Browsing Tag

pain

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

I Am Trapped Inside My Body.

June 17, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Amanda Redhead

I am trapped inside a body that I loathe. Drowning in the doughy, white excess of flesh.

I have always struggled with my appearance, riding the roller-coaster of weight before my age was even double digits. I look back at the pictures of myself as a teenager- thin, lithe, strong- and wish I could have that body back. I cannot imagine how I thought that body was overweight, unattractive. However, I am secure in the knowledge that I will never look back upon my body as it is today and want to live inside it again. I am housed inside the body that I have always feared I would I have.

When I was seventeen I was in a group therapy program for fellow teenagers. I was deep in the bowels of a great depression and sat daily in a circle with bored, slack-jawed teenagers whose parents decided, as mine had, that this group therapy would be the answers to all of our ills. We sat in silence while the therapist moderating the group chirped cheerfully at us and nearly begged us to share. There was little sharing, but there was much staring and gawking at the doorway in the corner of the room where a similar group of teenagers met. That group was for fellow teenagers struggling with anorexia. They also sat in stony silence, one by one being led over to be weighed in the corner. Every time a weight was announced outloud, everyone in both groups could hear it.  I would surreptitiously place my hand underneath the back of my shirt and pinch myself painfully at the sound of each number, pinching the fat on my hips until it sometime bled.

The staggeringly low numbers should have saddened me, as should have the appearance of many of the girls- bearing their clavicles proudly to the world, all hard edges of bone and sharp angles. Most of the weights called out were well under one hundred pounds. Some of the girls looked directly from a movie about the concentration camps during the Holocaust- devoid of every bit of fat.  They draped themselves in clothing and blankets, perpetually cold.  I admired the persistence of these girls. I felt shame at my own thick skin. I sickeningly wished that my depression had manifested itself as anorexia instead of the slow-moving, perpetually tired melancholy sickness that had taken over my world.  This thick, molasses slowness felt even more of a failure than it had before in comparison to the persistent, dedicated illness that I saw in those girls. Every pound of flesh on my body felt heavier upon leaving. I wondered if those girls thought of me when purging their food after the therapy sessions. I imagined their disgust. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, healing

Palms Up

June 16, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Telaina Eriksen

“I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight. I mean, I haven’t been staring at your body…”

“A lot of weight,” I say.

“I just mean to say… I just want to encourage you… I’m not saying it right, but you deserve to be thinner and healthier.”

I feel the tears spill out of my eyes. So much shame. Ancient shame that I have carried with me ever since my mother slapped my arm repeatedly for salting a saltine when I was four or five years old. Good people aren’t fat. Fat people are ugly and bad and lack control and self-discipline. Men do not like fat girls and if men don’t like you, they won’t marry you, and if you aren’t married, if you don’t have a man, what good are you? The Gospel According to My Mother.

“It’s how I deal with things,” I tell my friend, oversimplifying.

“This fall, I think I know how you felt. I gained a lot of weight, was very heavy for me. I remember thinking, ‘why not? I’m happy with myself’… I’m not saying it right… but I love you. I want you to be happy.”

I am so huge, I require an intervention. I love my friend but I feel like sobbing. Doesn’t she think I know? Doesn’t she know that I always know? Maybe I am naïve enough to believe that some people just accept how I look and aren’t secretly judging me.

I get into my minivan after our conversation. I reach down to feel my stomach, feel the exact proportions of my shame and worthlessness. The exact dimensions of my failure as a woman.

***

As near as I can figure out and remember, I was sexually molested off and on from the time that I was about four to when I was about nine. When I was nine years old, I had my tonsils out and due to complications, almost died. I was without oxygen to my brain for not merely seconds, but minutes. It felt easy to blame my fragmented childhood memories on that illness.

The feelings I remember most from my childhood are terror and anxiety.  Nightmares plagued me. During the daylight hours I constantly sought attention, distraction, love. At night I sucked my thumb and tried not to wet the bed.

