Browsing Category

Relationships

Abuse, Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

Swing

February 8, 2017
swing

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.

CW: This essay discusses abusive relationships.

By Laura Zak

Nana had a swing in her backyard. And Dad said once it was fresh white, back when he was a boy, running off in the woods to see which of his friends could pee the farthest.

And when I was thirteen, the paint flaked off under my fingernails. And sometimes I let my fingernails scratch the metal just to hear them screech.

And my younger sister Jessica and I used to swing and eat Klondike bars. And Nana would squeeze herself between us, her feet skimming the ground. And once she told us “Girls, you never let a guy hit you.”

And I laughed because I thought she was joking.

That was five years after Britney released “Hit me Baby One more Time.” Nana still hated Britney for her song. We ate Klondike bars and Nana told us that if some guy ever tried that, just say: “listen bub, see my finger? See my thumb? See my fist? You better run.”

And my laugh was fresh white paint. Of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And I don’t know why Stanley kicked Jessica out that night. We were both living in Lubbock, our hometown, and she called, asking if I would pick her up. Her voice shook. She was only eighteen.

And I did pick her up, of course I picked her up, I ran out to my car, barefoot, jacket flying open. And my hands didn’t work well putting in the keys. And the street lamps were heavy and parking lot held more emptiness than anyone could bare as I drove fast fast to his apartment.

Jessica waited under a carport. Her eyes were small, her eyes were scared.

When I hugged her, she thanked me for picking her up. When I asked if she was okay, she said she was fine. She never said why she had all her clothes in her backpack or if this was the first time.

At first Mom and Dad liked Stanley okay. I met him when Dad cooked us all eggplant parmesan. Stanley was seventeen. He wore a button up shirt. He said lots of yes sirs and no ma’ams.

Jessica had told us he would be bringing his baby and he did. The baby’s eyes were small, her eyes were scared. She cried and cried and cried.

And once he left, Mom said told me she didn’t like how Stanley was not-even-graduated and had a baby. And I knew what Mom meant was not-even-graduated and no-ring-on-his-finger with a baby.

The first time she and Dad did it was their wedding night.

And when Jessica and I were fourteen, fifteen, we bought V-rings and promised we’d stay virgins until our wedding nights. And I know now the V-rings weren’t born for our minds alone.

But I don’t know when Stanley changed. When he went from being that sing-song motion on the backyard swing, to nails and nails and nails making the metal screech.

And once Dad made shrimp pasta for dinner. And Jessica and I stood in the kitchen, the fan ticking off its rocker.  And I remember the light spinning on her face. And under her eye, a yellow bruise.

And I asked her what happened. She said she fell going down the stairs.

And she’s never been good at lying. But I believed her because falling was too cliché, as unbelievable as Britney really asking some guy to hit her again.

Because, of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And one night at Nana’s house, Jessica locked herself in the bathroom. She thought everyone was sleeping. I heard her go and my eyes opened wide like street lamps. I was scared. So I snuck out of bed, crept to the bathroom door.

And her crying stopped my feet. And I listened to her cry, her sobs holding more emptiness than I could stand as she begged Stanley to take her back. Please please please please please, she said. Over and over and over.

I know there were many times she cried in a bathroom, please please pleasing Stanley not to break up with her.

And I still don’t know how or why they finally did break up. If she left him or if he kicked her out for good. I was in Costa Rica, living in a house fenced with barbed wire and glass, when Mom told me. When I came home, Jessica only told me they’d gotten a restraining order.

And once Jessica and I were dancing at a club called Heaven. Across the bright, drunken faces, she saw Stanley. Jessica said “we have to go now.” And we did.

And once, years later, Mom said “he almost killed my baby girl” and her lip shook.

And once, years later, under the fan blades and the light, Jessica told me that Stanley beat her. Sometimes it was just because she took too long putting gas in the car.

And I don’t know how to ask Jessica about the rest. So our silence rocks back and forth between us. And there are no streetlamps. Just an emptiness we’ve learned to stand. And my imagination colors in all the empty space with dull metal and broken glass.

