Browsing Tag

Tough conversations

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Birds

February 22, 2021
paper

By David Simmons

We ran so fast I almost lost my schizophrenia papers. I hadn’t slept in days so my shoes were soggy and the footfalls sounded like wet sacks of chili hitting the sidewalk.

Chauncey yells out behind me, “Hold up bruh, you dropped your schizophrenia papers!”

I keep running, my sneakers splattering across the block. I bend the corner at 15th and Center Street, keep going, Chauncey catching up to me.

Americans are stupid. They’re stupid because sixty-four percent of Americans think schizophrenics have split personalities. I don’t have split personalities. I barely have one personality, but then again, I don’t actually have schizophrenia.

I just have the papers for it. They give them to you when you have nowhere to go.

Sometimes you can’t go straight home from prison, especially if you don’t have a home. If you can’t provide an address, they make you check in with the Department of Behavioral Health in that big, menacing, dystopian-future building on E Street. There’s this guy who works there, Tayvon Lancaster, Lannister, something like that. The guy’s got this big, swollen belly that sits like a bowling ball beneath his bird chest. Guy wears his slacks with the front pleats over his distended stomach, stuffs the bloated thing underneath the waistline of his pants. Then he gets one of those braided belts, like the kind Salvadorian children wear to church, and he wraps it around the whole mess. The whole get up makes him look like a tall humpty dumpty.

So this guy—Tayvon Lancaster, Lannister, something like that—is the one who does your orientation. He says community college criminology degree buzz words like “reintroduction” and “reintegration ” and how “it can be difficult for one to adapt to living with others after being institutionalized.” At this point you feel like if anybody is familiar with the social etiquette that is required for living with others, it would be you, so you tune the bastard out and eye-fuck his tumescent belly.

Tayvon Lancaster, Lannister, something like that; he takes you to the psych doc because you have to see the shrink before they can discharge you. The doctor looks like broccoli. She’s tall and shapeless, like two parallel lines drawn up into a grey poof of short, curly hair. Exactly like broccoli. She makes you do serial sevens, where you gotta count backwards from one hundred by seven.

She asks you what your ideal circumstances post-release are.

She wants to know if you have a poor sense of smell.

It’s difficult to answer the last question because how do you know if you have a poor sense of smell comparatively to anybody else? You can’t smell what they smell. And I can’t think of anything to tell her in response to the other question so I’m all, “I’d really just like a decent meal and a shower by myself.”

The doctor says, “What is your history of psychiatric hospitalizations? Have you ever been certified for treatment?”

“Yes,” I tell her.

“Do you hear things other people don’t hear or see things other people don’t see?”

“How could I know what other people don’t hear or don’t see? If I told you that I could you would say I was crazy for claiming to be a psychic. It’s lose-lose for me.”

The broccoli-looking doctor scribbles something down in her notepad.

“You wanna hear something that’s actually crazy?” I ask her.

She stops scribbling and looks up from the notepad.

“I totaled my first car three months after buying it with money I had saved up from working at Blockbuster and selling drugs,” I tell her. “It was a 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII. Midnight blue with the air suspension compressor. If that air ride shit ever broke, the repair bill would cost you more than the car was worth. After I crawled out of the sunroof of the vehicle, I looked up at the walls of the ditch I had crashed into. One by one, what must have been the lights in the windows of houses went on, surrounding me in yellow rectangles of light. One by one, a firetruck, an ambulance and a cop car pulled into what I soon discovered was a cul de sac in a residential neighborhood, meaning I had crashed my Lincoln into a ditch at the end of a cul de sac.”

“How did that make you feel?” the doctor asks.

“It was all very surreal. One minute I was on the highway and the next I was in a ditch or ravine or something. When the cop gets out of his car, the first he does is ask me if I like ice cream. He says to me, ‘Do you really like ice cream or something?’ He doesn’t even ask me for my license or registration. He just wants to know if I like ice cream. And I’m all like, ‘What does that even mean? Doesn’t everybody like ice cream?’ So then he’s like, ‘I just figured you really liked ice cream, you know, on account of your car and all.’ And I’m eighteen years old and disoriented from the crash and confused because this cop is asking me if I like ice cream. Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know why he would do that,” the doctor says. “Why do you think he would do that?”

“Well that’s just it, “ I say, raising my voice a little, “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I don’t know why he would do that. And what was it about the car I was driving that insinuated I liked ice cream? Was it the color?”

