Monday, December 24, 2007

Dark Time by Matthew Silverman

The 1960s were a dark time. For me. When I think of my experiences during that decade, it all seems completely dark, with occasional vivid memories flashing, like a light switch flicked on in a darkened room, and then switched off. The vision of what was seen while the light shined remains against the blackness.

Everything was very happy, they all tell me. Our house was as full as it would ever be. Four children, my cousin living with us made five, parents, my aunt who came to help three days a week, a nurse and handyman who came one or two days, dogs, cats, and neighborhood kids coming and going. I was part of that happy din, laughing and crying as life dictated.

I was somewhat sickly for the day. I went into the hospital three times for hernia operations before I was four. I only remember the last one—vaguely: getting Jell-O served in the hospital bed, the rectal thermometer, my mother sleeping in a cot set up in the room. I was not able to walk so there were crutches, but I was still small enough where anyone who needed me moved could pick me up easily enough.

When we sold the house thirty-odd years later, I found the contact sheets a professional photographer relative had taken of us then. My brothers still looking exactly alike, one in his school uniform and the other in a jacket a tie. My sister looking serious. A single picture of my cousin and several of my parents, not yet forty, in charge of this brood and traveling together for business, leaving us in the care of my aunts for weeks at a time. That was how things had to be and we did not complain. We were not a big family with a lot of extended branches; we were small and growing.

We even have a new dog, Topper, whom my brothers run through the yard in the contact sheets. My brothers and sister and I congregate at the back door, they dressed up and I in my pajamas that I stayed in the whole time I recovered from the operation. There is no posed picture of us on the landing, just us all doing something different at the same time. As we were. These pictures are all I have left of the dark time.

I took the contact sheets down to Manny’s in New Paltz to be mounted. I did not choose one or two to try to get developed or expanded but put all the contact sheets in one frame. Black and white images you have to peer at, like looking through a hole in a wall that you cannot see over.

* * *
Matthew Silverman is a writer and editor specializing in sports books. Spring 2008 brings three books on the New York Mets, with one splicing in memoirs by followers of the club and himself that was inspired by the Authentic Writing Workshop (100 Things Mets Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die).

IT WAS ME by Hane Selmani

It was me, the girl standing in front of the Krusq, the wedding party, wearing a wedding dress. How did it happen? What went wrong? I had asked God to change things. I didn’t like the man I was going to marry – but I had no choice. “On the day you were born God wrote on your forehead who you would marry and when you will die,” my mom told me when I was eleven. I believed it. What I couldn’t believe was that he chose Fatmir as my husband. He wasn’t what I had expected. What I had hoped for. How could I love a man who couldn’t carry a conversation? I had always wanted a real man – one who took the lead. A man who was highly respected – someone like my father.

The first time I met him was at his uncles Pizzeria in Manhattan, on 8th Avenue and 14th street. Fatmir had started working there when he came from Macedonia at the age of thirteen. Being the oldest boy he was made responsible for his families’ survival and came to America to work – this seemed to be all he did – all he knew. My brother Asllan and his wife Behare accompanied me to the Pizzeria. This was only fitting since it was at their wedding a few months ago that Fatmir’s Uncles had seen me and decided I would make a good wife – especially since I had my papers. Behare’s father was Shkus i parë, the Head Matchmaker, who came to ask for my hand in marriage on the behalf of Fatmir and his family. It was a Thursday, the day appropriate for these things, and I was in school.
“They came to ask for you today,” my mother told me when I got home, and proceeded to tell me what the Shkus said about him. He was a hard worker, didn’t do drugs, or drink alcohol, and wasn’t a womanizer. My mother commented that he didn’t look “wild,” which I took to mean he wouldn’t hit me. Thank God for him I thought to myself. I also found out from Behare that his uncles, whom Fatmir lived with, treated their wives really well; so there was a good chance I would be too. One wife even drove a car, and both went shopping for clothes by themselves frequently. I really wanted to like him.

“Here’s his picture,” Mom said as she handed it to me.

There he was standing by himself at some wedding hall, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, with thick dark brown hair combed to the side, and beautiful eyes – he wasn’t smiling so I couldn’t tell if he had nice teeth. That was one thing to look out for in photos. It was obvious he had this picture taken just for this reason.
“His name is Fatmir,” Mom said.

Fatmir…I liked the name, it meant good-luck, and he was very good-looking. There was some potential here – all I needed was to feel an attraction, so arrangements were made for me to meet him face to face – with chaperones of course.

