Browsing Tag

surviving

Guest Posts, suicide

Prednisone at the Wheel: Losing my husband, but Finding My Way Home

May 28, 2017
prednisone

By Jill Stegman

I never imagined after nearly forty-two years of marriage, that I would be left on a strange street looking for a bus hundreds of miles from home.

But I had jumped out of the rental car my husband was driving, so intent on getting from one ravaged Youngstown, Ohio, each neighborhood even more boarded-up, shut-down, and depressing than the next. It was clear: we were a world away from Central California, where our two children had befriended tarantulas and lizards on our five acres of property.

“No, I’m not letting you drive,” he’d said, clamping his fingers more tightly on the wheel and speeding up to fifty in a twenty-five mph zone. My husband, Don, had gone from a clean, fit, REI-clad former surfer and cyclist with a smile for everyone to an unshaven and angry ghost of his former self, wearing a frayed t-shirt and sweatpants.

“Stop!” I screamed, as he picked up speed, the houses and street corners becoming a gray blur. “Let me out!”  I couldn’t believe this was the same man who had always been my protector for forty-two years of marriage. One thing for sure: he was not at the wheel Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Tough Conversations

English Club: A Story of Gang Rape, Trafficking, And A Dragon

May 21, 2017

CW: This essay discusses rape and sex trafficking. For survivor support, contact RAINN for confidential online and phone support, https://www.rainn.org/get-help.

By Katie Ottaway

For three years all I remembered was the tea. The tea wasn’t even that good.

I was abroad teaching English, and planning a summer of pre-dissertation research.  My classes were in the evening, and it was not uncommon for my students to bring friends to audit.  In the few minutes before I commenced my advanced English class, I overheard a conversation that a handful of my male students were having in their local language.  I didn’t catch it all, but I understood that they were talking about me, and my class, and falling asleep.  They were discussing whether or not I would make the cut.  There was some discussion of numbers.  At the time, I naturally assumed that they were critiquing my pedagogy, maybe discussing if their new foreign teacher was hot or not, and talking about finances as most students do.  I didn’t like the fact that they were talking about me within a few feet of me, thinking that I couldn’t understand, so I spoke to the class in their language for the first time.

After class, one of the students approached and asked if I had understood their conversation.  I bluffed a little, and replied that I had understood enough of it.  His eyes widened, and he assured me that they were talking about a different class and a different teacher.  He only returned a couple times, and never made eye contact.  His friend, G, who was privy to the conversation maintained good attendance, and even became somewhat of a teacher’s pet. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

Water Baby

May 19, 2017
MISCARRIAGE

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Hanna Bartels

It started with red and it ended with water. And in between, I waited at the Starbucks counter and I rested my fingertips on the contour of the beginning. A habit, a protective hand. But the baby beneath that barely there bump stopped growing the day before. My baby was now just my pregnancy and the next day would be just blood and tissue.

I rubbed my thumb against an angel pinned to an impossibly small blanket in my pocket. Over a bead of blistered plastic at the bottom of the left wing where the mold opened too soon and hot resin seeped out.

When someone you know dies, you mourn the loss of them. Their smell, the sound of their voice, how your days transform without them. But when you lose a pregnancy, your life doesn’t change at all. Your belly should swell, your house should fill with bouncers and swings and carriers and bottles and dirty diapers. But instead, you drink your coffee and the world spins on its axis.

The warped angel was a reminder: I was pregnant once, and now I am not.

***

Four days before, I’d noticed a spot of red on my toilet paper.

I rummaged through my medical file, searching for the number the nurse had first starred and then circled at my first prenatal appointment.

My mother-in-law called down the hall, good morning and cheerful, asked if she should make coffee. She was in town for a cousin’s wedding and my husband, a surgical resident, was at the hospital.

Just one second, I told her, I’ll make it.

I pushed aside flour and sugar in my cabinet to reach the coffee I hadn’t touched in months.

