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Family, Guest Posts, storytelling

The Day My Mother Left

September 26, 2016

By Kerry Cohen

The day my mother left, I was eleven years old. It was July, 1982. In just a few months I’d be twelve. And then thirteen. And so on. Life would move forward, even though my mother had left me. I could not fathom such a thing then. I would grow up. I would become a teenager, an adult, a wife, a mother, a divorcee. I would become all of these things, even though my mother had left me.

A year earlier, my parents had divorced. Their split was ugly and destructive. My father ran first, an expert escapist, and my mother was forced to stay. She spent much of her time crying, sometimes even wailing. Her emotions were like a haze in our large suburban New Jersey house. They were everywhere. I couldn’t duck them. I couldn’t squeeze myself around them. So, instead I held my breath. I made myself invisible. I stayed on the edges, watching my mother’s every move while she did things like lay four tons of bluestone into a cement patio. She played racquetball and took up sailing. She drove us to school, her eyes wild with plans, cut off other drivers, yelled, “Fuck you, too!” when they flipped her off. I was terrified of what she would do next.

She took pre-med courses at Fairleigh Dickinson. Locals called it Fairly Ridiculous, but my mother didn’t find that funny. This was serious business. She was changing her life, no matter the cost. The things she did find funny made her laugh too loudly, too shrieky, too off-time. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Binders, Family, Guest Posts

Losing Jason

June 8, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sayzie Koldys

On June 7, 1984, seven-year-old Louis Anthony Mackerley arrived home from school to a babysitter.  His mother was in the hospital, and his father, an Allentown manufacturing laborer, was at work.  Louis informed the sitter that he was going to visit a friend down the street.  Anyone watching would have seen a small boy step from the apartment clad in long, blue pants, a green striped shirt, and brown shoes.  If you looked closely, you may have noticed his pink socks, the boyish auburn hair, or the rounded almonds of his eyes.  You may have seen him step into the street, even heard the taunts of the other school children as he slipped into a hot dog shop to escape them.  It’s possible that you may have seen him leave that same shop, minutes later, in an attempt to resume his journey.  But, it seems, no one saw Louis Mackerley after that.  Not ever again.

These details may have had little relevance to my life, to my family, were it not for Louis’s photograph on a milk carton, his face a dead ringer for my brother’s.

More than a year after Louis Mackerley’s disappearance, my mother, father, brother and I set off in the middle of the night for our annual drive to Florida.  I was eleven, my brother seven.  Somewhere in New Jersey, as the sky lightened with the first rays of morning, my father stopped for milk.  We weren’t used to seeing the photographs on the cartons, a practice only recently begun by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  We hadn’t yet adjusted to rows and rows of missing kids, snatched from their lives in the time it takes to snap a photograph.  They were new enough to hold our attention, to keep our eyes from blurring their black and white faces into one.  I don’t remember who noticed it first, whether it was my mother or father, or which one of them initiated the joke, but we were all complicit.

“Jason*,” my mother said, the lines of her mouth turned down, “we have something to tell you.”  She showed my brother the picture on the milk carton and went on to describe how we had been responsible for his abduction.  He stared quietly at the photograph.

“You were too young to remember,” I said, catching on to the game, “but I begged for a brother so mom and dad picked you up one year on our way to Florida.”  I loved to tease him, to convince him that I could fly with the aid of a pillowcase or that my favorite doll was a real baby he had to stay awake all night to care for or it would die.  But this was even better.

“The only thing is,” my mother said, “we feel guilty for taking you from your real parents.  Since we’re right next to Pennsylvania anyway, we’ll give you back.”

My brother continued to stare at the picture of Louis Mackerley.  The likeness was such that even he began to believe that the image was his.  Since he remembered growing up in our family, I believe his terror came not from the possibility that he was Louis, but that he had been somehow confused with someone else’s missing kid.

“See,” I said, “your real birthday is February 15, 1977–you’re really eight, but we changed your age to seven in order to fool the police.”

“Don’t worry,” my mother said, “you’ll like your real parents.” Continue Reading…

Alcoholism, Guest Posts, healing

Houses and Homes.

February 15, 2015


By Tammy Perlmutter.

Doll Houses. Ghetto houses. Foster homes. Group homes. Children’s homes. So many houses. So few homes.

I stand in front of a dilapidated building in an urban neighborhood. Its porch is sagging to the right, the railing on the stoop has long been broken off, leaving a jagged, rusted stump jutting up from the crumbling concrete step. The lattice work covering the basement window is leaning forward as if trying to get away while everything is quiet. The paint on the siding is slowly bubbling up and stripping off,  it had long since given up trying to conceal the imperfections.

