Browsing Tag

relationships

Divorce, Guest Posts, Marriage

Alpha and Omega

May 7, 2017
husband

By Pam Munter

Even now, all these years later, I have a recurring dream about driving alone around Madison, lost and trying to find my way home.  I am driving around hills, the lake always on one side. It all looks so familiar but I am not sure I am heading in the right direction.

When he was nine, my son and I flew to Madison, the coincidental location for a family reunion with people I had not seen since I was his age. Aaron was eager to see where he had been born so I took a photo of him by the Madison General Hospital sign, his arms cradled as if holding a baby. For me, his sweet spontaneous pantomime brought the backstory roaring back as if it had happened yesterday.

***

By 1972, I had been married for two years, living in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was doing a post-doctoral year in clinical psychology at Mendota Mental Health Institute. The husband had found a job as a social worker in a government agency. We agreed we wanted to have a child, hoping to time it to coincide with the end of my internship. There’s nothing like good planning and perseverance. By Christmas that year, I was pregnant. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Intimacy, Sex

Sex, Intimacy, and Genetic Incompatibility

April 28, 2017
intimacy

By Becky Benson

The first time it happened I thought it was great.  Easier, less messy, a change up from the norm.  Win/win for me.  I didn’t particularly like condoms; the feel, the smell, the timeout in the heat of the moment while fumbling over a loudly crackling wrapper.  How romantic.  And I’m sure my husband was no fan of them, but it did make it better for me once we were done.  He’d just pull it off and toss it in the trash.  I didn’t have to lay there waiting for him to throw me his t-shirt to clean up with, I could just happily roll over and drift off to sleep.

The only problem with this scenario:  we needed them, which made it feel less like a novelty, a change up from the norm, and more like a reminder of what we were now facing, and how in so many ways, our relationship; our sex life would never be the same.

In 2009 my husband, Loren and I had been happily married for six and a half years.  Loving, committed, stable.  We had two beautiful daughters, Skylar, five, and Miss Elliott, ten months, when we learned that we were carriers of Tay-Sachs Disease.  We had no idea this genetic mutation existed in our lineage or that we had passed it on to our youngest daughter, who at this point was beginning to shows signs of missing her milestones as she grew.  Watching my seemingly healthy infant unable to master age appropriate tasks such as crawling, holding her bottle, and or imitating our speech, I suspected something much more was going on beside the usual variances in development, and unfortunately I was right.  With no treatment or cure, this neurodegenerative disorder would rob her of all of her physical and mental functioning before finally taking her life by the age of four. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Surviving

Flamethrower

April 21, 2017
water

By Lori Fetters Lopez

Some days it’s enough that he breathes. The exchange of air grates on my psyche like the high-pitched squeal of a six-year-old at the sight of a spider. A childhood dream to be a pilot, he sits with his hands grasping the yoke of a computer flight simulator. At his perch, he can turn from the pretend to the surreal. An endless choice of television shows filled with intolerable stupidity, followed by commercials selling drugs with side effects more damning than the symptoms they claim to cure. It all culminates into a farce. He’s been deployed for months and I’m left with only the memory to fuel my fire.

Hands on hips, I look at the obstinate water softener spewing its juices over my walls. I’m lost in incredulity wanting to collapse into the wet. Yesterday, I replaced the damn thing, the day before, the water heater. It mocks. Disgusted, I walk into the garage where the car lays in shambles begging me to crawl beneath its underbelly hoping for an altered result. First, the valve cover gasket, then the radiator, and now the gas tank.  The large door stands open revealing that another rain has brought our grass to grow. The lawn mower sits in the corner, a pigheaded child too engrossed in a video game to go to the bathroom, it leaks. Fixed before he left, obvious the repair was in vain; the first fill drains onto the floor. The mailbox leans forward as if reaching for the next letter too long overdue. Someone crashed into the pole and I replaced it. Too tired for more, I forgot the concrete anchor to gird its pole. I could call someone, pay someone, but that’s not who I am. I persevere. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships, Sex

When It’s Not Love You Want

March 5, 2017
sex

By Kerry Neville

The first time I had sex was with my summer-before-college boyfriend on his gurgly waterbed in his dank, basement bedroom.  His mother winked at us as she left the house, and said, “Be careful, you two.”  She was a dancer, so maybe more open to bodies moving and touching and wrapping around each other than my own Catholic mother who counseled me on the sanctity of my body and warned that when you sleep with someone, you sleep with everyone they slept with before, a forbidding chain of penises-in-vaginas stretching back to the Neolithic Age.  I fell somewhere between Momma as condom dispenser and Momma as abstinence advocate: I was ready for sex but in order to make it happen, I needed to chug Budweisers.  More than one.  So the boy and I sat on the edge of the waterbed which sloshed beneath us like it had gastrointestinal issues, and polished off a few quick cans of beer.

