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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…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Mental Health, Relationships, Trust

I Should Hate You, But I Don’t: Loving and Letting Go of a Pathological Liar

February 12, 2016

TRIGGER WARNING: This essay deals with the damage caused by a pathological liar. 

By Ashley Gulla

I didn’t think I could survive you.  I didn’t think I could find my way out of that dark, black hole I found myself in a few years ago.  Even when you couldn’t take it anymore and quietly slipped away from me, I had no idea how to surrender.  I don’t know the pain of losing a child, so it may have been ignorant of me to think, but the death of “us” left an aching, empty space I imagine was comparable.  Or at least I did when I was in the process of letting go.  Because I wasn’t just letting go of you, I was letting go of my innocence, and that was a heavy price to pay for loving you.

That empty space still exists but it’s different now.  It’s just as vast as it ever was but it’s not nearly as dark or scary.  Those parts of me — my fear, my insecurities, hopelessness and obsessiveness — don’t hurt to touch anymore.  I’ve stared the monster that lives in my head straight in its eyes, and I’ve learned to be friends with her.  I, even some times, find myself lost in that emptiness, with a sense of appreciation and humor, over that the fact that I’m still standing after everything.  And some days, standing would be an understatement.  I’m dancing, flying!  Other times, not as often as before, I’m crawling.  But I’m still here, and I’m happy.

I don’t miss you.  I don’t wish things were different.  And for the first time in the last three years, I’m happy you’re not the one surprising me at work, or finishing my sentences when I can’t find the right word, or wrapping your arms tightly around me as we both fall asleep.  I cringe remembering how foolish I was.  How much trust I instilled in you.  How I hung on every single word, when I knew better.  And I always knew better, but I desperately wanted to know different.  I recognize now how desperately I wanted you to be different.  And how unfair that truly is.

But I also remember every single night I cried until I had nothing left inside, not because you were unfaithful, but because of the cat and mouse game you played with me.  Because story after story after story was just another way to manipulate me to feel a certain way:  jealous, insecure, guilty, afraid, secure, happy, loved.  I became a shell of myself trying to sustain a relationship that wasn’t sustainable.  The very spirit of who I am and why you loved me, which I believe you did, was missing.  Or, hiding really.  Scared.  Angry.  Hurt.  Broken.  Shaking somewhere in a dark corner, away from the world.

I lost myself in the process of trying to hold you to a standard that just wasn’t possible.  To say my heart was crushed would be putting it lightly.  I was not only learning how to accept that “we” were never going to be, but more importantly, how to trust myself again because in the midst of trusting you, you taught me not to trust myself.  With every reassuring lie and false promise, you convinced me that my intuition, logic, and understanding of the world was wrong.  I knew better.  But I wanted to know different. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Regret, Relationships

The Horsey Set

January 29, 2016

By Lisa Romeo

You knew. You knew I was 19. You knew you were 32 and married and the father of two children. You knew I was attracted. I wonder if you knew my attraction (which I didn’t even understand at the time) was fueled so much by your position (your celebrity almost) in that rarefied air we both breathed, in that world we both pranced through – you with ease, me with longing – that dazzling playground scented with horses and money and blue ribbons, with Hamptons houses and equestrian estates and show horses that cost more than my father’s house. Did you know that?

When you flirted with me in the horse show office, when you accidentally brushed against me in the stabling tent, when you waved at me from the rail, when you winked at me from under your hat brim on the sidelines of the polo field, did you know that I thought it was about me? Did you know every time I saw you across a field, across a barn aisle, across the table at a fundraiser, that I wondered if you were there because I was there and not because you were always there? That I didn’t understand it was about you and what you could do, get away with, possess, mark?

You knew, I think, that I couldn’t enter that world, not completely, on my own, with my marginal riding skills and small trove of not-always blue ribbons and my father’s money that seemed so endless on our split-level cul-de-sac, but so puny compared to what the horsy daughters of billionaires spent on their third-string jumper.

Did you know you’d get me, from the start? Did you know I would forget myself, lose my compass, imagine there was a good reason for doing the thing I knew I shouldn’t be doing? Yes, of course you knew, because that was your game, though I wouldn’t know that until you were long gone and I’d meet other young single girls you’d tempted before me, after me.

