it’s generally agreed– a time when much of your life is going to go completely tits-up.  The idea was inconceivable to me.  After all, going into 2013 I had things on lock.  I had chosen a two-year graduate degree which and got me home in 2012 in time to get a great new job, keep an eye on my aging parents, and enjoy a nice Christmas with my family. My parents had split up when I was little but the three of us still spent every Christmas together, always with the same traditions.  I came home for every vacation, every holiday.  Maybe we were a little codependent, but not in a bad way, you know? I mean, sure, I realized I was bisexual when I got overwhelming crushes on three (straight) women in grad school but was too chicken to figure out what I was going to do about that, and yes, my dad wasn’t in the best health, and fine, there was a conflict brewing with my mom that I was trying to keep the lid on.  Surely all that would sort itself out if I stuck to the plan and stayed on my path, like Earth orbiting the sun. I had become very used to setting goals and meeting them, and armed with my new five-year plan for ages 30-35 I knew I was going to tick off those life milestones the way I had ticked off all the accomplishments on my to-do list so far.

My Saturn return, according to the internet, began in January 2013.  Every time I read or heard about it I was a little annoyed.  As if some distant planet was going to affect my life.  As if I wasn’t in control. And this is how 2013 went: in March one of my uncles died in his sleep, and mom and I had the first of many fights that year that led to our being estranged.  Over the summer I was dumped– twice– and realized my shiny new career wasn’t quite working out when I noticed most of the cool jobs were going to men and I fell asleep, exhausted, in my car when it was parked outside the office.  And then, in October, my dad died.  Three days before I got the call, I had the strangest dream.  I don’t usually remember my dreams, but in this one we were walking around his house, the house I grew up in, on a normal, sunny day.  He was showing me how he had fixed the place up: the worn linoleum, the crack in the wall.  Dad stood in front of me and said “This is your home, I want you to be comfortable,” which I distinctly remember thinking was a weird thing for him to say.

One thing we don’t talk much about are the small things that get ruined for you when someone you love dies.  For me, it’s spinach dip.  I had a baguette and a container of spinach dip in my hands as I was walking into a birthday party when I felt my cell phone buzz.  My roommate had left two voicemails and three texts telling me to call her, so I stopped outside the party to call her back.  And what she said was 1) she was very, very high, 2) a sheriff’s deputy came to the house to look for me, 3) I needed to call the Sacramento Coroner’s Office, because 4) “Uh, uh, your dad’s dead.”  I called my best friends that night and they got me home, blaring Beyonce so loud I couldn’t think of anything else.  My roommate, who was still pretty high, gave me cold pizza and sat with me all night watching cartoons until it was time to get up and make the worst phone call I’ve ever had to make.  I didn’t even need to say it.  My aunt knew as soon as she asked “How is Dan doing?” and I said, crying, “Well, that’s why I’m calling.”  I haven’t touched spinach dip since.

Every death means that some things are left unfinished, some conversations are left unsaid.  I never got a chance to tell him that I was queer.  At least I can be thankful that the last thing I ever said to my dad was “I love you,” even if his response was “Okay, kid.”  It meant the same thing. We scattered his ashes at the confluence of two rivers, and in his favorite rose garden. A few nights later it was Halloween, and I walked under a full moon feeling like the line between my world and wherever my dad had gone was very, very thin.  I also felt, deep in my bones, a sense of the whole night sky realigning around the hole that had been torn in the center of my life.

Life kept moving, like a river cutting through a city.  I’m not the same person I was before my Saturn return. The following year I sold Dad’s house to pay off my student loans and realized I wasn’t just an adult–I was the only adult in my life.  When I left my job and went on a three-week road trip alone without having another job lined up, no one really asked questions.  I came out as bi and wished I could tell my dad that in comparison to my ex-boyfriends (one of whom dad called ‘that guy’ for two solid years) all the women I dated paid their bills on time. I think he would have been cool with the gay thing, especially if I ended up with a doctor, but I’ll never know for sure. Since Dad died, I’ve spent Christmas in a variety of ways: with friends, family, alone with my dog.  A few times I got a last-minute plane ticket and just went somewhere– anywhere– else.

A decade later, hardly any of the things in my old five-year plan have come to pass.  I have fallen in and out of love a few times, become a godparent, dressed in drag, wrote a few drafts of a novel, climbed a mountain.  An astrologer told me my first big queer love and breakup lined up with my ‘nodal return,’ which I did not like hearing at all. I would love to conclude with a nice tidy ending, like Eat, Pray, Love where the main character falls in love with a hot Brazilian man. Did you know that really happened?  Did you know that in real life she was so anxious about marrying the hot Brazilian man that she wrote a book about the institution of marriage and a decade later left him for her terminally ill lesbian best friend?  Maybe Elizabeth was also in her nodal return.  Although in my heart of hearts I would love a 75-year plan, like Dignan in Bottle Rocket, I don’t because man plans and God laughs, right?  Now I focus on staying curious, having fun, and I try to say the important stuff out loud, especially when I love someone.  My next Saturn return is supposed to come at 60, so I have several decades to find out what the planets have in store for me.  And although I don’t really want to believe that planets millions of miles away are affecting my destiny, sometimes, on a clear night, I walk outside, look up at the stars, and wonder how the sky will look different to me then.

T.A. Edwards lives and work in San Francisco, where she is working on herfirst novel. T.A. can be followed on Insta at @taedwardswritesstuff.

