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Guest Posts, Politics, Women

Toile

June 22, 2017
toile

By Jennifer D Munro

“Chanel freed women, and I empowered them.” –Yves Saint Laurent

* * *

I advanced efficiently through Yves Saint Laurent’s explosion of color, crammed into the Seattle Art Museum like Auntie Mame’s walk-in closet: A green Pop Art dress with a bold pink heart over the entire bodice. A hip-length vest made of orange raffia fringe. An ice-blue bow-bustle big enough to cover even my derriere, though nothing in this exhibit would fit me except the mustard-yellow cape of the type worn by heroines flinging themselves off cliffs, melancholy about looking seasick in that color. A Chinese-red jacket.  “Lichen green and moss green chiffon” (from the gallery guide, as if I could tell the difference between lichen and moss greens). And the grids of white and primary colors and bold black lines of the iconic Mondrian (I assumed this was a dead artist and not a Star Trek alien or type of porch column) cocktail dress plastered on Seattle billboards to advertise this unconventional art show.

I’d had no desire to see this haute couture collection, but my friend Irene, equally unconcerned with style—her go-to is Value Village, mine is Sears—had surprised me by urging me to go. Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, we’d joined a peaceable demonstration at the lake we’d spent nearly 30 years walking around together in sweatpants and untinted lip balm. Irene’s hair has been white for almost as long as I’ve known her, though she’s not much older than I. Irene had attended the fashion designer’s exhibit right after the election, because, she said, “I needed to be surrounded by beauty.” 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…

Grief, Guest Posts

Beach Town Liberalism, And An Answer For My Deceased Dad

June 18, 2017
dad

By Deidre Reed

It’s Father’s Day, the first one since my dad passed six months ago. Tomorrow is my birthday.  We’re in church, my mom and me.

I lit a candle for my dad, but by the time we got to the last row where my mom’s wheelchair fits, it had blown out. Being full of magical thinking and even more full of guilt, I spent a good while staring it down, willing it to spontaneously light up again.  Certain the dud wick meant that my dad was still pissed at me from The Big Upstairs.  Maybe I’m still a little pissed at him, too.

Halfway through the sermon, the family to our right – all five of them – doubled over with the giggles. That has to be one of the greatest feelings ever, when you get the giggles in church and just. cannot. stop. I nudged my mom and whispered that it reminded me of that Christmas Eve service, remember?  Where we’d sat behind that lady with one roller left in her hair, right smack in the back of her head? We’d taken turns pretending to pluck it out in slow-motion while stifling snorts.

If you’ve ever known someone with dementia, you know that weird things can set off barking laughter, and that did it.  But when my mom laughs now, it turns into something that sounds like she’s wailing and choking and possibly dying.  It echoes, people sometimes shift and look away. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

Purple Ball Day

June 16, 2017
purple

By Maureen Langloss

One April several years ago, the grocery store near my daughter’s school displayed a bouquet of plastic balls in all shapes and sizes. Spring in round, inflatable form. A particular purple ball caught my eye as I passed to pick Ainsley up from kindergarten. Purple was Ainsley’s favorite color, her only color. The ball registered that first day. Enormous and impractical and unstore-able. I desired it the second. By the third, I was imagining it in my daughter’s tiny, growing hands. On the fourth, I couldn’t sleep with worry that this ball would be gone before I got to it, purchased by someone who wanted it more. But there it was still in the store window the next afternoon, practically glowing. Screaming “AAAHHHHHHHHH.”

I zipped the ball into a giant canvas bag, much like a magician hides the egg in his mouth. Ainsley filled to the brim with curiosity when she saw me carrying it. I opened the bag slowly, with great ceremony, as she peered inside.

“It’s Purple Ball Day!” I announced.

“Purple Ball Day!” she shrieked, like she already knew what that meant. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

In the Palace of Marriage and Commerce

June 14, 2017
palace

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 Meghan O’Dea

For a brief period in my mid-twenties, I worked in an office in the middle floor of what had once been Chattanooga, Tennessee’s grandest department store. It had mostly been renovated into a hip, loft-vibe open office space full of glass and saturated off-primary paint colors, but my favorite part of the whole outfit was the old bridal salon in the far back corner of the building. The plasterwork was crumbling, revealing the lathe beneath, and the pieces that still clung to the studs and timber were covered in beautiful white and silver mylar wallpaper. Huge plaster cornices crowned the ceiling, and slender, simply ornamented columns held up the floors above, converted to expensive condominiums. I loved to stand amid the dirt and debris on the scarred hardwood floors, imagining away the old pool table and cardboard boxes and discarded desks and imagine the space in its heyday, full of chiffon and satin and tulle, the women walking away with candy-striped hat boxes and the sent of lilac and lavender in the air.