Did you know that when everyone seemed to know about us, and looked the other way, that I’d think at first that was exciting, edgy, and intoxicating? Of course you knew that, it was part of your charm, as much as your not-so-elegant looks and not-so-refined laugh and not-so-trim physique (though you kept that garbed in preppy pinks and greens, web belts and logo polo shirts). Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships, Siblings

The Colors of California

January 8, 2016

By Erica Karnes

The winter light flooded through a worn bay window. Our mother’s sheer drapes, tucked behind an easy chair, allowed a white warmth to spill into the room. He was a fit of giggles. Bursts of high-pitched, gleeful shrieking. This was a new game. One that my sister and I, barely one and two years older than him, deemed best played without parents. An abandoned box, still somewhat intact, with stretches of tape across the bottom. Merely “moving assistance” to adults. But to us—to our tiny, bright eyes; our grabby hands and forever-scampering feet; our lower-class Midwest existences and finely tuned imaginations—to us this box was the world.

The coast was clear, and we began.

The baby of the group happily surrendered as we hoisted him in—a complicated task, given that it was as tall as myself. I worked to cut windows out of the sides, for ultimate visibility. Our sister scavenged the room for additional comforts. She swaddled him with pillows, sheets, and as final proof of her selflessness, donated her very own Blankie to the cause—curling it over his shoulders in a cape. I passed him a comic book or three, knowing that while he was too young to read, he’d surely enjoy the pictures.

Settled and comfortable, cozy and complete—when muffled giggles were all that could be heard spilling from our box-turned-car-turned-spaceship—we began our mission. Pulling full-speed along the hardwood floor, circling break-neck around the kitchen table, frantically bouncing through the tiled foyer. We paused at the top of the stairs for dramatic effect. And when he could barely breathe from his toddler belly laughs, we pulled faster. Passing at top speeds through pockets of that brilliant white light, our home’s sputtering heaters the only audible backdrop to our giddy adventures.

25 years later, our roles had reversed. I sat packed into his car, surrounded by his boxed belongings, clutching my own padding for comfort. This time, while there were still plenty of giggles, it was his game. This time, against all my controlling instincts, I was merely along for the 900-mile ride.

“Anal Adventurer!” he shrieked, fist pumping through his Subaru’s sunroof. “Best one yet!” he winked at me, nestled in the backseat, from his rear-view mirror. A smear of jelly lined his cheek, from the haphazard PB&J he slopped together at our last pit stop. “YEAAAAA!” With a couple of friendly shoulder punches, I celebrated his championship. There was only a single rule: for every passing RV, add the word “anal” at the start of its title. As we’d just dipped south of Portland, former contenders “Anal Wildcat” and “Anal Hideout” were delegated to forgotten place-getters. Still grinning, he pulled a cloth tie-die headband from the tower of rubble surrounding him, slicked back his greasy ginger curls, and slammed his foot on the accelerator. I amped up his obscure electro-hypnotic tunes as we gunned it for the mountains. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, Marriage, Relationships

A Year of Revisiting Old Loves

January 4, 2016

By Zsofia McMullin

It is so easy to get into a rut. The toenail clipping, burping, morning-breath kind of rut of busy days and exhausted evenings. The no-sex rut, the no-talking rut, the not-holding-hands rut follow quickly behind. It doesn’t take long to get there—not as long as you’d like to think.

I am sort of baffled by this. I married for love. I married for great sex. For friendship. For a deep connection. We were mature and intelligent and in love. Isn’t that all you need?

But now it all seems muddled and not so easy. I feel like it’s unfair, because I can’t even put a finger on that nagging feeling between us. It’s everything. It’s nothing. I remember that sweet tingle, the antsy anticipation, the burning lust.  But now love just feels like a promise we made a long, long time ago that we’ll stick with this, even when it’s so, so hard. And it’s hard on most days.

So we work at it, because that’s what we are supposed to do—and because we want to. I buy the lingerie and wear makeup and we schedule date nights. But it all feels forced and not like the real thing. So we settle into that feeling—that the real thing will never be ours again. And I start to wonder: would it be different with someone else? With the young men I knew way back when? Are they still sweet and caring and romantic? Are they still funny and horny?  Am I? Or is it inevitable that we are all tired and comfortable and settled into life with soft bellies and graying hair?