I was wearing an expensive stylish off-white dress with three small hand painted flowers that playfully fell over each shoulder. The dress was an appropriate “girls” dress which covered my legs mid calf. I had recently worn it to a wedding. It wasn’t something I would normally wear to a pizzeria – but this was a special occasion.

Fatmir was expecting us. He looked like his picture, except with acne. He didn’t smile, but I could make out that he had nice teeth. He was nervous, shy, and hardly spoke. He didn’t even look at me when I shook his hand ‘Hello,’ and he even blushed.

Asllan, trying to make the “visit” seem casual ordered a large pie for take-out. The fact that we drove in all the way from Bensonhurst Brooklyn was conveniently overlooked. Fatmir made us a fresh pie and spoke to Asllan in-between serving customers, other customers, looking at me on the rare occasion when I said something. Joining in on the conversation was hard since I was supposed to be the submissive female, and was a little shy myself. Fifteen minutes later, with fresh pie in hand, Asllan, Behare and I were ready to leave.

I hadn’t felt anything and was hopeful that something would happen when he shook my hand good-bye. Maybe he would look at me in a special way? Maybe he would say something nice? Maybe my heart would skip a beat for no apparent reason?

None of it happened.

We got to the car and I noticed that he had forgotten to give us napkins.
Being the cool brother, Asllan said, “You go and ask for the napkins.”
At first I was hesitant, and then I thought maybe it would be different if I saw him one on one, and bravely headed back in.

“You forgot to give us napkins,” I said with a smile.

“Oh,” he replied and grabbed a big handful of them, and turning a light shade of red, handed them to me.

“Are you trying to say we’re slobs?” I asked playfully, hoping he’d be funny, sweet…something.

“No. No,” he replied, now even redder.

My heart sank. I smiled, told him I was only kidding, turned around, and left.
So when the Shkus came for the answer to their proposal on his behalf my answer was also “No.” Actually I said, “I don’t know. I don’t feel anything for him.” This I had to repeat to everyone who inquired if I wanted to marry him – my sisters, sister-in-laws, and brothers. The biggest surprise was when my oldest brother Nezir asked me. I remember it like it was yesterday. I did not think he cared about me and my future. He had his wife, which he chose, his children, and he lived in Staten Island – far away from us. Only the girls were supposed to leave the house when they married. He visited every weekend but he felt more like a guest than family. He had the attitude of being above all the Albanian bullshit, as he called it. I think after Xharije’s death [explained in another chapter] he wanted to make sure I picked my own husband, and wasn’t pushed into it. His genuine concern for me made me feel like his sister for a minute.

“I don’t know,” was the acceptable way of saying “No.” I knew everybody wanted me to like him, but I didn’t feel anything extraordinary– the way I expected love to be like. I wanted to love the man I would marry – in this way I was Americanized.
We weren’t your typical Albanian family – I was allowed me to make the final decision on whom I’d marry. There were twenty-six suitors in all, but the majority of them weren’t approved by my brother Sokol or my Mom and didn’t pass the first round. Only three made it to the second round of meeting me – and Fatmir was one of them, and I think my mother’s favorite. My Mom wasn’t happy to hear that I didn’t like him.

The Shkus decided not to take ‘No’ for an answer and came again the following week, and the week after, and the week after that – or so that’s how it felt. It was two months later and they would still call to let us know they were coming for “a coffee,” but we knew what they meant. This persistence was unusual and everyone who heard about it was impressed that Fatmir had wanted me bad enough to swallow his pride and continued his pursuit. I knew I was a great catch, and although I was a little flattered, I just wished they would leave me alone. And besides, I didn’t think Fatmir had that type of conviction – although I saw he liked me I believed it was his Uncles doing. Or had my mother left the door open for them by somehow giving them hope. She used the excuse, “They keep coming for you so why don’t you give him one more chance.” So I did. How could I say No to her.

This time I went to the Pizzeria with my sister Qamile, who excused herself minutes after we arrived with “I have to do some shopping.” It was funny to me that everybody knew what was going on yet went along with it. Why not just say, “I am going to leave you two alone to talk for a while?” I hated lies, even if they were supposed to help one save face. Inside I just shook my head in disbelief.
I sat at a counter on a stool near the ovens, again wearing a dress which was how I silently acknowledged that I knew my place. In school I was a tomboy, but he wasn’t marrying me for who I was. He gave me a slice, directed the Mexican to make pies, and we tried talking while he served customers. I spoke to him in Albanian because I didn’t want to make him feel inferior to me, and I wanted to show off that I can speak the language even though I came here when I was seven. I was not Americanized and was a proper girl.

“How long have you been in America,” I asked in Albanian.