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We believe that every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.
It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is not only crucial for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates and make an informed decision.
Remember, every vote counts in creating a better and more equitable society.
Guest Posts, Tough Conversations

Cut

April 17, 2024
english

My boyfriend says I don’t listen. He means to him, I suppose. But that’s not true, like so much that guys say. Maybe he feels I don’t listen because I don’t say what he expects. We fight about listening. I don’t want to be my mother. She really doesn’t listen. I can usually parrot back anything I’m told. My mother can’t. In an honest mood, she’ll even admit she doesn’t listen. No doubt she could tell you why. For some people, it always goes back to their childhood, though she’d never blame her father. I’ve told her I can’t make it home weekend after weekend, but she asks if I’m coming every time I talk to her. I keep explaining my summer plans, and she forgets them.  Maybe she thinks they’ll change.

I never think anything will change, especially people. This drives my boyfriend crazy. Because he wants me to stop interrupting him, and if it’s true people don’t change, then I guess he worries that he’ll never finish a sentence, though it’s more like a paragraph that I’m likely to break in on. Because I’m listening, or because I can’t hear.  He doesn’t always hold the telephone receiver to his mouth, so I get mumbles. I interrupt what I can’t hear. My phone isn’t great either. Something wrong with the volume control. He says I yell into the phone when I ask him to repeat what he says. I hate phones.

It’s not enough to consider putting one’s ear to a plastic container that’s touched who knows how many unclean, unwashed heads, never mind the mouthpiece into which words emerge from sneezes and coughing fits. Or that sound. I really hate the sound, just when one is getting into a good book, stirring something on the stove, leaning into a kiss, the phone rings.

In the United States, you can solve the problem. Default to voice mail. Hard to imagine where I live now. I don’t even have my own line, never mind a way to screen calls. Just a loud buzzer telling me when it’s for me. My boyfriend would say I deserve what I get. What do I expect after giving my number to everyone I meet. No one lets me provide the tea or coffee, so the least I can do is hand over a card with my number, a peace offering, an American-Syrian alliance, a souvenir of possibility with my Ashkenazi name in English and Arabic.

I never know who might call or when. Back home in New York, I can guess when not to answer the phone to avoid particular people who always seem to call at particular times. But no one is that consistent here, not the foreigners or the natives.  You make a call when you can get a phone. Not everyone has one. People go to phone booths, where they stand in line. They need change, but change is hard to come by.  There’s a lot of rounding off. A plane ticket to Damascus from Aleppo at 602 pounds, $12.04, becomes 600 or 605, depending on what you have—or don’t have—by way of change. There are no phones on the planes, buses or trains, which is generally where I meet people.

I met a boy on the train from Aleppo to Latakia. I gave him my card. He gave me his. It had a picture of a hotel overlooking water. His parents own a hotel.  I stayed there the next time I visited. Don’t ask. The less said, the better. I listened to his uncle tell me what I was to say when I got back to America, “the hotel is good.” One Sunday in April, months after I met him in late October, this boy called to wish me a Happy Easter. I didn’t know it was Easter. They celebrate two Easters here, Catholic and Orthodox. I don’t celebrate either, unless someone gives me a chocolate egg, which my boyfriend usually does. I remembered what this boy told me during our conversation in October. He explained the Israeli flag, the color, blue.  He said it meant they wanted all the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. I didn’t know that. He’s young, a first- year university student in economics. He only called once, and that was sweet really.

But there are others I just don’t know what to do about. There’s the guy I met by accident in a colleague’s office. He said he was a poet. He spoke English in flowery metaphors. I wasn’t sure I heard right, so I said, “what’d you say” and gave him my card.

He calls all the time. He can even get my landlady to take messages. Usually she’ll only take messages for my mother. When I call him back, he always asks the same question. “Will I visit the camps?” Only once, did I ask, “what camps”? The Palestinian refuge camps.

Did he read my card I wonder. I have a perverse curiosity I quash. I can’t go without my husband I say. He persists. Everyday there’s another message. When I can think of no excuse not to, I return the call. It’s another party line, and my bad Arabic gives me an excuse. I understand what is being said and pretend not to. Hold on, the voice says. I hang up.

Omar calls back. Again and again. I finally give in.  I agree to go for  coffee after work, though I don’t drink the strong, thick Turkish brew or the bitter dark local cups, and the place we go doesn’t have loose Arabic tea, only Lipton teabags. We meet at school, get on a micro-bus, and he chatters freely in English. As we near the Park, on the other side of which is the café he has chosen, he tells me he is a PLO operative, VIP, former translator for Arafat, weapons expert. He’s been everywhere. Sudan, Algeria, Canadian wings, American wings, European wings. Wings. Dismembered birds, I think. All this in a crowded little micro-bus of strangers I hope don’t speak any English.

I look out the window. I can’t see any birds from the high window. I nod my head. The Syrian government wouldn’t be any more pleased than I am. Refugees make them nervous. Refugees talking to foreigners make them nervous. Palestinian refugees make them very nervous. The Security police would be confused. They’ve read my business card. The government does not like to be confused.

I ask for flower tea, zurat. Omar doesn’t understand my Arabic, but the waiter does. As the waiter goes to get the coffee and tea, Omar gives me what looks like a child’s notebook with a bright pink and yellow cover. The paper is perfumed. When I open the thin cardboard cover, I see a carefully inscribed poem, each line inked with a flourish. Rhymes sympathizing with a stranger.