This is where my mother lives. Or rather, lived. She died a year ago, lasting longer than anyone ever thought, and longer than most of us wanted her to. The bar fights, drunken falls, car accidents, decades of liver damage, none of it had been fatal. It was pneumonia that got her in the end. It was not the dramatic demise we were all expecting.

The narrow row home was barely habitable when my mother lived there, and now it’s been condemned. I don’t know exactly why I am here, standing in front of the porch. I never lived in this house with her, just visited here a handful of times as a teen and young adult.

My mother left us with sitters to go looking for an apartment and didn’t return for days. When she finally returned, after what most people thought was a “lost weekend,” my brother and I were placed in foster care. I was not quite 5. It was a lost weekend, because I lost everything.  My home, my family, what little sense of stability an alcoholic parent could provide.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing

On Being Left.

June 22, 2014

On Being Left by Shari Simmons.

I am left handed. Very left handed. If I had a stroke and lost use of my right side I would still function fairly well. I guess I would consider myself a left thinker too, although lefties use their right brains, as I understand it. I’m not sure what a left thinker is exactly but it seems to fit how I feel sometimes.

I like being a lefty, minus a few inconveniences like right handed computer mice, and scissors and having no one want to sit next to me at a crowded dinner table. But it’s part of who I am; a little quirky, a little left of center if you’ll pardon the pun.

But that’s not really the left I’m referring to here. There’s another “being left” that is also a big part of who I am.

When I was eight years old my dad left. Well, he left my mom, and technically not my brother and me. At least that’s what they told us. But the fact that he packed all his stuff and moved out sure felt like he left to me.

He left my mom for another woman, and two years later he left me for another state. California to be exact, which was 3000 plus miles from my house in Maryland. Again he said he wasn’t leaving me. He had to go; had no choice.
“For a job.”
“There are jobs here.”
“I looked and couldn’t find one. California is beautiful and it’s warm and sunny all year round.”

I’m sure he had said he thought I was beautiful at some point, although I couldn’t admit to being warm and sunny all year round. That was a tough one to compete with. That and all the movie stars and palm trees, which California was also full of according to my dad.

“You’ll come visit every summer. You’ll love it. We’ll miss you.”
And he left. And I cried. Again.

And so my brother and I hopped on our first airplane by ourselves that next summer. My mom cried and loaded us down with about eight peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each and various snacks for the five and a half hour plane ride.

He was right. It was warm and sunny and there were palm trees but as hard as I looked I never found a movie star.

At the end of the summer, as we headed back to the airport to go home, it felt as though he was leaving us all over again, even though we were doing the actual leaving this time. And so we left. And I cried. Again.

I got used to the summer visits but never to the leaving part. Every time I cried and every time I felt as though I was being left again. What did California have that I didn’t? Well, my dad, for one.

I grew up and went to college and fell in love and got married. I took all the precautionary steps so that I wouldn’t get left by my husband like my mom had. I communicated my feelings about not wanting to be left. He said the same. I became the wife I thought he wanted me to be and the mother I knew I could be.

And in all the precautionary steps I took, I missed the biggest one. I left myself. I lost myself. And he left me anyway. He didn’t leave my children though. That’s what he told them. He left me for another woman, and because we weren’t right for each other, according to him. I think that’s better than being left for another state. Better than being left for a piece of land with sun and palm trees.

Alone, I found myself buried just beneath the surface, and told myself never to leave again. My mom, who had always been my brave inspiration and rock and best friend in life, helped me through being left by my husband, just as she had been there when I was left by my dad.

I could see the physical pain on her face of not only watching me go through what she did, but reliving her own pain of being left.

I poured my feelings out to her and she poured hers out to me, as though we were sharing the same pot of heartache tea. And life had a way of finding a new normal. The empty spaces were filling in and raising my two daughters were the main fillers.

If I were to be asked what my biggest fear in life is, one would think it would be being left. In actuality my biggest fear is the fragility of life. Being left may be a part of that, but it’s the bigger thing that anything can change at any moment. The train can be derailed by the smallest crack in the track.

My own train derailed one December afternoon in the form of a phone call from my mom where she painfully forced herself to tell me she had pancreatic cancer. I sucked all my breath in and I don’t remember it ever coming back out.
“That’s the bad one.”
“No I think it’s early. I can beat it.”
The crack in her voice betrayed the conviction of her words.
I cried. I didn’t want to but it just happened.
“I will beat this. I will.”

And she certainly tried. For a year she fought and fought and then, in the simplest of terms, she lost the fight.

And in the most incomprehensible of all situations I could imagine, she left me. I know she didn’t want to or even mean to, but that is still what happened.

She left. She left her husband. She left her children. She left my children. She left me. And left or right, everything in my brain felt wrong. A pain in the left side of my chest, where my heart should be felt like an empty, gaping hole.