Laura Zak calls Lubbock, Texas her homeland. She now lives in Moscow Idaho and has realized the most striking similarity between Lubbock and Moscow is their respective spots in their respective state’s panhandles. Laura enjoys to cook with pans that have handles, is in her third year at the University of Idaho’s MFA program studying creative nonfiction. If she had to describe her writing, she would say that she’s interested in exploring sexuality, desire, play, and magical worlds.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts March 3-5, 2017.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Guest Posts, Relationships

Dangerous Mouths

December 11, 2016
zombie

By Kimi Eisele

On your journey you will come to a time of waking. The others may be asleep. Or you may be alone.
-Muriel Rukeyser

One summer I watched 60 hours of the zombie apocalypse on Netflix. Four seasons of The Walking Dead. Then, because I couldn’t wait six months for the next season, I watched that on free TV web sites, which, because they were illegal, shuffled on and offline in mysterious fashion.

I’d make popcorn and pour myself a glass of wine then move the laptop to the coffee table and sit and eat and drink and watch. Usually two episodes in a row. Sometimes three. Or four.

Watching between two and six episodes of a show at one sitting is considered “binge-watching,” according to a 2014 Netflix survey. Of those surveyed, 61 percent reported binge-watching regularly, and 73 percent said they felt good about it. Binge-watching was a better way to experience a serial drama; it offered a welcome refuge from modern-day, busy life.

I didn’t watch to escape busyness. I was trying to recover a mangled heart and didn’t know how else to staunch the bleeding. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Relationships

Deconstructed: The Adventures of Co-Parenting And Running A Business With My Ex-Husband

December 8, 2016

By Ally Hamilton

You know the fairy-tale about the princess who marries the prince and has babies, and opens a yoga studio with him and gets divorced and has to figure out how to keep it all going? Yeah, me neither, although I’m living that story now.

When I tell people I’m in business with my ex and we have two young kids, they say something along the lines of, “Wow. How does THAT work?!” Most of the time it works really well. Of course I have my moments when I’m reminded of why we’re divorced, and I might even curse him with every expletive I can think of, but those moments are few and far between. I’m sure he has his moments, too.

The thing is, my life looks nothing like any five-year plan I ever would have devised, and nothing like the picture I had in my head of “how things should be”. Growing up, I went back and forth between my mom’s and my dad’s, three nights here, four nights there, switching that fourth night every other week. If you’ve never lived that way, it’s crazy-making. I was forever forgetting my keys and finding myself locked out, or leaving something essential at one place or the other. The rules were different in each household, as was the energy. When I was at my dad’s I missed my mom. When I was at my mom’s, I worried about my dad. When my step-parents joined the circus, it got even crazier. My mom and stepmom did not like each other, and did not hide that fact from me. My dad said disparaging things about my step-dad. You know who never said a bad word about anyone to me, or within my earshot? My step-dad, and I remember that to this day.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Green is the Color of My Lover’s Eyes

December 7, 2016
green

By Madhvi Ramani

Berlin is a city built on swamp land. In summer, the lakes ripple dark green, leaves turn in the sunlight, weeds spread like thrush. Sometimes, the smell of sewers wafts through the streets. Even behind sunglasses, I catch the glisten of sweat on skin, and my body stirs.

I haven’t had sex for months. Not since the last relationship singed my insides. My body retreats, deferring to the wisdom of my mind. Never again. Touching another human will hurt, eventually.

Still, as the days stretch and the heat intensifies, so does my longing. My fingertips tingle, reaching for contact. Maybe all I need to cool myself down is a drink with a man. I decide to go on a date. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

House of Mirrors

November 9, 2016

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 Premala Matthen

“You’re just like me,” my mother tells me.

Sometimes, rarely, I see her face when I look in the mirror. But I am often asked— by friends, by classmates, by strangers on the street —if I was adopted. I know why they ask, but she pretends she doesn’t.

“Nobody can tell you’re not white,” she says to me. It feels like a lie. “Everyone thinks you’re southern Italian.”

The dissonance is paralyzing.