It was, by some metrics, the best job I’d ever had. I loved to get dressed in the morning and feel that I was putting on work clothes not just because it was required, but because the position deserved sleek pencil skirts and smart blouses. I loved to hear my high heels clicking on the marble lobby floor in the morning, and that I was able to take an elevator up to my floor. It was the soft echo of affirmation. Finally, there was the morning latte and the after-work martini, the downtown job. I took my credit cards out of my wallet and put them in my underwear drawer. I had managed to purchase a house the summer before, and now I actually felt I could afford it. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Letting Go, Relationships

Lessons for When You Want to Not Want

June 12, 2017

By T.A. Burkholder

  1. Go two hours south to a small college on a hill because a boy you like wants to go there (though the boy won’t go there and the boy won’t like you back).
  2. Before leaving, dig with glee through dusty mounds of dead people’s clothes at the “dollar-a-pound” warehouse. In a sea of jeans and t-shirts, be the one in flowered polyester.
  3. Fall immediately and awkwardly in love with an unattainable, moody artist. Renew this heartbreak regularly with other unattainables.
  4. Stop shaving, stop wearing a bra and repair your glasses with duct tape. Pretend this is because you don’t care what people think.
  5. When you accidentally attract a boy who serenades you, don’t speak. When you show up at his door later, don’t say why. End the year untouched and return home for the summer to watch Jeopardy! with your parents.
  6. Blame everything on your tiny, isolated school and start fresh at a big, city university. As a joke or a social experiment or a cry for attention, tell everyone your name is Bob and stick with it the whole, mostly friendless year. In the fall, return to the gem-green grass of that first small school.
  7. As a joke or a social experiment or a cry for attention, shave your head down to the scalp. Keep it that way even when people call you Sinead. Keep it that way even after your mother worries that people will think she’s a bad mother.
  8. Smoke one cigarette a day while standing in your room singing along to the same Laurie Anderson song. We’re gonna save ourselves. Save ourselves.
  9. Promise yourself, on a regular basis, that today will be the first day of many when you find perfection in silence. No stupid questions. No wrong answers. No conversations that require the treachery of words.
  10. Threaten yourself on a regular basis with the fact that you know where your father keeps his gun.
  11. Instead of kissing the beautiful, complicated, black-haired woman you eat lunch with, pick a fight and never apologize.
  12. Streak frequently in groups both large and small, each time running back towards your clothes a little slower.
  13. Allow a mutual acquaintance to broker a hook up between you and a guy you don’t really like. For a few weeks, let the raw mechanics of your bodies bring you a tight, silent thrill. But remember, he doesn’t need to know your heart is raw and easily bruised. Or that your nerves are mostly burnt-wire black. Or that want – so close to need – winds through you like blood.

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

The Chair

June 11, 2017
chair

By Kirsten Larson

Three days before my mother started to talk to angels, the hospice nurse suggested I get her a recliner. Over the phone, the hospice nurse explained to me that my mother could no longer both lie down and breathe.

That day, instead of eating lunch, I went to The Chair Store, with its unironic name. The sign read “We have over 100,000 chairs in stock.” A store like that would normally repel me.

Inside, a skinny young salesman who wore a thin, short-sleeved, button-down shirt and a sideways smile walked toward me like we had all the time in the world. I waited by the entrance and tried to take in a breath past my throat.

When he got to me he reached his hand out, looked at me, and then pulled it back. “Welcome to The Chair Store. I’m here to help you find what you are looking…”

“I know what I’m looking for,” I said.

I wanted a nice chair for my mom, a chair she would like—a chair that matched the old lady furniture she had left, a blue couch that she loved, and her antique dark wooden side tables. I wanted a chair she could get up and out of easily for when her friends came to visit—something quality, because she deserved every fucking break she could get. That’s what I wanted to say to the salesman, but stress and illness and grief had a way of pounding the nice out of me.

“I’m looking for is a chair for my mother to die in. A recliner. Which way?” I pointed my hand left, then right. The sales clerk’s arms fell to his sides, his mouth dropped open to an O. I felt better.

In the recliner section I sat hard on each chair and kicked the legs out, one after another, until I found the right one. The salesman stayed quiet. Maybe they had over 100,000 chairs in stock, but they had only one that was both soft enough to prevent bedsores on her thin skin and easy enough to get in and out of. And it was ugly—an overstuffed, maroon, synthetic cloth recliner chair that I knew she’d hate. I hated it myself.

I told the salesman that I needed it delivered that day, no matter the cost. I told him if he couldn’t do it, I would send one of my own employees to pick it up. I handed him my credit card and took a call on my cell phone about a work issue while he rang up the purchase. That’s the kind of person I had become.

