Browsing Tag


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…

Binders, death, Grief, Guest Posts

On Losing a Brother, Survival, and Sweet Clementines

May 28, 2015


By Joanna Chen

I remember the moments before learning of my brother’s death. It’s mid-December. I do not know why I have been called out of class but I register the horrified look on the face of the secretary as she enters my classroom. I am standing at the window, looking out at the dull fir trees swaying in the wind. I turn around when she calls my name and follow her obediently. Schoolgirls in bottle-green uniforms move about from class to class, ascending the stairs on the right, descending on the left. I am descending. One foot after another, very slowly. My hand lingers on the smooth, polished wood of the banister at the bottom of the stairs. The secretary leads me to the waiting room opposite the office. The pale oak door is closed. I place one hand on the circular door knob, turn and enter. They are waiting for me inside: Headmistress. Mother. Father. There is a pause as they look up at me, standing there, my hand still on the door knob.

Six years in this school and I have never been in this room. There are green easy chairs in a half-circle. On a low table is a silver tray with cups, saucers, milk jug and sugar bowl decorated with rosebuds. Sugar in lumps.  The headmistress wears cat-woman eyeglasses. I offer a small smile. I giggle. I am fifteen.

And then a sentence with words one after the other strung together, each word falling heavy into the air.  My brother Andrew, not yet eighteen, is dead. A coach came out of a side-street into the main road and my brother, on his blue motorbike, hit the side of the coach head-on.  And I imagine him speeding along, his first week with the new motorbike, freedom at last, no more standing at the bus stop in the cold of northern England, no more waiting for our father’s red Rover to drive by after work to pick him up, no more.

That last time I saw Andrew was in the mirror, three hours earlier. He was leaving the house, and stopped at my bedroom door. I was adjusting my school tie and did not bother turning around to face him. It would ruin the knot. I remember his face in the mirror, his hair thick like a bush, his hands on the keys, his stubby fingers, dirty fingernails. And now in reverse. His dirty fingernails, stubby fingers, his hands on the keys, his hair thick like a bush, his face in the mirror.  I always go back to this moment.

I bolt the waiting room. Outside it’s a cold day. Snow. Slush. Crunch under shoes. No coat. My finger traces a word on the window pane. Andrew. I am standing outside the school building, looking in. The separation has begun but people are looking for me already. My green gabardine coat is handed to me, and my school bag. I am led to the car.

We drive first to the Goodmans, friends of my parents. Mrs. Goodman tells me tea with sugar is good for shock and I should have a couple. She leans her stumpy body over me, sitting where I was put, and reaches for the sugar bowl with her right hand. She drops one lump into the tea and then another. The first one splashes faintly as the white lump hits the milky, still- steaming water. The second one she drops in more gently, more reverently, as if the little square of crystal is a child that might fall over. I say nothing. I hate sweet tea.

She hands me a magazine, tells me to stir the tea, passes me the spoon as if she is not sure I understand her and returns to the kitchen, where my parents are sitting. I need to speak to your parents, she nods at me, thundering along, already halfway across the living room with the white carpet.

I slide out of the chair onto the carpet, pull down the magazine and place the cup and saucer beside me. I’m still in my school uniform; we have not gone home yet. My shoes are by the front door; the Goodmans are very particular about their white carpeting. My socks are dirty. I had been in a hurry that morning to dress and grabbed socks from the day before.

Sitting in the living room will be quite a treat for you, she tells me earlier, patting me on the shoulder, and I wonder exactly what kind of a treat she is referring to. I suddenly feel very tired and want to go home. Perhaps he is there, after all, and he’ll punch me in the arm and tell me I’m an idiot. Continue Reading…

Binders, feminism, Guest Posts, Truth

A Pocket Field Guide to Being Patriotic in a Newly Military Family

April 23, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Kathryn Roberts

When a sibling joins the military, adopt the flag. Accept it all blindly, a patriot at heart unwilling not to support the mission. Ignore your doubts.

Slap him on his back, the child you sang bedtime songs to, now a soldier fighting for your country. Do this even when you despise the politics that drove your country into war under false pretenses. Do this even when he demonstrates no understanding of the current conflict or the region whose language he intends to learn.

Wear the ribbon. Believe the rhetoric.

Because, if you cannot support your brother–who in the anonymity of the Army is now your country–who can you support?


When you go to his swearing-in ceremony, keep your mouth shut when the recruitment officer who signed away six years of your brother’s life informs him he must attend church every Sunday during boot camp to avoid punishment. Hold it tightly closed when he tells him that foregoing the service would mean his commanding officer would not receive the two hours off and would find chores punishing enough that he will be so eager to worship a god that he never misses a service again.

Stifle the part of you that asks if there is more than one service. If there are choices for the soldiers who’ve signed up — many of them video game addicts who associate war with pixels that regenerate in a different spot after each kill so they get another chance to come out on top.

Do not ask if they can choose between an evangelical Christian sermon (like the ones your parents drilled into you) or a Jewish Sabbath the night before or an Islamic service. Or even a non-punishment producing Atheist option.