As an adult I read parenting books, even though I don’t have children. I am convinced that I need to re-parent myself, though I don’t know why. My breath catches when I read: a child needs a mother who is attuned to her. She needs a mirror, so she can see who she is.

Sometimes I see my face when I look at her. When I am four, I decide that I am a writer, and she helps me send my story to a publisher. She makes me feel like the rejection letter is just as exciting as a publication would have been. Real writers get rejected; I am a real writer now. I’m nine when my first poem is published. She makes me feel like the world has been enriched by my words. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Independent Woman Still Wants the Right Man

October 19, 2016
relationship

By Chelsey Drysdale

“From a simple supply and demand point of view, women do have something to worry about,” Stanford economist Paul Oyer said earlier this year during an interview with the Dear Sugar Radio podcast. Based on his research, scarcity in the straight world is real; there’s an imbalance when it comes to women seeking men vs. men seeking women.

Oyer’s data supporting the notion “all the good ones are taken” confirmed what I’d been thinking for years.  I found it oddly reassuring, as if a doctor had finally diagnosed unique symptoms of which there appeared to be no real origin.

“…and it gets much worse as [women] age,” Oyer said. “The numbers change dramatically starting really at age 30, but once you hit 40, it’s just pretty dramatic.”

I nodded as I drove near my tiny studio apartment in Long Beach, where I worked and lived alone.

Finally, I thought. Proof of what I already know. I’ve often thought, I’ve aged out of the market.

Maybe this information serves to reinforce my fear of “getting back out there,” providing me with an excuse to hide in an impenetrable bubble. The pain of loss is excruciating; the pain of loss multiple times is unbearable. But loneliness is debilitating too, and I don’t want to be alone forever. It’s not in my nature. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Neurological Connection

September 28, 2016
leave

By Jaden Ralph

I let go. But he let go first. I think of the words I said that marked the end with a bruised tongue.

I sat on top of him and held his face close to mine. His tears were rolling in between my fingers and his cheeks. They loosened my grip and when he shook his head, it was harder to hold on.

He said, “You don’t love me the way I need you to.”

Months later I sat across from him on the bed that held us through our entire relationship.

I said, “I don’t know how to be happy. I don’t even know what happiness is, really.”

He said, “Well, you know that’s not what I need right now.”

I left. I drove. I heaved. I woke up. I drank. I hurt -myself, for hurting him. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Red Light, Green Light

September 14, 2016
relationship

By Kate Fussner

The summer after twelfth grade was all red light, green light. We both took jobs as swim instructors at our school’s day camp, teaching three year olds to “swim” by blowing bubbles in the too cold mornings and too sweaty afternoons. You told me we should carpool, you know, you said, to help the environment. You were preparing for a degree in the environmental sciences. I knew it was a lie and told you in my head, or to spend seven extra minutes with me. I was preparing for a degree in Women’s Studies, in more ways than one. But still, I let you drive me.

Every morning was red light: small talk, chitchat, and substance-less reactions to day camp gossip. We slipped into the water on opposite sides of the pool and called the groups of nervous children into the pool by their group names: mice, chipmunks, puppies, and kittens. No matter that most of these children were as averse to water as their namesakes. We smiled, blew bubbles, and played endless games of red light, green light across the width of the pool. We faked joyful laughs at the kids’ “progress” (we had no idea how to teach swimming, so our games were the best that we had). I tried not to look at your breasts in your swimsuit. You warned me when my cheeks would redden in the sun.

Every drive home, I held my breath for your green light. I sat in the passenger seat and played the game with you. Would you invite me over? Would we end up sedating the nerves of our attraction with the liquor your parents never touched anyways? Or drive, perhaps, with smoke coming out of the windows and your hand reaching over to my leg, a light squeeze that you were enjoying the ride? Would we end up pressed against each other, holding our breaths to mask the pounding in our chests? Or would you say, I’m beat, drop me off, and let me wonder if you’d text me later, when you found no better plans. Like kids in the pool, anxious for the next instruction, I waited for your color call. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Love in the Time of Ebola

August 28, 2016

By Brandel France de Bravo

One late night, a small, jittery man cornered me outside a friend’s apartment building and held a broken bottle to my face. I had no purse so he asked me to empty my pockets. Then he pointed to my hand and said in a Spanish accent: The ring. Give me the ring. My friend upstairs heard a woman’s scream sear the air like acid: “I thought someone had died.”