“Five years.”

“Do you like it here?”


Then silence. Jesus! Couldn’t he answer me in full sentences! Couldn’t he take the initiative and ask me a question. Couldn’t he take charge?! After all he was the man.

In a final attempt to break the ice, I asked with a smile, “What were the first curse words you learned in English?”

“What?” He did a double take.

Feeling a little awkward about having asked such an inappropriate question I decided to act as though it was no big deal.

“Une e kum mësu mother-fucker,” I learned mother-fucker, I said.

“Edhe une,” me too, he responded with a smile. I could tell he liked my gutsiness, but I didn’t care for his lack of it.

Damn it. He didn’t even laugh. This was not going to cut it. I needed more of a man. I should have been the one wearing the pants. An hour later, when my sister “finished her shopping,” we headed home, and I was no closer to liking him than before. Although I wanted to want to marry him, I did not feel anything.

“So, what will we tell them when they come tomorrow,” my Mom asked that Friday night before the Shkus came for the answer again.

My heart dropped as I looked at her and then up at the ceiling. It was dark and we had just gone to bed. I slept in the pull-out twin bed next to hers. There was nowhere to run. I knew she wanted me to say ‘Yes,’ and I didn’t want to disappoint her.

“Se di,” I don’t know, I responded as my heart beat loudly in my chest. I knew she knew what that meant. She always understood what I wanted to say even when I didn’t say anything.

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

It was obvious – she didn’t want to accept ‘No’ for an answer. Fatmir seemed like the perfect catch. But I couldn’t say “Yes” when my heart said “No.” So I lay there in silence not knowing what to do.

“You know…Sokol told me you were becoming an old lady in his house,” she said coldly.

He was right – I had turned nineteen. That was pretty old.

The words took me by surprise and my heart sank. The light that came in from the windows was not bright enough to expose the tears that began to run down my face. For this I was thankful. Sokol had been like a father to me since I was eleven, when Dad died. I couldn’t believe he felt like this. But I didn’t dare ask her if he really said it. That would be like calling her a liar – which no one dared to do – half out of respect, half out of fear. Such an insinuation could mean she wouldn’t talk to me for months. And besides, the thought of here lying about something as hurtful as this was not conceivable – I had to accept it as truth. I lay there like a doe with a deep heart wound, silent and still on the outside, painfully dying on the inside.

“So… what should we tell them when they come tomorrow?” she asked, trying to make it seem like it was really up to me, and that the boulder she just dropped on me was only a feather. But she must have known the weight of it – she had to.
What could I say? I no longer had a home. I wasn’t wanted. There was NO choice. I my best to collect myself. I could not let her know I was crying. I didn’t want her to think I was being a baby and felt sorry for myself. She hated that.

“Do whatever you want,” I responded and turned away. Silently letting the tears drip off my nose and cheeks onto the hand that cupped my face. With the other hand I wiped my nose carefully so Mom wouldn’t notice.
The tears dripped me into sleep.

The next morning the Shkus, according to tradition, were supposed to be there before noon so I left before ten – anxious to get out of the house. I didn’t want to be there for it. I was so hurt I avoided seeing Sokol. It took me twenty years to tell him how hurt I was about what he told Mom. Confused, he replied, “I never said that.” We looked at each other and shook our heads in disbelief - Mom had always known how to get just what she wanted.

The fifteen minute walk to Qamile’s house took forever. The usual excitement of window shopping past the 86th Street stores wasn’t there. When I got to her apartment she didn’t mention that she knew fjala, the word, was being given today. She was sensitive to my feeling and knew how I felt.

“You’re engaged,” Qamile said to me an hour later, after getting the phone call from my Mom.

I looked at her and gave a fake smile while fighting back the tears.

“Don’t worry. You will learn to love him,” she said.

I hoped so. I really hoped so.

Who was I to question what had worked for hundreds of years. I really wanted to love the man I’d marry. I guess I’d have to get over that. It made more sense to entrust your elders to do the picking, I reasoned with myself. “Look at the American’s, their marriages almost always end in divorce, and they pick their husbands, they start out loving each other,” I heard many women say in defense of our ways. They were right. Albanians hardly ever got divorced – maybe they knew what they were doing? Regardless, I was relieved this whole marriage thing was over. I was tired of wondering whom I’d marry. Whom God had chosen.


