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friendship

Guest Posts, Relationships

When Suffering and Appreciation Walk the Dog

June 22, 2022
walk

My husband usually does the first walk, standing at the door, holding out the leash and grumbling, ‘Ready to walk, Dummy?”  Dummy is Rocky and he takes no offense because my husband doesn’t mean any. He loves the furry beast and the fresh air, but this morning the job is mine because my husband has gone off with our three teenaged boys rafting down the Delaware river. I bowed out of the adventure – an activity we did once before when the kids were younger, and the memory of sunburned, miserable wailing along with the impulse to hit my husband with a paddle still haunts. Instead, I stay behind to hang with my cousin who is battling cancer, an entirely different kind of nightmare.

It’s hazy and overcast, the damp of last night’s rain still clings to all the green underfoot and around me. Rocky likes it, considers it a fresh morning salad and we stop every few feet for him to sniff, piss or chew. Typically, I distract myself on these walks with texts, phone calls or even an episode of the latest Netflix show I am obsessed with (Offspring!). With my weak ankles and uneven sidewalks, it’s a middle-aged mom’s rebellious walk on the wild side, but today my phone rests in my pocket. I want to notice the ripe green of the landscape, the peeking sun warming my skin, the orange and black butterfly dancing along a neighbor’s bursting landscaping.

I left my cousin back at Sloan yesterday for yet another complication related to her cancer. It seemed like only a minute ago that her life was full. Overfull. She worked hard when it was work time and played hard when it was playtime with no time or interest in stopping and smelling the roses, or in my case now, the daisies. She is in a bed, where she has mostly laid for months now. Her life no longer her own; at the mercy of her disease and the doctors who (kind of) care for her.

She is emaciated. I run to Carvel to bring her favorite thick shakes or some special treat that she desperately wants to eat. Watching her struggle to finish three bites of anything before the food overwhelms her bloated, distended stomach or makes her nauseous is heartbreaking, somehow making me linger and savor my nightly ice cream sundae but with a guilt that has nothing to do with calories.

The walk is relaxing me, except when Rocky spies a bunny and almost pulls my arm from its socket. “Rocky!” I yell, holding the leash forcefully. “No Bunnies!” His soulful eyes look up to me in remorse, but it is more likely for a consolation for his lost bunny. Sighing, I toss him a treat. Our walk resumes and I go back to focusing on the neighborhood homes and the blooming flowers and not on my cousin who hasn’t had the strength to walk her neighborhood in months. Not that she liked to walk her neighborhood, but that is beside the point.

My cell rings. It’s my youngest son secretly calling from the car to report that he does not want to go rafting, although I already know this. “You are going to have fun,” I reply brightly, even as the memory of his wet and terrified five-year-old face flashes in my brain. “And I’ll have a special treat waiting for you when you come home.”

“Yay, mama!” he says and my heart expands and breaks. He is now thirteen. My cousin’s daughter is only eight.

I turn the corner and pass ribbons of blue and orange roped around the trees. They appeared a couple of months ago in memory of three young lives (two of them brothers) taken the next town over when a car crossed a divider and crashed into them head on. I have thought obsessively about them and their families, and the randomness of a tragedy too much to bear.

It’s everywhere. This suffering. Mixed in with the underappreciated joyful mundane. A typical dog walk. Flowers bursting all around. My friend’s voice on the other side of my cell, relaying a story that has us both cracking up. Gifts beyond measure.

At home, I fill my cup with dark, rich coffee and sip leisurely. Not too long ago, my cousin loved her extra large coffee, light and sweet, but cancer has stolen that pleasure as well, changing her taste buds, giving her reflux and basically making many of her beloved foods and drinks abhorrent to her. I look down at my cup in disgust. How can I enjoy when she cannot?

Sighing, I take another sip. What good will denying myself do for my cousin? Doctors can’t seem to do anything for her? Being a good person hasn’t made a difference. It’s just coffee, I argue. Just like it was just a dog walk. But really, they are what make up a life. The simple pleasures. The stuff we take for granted is of course what matters most.

I will see her in a couple of hours. Sit on the floor by her bed and entertain her with meaningless stories that hopefully bring a small smile and distraction. I will offer her food and treats that she might take a bite or two of before her stomach decides it can tolerate no more. We will talk about the Netflix show I encouraged her to watch (Offspring!) and escape into that world for a while. I will listen to her fear and worry and do my best to soothe. I’ve been told it’s not my strong point. My own worry has a way of leaking into my face, but I am practicing in front of a mirror just like her best friend instructed.

There are no answers, small comforts, and a lot of pain for the sick and suffering. Life loses all its flavor and sparkle as loved ones watch helplessly. Angrily. Miserably. But with no choice in the matter, we must keep going. Listen closely. Hug tightly. Laugh freely. And love fiercely.

While my boys traverse the waves, riding the choppy and the serene, I continue to sip my coffee and think about my cousin as the more turbulent waters rush all around.

Alisa Schindler is a mom of three boys and wife to Mr. Baseball. She schleps children, burns cupcakes and writes essays that have been featured online at the New York Times, Washington Post, Kveller, Good Housekeeping and Northwell Health’s The Well, among others. In her spare time, she writes sexy, twisty fiction novels. Find out more about her at alisaschindler.com.

***

Have you pre-ordered Thrust


“Blistering and visionary . . . This is the author’s best yet.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Guest Posts, memories

April and Eternity

June 8, 2022
tom

At the water aerobics class where I follow my doctor’s orders for low-impact cardio, the instructor plays music we used to dance to, the beats perfect now for my aging limbs.  “I Ran (So Far Away),” blares while we do a Suntan-Superman reaching out on our backs and then flipping to our stomachs, working arms and abs while splashing chlorinated water, salty from the ocean breeze. I remember back when you and I tried to find hidden meaning in the lyrics, stretching our minds beyond our South Phoenix neighborhood and parochial school education.

“Were they really saying, Iran’s so far away?” we asked each other.

In the hormonal, smokey and boozy haze of those years we were also figuring out that we didn’t belong together.

René, I remember your powder blue Chevy truck, the front seat long and vinyl, unsectioned so I could slide in the middle of the three of us, you, Michael and me, sometimes Tom too, my college brothers taking me out every Saturday night. You showed off your new sound system, turning up the thumping New Wave until we couldn’t tell the music from the outside traffic as we glided along Mill Avenue, next to the sprawling university that occupied our lives then. The music and the weed we smoked lifted us into our own planet. A blaring siren made us jerk our heads around as if the cops were pulling us over, but it was the sound that enveloped us, time-traveling in your truck.

I’d gotten so drunk at one party and tried to take a boy home with me, but you and Tom hid my purse so I couldn’t leave. You had heard this boy talking about me by the keg, anticipating the night he would’ve had if not for you, you and Tom. I hated you and loved you like the brothers I needed then.

I only wanted that boy that night to show Tom I didn’t care that he fell hard in love with my roommate, the petite and serious Janis, who shared her mother’s care packages from Hawaii with me. The smoked eel came in tins with a key to fold open. Janis would spoon steamed white rice into bowls, add the eels and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. We ate it with chopsticks, which she taught me to use. There were also boxes of macadamias, something I’d never tasted, covered in chocolate. Janis laughed when she saw me one day squeezing out every last bit of toothpaste from the tube. She had never brushed with baking soda.

