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Detour

June 10, 2022
eyes

I leaned my bike against a rotting tree colored with chalky gray lines and walked along the high blond grass and thick weeds that carpeted the land. With my Nikon, I snapped a shot of the tree. I loved the curiosity that photography unveiled. I had just biked around Lake Waramaug, taking in the sparkling water, the well-manicured lawns and large mansions, the red-painted farmhouses with their attending cows and horses grazing, the empty Adirondack chairs  – some wood, some colorful green or red plastic – lounging on the front lawns.  The docks that held kayaks, canoes, oars, a trampoline in the water nearby, yellow and purple wildflower fields that held the promise of joy.  Everything so pretty and tidy, and then I noticed an old-looking, dilapidated gray wooden barn that stood out in its austerity, its tiredness.  It was set back and surrounded by tall grass, but not the ornamental, landscaped kind that grew on some of the other properties.  Why was this barn here?  Without my camera, I wouldn’t have seen it.

I was finally doing this again: focusing on my photography. I hadn’t taken pictures in years. When I gave birth to my oldest child, I swapped taking candid shots of people and birds in Central Park for close ups of my daughter’s face, her eyes, feet, and hands. It felt more worthy of my time. And I didn’t have to get a sitter.  But over time, as my kids grew older, my Nikon gathered dust on the top shelf of the closet, behind my old hats and pocketbooks.  Having a free summer without work when my three girls preferred their friends’ company over mine was the perfect opportunity to get back to photography. And David went to work that day; I was finally alone.

I walked along the tall grass that led to the barn.  Foxtail grass and dandelions were scattered throughout.  I listened to the cicadas sing.  I breathed in the scent of honeysuckle and asked myself — for the 100th time— why I never plant them.  The barn had a rusty tin roof; I snapped a few shots of it.   It was nice to finally dream again.  That’s how I felt when I took pictures – like I was in a dream, fully sensing my surroundings without being distracted by my to-do list, my daily worries and concerns.

The door to the barn had a brass padlock that looked ancient.  I snapped shots of the padlock and hung the camera’s strap around my neck. I wondered if I should go in.

Snapping pictures reminded me of Brian – Professor Walden. I tried to push him from my mind. Brian was my photography professor from college on whom I had had a crush.   He was smart, confident, unabashed.  He had tried to give me direction when I was a senior feeling lost with my impending graduation.  I knew he liked me, and I was attracted to him. But afraid of him too.  He was sure of himself and unafraid. He knew who he was when I was lost.  My mind drifted back to that spring afternoon when we reviewed my portfolio. He said how much he liked my photo of a sunset: my favorite photo.  I had waited many long minutes for the orange and yellow to blend into a burnt pink.  I took hundreds of shots until it was ripe. Just the right pink.  I cared. When I had never truly cared about my studies.  I studied because it was what you did.  I made good grades so I could make good grades, get a good job. Whatever that meant.  I just kept going without stopping to think or care. But I loved photography. He saw my work; he got it.  When we looked at the photograph together, me leaning in to see it better, he touched my arm as he emphasized the beauty of the photo’s lighting. And he left his hand there.  I didn’t want him to move it.

He asked me to join him for a hike in New Paltz the following morning. It was supposed to be a beautiful day. Told me to meet him where he parked his car on Broadway at 9:00 a.m.   But my fear took over. It felt like a foregone conclusion.  I wasn’t the type to sleep with my professor. I was a straight, good, responsible girl.  It was flattering, of course. But really!  So I never showed. I stopped visiting him during office hours.  After a couple of weeks, I regretted it, but it felt too late.  Like I had dimmed a light switch that then became stuck. Now, sometimes when I felt conventional and dull, a typical suburban middle-aged mom, I imagined the scandal we could have caused, my friends reactions, the whispers and stares, my parents shock that I was dating someone their age, the inevitable hurt feelings and insulted egos to the guys my age with whom I hung out.  What if I would have just let go and fought the fear? That nauseating lump in my throat that guided most of my decisions. What would have happened?  Where would I be?  Who would I be?

I approached the barn door, and it dared me to enter.  “Real photographers take chances,” Brian had said to me when I marveled at the danger some photographers endured to capture the perfect shot:  a tiger’s teeth, the 100 – foot waves in a hurricane, a Colorado avalanche.   Now, my life was so safe, hardly risky at all.  What types of shots would I capture in my suburban town with its manicured quarter- acre lots?

The padlock was not locked.  No voices behind the door.  The rough wood splintered my finger as the door creaked open.  The barn’s single room smelled musky, mildewed, with a hint of lavender. Light streamed through an open window. A mattress with a single blanket and pillow lay on the floor, and a battery-operated fan and a box of tissues sat next to it. A wooden table and chair stood in the middle of the room.  Someone had placed a bowl of blueberries on the table. I took several shots of the blueberries’ cloudy coating, a close up of the grains of wood on the table.

To be behind the lens – to be the one looking out – also jived with my new sense of being unseen, invisible. Over the last couple of years, my attractiveness had faded.  First with the few gray hairs that sprouted at my roots, shining with their defiance. Then, slowly with the extra weight I put on around my stomach, despite my daily exercise.  But it really hit me when I stopped getting catcalls while walking in Manhattan past construction crews.  A final hit of reality came when my male students looked right past me without the slightest bit of flicker in their eyes.  That was a big change from my early teaching days when one of my students casually placed a DVD of “The Graduate,” at the edge of his desk on top of his textbook, daring me to acknowledge it.  When I would keep my door open during conferences with male students just in case.  At first this change sucked. I didn’t know who I was without my looks – something that had been a big part of my identity since I was about thirteen.  Not until my beauty dissipated did I realize how men had favored me and treated me well. From the clerks at the checkout counter to my colleagues at work to the dads from my kids’ soccer games.  But a part of me embraced this shift. Liberated and safe, I could do whatever I wanted without asking for trouble, being a tease, leading someone on. I was almost invisible in this new identity.

I sat on the floor and leaned against the wall, the silence enveloping me.  Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. The sun hit my chest and warmed me.  A peacefulness settled. I could stay there forever. There were berries and a place to sleep, shelter should it rain. Who lived here?  I couldn’t remember the last time I just sat and listened.  Always running. . . .   I drifted off to sleep.

“Who are you?!” I jumped from surprise, and my heart raced.  I stood up.

A man stood above me. His brown, grayish hair was long, hanging until his chin. He was barefoot and wore a white undershirt and blue jeans.

“I’m Janet. Janet. I was biking around the area, taking photographs, and was curious about the farm, I mean the barn.”

“Well, I live here,” he said as he sat on a lawn chair in the corner of the room.  He took a leash off a white fluffy dog, who approached me and began to sniff my groin.  I pushed her away.

“I’m sorry.  To have just come in.” I fidgeted with my watch. I looked back at the door, ready to dart out. But my legs didn’t follow.

I noticed there was an Atlantic magazine on the floor near the chair. He wore black wire reading glasses. I stared at him for a minute and felt calm in his presence even though I should have been afraid.  For some reason, I was not, just intrigued. Who was he?  How on earth did he pull this off?   There were several books on the floor next to his chair. A biography on FDR, a collection of works by William Faulkner, a “Spanish for Dummies.”  Several newspapers also rested on the floor, a Litchfield Review’, a N.Y. Times.  The pages looked puffy, like they had been leafed through, touched, read, and reread. Next to the newspapers was a battery-operated radio. There were no outlets, lamps or other sign of electricity.

“I’m  . . . I’m Janet Sullivan. From Westchester.  I love the area and was biking around. I used to  . . . rent a house here in the summer when I lived in the city.” I was talking too fast, sounding too guilty.

“You mean Manhattan?”

“Yes,” I laughed.

“Why do we all do that, call Manhattan the city, like there are no others?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true. Um . . . Did you spend time in the city?,” I asked.

“I didn’t spend my entire life in this dilapidated barn if that’s what you’re asking me.”

“No, I didn’t mean. . . ,” My palms felt damp.

“I did live in Manhattan for five years, then it got too expensive for me, so. . . “ he shrugged.

“Yes, us too.” I forced a laugh.

“You have a family?”

“Yes, I’m married with three kids.”

“Nice. That’s the right thing to be when you’re young.”

Another forced laugh.

“Take a seat,” he said and pointed to a folding chair next to him.

Sitting felt like too much.  I glanced at the door, and I knew I could just walk out, get on my bike, and never come back to this place again.  But the danger enticed me, made me dizzy.

Seriously.  Make yourself comfortable.”

The tone of his voice—daring me to just let go—reminded me of Brian.  I was back on a field trip my photography class took to an urban farm where they grew citrus fruits. There were ripe lemons and limes at the near part of the garden, and the group of students all took  close-ups of them. I noticed a single small, blooming, bright orange on a tree at the far side of the garden.

“Go ahead. Focus on what catches your eye, on what attracts you the most,” Brian said.

There was no clear path to the orange tree, and tractors were parked in front of it, blocking my chance for a close-up.

“But, how—”

“Just try to get as close as you can then zoom in on it.”

I walked ahead, scratching my legs against the tall vines.  I jumped over some shovels, stopped just in front of the tractors, and zoomed in on the stray dangling orange burst.  It was the best photograph I’d ever taken.

Now, the metal seat felt cold against my butt. I didn’t know what to do with my hands.

“What do you do?”  I wished I hadn’t asked that. I didn’t even care.

“Well, I was a lawyer for many years, and now I’m reading and walking and not spending money, but existing.  I robbed a bank a while ago, so I have enough money.”  He folded his arms.

I studied his face. He wasn’t smiling, and he looked me in the eyes.

“You’re kidding.”

“No.  How about you?”

“I’m a teacher. Sixth Grade.”