After our engagement my family had decided that I would be allowed to talk to Fatmir on the phone. When my niece was engaged she had to make secret phone calls, but my family was modern. In anticipation for the phone call Asllan and Behare went out and took Sokol’s three boys. My Mom and Sokol’s wife were at their office cleaning jobs. Sokol ate the dinner I served him and left soon after so I could make my call. I would have preferred to have Fatmir call me but I understood there was no way for him to know when I was alone. I picked up the phone in the kitchen, the only phone we had, and began to dial the numbers my sister had gotten for me. My heart beat loudly. I was nervous. This was going to be the man I would marry. The man I would lose my virginity to. The man I would lose my identity to and be called “the wife of.” But I was hopeful that this phone call might change how I felt about him.

“Porto Fino Pizzeria, may I help you?” the voice said.

“May I speak to Fatmir please,” I asked trying hard to keep my voice steady, not knowing that at work they called him by his American name – Johnny.
“This is Fatmir,” he said, as his voice began to break-up. He knew it was me.
Oh boy! I thought to myself, this isn’t going to be easy.

I began by asking the mandatory: “How are you? How’s it going? How’s your health? How’s work? Do you get tired?’ I hated these canned questions, but went through the ritual like a good girl.

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I asked, after all it wasn’t just him I was marrying.


“What are their names?” I inquire with a pen and paper in hand.

“Why do you want to know their names?” he replied in a smug voice.

My stomach began to turn.

“Because we are going to be married – right?” I replied with a tinge of disgust in my voice, almost daring him to say otherwise. A I didn’t care anymore about saying the wrong thing or sounding the wrong way.

This was the reason why parents didn’t let their kids talk, or see their fiancés. If someone made a mistake and the engagement was called off it would be a disgrace to the family. It wouldn’t be so bad for the man, but it would make it a little harder for the girl to find another good husband, especially if she was the one to cause trouble. No one wanted a challenging wife, and God forbid someone else’s leftovers. We wanted our women to be pure in so many ways.
I was sure my tone of voice gave Fatmir a hint that I was a bit hard headed or pak e egër, a little wild, as my mother would call me. If I didn’t like something I let people know. My family knew this about me but such information didn’t freely leave our house and risk my chances of getting a good husband. Even now that I was engaged, it still wasn’t something to be shared – but I didn’t care. I hid nothing. I couldn’t play the submissive role right now. I hoped he was disgusted by my attitude. I hoped he would call it off. That was about as daring as I allowed myself to be. After all I was only a little wild.

“Oh…,” he responded meekly, and proceeded to tell me their names.

It was too late. I half-heartedly listened, and wrote nothing down. Fuck him, I thought, Fuck him! He just made marrying him harder. I tactfully ended the phone call and began to cry. What was I to do? I knew God had chosen my husband, but it was up to us to find him – had we found the wrong man? Heartbroken I went into my bedroom and sat on my bed, not wanting Sokol to walk in and find me crying. With only the light that came in from the dining room I wrote my first letter to the only one I knew could help.

Dear God,
Please do something so that I do not have to marry this man. I know You have written who I will marry on my forehead on the day I was born, but this could not be him. As you know I cannot do anything to call it off without ruining my family name. I know that You are powerful and can do anything, so from the bottom of my heart I ask you to bring this engagement to an end. You know what a good person I am, and so you must know I deserve someone better. I really want to love the man I will marry, and I cannot love him. But I cannot hurt my family either. So please, please, please God, do something. But if you do nothing I will accept my fate.

Tears dripped onto my note and I patted it dry so the letters wouldn’t smudge. I knew he read it as I was writing, but I didn’t want the letter to look messy. It was an important letter – I had even used my best penmanship. I felt Him there listening, and it comforted me. I was hopeful. Truly hopeful. I was not afraid of God – I loved him – and knew he loved me. I had stopped believing in him two years ago, when he let Xharije die tragically, but eventually I reasoned that he must have had a reason for letting it happen as it did. Was he going to let this happen also? The thought disturbed me. He would make this right, I convinced myself. I wondered how he would do it. Would he kill Fatmir? Would he make him call it off? How would he make him call it off? However he would choose to do it would be okay by me – as long as I didn’t have to do it. I put my fate in God’s hands where it belonged, and I waited.

Day’s turned into weeks; weeks into months, and eventually it became April 2nd or 3rd. I don’t remember the exact date; I just know it was the first weekend in April of 1982 when I got married to Fatmir. God must have picked him after all.