After I introduced her to Tom, he didn’t see me anymore. Their blossoming took over our apartment, fragrant and wild. My escape was extra work hours, not for the money, well, always for the money, but to spare me their vibrancy and happiness.

That party, where I got drunk and you hid my purse, that was when I knew you would never want me either. Why it all came to me that night, I don’t remember all the details now. You asked me, as I tried awkwardly to put my arms around you, “What are you doing?” You stopped me and my breath left me. You would never want me like I needed you to then.

We kept our friendship, you and I. Of course we did. We had known each other since fifth grade, when we hid from the nuns behind oleander bushes in the playground at St. Catherine’s. We always thought we were in trouble, a symptom of our guilty consciences from having too much fun when we should have been suffering. Or praying.

We kept our friendship through college as we worked our way into our futures, sharing an  apartment one year until I got a summer internship in Tucson and you felt abandoned. I should have given more notice, but I didn’t know how things were supposed to work then. I was still learning and I knew you wouldn’t stay mad at me forever.

One year later, after college and in our adult jobs, I was living in Colorado and you bought your first house. You stopped returning my calls and ignored my letters. I didn’t know it then but you’d done that with all our friends. You’d gone deep into your secret life, the one I had one hint about when we were still at ASU, when you got arrested late one night in downtown Phoenix. You told me and Michael about it, a weed-induced confession but then you said you never wanted to talk about it again.

After another year had gone by, still in our adult jobs, you called one morning. I was at my job at a small newspaper in a small town where I’d moved not knowing anyone, like a rattlesnake that sheds its entire skin, leaving room for the new. I wrote about schools, sometimes police and courts and really everything else too. It had been so long since I heard your voice, so immersed in this new job and life, that when you said my name, it took me a few seconds to connect it to you, my long-lost friend.

“René?” I asked. “Who died?”

And then, no joke, you told me about the plane crash.

Phones rang in the busy newsroom as deadlines loomed, but the pinprick of an image of Tom falling from the sky shaded my vision. The news of the crash had already run on our front page, but I didn’t know any of the passengers then, not until you called and told me I did. Snot ran down my mouth and tears soaked my blouse as I printed out the passenger list of the Northwest Airlines flight. And there he was, our beautiful Tom Barberio.

I went to stay with Janis where she was living in LA after Tom’s funeral. They’d gotten engaged after I lost touch. Now, just a month after his death, she had started to see him in other men until the poor suckers fell in love and couldn’t be Tom for her anymore. She believed that Tom was guiding men to her, loving her from beyond. I tried gently to bring her back to the permanent reality of his death. I felt like the lowest creature in the desert, a red ant crawling for miles carrying a dead leaf only to be thwarted by a gust of wind, or a human.

“Tom’s dead.”

I felt a sliver of selfish relief that he had not fallen in love with me after all but instead chose her. My grief couldn’t come close to hers.

I heard she moved back to the island, abandoned her graphic design practice and became a teacher, Tom’s passion.

Five years ago, René, you told me you’d die on April Fool’s Day and I thought you were telling me something you already knew. It was one of those things you used to say at the end of our long talks when I’d visit Phoenix from wherever I was living, Tucson, Los Angeles, Long Beach. You’d say it casually, sometimes waving your hands, like swatting a gnat.

You came to my father’s funeral and my eyes widened suddenly when I saw your normally full, round face was now gaunt, skin sagging at the jowls and gray. Your eyes seemed tired but you told me it was nothing to worry about.

But then I learned you had multiple diagnoses, so far gone on the cancer stages and another diagnosis that was too far along. Throw HIV in there as well. Why not?

It was September when you talked about dying and April and Eternity were so far away but the following spring you kept your promise.

And now you’re gone too. You and Tom, my college brothers who made wild poses for my 35 mm camera like runway models on our balcony as I slid the film with my thumb to the next frame and the next, holding steady through my belly laughs. Your secret is no longer a secret to those who loved you and who flamed near the light that was you all those years ago.

This morning, once again in the pool, a mallard, his head more deep purple than green, flew onto the pool deck and plopped into one of the swimlanes with his plain Jane brown and gray partner, delighting the whole class.

The instructor wasn’t distracted. “Now do crunches with a twist!” she ordered while we watched the pair pick at each other and then climb over a lane divider, then another and another. I turned to them as they swam, flailing my arms and legs in the cool deep, the sun beaming through clouds, my heart racing up to the aurora that you created, a swirl of another life that you left for me all those years ago.

Mary Anne Perez has worked at newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and California as a reporter and edited websites. In the last four years she has written freelance articles for local newspapers and did a short stint interpreting legal recordings for an attorney. She is currently working on a family memoir, and other creative endeavors, including a fairy tale.

***

Have you pre-ordered Thrust yet? 


“Blistering and visionary . . . This is the author’s best yet.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Fiction, Guest Posts, Regret

Duty To Cooperate

May 27, 2022
phone

“How can I help you today?”, she asked, her hands on her hips, as she looked at the guy in front of the counter. He was still looking at the menu, trying to decide what to get.

A minute later, she scratched her chin a couple of times. “It’s probably best if you let the person behind you come up, while you figure out what you want.”

He looked at her, his brows furrowed. “I’d like the grilled tilapia with mashed potatoes and buttered corn.”

“For here or to-go?”

“For here,” he said, putting the menu down.

“Fourteen dollars and seventy-three cents.”

It was a routine: Towards the end of her shift, almost every day, she hated her job, passionately. There was always some reason; yesterday, it was her manager Roy, who had refused her request for a pay raise. “I’ve been serving waffles and French toasts and mozzarella sticks to drunk customers for two years now. Don’t you think I deserve a bit of a raise?”

“Not yet,” he had replied.

Today, it was Rita, who had bumped her elbow into her stomach, as they were frying poblano peppers and didn’t apologize loud enough for everyone to hear it. “I want you to say it out loud, ok? I want everyone to know how clumsy you are,” she had shouted at Rita.

“Alright, I’m sorry,” Rita said, as she walked away from the kitchen.

“I don’t know how idiots like that get hired. This place needs a new manager, you know?”, she said to the rest of the cooks, who weren’t paying much attention anyway. Speaking of managers, she thought, who the hell are they to tell me not to put my hands on my hips when I’m at the counter? What’s next? They’ll want me to cut my hair shorter?

~

It was around five pm when she walked out of Ihop Express. Her car was parked a couple of blocks away. She was carrying her box of free dinner in one hand while texting her boyfriend Tony, with the other. He was supposed to buy her a 14k gold bracelet for her birthday, which was coming up in three days. “I’m so freaking excited about it! Is it beaded? Will you be coming to my place? Do you…”. Her texting was interrupted by a guy peeking out of a tent on the sidewalk.

“Got a couple of bucks?” he asked, his graying old beard covering almost the entirety of his face.

She put her phone in her pocket and just stood there, shocked that she had never seen this tent before.