Usually, I spent the lunch hour with my mom. That day I had called her and explained that I wouldn’t visit until after work because I was going shopping at lunch to “get her a nice chair.” I told her I thought she would like it. I hated myself for saying “nice chair.” I spoke to her like I was talking with a child. She was sixty-five.

To be honest, I was really trying to manipulate her into showing appreciation for the new chair, which I was buying so she could die as comfortably as possible. We never talked openly about her dying. We barely spoke an honest word to each other about her impending death for the entire two years of her illness. We talked around it using our age-old trope, the to-do list.

I loved a to-do list. It made me feel like I was in control, like I could make a difference in the outcome of her illness by being busy. But everything I did for my mother back then took something away from her. The recliner chair was no exception.

While I dealt with getting rid of property, moving her to Oregon, creditors, doctors, prescriptions, medical appointments, medical emergencies, hospice, cremation arrangements, and the like, she continued to act like she would live forever. I let her, something that made me feel more alone than I thought possible.

Over the phone I heard her breathing like an electric teakettle always on boil, “Do you think you could call Dr. Cain and find out if she could put me on that first chemo drug, the one that worked so well?” I heard her roiling breath while I thought up a lie. The familiar churning of pity, anxiety, fear, and sadness made my stomach clench and my fingertips tingle.

“I can do that mom, sure.” But she’d been past any treatment for months.

I was such a fraud.

I didn’t know at the time, but the chair was the last thing I would cross off my to-do list. The only other thing left was to write the obituary. She’d asked me to help with the obituary, but then she started holding conversations, lively and pleasant, with invisible people. “Angels,” the too pleasant hospice worker said. I was angry. Angry that my mother, after all I’d done for her, a woman who’d pouted and argued when she talked with me, was talking so reasonably to “angels.” I was angry that the demented hospice nurse dismissed one of the most profound and disturbing things I’d ever seen with that one word—angels.

+++

The next morning, when the chair arrived, my mother barely registered it. She turned her bald head, her sadder-than-sad face, toward the window.

But she used it.

A day or so later my mother only got out of the chair to take a wheelchair to the bathroom. She worked all of the controls easily and napped often. I felt good about the chair purchase then, despite its appearance.

She spent the last ten days of her life in that chair while I sat across from her on the blue sofa.

On one of those days we had a difficult conversation. She flicked the oxygen tube in front of her with her once elegant hands, then swollen like baseball gloves. “I have something I want to say,” she said.

“What?” I sounded five years old.

“You have become a cold, hard person,” she said. It was true, but it hurt. Stoicism was always my defense against overwhelming emotion. What I really wanted was my mother’s comfort, not her judgment, but I couldn’t ask for it.

My mother, too, was asking me for something, in her familiar roundabout way.

I struggled against the tight pain that clenched my chest. She was the one who had taught me about the uselessness of self-pity. The warm protection of my anger held back the sorrow that I could not bear.

I looked down at my own hands, still young and unlined. “Well, who is the one taking care of you?” I asked.

My hands looked like her hands, strong, but with slender finders. Her hands rested on her swollen abdomen, just five feet from me. The hands that had cleaned and fed me, slapped me, loved me, hands that held cigarettes and too many glasses of scotch. Hands that had cradled her grandson, still slick out of my body. Hands that, for the last two years, had appreciatively dug into what I cooked, helped clean my home while I worked, held tissues to her nose when we argued.

Well, I wanted more arguments. Some perceived or real slights. I wanted it back, that daily shit that falls away when someone is actively dying and all of the love is left out in the open without the protection of irritation. Painful love. Love that was too much for me to have and too much to lose.

For the two years I cared for her, she also cared for me; she took my side on every argument between me and my husband or my son, listened with interest to anything I wanted to talk about, called me several times a day, “Hi honey, it’s Mom.”

If I could write her a perfect ending, she would have had a different daughter, an angel. Someone endlessly patient to deal with her bullshit, someone cheerful, someone who drank less. A daughter who wasn’t rude to chair salesmen and hospice workers. Someone who didn’t flip off slow drivers. Not someone like me. Me, who called the hospice chaplain and asked him to help my mom find peace—I even tried to find someone to fix my mother’s spiritual peace of mind.

If I could rewrite the ending, I would have made her scream and hit and cry. But she sat still in that ugly chair, and I sat on her blue sofa, both in our tense silence, terrified of what sat between us, unspoken, the enormity of the loss.

+++

Even if it were possible to rewrite the ending, there was one thing that happened that I wouldn’t change. Two days before she died, right after the angels came, after we wrote her obituary, she was in the chair, fingernails like chips of bark, pole pine sticks for legs.