“Well, that’s noble.”

I couldn’t imagine him with a past or a future.  He just was.  He had deep laugh lines around his eyes and wrinkles around his mouth. His hair looked a little greasy and his clothes looked soft and faded, like they had been washed hundreds of times.  He had light blue eyes.

“Want to take a walk? My dog needs lots of exercise or she gets restless and jumpy.”

I recalled my failure of nerve with Professor Walden.  The nagging regret.

“That would be great.”

His dog was resting on her belly, her paws spread out in front of her. She looked at me, and I smiled at her and looked away. When I glanced back, she was still looking at me.

“I’m Jon.” He put out his hand to shake mine. His hand was rough and warm.

He got up and put the leash on the dog. I followed him outside the back of the house to the yard that led to a path in the woods.  It felt like a dream, an alternate world I had created only in my mind.  Despite the shade from the trees, the path grew lighter. Colors were brighter:  the yellow dandelions looked neon; the pale blue sky was now turquoise.

We walked along the path, the dog sniffing something on the ground every couple of yards. After a few minutes of silence, I aimed my camera to snap a shot of Jon against the backdrop of these bright woods.

“Hey!  What are you doing?  Stop that. I don’t want anyone taking my picture.”

I jumped from his shout and awoke from my dream. The colors faded.

“Let me ask you something. How did you get the guts to just barge into an empty house?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t  . . . ”

“I guess you felt it couldn’t matter too much. Nobody too threatening can be in a dilapidated house. Not in this neighborhood with its fancy homes and lawns.”

Something inside me said to run.  But Jon smiled at me, and it didn’t feel like a threat. His blue eyes were kind, the eyes of someone who might appear to be brusque, but was good inside.

“Listen, honey. You don’t know me. But you took a risk.”

“I guess I did,” I said as I forced a smile.

He spoke louder. “You sure as hell did. There are crazies everywhere you turn. But you weren’t afraid. You burst into my house.”

Should I leave?  Was I dramatic in thinking I might be in trouble?

“So, what are you looking for?  Most people don’t just do what you did. What’s missing in your life?”

He stopped and stared at me.  I’ve seen many movies where you want to scream at the stupid girl to run away.  But I wasn’t afraid. I could stay with him in the woods forever and be okay.  I wasn’t attracted to him, but I wanted to be near him.  He was the alternate door, the one I usually avoided.  And who knew what was beyond this door?  How much adventure and excitement I might have been avoiding all this time?

“Maybe purpose, meaning. I feel . . . less relevant.”

“Why?”

“My kids are growing up fast. They don’t need me so much anymore.”

“Why does that matter? Being needed sounds like a burden to me.”

I thought about that question. Why does it matter?  Why does being needed feel so satisfying?  Why, when I think back to when my girls were little, all the snotty noses, dirty diapers, and tear-streaked faces, do I feel so tender towards my children and my old role?  Full and content.  Now, an emptiness.

“I don’t know . . . I guess it’s been my role for a while. Part of my identity. And I’m getting old. I feel I’m changing.”

“A reverse metamorphosis? . . . But look where you are!” He waved his arms up and around.

The smell of wet leaves filled my nostrils.  Tiny bugs flew in front of my face, and it was cooler in the woods.  Damp. No passing cars or voices.  It was a silence I had not heard in so long. The absence of noise like cell phone notifications, phone rings, the humming of air conditioning, distant trucks, beeping cars, sirens. I was finally away from it all.  I just was. I was simply existing.

He stepped closer, and a crooked grin spread on his face, enhancing the deep wrinkles in his cheeks.  A nakedness in his eyes made him look lost. I wanted to hug him.

He leaned into me and kissed my lips, mouth closed, his lips like peeling paint, like he needed to put on Vaseline. His scruff felt like steel wool against my sensitive skin. Still, I told myself, this is happening, I’m kissing another man.   I really wanted to be into it, aroused.   But I wasn’t.  It was just awkward, kissing this old, washed-up guy in the middle of nowhere.

My husband David didn’t even glance away from the T.V. or his phone when I undressed at night.  He hadn’t initiated sex in months.

“You are a beautiful woman. You ought to know that.”

He moved a strand of hair out of my eyes.  It all felt like a movie or a soap opera.  But a bad one that you fall asleep to.  I felt I could almost laugh aloud at the predictability of his comments.

“What a gift you are. What a nice surprise,” he continued.

I wanted to leave right then.  I felt nothing, but a little repulsion mixed with a tiny bit of flattery.

I forced a smile. “Thank you.”

“Are you okay?  You seem . . .  not.”

“No. I am. Just . . . I’m wondering if I should call home and check in.” I started to take my phone out of my leggings’ pocket.

“Well, you won’t get cell service here.” He laughed.

He stroked my cheek with his warm hands, and it comforted me, like everything was going to be okay.  He smelled surprisingly nice. Like soap.

He tried to kiss me again, but I flinched.

“What’s happening here?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just  . . . .  I’m just getting tired. That’s all.”

He sighed and shrugged. The birds chirped around us.  He looked up at the trees, the sky.

And then, with an abundance of energy and some resolve, he spoke with what sounded like forced good cheer.

“Okay, well, let’s pick berries.  You can take some home with you. A souvenir of your day. Your detour from the grind.”  He patted my arm.

I followed him. “Okay, great. Thanks.  Um. . . how do you know which berries are edible and not poisonous?”

“By the color and surrounding plants. These are okay,” he said and pointed to a nearby bush with small red berries.

I picked a berry off and put it in my mouth. It tasted tart, maybe a bit unripe.

“Good?”

“Yes.”

He looked at me as if he was daring me to eat more. I picked a few more berries and popped them in my mouth.  He laughed aloud.

“What’s funny?” I asked.

“Life. This. You woke up today not knowing you’d be snacking on berries with a stranger and his dog in the woods. And you’re here. Aint life grand?”

We walked in silence for a few minutes. I followed his lead.  It was so quiet, nothing but the sound of our sneakers hitting the ground. Some birds chirping.

“So, do you like living out here?”

“Yes, I do. That’s why I’m here.” He turned around and smiled, but not kindly.

“It’s peaceful, free. Incredible really,” I said.

“It is, isn’t it?”  Something had shifted.

“Yeah, no burdens or responsibilities,” I added.

My stomach felt queasy, and I was dizzy. Sweat dripped down my forehead.  As we walked, I tried not to focus on the rumbling in my stomach, the nausea.  But it quickly became unbearable.

“I feel like I’m about to throw up. I’m going to find a private spot.” It was hard to get the words out.

“Ah, sure.  We’ll promise not to peek,” he said with a wink.

I ran ahead and vomited behind a bush.  The berries came up in a red paste.  Again. I fell to the ground.  I heard light steps approaching. The dog was running toward me, barking, like it was trying to tell me something. I wanted privacy and still felt nauseous.  I wasn’t yet done. But I pulled myself up and followed the dog.

Jon was laying off the path with his eyes closed, resting his hands against the back of his head.

“Peaceful out here,” he said. “Your stomach still bothering you?”  There was an edge to his voice.

“Yes.”

“It’s probably just the berries. I thought they were okay, but I may have been wrong.”

“What?”

He looked at me sharply.  “Don’t worry about it. Worst case, you’ll keep vomiting it out.  This will pass.”

“Shit.  You said the berries were fine!”

“I know. I thought so. They might be.  Now I’m a little tired. Just like you.”  He winked at me and smiled as he closed his eyes.

A hot wave of nausea hit me, and my face burned.  I needed a cold compress, like I used to give my girls when they were sick.  They would lay there with the washcloth on their heads as I held their hands.  So precious when they were little. Their skin and hair so soft, their eyes wide.  Couldn’t get enough of me. The light broke through the trees, and I noticed how beautiful it looked hitting the green leaf, how the leaf turned light, like a piece of lime.  I lay down and rested my head on a nearby tree stump to admire the light some more.  The light flickered in and out, and each time the leaves brightened up from the sun, so beautiful. I told myself to hold onto this moment and remember it. It kept flickering.  I drifted off to sleep, mesmerized by the lime.

Then footsteps on the fallen leaves near me.

“Sweet Dreams.”  It sounded like Jon.

Wait, I wanted to say.  But I was too weak to speak.

A dog barking, more lime, churning stomach. Dog barking louder. Louder. The footsteps moved further away.

My body was limp and the acid from the vomit burned my throat.  I could fall asleep and disappear, feel nothing forever. I lay there, my stomach gurgling, my heart pounding.  I stared at the limelight.  And then I smelled the tree stump against which my head rested.  Wood mixed with soil.  The smell of Time.

They say the rings in the bark of a tree tell its age.  The thick tree stump that supported my head had witnessed generations of people, their joys and woes. Thunderstorms and droughts. Its thickness was its strength. I had to get thicker. I was not done.  I willed my gurgling stomach to stop.  I had to stand up to get thicker.

First, I sat up and stared at the top of the trees to steady myself.  I couldn’t be too far into the woods.  I only had to get to the street, flag down a car, get reception on my phone to call for help.  My camera—I must have taken it off before laying down—was on the ground just out of my reach.  It suddenly appeared much larger than it had been, and its metal glittered in the sun. I leaned forward and grabbed it with all the strength I could muster.   I dragged myself up and shuffled to the direction of the barn. I worried Jon would see me, but it was the only way I knew to get out.  My legs moved ahead without asking for my permission. My reliable, thickening body would get me out of here. My legs that walked three miles a day, that drove me here and then biked here, my stomach that nourished me, my womb that carried my babies, my breasts that fed them, my hands that gripped and grabbed and wrote and held and carried and worked and played.  My body would get me out of here. Back to Time.