*** Continue Reading…

depression, Divorce, Guest Posts, Marriage, Relationships

Construction Season

November 14, 2015

By Patti Carlyle

Summer seems an incongruent time to ponder life’s harder questions. Long and brutal winters in the Rust Belt present a more fitting time to look inward, everything thickly coated in Suicide Gray. Thoughts deepen and even darken, and it makes sense. By contrast the warm, sparkling days of Cleveland’s early summer are arguably the most beautiful, demanding a certain carefree hubris. But instead of fish tacos on patios, gin and tonics, afternoon sex or campfire lazing, I slid into a dizzying circular conversation with myself. Depression or divorce?

Orange barrels rush past the window, a translucent blur of stout, gaudy grandmas. Squinting into the distance looking for some broad blinking arrow, I try to predict lane changes. Sit up straight, hands at ten and two. The speedometer needle sinks left and I sharpen my focus. Rumble strips hyphenate the road mid-lane, a startling warning of a new traffic pattern. A driver for over 20 years, I still tense up in construction zones, still roll my eyes when the barrels begin gossiping in medians each spring.

And as the work begins each summer, I find myself muttering ‘didn’t we just do this?’

Depression or divorce? For two summers, this alliterative question worried a groove into my journals and tortured my therapist. Amused at my binary thinking and familiar with my white knuckle grip on a fanned deck of pessimistic options, he suggested that I refrain from applying intellect and instead feel my way through. Deep thought and analysis might not save my marriage, and I may still need clinical intervention. Worst case? Both. That’s how I saw it: terrible options all.

Predictive pessimism doesn’t protect me from much, though. I need to do before I know much of anything. Lowering myself into the tides of experience, sometimes the water is fine and frolicking like a four-year-old is the only appropriate response. But sometimes the relentless and punishing waves are frigid and teeming with jellyfish. Bystanders can hear me screaming from shore.

Ending my marriage to experience divorce is an obviously myopic move. Eyeballs deep in the struggle, I flailed and clawed for a cognitive buoy. The goal was simple: tease out which was cause and which effect. Is my marriage foundationally broken, resulting in situational depression? Or is my fundamental problem clinical, my relationship merely its casualty?

The gaudy grandmas have waddled off. Concrete lane dividers stand shoulder to shoulder in their place. The effect is menacingly close. My phone is face down on the console and I poke a finger at the dash, silencing the radio. Any distraction could have me trailing sparks along the barricade wall or sliding onto the gravelly shoulder. Adjust the mirrors and glance back.

I started circling the drain a few years ago. The well-received launch of my alternative health practice had me so certain. This was my calling. I might have been suspicious when the aspects of entrepreneurial adventure I enjoyed most turned out to be designing the website and writing the blog. After shuttering the business in 2012, I tumbled into a shame vortex. Struggling to make sense of how I had misread myself so terrifically, I cocooned. It took months of shame and denial before finally deciding to close, abandoning years of training, the encouragement of friends and family and a lot of invested capital. Continue Reading…

Family, Grief, Guest Posts, Regret, Relationships

Daddy’s Barbershop

November 13, 2015

By Georgia Kolias

There are places that hold silences. Even within congested and vibrant streets you can find inhalations that are held in like secrets. I had my own secrets that I held within my ribs, caged and fluttering. At 16, I knew my traditional Greek immigrant family would never accept my desire for women, so I started my secret keeping.  I thought I was the only one holding secrets, but I eventually learned that my father and I walked the same sidewalks, living hidden lives.

***

Daddy’s barbershop was in the heart of the Mission district in San Francisco, on Mission Street at 24th, right across the street from La Taqueria and Dianda’s pastries. If you don’t know, it is impossible to go to either of these establishments and not leave satisfied, licking your fingers, and too full. The succulent grilled meat wrapped in a warm corn tortilla and topped with huge chunks of avocado and fresh salsa would drip down my arms as I took hungry bites. At Dianda’s we would greedily point at the pastries through the glass case and salivate. Napoleons creamy and crisp, puff pastry filled with a coffee filling and drizzled with crispy caramel, chocolate éclairs forced full of satiny custard. Even now, I am fanaticizing about a gluttonous suitcase of pastries and an eagerness to experience a stomach full to bursting.

Visiting Daddy’s barbershop was rare when I was a kid; it meant a couple of bus lines and my mother’s willingness to be in his company. He charged $8 a haircut and that seemed like a lot of money to me back then. His shop always smelled like the barber antiseptic that he used to soak his combs, and meaty sweat. There was a poster that displayed a variety of proper haircuts that my father could execute, not like the hack jobs that Super Cuts provided. Daddy had pride of craft, and resented being put in the same professional class with Super Cuts.