And so, as it so often happens whether you want it to or not, another new normal formed. One without my mom but with my beautiful daughters beaming light out of the darkness. People say only her body left me but not her spirit. I think that may be true because I feel her at times, but it doesn’t make me feel any less left.

A few years after my mom’s passing, my stepdad who was kind and loving enough to raise me as his own during the non-summer months and in the absence of my real father, left me as well after suffering a fatal stroke one summer evening. He had promised my mom that he would look after the girls and me (a symbolic gesture as I was in my 30s at the time), but I suppose the pain of my mom leaving was too much and he went to be wherever she was. At least that’s what I like to believe.

The loss of my stepdad brought on a feeling I wasn’t expecting at the age of 40. Despite my father and stepmother still being alive, albeit 3000 miles away, I suddenly felt orphaned. The two parents who raised me were gone. I felt alone. And sad. And angry. And left.

And so I’m forced to think and write, with my left hand and my right brain, why have all these people left me? Did I do something wrong? (Ok, my ex-husband may have something to say on that matter.) Sure, there are some positive things I’ve done with my life that perhaps I wouldn’t have done had all these people not left, but in the case of my mom and stepdad, I would hate to think they had to sacrifice themselves in order for me to stop procrastinating something. Certainly that would be a high price to pay for laziness or unseen opportunity.

But I’ve also noticed that although people have left me, others, while not taking their place, have entered my life in a way that perhaps wouldn’t have been possible before. Lovers and parental figures who, for good or bad, have kept me company during a sometimes lonely journey. The pain is still there, but so are the smiles, the laughter, the love.

And so I have stopped asking “why?” because one, I don’t think I will ever get an answer, and two, if I did, I don’t think I would like it.

I’ve just had to learn to accept this as part of who I am: I am a mother, a lefty, a writer, a massage therapist and a health nut who has been left more times than she would care to count. However, this also means that there are a few empty seats next to me if anyone would care to take a load off, and casually discuss the abstract and obtuse topics of life, love and yes, being left.

Shari Simmons is a freelance writer and massage therapist who enjoys writing about personal journeys and holistic health issues. She is a self-proclaimed health nut who isn’t afraid to admit to occasionally putting gummy bears and Oreos on her fro-yo. She lives outside of Philly with her two daughters.

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen leads  her signature yoga/writing Manifestation retreats all over the world. Next one with availability is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next Manifestation Workshop is London July 6. Book here. Seattle July 26/27.

Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Out To Sea by Ally Hamilton.

December 24, 2013

By Ally Hamilton.


When I was seventeen I began dating a man who was twenty-one years older than me. My parents tried to stop me, but they have nineteen years between them, and even though they divorced when I was four, I was positive my relationship was different. Because I was seventeen and I thought I had all the answers. My previous boyfriend, who had been kind and sweet and awesome in every way, also tried to stop me. But he had moved across the country to go to college, and the truth was, I was heartbroken. I felt abandoned, even though he was talking about Christmas break, and calling every day. No matter; he’d left, and it stirred in me something old and raw and completely unhealed. So I let this guy who was so much older come at me with his cars and his boats and his private plane to his house in the Hamptons. He had a terrible reputation for cheating on everyone he dated. And I signed myself up for the task like I’d be able to fix that. Also, something inside me was believing the idea that I was the kind of person someone could leave. So who cared, really.

The first time we were together it was strange and sad. We flew out to his house, and went directly to the beach where we got in his speedboat. He drove us out to the middle of a secluded bay area. I knew he’d done it before, all of it. It was like some kind of ritual. Something to get out of the way. I knew he didn’t love me. That came a few years later, after he’d broken me and it was too late. But I let him have me, even though I felt nothing. I mean, I was hooked in, I was playing out all kinds of ancient history. But I wasn’t in love with him, and I certainly wasn’t loving myself. Not even a little. When it was over and I was swimming in the ocean, tears came streaming down my face, unexpectedly, without permission. I dove underwater, trying to wash them away, trying to wash the whole thing away. I don’t remember much else about that day, or that night. I think he spent most of the rest of the afternoon working, and I curled up in front of the fire with a book. I felt dead to myself, and also strangely satisfied that I’d done something so unlike me.

I stayed with him for three years. Once he had me, he kept a tight leash on me. It’s funny how people without integrity assume other people also have none. He was threatened by the guys at Columbia who were my age. He’d drop me off on campus sometimes and get upset if I was wearing lipstick, or tight jeans, or short skirts, or pretty much anything that wasn’t a sack. But he cheated on me regularly. He was good at it, I could never prove it, but I always knew when he was with someone else because it hurt. It hurt in the way that sends you under the kitchen table, holding onto yourself as you sob and wonder what the hell you’re doing in this situation, and why you don’t get out. But getting out wasn’t even possible at that point, because I was so attached to getting my happy ending. If I could just be perfect enough to get him to love me. If I could just hang in there long enough he’d finally realize I really did love him. Because after awhile, I did.