I just had some spotting, I told her as I scooped ground beans into the filter. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

When “Yes” Means “No”: On Trauma

May 15, 2017
trauma

CW: This essay discusses sexual abuse and trauma . For survivor support, contact RAINN for confidential online and phone support, https://www.rainn.org/get-help.

By Kit Rempala

One of the most beautiful and terrifying things about trauma is its relativity.  It changes from person to person.  My therapist says trauma is a defense mechanism – it shields us from the exiled emotions which well up to the surface every time our minds touch upon the permanent bruise which houses memory of the initiator.  She says defense mechanisms are not our weakness; they are powerful tools that indicate just how strong we are in the face of adversity.  She says although the initiators and their actions are not a part of us, the defense mechanisms – the traumas – are a part of us.  And no part of us is bad, or defines us.

But what do we do when cases of trauma are not so clear-cut?

I should have known.  I should have listened to my friends.  I should have listened to my instincts.  I believe in the core, primal, animalistic intelligence preserved in the human condition – the one that, when it prompts us to “Run!” is usually correct.  I’m a smart woman.  I am college-educated, I come from a well-adjusted upbringing in an upper-middle-class home, and I very rarely question my own judgments.  And then there are other times…

I met “D” when I was nineteen.  I had scarcely dated, and so I jumped at the opportunity for another’s attention, to feel desirable and wanted.  He seemed like a nice enough guy: polite and witty.  But even on our first date my neighbor’s dog growled at him as we walked to his car.  I shrank away from his hulking form in the passenger’s seat, and again during the movie, and again on the way home.  When I kissed him goodnight my apprehension was eclipsed by his powerfulness, the way he pulled me so tightly to him and pressed his lips so hard against mine.  It made me feel small in a way I never had being 5’11” tall.  My body shook, but not with the butterflies from a new connection. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Social Media

Why I Don’t Just Unfriend Him

May 5, 2017
trauma

By Christie Tate

“You can just unfriend him.  At least hide his profile.”

This is good advice, advice I’d be well served to take.  I’ve just told my best friend about the latest offense my Tea Party pro-Trump second-cousin has committed on social media.  This cousin triggers me to the moon with his red state propaganda.  I haven’t laid eyes on him since my grandfather’s funeral in 1981.  I was in third grade.  I remember only that his face was wide and flat like the surface of the moon.  We share the same last name and a handful of relatives that I’m not close to.  We were “reunited” on Facebook a few months ago when my first cousin put me in touch with his daughter.

I didn’t know he was a pro-Trump guy at first.  The posts were all about his grandbaby and his beloved Texas Aggies.  Babies I can get behind 100% of the time; the Aggies I could take or leave.

Then, over the summer the Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas erupted in gun violence and police officers were killed in the line of duty.  I posted something that was pro Black Lives Matter, and his response was racist, offensive, anti-Constitutional, and impossible to ignore.  I held my phone and in that tiny square for REPLY I told him why Black Lives Matter was important and that he was wrong about who was to blame for the violence.   I cited numerous incidents were young black men were killed at the hands of trigger-happy, racist police officers.  After I published my remark, I shook like someone soaking wet in a snow storm.  Had I just taken this man with my father’s smile to task?  Was I now in trouble?  I was 43 years old, sitting in the office where I work as a lawyer, shaking like I’d just thrown a Molotov cocktail through an elderly person’s window. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Truth or Dare

April 23, 2017
dare

CW: This essay discusses sexual abuse.

By Galla Peled

“Truth or dare?” Russell, our babysitter for the night, demanded. Russell was the oldest cousin. He was 17, and deemed responsible enough to babysit. Every Saturday night my parents dropped me off at my cousin’s split level home in suburban Detroit, while they went out for dinner and maybe a show with my aunt and uncle. Every Sunday morning they came to pick me up, and we would all have breakfast together before we went home. My mom made tomato sauce for my Aunt’s scrambled eggs and we kids took turns shaking cinnamon sugar out of a plastic bear dispenser onto our toast.