***

Here is a list of the things I need to be doing at this exact moment:

cleaning the house

baking my son’s vegan birthday cupcakes

walking the dog

placing the new boxes of tissue around the house (it is cold and flu season after all)

turning in my grades for the semester

mailing the Christmas box to my siblings in another state

scooping the cat’s litter box

cleaning off the top of my desk

loading the dishwasher

wrapping my son’s birthday presents

doing laundry

losing weight

being a good friend, wife, mother and daughter

being Zen (while also being understanding, charming, evolved and happy)

making time for the important things

reducing my social media time

reading more

gossiping less

achieving perfection. Continue Reading…

Alcoholism, Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

Remnants Of A Mother

April 27, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janine Canty

When he was brand new  and still fell asleep to the sound of my heartbeat, he had this quilt. It was red and black and green. It had cows on it. It had been hand stitched by a librarian from Texas. He lost his umbilical cord stump on it. It bunched up under his dimpled knees while he learned to crawl. He peed on it and cried into it. Threw up strained bananas on it. I laundered it daily with Dreft in a stainless steel sink. He spilled chocolate milk on it and dragged it through the mud. The way little boys do. He laid on top of it when he had mono. He left fever sweat across a cows face. He kept a corner of it pressed against  his cheek while he watched “Toy Story” and listened to his father slam me into a kitchen wall. I rescued it from the dogs mouth. I wrapped his sturdy little body in it when he ran through the house in nothing but his Scooby Doo underwear. I tucked it around his restless toddler feet at 1 am.

He loved that quilt into pieces while the world around him exploded with noise and cracked plaster.  I packed the pieces away  carefully just after his 5th birthday. They still smelled slightly like his hair and my Charlie perfume. He was our final baby. My last belief in something good. Conceived in a Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom, during a “cops” rerun. Summer rain hitting the windowsill. The dude next door whistling for his rottweiler. Chicken thawing on a kitchen counter. Sometime right before his 7th birthday, he found the pieces of that quilt in the bottom of a drawer. He was having nightmares with only his 14 year old sister to come in the middle of the night to comfort him. She poured his cereal. She washed his clothes. She did everything she could do. Everything in her tiny teenage power, while she sneaked smokes out a  laundry room  window before school. He loved her desperately. Clung to her like heated saran wrap. She didn’t smell like me. Sound like me. She wasn’t his version of a mother. She was what was left. Till he pulled remnants of a mother out of that drawer. Smelling his infant self. My perfume. Our moments together. Story and bath time. Chocolate and canned green beans. His tears and my warm skin. All of it woven into those worn pieces of cloth. He pulled those pieces out of the drawer. Began carrying them around with him. Falling asleep with them. While 40 minutes away I woke up screaming his name. My arms and heart useless entities. Broken, empty, ugly things. He carried the pieces around until they wore away to strings. He carried his dream of a mother until his father came across them. Screaming hot spittle and rage into his face. Calling him a faggot. Breaking his final belief in something good.

***

I signed him away with shaking cold hands and a leaky blue pen. The legal aid lawyer with  the big boobs and popping buttons tried to talk me out of it. “You can have him”, She kept saying, like he was a trinket, a toy. “I don’t want him,” I replied in my court dress and tight pantyhose. “Not if getting him means destroying him.”

I took my frozen-self back out into a different world. The one where I wasn’t a Mom on a daily basis. Living in those early days didn’t mean feeling the sun on my face, or laughing in the shower.  It meant combing my hair and eating food I didn’t want. Standing in line at Wal-Mart and smiling at someone else’s child. Walking to work when all I wanted to do was lay in the dark. With five comforters piled on me.  Sweating and screaming. The kind of screaming that rips the throat and rattles the teeth. I wanted an oblivion. A blank space I could fill with the smells and sounds and feel of my children.  A place where I could be their mother. A place where they never had to see my bruises.  They say grief’s color is blue. This grief wasn’t blue. Blue is calm. This grief was a bright red. Loud and in my face. It was an endless thing with jagged edges. Blood and glass. Coating my soul like cotton candy.

I’m a good mother. I’m a good person. I didn’t deserve this. They didn’t deserve this. I didn’t cause this. The counselor told me to repeat it until I believed it. She said I could even say it in my head. But I said it out loud. I said it until my tongue was numb with it. Until the words didn’t feel like hostile strangers on a Boston subway. Until I could smile at other people’s children and mean it. I repeated the words when I woke up at 4:01 am with my nightgown twisted and stuck to my back with sweat. When I had to turn on every light in the house to chase away the jagged edges of grief.  It takes a lot of work to undo a lie you’ve been sold marinated in cruelty.  A lot of patience to love yourself, when you’re all you have left.

***

They found him this morning. Curled up in his leather jacket. On the cold ground. Beside the swimming pool in the back yard. Next to a pile of brown melting snow. A scowl on his beautiful face. An eight dollar bottle of whiskey clutched to his chest. Next to his scars. Where a surgeon cut into him. Breaking his ribs to insert a metal rod. Trying to protect his heart. The one that had already been broken.