The mugging occurred in New York, a few days after landing. The relinquished ring was the last piece of jewelry I had left. The rest had been stolen from my suitcase somewhere between N’djili airport in Africa and the carousel at JFK. Crossing the Atlantic, I had gained five hours, but lost the necklace and earrings Mark had given me. The engagement ring, too, had been from Mark. Made of 18 karat gold and wenge wood, we had designed it together over scotch after a long day at the office where we both worked.

We were two Americans living in an African country banded by the equator, fighting a new disease called AIDS.  I had just arrived, fresh from graduate school in public health; Mark, who was seventeen years older, had been living there for nearly two decades. He was confident yet self-effacing, and smiled at me in a way no man my age ever did. Fluent in French and one of the local languages, he knew how to navigate the endemic corruption. He shared an office with Ministry health officials, and became my man on the inside. He praised me and my organization to the officials and divulged their private comments to me over dinner. Before long, I was deemed “indispensable,” my organization’s proposal was funded, and my presence in-country assured. But our collusion in matters of work wasn’t the only reason we had kept our engagement secret.

Mark wasn’t exactly single. He lived with a woman he had met in the interior and invited to the capital. “We sleep in the same bed but we haven’t made love in three years.” I was young and didn’t know any men who said “make love.” Unable to bear children of her own, Mark’s companion helped care for the three he had fathered with another woman.  Mark met many women as he crisscrossed the country in his Land Rover, chasing down small pox cases and overseeing vaccination teams. In the country that was then called Zaire, needles brought health but also disease. In 1976, some nuns giving vitamin injections to pregnant women precipitated the world’s first Ebola outbreak. Mark’s oldest child was just a toddler, still living with her mother, and Mark had not yet met his future companion.

“We’re more like roommates or friends now,” he assured me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Old Dog

June 13, 2016
relationships

By Angie Pelekidis

In my late twenties, I lived in the semi-buried basement apartment of a three-family home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Residing with me was my elderly dog, Shem, who was half-German Shepherd and half Doberman. He was a handsome mutt, with the black and brown markings of a Doberman, but the stockier build of a GSD. One ear was a floppy undocked Dobie ear, while the other stood upright, which I thought softened his intimidating appearance. Except people often crossed the street when we approached, though Shem was harmless. Not long after he turned fourteen, he had to be euthanized because he could no longer walk, and had lost the spark of life in his eyes. During his long life, he was a difficult dog to own –intelligent, destructive, and needy. My father often advised me to “Get rid of him,” in his Greek-accented English, as if Shem was a non-working appliance. And yet, never during the course of our tumultuous years together did I consider abandoning him.

Typically, I came home from a long day at work to find some sort of unpleasant surprise left for me or created by Shem. At some point not long before my arrival on one particular day, he signed his liquid signature on the hardwood floor of the apartment. The meandering path of pee stretched from my front door, through the living room, and into the adjacent kitchen. There, the pale blue linoleum flooring caused the puddlets to appear green.

I walked through the living room to the kitchen, carefully avoiding the wet spots. Under the sink, I found a paper towel roll and tore off the plastic wrap of the second one I’d gone through in the past week. I unraveled the roll at one end of the trail in the kitchen all the way to my front door without bothering to break off a piece at a time. Then, I did this again in reverse.

In his thirteenth year, during a conversation with my best friend when I complained to her of Shem’s behavior, she suggested that maybe it was time to put him to sleep. It came out sounding more like a statement than a question. I was sure as she made this comment that vague recollections of all the trouble Shem had put me through over the years, including his destruction of some part of every apartment I lived in during my early to late twenties, and instances of his running away, drifted through her mind. “Who’s gonna marry you, with that dog?” my father often said, assuming that marriage was a huge concern and that my ideal prospective husband would dislike dogs as much as he did.