His landlord owned a bakery, and once a month when the rent was due, Daddy would come home with an apple pie in a white cardboard box. We would jump around, mouths watering – except my mother, who preferred lemon meringue. Mommy sometimes got a turkey or pumpkin pie from her job waitressing at Zim’s, but that was only on Thanksgiving. One night Daddy came home with the white box and an angry scowl. Instead of hopping around, we took the cue to step back to see what would unleash. Mommy took the pie and put it on the counter, then followed Daddy into the bedroom, where the yelling started. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Intimacy, Relationships

Cripples

November 1, 2015

Note from Jen Pastiloff: This is a work of fiction. The Manifest-Station will publish fiction now, on occasion.

By Jane Eaton Hamliton

I hadn’t wanted a damn cripple on the crew to begin with.  Any damn cripple.  Not a damn cripple named Mike Pinkle or any other damn cripple, so naturally Pinkle was made my partner, orders of the co-ordinator.  We’d both come in late.  There were forty-three of us, and damn cripple Mike Pinkle was to be my partner during the Long Beach oil spill clean-up.

The first sight of that Vancouver Island beach was one hell of a thing.  I shoved my Honda stick into ‘P’ and took off out of the parking lot toward the six foot waves at a ninny-speed run, stumbling over the logs and deadwood using my hands, across all that thick white sand to the surf line.  The water was as purple and violent as a bruise.  It pounded inside my breasts and legs like some fierce man.  Oh shit, I thought.  Goddamn shit.  Water, blurring out into a flagstone sky.  I’d never seen so much damn sea at once in my life.  It excited me.  It made me want to fuck.  I was standing up to my ankles in yellow gumboots with the water sucking and smelling of muggy blood and all I wanted to do was fuck.  But then I heard my goddamn car horn blow.  I turned and remembered the cripple.  And the rake.  The pitchfork.  The industrial strength green garbage bags.  What I thought was I could use the pitchfork to kill the goddamn cripple and the industrial strength green garbage bags to dispose of his body; the rest of the crew would just figure he was a bag of oil muck.  Which thought made me remember why we were here–the oil dump off the coast of Washington State.  Now I noticed oil everywhere; broken rainbow slicks on the water to the south, clumps strangling the bulbous heads of bull kelp, even a barely recognizable dead gull to the right of my boot.  All that pretty show and all that oil–I had to hold back tears.  I was almost grateful for the diversion of the goddamn cripple in the parking lot.

Or at least I was until I had to watch that pathetic half-man haul himself into the chair I unfolded for him out of the trunk.  I couldn’t stand to look at him, so I piled him with the rake and pitchfork and the bags, which he held like they were nothing.  I dumped on a thermos of coffee for good measure.

The chair was electric.  Fancy dancy.  My idea–I’d heard he’d been in a car wreck with a drunk driver–was that he’d landed a settlement of ten mil or so.  My idea was that he was set for goddamn life.  A condo in the Bahamas.  Large screen TVs, a jacuzzi.  Big fat fucking deal.  I was supposed to feel sorry for him?

He sailed down a concrete path in the rain like some alien robot.  Then he beached in the sand.

I went around the front of his chair and yelled in his face.  My fists were going.  I said, “Listen, buster, let’s get this straight.  You better realize I don’t like you.  You’ve got no business being out here and you freaking well know it.” Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships, Sex

Meditations on Desire

September 23, 2015

By Caroline Kessler

 

It scares me sometimes how automatic my body is. When I get too drunk, body takes me home, puts my hands and face under warm water, plucks my contacts from my eyes. Sometimes body remembers to brush my teeth but not always.

They’ll tell you that drinking will kill your liver and that’s probably true but not-drinking will kill a different part of you. Not drinking means I don’t get the stories like when I was studying in India or working in Poland or daydreaming on a train through Hungary—the stories of meeting someone new, picking them up, having them pick me up.

The drinking will say, go for it! Do it all, it doesn’t matter, you charming thing. The drinking will say you’ve never looked this gorgeous, your hair all crazy and your dress all short. For a while, the drinking makes me sharp but then it makes me slow. Slow tongue in my mouth, thick against my teeth, words clanking around like cans in a gutter.