Silence yourself in the name of duty because suggesting that coerced religion in the armed services is tantamount to forced religion in the country will call into question your brother’s honor. Your country may disown you. Your parents will disdain you, even as the sibling who traveled across country for the ceremony. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Anonymous, Guest Posts

Confessions of an Alcoholic.

December 5, 2014


Hello Jen, I follow you on Facebook.

I know you are a writer and I had something that I wanted to share with people without them actually knowing it was me.  I would be interested in hearing people’s opinions on my topic. I love your “don’t be an asshole” and your amazing quotes. Please do not post my name or anything, I am one of your followers but don’t want this on my page.

Okay, here it is…it probably sucks because I am not a writer but I think it just may help someone not get to this scary place…

Why Am I an Alcoholic?

I don’t know where to begin. I always use the phrase “did the chicken come before the egg or the egg before the chicken?” I know, I know…cliché right? Well I find that I feel the most insightful when I am drinking and everything seems to make complete sense or no sense at all while I am intoxicated. And, honestly, I have no idea when an easy “fun time” became this crazy journey that I am on. I am under the grips of something so incredibly powerful yet so incredibly benign in the eyes of some.

I find myself listening to comments such as “why don’t you just stop?” and “you can stop whenever you want to, but you just don’t want to.”

Truth be told…it’s not even just listening to those comments, but believing them and eventually making myself feel more guilty and miserable and partaking of my alcohol nightmare even more than the day before just to quash the guilt.

Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, healing, loss

My Brother Died & Yet He’s Everywhere.

October 31, 2013

By Cindy Lamothe.


He slipped a Marlboro in his mouth and blew out a big white puff that circled around us like a cloud. It was just one of those nights when there was no wind but it was so cold you’d hug your knees while sitting on the pavement. Our hideout.

Our not-so-secret, secret place.

It was midnight, and we were outside the house and sitting on the curb of the road. One of my favorite things to do. Our house was in the suburbs, laid between large houses with big lawns. The ones that are loved and taken care of. Except for ours, with overgrown shrubs, weeds, and cigarette buds in the driveway.

The black sheep of the neighborhood.

The perennial mutts. Half White, half Latinos. The messed-up family.

“When we grow up, I want us to live in two houses next to each other, with white picket fences separating us. Have our kids grow up together and watch stupid movies, be crazy, and all that good shit. Yeah, it’s gonna be a great life Cindy, just wait, I promise.”

I was 16 when my older brother said these words to me.

Four years later, he killed himself with a handgun.

Jay promised to always look out for me, to have my back, to always prepare my favorite deli sandwiches when I was feeling down, and buy me cappuccinos on rainy days. That was the kind of person he was. Though stereotypically speaking, you wouldn’t think so.

A walking contradiction, tough on the outside, goofy on the inside. Full of tattoos, a buzzed haircut (huge and frizzy when grown.) An experimental drug user, a loving friend, and the kind of person you wish you knew.

I adored my brother.

The one from another mother. The outcast. The unlovable one.

He didn’t care if you had a penny or a million to your name. If you were the drunk on the street or the president, he’d talk to you the same. It didn’t matter if you were the popular kid or the fuck-up, the nerd, or the jock. He was your friend.

Jay was a mechanic. He could take things apart and put them back together again. He had a passion and a talent for this. Rearranging nooks and bolts until a car was up and running like nothing had ever happened to it.

He’d take the unfixable and make it whole again. Like that time I called him late at night to say goodbye.

I’d taken 30 sleeping pills. The tears in his voice pleaded with me, softly asking why? “Cindy, why did you do this to me? I thought we were in this together. It’s going to be all right. I promise. It’ll get better. I’m getting in my car and coming for you right now…don’t fall asleep.”  He tried to fix me. Except it wasn’t the first time. My third attempt to be exact. The scariest one. We’d already had some experiences before. Suicide experts.

When I was thirteen I found him passed out on the sofa, with Jimmy Hendrix and Curt Cobain posters covering his walls. Fast asleep. Only he wouldn’t wake up. I watched my dad shake him. Nothing. The ambulance came and went. A trip to the hospital where he laid like an angel with wires coming out of his nose. The “oh god, please don’t take him, I promise to always look after him.”

We had the routine down. We knew the drill. Like a broken record from a playbook. That same year I’d be the next to watch my stomach getting pumped, and have a tube so far down my throat I’d gag for breath. Nasty black liquid in my mouth. Enough to fill the emptiness of my soul. And I remember one of the male interns staring at me the way you watch a puppy getting put down. With both pity and shock.

The “why?” in his blue eyes.

Only there are no cookie cutter answers, none to explain how much you hate yourself, how pathetic and worthless you feel. That you are invisible and have no friends. My parent’s fight all the time…I’ve been to over 10 schools in my life…lived between countries…my little brother’s handicapped…I feel ugly. How do you explain dysfunction to the ‘normals’? The ones with perfect families who know how to take care of their lawns.