I ignored her suggestion because Shem had been a part of my daily existence since my father brought him to me as an eight-week old puppy. He’d showed up with him at our country house upstate, having procured from who-knows where. I’m sure he imagined Shem would be an outdoor dog who never besmirched our home’s interior. And most likely he found him to prevent me from spending money on a purebred dog, something my frugal father, who had grown up during the Great Depression and Nazi invasion of Greece, thought was a waste.

I didn’t give my friend’s suggestion a second thought. There is always so much doubt and selfishness that comes into play at the end of an old pet’s life: uncertainty over whether you’re doing the right thing by euthanizing them because you have no way of knowing how much they’re suffering, and selfishness because you can’t bear the thought of having something you are attached to severed from your existence. The abstract concept of “never” only becomes concrete when you fully realize you will never see a being you love again.

I used the tip of my shoe to move sections of the paper towel from side to side. Then, I gingerly bunched it up hoping it had absorbed all the liquid on the floor. I would have to mop again, the second time I’d done this that week. I hated that no matter how often I did, my apartment still smelled like an old dog.

I was accustomed to finding this or worse when I came home. Shem, who weighed 90 pounds and had been neutered since puppyhood, always had a problem with marking his territory indoors. As he grew older, I took him to several vets, read many dog books, and always made sure we took long and frequent daily walks, but nothing changed his behavior. Once, when we went to my sister’s for the holidays, he marked her Christmas tree. He was never invited to her house again.

On this day, he was hiding when I came home, but I knew where to find him. Once, during a thunderstorm, he burrowed a hole through the sheetrock in the back of my bedroom closet and into a two-foot square space between the closet and the wall of the house. He wedged himself into this small space almost every day after I left for work as his separation anxiety became worse with age. When he was younger, I only had to worry about storms or Fourth of July fireworks triggering it, but later, my absence set it off. Often, when I was home during a storm, I perched on the edge of the tub while Shem sat in it trembling uncontrollably. Drugs helped, but I wondered, was a virtually paralyzed dog better than a frightened one? Still, I sometimes gave them to him because sleeping at night seemed to help me do my job.

Years later, I’d learn that my reassuring him during these storms, or whenever he was afraid, reinforced his frantic behavior. If I’d known more about puppy parenting when I’d first gotten Shem, I could have created a composed dog. Clearly, young dog owners can be just as inept as the premature parents of children.

I walked through the kitchen and past the bathroom, or as I liked to call it, “the crack den.” I named it this after Shem’s demolition work during a storm, when he was home alone and somehow got stuck in the bathroom. In place of the vanity, there was only a large, irregularly shaped piece of what was left of it propping up the sink; the trim around the door and the bottom of door itself was gouged and shredded; a corner of the thick Formica countertop was also broken off, though I don’t know how Shem was able to do this with his old-dog teeth. I learned to ignore the destruction and hoped my landlord wouldn’t find out about it.

Though I didn’t know how to replace doors and bathroom vanities, I had become a carpenter of sorts myself and repaired several holes Shem put in the walls of this particular apartment. Thanks to Shem, I learned that sheetrock came in varying thicknesses and that you had to buy the same thickness as your walls in order to properly repair the holes. Then, you had to tape the seams between the replacement sheet and the surrounding wall, before mixing and applying joint compound. Afterward, when the compound had dried, you sanded it smooth and painted it. I would never become a skilled carpenter, but at least there weren’t several dog-shaped holes in my walls.

My elderly dog had become the canine equivalent of a dementia-suffering senior citizen. I frequently found him staring blankly at walls as if he was lost in the memories of his youth, chasing cars in upstate New York, where we lived for the first half of his life. His pacing and peeing during the night turned me into such a light sleeper that at the faintest sound, I would shoot up from a deep sleep yelling, “No, wait, let me walk you.” I could be found at all hours of the night in my fortunately quiet and safe neighborhood of Dyker Heights, wearing a coat over my pajamas, and walking Shem.