Her face was turned away from me, the soft curve of her cheek, my first, hard love. My stomach was in a barber pole twist, my heart a discordant bass drum. There was nothing left but to wait for her to die. Anguish pushed up through my chest.

Her face turned to me and I saw pain. The liquid morphine was beside her, but I didn’t move for it just then because I saw her chin relax into a small smile, her head fell slightly and her eyes went soft on me. Like my own eyes soften on my son, the wonder and beauty of him. My son whom I love more than I thought it possible to love.

I saw that she loved me like that. I didn’t look away.

I slid down to my knees, put both palms in front of me and crawled over to my mother in the chair I bought for her to die in.

I laid my head in her lap. Under my head her body was still and firm. The same lap it had been when I was a child and had trouble sleeping or had an earache. The place where I learned to love stories and songs, my oldest sacred space.

I laid my head in her lap, cried from somewhere down in the animal of me, up through my screwed up face. “I love you so much, Mom. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m just so fucking sorry I can’t help you, this is so unfair,” I yelled, choked on snot and coughed hard between words, words that had cost me so much to hold in. My body was cold to the core with fear and wonder.

“I am going to miss you so much.” My knees shook on the stiff carpet, my chest pressed against the soft arm of the chair. I said these things over and over. Her body, my confessional.

Her hand, falling leaf delicate, quieted my head to her stomach. My mom, soft and slow, touched my head, ran her hands down to the ends of my hair. I let my dying mother comfort me. That time I didn’t pull away first. I knelt like that, into the side of the chair, until my knees stopped hurting and went numb, until her cotton skirt had soaked up my tears and dried.

“I feel like I’ve been a good mother these last two years,” was all she said.

I didn’t pay much attention to those words at the time, but years later when, on an ordinary day, they popped into my head, I understood what she meant. When I took care of her those last two years, I let her into my life. I just let her be my mother. It was the best thing I’d done.

+++

Three in the morning on the day she died, my mother lay in the chair breathing what they call the death rattle. It was just us in the room. I slipped dose after dose of liquid morphine and Ativan under her wooden tongue until her hand stop struggling in mine, and her breathing slowed way down. I told her over and over how much I loved her, soft and calm.

Soon my family arrived along with some of the hospice people I’d pissed off over the last months. We surrounded her in her chair.

My brother sat on one side and I sat on the other. My knees were pressed into the chair’s soft side. We were holding her hands when, comfortable in the chair I bought for her, she died.

For a few hours afterwards we stayed in the room with her still sitting in the chair. Eventually I called the crematorium. They came with a stretcher and, using care, moved her body from the chair onto a stretcher.

One of them remarked that she wore an adult diaper to protect the chair. We may not have talked about her dying, but she planned far enough to preserve the resale value of the chair, something in line with her practical, Midwestern values.

When she died, we divided her belongings as she’d instructed, but no one wanted the chair.  I could not bring myself to bring it into our home, instead put it in the garage where I’d look at it only when I went to and from work. The loss of my mother, while expected, was so very shocking that all I had of her was the absence of her. The chair seemed to have the outline of her body in it.

Sometime later, when I was ready, I put an ad in Craigslist. The chair sold that day.

Kirsten Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. She earned an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. Links to her published essays and stories can be found at kellenlarson.com.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at her signature workshop in Atlanta at Form Yoga on Aug 26 by clicking the picture.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

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, parenting, Tough Conversations

Bedtime

June 7, 2017
bedtime

By Kristin Wagner

When I say goodnight to Christopher, I curl up next to him in his tiny bed. We listen to the first half of the nursery rhyme CD we’ve played every night for the last six years. I stay cuddled with him until the end of “The Three Little Kittens”; I use my hand as a puppet version of the disappointed mother cat mouthing the words, “And you shall have no pie” then I use my hand to kiss his cheeks as I tell him I love him and sneak over to Nicholas’s bed.

I rub Nicholas’s back and talk with him about his day until “The Wheels on the Bus” finishes up. We have a ritual of conversation that is identical every night, and is repeated on days when he feels most anxious or sad. I ruffle his hair and say, “I love you. Sweet dreams and good night. I’ll see you in the morning,” which he then repeats verbatim, “I love you. Sweet dreams and good night. He asks me, “Are you staying up?” “Yep.” I then wander back over to Christopher for one last hug before I turn on the seven minute CD. As a final reassurance Christopher often throws an arm around my neck tightly then releases me with a sweet but sassy, “You can go now.” Sometimes he has already fallen asleep and I sneak a kiss on his forehead then tiptoe away.