“I don’t have any cash on me, but I got some roasted turkey with rice and potatoes. Would you like that?”

“I’ll take anything. Thanks.”

She handed him the box and moved on, phone in her hand again. “Do you know what time you’ll be there?”

She got in her car and started driving home. The seat belt alarm was beeping, but she didn’t care. She had Beyonce and Jay Z singing ‘Crazy in Love’ on her Pandora station and was tapping her right hand on the dashboard to the music. Her phone beeped. It was a text from Tony. “I don’t think I can buy you a gift. Just got laid off today.”

She picked up the phone with her right hand, the other hand trying to keep the wheel straight as she drove on cruise control on the highway. “WTF? You got laid off from your sixteen-dollar-an-hour FedEx job? That’s got nothing to do with my gift! You promised you’d buy me that bracelet a month ago.” A car next to her honked. Apparently, she had been swerving into their lane. She honked back at them, while continuing to type. “You had better show up at my home with my gift. Or else…”

She put the phone down. The speed limit was sixty-five; she was going around eighty. She pressed hard on the gas pedal and sped up. “That son of a bitch. How dare he think he could just take back his promise? I’d never do that to him!” She turned the music up. “Crazy in hate!”

The car in front seemed to be going too slow for her. She honked at them before cutting through two lanes and winding her way ahead. It was her phone beeping again. “So, you don’t care at all that I got laid off? All you care about is your fricking bracelet, Lena?”

She threw the phone away and floored the gas pedal. She almost hit the car in front, so she veered to the right. Later, when she’d think about it, she couldn’t remember the exact sequence of events. But she knew she was going ninety when she hit the car to her right, trying to pass the car in front of her. Her chest jolted forward and hit the wheel. She looked at her right-side mirror: it was gone. She looked in the rearview mirror: the car she had hit was pulled over, its driver’s side door and the front bumper bearing deep dents. Her breathing was rushed and sweat was pouring down her face. She slowed down, trying to find her phone so she could call Tony.

The phone was on the floor, on the passenger side. She pulled over and took a sip of water, laying her head back, her chest heaving wildly. She looked in the rearview mirror and the car she had hit was catching up to her.

The water bottle hit the floor as she sped up, cutting through lanes. She could see the other car following her. She was hoping to get far enough away from it so they couldn’t get her license plate number.

~

By the time she got home, it was dark and the whole thing seemed like a blur.

She was taking her shoes off near the door, when her mom rushed up to her and started talking about Sue, Lena’s aunt. “You won’t believe what Sue told me today about her boyfriend. He’s been cheating on her for years. And the crazy thing is…”

“Mom, leave me alone, would you? Where’s Danny?”

“He’s in his room, doing what he always does – playing that stupid video game. But listen, aunt Sue’s really in a tough spot right now.”

She went into Danny’s room and locked the door shut, as her mom stood outside, still talking about Sue.

“Hey sweetie, how was your day?”, she said, as she sat next to him on the bed.

He looked up briefly, before continuing with the Minecraft game on his phone.

“Talk to me, honey.” She picked him up and sat him down in her lap, running her fingers through his hair, her chin resting on his head. “Do you love mommy? She almost died today. And she almost killed…never mind.”

“Mom, I’m so close to winning this game. Just let me play.”

“Alright, just move over, so I can lie down next to you.”

He grunted and moved his eight-year-old-self to the other side of the bed, still riveted by his phone.

She tried replaying the accident in her mind, but it seemed unreal. Surely, it didn’t happen; it was just a nightmare. Of course, her car was fine. Well, maybe it did happen? But what was certain was that there was no way the other driver got her license plate.

She turned around, snuggled up to Danny and pulled a blanket over them. After he had been begging for months, she had finally relented and bought him a new phone almost a year ago, so he could enjoy his games more. She was still making monthly payments on it. Screw that fricking Roy, she silently cursed. Can’t even give me a two-dollar-an-hour-raise? Who the hell does he think he is…Ihop CEO?

She didn’t know what time it was when she got up in the middle of the night and texted Tony: “Sorry that you got laid off.”

~

She was at work a couple of days later, at the counter taking an order, when her phone vibrated in her pocket. Unlike other employees, she had always refused to silence it. “I’m putting it on vibrate; that’s good enough”, she’d told Roy.

Later, while taking a break in her car, she checked her voicemail. It was what she was dreading: a call from an insurance company asking to speak to her about the accident. Damn…how the hell did that dude get my license plate, was the first thought that came to her mind.

She ran into the kitchen. Rita was making buttermilk pancakes.

“Hey Rita, ever been in a car accident?”

“Nope”, she answered, without looking up from her skillet.

“You know anything about insurance claims?”

“Nope.”

“Well, that’s mighty nice of you,” Lena said, as she walked out to her car.

She lit up a cigarette and started googling ‘at-fault-driver in car accident’. Every article she read made her more anxious: ‘at-fault-driver liable for injuries and payments’; ‘accident will go on driver’s record’; ‘other driver may file a lawsuit if you don’t cooperate with their insurance company’.

She threw the phone down and turned up the music. It was Beyonce again. She rolled down the windows and spat in the direction of the Ihop.

~

The calls came in every couple of days, the same woman, saying the same thing: “We need you to contact us. Based on the claim filed by our insured client, you’re legally required to share information about the accident and have a duty to cooperate.”

She was having lunch with her mom and Danny one Saturday, when her phone rang. She could tell from the number that it was the insurance folks.

“Why’s your phone been ringing so much these days?” her mom asked.

“Damned spam callers.”

“I hate those people. I wish the same for them that I do for Sue’s husband’s killer: they ought to rot in hell.”

“Mom, I’ve heard that story a billion times. Please, just stop.”

“Hey Danny, you want to hear a crazy story?”

Danny was busy with his phone, as usual. He looked up at grandma. “No nannie, I’m busy.”

“Ok, one night, a long long time ago, your grandma’s sister’s husband was driving home from work, when a drunk driver hit his car and killed him. Not only that, he drove away from the scene and the cops never found out who it was. If you ask my sister what bothers her more today – losing her husband or not finding and jailing the guy who killed her husband – she’ll say it’s the latter. I tell you, there are some real crazy psychopaths in this world. Don’t you think so, Lena?”

Lena got up and went to the kitchen sink with her plate. “I don’t need to listen to this crap anymore.”

~

She was driving to work on the highway, when she looked out the window. She was around the same spot where she had hit the other car. Her hands started trembling and for some reason, the memory of her aunt Sue screaming in her bedroom, yelling “I’m going to find you, you bastard! I’m going to find you and you’re going straight to hell!” and pounding her fists on the walls of her room, came back again in her mind. Even as a fourteen-year-old, it was something she knew she wouldn’t forget – watching her aunt cry and yell at the same time – but it had been a while since she’d thought about it.

As she was walking up to the restaurant, her phone rang. It was the insurance company. She put it back in her pocket, before taking it out and answering it. “Hello.”

“Can I speak with Lena Carter?”

She hung up, squeezing the phone with her fist and put it on silent mode for the rest of her workday.