Tamar Gribetz’s short stories have appeared in The Hunger, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Poetica Magazine, and Manifest Station. Tamar teaches writing and advocacy at Pace Law, where she also serves as the Writing Specialist. She lives in Westchester, New York, where she is at work on other short fiction and a novel.

***

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***

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Family, Fiction, Guest Posts, Marriage, moving on

In the Airport

April 15, 2022
lisa

When Lisa saw Dan her heart throbbed so fiercely she almost toppled over and out of her chair. She hadn’t seen her former husband for nearly forty years and certainly wouldn’t expect him to be waiting here, like her, for a plane’s arrival. He was standing before the large screen with its information about departures and arrivals. He shouldn’t have been in Portland. On the last envelope she had received—enclosed with a child support check—it had been postmarked in Houston. But that was back in 1983.

He’d be seventy-two in three months, May 9. She remembered the date: after all she made him a party nearly every year of their marriage—seven years altogether. No doubt he forgot the next day was her birthday. He probably forgot about her. He was tall and lanky, not quite as well built as in the past, and stooped slightly. His hair had been brown but was now white peppered with gray and swept back away from his forehead. He was clean-shaven but that didn’t surprise her. He had shaved off his mustache and beard soon after their marriage. He was nicely dressed in a corduroy jacket over jeans. She wished he wasn’t still handsome.

He turned away from the screen and she feared he’d choose a seat near her and maybe recognize her. She ran her fingers through her silver hair, which she hadn’t dyed in nearly a decade. It had been a natural auburn until she was forty, when her first gray strands appeared. She also gained twenty pounds since he last saw her. He remained standing at a distance, and fortunately a large family, including a man in a wheelchair, blocked him from seeing her.

Over the years, she was committed to hating him but when she’d look at the one photo she kept of him she’d be stirred with longing—even at her age. At UC Santa Barbara, girls had always turned their heads to look at him. Even the child she tutored back then had said, “He’s what we call guapo.” No doubt he remarried.

***

Lisa met Dan Hennessey while they both volunteered in the Children’s Project, sponsored by the university’s graduate school of education. She had first seen a notice about it on a kiosk near the student union. The project called for volunteers to tutor children in the near-by town of Carpinteria. They had come with their families from Mexico a few years earlier. She was an English major and hoped someday to teach on the college level but she believed she could effectively tutor a young child in reading and writing. She was idealistic and wanted to do something valuable in the community. She removed a pad from her handbag and wrote down the phone number.

From the apartment she shared with three roommates, she called the number. A girl with a perky voice gave her instructions about attending an important meeting. She would join other prospective tutors in Parking Lot Ten on Friday at three p.m. where there would be a van to transport them. Sure enough on that day Lisa saw a VW bus, with a sign Children’s Project in one of its windows.

As they traveled south on Highway 101 she saw the glimmering Pacific Ocean on one side and on the other, dusty brown hills dotted with sagebrush and chapparal. When they turned off the highway, they drove passed an orchard of avocado trees and a scattering of plain stucco houses in various colors and into the little downtown, the street lined with palm trees and Torrey pines. The van parked in front of a stucco building with a sign by the door, Carpinteria Community Center.

Parents crowded the room, all sitting on metal folding chairs that faced a podium. The front row of chairs was left vacant for the student volunteers. When everyone was seated the mayor, wearing a suit and tie, spoke about how much the community appreciated working with the university to help their children succeed in school. He then introduced Dr. Ed Franklin, a professor at the graduate school of education. He was a short, round man, wearing a too-tight striped jersey top over bell-bottom jeans. He looked like he should be swabbing a ship deck rather than discussing academics. He gave a quick speech about how happy he was that the university and the graduate school of education in particular could contribute to the community. Then he introduced the student coordinator for the volunteers.

That was the first time she saw Dan, who stepped up to the podium. He towered over the professor and the mayor and she noted he was stunningly handsome. The features of his face were perfectly proportioned and his neatly trimmed beard and mustache suited him. His brown hair was long, flipping slightly above the collar of his flannel shirt. His big dark eyes showed a seriousness of purpose. Lisa was riveted to his eyes.

The volunteer who sat next to her elbowed her and whispered by her ear, “He’s cute. I’ll do my best to bump into him.”

“He probably already has a girlfriend or maybe a wife,” Lisa said. “He seems so serious he might not even be interested in dating.” This possibility came to mind because she was reading Euripides’s Hippolytus at the time in her Seminar in Classical Literature. And Lisa felt like Phaedra—struck with instant love.

At the podium Dan explained that each volunteer would be assigned a child and would work with that child for the length of the college quarter. “This way you’ll get a chance to bond, which is essential for success.”

The following Friday afternoon the volunteers returned to the community center to get their assigned child. A graduate student, in a peasant blouse over a long sweeping skirt, was in charge and introduced Lisa to a small girl with long coffee-brown hair pulled back with barrettes and wearing a white blouse tucked into a skirt with ruffles, white ankle socks, and patten leather shoes. “Lisa, this is Clara Gutierrez, who’s eight and in the third grade,” the graduate student informed her.

Lisa showed Clara a wide grin and said, “I’ll remember your name because my sister’s name is Claire.”

Clara brought Lisa to her home, which was in walking distance from the community center. It was a simple stucco house, with bougainvillea creeping along a wall on one side. Rosebushes with withered roses lined a picket fence, and a drooping sunflower stood on the parched front lawn. When they stepped inside they entered a room with a massive oak dining room table surrounded by several oak chairs, which occupied most of the space. Many people probably lived in this small house.

Clara’s mother greeted them and offered Lisa iced tea. She accepted not just to be polite. It was a hot day and she was thirsty.

They then entered a living room with a sofa and several stuffed arm chairs. Lisa also saw a bookcase packed with books in Spanish. This gave her an idea. “Why don’t you read a favorite story in Spanish before we start a book in English?” she said.

Clara giggled. “You won’t understand it.”

“I might. I took five years of Spanish in school—mi escuela. I even read Don Quixote. And if there’s something I don’t know I’ll ask you.”

They sat together on the huge velvet sofa. Clara opened CenicientaCinderella. The illustrations were familiar: pretty stone houses, the relevant castle in the distance, and the usual depiction of Cinderella—or Cenicienta—with long blond hair.

Afterwards, Clara asked if she could show Lisa the beach just a few blocks away from her house. It was such a warm day Lisa agreed. After all, they would have many opportunities to read books in English and this would help them to bond.

Another way to bond was to allow Clara to be Lisa’s tutor as well. As they walked on a road without sidewalks Lisa said, “Please help me improve my Spanish. We’re going to la playa, right?”

Si, la playa.” Clara giggled.

She pointed to her blouse. “This is a camisa, right?”

Clara shook her head. “No, that means shirt. Blusa is the word for blouse.”

Lisa noticed Dan entering the road with a small boy. They were only a block behind her and Clara. She forced herself not to be distracted by seeing him. “Okay, let me try again.” She tugged at her pants. “These are pantalones.

This time Clara nodded. Then she pointed to Lisa’s big leather handbag. “Tell me what this is called.”

Lisa noted that Dan and the boy were catching up to them but she smiled at Clara and said, “I don’t know. Please tell me.”

Bolsa. It’s your bolsa.” She lifted her small pink vinyl handbag and said, “This is my bolsa.”

Suddenly Clara’s face brightened and she waved at the boy. The two were walking on the other side of the street, now parallel with them. “Luis, we read Cenicienta today,” Clara shouted to the boy.

He merely shrugged.

Dan and the boy approached them while Lisa did her best to subdue the fluttering of her heart.

He extended his hand to shake Lisa’s. “Hi, I’m Dan Hennessey, as you probably already know.”

When their hands touched his was pleasantly warm. “Lisa Turner.”

“Thanks for becoming a tutor, Lisa,” he said.

That same Friday just as she was about to step into the VW bus to return to the campus Dan rushed over to her and said, “Let me give you a ride back. I have my car.”

They dated every weekend since then and occasionally she slept with him at the apartment he shared with another roommate. She wondered why he chose her. Dan was often encircled with attractive grad students at UCSB who doted on him. Not only was he good-looking and charismatic he was the creator of the successful Children’s Project. Perhaps he was attracted to her—her roommates assured her she was pretty. She needed assurance.

One night while she lay in his arms after sex he said, “I’m excited about my chosen field, Lisa. I’ll make a difference to kids. I’ll help them achieve their goals in life.”

It was dark but she imagined that serious glow in his eyes as he spoke of his vision. She was in awe of him and said, “You’re amazing.”

Yet she wished he’d be more serious about her interests.

“Don’t expect me to read some boring as hell guy from the nineteenth century!” he had said to her when she suggested he read her favorite author, George Eliot. She didn’t bother to tell him George Eliot wasn’t a guy. Once she dared to read to him a poem she had written but afterwards he kissed her forehead and said, “No offense, but I’m not into metaphors. I only understand straight facts.” She never shared her poems with him again. Besides, her pursuits were frivolous compared to his.

On the Thursday morning of Thanksgiving, he called her at home in Glendale to invite her to dinner at his parents’ house in West Covina. “They want to meet you,” he said, “So they told me to ask you to come Saturday night around six. Please come, Lisa.”

“Sure, I’d love to,” she said but she dreaded going. They’d be accessing her, deciding if she was a fit girlfriend for their special son. She feared they’d be disappointed.

For the rest of that day, she was so jittery in anticipation of meeting his parents that she could hardly enjoy being with her relatives, including her cousin Judy, who arrived from Cornell, and meeting her sister’s new boyfriend, Brian. After she and Claire set the dining room table for the big meal, she grabbed her sister and brought her into her bedroom so they could speak alone. “Dan invited me to dinner at his parents’ house on Saturday,” she said. “I’m dreading it. They’ll expect me to be perfect—like Dan. They’ll be disappointed.”