Shortly after the adults went out, we gathered on the brown shag carpet of the master bedroom and closed the door.  Playing there with the door closed felt clandestine and was a little bit exciting. “Truth or dare?” Russell pressed his sister, Lizzie. She and I were both six, and Neil, Lizzie’s other brother was eight. Lizzie had lost a hand at Blackjack and the rules were that if you lost, you had to choose a truth or a dare. Since Russell was the oldest, he always got to deal and make up the rules. For some reason he almost always won; Neil, Lizzie, and I took turns losing. With each loss we removed an article of clothing. Once we were naked, when one of us lost a hand, we had to choose a truth or a dare. Our choice could be overruled by the dealer, so essentially we were always dared to fulfill his fantasy. It was a punishment for losing.

TRUTH: Childhood sexual abuse can be defined as any activity that engages a child in sexual activities that are developmentally inappropriate.

DARE:  Lizzie was flat chested and hairless. The veins that stood out on her skin were as blue as her eyes, her six-year-old body a stretched-out version of a toddler. She instinctively used one arm to cover her nipples and the other to cover her private parts. She cowered next to the bed. “Dare!” Russell decided for her, and challenged her to walk atop his spread-eagled legs as he reclined back on his elbows. His penis stood in the nest between his legs, threatening all of us with its presence. We knew if she could not complete the dare to his satisfaction, she would have to perform another task until he was appeased. I watched, afraid for her, but stimulated at the same time.  The woolen carpet scratched my own private parts and I liked how it felt. At least I still had my shirt on. 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, Sexual Assault/Rape

A Funny Thing About Rape: A Video Essay

April 9, 2017

CW: Discussion of rape and sexual assault. Sexual assault is not your fault. If you need to talk: 800.656.HOPE, , .

By Mary Jo Smith

There’s been a lot of talk about rape lately.
As someone who was raped, I thought I’d join the conversation.

So, there’s been a lot of talk about rape lately. Because, you know, we just had a presidential election. In which we elected a president who likes to grab women by the pussy. Ok, wait. To be fair, I don’t want to paraphrase what our President said, because the media does that kind of stuff all the time and then you form an opinion about somebody based on what you think they said, but it’s not really what they said. So, let me be clear. What our president really said was, quote:

“You can do anything, grab them by the pussy.”

Oh, that’s what I said. OK.

Now, a lot of people got really angry, on Facebook, about what our President said. And I’ve been thinking about it, you know, cause I’m a woman, so I’m supposed to have opinions. So, here’s my opinion: Everybody needs to calm down. I mean even our shiny, new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, when asked, if what our president said constituted sexual assault said:

’I don’t know.’ Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

The Gatekeeper I Couldn’t Leave: Why an Educated Woman Stays

March 24, 2017

By Joyce Hayden

No, I wasn’t poor.  I didn’t have five children.  I wasn’t disabled in any way.

I was college educated.  Privileged, white, middle-class.  Had parents and siblings who loved me.

Friends who cared.  I had a job and a checking account.  I had a car, or at least access to one.

It’s difficult to recount how love became control in such a short time.  Or how long it took for me to see it.  And then accept.  And then take action.

I’m not sure any of the reasons make sense of it.  But, it matters, because:

  1. Though I often doubted it on wind-lashed winter nights, I was never the only one. We are countless.  We are too often the silent countless.
  2. Too many of us continue to remain stuck, unable to put the first first down. To stop the ride.

Kevin was my partner on Magical Mystery Rides in our shiny orange Karmann Ghia on dirt roads through New Hampshire and Vermont.  He was smart.  He was funny.  He was street wise.  He was handsome.  He was an artist, a writer, a wood carver.  Using sharp metal tools and sandpaper, he could smooth the bones of a leaf fairy’s ankle skin soft in thick basswood.  That’s right: he didn’t carve stout orcs and wart covered trolls or guns and muscle cars. He carved leaf fairies and forest gnomes. And I  was in LOVELOVELOVE!