Hane Selmani is a writer living in New York City.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

KIDS EAT FREE by Kathy Preston

Certainly, no one is here for the food. If you cared to, just about every detail of the place could be described with the prefix “faux”-- faux-rustic, faux-Americana, and so on. This restaurant, a self-proclaimed “brew pub” with a middling selection, has a couple things going for it. The brew vats take up the center of the two-story building, which creates a cavernous interior with so much background noise that the sound in there, even when half-empty, is cacophonous. This is a plus when you have small children. They also offer a Wednesday night special-- Kids’ Night-- where children can eat free if their accompanying adult orders dinner. I’ve done this many times with different combinations of parents and kids, it’s always been fun, nothing too eventful, pleasant or unpleasant. So I’ve been looking forward to this night.

It’s Phoebe’s 4th birthday, and she’s chosen this, of all things, as the one thing she wants for her birthday. Her mother, Donna, is bemused but has made the reservation. I’m running late. We pull into the parking lot at the same time as Loretta and the triplets, they tumble from the minivan and I take one boy’s hand, Nora on the other, Loretta holding the other two boys, and we march six abreast to the big stone building. Loretta and I joke that we can’t wait to tell the hostess that we’re with the Donna Party.

The kids want deep-fried mac and cheese (this dish exists, yes. It is triangular.) and deep-fried chicken “tenders” and grilled cheese that may as well be deep fried, and even our organic free-range mamas go along with this because once in a while won’t kill you but giving up the opportunity to all be together like this just might. There is an intensity of feeling in these relationships between us that I have not felt before-- it is a magnified version of friendship, akin to sisterhood, but different. We are a community that exists through our love for our children. That fierce bond spills over into us, and there is a palpable excitement in a simple thing like putting everything else aside to talk face to face as we see our children grow together.

There have been some bad days leading up to this one-- even more reason to come together and recharge the way we do. We don’t know any of this (most of the conversation has been about Miriam’s decision to change Ellie’s preschool) and conversations are stopped and started at abrupt intervals as we corral the kids (hungry, excited) and are able to get most of them sitting down for bread and butter. The bad days-- I spent most of this one on or over the toilet, thanks to what I am praying is a 24-hour bug. Michele has just come off a fourteen-hour shift in Labor and Delivery after staying with a mother as she pushed out her stillborn baby, Loretta and the boys have just gotten back from their pulmonologist in Westchester and Loretta has to choose between potential death from asthma or potential death from asthma treatment. But we don’t share any of this right now. We say hello, we try to get our kids some food.

Our party is alone upstairs. Nora is sitting on my lap, lunging for the bread basket, imperiously overseeing the buttering process. Phoebe twirls in her fancy party dress and I look around for the waitress and decide to hell with it, a margarita it is. Orders are placed for the kids and we try to read the menus in between. We manage to order and hope the food comes soon.

I am taking Nora’s hands out of the butter when I hear the commotion. I am surprised to hear it in the soupy reverberations between the upstairs I-beams, there’s this sort of dull roar from downstairs, then all the high-pitched toddler squeaking. I look up and see this woman at the top of the stairs. I can not tell if she is young or old, thin or heavy, blonde or brunette. I know immediately that she is angry, and she is moving toward us, shouting. I can not catch her words. Now she is within earshot. She thinks our children are out of control. We are bothering other diners. They need to sit down. I can see Michele is holding back. She explains that we have been waiting 45 minutes for the kids’ food, this is kids' night, it’s a kid’s birthday party, that that is an unreasonable expectation. I gather this is a manager? A hostess? I am perturbed and intrigued, but pinned down so do not offer comment or get up to join in. Michele and this woman move away, toward the top of the stairs. The body language is riveting. I can tell that Michele is on edge, the woman is not making eye contact but flailing her arms and I can hear her shout, “They need to calm down!” Michele takes a breath. The woman stops for a moment, turns angrily and screams over her shoulder as she descends, “WHERE ARE YOUR HUSBANDS?”

Michele gasps, comes over quickly to tell 8-year-old Ruby to stay put and mind her sister, Loretta gasps and looks at me, wide-eyed, and I can not hear a thing. The roar of the restaurant has been replaced by the sound of blood rushing through my head, at least that’s what I think it is. It sounds like my hands are over my ears, I feel a constriction in my chest and something rising up. It is something I have suppressed for over a year. It is Rage. I fought it down each time I was told it was a blessing Nora was so young when Byron died. I fought it down each time I was told that I was still young and I had my whole life ahead of me. Even when someone I had met once told me that Byron manifested his own death, that negative thoughts cause cancer. The voice rips through this time and I hear that voice come out of the place in my chest, bellowing “Mine’s DEAD, sweetheart!” I realize I have said this, and recoil.

Where IS my husband. I’ve stopped thinking of him as my husband, started calling him “Nora’s dad” in conversation, trying to feel as though not having a husband was something normal and not a loss. But now this. Without thinking, I put Nora on my hip and go downstairs. The roar inside and outside my head are indistinguishable.