One night, when Nicholas was nine and Christopher was seven, I went to give Christopher his last hug. He perched a little stuffed owl named Syrup on my nose and said in Syrup’s high voice, “Hi, how are you today?”

That moment fell over me in a sort of crushing happiness that felt a little unfamiliar and scary. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts

Bottomless

June 5, 2017
drugs

By Sailor Holladay

One of the hardest things I’ve done is high school step aerobics on mushrooms. Where was the sweat coming from, my body, my mouth or somewhere else?

I didn’t know how to come to school not high. The piece of land I lived on, strewn with busses, trailers, and porto-o-potties, was a place for holding rock concerts and outdoor raves, not for supporting me or the other kids living there in succeeding at school. The Valley was full of children doing whippets inside of tents that had lost their poles and men around campfires peaking on LSD while wearing sleeping bags as pants. There was no homework help. Instead we mixed solids and liquids and tried to feel something.
As a kid I was afraid all of the time. Some of the time it was that fear that pulses inside your butt, but most of the time it was the fear of getting caught even if I wasn’t doing anything worth catching. Drugs numb that fear, but then give you a legitimate reason to worry about getting caught.

Going to school and caring about it made my life harder at home. Whenever I tried to tell my parents new found information like grass was green and the sky was blue, they looked at me through the pot smoke with a blank stare, “Everybody knows the grass is blue and the sky is green, Sailor.” The rage that filled me got me out of there, if only physically. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Ghosts And The Perfect Puddle Dive

June 4, 2017

By Debra Feiner-Coddington

Inspired by Edna St Vincent Milay’s, What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII) 

“… but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain…”

Part I – My World is Full of Ghosts Tonight…

Our house is getting a new room. Built to make our lives easier, it will stand in front of the old glass double doors dented and scratched by 30 years of assorted cats and dogs.  A portico is what I thought it was called but recently learned it is a vestibule – if one cared about accuracy in names – because it will be enclosed when it’s completed.  A portico would be open sided.  Built to collect pebbles and mud from our boots before we enter our house. Built to hold the mess scattered through our lives and our kitchen: shoes, coats, hats, containers overly full of recycling.  Built to make our lives easier, our home is getting a new room.

Made of wide glass panels, its roof is open and light.  Lovely. My husband built it from galvanized steel sheet he carefully measured, cut, laid and folded to fit glass inlaid with chicken wire, like the glass protecting hallways in the little apartment house in the Bronx where I grew up. The first project he’s done for himself in 25 years, he stands under it looking up through the wired-glass at the threatening clouds. Under the safety of his new roof, arms folded across his chest he surveys his work and radiates satisfaction. His chest rumbles, “Hooommmmme.” It is his home. The home he opened to me so generously when we met 40 years ago. The home that grew our business, our children, our lives. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Self-Care at the Hibachi on Hixson Pike, Because Sometimes You Just Can’t

June 2, 2017
text

By DeNeisha Stewart

“Girls night tonight! Me and A’Lauryn were thinking Hibachi at seven. That okay with you?” Kaylor asks. She stands at the changing table to take care of the second to last diaper of the day.

“That way we can get the rice to absorb some of the alcohol. I have to tell you about what happened with Brandon. She pulls Sophia off the table, making sure to keep on her glove to cover angry, red patches from the Hand, Foot, Mouth rash that Sophia has on her upper arms.

“Yes! Hibachi definitely works for me. Matter of fact, I’m gone get a Mai Tai to go with it after the week I’ve had. Between these summer classes and these kids and their diseases, I need a few drinks,” I say. I turn my head to look over at the seven kids watching ABC Elmo on the Ipad.

“Jacob, what did I tell you about hitting your friends? You use soft touches or you keep your hands to yourself.”

“Go find somewhere else to play,” I walk with his little fingers curling around mine to the library center. I plop him down dramatically in the child size blue chair and hand him Hands Are Not for Hitting.

“I definitely need a drink.” I say under my breath as I tilt my head back to rest next to Maxie, the green painted dragon, Kaylor drew on the wall. I lift up my left hand, roughly rubbing my forehead to dig into my eyebrow bone.

“Jesus Christ, Jacob, sit on you bottom in the chair. You know what, fall if you want. I don’t care.”

I hear my phone signaling a text message as I bend down to pull my black skater skirt up past my calf. After I finally get it up, tucking it firmly under my breasts, I see a notification from my granny, Dora, and then I notice the time, 7:00.

Shit, I’m already late and I really need tonight. Granny’ll have to wait.

I scramble to grab my black, low top Vans from under the desk chair; I sit down to slide them over my ashy feet as I stand to swipe the baby oil gel off my shelf. Squatting down, I quickly dab on some gel on the skin exposed to nosy eyes.