Yet despite all of this, how I loved that dog! The way he would roll into my lap head first, moaning and groaning in happiness to see me; his constant presence through breakups and work stress; the very sight of him with his big goofy dog grin and crazy ears. He was a character and I loved telling stories of his exploits, both bad and good. Best of all, he was mine and no one could make me get rid of him.

When I was a four, my parents moved my sister and I from Brooklyn to Riverhead, Long Island. My father briefly owned a service station there, but it didn’t prosper, and after three years, he sold it and moved us to Florida. But before this happened, he acquired a puppy from somewhere to be a guard dog, who my older sister named Blackie. My father had never trained a puppy before and he may have expected Blackie would teach himself not to defecate on the garage’s concrete floors. This didn’t happen. So Blackie was demoted from security force to house pet. My mother, equally clueless when it came to dog training, let Blackie roam free, which eventually resulted in his getting hit by a car and a broken leg. He recovered, but not long after that he disappeared, taken by my father to some undisclosed location or hopefully to a new owner.

After seven years of living in Florida, my parents’ trucking business failed, and we moved back to Brooklyn so they could recoup the family finances. My father refused to allow me to bring my cat Fifi with me. I was fourteen at the time and tried to talk my Florida friends into adopting her but in the end she was left behind. After our return to Brooklyn, we briefly lived in Staten Island, where I adopted a kitten I named Baby. When we moved back to Brooklyn six months later, I made sure to bring him with me. My mother let him out one day, though I’d intended for him to be an indoor cat, and I never saw him again. A year later, I adopted a street cat who lived at my father’s new service station in Coney Island, Brooklyn, where I worked in the evenings. Right before I moved to the house my parents bought in upstate NY, my father took Serena, who I’d planned to bring with me, and dumped her somewhere in Brooklyn. Animals in our family tended to disappear, leaving me, the imaginative kid that I was, haunted by their unknowable fates.

In my bedroom, I found a pair of my pink underwear on Shem’s dog bed. He had been stealing my underwear since he was a puppy, often jumping up to pull them off our clothesline upstate, though thankfully he kept his fetish to that and never tried to hump my leg or anyone else’s. There was something both endearing and creepy about Shem’s obsession with my underwear; I preferred to think he acquired my clothing out of a need to comfort himself with a fragment of my presence.

The closet in my bedroom didn’t have a door anymore, thanks to Shem. I pushed aside the suits hanging in there, and, after noticing they were covered with black and blonde dog hairs from Shem squeezing past them, reminded myself to buy more adhesive lint rollers. When I found him in this hole, I thought about people who told me I would be cruel to use a dog kennel or crate. By choice, Shem hid in a much smaller and less pleasant place.

When we first moved into this apartment, I bought a kennel, hoping it would become Shem’s refuge. It was a huge, metal rectangle I placed in the kitchen. After only two weeks, I came home from work to find it empty, the kitchen garbage can overturned and its contents scattered on the floor, the remains of a bag of Dove miniature chocolate bars that I thought I had hidden out of reach on a five-foot high window sill smeared all over my sheets, and Shem hiding in his hole in the wall. He had learned he could escape his prison by biting or pawing at the latch until it sprang open. Fortunately, he was fine after eating the chocolate. But the crate ended up on the curb.

Now I know I should have bought a plastic crate that better simulated the enclosed space of a wolf den or the back of a closet. But I was young when I was first given Shem, and not at all knowledgeable about dog training. No surprise, given how little my parents taught me about being a good animal owner. Still, the most important thing I did know was that pets are yours for life: to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Amen.

“C’mon, Shemma,” I said, to coax him out of the closet. I had to pull him by his shoulders as he crawled past my suits again. He was birthed from the closet with white sheetrock chalk on his face, looking like a ghost of himself. I leaned down and hugged him around his broad neck, before kissing him on one of the brown spots he had on the sides of his jaw, his dog dimples.