“Let’s move on. Do you feel that—”

I cut the doctor off. “Was it because I crashed the car into a ditch? I was barely an adult. I had just learned how to drive. And how does that relate to ice cream? It’s all I think about.”

“That was a very long time ago.”

“Time doesn’t change anything,” I tell her, sinking my body into the couch and crossing my arms. “Everything is inevitable. One day your parents picked you up, put you down, and never picked you up again.”

The doctor is writing something down on her yellow legal pad. I can see that she’s got a list of words in a vertical column going down the left side of the page. I can’t read the words but it looks like she’s putting some kind of symbols or marks to the right of the words. I decide to stop talking.

“If you see things people don’t see,” the broccoli doctor says, “are they in the periphery of your vision or in the center?”

I move my eyes from side to side and the top of my skull is electrified by a serotonin brain zap.

The doctor continues to vomit stock questions at me. “Do you see these things in daylight? Or only in the shadows?”

I tell her that everything I see is in the shadows and how the first time I smoked PCP with Chauncey I watched him cough up a piece of flesh. It was a slug-shaped thing, something pink and made of meat. She asks me if I’m thinking about hurting myself or others. I tell her how I picked up the slimy thing that Chauncey coughed up onto the street and put it in the fifth pocket of my jeans and saved it, in case it turned out he needed it. She asks me if I need any medication. I tell her how the skin of my hands are just gloves for my true hands. She writes me out prescriptions for Serequel, Risperdal, Lexapro, Zyprexa and some green papers with information about me that translates into a billable diagnosis or two for her.

And that’s how we ended up where we are now; Chauncey and I, running down Shattuck Avenue because we just robbed the Cheeseboard Collective; my schizophrenia papers flying out of the front pocket of my soggy hooded sweatshirt.

Schizophrenia papers. They give them to you with your medications. That way, if you get stopped somewhere by the police they don’t have as many questions for you. The papers explain it all. The papers are green and folded in half, then folded in half once more. The police still ask you plenty of questions, but not quite as many as they would if you were sans schizophrenia papers.

When the papers fly out of the front pocket of my hoody, they unfold, flapping in the wind like the wings of chartreuse birds. I spread my own wings and manifest thusly; spreading my blackened feathers across the sky as I take flight and disappear into the sinking California sun.

David Simmons paper

A portrait of the writer at work.

David Simmons spent his childhood within the juvenile justice system in various institutions and holding facilities. His work has been praised by D. Harlan Wilson, Brian Evenson and Snoop Dogg. He has been featured in the Washington Post, Prometheus Dreaming, 3 Moon Magazine, Across The Margin and the Washington City Paper. David lives in Baltimore with his wife and dog, where he is responsible for creating the colloquialism “Whole Time.”

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Rebecca Solnit’s story of  life in San Francisco in the 1980s is as much memoir as it is social commentary. Becoming an activist and a writer in a society that prefers women be silent is a central theme. If you are unfamiliar with Solnit’s work, this is a good entry point. If you are familiar with her writing, this is a must read as she discusses what liberated her as a writer when she was discovering herself as a person. 

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Fiction Fridays, Guest Posts

Deus ex Machina

February 19, 2021
foggy road brenda

By Richard Weems

Steve and Brenda had come separately to the same conclusion: they both wanted out of their marriage, which they had honed over the last three years into a science of spending as little time alone together as possible. Steve had basketball at the Y, Brenda had spin classes. Never an argument when one stayed late at the office. Separate televisions. He kissed her on the temple when he climbed into bed. She squeezed his wrist. Movie nights always with friends. During sex, they focused only on their individual needs. No pets, not even fish. Nothing that couldn’t be easily designated as his or hers. When they planned poorly and were stuck having dinner together, she commented favorably on the bordeaux he’d researched and breathed properly; he hummed approval at every spoonful of her Grand Marnier souffle.

They had both decided to break the news during their annual drive north to her folks in South Greeley, the one place no one expected them to spend time together. She had her sisters and mother to giggle and drink mimosas with, her nephews and nieces to take out for ice cream. Steve discussed baseball with his father-in-law, who was a tiresome optimist about the Rockies, or volunteered for every errand so he could drive around Cheyenne and marvel at the ways it fell short of being a proper city.