I began to see this insecure guy who felt he wasn’t enough, regardless of how many women he took to bed, or how much money he had, or how many sparkly, shiny toys. Nothing did it for him, not even the unwavering love of a good girl. I can’t call myself a woman when I think about this experience, because I wasn’t yet. I had a lot of healing to do, and a lot of growing, but I was very kind to him. And the longer I stayed, the more he gave me reasons to leave. For his fortieth birthday, I planned an elaborate surprise party. I rented a pool hall, had it catered from his favorite sushi place, and ordered dessert from an amazing pastry chef. I sent invitations to all his friends. I made a reservation at a new restaurant that had opened downtown that he was dying to try, and planned to take him to the pool hall from there. I ordered a bottle of champagne to be waiting at the table. It took me months to save up the money to pull it off.

A week before the party he confronted me in the kitchen in East Hampton. He told me he knew about the party, and he wanted to see the guest list to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anyone. At first I tried to deny there was a party, but he kept coming. He laughed at me. He knew it was at a pool hall. He wanted to know if I’d ordered food, and all the other details. He didn’t want to be embarrassed. I stood there in that kitchen and I felt everything fall away from me. I felt like I was made of bones that could disintegrate into a pile of dust on the floor, that his housekeeper could just come along and sweep away, out the door, into the ocean, to meet up with those tears I’d cried the first day. I told him every last detail. He took away any shred of joy I might have felt at having been able to give him something. Three days before the party, he went to the restaurant I’d made reservations at a few months before. So that the night of the party, the only surprise was that sad bottle of champagne, waiting at the table.

You cannot save anyone. All the love in the world won’t get the job done. You can’t make someone faithful or kind or compassionate or sensitive. You can’t make another person happy. They are, or they are not. You can harm yourself. You can allow yourself to be abused, mistreated, neglected and betrayed. But I don’t recommend it. A healthy, happy, secure person wouldn’t have been on that boat with him in the first place. Of course, he preyed on a seventeen year old, and when I look back on it I have all kinds of compassion for myself. But it took me years to get there. And a lot of yoga, and a lot of therapy, and a lot of weeping and writing and reading. Anything you repress, or run from, or deny, owns you. It owns you. And if you don’t turn and face that stuff down, you’ll call it into your life in other ways. The truth wants out. Your heart wants to heal so it can open for you again. Whatever is in your past does not have to define your future. But it probably will if you don’t do the work to liberate yourself. We have such fear. We think these things will overwhelm us, that we won’t survive. But what you won’t survive is the not facing it. That’s the part that kills you. That’s the part that makes you feel you could be swept away in the wind. Looking at your stuff hurts. It’s painful and deeply uncomfortable, but if you trust yourself enough to lean into all that pain, you’ll find it loses its grip over you. If you let yourself weep out the searing heat from those wounds, your whole being can take a real, deep breath, maybe for the first time in ages.

You can forgive those who let you down, who didn’t or couldn’t show up for you the way you would have liked or the way you deserved. You can forgive yourself for choices you might have made that were harmful to you or others. When we’re in pain, we don’t tend to treat ourselves well, and sometimes that also spills onto the people with whom we’re closest. But life can be beautiful. You can close the book on the old, painful story that was just a replaying of your past. And you can start working on this new creation that gets to be your life after you’ve healed. Not that the old pain won’t show up from time to time when you’re feeling triggered or tested or vulnerable, but it won’t grab you and knock you off your feet and show you who’s boss. Because it won’t be boss anymore, it won’t rule your life. You’ll just see it for what it is, an echo of a very old story that came to completion. It can’t be rewritten, it is what it is. But you get to decide where to place your energy and your attention. And I highly recommend you direct it toward love. That’s your happy ending, although it doesn’t end. You get to keep choosing it every day. If you do that, you’ll never find yourself sailing out to sea with someone who doesn’t know how to do anything but hurt you. Your own ship will have sailed. And maybe someday you’ll pass your seventeen year old self, weeping in the ocean next to your ship and you’ll pull her on board and show her your future. Which holds so much joy and gratitude and meaning and fulfillment, maybe she’ll weep there on the deck with you, not in sadness, but in relief.

If you’re allowing yourself to be mistreated and you need help, feel free to message me. Sending you love. Ally



Bio: Ally Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher and writer who streams online yoga classes all over the world. She’s the co-creator of, which has been featured in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She’s a regular contributor for The Huffington Post, a wellness expert at MindBodyGreen, and writes an almost-daily blog at She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle. She believes everyone can benefit from some regular time on a yoga mat.

**Jen Pastiloff has over 30 online classes at Ally’s studio Yogis Anonymous. Click here.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.


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