~

It was one of those mid-autumn days that were gradually becoming rare: it was warm, sunny and dry. They were sitting in her car, next to a park, watching the maple leaves drift down onto the ground.

“What happened to your door and mirror?”, Tony asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she replied, smoking her cigarette. She passed it to him.

“No thanks,” he said, looking out the window, his hand resting on the dented door. The passenger-side mirror was gone. Over the past decade, sitting in the passenger seat, he was used to seeing his face in the mirror and it felt strange now to not see himself.

“You ever worry about how you’re going to pay your rent?”, she asked. “Got enough savings from your former job to get you through a few months?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Fair enough, you funny guy.”

She took a last puff before tossing the cigarette out the window. “Tell you what: I’ll share what happened to my car and then you’ve got to answer my question, ok?”

He nodded, smiling.

“I was drunk and drove into a tree by the side of the road. Simple as that.”

“Really?! When did this happen and why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“Well…there was that tiny little thing about you not keeping up your promises and pissing me off…remember that?”

“And there was that tiny little unexpected thing about me losing my job and not having any income…remember that?”

“It doesn’t fricking matter, Tony! You made a promise. A promise is something you stand by, regardless of what life throws at you.”

He clenched his fist and punched it into the car door. “Oh really? Well, what about the promise you made to let me move in with you…when was that…when Danny was like three?”

“Screw it. This isn’t going anywhere.”

She got out and shut the door hard enough to make Tony jump up in his seat.

“You can’t just walk away from this, you know!”, he shouted.

“Oh yes, I can. I can do whatever the hell I want. I can choose to pick up the phone or not,” she yelled as she pointed her phone at him. “I can choose to not have an alcoholic boyfriend move in with his son and raise him to be a jobless drunk like his dad. Those are all choices I can make. You get that?”

He started walking away from her, punching his fists in the warm autumn breeze. He was gone too far to hear her screaming “Stop, come back! I need you!”

~

She kissed Danny goodnight and turned off the lights. She closed the door and walked out, before returning and blowing a kiss in his direction.

Her mom was at the dining table reading the newspaper. Lena filled up a glass of water and sat down next to her.

“What’s up in the news, Mom?”

“Same old stuff I’ve been reading for decades. Nasty people doing mean things to nice folks like us. Over and over again. It never changes.”

“Mom, how does aunt Sue really feel about uncle Bill’s accident?”

Her mom put the paper down and took off her glasses. “I thought you didn’t want to talk about that?”

“Just answer my question mom, for once…would you?”

“It’s what I told your kiddo. She’s never going to let go of that sense of injustice. I’ve told her that it’s harmful to keep all that anger and resentment inside her, but she just can’t get it out of her mind. Poor thing.”

“Do you think she’d feel better if the other person owned up to their fault?”

“Hell yeah. She’s been wanting that for decades. Both she and I know that the other person’s going to pay a price for their actions, at some point in their life. You don’t just get away with that kind of stuff.”

Lena ran her fingers around the glass, moving them up and down and in circles. It was late – eleven pm – and she had an early morning shift the next day. Her mom had put on her glasses and resumed reading the paper.

Lena got up and headed to her bedroom.

“Goodnight, dear,” her mom said, as she closed the door shut.

Danny was sound asleep. She put an extra blanket over him and closed the blinds, before lying down next to him. It had been a tiring day and it didn’t take long for her to fall asleep.

It started sometime in the night: the pounding on the walls and the yelling: ‘You bastard, I’m going to find you!’. She sat up and ran to the wall, putting her ears next to it. ‘You’re going to hell!’. She fled from the wall and reached for her phone. She dialed the insurance company and got to their automated message. ‘Press 1 to leave a voicemail for your claims representative’. She hung up, clutching the phone tightly in her quivering hands.

No, she couldn’t do it. There was no way she could handle her premiums going up and have an at-fault accident on her driving record.

Plus, it wasn’t really my fault, she reminded herself. If only Tony had kept up his promise, none of this would’ve happened.

‘You have a duty to cooperate and are legally required to share information about the accident’. ‘The other person’s going to pay a price for their actions’. ‘Nice folks like us.’

Her arms and legs were shaking as sweat dribbled down her face. She had a sip of water before turning around to face Danny. “I love you, Danny. You’re the best,” she whispered silently, as she rubbed her hands over his blanket.

The pounding and yelling continued through the night.

~

Her eyes were droopy from not sleeping well the night before, and the loud rock music they were playing was only making her fuzzier. She hated her eight-am Tuesday shifts.

“What do you want?”, she asked the guy in front of her.

“Umm…I’d like a turkey sandwich, but on gluten-free bread. Also, can you make it with mozzarella cheese instead of cheddar? And oh, no fries, extra salad. That’s it,” he said, as he put the menu down.

She started typing the order into the computer. Somewhere in the middle, she stopped. Aunt Sue was screaming and pounding her fists on the wall. Tony was not keeping up his promise. Her car’s mirror was shattered as she rammed into the car next to her. Her body was full of anxiety about her insurance premiums going up and a lawsuit being filed by the other driver. There weren’t enough nasty folks like her in this world…oops…she meant, there weren’t enough nice folks like her in this world…her heart was pounding as her mind reeled through it all.

“What the hell are you asking for? Can’t you just keep it simple? No fries, extra salad? Who the hell do you think you are?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“I know exactly what I mean,” she said, pounding her fists on the table. “You’re being a royal prick!”

The guy moved closer to her, his hands pushing on hers. “Say that again?”

Roy, the manager, came running in. “Hold on, this has got to stop. Lena, I think you need a break.” He took her by her hands and walked her to the kitchen.

~

The rain wouldn’t let up. It was hard to see beyond the wet windshield. They were parked at the same spot, next to the same park they were at a month ago.

Faith Hill was playing ‘This Kiss’ on Pandora, as they passed along a can of Michelob’s back and forth.

“I fricking love this song…don’t you? It reminds me of that night we went dancing at that Olympian pub…remember how drunk you were? You mistook this other woman for me – just because she was also a brunette – and started dancing with her, holding her hands. I had to come pull you away! Oh my god…”

“Oh yeah, baby…I remember that. Those were the days. I even had a job then!”

“Hey, did I tell you that we both have a lot more in common now?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, as he took another sip of the beer.

“I also got laid off. Well, I got fired. But I like to think of it as a layoff. You know what I mean?”

“You did?! When?”

“Doesn’t matter. Screw jobs…who needs them? Losers who don’t know what to do with their lives. Screw insurance, screw lawsuits, screw…everything!”

“I don’t know about the last three, but amen! Here’s to screwing,” he laughed, as he opened another can of beer.

She was tapping her feet and swinging her body back and forth. ‘This Kiss, this kiss…it’s the way you love me! It’s a…’

Her phone rang. It was the insurance company.

She stopped abruptly and sank into the seat, closing her eyes and bringing her legs up to her chest. It kept ringing. She picked it up and stared at the screen, her finger hovering near the green ‘accept’ button.

Kunal Mehra is a multimedia artist who likes photography, filmmaking, writing and hiking. He grew up in India and has been living in Portland, OR, since 2002. His writing has been published by the Press Pause Press, The Mindful Word and ‘Academy of heart and mind’ magazines, amongst others.