Picking up my keys, I look around, trying to remember something I’m forgetting. I grab for my purse on the foot of my bed and it falls, spilling stuff everywhere. Shit!

I slam stuff into my bag and toss is over my shoulder. I hear a PING as I rush through the living room and kitchen, running through the stench of my roommates’ leftover dead chickens and old breakfast tacos.

I really wish their mamas taught them how to take out the trash.

I notice the elevator closing, and I yell out for however was in it to hold it as I rush to get in. As the elevator, starts to sink towards the parking garage, before I open the text from Granny.

June 11th 7:10 pm
Text from Dora Hunter
He’s Dying. Dyson is dying.

“What?” I say to aloud, brows sitting low, nearly closing my eyes. What’s she talking about? I hear the rustling of fabric on jeans when the person in the elevator turns to be with a raised eyebrow.

“Nothing,” I say.

7:11
What’s wrong with the dog?

7:11
Text from Dominique Stewart
What happened?

I hop in the car, lip the ignition, and immediately put it in reverse. I plug in my IPhone to the auxiliary, cutting the bass up all the way, before I switch gears, I scroll to find the playlist I want before I look again at the text message, as I sit idle in the middle of the lane in the garage.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
What’s wrong with him, ma?

Looking at my mother’s text message,

Thank God Ma is handling it.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris Stewart
Ma?

I hit 40 in the 25 on Bailey Ave. merging left to hop on the highway to get to Ichiban: The Japanese Steakhouse in Hixson, TN.

7:14
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
MAMA? Text back or answer the phone. One.

On the highway, I hear another Ping. I reach down blindly; I pick up my phone hoping it is a text from my granny. Swerving close the street, I hear my tires bumping along as I cross over into the other lane by accident, jumping back over when I hear a car horn behind me.

“Shit!”

Thank you Jesus no one was there.

7:18
Text from Kaylor
Ok. Hurry up. A’Lauryn wants to know
about Brandon and I have to tell you guys at
the same time. Plus, they won’t seat us till you get here.

I look down at my phone quickly, sending out a text out a reply before I get to the turnpike. PING. Glancing down, phone in my hand I see another text from my grandmother. I wait to reply as I straighten the car, hitting 60 to try to merge as the car behind me speeds up to avoid letting me on.

You thought. Always want to speed up after the fact.

7:30
Granny? What’s wrong? Has he been sick?
Did a car hit him or something?

Finally at Ichiban, I hop out of the car to meet my co-workers.

I see Kaylor and A’Lauryn, sitting next to each other one, phones in hand. Probably Snapchatting.

Hey. She is going to seat us now. Come on! Snapchat can wait. Kaylor, you have to tell us about Brandon. What did he do this time?” I say.

I look over at A’Lauryn grey contacts under her false lashes, “How you been, Love? I haven’t seen you in a while. You still observing at the elementary school?” I ask.

“It’s good. I am working with 3rd graders at Brown right now. Still shadowing the teacher,” A’Lauryn replies.

“Do you like it?” I ask.

“Yea, its ok. I think I like high school better than elementary though. Yesterday, one of the little fuckers had the nerve to call me a bitch. And too my face, at that,” she says.

“Seriously, what did you do? ” I ask.

I hear her starting to respond as I sit down to the table for eight and hear another PING. I reply to the waiter, “Yes. Can I have water, please? With a lot of lemon?”

7:55
Text from Dora Hunter
I think it was cancer. He is has not been himself
the last couple of months. Not been eating.
He’s been sleeping a lot. That is just not my Dy-Dy.

“So, Kaylor what happened with Brandon?”

“Y’all my grandma’s dog is dying and she’s been texting me about it for almost an hour now,” I tell them.

“Really, what’s wrong with him?” A’Lauryn asks.

“She just texted me that she thinks it some type of cancer. Apparently he’s been sick a while. just never knew. He was fine when I saw him in March.”

“That’s so sad. I would be at home sobbing if Jim was dying of cancer,” Kaylor says. She looks over at me. “I bet your grandma is doing the same. How long has she had him?”

8:12
I’m sorry, Granny. Are you ok?

“He is about 8 years old. A Cocker Spaniel,” I tell her. “How long do they live on average, I wonder?”

“Google is your friend, my dear.” A’Lauryn says.

Typing Cocker Spaniel in my phone, I pull up the wiki page. “It says they live from 12 to 15 years. Well, shit.”

I look up to the waiter standing over me, before I give him my order, “Yes, can I have the steak and shrimp with fried rice? And can I get Broccoli and Mushrooms added to the other veggies? Thank you.”

I hear a PING.

8:23
Text from Dora Hunter
I am fine. Going to spend a little more time
with Dy.