_________

One summer during college, I live in Warsaw, where I have an airy studio apartment all to myself and I can walk to my non-profit job. It is the first time I have ever lived alone and I bask in doing whatever I want.

There is a bar near my apartment frequented by ex-pats, which is where I first meet Daniel. We mumble through an attempt at an introduction: bardzo mi miło / nice to meet you. I give in and switch to English and it turns out he’s fluent and half-Jewish, nearly six feet tall but with bad posture so he doesn’t tower over me. He wears a black motorcycle jacket although he doesn’t drive a motorcycle. We don’t talk about our Jewishness but it is there, the wandering-exiled-questioning-impulse.

His speech is strange, full of language from all the other places he’s lived, Miami and Glasgow and Aalborg. He says what’s the crack? as a greeting and throws around that hurts like silver teeth a lot. When I find out his first language is Danish, I make him speak to me, enjoying the flawless music of it, even though I don’t understand a thing. While he talks, I wonder if I could be with someone who wasn’t able to speak their first language with me—would we ever truly understand each other?

After six years of medical school in Warsaw, he claims he has only learned useless Polish. What could be useless? I say. Let me listen to your lungs, his voice emerges over the din of the bar, first in Polish, then in English. Pozwól mi słuchać płuc. I study his broad shoulders and slight belly, his dark jeans and shiny European shoes. He is attractive enough, I decide. This is the moment when everything shifts.

We leave the bar for a nearby fountain, a block of quiet, because I said I was tired of being in the bar and he is going along with what I’m saying, how I’m gesturing. We decide to keep drinking. He ducks into a small store and I wait outside, feeling too indecisive to be surrounded by merchandise in a language I can’t read. He emerges with a plastic bag nearly breaking with beer bottles. I try to give him a few folded złotys but he refuses, waving them away like it’s silly I’m even offering. We settle near the burbling water. I got a sampler, he says, because you should try a bunch while you’re here this summer.

We keep talking, and he drinks quickly, picking up his third beer while I’m still on my first. The drinking urges me onward: this will make things easier. When he pauses, I put my hand to his breastbone, trying to figure out where his lungs are, huge and honeycombed.

Later, when we are in bed, I put my ear to his chest. Pozwól mi słuchać płuc. I say to his cavernous face, open your mouth. Turn over. He does—and then, he lifts me off of him, pushes my arms open until I am airborne.

Early the next morning, on the tram heading back to my apartment, tiny purse resting in my lap, the sun is blinding. I press my shoulders into the crease of the window. What am I doing? I ask the looming H&M billboards, the massive Palace of Culture and Science, the plastic orange seats in front of me.

_________

After college, I move to San Francisco and I meet so many men. They are everywhere, in their flannel button-downs and hooded sweatshirts, on their bikes or in their cars. I feel surrounded by masculinity. One night, my friend E. and I are at Zeitgeist in the Mission, having abandoned our guy friends we were with earlier that night, at a Shabbat dinner. We sip beers at the only open table, which is near the speaker, so we have to shout over the punk music.

She tells me about the different people she’s dating, the co-worker she’s in love with, her housemate who she “loves” and is moving out soon and I’m curious—so what do you really want? I shout.

Her eyes open wide, so genuine. I just want to love someone, she shouts back. The desire is the hands on a watch, pointing directly to the hour, minute, second.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

Waitress of the Month

September 22, 2015

By Gail Konop

Mother is dying. I dream…wedding night, summer of 1986… having second thoughts, jitters all week leading up to wedding. Who am I kidding? I had the jitters from the moment my now ex arranged and orchestrated a proposal straight out of a Kay Jewelers’ commercial, a romantic dinner at the French restaurant where we’d had our first date exactly a year after said date, a walk to the same park we went to after that first date, then down-on-his-knees “will you marry me?” with a diamond solitaire gold ring and me thinking how this would make one of those girls who leafed through bridal magazines and stared longingly into bridal shop windows and dreamed of marriage, over-the-top happy. But I wasn’t that girl.