“Don’t put yourself down, Lisa,” Claire said. “Dan’s lucky he met you: you’re adorable, you’re intelligent, you have a great sense of humor, and most of all you’re sweet and kind. What more can he want? Besides, I doubt he’s perfect. No one is perfect.”

“You mean not even you?” Lisa asked to be funny.

“Especially me. But I’m right about this. Stop putting him on a pedestal. You’re the one who should be on the pedestal.”

Nevertheless, Lisa had grandiose expectations about Dan’s family as she drove east on I-210 from her home in Glendale toward his in West Covina. She imagined a mansion on a slope with a view and a large backyard swimming pool. They’d be elegant and erudite people with an enormous library, packed with classics. Yet as soon as she drove through his parents’ neighborhood her notions altered: these were all modest tract homes. She pulled up in front of a plain ranch house, stucco with red brick trim. The lawn was mowed and in front of it were two squat palm trees.

As soon as she entered the house, his family didn’t dazzle her, which surprised her. His father was rod-thin, tall, and slightly bent. Like Dan, his sister had inherited his height and was a head taller than her rotund boyfriend. Dan resembled his mother yet her appearance was bland. Perhaps it was the clothes she wore: a beige jersey top over brown polyester pants and no jewelry. She showed only a slight grateful smile when she took Lisa’s gift, a box of See’s candy. His father gave Lisa a broader smile and said, “Nice to meet you.”

For her benefit, the main dish was vegetarian lasagna. She appreciated that Dan had told his parents she didn’t eat meat. She had feared she’s be forced to eat turkey leftover from Thanksgiving or maybe roast beef or pork chops.

His sister, named Amy, giggled with her boyfriend at one end of the table and they seemed preoccupied with each other. Amy had blond hair with brown roots and wore makeup too thick on her eyes, which were an icy blue. Her boyfriend had thin blond hair and lambchop sideburns that looked silly across his full cheeks.

Lisa braced herself for their many questions but none were forthcoming. Dan’s father stared at her but said nothing. Then his mother began, “We’re so proud of Dan and his accomplishments. Aren’t you, Lisa?”

“Oh, yes,” she said and smiled at Dan.

“He’s going to be called doctor by this summer. His grandparents and aunts and uncles are all so happy. Isn’t that an enormous achievement?”

“Oh, yes, it is. And his project in Carpinteria has done so much for the kids who live there.”

His mother brought a forkful of lasagna to her mouth then dabbed away sauce with her napkin. “Really?” She turned to her son. “What kind of project, Dan? I haven’t heard anything about it.”

Lisa was surprised that he hadn’t told his parents before about the important project. When they were back at school she said to him, “Why didn’t you tell your parents about the Children’s Project?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t see the point. They only care that I’m a success—that I’ll be called doctor.”

That June a new world was open to them. They both graduated, Lisa with a B.A. degree in English, Dan with a Ph.D. in Education, specifically in Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology. While they celebrated dinner at their favorite restaurant, Arnoldi’s Café, in Santa Barbara, Dan proposed to her and she accepted. Dan wanted the wedding to be small and Lisa agreed: they were poor, still without jobs, and couldn’t expect their families to splurge on their behalf—though Lisa’s mother wanted a big celebration and was willing to pay for it. They invited only immediate family and were wed in a small chapel in Pasadena. Dan’s community involvement strengthened his resumé so Lisa wasn’t surprised that he quickly acquired a position at Portland State University to teach at their education college, starting in the fall. She immediately applied to the university’s graduate program in English and was thrilled to be accepted.

They packed up their belongings and headed for the Northwest. Nearly two years later when she was finishing her Master’s degree, she discovered she was pregnant and they both were excited about having a baby. But in her third month she had a miscarriage. She was depressed for weeks but Dan was depressed for much longer. She had failed him.

***

Claire had to convince Lisa that she did take good care of herself while pregnant and she didn’t fail Dan. Claire had made the emphatic point that the opposite was true: he failed her. This thought renewed Lisa’s anger. She should pop up now and stomp over to him, shout for everyone around them to hear: he failed her—and their daughter. Yet at this late date she’d gain nothing by humiliating him—and herself.

A group of travelers were coming through the terminal doors. Claire’s plane wasn’t due for another twenty minutes. Lisa had checked about forty minutes earlier and discovered then that the flight would be delayed for an hour. But maybe it arrived sooner than expected. She dared not check the screen and have Dan see her. Yet now that she looked at the passengers, she noted that they were tan, several men wore bright shirts with blazing prints of palm trees and hibiscus flowers, and both men and women wore leis around their necks. These people obviously arrived from Hawaii. She hoped that whomever Dan was waiting for had been a passenger on that plane and then they’d be gone and he’d once again be out of her life.

But that wasn’t about to happen yet. As the group dispersed, she saw him sitting in a chair on the other side of the big screen. She could hardly breathe.

***

A year after her miscarriage Lisa was happy to discover she was once again pregnant. Dan was cautiously happy and kissed her. Then he said, “This time you might consider eating more protein. At least fish.”

He could never reconcile himself to her being a vegetarian. She had been a vegetarian since she was a high school senior. Her friend, Karen Ridley, became one first and had given Lisa a book about the horrors of the slaughterhouse. After only reading a few pages, she announced to her parents she’d no longer be eating anything that walked, flew, or swam. Her mother, a great cook who prepared a meat dish for dinner almost every night, wasn’t happy about this but said, “Then you’ll be cooking your own meals.”

Which Lisa readily did and learned from vegetarian cookbooks how to make tasteful dishes with tofu, various other bean sources, and nuts. Family members predicted this was a mere phase that would end, but they were wrong. During her first pregnancy Dan had made her ask her gynecologist if being a vegetarian was harmful to the fetus and the doctor had assured her it was fine as long as she ate nutritiously, balancing protein with vegetables and not eating too many fats and carbs. After the miscarriage she had called the doctor and asked, “Did it have anything to do with my vegetarian diet?”

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I believe it had to do with your cervix. It’s what we call an incompetent cervix, which means it opens too early in the pregnancy. We’ll have to watch over it during a future pregnancy.”

Something about her had been incompetent but it hadn’t been her diet.

Lisa was nervous throughout her second pregnancy and times when she spotted blood sent her and Dan into a frenzy of worry. She was glad she had stopped teaching at Portland Community College. She spent much of the time off her feet either reading or watching television. Dan had even bought a stereo unit so she could listen to her favorite records.

Just as she began her seventh month of pregnancy she went into labor. She gave birth to a tiny baby girl, pruned faced and jaundiced but still beautiful. She was immediately placed in an incubator. Lisa hated leaving the hospital without her baby, whom she and Dan had named Jennifer Marie. That same night they returned and watched tiny Jennifer in the incubator and Dan moved close to Lisa and folded his hand over hers. She smiled at him gratefully.

When Jennifer was eighteen months old the pediatrician told them she had cerebral palsy. This didn’t surprise Lisa. The child couldn’t stand yet, dragged one foot when she crawled, toppled over when she sat, and thrust her arms out for no reason. She drooled and had trouble saying mama. She could not say dada.

Yet when the doctor had put the diagnosis into words this stunned Dan and he paled.

With tears in her eyes, Lisa said after the appointment, “I know how painful this is to hear, Dan, but Jenny is lucky to have you as her father. In your field, you know all about kids like her and how to help them.”

His dark brown eyes showed despair that troubled her and so did his silence.

When Lisa found placement for Jennifer, at aged three, in a special program for young handicapped children at Portland Child Growth and Development Center she called Dan at his office on campus. “The director is really enthusiastic and very supportive. She gave me a tour of the center. It’s an amazing place. They’re all special kids under the age of six. They’re being potty trained and learning to eat by themselves and how to do say words and do simple puzzles. They also have a staff physical therapist and speech therapist who will work with Jenny. You’ve got to see for yourself. Anyway, the exciting news is Jenny can start this Monday morning.”

His reply surprised her. “Don’t make me dinner. I’m working late tonight.”

After she had fed and bathed her daughter and put her to bed she sat on the living room sofa and sobbed. Her relationship with her husband was strained by this child coming into their lives. Maybe it was her fault—an incompetent cervix or her no meat diet. Yet she loved pretty little Jenny, who looked like her father, except that she had Lisa’s red hair. They could still be happy.

He gave her no eye contact when he arrived home that night. A somber look was on his face and he went straight to their bedroom. She remained on the sofa, a novel unread on the coffee table. She couldn’t follow him into the bedroom, as if a heavy weight pressed down on her. A sense of doom overwhelmed her and she felt chilled. She finally forced herself up and left for the kitchen to boil water for tea. She was pouring the water into her mug when she heard him say, “Lisa, please come in here.”

She returned to the living room and was shocked to see that he held a bulging suitcase. She trembled so badly she grasped hold of a side table to steady herself. “You’re leaving us?” she managed to say.

“I can’t stay here any longer. I’ll send papers for you to sign. And money. Please don’t contact me.” In a softer voice he added, “This is just too much for me.”

Through blurry eyes she looked up at him. “Don’t you love us at all?”

“I … I can’t deal with it.” He turned and left.

Stunned, mortified, and scared Lisa knew she needed to call her sister. Through sobs she managed to tell Claire what had happened.

That weekend Claire left her home in Canoga Park and her husband, Brian, and toddler son, Justin, to be with Lisa at her time of despair. “I’ll hunt him down and kill him!” she said that evening after Lisa put Jennifer in her bedroom to sleep. In a slightly calmer voice she added, “You’ll get the best divorce lawyer and make him pay up—the bastard!”