“A’Lauryn, how is the boyfriend doing?”

This could not have happened at the worse time, I think to myself as Kaylor and A’Lauryn Snapchat the sashimi the waiter just dropped at the table.

I take my chopsticks and grab a piece of yellowtail and dip it into the soy sauce.

“So, Brandon?” I say, looking over at Kaylor, “What happened?”

“Hold on, I need to order a drink first,” she says. She raises her hand to get the waiter’s attention. “Can I get a Heineken and a lime, if you have it?”

“I want a Mai Tai.” “And, a vodka and water,” A’Lauryn and I say before the waiter can speak.

8:23
Ok, Granny. I’m out with friends, but
definitely let me know if you need me.

“I.Ds,” the waiter ask, hand out as we dig through out purses for wallets.

“So, basically, when I went home to Nashville, last weekend Brandon shows up on my mother’s front door step, high as a fucking kite on some molly trying to talk to me. We broke up like six months ago and ultimately, he end up busting the front window out of my mother’s boyfriend car when he tried to get him to leave. Anyways, the police showed up and he started crying a shit before the police could even ask us what happened. Then…”

8:36
Text from Dora Hunter
K.

“Sorry it’s my grandma again,” I let them know, rubbing the grease from my full face of make-up off my phone.

“So, what are you going to do about Brandon? Did you step-dad press charges?”

“Naw,” Kaylor says, “I told him not too.”

“Why, I would have had his ass arrested so fast. He disrespecting your mama’s house, that shows his lack of respect for you,” I tell her. “Don’t you think so A’Lauyren? That shit is mad disrespectful.”

8:38
Text from Latonia-Harris Stewart
Ma?

20 minutes later, the chef comes to the grill, steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops and veggies on the cart in front of him.

“Ok, people how do you want these steaks cooked?” he asks.

“Can I get that rare, please?”

“Rare?”

“Yes.”

“Ok,” He picks up a piece of raw meat from his cart and moves it towards my plate. “Here you go. It’s still mooing for you.”

8:52
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Do you need me to come over there
with you, ma? Is someone with you?

Laughing, I say, “Toss it on that grill for about a minute and I’ll take it.”

He replaces the steak and begins to spread some oil over the grill.

“Ready? Watch your eyebrows people,” he says.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me?

“Ok. People, I have sauces. Mustard Sauce?”

I shake my head, “No, thank you.”

“Hot Sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Ma?

“No thanks.”

“Ginger sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me? Alright?
I’m serious.

Looking at him, A’Lauryn and my head shift side to side, as Kaylor says, “Please.”

“Ok, Folks. I have that white sauce for you.”

We all nod our head yes. “Please,” I say. “Can I get both trays of white sauce?”

I hear another PING.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Dora Hunter? Are you ignoring me?

Damn, Grandma, respond already.

I pick up my glass and take a sip.

Well at least Mama is trying tot take care of her.

The waiter then serves the fried rice and veggies. “Ok. So you wanted that rare, right?

I nod my head, before I dip my mushroom into the white shrimp and mayonnaise sauce.

“Hmmmm… Yummy,” I shift in my sit doing my happy food dance; lips puckered, shoulders rocking up one side at a time. I take my chopsticks and grab another piece, mouth open wide.

Thank goodness, Mama has her. I hate for my grandma to be sad, but I need tonight to happen. 

 9:17
Ma, HAVE YOU SPOKE TO GRANNY?
She hasn’t replied to me.
She hasn’t said anything.

I hit send, then moan as I take my first bite into that rare steak covered in that white shrimp sauce; my happy dance continues.

Then, ten minutes later, I hear a PING.

9:25
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Yes. I am sitting over here with her now.

9:31
Multi-Media Message from Dora Hunter
“Goodbye, my friend. Dyson. I love you. Goodbye.”

I gag on a bite of steak as I realize what I am looking at. Oh My Shit, Grandma. I am looking at the photo she sent with her voice recording.

I see a picture of Dyson lying there. Head resting on a white towel, eyes blank and devoid of that teasing joy that he gets when he sees my granny’s face. White fur blending into the sandy brown coat. I can’t believe he is gone, but…but… wait! Why in the world am I looking at a picture of a dead dog?

“Hold on y’all. Remember about my granny’s dog? Look,” I say as I turn the phone around so they can see the picture and hear my grandmother’s words.

“Shit, Nesh. She is sounds so sad,” Kaylor says.

“Really? So looking at that ain’t weird at all for you?”

“No, her dog died. She’s upset. Its understandable,” Kaylor tells me.

“Fuck that, that was gross. I definitely need another drink. I can’t deal,” I murmur, as I look behind me to catch the waiter’s attention. “Can I please get another Mai Tai, extra rum?”