It’s true he was my gatekeeper.  My tormentor.  My abuser.

He accounted for every second of my time and every cent I made.

It would be impossible to count the days and months that added up to years of living in real or expectant fear.

As a result, sometimes the rebel in me needed to yell and I would start something.  Purposely press his buttons, even though it would have been so much easier to walk away.  Like the time I gave a co-worker a ride to the restaurant, and after our shift, she finished first, she went to the nearby bar, the bar Kevin had forbade me to enter, and I had to go fetch her for her ride home.  Would it have been just as easy to say No, when he asked if I’d gone to the bar?  Of course.  But some nights I was tired of so many rules, so many seemingly ridiculous demands. Rules made from possession and jealousy.  So instead, I stood my ground.  In my purple mini skirt, my bare legs, left hand on my hip, I threw my long blonde hair back and said “Yes. Yes, I did go in.  I had a beer.  Then I got Shari and we left.  What’s the big fuckin’ deal?”  Well, I should have known not to turn my back and walk away.  I had carpet scrapes on my knees and elbows, cauliflower shaped bruises on my chest for weeks after that.

But the main reason I didn’t shake a fist and run, grab the keys and speed away, was this:

He was the first human being I ever told that I’d been molested as a kid.  He said exactly what I needed to hear, and feared I never would.  It was Christmas time, two months after we met.  We’d just bought a tree together at Faneuil Hall one snowy night, threw it in his pick up, and half drunk, pulled and pushed it up the three flights of stairs in my Brookline apartment building.  When it was standing up right in the red metal base, and a couple strings of colored lights adorned the branches, Kevin motioned me to his lap, and although I can’t recall what prompted me to say so, because we’d already been having sex, but I confessed that I’d been molested.  I didn’t dump the full trilogy on him.  I just told him about one time when I was 12, lying on the gurney, alone with Dr. Palmer in the examining room on Hinsdale Drive.  I don’t know why, but I needed Kevin to know.  To know then, two months in, not in two years or 20.  And Kevin, seeing me turn red in the telling, probably feeling my body stiffen, contract, pulled me closer and said something to the effect of, “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t change anything.”  And for a sparkling moment, I too thought, “Right.  It doesn’t matter.”  But it did.  It did for years.  It made me feel wrong, feel guilty. As if I’d lured the doctor, as if I’d seduced him, though that word was not part of my vocabulary back then.  But Kevin’s consolation helped ease my mind.  Helped me put the PTSD on the back burner for awhile. That might seem insignificant, but for me, who had held the secret for years, Kevin’s response was a tremendous gift.  I was accepted, not blamed, as I had anticipated.

Perhaps one incident of molestation wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have misshapen me so poorly.   But when they are spliced all together, from the babysitter’s foster child, to the family doctor, and the uncle, the years of fear, of hide and seek and trying to stay as invisible as possible, the ages 5 to 12,  then it’s clear why that girl only felt safe in shadows. She was home alone at the house on Dixon Drive while the rest of the family went to Uncle Bob’s every weekend. She wiggled her way out with babysitting jobs she lied about having.  Alone from Friday night til Sunday afternoon, keeping herself awake with Sgt Pepper and The Animals, until the sun came up, then sleeping til noon.

By the time she found a man who loved her, despite the sexual abuse, by the time she found a man she felt she could have consensual sex with, she, me, I, was 25 years old.  He loved me.  He accepted my flaws.  My past.  My body of what I then believed to be “damaged goods”.  He wanted me.  And that made me feel safer than I’d ever felt in my life.  Ever.  Why would I leave that?  How would I ever find that again?

When things got tough, after words and name calling thrust through the air like swords, after wine bottles missed my head and smashed to pieces on the floor, I had one focus:  To get us back to those early days.  The magical mystery days.  The sitting on his lap, loving me despite days.  We had it all once.  I was convinced we could have it again.  That was my goal.  If I just did xxx; if I would stop doing zzz.  If, if, if, I could get us back there.  Kevin gave me everything I’d never had.  What I interpreted as complete passion and devotion.  No judgment.  He knew about me and he wanted me with him.  He never used my past against me.  Not once.  Not the way my own mind used it against myself.