***

If you liked today’s piece, check this out:

“Exquisite storytelling. . . . Written in the spirit of Elizabeth Gilbert or Anne Lamott, Neshama’s stories (and a few miracles) are uplifting, witty, and wise.”—Publishers Weekly

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Fiction, Friendship, Guest Posts

Three Majors

May 20, 2022
majors

He is dead. Remember that as you read on. I’m telling you this now, instead of later, for a reason. Perhaps for several reasons. But one reason is more important to me than any other. This story will have no surprise ending. Its events did not take place in The Twilight Zone. Don’t suspect that Three Majors will be around at the end. This is page one, and I’m confirming that he remains dead.

Three Majors fell asleep at the wheel and was killed in a car-crash the night he left for Christmas vacation. He was nineteen.

The first time I saw him for any longer than it takes to pass in the hall or on the street was when he was in my room about half-way through fall term. He was helping Peter, my dorm roomie, catch up on a few weeks’ worth of back math assignments before the mid-term exam the next day. Peter and I played several games of penny-ante cribbage while Three Majors wrote out the relevant solutions (with commentary) for the more difficult “story problems.” When he had finished, when he had handed over the spiral notebook with page-after-page of impeccable Palmer-method handwriting (for both letters and numbers), Peter smiled and said “Merci, Three Majors, I owe you one.”

“You’re welcome,” said Three Majors, waving his hand and sliding a pencil into his shirt pocket. “It was elementary.” He nodded at Peter, at me, and strode rapidly from the narrow room, his tan walking shorts revealing two of the skinniest legs I had ever seen.

Wherever he went, Three Majors always moved as fast as he could. Like those Olympic race-walkers who toss their rears out of joint making their legs move so speedily. But he didn’t seem to have any rear, at least not that you could easily see.

And he always carried a battered cardboard-and-vinyl black briefcase with yellow-lettered AGE EIGHTEEN VOTE bumper stickers on each side.

He was called “Three Majors” as an insulting nickname (at least at first – for some, it would take on relatively respectful resonances). Many in the dorm disliked him for being so conceited. Whenever anyone asked what his college major was, his standard answer was complicated but concise: “Math, physics, and chemistry. I’m going for a doctorate in each.”

He was engaged to be married to a young woman named Norma, who at the age of fourteen had written a long novel about Madame Curie. Or so she claimed. No copy was ever provided as proof. She was the first person Three Majors had ever gone out with on what he called “a two-person social occasion.” A date, in other words. He told us he had proposed marriage after three hours and twelve minutes. He said she answered “yes.” She said she would marry him as soon as he graduated. She made that statement three quarters of the way through his first year of college.

He arranged to take a special test right away to earn fifteen credits in biology. He passed. In December, at pre-registration for winter term, he signed up for courses worth twenty-seven credits (with special permission from an academic advisor). I recall that he came back to the dorm that day and worked up a chart, done in blue felt-tip on white butcher paper, outlining his future program. If all went according to schedule, he would graduate with three degrees in two and one-half years. We all knew he couldn’t pull it off.

Some people who especially disliked Three Majors roughed him up in the third-floor communal shower one night because he refused to trim his sideburns. They were raggedly unattractive and looked decidedly un-cool. A couple of guys claimed he was giving the dorm a bad name. One kept turning a battery-powered barber’s clipper on-and-off and thrusting it back and forth, threatening to dispose of those sideburns, while another held Three Majors’ arms behind his back. There was no water running, everyone there was fully dressed (even down to their shoes), but something-or-other seemed naked that night.

He died wearing those sideburns, all mousy gray and scraggly – not stubbly – and not even close to full. He had a certain form of guts.

Peter made a B+ on his math mid-term.

He got up early to do the assignments in each of his three majors; but he stayed up much of the night doing the same thing, so waking up on time for class was a constant hassle. He solved the problem (sort of) by making his own alarm device. Made it out of an old tape-recorder and an old clock radio, two objects Norma sourced for him from a shabby second-hand shop down by the railroad depot. He recorded first the noise of three garbage cans toppling over in succession, then re-recorded that sound over a snippet of a bugler blowing reveille. This blasted on at an incredible decibel level every morning at five. This made some people mad.

The night before he left for Christmas vacation, he told a bunch of guys in the dorm lounge area that he opposed the war in Vietnam and was a pacifist. Somebody slapped him in the face. “Even now?”

“Of course,” Three Majors said.

Slapped him again. “Even now?”

“Certainly so,” Three Majors said.

Three Majors weighed between one-ten and one-twenty or so, and was just over six feet. Usually wore a white shirt inside the dorm, with a red, zipper-front sweatshirt over it when he went out to class. Normally went around in tan cotton trousers, very baggy, or in walking shorts on hot days. White, low-cut Converse basketball sneakers. Dark, ankle-length socks.

Peter heard it on the radio and rushed into the lunch-line to tell everyone who was still around. Somebody said: “Well, taking the philosophical view, it’s probably better for Norma – in the long run, of course.”

“Maybe,” somebody else said, “taking the philosophical view, Three Majors was too beautiful to live in a world like the one ours seems to be turning into. In the long run, of course.”

“What? Beautiful? That weirdo?”

I hit him hard in the face and he didn’t hit back. I wish he would have. I owed some pain to someone.

Raised in a bowling alley on the rural coast of Oregon, James Joaquin Brewer currently shelters in West Hartford, Connecticut while working on a novel about travel experiences in Beijing, China.

Published fiction, poetry, and essays are in (among other places) The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Write Launch, LitBreak, The Hartford Courant, Aethlon, Jeopardy, Rosebud, The Poetry Society of New York, Closed Eye Open.

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Friendship, Grief, Guest Posts

Remodeling, Loss and the Kitchen Sink

December 21, 2020
sink

By Devra Lee Fishman

I could tell I confused the Home Depot kitchen designer when I burst into tears.

“Most people are happy to hear they need a new sink when they change out their countertops,” he said.

“I do not want a new kitchen sink,” I said, as I dug around in my handbag for a tissue. “All I want is a new white countertop to replace the forest green one I installed when I remodeled fourteen years ago.”

I have always decorated to my taste with no worry about resale and at the time, I had a taste for forest green. I also had a dear friend being treated for breast cancer.

Leslie and I met on our first day of Syracuse University almost thirty years previous when we were matched as roommates. We clicked immediately, lived together all through college and over the years laughed our way through good and tough times. We were in each other’s wedding and when I didn’t get my dream job and I thought my world was at a dead end, Leslie helped me see the open road. Her bad news came at the same time I was going through a rough break up, yet Leslie consoled me. “Dev, in a lot of ways having a broken heart is worse than having cancer. At least I have treatment options to get me through this.”

When I started the remodel, Leslie had just moved back to upstate New York from Los Angeles. I was looking forward to spending more time with her now that we were both living on the same coast, but she was diagnosed shortly after she unpacked. Her cancer was advanced and advancing. As time went by and her world seemed to only revolve around doctors and treatments, I thought she might enjoy a distraction so I asked her to help design my new kitchen.