They found him this morning. In a pretty suburban backyard. Three hundred feet from where his father and I began. On a suburban dead end street. Where the bay windows shine and the white curtains from Macy’s hide the unsavory stains. Where the horrible and unspeakable things are things that happen to someone else’s family.

They found him this morning. My little boy. My baby. My final belief in something good. In the fetal position with that damn whiskey. Vomit in the thick hair he inherited from me. Still drunk at 9:46 am on Easter morning.

He was slapped into consciousness  over a plateful of stale cinnamon rolls. His father poured  the last of the whiskey down a bathroom drain and felt like a hero.

He’s going to be 21 on Saturday. Old enough to legally drink himself to death. To ruin his beautiful body and puke away his potential with a little help from Jack Daniel’s.

One older brother dying a slow, dirty death, from pancreatitis. The other believing he can fly. He can be something better. Something prettier, with the help of a little ecstasy and a 21 year old hooker he meets at a Comfort Inn. A sister with a baby of her own and an unemployed husband old enough to be the father she still craves. A mother who still wakes up screaming his name, all their names, on the bad nights. All of us as broken, as worn, as those pieces of my youngest sons quilt. His remnants of a mother.
Janine Canty is a self proclaimed word geek. She has been writing on and off for 39 years. Her work has previously appeared at Sweatpants and Coffee as well as The Manifest Station. She is a semi regular contributor to The Weeklings. She lives in Northern Maine, where she unmasks the world, one essay at a time. She can be found on Facebook. She attended Jen Pastiloff & Emily Rapp’s writing/yoga retreat in Vermont.

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.

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. It is LIFE CHANGING!

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. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Abuse, Guest Posts

The Letter No One Wrote My Mother

April 8, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Shawna Ayoub Ainslie.

Dear Mother,

There is so much I need to say to you, because you are a sister to me. In a new way, now. We share a fear of seeing anger in a man’s eyes. We share a fear of those we love being hurt, and hurting those we love. We share a fear of hurting. This love is beyond friendship. We are betrayed. I want to hold you. I want to make myself safe for you. Always, you can cling to me.

For hours, I have walked my floors and washed my hands with tears. You are precious to me. I have known you since your daughter was a baby. With you, I have loved her and watched her grow. Both of you are family to me. I know I said it all wrong yesterday. You left and I thought and thought about how I should have said what I owe it to you and your beautiful daughter to say. Yesterday, I was surprised by what you told me. I was reminded of my history, and I tangled the two. I spoke in sticky webs. Today, I have paced, cried, and vowed to untangle my story from yours. I am putting it to paper.

Here it is.

Fact One: Your husband is hurting your child. He is hitting her. He is kicking her. He is shouting at her, belittling her, destroying her every day.

You believe you are on top of it, though. At the end of each day, you try to reverse any damage. You tell her how wonderful she is. How beautiful. How smart. You say words at her that are the glorious truth of her existence. You tell her he doesn’t mean it when he hurts her. That’s just how he is. He can’t help it. Look at how he was raised.

Fact Two: You are hurting her, too. Every time you try to reverse the damage with words, you reinforce it. Why? Because you let the damage happen in the first place. You choose not to stop it. Every time you tell her that he doesn’t mean it, or that he can’t help hurting her, you are hurting her just as much as your husband is. Maybe worse.

Why? Because someone has to be to blame. If you say it is not him, that means it is either you or her. Since she is the one he is hurting, she will believe it is her. Until she grows up. Then, one horrible day, she will realize it is you. You should have stopped it. Because, when you say that he can’t help himself, you are saying you believe he will never stop hurting her. That he can’t stop hurting her. And you keep him around and let him hurt her. That makes it your fault.

Fact Three: You never knew that you would abuse your child.

You don’t accept what I’m saying.

You do accept what I’m saying.

You hate yourself.

You hate me.

You feel betrayed.

Why am I saying this? This is not your fault.

How could this be happening?

I can tell you. It is real. It is absolutely real. You are hurting your child. You never meant to do it. But you are doing it. And it is happening because, like your daughter, you are also a victim. You know it is true. She is not the only one he tears down. She is not the only one he holds hostage with the fear of that anger in his eyes.

I am so, so sorry.

You feel confused. You don’t know what to do. You packed his bags and met him at the door one night. Told him you wanted him to leave. Things had to change. Somehow, he stayed. Somehow, you let him stay.

You feel angry. Why is he still there? You want him to leave. You want him to make this easy. He could just get out. Why doesn’t he?

You feel guilty. If you turn him out, you’re giving up. And hasn’t he had a hard enough time of life already? You are his partner. You made a commitment. You need to keep your family together.