That is why I stayed for another five years after the first time he hit me.  I never thought I’d find that initial approval and tenderness.  Someone like me doesn’t throw love and acceptance away very easily.  Not when it took 25 years to find in the first place.  Not when I was convinced and repeatedly told I’d never find it again. Not when the man I loved would stop for birds that lay wounded at the side of the road, take them home, try to nurse them back to health.  He did this even though the birds, despite his eye drops of water, despite him staying up with them all night, despite the worms and bugs, would inevitably die.

When Kevin brought me into his world, it was fun.  It was the three of us together.  Kevin, me and our black lab Crystal.  It felt like a fairy tale.  I don’t care what it looked like from the outside; from the inner circle of us three, it was playful, it was adventurous, it was loving, it was camaraderie, it was thick as thieves joy.  And that’s it.  When it comes down to it, that’s why.

We finished each other’s sentences.  We knew each other from the inside out.  We knew each other’s deepest secrets.   One night I was driving home from my waitress job at Daniels in Henniker, NH.  It was early November. I was driving slow.  Really slow. My grandfather had just passed away, and on top of that, our favorite dishwasher, a kid who studied at the local college, had been killed a few hours earlier in a car wreck on black ice.  So I was driving 30 mph in a 55, on a sharp curve near Lake Todd, when a car came flying around the bend, tires squealing, and he wasn’t slowing down.   And he was in my lane…about to hit me head on.  What they say is true:  I saw my life flash before my eyes.   I thought I was dead.  I thought I was going through the back windshield.  I thought I was a nano-second away from becoming star dust.  But I turned my steering wheel to the right, quickly and sharply, and my car stalled in the ditch.  Mr. 100 Miles Per Hour kept going, fast as hell in the wrong lane.

I was shaken when I arrived home.  Legs like mush as I climbed the long flight of stairs to our house.  The second I opened the door, Kevin bolted over to me. I shrank back.  He grabbed my biceps and shook me.  “Where’ve you been? Where’ve you been??”  I couldn’t speak; I was still in shock from the close call and confusion of Kevin’s fear disguised as anger.

“Ten minutes ago,” Kevin said, “I felt in my entire body that you were in mortal danger.  I felt your heart stop.  I called the restaurant and you’d left.  But you should have already been home.” We lay down together on the couch.  There’d been many nights I’d come home to him yelling at me for being so late.  I was used to that.  It was normal everyday life.  But this night I knew we were connected in a way I’d never experienced with another soul.  I had nearly died.  He had felt it.  He knew it.  How does one turn her back on that  kind of love?  There were more days like that than there were filled with fists.

When I love someone, I see their potential.  I’m too often blinded by it.  I know the goodness in them.  I couldn’t leave until I saw that potential fade.  Until I’d watched him throw all his chances and potential out the window.  I couldn’t leave until I realized in my bones, not just understood in my mind, that nothing I’d ever done was enough to make him hit me.  I couldn’t leave until my love had turned to pity, my respect to disgust.  No one but me could carry me to that moment.  No one could tell me it was time to go and expect me to act.  People tried.  They told me I deserved better.  People saw who he was.  They saw who I was.   But I couldn’t leave until I could see it: see who he was; see who I really was.  I stayed until I realized he was never going to change.  I stayed until I realized that I wanted and deserved something better.  I stayed until I believed that the next time he really might kill me. I stayed until I finally believed I had the right to open the gate, put the key in the ignition, and go.

Former English Professor, Joyce Hayden, recently left her job to complete her memoir The Out of Body Girl. An artist and writer, Joyce’s work can be found on her website: joycehayden.com

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.

Anxiety, Guest Posts

Repurposing Anxiety

March 20, 2017
anxiety

By Lola B.