Lisa sank onto the sofa and sobbed in her hands. “He’s left us—me. And it’s my fault!”

Claire plopped down next to her and grabbed her chin. She lifted Lisa’s face and their eyes met. “This is not your fault. Never ever say that again!”

Claire was her savior over the years, even though they remained living at a distance. She visited when she could, especially during summers while they both weren’t teaching. Sometimes Brian and Justin came too. Brian would walk through the house looking to see what he could repair, rewire, or repaint and Justin would make some effort to entertain Jennifer.

Fortunately, Lisa received help with Jennifer from school and community programs so she was able to work fulltime, teaching at the Sylvania Campus of Portland Community College, not far from her home. The money was needed: Dan had stopped sending money after three years. As far as he was concerned, she and Jennifer no longer existed. Then Jennifer died of pneumonia when she was fifteen. Lisa’s parents and Claire and Brian came to her funeral. Lisa was crushed and only her sister and brother-in-law had saved her from driving her car off a cliff.

***

Claire was coming to help Lisa celebrate her sixty-eighth birthday. Regrettably, Brian wasn’t joining her. He had suffered a mild heart attack a few months earlier and explained apologetically on the phone that his fear of flying might trigger another.

It occurred to Lisa that if Claire spotted Dan she might rush up to him and slap his face—but she’d prefer to strangle him. Lisa would get some satisfaction.

Yet, so much time had passed since that day he left her and their daughter that there was no point in trying to punish him now. It had been a long time since she felt exhausted from caring for Jennifer and also teaching. Then for years she mourned the loss of her daughter and struggled with loneliness. She dated but never lasted in a relationship. She enjoyed her friendships and participated in a writing group and went to poetry readings. She continued to write poems and had managed to get a few published in literary journals. That was her life.

Her hands were sweaty and she felt so agitated she couldn’t remain in her seat. Besides, she no longer cared if she came face to face with Dan. She stood and headed toward the Starbucks next to the terminal doors. She could easily see passengers arriving.

She was standing on line to order when she heard, “Lisa?”

She recognized the voice. This triggered the heavy beating of her heart. She was about to turn to face him but then the barista said, “Ma’am, what can I get for you?”

“A twelve-ounce coffee, please,” she managed to say. Then she faced him. That serious glow in his eyes was gone and he managed a smile. Perhaps he mellowed over the years.

“How are you?” he had the nerve to ask.

With a trembling hand she gave the barista a five-dollar bill for a $1.85 coffee and told him to keep the rest. She forced her hand to hold her hot cup steadily. “Fine,” she answered, deciding this exchange was absurd.

He stepped out of line and followed her to the counter where she poured half and half into her cup then stirred it and stirred it again and again.

“I didn’t recognize you at first,” he said.

“It’s been a long time,” she said, not looking at him. “What are you doing in Portland?”

He let out a nervous chuckle. “I missed the wet weather so I came back. Actually, I live in Lake Oswego.”

That was an affluent suburb. He was doing well. “Which plane are you waiting for?”

“The United flight from LAX. My wife went to visit her mom in a nursing home in Long Beach. We’re going to have her move up here so we can keep a better eye on her.”

This information about his wife made Lisa’s stomach twist even though years had passed. No doubt he had a family, with healthy kids and grandkids, too. She didn’t want to know about them. “She’s on the same plane as my sister.”

“That must be Claire. How is she?”

“Fine—just like me.”

He didn’t mention the unmentionable.

These moments were unbearably toxic and she had to flee. She glanced toward the exit doors and saw some passengers coming through them. The plane had arrived. Claire would be here momentarily to save her— once again. She tossed the cup full of coffee into a trash bin. She glanced at him for the last time and said, “Your daughter died a number of years ago.” She rushed by him and toward the doors.

When she spotted Claire, pulling a carry-on suitcase, she ran to her and hugged her. “Dan’s here,” she said by her sister’s ear.

Claire hugged her tighter then released her and said, “It’s too late for murder so I have a better idea: let’s go to dinner and order an expensive bottle of wine. It’s your birthday so it’s my treat.”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

Hillary Tiefer has a PhD in English and has taught at various colleges. Her short stories have been published in Descant, Red Rock Review, Mission at Tenth, Blue Moon Literary Review, Gray Sparrow Journal, Poetica Magazine, Poydras Review, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, JuxtaProse, The Literary Nest, Smoky Blue Literature and Art Magazine, Five on the Fifth, and The Opiate. Her stories were finalists in contests for Folio, Hidden Rivers Press, Homebound Publications, and Glimmer Train. Her novel, Lily’s Home Front, was published in October 2018 (Moonshine Cove Publishing). Her essays on the author Thomas Hardy have been published in scholarly journals.

Guest Posts, Marriage, memories

The Summer We All Got Married

July 31, 2021
wedding

by Larkin Warren

Eight of us were wed that summer of 1981. Each of the four engagements had come about during the previous bone-crackingly cold New Hampshire winter, although I’d like to believe that all the troth-pledging was more about love and joy than the need for warmth in icy weather.

We lived then in a university community, where marriage itself was subject to flinty-eyed skepticism—three of us eight to-be-marrieds were divorced, with kids in tow and wedding albums long lost in an attic or cellar. Nevertheless, as mud season passed and the lilacs appeared, we all prepared to take a plunge that seemed to grow ever more traditional as the days went by. Gathering on weekends, we ate pints of strawberries, pounds of brie, drank more Champagne than was customary on a teacher’s salary, agonized over venues and budgets, and complained, of course, about our parents—because what’s a march towards a wedding without that?

Coincidentally, another couple, first-timers both, planned a similar event. Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding would be larger, certainly, than all four of ours combined; her engagement ring big as a Volkswagon headlight, the invitation list and seating chart more complicated than the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly. We guessed that Diana’s and Charles’ whole coping-with-the-parents thing resembled rolling a large power mower over a hornets’ nest. We tried to envision the monogrammed thank-you notes, the writer’s cramp. “Ha!” somebody grumped. “Not likely she’s writing them herself!”

Whether Royalists, Fenians, or flat-out cynics, we refused to begrudge them the royal circus and the related hoopla. We were all determined not to be cynical that summer. They were in love, we were in love—and when you’re sufficiently love-addled, Frank Sinatra is forever crooning in the background, every sunset is peach perfection, and it’s an easy if somewhat wacky leap to emotional kinship with the future King and Queen of England.

By the day of the royal wedding, our own four weddings had been achieved. All our kids were in embarrassment recovery and all the wedding-cake tops (two organic from a local farm store, one eight-layered from a fancy caterer, one Mom-made) were stashed in fridge freezers, to be thawed and eaten at the first anniversaries. And so it was that on July 29, each new married couple, bleary-eyed and feeling more than a little sheepish, rose at dawn, fired up the coffee and joined teams of gushing TV network anchors and the billion other guests at the Spencer/Windsor wedding.

Feminism, pragmatism, and reality checks notwithstanding, it was difficult at first not to think in fairy tale terms as the veiled girl, swathed in an acre of virginal silk, arrived in the golden coach, glanced shyly up at her prince, and Bach rang throughout the cathedral; we were, after all, the first generation of Disney-movie kids, brought up on princes, princesses, and happily ever after, even if Ms magazine and Our Bodies Ourselves sat on the bookshelf next to a Virginia Woolf novel and somebody’s dissertation on the various psychoses in Grimms’ fairy tales.

It did occur to me, however, that if we dropped a nickel into the piggy bank every time a commentator actually used the words “fairy tale,” we might make a sizable dent in my son’s tuition savings account. “Why doesn’t he just grab her and kiss her?” asked said son with a medium measure of disgust, having witnessed many other silly grownups do precisely that for weeks.

A month or so later, my husband’s parents returned from a vacation trip to the UK with gold-trimmed souvenir royal wedding cups, one for my sister-in-law, one for me. I kept mine on the kitchen counter for a while, ceremoniously using it whenever I drank tea, silently begging forgiveness of my paternal grandmother, who’d secretly funneled her pension money to the Irish Republican Army. My sister-in-law used hers briefly as well, then stowed it away for safety after her two kids were born.

By the time little princes Wills and Harry were making shiny appearances in People magazine, our Summer of ‘81 group numbered three babies, two divorces, a few rounds of infertility treatments and a couple of complicated midlife career adjustments. At that point—pre-internet, pre-social media, pre-cell-phone cams in every hand around the world—we didn’t know about the mistress, the affairs, the drama worthy of Bizet’s Carmen. We didn’t know that Diana had flung herself down a flight of stairs in a bid for Charles’ attention, although one or two of us might’ve understood. I surveyed my own castle—eggy dishes in the sink, two dogs who ate shoes as if they were kibble, the husband who worked all hours, and the moody adolescent who painted Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover on his bedroom wall—the entire bedroom wall. “A lady in waiting would be nice,” I muttered.

Time kept passing. Parents aged and died. Kids grew up, friends moved away. Somebody’s son flunked out of college, another joined the Navy, a daughter eloped. Soon, we were all linked only by Christmas cards with ever-changing zip codes. Somewhere in there, the UK fairytale went all to hell.

On the last day of August 1997, the Princess of Wales and two others in her car died in an automobile crash whose grisliness was surpassed only by its agonizing stupidity: the drunk limo driver, the frenzied pack of paparazzi, the dying woman pinned like a butterfly in a shadow box.

A week later, I once again rose at dawn, heading for the television and feeling grim. For breakfast, I ate an entire box of Peek Frean lemon biscuits (with the “by Royal appointment” seal on the box), and drank Earl Grey in the gold-trimmed wedding cup. I don’t even like Earl Grey, and I had no doubt my IRA Granny spun in her grave. There again was the cathedral and the soaring music. Some of the faces were recognizable, all of them were older. “I thought I’d feel like an idiot watching this,” said my husband, who joined my vigil late and under protest. “But I don’t. I’m actually sad.” We both agreed that Sir Elton John could’ve used a couple of second thoughts.