Michele is in the glassed-in foyer with the woman, fiery, close. I open the door, a quick burst of cold air brushes my cheeks. They are burning. I have never done this before. I tell her that what she said was horrible, that my husband is dead. How can she say something like that? I need to tell her what those words did, but her eyes only light on mine for a a moment-- since she has identified Michele as her adversary, her target, her focus is not on me, literally or figuratively. She says, “Yeah, well, your children are out of control.” I can not stop the tears. Nora is confused. "Why we downstairs, Mommy? Where Phoebe’s birthday is?" I can not stay. I grab Nora too tightly and go back upstairs.

I barely notice the table, or my friends. Our food is there, I can not touch mine but Nora digs in. She wants to be in my lap, and I am glad for this because I can not stop crying. Her need for ketchup becomes an anchor and a shield. I need to remain upright. Every mother here knows why I am crying. The kids do not. I hear quiet explanations, gentle reassurances. I am hugged, and I feel hands on my shoulders, but now I have this question inside me. Where is my husband? And I only know where he is not. I see him vividly in the hospital bed where he no longer is. I hear him moaning, he won’t open his eyes, and the bedsores are here, the black liquid pouring from his body is here, his wasted arms are here. Each time I blink I see the hole in his side, an unstoppable wound, the blood and the bandages that are soaked with it. The foul, wrenching memory of his death is here-- now his eyes won’t close and his skin is cold.

“Why you are crying, Mommy?” I am crying because of a question I have not found the answer to. I do not see him in the shadows any more. I don’t dream about him. His ashes are in an Apollo Space Launch lunchbox on a rocky cliff’s edge looking out over the ocean in County Kerry, a short walk to Niall’s house. His body has burned. Where he is is not here.

We are the last ones to leave-- Nora has dropped her goody bag and we stay to look for it. I will be damned if she bears one single disappointment this night. I buckle her in, and close the car door, and try to cry as much as I can in the privacy of the cold and unlit lot so that I can leave that there and face my daughter again.

It is bedtime when we get home. I put Nora in the bath, and I start to cry again. “Why you are crying, mommy?”

I’m crying because of what happened at the restaurant. I’m okay, I just can’t stop.

“That lady was mean? She make you cry?”

Yes she did.


Because she said that there should be husbands there, and that made me miss your daddy.

“You miss him?”

Yes, I do.

“You want to hug him?”

I do, but remember how we talked about how Daddy doesn’t have a body any more?

“Oh. I will hug him.”

I can not respond. She continues.

“We dance in the living room. I will hug him, Mommy.” Then we talk about bubbles, and washcloths, and teeth, and pajamas, and the evening fades in and out around us as I put my daughter to bed, where my husband is not.


Kathy Preston is an artist and mother who lives in New Paltz, New York. In her spare time she is learning to navigate the New York City subway system. Her website-in-progress is

Friday, September 21, 2007

IT WAS ME by Sarvananda Bluestone

There was something about Zack. I couldn’t be sure what it was. There was something about Zack that drew me to him like a magnet. He was a chubby nine year old. One of the youngest kids in camp. But age never meant that much to me. That’s why I go there. To forget age.

“You don’t have much to worry about the cold, Donny. You’re well insulated.” Leon said that. I don’t remember why but I do remember that it didn’t bother me. He wasn’t saying that I was fat. I wasn’t. I was just chubby. Funny thing was that nothing Leon said bothered me. I knew that he would never ever say anything to hurt me. Although he might say something I wish he wouldn’t say. Still. I was nine and I loved running around. I always ran around. Never seemed to walk. Seemed like such a waste of time walking when you could run. So many places to get to. So many places to get to fast and then move on. And the funny thing about Journey’s End Farm was that the journey never seemed to end.

Years later, with my wife Heather, I visited Doris at the Bruderhof. She and Bud had been there forever. They had been there in Paraguay. They had been there in Rifton. They had gone there right after Journey’s End. Doris was one of the two daughters of Edith and Leon. Bud was her husband and my counselor.

“What was he like?” Heather asked. She always seemed to be interested in my childhood. I didn’t mind.

Doris looked at me and smiled. She wasn’t much for words. Neither was Leon, who she took after. She was sewing something I think. She turned to Heather and said, “I never knew what he was up to. He always seemed to have a smile on his face like the cat, you know.”

I snuck around this summer with the digital Nikon that my son in law had given me or the little digital Leica that I cherished. I captured the kids and staff when they least expected it. I could see how many indigenous people saw the camera as stealing your soul. I just borrowed them this summer.