I thought marriage was a capitalist contraption manufactured to enhance men’s lives and careers and trap women. But in the wake of my older brother Richard’s suicide the year before, I found myself attracted to this safe and stable seeming man who already had a life plan and represented hyper-normal Normalcy which I rabidly sought even though there were red flags from the start. We met in 1984, an election year, and I was crazy excited about Mario Cuomo’s speech at the Democratic Convention. My ex claimed to love everything I loved including Cuomo and Grace Paley and slam poetry readings and cheap vegetarian food in my neighborhood near Tompkins Square Park, my quirky tastes in clothing and friends, my “progressive” opinions about marriage and capitalism. My gut told me his “claims” were inconsistent with his Dartmouth College pedigree and belonging to a fraternity and that secret society, with the fact that all his friends had a life plan involving either Ivy League post-graduate schooling or jobs requiring expensive polished shoes. But he said that was silly and “now look who’s being narrow-minded.” When he took me home to meet his WASPY conservative Western Massachusetts family, I overheard them saying they were “okay” with me being “Jewish” as if it were a contagious disease…but he’s down on his knees in the little park in the West Village asking me to marry him and I nod and start having an out of body experience from which I didn’t fully emerge for many years. Then a stretch limo filled with champagne and strewn with rose pedals pulls up and drives us all over New York City and delivers us to the Plaza Hotel and I keep thinking, where is that girl this should have been for?

Coughing up enough bridesmaids… who weren’t either anti-wedding or too weird or eccentric to want to commit to anything… was nearly impossible. Not having the kind of friends who would want to be in a wedding straight out of that Kay Jewelers’ commercial made me feel certain there was something inherently and irreparably wrong with me… so I managed to round up a motley crew: my sister who was in the middle of her own crisis (I later learned) in France; my soon-to-be husband’s sister (who was very angry at me that my now ex was getting married before her since she was older); a friend from college (one who had been kicked out for fabricating her entire existence… she had claimed to be a poor girl from Ireland but was actually a rich girl from Boston) and my on and off again best friend from New York, who all had reluctantly agreed to wear the hideous blue dresses and matching shoes my soon to be mother-in-law had picked out at the local bridal shop.  And now it’s the night before the wedding and I’m staring at the dark circles under my eyes in the harsh bathroom mirror lights at the Howard Johnson’s (where all the out of town guests are staying) and thinking about how I would plaster my eyes with cucumbers before I went to get my hair and makeup done in the morning when the phone rang and it was Mother on the other end.

She said, “You need to pay back that $50,000 immediately.” Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

Soul Mates: 8 Snapshots

September 21, 2015

By Elissa Wald

1.

When I was in the eighth grade, a boy in my class (let’s call him A.) stopped talking to me. We’d “gone out” for maybe a week, which meant we’d couple-skated at the roller rink once or twice, and my mother was supposed to drive us to a movie the following Saturday, but I called it off before that could happen. I liked him but I felt squeamish, not yet ready to do things like hold hands or kiss.

A. was slightly pudgy with tinted glasses and listless blond hair. I’d known him for years. Even in elementary school he used words like “relatively” and knew facts like the speed of light. He could play “Another Brick In The Wall” on his trumpet and it was from him that I first heard of the game Dungeons & Dragons.

I don’t remember just how the breakup went, but soon afterward he stopped speaking to me altogether. He wouldn’t reply if I spoke to him. He wouldn’t even look at me. If I tried to badger him into answering, he’d look skyward or off to the side and start whistling through his teeth. If I called him, he’d hang up.

Soon I could think about no one but A. Sometimes I would console myself by imagining a chance meeting with him on the street in 30 years. I took a certain strange comfort in the idea that when we were in our forties, he would surely not still be holding onto this grudge from boyhood.

At that age it didn’t occur to me that reaching 40 was not guaranteed to us. I assumed we had vast swaths of time. I also seem to have assumed on some level that our connection would endure, no matter how many years or even decades it spent on ice.

 

As it happens, A. and I are in our forties now, and we talk – with mutual warmth – all the time. But by now I’ve come to understand just how far from a foregone conclusion this was. Just before our college graduation, his best friend from those middle-school years – a boy in our class — jumped off a bridge that spanned a deep ravine. And whenever I think of this, the same phrase always comes to me: no water under that bridge.

 

2.

When I was forty-three, a man – let’s call him B. — unfriended me on Facebook. We had known each other a long time by then.

We’d gone out for maybe a year when I was twenty-one and he was twenty-six. The relationship ended badly and we didn’t see much of each other again for the next decade or so. He was angry at me and it seemed he meant to stay angry. He didn’t want to be friends

 

Then ten or eleven years after breaking up with him, I was in my neighborhood library when I saw a book he’d written on the “New Releases” shelf. It was a hardcover, deckle-edged and drenched in sepia. I checked the book out of the library, crossed the street to my apartment, and found his fledgling author website. In the event section, it said he’d be reading at a midtown pub later that month.