That afternoon, my sister-in-law called, tired and teary. “I stumbled all over the place in the cellar this morning,” she said, “hunting for that damn teacup. Scraped my shins on every toy my kids have ever owned.”

I told her about her brother’s unexpected sadness, about my lemon-biscuit breakfast. We tried to figure out what it was that we were feeling, why someone and something that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with us seemed, suddenly, to have everything to do with us. For her, a mother of very young children, it was the unimaginable sorrow of two boys walking behind their mother’s coffin. For me, it seemed somehow about the sun-burnished wedding summer, the strawberries and champagne, the blind hope and optimism, and the friends whose lives and loves we had shared. We’d made promises. Mostly, we’d kept them “The odd thing is, I think I feel grateful,” I said.

“Me, too,” she said. “For the junk in the cellar. The dirty laundry. Even the old Barney videos.”

How often, in the frayed ribbon of a lifetime, do lovers and friends, husbands and wives, parents and kids, do wrong, disappoint, betray, yet somehow manage to start over? What’s the score now, as we pass another anniversary and roll however clumsily towards the next? My son, when he was little, had a term for the number of stars in the sky: “infinity many.”

“Most of all,” said my sister-in-law that long ago morning, in a very soft voice, “I’m just thankful for my completely ordinary life.”

Larkin Warren lives in northern NH. She has collaborated on six-and-a-half memoirs, is writing one of her own, and her poetry’s been published in Mississpipi Review, Ohio Review, Yankee magazine, Slow Motion Review (NYU), Quarterly West and others, She is currently owned by a mini Aussie shepherd rescued from a NYC kill shelter. Her poetry chapbook, Old Sheets, was published by Alice James books (Farmington, Maine) in the previous century. Her essays have appeared in New York Times magazine, NYTimes op-ed page, AARP magazine, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Glamour, Salon,  and others.

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Margaret Attwood swooned over The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl, but Enchanted is the novel that we keep going back to. The world of Enchanted is magical, mysterious, and perilous. The place itself is an old stone prison and the story is raw and beautiful. We are big fans of Rene Denfeld. Her advocacy and her creativity are inspiring. Check out our Rene Denfeld Archive.

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, Marriage, pandemic

Husband Fatigue — Oh, It’s Real

April 21, 2021
husband

by Debra Ryll 

I get it: if you’re white and you are not living under a bridge, you’re not allowed to complain about anything. But as I look at my spouse of thirty plus years, my sole dinner companion for lo, the last two hundred nights, I wonder: can I bring a paperback to the table, like those people you see on vacation?

I take a bite of the mushy broccoli he prepared. “Oh, bummer, it’s overcooked.”

“I don’t want to start a fight with you over this!” he says.

“I’m not starting a fight! I just made a comment!” And then we start fighting about the fact that we aren’t fighting.

Husband Fatigue. It’s real, people.

I know, I’m lucky to have a companion. How dare I complain when so many single people are plumbing the depths of loneliness? My issues are irrelevant, as trivial as the BAND-AID wrappers he leaves on the counter, just inches from the trash can.

This far into confinement-while-married, every irritant is magnified, and all the old adages are suddenly relevant. Like, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Or would.

I remember laughing hysterically at a video I saw at the beginning of the pandemic, where a woman hides in the closet so her husband can’t find her. That was back in March. In April, when the daffodils were blooming defiantly, we were all, “We’ve got this!” And in May—though we joked that our theme song was “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”—Fred and I were still playing ping pong and drinking margaritas on Friday nights.

And then came the horror of George Floyd’s televised murder. The riots, the fires, the smoke, the unbreathable air. Vladimir Putin being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, after his chief critic was poisoned with a toxic nerve agent. The passing of RBG, along with a peek into the Grifter-in-Chief’s tax returns, which included a $70,000 expense for hair care. Can I get a deduction, for overworked adrenals?

Mama said there’d be days like this. But weeks, months? Years?

In the middle of it all, we sold our house and moved into a rental with only one TV hookup. “That’s okay,” I said, “we mostly watch the same shows.” I must have been brain dead, because I completely forgot about the return of Monday Night Football. And Sunday Night Football. And Thursday Night Football.

As happy as I am that my husband has sports back in his life, when he asks, “Who’s winning?” on his way back from the kitchen I can’t resist saying, “The Denver Foresters” or “the L.A. Fire Chiefs.” He rarely laughs at my jokes, and I don’t really care. I just want him to fix that loose towel rack in the bathroom. And quit leaving his shoes in the middle of the floor. And stop taking the unused dog waste baggies out of his pockets and leaving them… everywhere.

Does Michelle Obama have to deal with this after Barack walks Sunny and Bo?

I want my husband to quit stealing my handicap placard. To please stop throwing away the newspaper before I read it. And why, dear God, can’t he put his pocket change in one place instead of making little currency deposits on every surface in the house? No wonder there’s a coin shortage.

I’m rinsing out the unwashed jar of spaghetti sauce he “mistakenly” slipped into the recycle bin (The Artic isn’t going to save itself, Buddy) when Fred interrupts. It must be halftime. What an odd nomenclature for a sport with a half-life similar to uranium.

“Can you teach me how to Zoom?” he asks. “I have an appointment with my doctor on Thursday.”

I can’t punt this to Siri, so I wash my hands for the hundredth time, set up a meeting for the next morning, and send him an email invite. He takes it in the bedroom, and I connect on the other side of the wall, in the living room.

Funny, he looks different on screen. I’m livestreaming my husband! He could be a thousand miles away… instead of ten feet. And we always get along better when we’re apart.

I tell him to “unmute” himself, the opposite of what I normally try to do. He smiles and says, “You look so pretty today,” and I blush. Because he’s the only one who sees me without a mask, and let’s face it, masks hide a multitude of sins. Once you forgo lipstick, it’s a very small step to skip concealer… foundation… eye shadow… mascara. Ponytails have long since replaced blow drying, and I’ve been somewhat remiss in plucking my chin hairs of late.

I complement him on his haircut in return. We’d been arguing over his quest for “the Jeff Bridges look” for years. “Jeff Bridges has a stylist,” I’d repeated, ad infinitum. “Jeff Bridges doesn’t go to Supercuts.” When the salons re-opened he finally agreed to make an appointment at mine, and at last, the blowzy grey “wings” that usually frame his ears like Bozo the Clown are gone.

Slipping into pretend Doctor mode, I ask how he’s doing and he responds with the same litany of complaints I’ve heard a thousand times. But this time I actually listen. Whoever said “variety is the spice of life” wasn’t kidding. It’s like we’re on TV doing Improv or starring in our own reality show. Who knew that the separation provided by 2×4 studs and a few sheets of drywall could have such a profound effect?

Because on the other side of the wall, this is the same guy who bitches about the San Diego Chargers moving to L.A. and how the Raiders got their own four billion dollar stadium in Las Vegas that that big shot Sheldon put up and you can see the Mandalay Bay Resort from every seat and why do the Chargers have to share a stadium with the Rams just because that cheap shit guy Spanos who owns the Chargers wants the people of San Diego to pay for it?

It’s the same guy who over-steams veggies, but barbecues like Guy Fieri. The one who feeds the hummingbirds and pumps up the air in my bike tires and puts windshield wiper fluid in some mysterious tank under the hood of my Honda so I can see clearly. The one I fell in love with when he bought me a chocolate malt for breakfast after our first all night “date.” The same man who accidentally taped the Marvin Hagler fight over our wedding vows 36 years ago. But we got over that, and if I can just ignore that pile of pocket change glinting in the background, we’ll get over this. Because he’s the one I pledged to stick with—through better or… wait a minute, I just realized: our anniversary is right around the corner.

I should send him a Zoom invite. And find those tweezers. debra

Debra Ryll is freelance writer, a TEDx Monterey speaker, a children’s book author… and a reformed smuggler, working on a memoir.

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Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress “being good” in order to reclaim your own life.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Marriage, memories

Find My

November 23, 2020
phone

By Abby Frucht

I’m in bed under the covers, my phone in my hand, my eyeglasses on, locating you. The little bullseye thing twerking I invent a way to feel it in the palm of my hand, green throb with slow glow, the map of back roads and main drags so near to my face I might trace them with my tongue, disentangling them. In my hand your route stabilizes, agitates anew, then blurs to a stop at the dead end curb where that couple once parked to have sex in our yard. In a blend of moon and lamplight they stumbled out of their car and knelt on a spot of grass to fuck. It was three in the morning, just like now, so I sat naked at the window and cranked it open to watch them going right at it, their limbs paler than worms, half in and half out of Bermuda shorts. Undisturbed by their cries, you twitched in your sleep, dreaming of tennis. Later you were grateful I didn’t rouse you to join in spying on them, and so was I. It would have been like the two of us watching a movie, one I liked but you didn’t. It was way too predictable, you would say. It took forever to get there but you knew all along what was going to happen.

You’ll turn seventy three a week from this morning.

You like to joke about death, especially now, including me in the bargain.

“G’night,” I might say. “See you tomorrow.”

“Hope so,” you’ll say.

“Let me know what we should order for curbside pick-up.”

“Bones,” you’ll say.