My body was ready.  After all, I’d been studying my father’s old Playboys in the attic since I was eight, taking note of the rounded slopes of butts and boobs, and glossy lips parted mid-sigh. Also, years of self-practice, so just a matter of alignment.  And there was pleasure, sort of.  It wasn’t his first time, so things went where they were supposed to instead of say, misfiring into my armpit.  The problem though, was when we were done and rolled away from each other.  I wiped my eyeliner smudges with the back of my hand, and he shimmied back into his jeans, and I decided to be even braver: “I love you,” I said, with a desperate kind of hope.

He was quiet, and my heart whoosh-thumped in my ears because I knew he wasn’t going to say what I wanted him to say.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I don’t feel that way.”

My little eighteen year old heart dissolved in shame.  I’d assumed mutual feeling inside that mutualish pleasure.  The three beers not only loosened my jeans but my words, too.  Meaning making where there was no meaning other than two bodies reaching their expected conclusions. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Intimacy, love

Smelly Make This Bed

February 14, 2017
bed

By Cara Lopez Lee

I tuck the sheet under my chin and try not to move, hoping to trap it, that smell like spoiled sausage and goat cheese. It’s only a gesture, because already I know it’s too late.

“Sorry,” I say.
“Nice,” he laughs.

“So, this is how love dies,” I say, “one fart at a time.”

I wonder where all my gases hid when we first became lovers. I’ve never mastered the feminine skill of restrained flatulence. Yet the first time we shared a bed, the only scent I noticed was his skin, like fresh-baked bread, peanut butter, and summer sun. I felt relieved not to feel the slats of another bachelor’s futon skittering up and down my back, or to hear the slosh of a waterbed, stuck in a time warp again. Instead his bed was steady and king size, and we used every inch: him flipping me from corner to corner like the martial artist he was, me twisting into positions I could never achieve as a dancer.

When we split up, he confessed, “I didn’t do laundry for a while. I could still smell your scent on everything—the sheets, the pillowcases, my shirts—and I didn’t want to wash it away.” Continue Reading…

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, 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, Sexuality, Women

The Origin Of The World

September 29, 2016
sexuality

By Zoë Brigley Thompson

I start to like my father again when we are standing together looking at a painting. To begin, you would have to explain the place. The Musée D’Orsay in Paris was a railway station until 1939, and the great clock-faces on the exterior signal an obsession with timekeeping and travel. This particular painting is relatively small, and its intimacy is out of place under the arching glass roof where trains once ran. The museum is a public space and still has the feeling of a railway station with people hurrying to their next destination. In the middle of all this is a painting of a woman’s genitals, and my father and I are standing together in front of it.

I have just turned 18, and my father has brought me to Paris as a birthday present. Some years before, my father moved with his new wife to the central lowlands of Scotland, but he often rings on the phone. “Just hop on a plane and come over for a visit,” he says, but of course it is never that simple.

What my father does not know in Paris is that I am in a very precarious place. A few years before, I swore that I would never have sex again: my first experiences were that awful. Not long after that, I slept with my best friend just for the sake of it, to get it over with. 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, Women are Enough

Two Jobs

July 28, 2016
adventure

By Amy Turner

“You must treat career hunt and husband hunt as same thing,” says my Croatian wax lady, Julia.  She is 29 and knows more than I did. At 29, all I believed in was a unilateral work ethic and Henry Miller inspired romantic doom.

“I agree,” I say, shocking even myself. Because if I’d thought about the shitty relationships I’d been in as ‘jobs,’ they were mostly low paying and emotionally abusive.  If I’d have framed them that way, would I have wasted so much time?  One shift at McDonalds and I’d have walked, but at her age, I was working a virtual minimum wage and fry grease trap of the soul.  It was a very anti-feminist idea, this searching for partnership with the fervor of a career, but I liked the possibility that this girl, at 29, was wise enough to design her own feminism. As opposed to clutching Steinem bumper stickers all day and cuddling with rogue charmers at night.