I don’t remember being an anxious kid growing up. But to be honest, I don’t recall what I had for breakfast this morning, so I can’t really say that “remembering” is my thing. I sure as hell am not going to ask my mom to remind me what I was like as a child. That would just be inviting danger. Sort of like asking Kellyanne Conway and Alec Baldwin to come on over to the house for cocktails. It might be highly entertaining at first, but someone will end up on the floor in the fetal position, drooling and mumbling about global warming. No one wants to see that.

Somehow, over time, it seems that I have developed a boatload of anxiety. And, quite frankly, I’m irritated about it! There’s no doubt that I have earned my anxiety stripes in recent months following the arrest and conviction of my husband for drug trafficking. When the FBI calls to chat, that will get your heart racing. When you don’t know how you’re going to pay the bills, that gets your attention. When your daughter is terrified in her own home and yet is heartbroken to move out of the house she loved, that just absolutely kicks you in the gut.

But the thing about anxiety is, it gets in the way. Worry hinders joy. It keeps you from fully experiencing all that life has to offer. You’re either too anxious and fearful to participate, or too worried while you’re participating, so you miss the good stuff. The parts where joy lives. Where the exhales happen. The space where your heart sings.

So I took my anxiety to Restoration Hardware to see if maybe I could repurpose it. I could take this old, worn out, tiresome thing and shine it up to reuse in a different way. A way that would acknowledge and honor the fact that life is sometimes scary and hard and messy, but also wondrous and joyful and worth the risk.

As I disassembled my anxious feelings, I could see each piece more clearly.  I could see that in anxious moments, I was fixated on what I was sure would destroy me.  But what if I used that same intensity and took it to the light?  Used the energy in a positive way?  I could repurpose that intensity into being focused. Shaping and directing my path with intention rather than allowing fear to run the show.

I could strive for excellence and not perfection. Chasing perfection is an exhausting, never-ending loop.  Excellence means I gave it a valiant effort.  My best effort – knowing that sometimes my “best” could look a little sketchy if I was hangry.

And for the extra scary stuff, I morphed my anxiety into badassery. Being bold.  Standing my ground.  Speaking my truth – even if my voice shook.

I used my badassery to get brave enough to tell people that I needed a minute. Whether that was a minute to breathe and collect my thoughts before making an important decision, or a minute because they were pissing me off and I was going through a verbal tirade in my head. None of their business. I just needed a damn minute!

I learned how to breathe through the crazy. To plant both feet solidly on the ground, close my eyes, and just breathe.

I may not remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I do remember being six years old and saving my three-year-old sister from drowning. I have worried about her ever since. Maybe that’s where the anxiety started, and then it grew and flourished in the life experiences that shape all of us. But worry does not have to rule us, define us, or limit us. If we repurpose it to work for us, then anxiety gets out of the way and joy slips in through the side door.

Ok, gotta run. I’m headed over to Home Depot to see if they can help me renovate my stress.

When LolaB’s husband was arrested for drug trafficking, writing became an outlet for the craziness that ensued. She is divorced after 20+ years of marriage, and raising two daughters on her own. LolaB writes to shine light in dark places, and to heal herself and her children. She is a writer of hope at www.RRLolaB.com. She can also be followed on FaceBook, Instagram, and posts on Twitter as @RRLolaB.

 

 

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.

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Surviving

Mother And Daughter: An (In)Complete History of (Almost) Suicide

March 12, 2017
suicide

CW: This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

By Amy Buchanan

One of my earliest memories is this: Sitting in the passenger seat of an old, beat-up blue Volkswagen, tracing a raindrop with my finger as it slides down the window and swallows up other raindrops along the way. My bare feet don’t yet touch the floor. I’m barely tall enough to see the gray world outside. My pajamas are twisted up, cutting a red line into my neck. My mother’s boyfriend opens the door and ponderously shoves a wastebasket full of my socks into the back seat. He is a bear of a man; I adore him, but he can be scary. This morning he is scary. Just sitting next to him brings anxious tears to my eyes.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to some people. You’re going to live with them now.” He forces the car in gear, and we begin to drive away.