During our relationship all those years ago, we’d each had dreams of becoming an author. Secretly I’d thought of myself as the better writer. I didn’t think he was especially talented and I didn’t think he would do anything with what talent he had. When he was stressed out, he would lie on the floor of our apartment and crayon aimlessly and this – among many other things — made me squeamish in much the same way that A. had once made me squeamish.

Since that time, I’d published two books. The first one made a racy little splash and was generally — in its small-to-moderate way — well-received. The second one made a lot of the people who knew about it very angry and was a deep source of heartbreak.

B.’s book, on the other hand – his first serious book (as opposed to a couple of packaged ones he’d written for money) – seemed to have every critic in the country prostrate with adulation. The week of the reading, it was emblazoned across the cover of The New York Times book review.

I read this (very fine) book and wrote him a fan letter in response to it. I brought this letter with me to the pub on the night of his reading, wishing to keep a low profile until the moment toward the end of the event when he would be obliged to sign my book. One look at the crowd assured me this would not be difficult. B. was standing in a throng of people at the bar, deep in conversation. I began making my way past them with my head lowered and my face averted. Without a break in whatever he was saying, without even looking in my direction, B. reached out and grabbed my arm.

When I woke the next morning, an email from him was in my inbox. He thanked me for coming and for the letter I’d written him. He suggested that we meet sometime soon and catch up on each other’s lives. He wrote: I’d like to see what the last ten years hath wrought. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

The Heart Learns Nearly Nothing, But Just Enough, in One List

September 8, 2015

By Erin Khar

 