You feel sad. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Do you want to be well? Lessons from Grief.

March 17, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Vanessa Mártir.

When my brother Carlos died in June of 2013, I did two things: I threw myself into my writing and I started devouring stories and essays, anecdotes, blog postings, anything and everything related to grief. I was looking to make sense of this senseless loss; how my querido hermano finally succumbed to his fifteen year heroin addiction at the far too young age of 41.

(Cheryl Strayed’s “Heroin/e” quickly became a favorite I revisited many times. Then there was her essay “The Love of my Life” and David Sedaris’s “Now We Are Five” and so many more that I can’t even begin to list.)

I wanted proof that I wasn’t going crazy. Something to explain the knot in my throat that I couldn’t seem to swallow or cry out or scream through.

I needed someone to tell me that this grief would pass because it seemed impossible that it could. That the vise grip it had on my throat would loosen.

I needed to know that I would survive this feeling of dying. The tiny little deaths I endured daily when people who did not know how to handle my grief said things that felt more like knives than comfort (“you’re strong, you’ll be okay” “he’s in a better place now” “everything happens for a reason”); when I heard Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car or smelled his cologne on a passing stranger; or that time I swore I saw him in a crowd and I freaked, ran toward him, only to have this stranger look at me like I was a lunatic. The thing is, in that moment I was. I was losing my shit.

I was terrified that I would forget him, his voice, that mischievous twinkle in his eye when he came up with a scheme that would make mom scream and chase us.

I was desperate for people to know who he was. Not just the heroin and how he lost himself in it and stole and manipulated. I wanted them to know him when he was my Superman, how he loved and believed in me, what he taught me about love and life and survival, and how so much of who I am, my fierce, my “fuck that, I got this,” I owe to him.

During the holidays of that year, I went into a really dark place. If I had to pick a day when it started, I’d say it was Thanksgiving. I shot out of bed, completely unable to breathe. It was like my breath was caught in my trachea. I was choking on my grief. All I kept thinking was: He should be here. He should be here. Carajo, he should be here. I called my aunt who is very much a surrogate mother to me. I couldn’t even talk. All I could do was sob into the phone. “Come over,” she said. “Come over right now.” I woke up my daughter who stared at me with those huge, expressive eyes of hers that tell you exactly how she’s feeling—she was scared for her mama. We ran the three blocks to aunt’s house in our pajamas. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. Later that day, one of her boys (I don’t remember which one) came with me to pick up clothes. My aunt made sure we weren’t alone. I didn’t get home until late into the night.

It was after that that I picked up a chair and sat in my grief. I went willingly into an abyss I was scared I would stay in or wouldn’t know how to claw out of. (I’m picturing that scene from Silence of the Lambs when Buffalo Bill lowers a bucket into that torture pit chamber of his and you get a glimpse of the blood and fingernails and scratch marks on the wall.) That’s when I started reading everything I could get my hands on about depression, how grief can trigger it, the dangers, the menace.

Despite this, I didn’t acknowledge my depression until sometime in February, when the blackness started to ebb and I could see light on the edges. It was blue and shadowy, almost grey, like powder. What mattered most was that it wasn’t all black. It symbolized hope.

Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Relationships

To the Woman Who Wants to Forgive Her Cheating Partner.

March 11, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Erica Garza.

To the Woman Who Wants to Forgive Her Cheating Partner,

I’m not here to reiterate what 95% of the internet, women’s magazines or your girlfriends are likely to tell you. And I’m not here to place blame on any entity: the cheater, the other woman, patriarchy, the media, God.

I’m here to welcome you to this experience.

This might seem strange, but hear me out. What has just happened to you is undoubtedly awful. You’re feeling things no person should ever have to feel in this life, although many of us do. Regret, anger, blame, resentment, self-pity, maybe even self-hatred. Please note that these feelings are normal. Don’t shut them out. Don’t drown them in too many glasses of wine. And don’t let them dictate your next action. Just witness them. Feel them. After all, they’ll be gone soon. I promise you that.

I’d rather focus on something else. Because the fact that you are even considering “forgiveness” as an option means something extraordinary. And the world needs to celebrate the extraordinary much more than it glorifies the wicked and the vengeful.

Considering forgiveness means you have entered a new era in your life. I’m not talking “era” in the way people sometimes refer to adolescence as the era of innocence or the twenties as the era of recklessness. This era has nothing to do with your age. But it has everything to do with your humanity.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Little Seal, loss

Cartography for Mourners.

March 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Emily Rapp. 