The last time we talked on the phone, I had a cold. That was my excuse for cutting short the conversation, for staying home. But it was true. I really was sick. The poem is disconcerting.  He is wishing me good health. He is lavish with praise. Were he one of my students, I would praise the attempt, smile at the innocent flattery. But he is a friend of a colleague, a stranger. I don’t know what to say. It is no better than the average undergraduate romantic doggerel. I know I’m supposed to like it, to be impressed. I can’t say anything, so I ask him what he wants me to say. He asks about the English, if it is correct. I exhale and note that some phrase is impossible in English.  The whole thing is impossible, but I don’t say that.

He closes the notebook, telling me he will recopy the poem, correct the English and present me with the gift of his heart, these words. I thank him, reminding him that perhaps my husband might misunderstand. He will explain to my husband, he says.  He would not do anything to hurt me.

There is something else, he says, something confidential he must tell me. I look around the restaurant. It’s half empty, darkening with the short winter day, though we are sitting by a window on the west side. I don’t know what he could say for my ears only, what secret that hasn’t been rhymed in the little notebook.

I don’t know how to discourage him. I don’t know what it is I should fear, but  I feel a chill at the base of my back. Perhaps the electricity has been cut. The lights have not yet been turned on. Headlights from the passing cars provide all the light there is. I realize I don’t want to listen, but I don’t really know how not to, despite what my boyfriend says.

Omar says he was a prisoner, in Lebanon. The phalangists had him. I try to remember which group the Phalangists are. They’re not Jewish, that much I know.

In his clipped English, he describes being beaten on a “wind carpet.” The rack.  Nails poked in his ears. Electric shocks all over his body. He repeats that phrase a lot, “all over my body,” as if it’s a euphemism for specificity, something that can’t be said to a woman. There’s the cell. 80 centimeters by 80 centimeters for six months. Smaller than inches. The walls wet with mildew, and what he doesn’t say I don’t want to imagine.  Rats creep under the door, nibble his broken toes, ignore his flailing arms shooing them away. He says something about being cut on his neck. I find myself staring at his neck, looking for scars. He’s left for dead.

He’s found. Palestinians put him in a coffin and stick him in a refrigerator for six days. People are told there has been another martyr for the cause. When they take him from the cold, he bangs on the pine boards. He’s a ghost.

The ghost is caught by the Syrian government, interrogated, tortured. Beaten again. He doesn’t say how. He doesn’t say anything about rats. They want to know who he is. He wants to know where he is. They say Tel Aviv. He says nothing. They say Damascus. He says he has a brother in the camp there. They leave him on a table, smashed, wounds all over his body. His brother appears and calls a doctor who examines the body. The doctor says I can’t treat a political prisoner. The brother puts an AK47 to the doctor’s head. The doctor bandages him. The PLO get him to a hospital.

He says he was a prisoner in Israel, too. But he doesn’t tell me about this experience. I wonder why. He tells me he lost his mind. He kicked the shoulders and back and head of the PLO taxi driver taking him to a hospital. The driver ran over a baby. The baby died. After his wounds heal, he returns to the camp by taxi, with a student he is teaching English. It was midnight. The car crashed. The student died.

At forty, he is twenty again. Over a cup of coffee and a love poem. He wants me to say something. I say I have to go home. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t say I understand Coleridge’s poem better. I never thought about the wedding guest who listens to the aging mariner talk. The albatross. The ghosts.

Omar walks me to a bus stop. When he sees my bus nearing the curb where we are standing, he says he’ll call, that he still wants to take me to the camps, to meet his mother, his child. As I board the white van, pay my six lira, Omar waves. The micro-bus darts into traffic, and I look straight ahead. When I get back to my apartment, the phone rings. I ignore it. As the buzzer sounds, I step into the shower and let the water run.  I don’t want to listen to anybody.

Sandy Feinstein lived and worked in Syria while on a Fulbright Award (1998-1999). Creative non-fiction reflecting on her experiences there appears in the Michigan Quarterly Review and Orange Blossom Review. Her chapbook, Swimming to Syria, was published by Penumbra Press in 2021.

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Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

***

We believe that every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.
It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is not only crucial for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates and make an informed decision.
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Guest Posts

Disruption

April 14, 2024
village

It was a warm and sunny day in December and the year was 1996, my family and I were eagerly preparing for our trip to Abba, our ancestral village in Imo state, Eastern Nigeria. As the Christmas period approached, there was an air of excitement and anticipation that filled the hearts of all Igbos and Easterners because they must all go back home to the village, and I, as a child, was no exception. It was a ritual for the Igbos. We set out on our journey with great enthusiasm, eager to experience the magic of Abba during the festive season. Amongst the various festive periods celebrated in the East, such as the New Yam festival or “Iri ji,” there was something truly magical about Christmas in Abba that we all cherished.

The journey was an adventure in itself, marked by winding roads that snaked through green farms on both sides, promising cool evening breezes. Along the way, we passed through small villages where children played by the roadside and women sold their wares. It was customary to buy bread for those in the village, a gesture that was warmly received and appreciated. Each glimpse of rural life filled me with a sense of excitement and anticipation for the time we would spend in Abba. As we approached the village, the landscape transformed into fields of cassava and yams stretched out into the horizon, interspersed with clusters of palm trees that swayed gently in the evening breeze. Abba emerged like a hidden gem, its characteristic red earth roads typical of Eastern Nigeria winding their way through the village like veins connecting the heart of the community.