“Where is my mom?” I cry, a keening sound too big for my small body.

“Who the hell knows. Probably going to the ocean to drown,” he looks at me. “She doesn’t want you anymore. Now shut it.” Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

Marked

February 24, 2017
tattoo

By Jude Walsh

I was nine when I saw my first tattoo. It was July in northeastern Pennsylvania and the first week of Saint Aloysius’ annual two-week church summer bazar. I was with my dad in the beer garden, a lattice work section decorated with swags of plastic greenery and potted plastic plants, located just a few steps away from the food tent. It was sheltered by a large tarp and had long counters set much higher than normal booths because their sole purpose was a place to rest your elbows while you stood while having a beer or two or three or ten.  This section was for drinkers but in the early 1960’s there was no problem with a little girl being there with her dad.

The art I spied was on a man who in my memory had big arms, what I now might call bulging biceps but then just thought of as big arms. It was deep blue and in the shape of an anchor. I could not stop looking at it.  Dad noticed me staring and said, “That’s a navy anchor.” I knew it was an anchor and now I knew it was a navy anchor. What I did not know was how it got on his skin.

“Who drew it there?”

My dad laughed out loud, “It’s not drawn on his arm, that’s a tattoo.” Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Season Before Winter

February 22, 2017
paperwhites

By Marika Rosenthal Delan

The world was in a state of unrest when fall came.

In my home state of Missouri, people in Ferguson were rioting and burning shit to the ground. The only thing I was burning were hours of sleep and some old notions about the way things should be. Watching the world in complete disarray already had me fighting back vomit as two pink lines appeared on the stick I had just peed on.

Forty had descended on me like a wrecking ball that summer. I was surprised to find myself embracing this milestone, but had long considered a third child out of the question. I had always joked that I wanted three. But that was before 40, before three back surgeries and endometriosis.

Before. It was before my body was breaking.  A baby was not on my radar and it showed up like a UFO.

I had been exceedingly careful with my birth control after once getting pregnant with an IUD- what are the chances? I looked it up: 0.8% in the first year of use whatever the hell that means.

I had eagerly signed consent for tubal ligation while undergoing exploratory surgery for endometriosis the previous year. But I hadn’t met the required 30-day waiting period by the day of my procedure. I woke up from anesthesia with my tubes intact.

A plan B wasn’t immediately established. It took months of discussion after which my hubby finally manned up and volunteered for a vasectomy.  This was our three-part plan: We would make an appointment right after the holiday.  He would have the procedure. Then we would go to the movies. It would be a date, I joked. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Kindness, The Hard Stuff

When You See Her, Be Kind

February 17, 2017
real

By Kimberly Valzania

I know what makes her tick. I know how she is, and better yet, who she is. And I know all her secrets and what she did to keep them. How she locked them away in a box for years, and kept the key just beyond her own reach.

We’ve always been close. Pushing her out the door each day takes all the strength I have. But resisting her familiar charms helps me gather and sort out my true self instead, the only self I was meant to be.

In letting her go, I let go of her burdensome habits. No more quiet tip-toe up the stairs, shutting the bathroom door, knees to the floor.

Still, when I feel her panic creeping, a few smaller habits return. Sometimes, her leg shakes and she twirls her hair, pulling a long piece around her cheek and into her mouth, turning it on her tongue, creating a wet and pointy tip. Her fingers get in there too. Her nails, stubby nubs. Always something in her mouth. Her mouth remains the vessel that bears her rolling waves of worry and cope.

Before…before now, I always knew when she was empty, void. And when she was full, stuffed. Empty, hungry. Full, packed. And, as it was, I always knew the very moment the fullness was just too much. When she wanted, more than anything else, the blessed emptiness back. Continue Reading…