But with a three and a half hour drive in front of them, each had to strategize the optimal approach to most effectively end their marriage. Brenda worried she’d back out once faced with Steve’s hushed anger, so she burned her boat, so to speak. As soon as they merged onto route 25, she asked Steve for the ETA. He pointed his chin at the GPS. “I’ll let them know,” she said, but instead she texted her sisters and mother, Big news, and refused to respond to their question marks and interrobangs, to force herself to blurt before they arrived: “Steve, I’ll stay in Greeley while you move out.” Maddy had long suggested, in less than subtle ways, that Brenda could do better (“So, Brenny, when you’re looking for your next man…”). Mom was a tougher read, but when Zabby, the oldest, once confided that she felt entrenched with Ken, her  know-it-all chiropractor who refused to go anywhere he couldn’t be the center of attention, Mom spoke into her glass:

“Not until Sid and Sylvia,” their twin teens, “start college, I hope.”

So Brenda wasn’t worried about her family’s reaction, but still, with every mile marker, she felt her resolve weaken, until she wondered what news she could drum up when Maddy reached through the car window and squeezed her wrist with expectation.

Steve played the audiobook of a spy thriller to pass the time, but they had barely passed Colorado Springs, a third of the way, when he could no longer stand the reader’s tiresome lilt during the so-called action sequences, where another smartmouthed operative with yet another weapon speciality showed up every twenty minutes on the dot. He had planned to start his speech when they’d reached the halfway mark (“Brenda, you know I love you and I’m glad we got married…”), to give them time to work through the emotional guff and have things arranged rationally when he dropped her off in front of her parents’ and headed back on his own. He hated when she cried. He always felt duty-bound to comfort her, and being the cause of her tears could be too much for him. Every minute of silence felt like they were back to dating–another moment of fear about taking the plunge and saying what he thought (five miles ago) he should have started saying by now. She was even on her phone, scrolling and grinning at someone else.

***

The first sign of trouble was the oncoming traffic with their headlights at full blast, their hoods and tops glistening, their wipers clearing bactrian humps on the windshields. The forecast had called for a forty percent chance of storms, but that was typical for July, especially in this humidity.

In the sun, the oncoming cars gleamed with relief.

“Something’s up ahead,” Steve muttered. Brenda looked up from her phone and squinted as though there was something to see beyond the next overpass.

And suddenly, there was.

It was the kind of storm that generated sudden exclamation points on the doppler–wind, hail, and was that a bump of rotation in the cloud?  That turned the sky green, pelted a path across the highway, and had timed its manifestation when there wasn’t another overpass in miles. Steve settled into a new kind of silence, that of survival, his focus their best hope against the wind that was already nudging their top-heavy jeep. A prefatory lightning bolt elicited a close-mouthed gasp from Brenda as she gripped the oh shit handle on the ceiling. Steve reverted to Driver’s Ed days and clasped the wheel at 10 and 2 as they plunged into the fierce weather.

At the smack of wind and fierce ice, Brenda expected to see a Brahma bull out her window. Their Wrangler leaned, but they will disagree to what extent by the time they get to South Greeley: one will say they were a hairsbreadth from permanent disfigurement, the other no worse than a Disney rollercoaster. They will hold hands as squish together in the living room chaise longue and tell her family their conflicting accounts. They will talk over each other, correct each other rudely, kiss and laugh while kissing. They will continue to argue the whole ride home with nary a silent gap and alternate who squeezes whose thigh.

When the cloud released them and the wall of hail ambled to the east, Steve watched it go, unable to unclench his fists, his fight/flight system dialed to eleven. Brenda released the ceiling handle so she could jackhammer her fist into the paltry padding above and scream,

“Again!”

Richard Weems is the author of three short fiction collections: Anything He Wants (finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize), Stark Raving Blue and From Now On, You’re Back. Recent appearances include North American Review, Aquifer, 3Elements Review, Flash Fiction Magazine and Tatterhood Review. Richard lives and teaches in New Jersey.

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Verge, by Lidia Yuknavitch, is out in paperback. These short stories will grip your heart and mind.  The writing is sharp and the empathetic portraits of broken people will stay with you long after you finish the collection.

If you haven’t already, pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Abortion, Guest Posts

Automatic Failure

February 10, 2021
know

By Bethany Petano

The automatic toilet flushes, mistaking projectile vomit for human movement. The backsplash hits me in the face. I vomit again at the thought of public toilet water mixed with my own throw up dripping down my cheek. Again, the backsplash hits me in the face. This continues until I am emptied. At the sink, I fill my hands with water and bring them to my face, scrubbing it dry with a paper towel, avoiding my reflection in the mirror.

Only six more hours before I can finally go home and crawl into bed. If I hadn’t already missed one class–I wouldn’t be here. The attendance policy for the Saturday Program at Bay Path College is severe. Missing two classes out of a six-week course means automatic failure.