“You want to go for a walk?” I asked him in a voice higher than my normal one, to which he still responded by wagging his tail, though lately I found he was less interested in most things. He followed me slowly as I left the bedroom, and patiently stood by the front door as I clipped on his leash, which was finally, after years of dealing with his infinite energy, no longer necessary. By lifting his hips, I got him up the five steps from my walk-in basement apartment.

My neighborhood’s wide sidewalks were broken up by earthen squares where old trees emerged. Shem had a carefully worked out system of territory marking: he only went where other dogs had gone to supplant their scent with his; he refused to mark something he had already covered within 24 hours because this was a waste of good urine; and he rationed out his pee in order to cover a large territory. This last rule meant he needed to go at least seven times regardless of how far we walked so that I could be certain his bladder was empty. For every walk, I kept count and took him on different routes. As a result of Shem’s adherence to his system, and his indoor walking and peeing, I nicknamed him “The Urinator,” his motto: “I’ll pee back.”

As we walked, I wondered if there were dog nursing homes where, for a reasonable fee, I could commit him and give myself a break from the work of caring for him and cleaning up after him. I could stop by on weekends, bringing him the treats and toys he liked, petting him and reminding him of all his deeds as a young dog. Like the time he chased my car for three miles to the small town of Morley, before I saw him and had to bring him back home. Or when he tried to steal our neighbor’s Thanksgiving turkey from the kitchen sink where it was defrosting when she was pet sitting him. Once he ate the center out of a chocolate cake resting on our kitchen counter right after I baked it. Another time he ate four pounds of butter my mother had left in a metal bowl on the kitchen table to soften in order to make dozens of Greek cookies.

I imagined Shem getting even older and forgetting who I was. When this happened, I would stop visiting him, using his forgetfulness as an excuse. At some point, I would receive a phone call saying he had taken a turn for the worse. I would rush to his side and he would die peacefully in his sleep from extreme old age. This was a scenario I thought ideal, though my loyalty to him would never allow it. I’d had him since he was eight weeks old, I was responsible for the dog he was, and when he died I would miss him painfully. But maybe it was better that he exhausted me by being such a high-maintenance dog because when he died, my grief would be tempered by relief. At least with Shem, I wouldn’t be haunted, never knowing what happened to him, unlike the many pets that vanished thanks to my mother and father.

Today, when I think about my parents’ behavior toward our pets, I can almost justify it. They had grown up during World War II and had first-hand experience of the Great Famine of 1941, when the Nazi’s plundered Greece of its resources to feed Axis troops. Estimates put the death toll from malnutrition and starvation, not to mention civilian torture and massacres, at over 300,000 Greeks. Urban centers like Athens, where my father lived, were particularly vulnerable. My mother was from rural Meligala, north of the port city of Kalamata, though this didn’t prevent her from losing an infant younger sister to malnutrition. Or from being kicked out of her home by German soldiers and having to survive off of food they foraged for an entire summer.

People who experience hardships like this tend to put humans before animals. Even still, my father’s behavior showed a level of callousness toward me, his child, that I can’t excuse. He must have known how much I loved my animals, but his own preferences were always paramount. That was the only version of fatherhood he knew. Or maybe he perceived my affection for our pets as a foolish weakness that it was his job to purge so that I could be his version of strong. Regardless, the end result was that he treated our animals as though they were worn-out shoes.

During our walk, Shem peed only four times. I turned him around and as we headed slowly back home, I thought about how in his youth and middle age, he used to drag me in whatever direction he wanted to go. Now I had to coax him as he lagged behind.

“C’mon, Shemma! Good boy,” I said to him in a high voice. He wagged his tail gave me the dog grin I loved, and I thought, maybe we still had more time.

Angie Pelekidis has had her work appear in the Michigan Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Masters Review, Eleven Eleven, Bluestem, Drunken Boat, The MacGuffin, and more, and has pieces forthcoming in the North Dakota Quarterly. In 2010, Ann Beattie selected a story of hers as the first-prize winner of the New Ohio Review’s Fiction Contest. Angie received her Ph.D in English/Creative Writing from Binghamton University in 2012.