The power of grief to derange the mind has in fact been exhaustively noted.

– Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

 

Maps to Anywhere (Numerous)

I hate maps. I can’t read them, understand them, interpret them, or follow them. I have a whole drawer full of maps and pop-up, fold out street guides for various cities, and although I take them with me when I visit these places, I never consult them. Instead I tote them around in my shoulder bag, my purse, my backpack, and ask people on the street for directions.

 

Map to a Funeral (Hidden)

It is mid-winter in downtown Chicago, and my parents, sitting in the two front seats of a rented mini-van, are huddled over a paper map. Exhaust billows in gray and black streaks past the windows. Commuters look shrouded and miserable, hurrying over frigid sidewalks in the rapidly fading light. I’m in the back seat with my ten-month-old daughter Charlotte, who is strapped in her car seat, babbling and cooing. She doesn’t know this is a terrible blizzard in rush hour, or that someone – my father’s mother, my grandmother – has died. We are driving from Chicago to Pontiac in a storm that feels as thick and relentless as the sound of the word blizzard on the radio, which is turned up high. People are frenzied, worried and watchful, the way people love to be about extreme weather conditions.

My grandmother has died at 93 after refusing food or fluids for two weeks, which is some kind of record. My son, at three years old, lasted only a few days with the same restrictions. Ninety years difference – a literal lifetime – between their ages at death. I struggle to understand what this means or how to absorb it, but generate no cogent thoughts.

Beyond the city limits the interstate is a blur of red and blue emergency lights, car blinkers switching on and off in irregular patterns that compete with the holiday hangers on who leave their Christmas decorations up after the new year. The drivers in the cars stopped on either side of us are reading newspapers spread out over the steering wheels or tapping into their phones, having given up changing lanes. One woman is slumped over, face in her hands, weeping.

My daughter poops her diaper, and I unstrap her from her safety restraints and change her in the unmoving car. My parents are bickering. My brother is waiting at the airport. We’d gone to Soldier’s Field to see the Aquarium, but ended up looking at twenty-year old exhibits of stuffed animals: antelope and bears in permanent yawn, taxidermy tails stalled mid-air. I crammed us all into a photo booth in our last fifteen minutes, because I had an enormous glass of wine for lunch and because we need to laugh.

“We should never have gone.”
“Who could have known we’d get stuck in a blizzard.”

This conversation continues on endless repeat, my parents trading lines between them until I threaten to throw the diaper into the front seat if they don’t change the subject. “Don’t think I won’t!” I shout, and feel like a teenager on vacation with her parents: petulant and trapped, self-righteous and unhappy.

We make it to O’Hare and pick up my brother and my nephew. My dad argues with the security guard, telling her that the airport is designed to be confusing. I tell him this is certainly not true. Through the open van door I toss Charlotte’s diaper into a curbside trashcan.

An hour from O’Hare, far from any lights, wind, snow-thick, swirls white and erratic over the roads mainly clear of cars but still treacherous. My dad drifts between lanes, floats across medians. “You’re fucking scaring me!” I shout when he crosses a road without looking in both directions. My brother glares at me for cursing in front of his ten-year-old son.

We stop at a town outside Chicago, at a sports bar, where six men wearing orange vests sitting at a table turn to stare at us when we walk through the door. We have been in the car for nearly ten hours. When I tell my friend Gina, a native of Chicago, where we ended up for dinner, she tells me she’s lived in Chicago her entire life and I’ve never even heard of that fucking place.

A waitress accidentally spills a beer on my father’s lap.

“This day is shitballs,” I tell him, and hand him a stack of napkins.

“Yep,” he agrees, but he’s laughing. He leaves the apologetic waitress a generous tip.

 

Map to a Church (Unnecessary)

The route to my grandmother’s funeral service is a straight line from the hotel to the church down a road lined with two-story houses, all fenced yards and large wooden porches, the sidewalks stacked on both sides with fresh snow that blows away in sporadic blasts of arctic wind to reveal weeks-old snow covered in soot, stamped with boot and paw prints and pieces of dog shit. The church is near the town lake, where a group of geese huddle together looking stunned and miserable on ice the same color as the wall of cold sky that seems almost low enough to touch the frozen water. I think they’re geese. I know they’re not ducks. I’m not a poet. I don’t know my birds. I don’t know an elm from a poplar. I’m a little bit better with flowers. I know a blue spruce because there was one in my yard in Santa Fe, and it was the one pop of color on the gray winter day two years ago when my son died.