The little cursor reconsiders and makes its way to your parking place in our driveway. To see it blinking there fills me with panicked rage. My own pulse climbs, as it did last night and the night before. My feet turn cold. I don’t like to be tricked. I don’t trust this app. There are all sorts of ways for someone smarter than me to make fools of the rubes on the opposite end of it. Even if I get up and prowl barefoot outside to see your truck where it belongs, I won’t believe what I’m seeing. I’ll feel cheated, let down, since you’re not out and about in the midst of this scourge, so I can’t stalk you any longer, follow you around. Instead I shut down the phone, then turn it back on and start the whole app up all over again, provoking myself, stoking my adrenaline in preparation for catching you clicking shut the truck door, backing out of the driveway, gliding away.

Locating… the phone confides.

It works more quickly this time, more confidently.

Oshkosh

Now

Careful not to make a sound, I snake my arm through the blankets to set my glasses and phone atop some books on the night table. My head still undercover I shimmy sideways until one of my feet meets yours. I jerk it away, then slide my whole leg nearer and sneak my toes between your ankles to get them warm.

You keep on snoring.

You in our bed.

Our bed in our room in our house on our street in this town in this world.

Now.

Abby Frucht is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and most recently, poetry. She has been published at Narrative, Virginia Quarterly and in Brevity. Her writing has received a Best of the Web citation as well as the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. She has published nine books, the most recent of which, Maids, is a collection of poetry.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Marriage

Finding Forgiveness in the Cheating

September 27, 2019
slept

By Anonymous

My husband made me a martini. He had taken a red-eye from Las Vegas where he spoke at a tech conference some days before and returned home early this morning. All day I watched him deliberately move about the room, organizing his desk and paperwork, a glint dancing in his eye, a sneaking smile at the corner of his lips. He was keeping something from me. Every cell in my body sensed it, suspicious gestures aside, since I pulled into the driveway two hours in his wake. I had been away myself, putting the last touches on a collection of essays up in Seabrook.

We were sitting on the couch when I swallowed the last drop of my drink. It was 7 p.m. Talking heads on the TV were yammering on about the Pats, but the words all ran together. Whatever he was concealing seemed an impromptu triumph between us, formless and muted, nonetheless an unfamiliar presence.

He placed his hand on my thigh. His touch was subtle, loving, foreboding. I gazed into my glass, lamenting its emptiness. His eyes penetrated my cheek and he said: “I slept with a twenty-six-year-old girl in Vegas.”

He had a reason for waiting to tell me; the vodka would lessen the blow. I’m not argumentative when I drink. Just pickled. But I wasn’t entirely drowned in it, not too far removed to do the math. That’s what my mind jumped to first. Twenty-six. Half my age.

I sat unmoving, gazing into the glass, the reality in its fullness seeping into the coils of my pickled brain. Did he just say what he said?

Thing is, Chris and I have this gentlemen’s agreement.

When Chris and I met I was having a sporadic fling as a fit and invincible forty-two-year old with a married billionaire, Max Litoris. Once a quarter or so, Max would fly into Logan to attend a meeting at a startup he had poured venture capital into and we continued to hook up. Chris was okay with the situation. We’re big on a relationship that values honesty, full disclosure and “being adults.”

Out of fairness, sparked in the aftermath of evenings spent with Max (featuring preliminary Tanqueray and tonic, then hot sex in his Four Seasons’ suite), Chris and I spoke of his taking advantage of an opportunity – if it presented itself.

Incidentally, the last time I saw Max, five years ago, I later received an email from him accusing me of making his dick itchy. For the first time in years of cheating, the guy had Guilty Dick. His kids had recently flown from the nest and he and his wife bought a new home, embarking on a new and exciting life together. To quote Howard Hughes at this point is not only fitting, it’s irresistible: “I’m not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddammit, I’m a billionaire.”

I replied, what the hell is chlamydia? And Chris and I checked into Mass General’s STD unit. Imagine this: a couple devoted to one another go to a clinic because one has taken liberties outside the relationship and there’s talk of an itchy dick.

It’s a grueling experience, right?

Wrong.

Chris and I were in this together. And we checked out clean.

What about Max?

I can’t tell you what his reaction was to my report of cleanliness because I deleted every email he’s ever sent to me. Including, the dirty ones.

As for the twenty-six-year old…

The opportunity presented itself to Chris eleven years after we made our Gentlemen’s Agreement.

Despite the agreement and amid his depiction of the endeavor, words enunciated with the softness of goose feathers, I held up the empty martini glass and asked for another.

He had listened to the girl’s sad story. Bought her nachos. Paid her. Kissed her, his lips to hers, his fingers to her hoo-hoo. Let her ride his willy, perched on top of him. 

After the second martini, two glasses of wine and a shot of ginger Cognac, Chris got me into bed and held my hand. I took my hand away.

The next morning, I woke with I slept with a twenty-six-year old slithering through the coils of my aching brain. Before asking Chris to recount his confession, I asked him how I did in the reaction department the night before. He told me I handled it well. I hadn’t gone, as he expected, “ape shit.”

His acts were uninhibited because, he stressed, I granted him that freedom beforehand. He showed me the things he did with her; the same hot and sexy way he is with me.

Remember, it’s about being fair.

I had stepped out on him; doesn’t matter how long ago, how hot I was, how fat and gray I am now.

But this is a testament to our relationship. For as the minutes and the hours passed, my feeling offended lifted just like my hangover. I grew happy for him. Checkmark on the bucket list. At 65, Chris scored with a twenty-six-year-old.

Hell, he wasn’t looking for it. She came into the bar in Dick’s Last Resort and sat her young and sweet ass down, donning faded denim cutoffs, next to the only classy guy in the joint who was dressed in a suit and tie. She laid down a calculated bet and won.

I love Chris. Love that he’s already been to the clinic. I love our honesty and trust. I love how no one knows about the intimate facets of our relationship.

And the gentlemen’s agreement?

I hope it’s never enacted again.

****

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Guest Posts, Marriage, Race/Racism

On Loving v. Virginia and Interracial Marriage: When Race Isn’t the Only Difference

August 30, 2017
life

By Rebecca Bodenheimer

Our story is not the Loving story. It is a tale of interracial love and marriage—like the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose journey was beautifully and poignantly represented in the 2016 Jeff Nichols film Loving— and yet, it’s so very different. Fifty years ago, the Lovings took on the state of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in a landmark Supreme Court case, and on June 12, 1967, they won, hammering the final nail in the coffin of state prohibitions on interracial marriage. The Lovings were relatively similar in terms of background, including aspects of class, region, and language. The only thing that separated them was race. This is not to minimize the huge significance of racial difference, particularly in the 1950s South, but only to emphasize that in terms of other aspects of their identity, they were actually quite compatible with each other. One of the main messages I took away from the Loving movie was the gulf between the huge significance of race from a legal and social perspective, and its insignificance in the daily life of the Lovings. This story was not about a couple who set out to challenge a racist law, or even to take a stand on racial equality, at least not at first; rather it was about a man and woman in love, trying to do what was best for their family. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

A Good Marriage

August 11, 2017
marriage

by Marlena Fiol

We’re sitting around a Formica table at a booth in one corner of the Café in the Galesburg, Illinois train station. A faint stench of rancid grease hangs in the air. Barry Manilow’s otherwise velvety voice whines from a tinny speaker above our heads. Part of a rusty spring hangs out of a gash in the brown vinyl seat cover next to me.

Without looking up from her tray, the waitress places four tall plastic cups of water on the table in front of us.

“Can you please bring him a smaller cup?” I ask, nodding at our 4-year old. Only Stefan’s blond mop of hair and greenish-blue eyes peer over the top of the table. His sister, four years older and always his little mother, is trying to convince him to sit in a booster.

“It’s OK, Shareen, he’ll reach his food,” Steve says, gently laying a hand on our daughter’s arm.

Steve and I place our orders and ask for hamburgers and fries from the Kid’s Menu for the children.

“Look, Stefan,” Shareen says. “See how you can make airplanes with these napkins?” The two of them, heads bent over a pile of paper napkins she has ripped out of the rusty metal container, enter their own make-believe world.

I glance at my husband sitting next to me, slightly slouched, hands in his lap. The dark gray sweater, the one I gave him for Christmas four years ago – or was it six? – bags at his elbows.

In the booth next to us sits a couple carrying on an animated conversation. I watch the young woman leaning in toward her partner, laughing brightly. “I could hardly wait to tell you about …” I turn away, swallowing hard against something that remains stuck in my throat.

The waitress brings our food. Shareen breaks Stefan’s burger into little pieces. Steve cuts into his steak to check for doneness. The silence between us feels like air in a coffin, and I wonder when it was that we ran out of things to talk about. I stare into my bowl of chili, pushing the clumps of beans around with my spoon.

We met ten years earlier. I was 19, and had just arrived in the U.S. from Paraguay, South America, where my parents were Mennonite missionaries. Seven years older and wiser, Steve guided me through the strangeness of American flush toilets and traffic lights. I was safe with him.

The sixties were coming to an end, but we continued to ride the wave of their spirit. We filled our home with the sounds of Dylan and Baez, but also Brubeck and Brahms and Coltrane. Despite our relative poverty, we traveled to India, Europe, and South America. He sang opera. I studied French. Our kitchen was a favorite among our friends, always simmering with the latest gourmet recipes coming together. We made two healthy babies. Ours was a good marriage. Everyone said so.

But is good really enough? Is it asking too much to want a life partnership that provides more than safety and kindness? To want a partner who has the courage to put his hand into my heaped-up heart and, passing over all of the pathetic things that he can’t help but see there, draw out into the light all of the beautiful and radiant things that no one else has looked quite deeply enough to find?

I watch my husband now, contentedly chewing on his steak in the booth next to me; and our children who, having lost interest in their hamburgers, are back to making paper airplanes. They are my world, these three. The family I dreamed of as a child, when my parents were busy doing the Lord’s work.

My precious family.

Steve notices me looking at him and slowly raises one brow. His kind brown eyes seem to ask, “Is there something wrong?”