The village was a sight to behold, with its brightly coloured houses, bustling markets and friendly locals, all eager to welcome us. There was something truly special about Christmas in Abba. It was a time of joy, celebration, and community, where families came together to share in the abundance of the season. I felt a sense of pride and connection to my ancestry. Abba was not just a village; it was an attestation to the beauty of Eastern Nigeria and the richness of its culture. I felt blessed to be a part of it, and I knew that I would always treasure the memories of this magical place.

We arrived in the village immediately after the sun went down, the sound of my late father’s Peugeot 504 car horn interrupted the tranquillity as it pulled up to my late grandfather’s home, where I had spent many Christmas as a baby. As the car came to a stop, a group of old women and villagers emerged from their homes, singing and dancing to welcome us. They twisted their tongues and mouths as they ululated to produce familiar sounds that were like a call to other villagers to come and join them in welcoming us for a safe journey. This was a ritual that had been done for many others who arrived before and after us, and it was evidence to the warmth and hospitality of the villagers.

As we settled into our home in Abba, surrounded by the warmth and love of our family and friends, I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be.

I was always fascinated by the way the houses blended in perfectly with nature. The village was a maze of houses, closely built together with no fences or demarcations separating them. Everyone knew each other, and the sense of unity was palpable. The warmth that emanated from the village was unique and it was due to the close-knit community of descendants from the same family tree who lived in the houses built closely together.

The houses themselves were built in the early ’60s and ’70s, and some had been remodelled in the ’90s but they had managed to retain their old-world charm. I was always fascinated by the old-style architecture of the houses. The way they were built, the way they looked, and how they blended in perfectly with nature was admirable. I was always in awe of how the houses were perfectly arranged in clusters, with the compounds of each family sitting next to one another. It was awesome and inspiring. Each house had unique features that were specific to the family that owned them, and each home had its own story to tell.

As I grew older, I realized the true beauty of the village was not just in its physical aesthetics, but in the lifestyle it offered. The communal lifestyle of the village was something I admired deeply. It taught me the value of community, of helping one another, and of living in harmony with nature. The village instilled in me a sense of belonging and a love for simple living that I carry with me to this day.

The festive season, though short, brought immense joy and happiness. Most workers did not take their leave from work early in the year, but they did so during the period so they could enjoy the close-to-nature life and peace that the village brought.

During our stay in Abba, we played local games with cousins and family, visited other families not in our kindred, and were spoilt with local meals and traditional snacks like tapioca, made out of cassava eaten on its own or with groundnuts or coconuts, and “Abacha” made out of cassava too popularly called African salad turned in palm oil and contained garden eggs and onions and pepper with fish or meat and any green vegetable.

Some days, we watched the village’s traditional dance performance, where the young female dancers wore colourful costumes and were sprayed with money. We could feel the energy of the crowd as they cheered on their favourite performers.

We looked forward to the masquerade displays on certain days, with the big masquerades competing against the smaller ones. We also enjoyed the local “egelege” or wrestling matches where able-bodied young men would contest for whose back would touch the ground first. There were no prizes. The only prize was the boasting throughout the year until the next Christmas for the family whose representative won. I was proud to have been a part of the community’s traditions.

Despite not being able to attend all the events during the period, we always tried our best. There were carnivals to attend heralding the New Year before we all said our goodbyes. As the New Year came, I felt a sense of sadness, knowing that it would be a long time before I could return because I was moving to another country for schooling but I left with the memories of the warm welcome and the love of the community, promising to return soon. We left for the city. The memories of my time in the village stayed with me for a long time, and I often reminisced about the warmth and kindness of the villagers. We had experienced a beautiful and memorable Christmas, filled with love and happiness that I would cherish forever.

Fast forward to 2023, I decided to revisit Abba after many years away. The journey was long and tiring, but I was eager to see the place I once called home. As I drove through the village, I was struck by the stark contrast between the present and the past. As I walked through the village, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of anguish, pain, sorrow, and loss. The Abba that I once knew and loved was no more. The communal lifestyle that had once been the heart and soul of the village had disappeared, replaced by high fences and gates that separated families and neighbours from one another.

I remembered many of the houses with the old style architecture reminiscent of the past had all been abandoned and were in a state of disrepair. They were dilapidated and some had been replaced by modern, high-rise buildings. The trees and natural atmosphere that once existed were no more, cut down in the name of development to build halls for events and more fenced houses. The air was polluted, and the sense of community that I remembered as a child had slowly faded away.

As I walked through the village, I noticed the rifts between families who were not speaking, even those who descended from the same family tree. Cousins who had grown up in Abba had moved away from the communal lifestyle of living and were living among strangers or in neighbouring villages. The fences were higher than those found in prison yards, and insecurity played a huge role in these new developments. People needed to protect themselves and were apprehensive. In the past, you could get from one house to the other, but now you are restricted by gates, and you have to call before visiting, and even when you do, you have to knock on gates and introduce yourself before you are let in.

I longed for the warmth and sense of community that Abba once had. The more I walked, the worse it became. I wept for my lovely Abba town which looked like a stranger’s land. I visited the popular “Eke” market that occurs every four days, hoping to find some comfort there. The once-colourful stalls were now empty, and the paint on the walls was gone. I felt a pang of sadness as I remembered the lively market where I used to run errands for my mother. I introduced myself to the elderly women gathered under the cashew tree at a spot in the centre of the market. I described who my ancestors and parents were to them, and before I could finish, they recognized me as they screamed and said the usual retort “we carried you as a child.” They said this to everyone. The women told me stories of dead relatives and the lost warmth of the village. Some of the women were in a bad state and some had been forgotten by their descendants. The stories were sorrowful, and I felt the weight of the pain and loss that had befallen Abba.