Automatic failure–I was already one of those.

At least class gave me something to think about–besides overwhelming waves of nausea and the cramps gripping my abdomen in a steely vice. After my third sprint from classroom to bathroom, the women in my class exchange knowing looks.

“Does someone have a touch of morning sickness?”

Grinning faces blur as I blink back tears.

“Just a stomach bug,” I mumble. Pointedly turning my attention back to our professor.

A stomach bug I caught six weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, one that I felt almost the instant it was created.

***

“You don’t look so good, Doll.”

My friend Amina is leaning against my cubicle partition ready to go on our mid-morning coffee break. We’ve been friends for years both in and outside of work.

“I don’t feel so great. Can’t keep anything down.”

“Ginger ale and saltines.”

“I know, I’m on it.” I lift my warm can of Canada Dry in a mock salute. “It’s super weird though, like–I can smell everything. It’s not helping.”

“Girl.”

“What?”

“I could smell everything the instant I was pregnant with Khi.”

“What?”

“You need to take a test.”

***

I call my primary care physician and make an appointment. In addition to measuring and weighing me, I am given a specimen cup to pee in. When the doctor enters the room she is beaming.

“Congratulations! You’re pregnant.”

I immediately burst into tears.

The doctor is visibly taken aback. This is not the response she expected.

“If that’s not necessarily good news, there are options we can discuss. Of course, we do not provide those services here.”

“Okay,” I manage to get out.

“I’ll give you a moment to get dressed.”

I cry the entire time I put my clothes back on. Finally, after countless deep breaths, I pull myself together. I do not stop at the desk to check out, leaving the practice without settling my co-pay.

Who the fuck congratulates an unmarried woman who isn’t trying to get pregnant?

***

The smell of eggs sends me running to the bathroom. Amina and I are at Friendly’s, explaining my situation to our buddy Johnny. His friend, Chris, is the partner-in-crime for my current predicament. We had only just started hooking up. Fucking for the first time after the Anti-Valentine’s Day Party I threw, and then again after a sub-par dinner date. At first, Johnny doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation, until Amina eludes I may not want to simply make this “problem” disappear.

Somehow, by violating the first rule of casual hook-ups (Don’t get pregnant!), we had reverted to a middle school era social construct with our appointed representatives negotiating the terms of our deal. Only this time, there is more at stake then holding hands during lunch.

Johnny contacts Chris, explaining the situation. It’s agreed, Chris and I will talk later that afternoon at Forest Park.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

We start walking, shoulder to shoulder, not touching. The March air is brisk but small bursts of pale green signal signs of Spring.

“Why don’t you want to? We used a condom every other time for a reason.” He looks over at me.

“We didn’t use a condom on Valentine’s Day?” I ask, looking up.

“The first time. The second time you climbed on top of me and went for it. I just assumed you were on the pill,” he shrugs.

“I used to be. I don’t remember that. I just… Never thought… I would, you know?” I’m doing my best not to cry when I realize my feet have stopped moving.

“Do you not believe in it?” he asks, gently touching my shoulder.

“No, it’s not that.” I turn to face him. “I just always thought I would have kids someday.” I look past him, staring at nothing.

“Right, someday.” He ducks his head trying to catch my eye.

“But I’m twenty-eight…” I look him in the face.

“I’m only twenty-three. I’m not ready to have a kid.”

“I don’t know if I am either,” I admit softly, looking away.

But, what if this is my chance?

“So don’t,” he says softly.

The words hang between us. The meniscus of tears welling in my eyes finally spills over, falling down my cheeks. Chris pulls me into a hug. The wool of his grey pea coat scratches my face.

“I’m scared,” I mumble into his chest.

“I’ll be there with you,” he says, looking down at me.

There is a gentleness to the desperation screaming in his eyes.

“Can I think about it? We have time.”

“Of course.”

He keeps his arm around my shoulder as we walk back to our cars. This was not how I imagined this moment would go. Not how I imagined starting a family.

What if I had it anyway?

Would Chris help?

Would he hate me?

What would we tell the kid?

Could I do this alone?

Do I want to do this alone?

What does that even look like?

I don’t know.

I don’t know. 

I don’t…

No.

“Okay,” I say when we reach the parking lot.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“No.” My body releases a sob/shrug/laugh.

He wraps both arms around me. His embrace is warm but feels somehow wrong now.

I pull away.

“I guess I’ll call and make an appointment.” My eyes don’t quite meet his.