A shudder crawls down along my spine and I shake off the almost unthinkable, terrifying notion that in the midst of all of this serenity, something really is wrong. Almost unthinkable because, after all, ours is a good marriage. Everyone says so.

I shake my head. “How’s your steak, honey?” I ask, taking a small bite of my chili, which has grown cold.

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a globally recognized author, scholar, and speaker specializing in personal transformation. Her significant body of published books and articles on the topic, coupled with her own raw identity-changing experiences, makes her uniquely qualified to write about deep change. For more information please go to www.marlenafiol.com

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

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Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, Marriage

The Chiringas Over El Morro

June 9, 2017

By Melissa Banigan

The sky was filled with the chiringas families had bought at nearby stalls. They chased each other’s tails in the sky like parrots, and easily out-maneuvered the Puerto Rican, American, and old Spanish flags that flapped phlegmatically over the El Morro in old San Juan. At the base of the fort, the variegated blue waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashed against the rocks in an undulating mantra—ebb, flow…ebb, flow.

Standing atop the highest level of the fort, the wind whipped my hair around my shoulders as I looked over the San Juan Bay and out over the ocean. My boyfriend—no, my recent fiancé—placed his hand on the small of my back. I smiled at him, but in that moment, I knew: I did not want to be married to him.

“That’s so…wild,” I said, pointing down towards the white, foam-covered rocks. This wasn’t what I meant to say, but I didn’t have the language to describe the panic rising in my chest. The rough ocean below beckoned. I leaned gently over the wall of the fort and felt my heart dislodge itself from my chest and dive like a seabird into the roiling foam.

~  ~  ~

In the 1800s, future Prime Minister of Great Britain, William Gladstone, wrote that in the Odyssey, Homer had described a “wine-looking,” rather than blue, ocean. Some years later, a philologist named Lazarus Geiger examined ancient texts in a variety of languages and discovered that although the ancient Egyptians produced rich dyes using the blue woad plant, many ancient cultures didn’t have a word to describe the color blue.

What sort of feelings must she have had (for I’m certain it was a woman) when she looked down into the ocean to find that the water no longer appeared “wine-looking,” but had become an undefined color? Since she was without words to describe what she saw, I imagine was faced with a choice—remain silent and risk going mad, or give up everything she thought she knew in order to try to describe to others what only she could see.

Today we live beneath a blue sky and swim in cerulean seas, so it’s clear that she chose the second option. What, then, were the consequences? Was she tolerated as an eccentric? I doubt it. People are wont to accuse strange women of witchery, so I imagine she was dragged, bloodied and naked, and then burned beneath an ancient wine-colored sky. A consolation, of course, is the hope that the experience of seeing blue finally sparked to life in the imaginations of her fellow villagers as they watched the hottest zaffre flames coldly lick her tongue, lungs, and brains to ash. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, Marriage

Alpha and Omega

May 7, 2017
husband

By Pam Munter

Even now, all these years later, I have a recurring dream about driving alone around Madison, lost and trying to find my way home.  I am driving around hills, the lake always on one side. It all looks so familiar but I am not sure I am heading in the right direction.

When he was nine, my son and I flew to Madison, the coincidental location for a family reunion with people I had not seen since I was his age. Aaron was eager to see where he had been born so I took a photo of him by the Madison General Hospital sign, his arms cradled as if holding a baby. For me, his sweet spontaneous pantomime brought the backstory roaring back as if it had happened yesterday.

***

By 1972, I had been married for two years, living in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was doing a post-doctoral year in clinical psychology at Mendota Mental Health Institute. The husband had found a job as a social worker in a government agency. We agreed we wanted to have a child, hoping to time it to coincide with the end of my internship. There’s nothing like good planning and perseverance. By Christmas that year, I was pregnant. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Surviving

Flamethrower

April 21, 2017
water

By Lori Fetters Lopez

Some days it’s enough that he breathes. The exchange of air grates on my psyche like the high-pitched squeal of a six-year-old at the sight of a spider. A childhood dream to be a pilot, he sits with his hands grasping the yoke of a computer flight simulator. At his perch, he can turn from the pretend to the surreal. An endless choice of television shows filled with intolerable stupidity, followed by commercials selling drugs with side effects more damning than the symptoms they claim to cure. It all culminates into a farce. He’s been deployed for months and I’m left with only the memory to fuel my fire.

Hands on hips, I look at the obstinate water softener spewing its juices over my walls. I’m lost in incredulity wanting to collapse into the wet. Yesterday, I replaced the damn thing, the day before, the water heater. It mocks. Disgusted, I walk into the garage where the car lays in shambles begging me to crawl beneath its underbelly hoping for an altered result. First, the valve cover gasket, then the radiator, and now the gas tank.  The large door stands open revealing that another rain has brought our grass to grow. The lawn mower sits in the corner, a pigheaded child too engrossed in a video game to go to the bathroom, it leaks. Fixed before he left, obvious the repair was in vain; the first fill drains onto the floor. The mailbox leans forward as if reaching for the next letter too long overdue. Someone crashed into the pole and I replaced it. Too tired for more, I forgot the concrete anchor to gird its pole. I could call someone, pay someone, but that’s not who I am. I persevere. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

In Sickness

March 23, 2016
marriage

By Kristen M. Ploetz

Thirteen years ago, I passed the bar exam and got married.

Needless to say, I was not quite paying close attention when we planned our wedding. I was spent. Four long years of law school at night followed by the bar exam eroded my capacity to make decisions, especially those with multiple choice possibilities. Plus, after living together for nearly all of our eight years together, marriage felt like a mere formality. I’ve always leaned toward practicality more than passion, and our wedding was no different.

Still, we indulged in some creative control. My bridesmaids would wear crimson and carry candles instead of flowers. Letterpress for the invitations, seafood instead of steak. Otherwise, I just didn’t have it in me—time or desire—to let the planning of those eight hours consume my life.

A few weeks before our wedding, we met with the officiant to discuss vows and readings. I knew that I didn’t want to hear “I now pronounce you man and wife” (feminist!), nor did I want any religious anything (atheist!). But beyond that, and the fact that I would not be changing my last name, we were pretty much traditionalists—and pragmatists. Just give us the bare minimum required to make our bond legitimate in the eyes of whomever it matters for taxes and ratify our mutual trust to make life and death (and life after death) decisions for each other. And then let’s party.

So when we got to the part about selecting vows, we skimmed over the book of options. We took the steadfast road already traveled by millions of others.

for richer or poorer,

in good times and in bad,

in sickness and in health. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Sex

Sex Should Satisfy You Both

February 10, 2016

By Anonymous

This is a very real subject for me. I grew up with a narcissist mother who made me feel like I was not enough, worse, that I would never be enough. My first marriage happened mainly because I was pregnant and ended because we never should have been married. I finally met someone, a man who was kind and honest and everything I needed.

We got married and soon after, I became aware that, like lots of men, he had watched some porn. But it was more than that, what he watched dominated what he wanted in the bedroom. This wonderful man who was great husband and provider outside of the bedroom, wanted me in 6 inch stripper heels and making up stories about me fucking other men in the bedroom. It was baffling. I went along.

I had been so screwed up that I actually thought it wasn’t a big deal at first. But then, it became every time. Every time. There were dildos, butt plugs, costumes, outrageous shoes purchased for me by him. He also took me on romantic vacations where outside the hotel, we were happy and normal. In the hotel, it was filthy town. I never said no. I thought I must have done something to make him think I wanted this. It had to be my fault. My fault.

I finally said I hated it and now I am in therapy learning lots about myself and why I let this continue for years. YEARS. I never thought I could just say no, because him wanting this made sense to me, because it was ingrained in me that I was not enough. That was the insecurity planted in me from a young age by my mother. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

Fisherman’s Wife

February 1, 2016
love

By Shell Fejio

My husband was born one of three boys on the east coast, in a small town known for its Portuguese fishermen, perhaps more for their drug use and hard drinking than for the big catch, but they were known nonetheless. When his parents left for sunny California in his early childhood, they landed in a more fog covered Bay Area, but there was water, and my husband’s father took advantage of it. His dad would show up at the elementary school just past noon on a Monday, barely cleaned up from a late night of partying, pulling in the parking lot and honking. The receptionist would send the boys out, and under the guise of a doctors appointment (nobody at the school ever questioned why they were so many appointments, it was the seventies), Pops would take them down to the marina.

A ninety-nine cent package of bologna with a bottle of mustard and a loaf of white bread fed them for the day. Pops drank beer while the boys shared sugar laden Shasta soda. The lake was the bathroom, unless number two was needed, then, a bucket in the back of the truck sufficed. By sundown, Pops would be drunk, the boys tired and cranky, and the fish, on a good day, were flopping on a stringer in the water by their feet.  Weekends might be searching for crabs or clams at the ocean, rushing them home to get them in the pot, simmered in garlic and spices. In bad times, his dad would marinate smelt, a tiny fish abundant in the Pacific, a fish that soaked up the wine and got everybody drunk from tasting before dinner. Parties were oysters on the barbeque, hot sauce and a beer chaser.

My husband became a big drinker too. At twenty-two, he worked ten hours a day at a dry cleaners, with no respirator, inhaling any chemicals he could, hoping for a little buzz. After work, the first stop was the drive thru liquor store on the Mission Boulevard strip, a six-pack, at least. He’d get home, eyes shiny, beer in hand, ready to grab his pole. Night fishing was catfish. An early morning before work was hoped for rainbow trout. On Wednesdays, he got off early, picked me up from high school at first, later, from our tiny run down apartment, and begged to go to the lake – the ocean was too far on a work night – even in California, you can be a flatlander. Continue Reading…