No. It was up to Jay and me to depend on each other. We knew our story, our brokenness. He was my unconventional role model; I looked up to him, his wild spirit and humor. My drug-addict hero.

We ate French-fries at midnight in abandoned parking lots just to ramble on about life and our hopes and dreams. At some point I’d tell him about wanting to be a writer, to live in Paris and visit café’s around the world. He wanted to visit NYC and party in Las Vegas. Jay was the rebel, the thrill seeking risk taker. He was larger than life, and knew how to live fully. That wasn’t me. I wanted a life full of beauty and awe. Naturally we became best friends.

I was 20 when my brother killed himself.

I remember the movie I watched before being told the news. A cartoon we used to watch as kids, “The Great Mouseketeer.” One moment you’re laughing at childhood memories and the next your heart gets raped beyond repair.

Because that’s what happens when you’re told that your favorite person in the world has shot himself to death.  Screaming so hard that the street turns quiet. Your fists punching the walls. Hell on earth. And you realize that your worst nightmare has nothing on grief. You’re alone. Completely, devastatingly more alone than you’ve ever been.

The first few years after his death, I couldn’t tell anyone the terrible, dirty word: suicide.

I couldn’t even tell myself. Maybe if I didn’t say it out loud it would stop being true. Because everyone knows that when you say something, it becomes real. This isn’t a dream. It’s the real-life wham bam, your brother’s dead, thank you ma’am. And no amount of Paxil or mood stabilizers, and sleeping pills…will bring him back.

What they don’t tell you is how sick happiness makes you when you’re in grief. Sick to your stomach. Happy couples, people laughing, life going on. As if the world hadn’t stopped the minute your heart did. This is not the romanticized version of suicide ladies and gentlemen. This is the gritty, hardcore, punch in your gut loss. The version where you don’t move on in a few months, or even a few years.

I invented a story to tell people, he was driving one night and was driving too fast and crashed into an 8 wheeler. Killed instantly. He died the way he wanted. Racing his beloved Honda. The perfectly polite, don’t pity me, elevator pitch bullshit.

That story became a part of me. Like the awkward freckle on my eyebrow, or that pesky rash I can’t seem to get rid of. I couldn’t let others know that I had failed as a sister. Because that’s what happens when someone you love kills himself. In your mind you become responsible for their unhappiness, their depression, their decision.

It didn’t help that my last words to Jay were “No, I don’t want to see you.” or that it had been over a year since we had last talked, because I was still mad at him for letting his girlfriend use my car while I was living in El Salvador.

I was prideful. Yes.

And when I happened to be back in the US and he called asking to see me…asking me to reconsider. I refused. And it’s a lie to say that this event hasn’t filled me with regret. Because no amount of self-help books or quotes about positivity can fill that void.

My brother broke his promises to me.

We’ll never grow up to have those white picket fences, and have our children become best friends. I’ll never eat his amazing deli sandwiches again, or eat french-fries in parking lots at midnight. I won’t hear him laugh or tell me how important I am again. When someone dies, you don’t just lose them, you lose the possibility of being able to fix things. You lose redemption. And all of the dreams you shared with them, the ways you imagined them into your life are gone. Like a wiped hard disk.

I still remember you brother. My black sheep. My unlovable. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I saw you in a dream last night dressed in white, in a place full of love, so much love…you were happy.

In a week I’ll be turning 29, five years older than Jay was when he died. During that time I’ve broken hearts, had my heart broken, made mistakes, been the popular kid, the nerd, the fuck-up. I’ve worn the white hat, the black hat. Traveled the world, dived in before thinking. Risked everything and got burnt. I’ve laughed and cried. Got married to a wonderful man. Become the writer I always wanted to be.

And though I broke my promise to always be there for him. I kept the promises we made on that pavement all those years ago. To live fully. To have the courage to crash and burn and reborn from the ashes. That’s what my brother really taught me. To trust and be kind to myself no matter who the person I was at the time. That was his real message to me. His rebellious and loving spirit.

Here’s the truth about life: each person you love is like a novel. These pages you’ve come to love more than anything might be gone, but the soul is present. So present that it will slowly transform you. Their story never goes away, it lives within you.

My brother’s promises now live through me, and every time I get a whiff of Marlboro cigarettes and potato chips, he’s there. Every time I hear Sublime or watch A Christmas Story, I hear his laughter in my heart.

Every time I see an unlovable, I see my brother. The black sheep, the outcast, the drug addict, the stranger with the frizzy hair.

I see him. Racing through time, like the Honda Civic he once owned.

He’s everywhere.





Cindy Lamothe is a writer, inspirationalist, and lover of life. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from: The Weeklings this year, The Manifest-Station, Mimosa Lotus, Inspiration for Mind Body, Sweatpants and Coffee, among others. Cindy’s quirky personality and passion for travel has led her down many strange paths, harnessing her appreciation for beauty and innate wildness. Get to know her on Facebook, Twitter and her personal website, where she encourages others to let go of fear and live authentically.

Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

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