I visited every few weeks and brought my architect’s plans. Leslie had a great eye for form and function and there were many decisions to be made about cabinets, hardware, and colors. I valued her opinions and I knew how much she valued having something other than cancer to think about.

After the space planning was done, I sourced the fixtures and appliances locally. The only thing I could not find was the sink. I wanted a deep, double bowl under mount. I knew it had to exist somewhere so the next time I visited Leslie we went sink hunting. She knew of a high-end home goods store that was having a going out of business sale and the thought of snagging a bargain appealed to both of us.

It was mid-August and the temperature was burning into the nineties. Leslie wore a short black and white checked shirtdress, which hung on her like a drop cloth. Even though she was cooler without it, she put on a red baseball cap to cover her chemo-bald head.

We drove to the store that had a five-foot high neon yellow banner out front advertising its closing sale – everything was marked down. Inside it was Kansas after the tornado with faucets, lights and curtain rods strewn about the shelves. After pacing several aisles we finally spotted a sticker with a picture of my dream sink but did not see any nearby. While I searched for a cart, Leslie enlisted the help of a stock boy and together they found the sink on a high shelf, behind a tangled sculpture of showerheads. The stock boy lifted the sink into the cart, and Leslie and I wheeled it over to check out.  There were four cashiers, each with lines five people deep. Leslie and I chatted while we waited.

“The stock boy, Darryl, is very sweet but he smells like he had a lot of garlic for lunch,” she said. “He’s been working here for three years, putting himself through college and now that the store is closing, he’s nervous about how he’s going to pay for his tuition next year.” She only needed a few minutes to get a life story from a perfect stranger.

“Did you also find out if he has a girlfriend, where he lives and what his mother’s name is?”

“No, didn’t have enough time. He did ask if you were single. Are you interested in cradle robbing? Because he’s up for it.”

“Cradle robbing appeals. Garlic could be the deal breaker,” I cracked.

“Hey, we’re next”, Leslie said. “I’m going to see if I can get you a better deal on your sink.”

“How you going to do that?”

“I’m going to play the cancer card.”

I caught my breath and lowered my voice.  “Don’t you want to save that for something more important than a kitchen sink?” I pointed to the sign on the cash register that said ‘PLEASE DO NOT ASK FOR A BIGGER DISCOUNT’. “I think they mean business,” I said, trying to talk her out of making a scene.

Leslie locked her eyes on mine. “Dev, I have cancer. I don’t save anything for later.”

I nodded my understanding but still tried to make myself as small as possible when Leslie stepped up to the cashier.

“Hi, my friend here is buying this sink and I’m wondering if you would give her another five percent off. After all, we had to climb all over to find it and wrestle it down from the top shelf,” Leslie said.

The clerk looked like she was barely old enough to work. Her voice was rehearsed, but warm. “We have a policy that we can’t give bigger discounts,” she said.

“Do you give bigger discounts for people with cancer,” Leslie asked as she lifted her hat. The entire store seemed to go silent as the nearby customers and cashiers froze waiting for the answer.

The girl took Leslie’s hand and whispered, teary eyed, “I wish I could, but my manager said no discounts to any one under any circumstances or I’ll get fired.”

I interrupted and asked, “We don’t want her to get fired, do we Leslie?” I quickly swiped my credit card and finished the transaction.

Leslie asked, “Can we at least get someone to help us carry this out to the car?” She was going for a victory, no matter how small.

Before the cashier could answer, the store manager and two other men who were in the line next to ours almost collided as they vied to take control of our cart.  The three of them walked us outside and lifted the sink into my car.  Each one of them gave Leslie a hug before going back inside.

Leslie died the following year and I think of her – and our sink buying adventure – every time I walk into my beautiful kitchen. But my forest green countertop was fading and there was a stain from when I did not clean up red wine fast enough. It was time for a new countertop.

The kitchen specialist explained. “When we remove the old countertop, the sink will get damaged.” The finality of the trade-off made me cry more. He pulled out a brochure and said, “We’re having a promotion on new sinks this week. Do you like any of these?”

I wanted to tell him that I bought my sink with my dear now dead friend and that shopping trip was our final crazy caper, but I just sniffled, nodded and pointed to the only double-bowl under mount on the page.

When I got home that day I called my mother for solace.

“Grief is a wicked shape shifter, honey. We never know what will trigger us. This is difficult because it reminds you that Leslie is gone,” she said.

She’s right. My kitchen holds the last memories I have of Leslie and the project we worked on together throughout her fight with cancer. I feel like I am saying goodbye to her all over again and will with each piece of the kitchen that has to be replaced. Just last month the motherboard of my original refrigerator crashed and the appliance was diagnosed beyond repair. I cried then, too.

**

I kept the sink. I had to. I planted it in my backyard and now use it as a container for irises, Leslie’s favorite flowers. I know Leslie would get a kick out of that. But the refrigerator…I had to let it go and I am trying not to resent the new one taking its place. I know Leslie would like that, too.

Devra Fishman is a writer and long-time hospice volunteer. She is currently working on a full-length memoir about the beautiful transformational friendship she shared with my college roommate who died from breast cancer way too soon. Devra’s essays have been published in The Saturday Evening Post, The Manifest-Station and Laura Munson’s summer guest blog series. She lives in Falls Church, Virginia.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, healing

Clay Glue

March 22, 2020
glue

By Ali J. Shaw

When the halls cleared out, I went into the art room and let my backpack slide off my shoulder onto the floor. Mr. Evans nodded quietly to acknowledge me, but he focused on whatever was on his computer screen. I turned the combo on my locker and glanced at the clock. Robbie would be here any minute, so I used both hands to heft the plastic-wrapped block of clay out of its cubby and onto the table. For my last assignment—vase making—I’d made one only half as tall as my classmates’ so I could conserve my clay.

“It’s for wildflowers,” I’d told them when they smirked.

Now I had a good-sized chunk left over to give to Robbie. “Hey!” Robbie yelled at top nine-year-old volume when he came into the room. I startled, and he laughed dramatically. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Okay, okay, come on over here.” I waved my hands. “New haircut?” He beamed. “Buzzzzz.”

Robbie and I had had a rough start. I’d signed up for the Buddy Program because I’d always wanted a younger sister. Visions of teaching jump-rope songs to a little girl had flooded my imagination. Then came time for the first Buddy Program session. The elementary school counselor who had facilitated the high-schooler and elementary-schooler pairings handed me a slip of paper, where I saw his name: Robbie. A boy. There was no time to brood on it, though—I could already hear kids’ shuffles and giggles coming toward us in the multipurpose room. While the other kids ran to their high school buddies, slapped high-fives, and laughed, Robbie slumped into a chair next to me.

“Hi, I’m Ali.” I was not good at making awkward situations more comfortable. Robbie’s eyes glassed over, and he whispered, “Hi.”Before long, I learned that his grandpa, who’d been living with him and his mom, had died the night before. I felt paralyzed. My “I’m sorry” sounded empty, and it seemed so unfair that we were sitting in a room full of raucous children and teens scribbling colorful answers on their Getting to Know You worksheets. Robbie and I spent that first hour-long meet-up mostly silent. I didn’t know if he’d show up the next week, but he did. And the week after that. I never figured out how to talk about his grief, but just being there with him seemed to help.