Development is not always positive because it took away the unique village setting of Abba and its accompanying natural habitat. I longed for the past, for the life that I used to know and love, but it was no more. I longed for the warm embrace of my great aunt, who waited for me with a bowl of traditional meals but she was no longer there, and neither were many of the people I knew. A lot of aunties and uncles had died over the years, and the older generation had forgotten to do reunions and foster peace as they left for the great beyond. Most times, you are introduced to extended family as if you are strangers.

The tall fences that were erected to provide security had become the prison walls that separated the families. I wept for the loss of the community that I once knew.

Nonetheless, I found comfort in the history that these houses and Abba held. Each house had a story to tell, and they might not look the same as when I was a child but they still held great significance in my heart, and I was grateful for the memories and experiences that the village had given me.

As I shut my camera and got into the car, tears streamed down my face from nostalgia and realization for Abba, the warm village that used to be. When life was simpler, and people lived in harmony with nature. The beauty of the houses and the lifestyle of the community were a testament to the power of unity. I left the village feeling inspired to seek out and appreciate the beauty in my own life, and to cherish the sense of community that can be found in the most unexpected places. I thought about the importance of preserving the history and culture of our villages. It’s the only way to keep the sense of community and warmth that Abba once had. I promised to do that in the future, but for now, I will wallow in the pains, the new Abba dealt to me.

Note:
“Eke” is a popular market day that occurs in the Igbo speaking part of Eastern Nigeria. There are four market days (Eke, Orie, Afor, and Nkwo)
“Egelege” is a name for a kind of wrestling
“Tapioca” a name for local food/snacks made out of cassava
“Iri ji” igbo name for new yam festival

Sally Bonn-Ohiaeriaku is an Igbo, Nigerian, woman. An Environmentalist passionate about the art particularly writing and photography. She volunteers with NGOs in her community. She says it is a great way to give back and create positive impact.

***

Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

***

The ManifestStation is looking for readers, click for more information.

***

Your voice matters, now more than ever.

We believe that every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.

It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is not only crucial for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates and make an informed decision.

Remember, every vote counts in creating a better and more equitable society.

Guest Posts, Relationships

How I Met the Love of My Life on a Small Ship to Antarctica

April 10, 2024
Antarctica

 It was the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music score for the film, “Scott of the Antarctic”, scored for a soprano soloist, women’s chorus, organ and wind machine, as much as the cinematography, that triggered my interest in Antarctica. I loved the film so much that I never forgot when I’d finally seen it and thought of it wistfully every subsequent year. That was in December 1954 when I was 14, in Thurso, the northernmost town on the mainland of Scotland, where I grew up.

My first marriage ended in divorce after my then-wife got the wrong idea when I’d taken a purely platonic female friend to a concert in London. The concert was a performance of Vaughan Williams’s Sinfonia Antartica. That rang a bell for me. What was it about Antarctica that was affecting my life every few decades or so?  Various fortune tellers had told me that I was blessed with a strong sense of intuition and that I should listen to “my voices”. But they weren’t so much “voices” but more feelings that felt like they couldn’t be ignored. I chose not to ignore them.

Ten years after my divorce, I‘d been summoned to a hospital near my hometown where my mother had just suffered a debilitating stroke. After holding her hand and talking to her every afternoon for two months, she died in my arms, I took her wedding ring and for some unknown reason, placed it in my trusty leather purse, to carry with me wherever I went.

A week later I booked my first expedition to the Antarctic with a company called Clipper Cruises. Their ”World Discoverer” cruise vessel was all of 3,500 tons. How was that going to be when we crossed the infamous Drake Passage, I wondered?

The morning before the cruise, I joined all the other excited travelers on the patio of the Sheraton Hotel in Santiago, Chile for a buffet breakfast. That was when it all fell into place.

She was standing all on her own, away from everyone else. I could empathize with her desire for solitude. Nevertheless, I approached her with the pathetic chat up line, “You look like you’ve come from a cold climate.” As it was about 34 degrees C that summer morning in the southern hemisphere, I had dressed in shorts and open sandals. She was in heavy boots, with woolen socks, a thick jacket, and an anorak.
“Well, it’s winter in New York,” she said. “You’ll be in trouble when we get to Antarctica, but I could always lend you some warmer clothes if you like.” She gave me a cheeky smile that immediately warmed my heart. After a very short chat about her plans for the day, she stopped me with, “You’ll have to excuse me now. I have to call my mother to let her know I’ve arrived safely.”

And then she was gone. What was her name? No idea. What about her room number? No idea, too forward a question anyway, but I remembered she did say she might go on the city tour.

We both chose the last bus for the tour of the city, which was practically empty. I didn’t think I could suddenly sit beside her but I did sit on the opposite side of the aisle to her seat. During the tour of Santiago, the bus stopped every now and again to let us all get off the bus to walk to various important sites or viewing points. I followed her around like a lost dog; too shy to speak to her and too frightened of being rejected.  What must she have thought of me, I wondered?