12109010_10153307028458406_4053769942114712730_n

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Guest Posts, Relationships

Ratchet Straps and Roadkill

June 10, 2016
relationships

By Sonya Huber

We both welcomed something as normal as a car accident.

My newish boyfriend Cliff, my five-year-old son, and I were halfway to Ohio from Georgia. The plan was that my son would see his dad, I’d do some freelance teaching, and we’d go to my best friend’s wedding and then a few days in Costa Rica, our first vacation. It was a jammed schedule, but I was a pro at cramming chaos into a calendar. We stopped in a sea of brake lights on that misty summer evening in North Carolina and tires squealed. We ricocheted forward, colliding with the bumper ahead.

My stomach dropped as I glanced at him. I think I was waiting for the nice-guy veneer to wear off, or waiting for him to wise up and flee this ramshackle dating-a-single-mom situation.

Cliff smiled at me and sighed, then glanced to the back seat. “Everybody okay?” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, Relationships

Falling In Love On Malaria Medication

May 16, 2016
love

By Leila Sinclaire

Falling in love with my husband Mike coincided with taking regular doses of malaria medication, Larium, which you are not advised to take if you have a history of depression or mental illness. Heavy stuff, seeping into your dreams and your waking. We were both on Larium because we were living in remote parts of Asia at the time. We stared at the backs of each other’s heads, at hands, elbows, knees, trying to be discreet, though our breathing was shallow. Maybe it was the altitude, we told ourselves. Maybe it was the dramatic scenery: mountains like dragons’ scales, rocky tidal waves, straight out of ads for adventure travel. Maybe the tea or the noodle soup was laced with local herbs.

Anyways, we were falling, falling. The electricity, the molecules abuzz, fraught with longing, seeking release. I wanted to stay there forever, to die there, to spontaneously combust. I was twenty years old but I felt I had experienced everything. I was flooded, saturated, finished. Electric. Kissing like plugging in strings of lights, the burst, the illumination.

We do not kiss much anymore. Mike’s beard scratches me, I want to brush my teeth first, then I end up washing my face, maybe rearranging my beauty products, something I have been meaning to do for ages, just a second, I’ll be right there. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Relationships

The Kids Are Alright

April 6, 2016
children

By Jessica Starr

“Are you currently pregnant?”  The new patient questionnaire asked, immediately getting to the topic ruminating in my head over the past few weeks.

Without thinking I hastily scribbled, “Please God, I hope not.”

The second questions asked, “Have you ever been pregnant?”
“No,” I wrote “AND I NEVER WANT TO BE”.

The exam room door opened and the nurse dressed in out of season holiday scrubs called out “Jessica Starr?”

I chose Dr. Carrie Miles as my new OBGYN based on her one paragraph biography on the women’s clinic website.  She did not mention having children, however did enjoy spending time hiking with her two dogs and that was enough to put my reproductive health in her hands.

I sat nervously in the exam room, glancing at the pamphlets about all the possible STD’s I could have.  Dr. Miles walked in, casually wearing a white lab coat with her name stitched in red cursive writing, her pants dragging a touch too long. She had green eyes highlighted by blue eyeshadow, kept a straight serious face, and had obviously read my new patient paperwork. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Endings

March 21, 2016

By Denise Boehler

Emotional truths that really hurt.

When I came to the end of a very long path of healing from divorce, I made peace.  With myself, my former husband, my marriage.  Following is a short story to share, for all women going through such challenging transformation, in the hopes that it may inform and relate—that the path toward emotional wholeness is never traveled in solitude.

Your marriage is finally over.  Big breath.  Let it out.  Take another.  Viscerally, you now get this one in your bones.  Until now, you held on, held out, hope.  That the two of you might reconcile.  After the healing, after some time passed.  But you now feel, in the depth of your bones, why your marriage broke apart in the first place.  It wasn’t because he was awful and you were spoiled.  Or that he didn’t love you or you were too lonely.  It was that your lives together were no longer compatible.  Your life together was irreconcilable.  It’s why they created the option on the form for a petition for dissolution of marriage:  irreconcilable differences.

They weren’t kidding. Continue Reading…