Before long, his teacher asked me to come by on Tuesday afternoons to help tutor Robbie on telling time and counting money. Two years later, we were still meeting weekly with the whole Buddy Program and an extra day one-on-one doing some other activity—tutoring if he needed it; art if he was caught up. I took a deep breath as I thought about the transition over the years but turned my focus to prepping the clay for him. The outer edges of the block had dried out a little, a result of the used and reused plastic bag that had accumulated tiny holes and let air seep in. With my finger and thumb, I pinched off the hard bits until a ball of soft clay remained.

“Hey,” I said to Robbie and held the ball in front of him, squeezing until it squished out through my fingers. “I’m strong, huh?”“Not as strong as me!” He reached for the clay and mimicked me.

Somewhere around the end of the first year, I gave Robbie a model house I’d built, and he gushed, “That’s so cool!” So we started building things together—mostly in the art room. At the end of each session, he’d take home his creation.

“You know that smiley face painting we did last time?” he asked me now as he dug one finger into the center of the clay wad. “Mmmhmmm,” I mumbled, rolling out coils from my less-pliable clay. “I used it for target practice with my mom’s boyfriend’s darts!” I laughed.

The first time he’d told me about his nearly immediate destruction of something we’d made together, I—as someone who had formed a sentimental bond with every object I’d ever owned, especially gifts—couldn’t hide my cringe. But for Robbie, things were no good collecting dust on a shelf. You had to make experiences with them! And so every week, we created, he destroyed, and then he told me the story. He grunted in frustration, and I stopped rolling coils to see why. He had formed a softball-sized glob and several smaller ones, one of which he was trying to press to the side of the big one.

“Oh, hey, there’s a trick for that.” I lay my coil down and held out my palm. “Can I show you?” When he handed me the small ball, I demonstrated scoring the soft clay with a sharp tool that left jagged cuts on one side of the little ball, then the big ball. “Then you have to make slip, which is a weird word, but it’s basically clay glue.” I tore off two inches of my coil and put it in a bowl with water. “Here, put your fingers in here and mush it around.”

Robbie’s cheeks tightened skeptically. I’d looked that way at my older brother nearly every day of my childhood, trying to gauge if he was tricking me. I’d never tricked Robbie, but obviously someone had.

“Really, come on.” I nodded and plunged my fingers in.“Ew, it’s slimy,” he yelled when he tried it. Mr. Evans looked up disapprovingly. “Shhhh. You know what else is slimy?” “What?” “Glue.” I winked as I dabbed some slip on my fingertip and then onto the scored clay and pressed the two balls together. “Tada!” I sang when they stuck. Robbie made what had become my favorite sound since I’d met him.

“Whooooooa!” From our first meeting, something had seemed familiar about Robbie. Did I see myself in him somehow? No, we were opposites in nearly every way. Rowdy/quiet, destructive/creative, easily bored/could sit in one activity for hours. But below those surface behaviors, there was something similar. Something broken. When I’d tutored Robbie, sometimes his body shook in tiny convulsions. “Are you okay?” I’d slide the flashcards to side of the desk and line my face up with his. Robbie would stare down, his eyes lost in the wood grains of the desktop, or someplace far beyond. But part of him was still with me. In a thin voice, he said, “Just cold.” I took off my fleece jacket and wrapped it around his shoulders.

“Should we take a little break and draw?” I used to say color instead of draw, but he finally informed me that only girls color—boys draw, and only in black. But maybe sometimes yellow or red. Before he answered, I pulled paper and a black marker out of my backpack. For about a year, Robbie drew only round yellow faces in a variety of expressions, shockingly similar to today’s emojis. Sometimes they smiled, but mostly they expressed pain or fear, and he laughed at his creations. I was sixteen, trained only in art and writing and basic math, never psychology. I never knew what it meant. I still don’t. But I knew that drawing stopped the trembles and brought his eyes up from the void, his smile back to his face.

So I gave him more paper, more pens, more time. Eventually trees and dogs with wagging tails and even flowers started to appear in his drawings too. And I knew that time with Robbie meant less time at home for me. I could delay getting into my rusty red pickup and shambling home to my father’s frigid trailer. Every moment with Robbie was a moment less with my father’s unpredictable rages or over-the-top professions of love and “Family is the most important thing. Don’t you ever forget that.” Robbie’s and my time together became a sort of glue that kept us both from fracturing.

We spent the rest of the hour gluing small clay shapes onto his clay softball. We left it in my locker to dry before he took it home the next week. The week after that, he told me it was the perfect size for launching from his catapult toy into the fields behind his house.

“I did it over and over until it broke into three pieces,” he said with a shrug.

“I guess we better make something else,” I said as I laid out Popsicle sticks, glue, and paint.

Robbie and I were buddies for three years, until I graduated high school and moved away. I have a single photo of us together. We’re at my graduation party, and he’s trying to stand up straight in my letterman’s jacket, weighed down by the running medals I sewed onto it. Our faces are round and red, laughing about something.I keep the photo in a pocket of the jacket, which collects dust in a closet, where I hope neither will ever be destroyed.

Ali J. Shaw has Rocky Mountain air in her blood, but she calls the Pacific Northwest home. Her nonfiction has been featured in r.k.v.r.y., Hippocampus Magazine, VoiceCatcher, and the Get Nervous reading series, and was a finalist for the Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize. Ali is an editor who collects typewriters and rescue animals.

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Friendship, Guest Posts

The Sisterhood of the Jade Fountain

March 14, 2018
jade

By Barbara Krasner

On the night before Passover in the spring of 1972, my mother pointed to our front door and said, “Out! All of you, out!” She wanted us out of the house so she and our longtime housekeeper, Clara, could change the dishes for the holiday. Changing the dishes was a Passover rite of passage and meant changing pots and pans, all silverware, tablecloths, even re-lining the cabinets.

My mother handed my eldest sister, Eileen, a wad of money.  Eileen, twenty-two, in turn, ushered us— my middle sister, Evelyn, eighteen, and my twin, Andrea and me, fourteen—to her red 1966 Ford Falcon. My mother’s mission was clear: Have dinner out at the Jade Fountain. It was situated in the next town, North Arlington, where our father had grown up and where he owned two supermarkets, a Jewish-owned business in a town governed by the Roman Catholic Church, specifically Queen of Peace, which stood across the street from our flagship store.

We passed Krasner’s Market on our way, that part of Ridge Road that intersects with Sunset Avenue, where my immigrant grandparents settled and set up their mom-and-pop shop in 1920. Farther north on Ridge Road, Eileen pulled into an alley which led to a parking lot behind the restaurant. Kitchen workers on break stood by the back door and the garbage cans. Already we could smell the fried grease mixed with sesame oil. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Let the Dead Things Go

June 21, 2017
prince

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Allison Nowak

In the children’s book Le Petit Prince by Antoine Exupéry, The Little Prince is journeying far from his home asteroid, hoping to find understanding. He makes his way to earth and meets someone who shares a life-changing lesson.