The next day we checked in to our charter flight to the Falkland Islands where we would board our small 3,500-ton expedition vessel. I did manage to have a brief conversation with her and learned that her name was Eileen, but our allocated seats were widely separated on the charter flight. During the flight I left my seat and walked up the aisle.

I found Eileen near at the forward exit of our plane—sitting on the floor of the airplane. She had been sitting in the last non-smoking row of the aircraft but was still surrounded by the cigarette smoke from the rows behind her. She decided her new location would be much preferrable.

“That was a short takeoff run we just made,” I said, doing my best to make conversation.

“Yes, it was only 24 seconds,” she replied.

“What? You timed the take off?” I exclaimed. “So do I, every time.” I was amazed. Was that serendipity or just another sign, I wondered.

During our first briefing on board the ship we were advised to choose a “buddy” so that, as a safety measure, we could walk together during all our shore excursions. Eileen asked me if I would be her “buddy”. My heart leapt and I immediately replied in the affirmative. After that we became inseparable and people quickly began to think we had come on board as a couple.

***
Thirteen days later, at the end of the Cruise, I accompanied Eileen to the Santiago Airport check-in desk as she was about to depart to New York. By this time she had videoed an interview with me to show her family, before I visited them, and also invited me to travel to New York to meet her family and stay with her for Christmas, and New Years.

Since my divorce, I had never thought of remarrying. How would I ever learn how to live with another person? I worried.  But now everything was different. Eileen was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life.

Suddenly I had an important realization: I had my mother’s wedding ring with me.

I had been carrying it around in my leather purse ever since Mum had died earlier that year.

Now I knew why.

I extracted the ring from my purse and approached Eileen at the airline desk.

“I just wanted you to know this is not just some holiday romance for me. It’s very serious. This is my mother’s wedding ring,” I said as I slipped it on to her ring finger. “If this doesn’t work out, I want it back”

”Oh, my goodness, Robin,” she said. “Don’t worry, I do not anticipate having to return it to you.” Then there came that smile again. I was in heaven.

On 18 November 1994 we were married in Garden City, NY.

During all this time my fascination with Antarctica did not diminish. That all these tumultuous developments in my life should have resulted from a visit to Antarctica was really no surprise to me. I felt that it was all “meant to be.”

We returned to Antarctica in January 2023. It was our third trip.

Robin Macdonald was born in Edinburgh in September 1940 and refers to himself as The Ancient Scot. He has been writing  memoirs for 8 years. He enjoys writing and sees his memoirs as legacies for his five grandsons ranging in age from 16 to 26. He has been living in Long Island, New York, since he married in 1995. He and his wife continue to enjoy traveling to all seven continents.
***

Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

***

The ManifestStation is looking for readers, click for more information.

***

Your voice matters, now more than ever.

We believe every individual is entitled to respect and dignity, regardless of skin color, gender, or religion. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity in life, especially in education and justice.

It is essential that you register to vote before your state’s deadline to make a difference. Voting is crucial not only for national elections but also for local ones. Local decisions shape our communities and affect our daily lives, from law enforcement to education. Don’t underestimate the importance of your local elections; know who your representatives are, research your candidates, and make an informed decision.

Remember, every vote counts in creating a better and more equitable society.

Guest Posts, travel

A Tasting Menu, Belgian Style

April 7, 2024
Belgian

Stanley Tucci whetted my appetite for sampling a country’s cuisine through travel. I knew my way around schnitzel, wurst, and spaetzle after spending my junior year abroad in Germany. I knew my way around pork on top of pork with pork in Czechia when I had a fiction fellowship in Prague. I knew my way around pork fat on bread, hunter’s stew, mushroom soup, and kielbasa in Poland. I wanted a new challenge, but where? When an opportunity came to present an academic paper in Antwerp this past summer, I saw my chance. My goal was to sample as many national dishes as I could in Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. Unlike Tucci, there would be no cameras rolling, no luxury transportation, no peeking into the kitchens and cooking alongside the chefs. I would be a pure consumer of a Belgian tasting menu, focusing on my physical and emotional reactions and rate the food as if I were a food critic. But, of course, I sampled much more.

The Appetizers

First Appetizer: Beef Carbonnade

My entry to the Belgian food scene came during a day trip to Bruges and Ghent on my first full day in the country. I arrived in Bruges on a luxury motor coach with fifty others I didn’t know. Our tour guide, Eros, a Spaniard, commanded enough English to make jokes, good ones. But it wasn’t long before the uneven cobblestone and the heat got to me. On one narrow street, I sat down at a sidewalk café. The tour guide asked me if I was okay. No, I was not. An American doctor in the group presented me with a cold bottle of water. An American nurse in the group loaned me her personal fan and sat with me while the group moved on. I don’t think I ever experienced such kindness from strangers. Eventually left on my own, I stumbled into a ten-table café simply called Café-Café run by Spaniards. I know this because the place was littered with flags of Spain and photos of the Spanish soccer team. I ordered beef carbonnade, not a typical appetizer of course, but it was my entry point. I detected the piquant taste of beer in the sauce. I suppose I should have ordered a beer, but I needed the comfort of a Coca Cola Lite. The stew came with Belgian fries and mayonnaise. An American couple from one of the Carolinas. They recognized me from the day tour as the woman who had a meltdown. We chatted a bit. Thumbs up on my first Belgian culinary experience. I noticed, though, that when by myself, I became more observant of my surroundings. Would I have noticed the woman working on her laptop near the front window? Or the woman on the banquette next to me nursing a beer?