Zack was sitting at the picnic table, writing something. He was bent over the paper almost resting his head on the table. He had a smile on his face. There was something inside that brought that smile. With a click of the Leica I caught that smile. I caught it forever. There was something about it that intrigued me beyond understanding. There was that chubby, nine year old boy with the thick dark hair and dark brown eyes smiling to himself and it echoed inside of me.

The first time we went to the beach I sat on the bus with the youngest kids. Zack was interested in Reiki. Somehow he had found that I did Reiki and wanted to know all about it. His curiosity and impatience were wedded to a staccato dialogue that might have disconcerted some folks. For me, it was just communicating. It was like running. Why talk slowly when there is so much to say? I explained all I could in half an hour and he wanted to practice immediately.

“Teach me all you know,” he said.

“We’ll take it one step at a time,” I said.

After a few basic sessions during free time, the fields beckoned, the pool called and enough was enough.

Leon tried to explain the name of every plant we saw in the woods or on the road. I was only interested in the ones that I could eat. Leon knew a lot about a lot and sometimes I would listen and sometimes I would get bored. I was more interested in people. Even at the circus Ma used to get frustrated because I would pay more attention to the people at the show than the show. Once, when I was four, or maybe five, I tried pulling on the tufts of hair in the ears of a sailor sitting in front of me. He didn’t like it at all.

“My father cheated on my mother,” Zack told me at lunch one day, “and they almost got divorced. But he’s being faithful now.” I didn’t blink an eye at that one. We had definitely opened communication. I listened when he talked and he listened when I talked. Good basis.

His mother was a psychiatrist. His father was an eye, nose and throat specialist. Two M.D.’s for parents. That’s how I started out but the parallel there would be too facile. Ma was not a psychiatrist but she might as well have been. She would have told me anything that was going on. Except that my father was dying, of course.

“Why do you collect things so much?” my babysitter asked me when I was nine.

Gesell says that it’s a stage I’m going through,” I said. Ma got a laugh out of that one when the babysitter told her. I didn’t know why, but always appreciated a good laugh.

“My mom was the only child that her grandfather loved. He didn’t love people very much,” Zack said at dinner once.

There was just about nothing that Zack could say that would disconcert me. It was eerie because even though I love hanging out with the kids, sometimes I am aware that I am being a patient adult.

“Donny’s asleep again.” It must have been Bob. I wasn’t sure whether I was dreaming. But I never made it through more than the first few words of the story that Dick Abel, our counselor told. He had great stories, all from his life, from smoke jumper, to insane asylum attendant. The polio that paralyzed him from the waist down was never one of his stories. It didn’t have to be. But I never heard the stories beyond the first few words.

That second trip to the beach, Zack crashed out on the seat in front. He just fell out asleep and all of the loud chatter of the kids and the rattling of the bus did nothing to stir him. When I told a story to that bunk—a good story that had all the rest of the boys on the edge of their beds—Zack was out from the beginning. “He always does that,” one of the three Joshes said.

Then, at lunch one day, I looked at Zack who was sitting at a neighboring table. There was a glint in his eye. There was a familiar crazy glint in his eye. I didn’t know what it was and suddenly knew exactly what it was.

I raced to my room and pulled up a picture of myself when I was six. It was one of those portraits that Grandma and Grandpa Werner would drag me to get every time they came over from Scotland. I had seen that picture forever, but a few years ago I noticed that there was a crazy glint in my eyes.

I printed the picture out and showed it to Sharon, one of the nurses. I didn’t say a word. Just showed her the picture.

I heard a slight intake of breath before she asked, “is that Zack?”

No, I answered. It was me.


Known to his friends as "Sarv," Dr. Sarvananda Bluestone has been a professor of American History and an orange-clad seeker. He is currently writing his "Memoirs of a Borscht Belt Psychic," writes haiku every day, is an outstanding baker, theater director, gemstone afficionado and lover of music and literature.

You can read more of his writing at:

Sunday, September 2, 2007


Parties, winnings, gifts, birthdays, Christmas, a dance, a trip to the country, a school outing, a smile, genuine laughter, finding something valuable, Mother feeling happy, the family sitting for at least two seconds with everyone laughing, all constitute a period of promise. My period of promise.

And then it happens and the moment comes and the moment goes so fast. Was it real or was it just a passing glimpse? For this period never last for quite too long. Before you know it, it’s all back to gloom and doom. Frustration, anger, hurt feelings, anticipations, violence, greed, fight, food, and solitude. All morphed into inconsistency.