“I like man, in Colorado, handy, lots of tools, good round house,” she says. “But I text him I want to visit and he doesn’t text me back. I don’t know what to do. “ In my heart I want to say, RUN AWAY! DO NOT TEXT HIM! IF HE WANTS YOU HE WILL FIND YOU!! TRUST ME!! But I think she’s really good at waxing and advice is dumb because everyone’s only talking about themselves and every situation is different (BUT NOT REALLY CAUSE GUYS WHO LIKE YOU WIL FIND YOU, BUT THEN AGAIN I KNOW HAPPY MARRIED PEOPLE WHERE THE WOMAN WAITED  WITH THE PATIENCE OF JOB AND UNFLIPPABLE DUDE FLIPPPED SO WHAT THE HELL DO I KNOW?) and kept my mouth shut.

“He said he’d pay for half my ticket. Maybe I text that I bought it?  That he take me camping and that’s the deal?” she laughs. I remember thinking that way. That if he goes camping with you, and your smooth tan legs and your warm single sleeping bagged self, he will never be able to enjoy the natural world alone EVER AGAIN. Buuuuuuuuuuuuut……weirdly, they actually can.

“The camping line is cute,” I say.

“I mean, I’m not defined by relationship, but I want to do some things before I settle down, travel, have career,” she says, “But, the reason I was able to get to better place, better salon, was because I got to live with my ex boyfriend a while when changing jobs.”

I nod, “it’s easier to make changes when we have some support.” These are the things we don’t talk about a lot. How being coupled provides an emotional and economic bravery.  That making Big Life Decisions on your own can be downright exhausting after awhile and at a certain point, one just wants to not make any. Which leads to stasis and a heavy rotation of avocado toast and wine.

“I think most girls are like us now,” I say, thinking of the spectrum of women I know. Everyone wanted some adventure, a strong sense of self, a job that gave you independence, and to fall in love and be committed. The dream, a shared future and the quiet unspoken whisper that one would help the other not wind up living under a freeway underpass. Romance 2016. It was no longer chic to be kept like the fifties (or 90’s if your were a girlfriend of Jerry Buss) or be as ferocious as the eighties ladies. It seemed as if some of the fog had cleared, it seemed as if the most honest feelings, to want both, once deemed selfish (a therapist in her eighties once told me if I wanted to make money and be a wife I was a bit of a narcissist) were now the realest things possible. To give both desires equal weight. This was progress, this ‘both jobs’ idea of hers. It was also the day after President Obama endorsed Hilary Clinton. A woman who, in her twitter bio, identifies first as, wife, then ‘pants suit aficionado,’ and finally, 2016 presidential candidate.

“They are both jobs,” I say to her, as she removes a final strip of wax.

I can’t help myself, I want her to go to Colorado, because she is 29 and she will make love by a river and she will have that moment inside her forever, and that is no small thing. But I don’t want her to waste years waiting for a guy unable to push a few buttons.

“I have a very wise friend who used to say, ‘I can’t wait around for you to figure out how great I am.’ ”

Julia laughs and pulls up the mirror.

“Beautiful,” she says, impressed with her work. My eyebrows perfect.

“I dunno, maybe you should go to Colorado,” I say, remembering my guy in  Montana. The romance in the rearview mirror, worth every bug bite. One week riding horses and swimming in a river and watching him put on chaps for god’s sake. But had the romances blocked other happy vines from crawling in and stilling me, suturing me to one person? They felt like the only thing that fit in those days. But I wasn’t 29 any more, and the exotic now lay in a person who would pick you up from the mechanic, knew how to work the four remote controls, endure the holidays with your family.

“No more wasting time,” she says. Her accent thick and decisive. Resolved. “I don’t think he’s ready for real thing.”

This is the real job, I think.  Defining the real things. Being gentle with your own desires. All of your parts, hired.

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Amy Turner is an author, essayist and TV writer who has published on The Huffington Post. She was a Producer on ABC Family’s “MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, ” a story editor on CBS’s “THE EX LIST” and a staff writer on Aaron Sorkin’s NBC drama, “STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP.” You would like having a Negroni with her. She can be found on Twitter @turnerleturner.

 

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are just two 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

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.

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