  1. Begin your sexual history, at least the consensual part, at age thirteen, with someone you don’t love and who probably doesn’t love you, and stay with him for two years, even though you are so young and don’t love him. (Do some heroin so you can ignore this problem.)
  2. Spend the rest of your adolescence in love with someone who will break your heart and don’t have intercourse.
  3. Begin sleeping with people as a way to distance yourself emotionally.
  4. Sleep with older guys who want to possess you but you’re on drugs and they don’t know it and you feel dead inside and they will want you more which is confusing.
  5. Realize that they haven’t always worn a condom and freak out every time you take an HIV test because you’ve slept with men with questionable hobbies and you should know better because you grew up in the age of AIDS after all and you end up okay but you know you dodged a bullet or more.
  6. Move in with a twenty-six year old man when you are eighteen and cheat on him and make him crazy, so crazy that he tries to poison your spaghetti dinner and you throw up all night, but don’t find out until after you broke up that he put fifty phenobarbital in said spaghetti.
  7. At the age of nineteen, on the heels of the spaghetti fiasco, have an affair with a forty-five year old married British singer who has a small penis and likes to hit you during sex.
  8. Abruptly end your affair with the married British singer over red wine and Leonard Cohen, and begin sleeping with the guy your best friend is in love with. (Rationalize this with the fact that he doesn’t love her back.)
  9. Spend the next two years in an open relationship with the guy your best friend loved, while starting and not finishing many many relationships, leaving a trail of angry men behind you, including the celebrity who stalks you because you keep telling him, “”
  10. Find out that the guy you loved when you were sixteen, who broke your heart, the one who you still loved, find out that he died of liver failure after drinking himself to death in the span of four years.
  11. When you are twenty-one, abruptly decide to leave your country and boyfriend and half-begun relationships and dead ex-boyfriend and move to Paris.
  12. Spend some months sleeping with rich Americans and a few Frenchmen, vowing to never fall in love again.
  13. Fall in love with a Frenchman who has a girlfriend.
  14. Attempt a friendship with said Frenchman, but then begin an affair and feel heartbroken all the time because he won’t leave the girlfriend he has had since high school.
  15. Feel relieved when Frenchman finally breaks up with girlfriend. (Later you will find out he didn’t really.)
  16. Return to Los Angeles with the man you love, who may or may not be disentangled from his previous relationship.
  17. After a disastrous couple of months, ship the Frenchman home and start using heroin again.
  18. Get strung out on heroin, using the money you have that you don’t deserve.
  19. Go back to being a heart-breaker rather than the heartbroken and do things like jump out a second-story window when the guy you just slept with tells you he is falling love with you.
  20. In a drug-induced flight of fancy, return to France and accept the Frenchman’s marriage proposal.
  21. Hide your heroin addiction from the Frenchman, at least until he catches you with a needle in your arm.
  22. Go to rehab at the age of twenty-three.
  23. Break up with your French fiancé while in rehab because you know he can never forgive you.
  24. Start sleeping with the thirty-three year old restaurant mogul you meet in rehab who didn’t do heroin like you but had a thing for cocaine and vodka and women.
  25. After rehab, break it off with the restaurant guy and feel bad when he starts using cocaine and vodka and women, again.
  26. Have a couple of unsatisfying one night stands with guys you meet in twelve-step meetings.
  27. Meet a thirty-two year old photographer who is also a recovering heroin addict and move in together three months later.
  28. Right after you fall for the photographer, meet a thirty-four year old writer who makes you dizzy and let him go down on you.
  29. Although you probably are falling in love with the writer, you shun him and stay with the photographer for three years, during which time you remain faithful.
  30. Until you meet the washed up rockstar who makes you laugh and is so much fun.
  31. Leave the photographer for the rockstar and then immediately regret it.
  32. Try to win the photographer back to no avail.
  33. Become depressed and then even more depressed when you realize that you are pregnant and don’t want to be.
  34. Have an abortion which destroys you. So, drive to your old dealer’s house later that day and begin a relapse of epic proportions.
  35. Drag your washed up rockstar boyfriend into the relapse and start smoking crack too.
  36. Go to rehab again and break up with the rock star.
  37. Focus on yourself for a few months, although you secretly fall for the guy you are recording music with to no avail, and have some meaningless dates with guys whose names you can barely remember.
  38. Meet a man who seems all wrong and avoid him.
  39. Sleep with the man who seems all wrong and ignore your friends’ warnings to stay away from him.
  40. Spend three months with the man who is all wrong, only to have him break up with you suddenly and break your ego, if not your heart.
  41. Allow your bruised ego to win him back stealthily, even though you know he’s no good for you.
  42. Find yourself pregnant again at twenty-eight, and marvel at your irresponsibility.
  43. Accept the wrong man’s marriage proposal against all better judgement.
  44. Come back from your honeymoon, only to discover that your husband has impregnated another woman.
  45. Somehow make it through a depressing pregnancy, avoiding all thoughts that your marriage is a sham.
  46. At the age of twenty-nine, give birth to a baby boy, and instantly be changed, instantly love him more than you hate yourself, let this little man in a baby’s body teach you how to love.
  47. Begin to realize that you know nothing, but still try to make that sad marriage work.
  48. Catch the man who seems all wrong who became your husband cheating on you.
  49. Catch the man who seems all wrong who became your husband cheating on you, again.
  50. As the love you have for your child grows, you know less but are sure of more. Finally, after two long pitiful years, leave the man who seems all wrong who became your husband.
  51. Enjoy a period of celibacy and know you know nothing.
  52. Finally, break your celibacy by sleeping with a bartender/artist.
  53. Get in to two long-distance relationships back to back, with men who live in New York, while you live in Los Angeles.
  54. Stay in the second one for more than four years, break up and get back together many times and break him and let him break you and begin to finally see your lack of experience.
  55. Break up with the guy who lives in New York, realize you have learned things but still know nothing.
  56. Meet a man who is like no one you have been with before.
  57. Fall in love with the right man, the man who is like no one you have been with before, despite yourself.
  58. Make some mistakes with the right man and don’t run away because of them.
  59. Let him teach you how to be loved.
  60. Marry him. You are finally still, with love. You know that your son taught you how to love and your husband taught you how to be loved. You know nothing else, but that’s all you need to know.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: I Just Got Dumped.

August 25, 2015

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Carena Liptak.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. 

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

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

Dear Life,

You don’t know me, but I’m writing to ask for your help. My boyfriend of 18 months broke up this past week. He told me he needed time for himself and to focus on getting his life in order. Well, come to find out he has been cheating on me. My heart is breaking. I feel like I can hardly breathe. I feel wobbly. A once strong, confident, determined woman has been chopped at the knees. Can you help me feel better? I’m not feeling strong enough to live myself right now. I feel sad, alone and confused. Help. Please.

Signed, Confused

Continue Reading…