Second Appetizer: Vol-au-Vent

The tour proceeded to Ghent, and Eros led us past St. Joseph Church to the marketplace. Concerned for my safety and health, he said, “I’m taking the group to the marketplace and then around the city. You can stay at the marketplace.” It was good advice, and I found another restaurant in the marketplace, Jaggers, where I sat at an outdoor table under an awning. I ordered vol-au-vent, a creamy chicken stew with puffed pastry and Belgian fries. I didn’t need to eat again so soon after lunch, but here was an opportunity to try yet another Belgian dish in a major Belgian city. While I waited, I set to people-watch. I spotted the American nurse from our tour sitting on a bench. I invited her to join me. She was gracious enough to do that. She, too, had physical limitations. Mine is obesity. Hers was recovering from breast cancer surgery. She ordered a salad and a blonde beer. She texted her sister and niece to join us and so we had a merry party. I ordered a blonde beer, too. Our server, my first Flemish Belgian, loaned us his squirt bottle/fan, the kind people use on long lines at Disney World in Orlando. His English was superb. He was the kind of person you’d invite to a party to liven it up. I’m sure he didn’t treat us any differently than other tourists, but he made the experience special. I couldn’t say what others were doing around me, because I focused on Randa, her family, and our server.

Palate Cleanser

First Palate Cleanser: Croque Maison

A writer in my writing family history workshop, Helen, introduced me via email to Edith, a French woman she knew from her junior year abroad in Montpelier in the late 1970s. Edith and I arranged to meet at Mokafe in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, across rue d’Arenberg from my hotel. Although my hotel physically connected to The Foodmaker, I craved real food and not grab and go. Here at the Mokafe was a full menu. I arrived thirty minutes early and ordered the croque maison, a grilled cheese with egg and tomato. It was scrumptious. I studied the vaulted ceilings of the gallery, the sculpted figureheads. I could envision nineteenth-century residents ambling through these balustraded, columned arcades, their heels clicking on the marble, skirts swishing from shop to shop. An American family sat down at a table next to me and ordered waffles. Tour groups promenaded through the archways in a variety of languages.

Edith was a larger-than-life personality wearing a turban and caftan. She immediately assumed a relationship with me, told me the bags under my eyes could be a thyroid problem and that I must have eczema because I was scratching my wrist. Usually people who are that direct I find abrasive and obnoxious. But I couldn’t help but find affinity with her through our shared interests and concerns. Though she’s lived in Belgium a long time, she was not a Belgian national.

Edith and I talked about writing, our various maladies that for both of us included cancer, and love gone bad. She brought me a gift of Neuhaus Belgian chocolates and an artisanal mustard with speculoos, a spiced shortbread. I’d heard of it before as a fan of the Food Network. We sat and chatted long enough to have to find a restroom inside the cafe and to order lunch. I ordered the carbonnade and determined the version I had in Bruges was far superior. Edith insisted on ordering me a beer and she introduced me to fruit beer, much lower in alcohol content. She wanted to get me Pêcheresse Lindemans, a peach beer, but they were out of that. Instead, she ordered me a berry version. It was delightfully refreshing as a sparkling kind of fruit juice. We ventured afterward into Grand Place. We hadn’t gone far before my lower back and the oppressive heat demanded I sit down somewhere. We sat at a café and marveled at the large administrative buildings that bounded the square, a throwback to another bygone era. We ordered Coke Zero. She departed via taxi for her residential district, and I went into Neuhaus on the square and bought some chocolate truffles and an assortment box as future gifts.

Apparently, there are great differences between the various manufacturers of Belgian chocolate. I was instructed to look for how long they’d been in business. Neuhaus was established in 1857 by a Swiss man with Italian roots (the original family name was Casanova).

It was such a delight to be with Edith, because she knew Brussels, she spoke French, we’re about the same age, and we spend a lot of time processing the past. By not speaking the language, I wondered what I could be missing from the experience. Without someone like Edith to guide me, what foods was I not trying?

Second Palate Cleanser: Savory Belgian Waffles

I couldn’t get Belgian waffles off my mind. Near Mokafe I had spotted a sandwich board proclaiming both sweet and savory Belgian waffles. On the way back through the Galeries after saying goodbye to Edith, I stopped at this small shop. I ordered tuna tartare, two of them. They didn’t have enough tuna, so the second one would be salmon. Substitution accepted. Except the waffle was large, 1.5 inches thick and 7 inches tall, and I couldn’t even finish the first waffle. I thought I could take the second one back to my hotel, but the proprietor said I had to eat them fresh. He issued me a refund for the second one. Onto the top of the waffle, into each of twenty-four deep pockets, chunks of tuna piled high, topped with chopped onion, microgreens, and a spicy mayo. I had to eat it with a knife and fork. The crust was flaky and crunchy, the inside softer, made possible by egg whites and yeast. A more-than-satisfying bite.

The Entrees

First Entrée: Moules Frites

Moules frites is a Belgian national dish. I’ve always liked mussels, but at Legal Seafood in New Jersey, the mussels had gritty beards and so many did not open during steaming. In Brussels, at La Marmiton, a restaurant at rue de Bouchers within the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, recommended to me by the staff in my hotel, a double decker pot came my way. The server lifted the top pot to reveal a heavenly aroma and gleaming obsidian shells with soft meat inside them. The top pot was to be used for the empty shells. The mussels swam in a peppery, white-wine broth with chunks of carrot, celery, leeks, and onion. Naturally, a net-like metal container of Belgian fries accompanied the mussels and came with mayonnaise. I ordered Pêcheresse Lindemans, the peach beer that Edith had first recommended. I could not stop scooping up the broth with my spoon, not even considering that was what the bread was for.