“Don’t they migrate somewhere warmer?” I ask. “Those geese or birds or whatever?” Nobody answers me. At the church, my brother and his son leap out of the car and sprint across the parking lot. The frozen lake reminds me of another frozen lake in Minnesota where I spent one weekend listening to Joni Mitchell records and writing bad poetry (I didn’t know my birds then, either) with a group of college girlfriends; another frozen lake in Wisconsin where I watched five continuous hours of CNN on the first anniversary of 9/11. Both events seem whole lifetimes ago, memories connected to my current life by delicate filaments that show their strength in the strangest moments.

I pick my way across the parking lot with a bundled Charlotte in my arms. Inside people are milling about in front of a funeral board: pictures of my grandmother as a young girl on the farm, on a horse, in the early 1940s with my father in a cute suit, standing in front of a flat white house, with her parents, who are expressionless and shaped like barrels.

My grandmother was cruel to me, and I am not sad that she is dead. I feel like 93 is a pretty good run. She was rarely sick. She had friends and was comfortable.

My dad speaks first, and he tells the congregation that his mother once told him that he could have searched the whole world over and he never could have found a better wife. This is for my mother, to whom my grandmother was also cruel.

The minister gives a dorky eulogy about salvation that doesn’t happen “in the big city,” but instead in “a little church in the prairie.” His language feels vaguely pornographic to me, all this talk of being “chosen” and “choosing,” and my grandmother saying yes to God, again and again she said yes. I can’t stop thinking, sitting in the back pew nursing my child where nobody might happen to see my breast, that there’s no way this guy voted for Obama.

The only time I feel moved is when my second cousin’s husband sings a solo, halting and occasionally off-key version of Beautiful Savior at the lectern. He struggles through all of the verses without looking up. In front of him, on a table decorated with flowers, my grandmother’s ashes are in a simple black box.

After the funeral we eat fried chicken in the church fellowship hall. My grandmother’s sister introduces me to a man who is clearly suffering from dementia.

“This is Emily,” my great-aunt says. “She wrote a book about her baby who died.”

“Who are you?” he asks. “Did somebody die?” He looks around the room. Someone is slowly releasing a Jell-O mold onto a plate in the kitchen. A woman in an apron dumps more chicken into a bowl on the buffet table.

“My grandmother died,” I say. “Lois died.”

My great aunt is frustrated. “Listen,” she says, tapping the table in front of the man.

He looks at her, then at her hands. “Yes? Who are you?”

“I’m Emily,” I say.

“She’s a writer,” my aunt continues, “and her first book is all about…well,” she says, and flaps her hand in the air. “You tell him how you was made wrong.”

Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing, The Body

Dancing With The Darkness.

February 25, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Sian Ewers.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Jung

And everything hurts.

It aches. All of it.

Every cell, fiber and atom that makes up my being.

Mind, body and soul thrown into a bowl, mixed, stirred, and formed with hands and words.

I want it all.

I want the bones, the protruding sharp edges, want to feel them beneath my skin, no meat or flesh to cover.

I want the blur, the navy blur of a fuzzy mind that is starving, buzzing with success.

I want the sunken cheekbones; the ones that make my lips look bigger. The ones that make people tell me my eyes look googly.

I want googly eyes.

I want the falling of hair, the outcome, the prize – the proof that I’m winning.

I want my calves to shrink, the muscle to melt and my thighs to never for any reason touch.

I want the pride. The knowing. The pit of my stomach tightness from no food and triumph.

But everything hurts and the control, the power, is the only thing melting now.

 

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…

death, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

The Hole.

January 25, 2015

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By Mandy Hitchcock.

The four of us sit at the breakfast table in the sunroom. We’re still in our pajamas. The morning sun pours in, and I blink rapidly at the sunbursts in my eyes. It’s a hot and humid late August day, but inside we are cool.

Our three-year-old sits between Ed and me, too big for a booster seat anymore but too small still to reach the table from a regular chair, so he is on his knees, carefully unrolling one of the freshly baked but entirely canned orange cinnamon rolls his dad has prepared us for breakfast. He finishes unrolling it, and now that it’s a long boring strip, he decides that it’s no good and hands it back to his dad. I take it, roll it tightly again, and offer it back to him. “Is that better?” I say. “Yeah!” he says gleefully, grabbing it and finally taking a bite.

On my other side, our newly minted one-year-old daughter perches in her high chair, working her newly minted pincer grasp to pick up the tiny pieces of cinnamon roll I have torn up for her to eat. We were so much stricter with sugar two kids ago, but I’m as unreasonable as ever about choking hazards. She’s clearly frustrated with the small pieces, shoveling them by the handful and squawking at me for something more substantial. Or maybe she wants milk. It’s still tough to tell at this stage.