The Little Prince has realized at this point in the tale that his asteroid rose, with whom he is in love, is just like the other roses he has discovered on earth. She had told him she was special, unique; but it is not true. The Prince feels distraught and confused. Just then, The Fox appears.

Hoping for relief from the pain, The Little Prince asks The Fox to come play with him, to which, The Fox replies: “No, I cannot; you have not yet tamed me.”

Curious and confused, The Prince probes at the meaning of to tame: apprivoiser.

“‘It is an act too often neglected’, said The Fox, ‘It means to establish ties.’”[1]

*

Christine was a very bubbly person. She had a sparkly, charming smile and that platinum hair, blue-eyed combo our culture so very much adores. On her best days, she would slip into clean-dyed American Eagle jeans, tucked into chestnut-colored riding boots, and a long, knit cardigan. I used to tell her she looked like a Christian Country singer. It made her laugh. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts

And Then There Were None

December 8, 2016
walking

By Sage Cohen

There is a woman in my neighborhood who walks.

13 years ago, when I was new in my house, my two young, strapping dogs jumped her two young, beautiful dogs as they were passing by and we were getting into the car.

In this shocking and unprecedented moment, something deep down in our tribal animal brains was decided. Our packs were enemies. This woman was angry with me. Very angry. I took her anger and made it an armor over my own heart.

We kept walking. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts, Women

A Small Coin For Your Thinking

December 3, 2016
coin

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

“I’m kidnapping you to Italy and this time I’m not taking no for an answer,” my college roommate Pat announces.

Pat bought a vacation house in Umbria, Italy eight years ago, but my husband Marc and I have never visited. We aren’t able to travel together much because we have a developmentally disabled son. “You should go with Pat,” Marc says. “It’s the trip of a lifetime.”

Still, travel is a mixed bag. There’s the pleasure of it, of course. But there is always an undercurrent of longing and sadness too. I so wish Marc and I could travel together. And I feel guilty. Doesn’t he deserve some respite too? Why should I be the one who gets to go gallivanting?

“What can I bring you?” I ask him. “Gloves? A wallet? Wine?”

“An ancient Etruscan artifact,” he says.

“Right,” I say. “I’ll go digging up Pat’s back yard.”

Pat has invited three of her closest friends. None of us knows each other well.  “What if we don’t get along? What if the others don’t like me?” I ask Pat.

“Lynne and Eve said the same thing!” she says. “Do you think I would have put us together if I thought we wouldn’t click?”

So I pack, in my usual anxious way, for every contingency. A first aid kit. A four inch folding umbrella. An Italian phrase book. I’m the kind of girl who always remembers to bring the toothpaste. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts

When We Poured Coffee and Dreamed of Men and Horses

November 30, 2016
coffee

By Shannon Spangler

“What if God was one of us?” – Joan Osborne, 1995

I grew up in the middle of Kansas, a place where contrails score the baby-blanket blue of the sky, but only crop dusters land, a place of wind and dust and strip malls, their parking lots littered with fast-food detritus.  Money was tight but my parents were teachers, and we were rich in the currency of education.  My life traced a box, its four corners home, the Baptist church, school, and the public library.

To pay for college, I waitressed graveyard at a truck-stop diner just outside the city limits.  As with any new job, the first task was to learn the language.  “Eighty-six on the fried chicken.”  “Coffees on ten.”  “Hey, bitch,” from another of the waitresses was an endearment, unless it came from Lori.  “Fuck,” at least, was familiar to me (although I’d never actually used it and wouldn’t for many years), mostly as verb and adjective, but here it became a sort of adverb (“fucking running my ass off”) or noun and pronoun (“fuck-wad”). Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts

Talk Her off the Ledge

August 3, 2016
friend

By Michelle Riddell

You run into a friend. You have a minute, she has a minute so you stop and talk. She’s a good friend, a friend who has listened to you, laughed with you, helped you out in a variety of ways. She has told you the truth when you needed to hear it, and she can keep a secret. But today, she’s on a tear. She has a tendency to overthink things and jump to conclusions. She’s passionate and empathetic to a degree that sometimes clouds her judgement. It’s like something breaks loose in her mind, and her thoughts ricochet all over the place. Just moments into your exchange, her voice gets louder, her tone more shrill. She starts complaining about her husband and kids and then about her life in general. She’s underappreciated and misunderstood; she’s too busy to make plans; she feels left out. You can see it in her eyes: the dark, whirling wildness of someone coming undone. Before you can stop her, she’s gone.

She’s out on the ledge. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss, Surviving

Luckier Than I Deserve

July 28, 2016
daughter

By Ann Klotz

My husband and I are lying on the bed, warm October sun slanting through the window, an afternoon nap.

It has been a week, starting on Tuesday morning with a 5:30 a.m. phone call, announcing the unexpectedly swift death of a teacher we all love.  Loretta had worked at Laurel with me, teaching English, then leaving to have Margaret, and then baby Tommy. Her cancer was discovered when Tommy was weeks old.  Her battle is swift, virulent, hopeless.  Fifteen months from diagnosis till death.  Last week, she and I had had an email exchange about fruit flies. She, awake in the wee hours of the night, offered me remedies; I, astonished that in the middle of her fight to live to mother her children, she is generous enough to think of me, whining on Facebook about the infestation that grosses me out and refuses to be cured by any of the home remedies I try.

When Loretta’s best friend phones to tell me Loretta has died, I know I have to call our daughter. There, in the dark.  I text her:  Bad news. Phone when you can.  We’d agreed earlier this fall that this would be our code.  She implored me to keep her informed.  She loved Loretta; they shared a sarcastic streak, and Loretta offered Cordelia a loving but unsentimental ear that helped Cordelia manage—having your mother as the head of the school you attend isn’t necessarily so easy.  Cordelia babysat for Margaret, and after Loretta’s initial diagnosis, last summer, spent time with both Margaret and Tommy.  It was what she could do.  But, in August, when Loretta was re-diagnosed, she wasn’t strong enough to see Cordelia, and Cordelia, leaving for the semester, knew better than I that the cancer, this time, might ravage Loretta faster than we wanted to believe.

“I might not ever get to say goodbye,” she said, teary, but not crying. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts

Traversing Female Friendship

May 30, 2016
friendship

By Melanie Bates

It’s fall of 1982. The grass hasn’t started to crunch yet, but you can feel that Cheyenne Winter is sitting on his suitcase full of snow in a vain attempt to secure the latches. His flight is booked. His car is waiting to take him to the airport. I’m wearing ginormous brown glasses with a butterfly decal in the corner, but I can’t see anything because I’m crying tears that won’t stop. There’s a moving van, semi more-like, out front, and I’m in my bedroom that’s been stripped of all its Holly Hobbie decor. The cheery yellow walls look like rancid butter. My best friend Monica is there with me. She’s crying too. Our parents think we’re being melodramatic. They think we’ll forget each other. Make new friends. Get over it.

I don’t. Not really. Not for a long time. Continue Reading…