“I’ll pay for everything and go with you. If you want me to?” He touches my arm, leaning down, trying to make eye contact.

“Umm sure, okay, I’ll let you know when.” I turn, walking the rest of the way without him.

“Thank you,” he says emphatically, staring at me over the roof of my Honda Civic.

I can practically see the relief pouring off him.

I drive home. Not seeing the road through my tears. Not caring.

***

I think we will never talk again, but for months after, he checks in on me. The Facebook messages feel intrusive, but I understand his need to “do the right thing.” I don’t know what that looks like for me yet. It is awkward and uncomfortable to think about, so I put it all in a box and drown it with vodka.

I think about writing and sharing my experience. Maybe it will help others feel less alone. Maybe it will help me feel less alone. When I tell my mother, she cautions me, “Do you really want your father or grandfathers to know about that? I don’t.”

Shame wraps me in a heavy, black blanket, tucking the emotions I had almost processed back to bed. I made her a mother, as she birthed a daughter. Neither of us lives up to the other’s expectations.

At first glance, on the surface, you would not look at me and think of anything other than “pretty white girl.” Except maybe, loud-mouthed pretty white girl. That is a privilege I have become startlingly aware of recently.

Because my mother is blond and light-skinned, she has never been identified as a “spic.” A word she forbad us to use. I remember as a child having dinner at my father’s parent’s house. We were eating hot dogs and beans so it must have been a Saturday. I’m not sure how old I was, probably eight or nine. Gramps was on a racist rant about “spics and niggers.” Such comments were commonplace but on this occasion, I was paying attention. A realization hit me-I was probably a “spic.”

“What about me, and Mom, and Grama Gloria? Are we “spics,” too?”

The clattering of silverware ceases as silence fills the room and the adults look from one another communicating without speaking.

The silence is broken as my grandfather clears his voice, “Ahem, uh, you’re different,” he says ending the discussion.

That was the only explanation I received about my question of race. But, never again did I hear my grandfather speak that word. I sincerely doubt he stopped using racial slurs all together but he had at least developed a sensitivity as far as his granddaughter was concerned.

Identifying as Puerto Rican wasn’t something that ever occurred to me until filling out college application forms. It seemed logical that I checked the box next to Hispanic. And, even though, at the time, you weren’t allowed to check more than one box, I also checked the one next to white. I was both, wasn’t I?

When I came up with the phrase “Quarter Rican” to explain my racial identity my mother was horrified. At first, I thought this was because she equated the phrase to a racial slur. Then I found out–my mother only checks one box–white. Is that why she said nothing to her racist father-in-law?

Growing up my mother was teased by classmates–for her mother had an accent she didn’t hear. That doesn’t seem like a deep enough wound to deny one’s heritage. But, before I judge someone else’s trauma too quickly, I wonder, is that what my mother’s shame looks like? A tiny Puerto Rican lady I recall mostly through hazy memories of other people’s stories.

My shame–she takes many forms. She’s crafty like that. The day I told my mother I was pregnant drenched blue with shame. Even March in Connecticut couldn’t cool the red hot burning humiliation of also admitting I wasn’t quite sure who the father was. There were only two options but shame stood on the coffee table and screamed, “Whore!” I had no recollection. The night was a blackout. One of many. Disgrace filled me with darkness.

After he begged me, “please, don’t have this baby.” I again went to my mother and told her my news. My shame turned cold and gray. Like the sky on the March day he sat in the waiting area while I was counseled, poked, and prodded. I found it ironic the vaginal ultrasound wand looked exactly like a vibrator. Maybe I wouldn’t have ended up there if I’d just taken care of myself.

***

That was 2009, a decade before, “you know me,” would become a trending hashtag on Twitter. Hell, it was before most people even knew what a hashtag was. In May 2019, on her talk show “Busy Tonight,” host Busy Phillips shared facts and figures from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “The statistic is one in four women will have an abortion before age 45,” she said. “That statistic sometimes surprises people, and maybe you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know a woman who would have an abortion.’ Well, you know me.”

Phillips followed up her on-air insight with a social media post, creating the hashtag #YouKnowMe. The response was instant. Thousands of women shared their own abortion stories. Scrolling through Instagram, I came across Phillips’s post. The pinprick of tears surprised me. I was certain in the last ten years I had processed my feelings about my own abortion. It turned out I was wrong.