It’s these moments—these moments when life feels so very close to being absolutely perfect, almost maddeningly close—that I am stunned, again, by how absolutely imperfect, how irrevocably and horribly wrong it all is.

It’s in these most ordinary-extraordinary moments, these moments that seem to happen every day and yet almost never, when she is most absent. As we four sat, savoring our rare vacation treat of canned orange cinnamon rolls, she was so missing. So missing that I couldn’t help but imagine her there, even almost see her, on the other side of the table next to her dad, squinting at the sun in her eyes. Gangly and knobby-kneed now, with not the slightest hint of the chubby cheeks that graced her sweet face when last I saw her. Those exquisite knees pulled up tight and tucked under her nightgown. Hair maybe long enough at last for a braid but still so wispy that the braid can barely contain it. A five-year-old kid. “Five-and-a-half, Mom!” I can almost hear a small but indignant voice say. “Mommy” would surely have given way to “Mom” by now.

She’s right there, and like the sunbursts in my eyes, I can see her only until I try actually to look at her, and then she glides away.

It’s been four years, four months, and seventeen days since my daughter Hudson died from a sudden and incredibly aggressive bacterial meningitis infection. She was seventeen months old. One day, she was an otherwise healthy toddler with what appeared to be an ordinary toddler virus. The next day, she was fatally ill. Three days after that, she was gone.

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.

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.

Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts

Haunted.

January 22, 2015

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By Kelly J. Baker.

I’m haunted by a person I never met.

My paternal grandparents lost their middle son, Carl, in a car accident. He was almost 20. His car collided with a parked semi truck. He died. My other uncle, Stevie, walked away from the accident physically unharmed. I can’t speak to other harms. We never talked about it, and Stevie died seven years ago. I wish I knew what he would say. This tragedy came to define my father’s family. Carl’s death was a gaping wound. Sometimes, woundedness bound them together. Grief tied them together tightly, so that no one had room to breathe.  Yet this loss also distanced them from one another in irreparably intimate ways. Their mutual pain became particular and separate. Carl’s absence made him even more present, unfortunately unavoidable.

His death served as a reminder of the tenuousness of life and the finality of death. They survived and he didn’t. He haunted them, and later, me as well.

I never met Carl because he died almost three years before I was born. Yet, he lingered. I was told throughout my childhood that I was like him. This was not necessarily a compliment, more often it was an accusation tossed out in anger. I learned that Carl was funny and warm, but also willful and determined. He didn’t follow the path dictated by my grandparents, and they wanted us all to follow their rules. He challenged them. I challenged them years later. I often wonder if they loved him more because of his refusal to bend while I am pretty sure that they loved me less. Carl was the cautionary tale that I refused to acknowledge.

writing-course_pageheader_825x200_alt2 Continue Reading…

death, Family, Grief, Guest Posts

New York Times Crossword Puzzle Book #50.

January 18, 2015

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By Sonia Greenfield.

Three summers ago I found myself socked into my grandmother’s bed with my infant son sleeping next to me in his Pack-n-Play. The old, dusty air conditioner churned and wept down the slumped front porch, but the room was cool. The groan of this window unit was the only sound, this and the click and scratch of my mechanical pencil as I filled in the book of New York Times crossword puzzles I picked up at the airport in Seattle. All around me I saw the sad accumulation of old age—pill bottles, ointments, stained sweatshirts, and a thick layer of grime—but underneath these mounds, if I dug deep enough, I could find the gold piping and flounce of my grandmother’s stylish years. This is why I felt socked in. Nothing was ever thrown away; it was just buried. The new on top of the old, which was really like the old on top of the less old. And this made my grandmother’s room, her whole house, a bit of a burial ground with nothing more than narrow paths to travel between the heaps of purses, VHS and eight track tapes, old make-up, shoes, costume jewelry, books, newspapers, diabetic snack bars, and so on. There was something about retreating from the emotional to the cerebral, something about shrugging off the weight of lost years, of lost youth, that made me fill each puzzle, turn the page, and start the next one. What’s a seven-letter word for “tremendous” beginning with m? The answer was massive.