I watched other tourists, in particular, one group of Japanese men, order and enjoy the moules frites. It was the right thing to order in this place at this time. Moules frites and beer just went together like peanut butter and jelly. A Spanish couple and their daughter sat at a table across from me. They did not order the mussels, but I watched the wife order bread basket after bread basket and wondered why I hadn’t thought to dunk bread into the moules broth.

Perhaps I wanted to drown my aloneness in the food, in the white wine sauce, in the cream, in the act of pulling mussel meat out of the shells and letting the empty shells clink against each other in the blue pot. With every sip of beer, which I never ordinarily drink, I let go of the person I was to maybe become the person I wanted to be: a younger, svelte cosmopolitan.

Second Entrée: Waterzooi

Liz, an eighth-grade educator from Westchester, New York, was presenting at the same Antwerp conference as I. We’re colleagues from Gratz College where I received my Ph.D. in Holocaust & Genocide Studies and she’s nearing completion of her dissertation. It was so good to meet up with someone I already knew. A wave of relief washed over me when she came through the revolving doors of the Hilton Antwerp. We ambled to ‘t Pukte, which I had scouted out in the Grote Markt in Maalderijstraat during the afternoon, because we both wanted genuine Belgian food. I had to try the waterzooi, a chicken stew in a cream sauce. To me, it wasn’t as comforting as an American chicken pot pie. Maybe you need puff pastry for comfort like Liz’s vol-au-vent. I could see waterzooi as a dish served on a cold winter evening to warm up the bones from a day out in the city or village. Leeks, potatoes, carrots, cream, chicken stock, chicken breast, and butter. I didn’t notice what other people were ordering or eating. I only noticed the temperature dropped and it became quite breezy, even chilly.

Third Entrée: Moules Frites Redux

I yearned for moules frites again and decided to revisit ‘t Pukte by myself on my second night in Antwerp. This restaurant offered fourteen different entrée versions of mussels. I ordered the “Antwerp” version, apparently made with local Antwerp beer, not white wine. The broth did not have the depth of flavor or the seasoning as at La Marmiton. A pot of mussels was brought to a table of two German men. The pot I should have ordered. I asked the server what version of mussels that was. Her response: the chef’s special mussels made with white wine, garlic, spicy herbs, tomatoes, and I imagine too the butter, leeks, potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions. Maybe I was too tired after a long day at an academic conference at the university. Maybe I was still disappointed that a Flemish children’s writer I had met a decade ago at an event at New York City’s Flanders House had cancelled dinner with me. I almost spoke to the Germans in German, but I didn’t.

Fourth Entrée: Another Beef Carbonnade

On my last night in Antwerp, I tried the carbonnade again at my hotel restaurant. Not only was the service deplorable, but also this version was the least successful among my tastings. The meat was tough. I could not taste the beer. It was clear to me that it was time for me to return home.

Dessert

First Dessert: Cuberdons

Edith introduced me to the cuberdon, a traditional Belgian candy, a jelly-filled cone, almost shaped like a Hershey’s kiss but taller. The traditional flavor is raspberry. I bought an assortment, and through meticulous taste-tasting, preferred the honey flavor. It reminded me of the gummy, honey-flavored Pine Bros. cough drops that I sucked on as a kid whether I had a cough or not.

Second Dessert: Cheese Platter

At La Marrmiton, I opted for the cheese plate as dessert. Despite my lack of a gall bladder and the ability to process dairy, I did fine with three slivers of Belgian cheese, one of which may have been the most local cheese, Fromage de Bruxelles, a cow’s milk cheese with a rind. These two remaining cheeses could have been Postel, a hard cow’s milk cheese with a nutty flavor and no rind, and Remedou, a hard cow’s milk cheese with an orange-brown rind. I will never know for sure. I wish I had thought to ask what these selections actually were.

Third Dessert: Belgian Waffle

Dinner with Liz at t’ Punkte in Antwerp’s Grote Markt ended with my order of a Belgian waffle with sliced strawberries and whipped cream. It was much easier to eat such a waffle as a dessert. The cream just eased the swallowing of the flaky crust.

Fourth Dessert: Belgian Chocolate Mousse

While the Hilton in Antwerp disappointed in many ways, it did make the creamiest Belgian chocolate mousse, accompanied by the most exquisite Belgian chocolate truffles that made me say out loud, “Oh, my G-d, yum.” No one heard me.

If I had been traveling with Edith, I think we could have ventured into the kitchens and watched the chefs create their traditional fare, even if the food was planned to satisfy tourists more than nationals. But by being alone, I managed to observe a fuller menu and a fuller complement of cultures and their reactions to Belgian food.

Maybe I need a theme when I travel, especially when I travel alone. I’m looking for something outside myself. Some sort of connection, a raison d’être. I’m not Belgian. I have no Belgian roots. Yet, I experienced the country intimately through its food, through the consumption of carefully curated ingredients into delectable delights.

Barbera Krans

Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her essays have appeared in The Manifest-Station, South 85, The Smart Set, Gravel, Collateral, and other journals. She lives and teaches in New Jersey.

***

Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

***