Reading post after post of women publicly sharing their stories cracked something open inside me. Tears streamed down my face. Shame can’t live in the light. Busy Phillips shined a bright hot light on abortion and women everywhere stepped into it. I tried to step into it too. Typing and re-typing my own post. Trying to find the right words that would eradicate my shame. I couldn’t find them. I hadn’t realized yet that inherited shame isn’t a gift you have to accept. There is, in fact, a return process for other people’s judgments—even from family. It starts with boundaries and it ends with the truth. I had failed to protect myself from unwanted pregnancy but I was not a failure. #YouKnowMe

Bethany Petano grew up and still resides in New England. Her work has been published in the literary journals Weatherbeaten and Meat for Tea. She has an M.F.A. in Creative Non-fiction from Bay Path University.

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We love this book for so many reasons! The writing is incredible, the story is important, and seeing what life looks like when you survive the unthinkable is transformative. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Sanctuary, by Emily Rapp Black. Purchase at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

#metoo, Guest Posts, Tough Conversations

To #MeToo or Not to #MeToo Should Not Be The Question

February 19, 2018

By Megan Wildhood

In October this year, I scrolled through about five pages’ worth of Facebook statuses saying only “Me too.” A hashtag began to appear before the phrase. It was three or four days before I was able to figure out what was going on. I would say I’m relatively informed, so it was unusual for me to be so clueless. Even after much reading, I have to say I’m confused. I’ve come articles explaining #MeToo as a social media campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault, a way for women to take their power back over something they’d long been silent about, the beginning of the move from social movement to social change. I’ve read denouncements of the campaign’s exclusion of male sexual assault victims. I’ve tried to keep track of the various spin-off campaigns. Articles detailing various women’s hesitation about whether to post #MeToo, deliberating whether solidarity was a good enough reason to post or demanding that those willing to post also share their story to “legitimate themselves” proliferated. No matter the angle, each post was complete with tomes of vicious infighting in their comments sections.

It was not a difficult decision for me not to post #MeToo but it’s become extremely difficult to explain why. Our culture, hyper- and singularly focused on identity as it is, simultaneously allows and demands that you be whoever you say you are in the moment. If you’re a sexual assault victim – or if you care about anyone who is – you’ll post those two words preceded by a sharp sign (the original hashtag) or you’re a liar. In a culture where the most visible means the most valuable, it’s not surprising that we’d continually have such awareness campaigns. What’s surprising is that people think they’ll help. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

The Chiringas Over El Morro

June 9, 2017

By Melissa Banigan

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

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

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

~  ~  ~

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

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

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

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Dear Jacob: An Open Letter to My 15 Year Old Son

November 7, 2016
loved

By Adrienne Rich-Giuliano

Dear Jacob,

So many beautiful thoughts come to my mind that make me smile when I think of you.  It makes my heart want to bust open.  From singing “You Are My Sunshine” to you countless times as an infant, to how I say you taught me how to be a mom, to how you seem to be such an old soul, to how you always seem to want to be there for people that seem to need a hand, or an ear, or a friend.  I love you for all those things and more.

Earlier today, when your dad and I were talking to you about grades and school and stuff, you seemed to be particularly uncomfortable hearing the words “we love you.”  I don’t know if it is just an age thing, the topic of conversation, or that maybe you didn’t believe the words.

I want you to know that I do love you, an indescribable amount.  While I want you to learn a lot of things in school….that is what I want you to know and believe most of all.  Moreover, what I feel is even more important for you, is that you like and love and take care of yourself, first and foremost.  It took me a long time to understand what this meant, because I didn’t even really ever hear of this concept until I was older. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Tough Conversations

Conversations On Baseball, Zombies, and Death

November 5, 2016

TW: This essay discusses suicide.

By Meg Weber

My daughter was six years old the first time she asked me for details about Melissa’s death. She knew Melissa had been my best friend, that she had died, and that I missed her. I had staunchly avoided any other details.

One morning, just over a year ago, Kai finally voiced her questions. “Why did she die? Did she get sick? Did she want her bones to be a skeleton?” Although we’d talked about scattering Melissa’s ashes, I had purposefully skipped over describing how bodies become ashes.

I hadn’t explained how Melissa died, mainly because walking in the forest on a clear blue sky day is something I want Kai to be excited about, not scared of. I want her to love trees, not fear them. But the day she finally asked her litany of questions, I told her the truth. Melissa had been hiking in a forest and a big part of a tree broke off and fell on her. “Momo, did her blood come out? Momo, why didn’t she just run really fast to get away from the tree? That’s what I would have done.” Continue Reading…