I received the call— well, calls— a few days before. My stepfather who lived in the upstairs apartment with my mother found my grandmother unresponsive in her bed, which was the same bed I was, by necessity, sleeping in just a few days later. Even though I spent the last half of my childhood in the second story apartment with my immediate family, there was no room for me, for us, now. I got the call in Seattle from my brother’s cell phone while everyone was gathered in my grandmother’s room at Hudson Valley Hospital, and I was put on the phone with my grandmother, who could not talk or move most of her body, who could not swallow or smile, who could not respond when I began to cry in her ear. I was told, though, that tears ran down her face, and that she bit her lip on one side as I said how sorry I was that I could not help her. Even when you know that the cruel discomforts of old age will be alleviated, when you know that death is inevitable—especially for an eighty-three year old woman who has been in decline for years— it does not mean that when the time comes, a cool stoicism will settle on you. It does not mean you will feel relieved. What’s a six-letter word for “smooth” ending with e? The answer was stroke. My Nana had a massive one in her bed, and my baby and I flew out for what I came to understand was a vigil as we waited out the two long weeks it took her to die. My grandmother’s name was Rose. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss

Proof of Loss.

January 12, 2015

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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sara Marchant.

When my husband comes home he walks right by the cradle in the laundry room, still drying from its hard scrubbing. His excitement makes him more unobservant than usual. He has news for me. He rushes in, past where I stand at the kitchen counter, already exclaiming before he sees what I am doing.

“The owners took me aside and gave me a raise. It’s supposed to be secret because I’m the only one. At their last meeting they discovered I’m responsible for 60% of the revenue and decided they should keep me happy.” His hands are on his hips. He is containing his exuberance.

“That’s great,” I say, genuinely happy but intent upon my task. “It’s about time.”

“Yeah,” he agrees and then looks up, I assume, for he goes very quiet. I am not looking directly at him, having turned back to my task on the counter. I sneak peeks at him from the corner of my eye as his silence continues. He is standing next to the dining room table he has appropriated for his ‘office.’ He has dropped his wallet, keys, and hat on the table, but stands staring at me. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, healing, Holidays

Dead Christmas Trees, Brain Injuries & Finding The Beauty.

December 29, 2014

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By Karen Pyros-Szatkowski.

When I lived in New York City after college, too many years ago, I’d be so saddened the weeks following Christmas walking by apartment buildings seeing the discarded, used up Christmas trees piled in front, waiting to be picked up by the garbage collectors. I was in no way a tree-hugging, save-the-earth activist back then, but for some reason, these trees, some still with tinsel on the branches, made me view the city as a morgue and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and despair would replace the holiday happy from a few days before. The trees of all shapes and sizes, some tall and skinny, others short and more full, ugly Charlie Brown trees, and beautiful prize worthy ones, whatever fit into the lives of the former owners’ apartment spaces, had now served their purpose and lay, most of them without bags, on the cold New York City sidewalks, atop their own fallen needles. They were once connected to and nurtured by the earth, then worshipped and adorned with beautiful decorations… a proud centerpiece in the apartments, the holiday, and now tossed out like garbage. Actually, that’s exactly what they had become. Garbage. Although I never, ever, bought a real tree after my first Christmas in New York, I certainly don’t make any judgment on those that chose the natural over the unnatural; that’s not what this is about. I know that for every tree cut down, others are planted and farms grow trees just for Christmas pleasure. It is not a moral choice for me; it’s an emotion. I know real trees look much more beautiful, fully decorated, than the artificial ones, and I do love the smell of pine, but the memories of those discarded trees piled many feet high like dead bodies awaiting their disposal left too much of an impact on me, too much of a sadness, not because of the waste, but because of the abandoned love. From the pedestal to the street. Beauty completely stripped to nothingness. Life to death.

I’ve been feeling similar emotions recently, but not due to Christmas trees. I feel so much pain and sadness, all around me and not all mine. Being so easily connected through social media and website magazines, Damon’s story has reached out past the community in which we live to a much larger audience. Because of this, I’ve been connected to many new friends and reconnected to many old friends, so many of whom are affected either themselves or through family members by traumatic brain injury, death, or just horrible diseases. In our pre accident life I never would have crossed paths with most of these people. In our pre accident life I would never have been able to so deeply feel their pain. So many have reached out to us to share their own stories, looking both for inspiration from our journey and hoping to add support to theirs. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts, poetry

Grief Anniversary.

December 17, 2014

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By E.B. Wexler

“anniversary” implies that I do not have grief the other 364 days

I do.

But as the date approaches

I feel, slowly arising

The original grief

The breath sucked out of me when I got the news over the phone.

The early grief

Walking around in a daze, wondering where she went

How things would be now

 

She was 31

She was my “person”

And it was out of the blue.

I have not been the same since. And I don’t want to be…. Continue Reading…