“DeNeisha, what’s wrong with you? I’ve never seen you like this,” A’Lauryn ask.

“I have two papers due in three days and I haven’t started with either. Then those sick kids and their ‘I don’t see their sickness’ parents. It’s exhausting. So, all I want to do is get drunk and forget about all of that for a couple of hours, “ I say, “ And plus, I didn’t even like the dog that much anyways. He was always knocking the trash over to dig through it and scratching up the carpet when I closed him out of my room and guess who get in trouble for the carpet being fuck up? My ass. He was just annoying and needy and I wasn’t here for that, but my grandma loves him. He kept her company when granddaddy is gone over night driving for Old Dominion, so I can see why she is sad, just maybe not tonight, ok?” I pick up my drink, place the straw between my lips and sip until it’s gone.

“DeNeisha, you are so rude,” A’Lauryn sighs, “Be nice sometimes.”

“You should you know. Be nice, I mean.  But come on let’s hop to.. I got a bottle of vodka and Crown Royal in the freezer. We can find ourselves in those,” Kaylor says, “ I have to tell yall what else happened that weekend after Brandon left.”

Two o’clock, the next afternoon, I roll over to rub the crust out of my eyes, and I can taste the sour remnants of puke as I yawn and feel the familiar pulse of nausea in my belly. I grab my phone and notice twelve new text and my eyes focus in on the last one.

June 11th 10:28 p.m.
Text from Dora Hunter
We are going to bury Dyson in
the backyard at 12. We are suppose
to say a few words so, I hope you can be there.

Jeez, why is she so dramatic? Ok, DeNeisha. Apparently, you are being rude. Let’s stop! Hold on! Think… Take a breath! DeNeisha, we are going to play nice. Let’s call granny and see if she is ok.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Love. Sorry for calling so late. You alright?” I ask her, voice rusty from rounds of drunken karaoke.

“Yes.”

“I am sorry about Dyson,” I say as I yawn once more and wince from the smell, “I hate for you to be sad.”

DeNeisha is a senior the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga studying Language & Literature alongside Creative Writing. Growing up, she found herself exploring the fictional worlds of J.K Rowling and Nora Roberts as a way of escaping into a world that was more liberating than her own. While adulting, DeNeisha immerses herself in the hysteria of toddlerhood as a childcare teacher. When adulting is over, DeNeisha likes to devote herself to a delicious meal and the occasional adult beverage. This is her first publication.

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Anxiety, Guest Posts

My Not So Hidden Anxiety

May 31, 2017
anxiety

By Sara Ohlin

“Oh! We’re going to be late. We’re going to be late!” Lily’ s panicked voice rose above the din of skiers making their way toward the lodge mixed with the sounds of cars parking, children laughing.

I grasped her small, warm hand and squeezed it gently, as much for my own comfort as for hers. “Honey, we’ll be fine,” I said in the calmest voice I could fake for her. I was good at faking. “Jasper is the only one who has a lesson. We made it just in time, we’ll get him settled, then you and Dada can get your gear and go ski. We’re fine.”

My insides mimicked her panic. Officially we were on time. As in, my son’s lesson starts at 11:30 and it was now 11:30, but we still had to get him checked in and get his snowboard gear on. Late was more like it. Not as in we’re going to be late, but we were late. I hated being late. It made the bile rise in my throat and I wanted to spit it out on whoever was closest. I hated being late to the point I often didn’t react well if I knew it was a possibility. I looked down at my daughter, her blue eyes closed tight in the face of the sun, or impending lateness. I couldn’t tell, but in that second I felt the stab in my heart. Oh no! I thought, she’s just like me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love

How to Love Everyone in 8 Simple Steps

May 29, 2017
mother

By Michelle Riddell

“Simple, but not easy…” –The Big Book

Step 1: Love yourself. Love your strengths, love your flaws, love your effort when you fail and your giant streak of procrastination. Love your body at its fattest, its sickest, its weakest. Love your worst decisions, your selfish twenties, your break-ups and divorces. Love thirteen-year-old you whom nobody else could; love addicted you, promiscuous you, you at rock bottom. Love pregnant you, anxious you, infertile you—and do it so fiercely that self-protection is reflexive.

Step 2: Love your parents. Love what they gave you—be it twenty-three unmated chromosomes or the bounty of a happy and secure life. Love them whether they abandoned you, adopted you, or stayed and made it worse; love what they sacrificed for you, or took from you, or promised disingenuously. Love them because they’re frail and old and can’t hurt you ever again. Love them because they died before you had the chance to make things right. Love them because they’re here right now, supporting you as always. Continue Reading…