So, I keep rolling the dice and once in a while I may come up with sixes, but I keep rolling, yet some more and more and it never seems that I’m ever able to win at this game. A pause and Oops, the light is on again. A glimmer of hope, I dance for a day, a night, into the dawn. Oops, it’s gone again. Darnn, never consistent it seems.

And then you wonder, I wonder if it would ever change from a second to a period to a very long period. And then the promise, like the joy that is felt at the Ball, the dance, the Christmas gifts, the birthday gifts and the thought of a very long vacation, that this time it may, hopefully, convert into something concrete, something tangible, the Promise.

Oh, to be bought up on an empty promise is in my words is to breathe contempt. I said that? Yes, I said that. So happy moments like the Ball, the dance, Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, that thought of a very long, long vacation is over as soon the gifts are unwrapped, Christmas is come and gone, another year you’re older, the Ball is finished, the clock struck twelve, Cinderella has turned back into a Slave. The period of promise has already passed. Until the next Ball, the dance, the Christmas and birthday gifts, the thought or plans for a very, very long vacation. Mother just smiled, a chance at last.



Lloyd is an actor, director and a writer for life. Originally from Belize, he has written several one-act plays that have been performed at The Common Basis Theatre and other venues. He is currently working on a new play.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Twenty five years have passed since I left my home.

Twenty five years since I belonged somewhere.

Twenty five years of being a chameleon; a nigger, a chink, a terrorist.

Being rich, being dirt poor.

I don’t fit in with my own people.

I am too American they say – too wild, a bad girl, disobedient.

I question, I have my own mind.

I don’t fit in with Americans either.

I am exotic.

I am foreign; it’s in my face, in my voice, in my accent, in my hair.

I don’t know who I am or who I should be.

I don’t want others to define me.

Why is that? Why is it that everyone is out for my soul, my identity?

I don’t have anything, yet I feel them wanting to take something away from me –

My spirit! They want to break me.

I will not be a nigger.

I will not be a chink, a terrorist or exotic feast for the white man.

I will be me; confused, lost, searching.

A part of me died in that journey.

The void has only gotten deeper.

I’ve often thought of going back, but fear keeps me paralyzed.

What if I don’t fit in? What if no one understands me? What if my void becomes more vast and endless?

These thoughts run amuck, keeping me paralyzed and stuck in awaiting my return to myself.


AUTHOR BIO: Naheed Elyasi and her family fled Afghanistan after the Russian invasion and lived in Pakistan for one year. At the age of nine she came to the United States and grew up in North Carolina. She holds a degree in Communications and Fashion Design and currently works in Manhattan in Public Relations.

IT'S ALL OVER NOW by Bobby LaBonza

The Deerhead Bar and Grill. There it stood in all its infamy, possibly a bucket of blood? Or a gin mill? Or quite possibly a den of iniquity. Nah, just a friggen bar on the corner. But oh what a joint it was. I say “was” only because it exists in the minds of its former (dead and alive) patrons of fun, frolic and, very often, a fine and prolific bout of fisticuffs.

Location, location. Two entrances, one on Fort Hamilton Parkway, another on 69th St. Two bus stops where thirsty travelers, off-duty cops, bookies and peddlers of all sorts of fine and fancy jewelry could rub elbows, and exchange fabricated tidbits of the most absolute glorious bullshit to walk the ever-lovin’ street.

I couldn’t wait til I was eighteen -- draft card in hand -- to order my first beer. August of 1964, I had a single dollar in my mitts. At 10 cents a draft – Piels -- I could have ten. Then walk back to my house and revel in glory.

The owner, an old bald man – Sam, he was – tended his throne with a white apron tied loosely on his belly, drooping cigar dangling from his mouth like it should only be there or you wouldn’t recognize him. He never bought back a beer because the price was so low. He was way ahead of his time. Sam knew he owned a gold mine. So much so that at 6pm he just went home and whoever was the most sober regular could tend the night shift.

Sammy had the daytime bar monopoly on The Parkway, hands down. At 9am every stool had an ass sitting on it – old retired longshoremen, ex-cops, night workers -- and me and Clancy couldn’t wait til we were eighteen just to get that first cold one.

Clancy turned eighteen in January and every now and then he’d slip me a glass out of the side door, juke box blasting. COME ON AUGUST!!! Sam had all of his bottles upside down, screwed onto meters. So he’d take inventory, untie the apron and leave the place in the hands of --? Well, it coulda been Frank Clancy, Pete Sullivan or whoever. At 10 cents a glass for beer, Sam just didn’t care if a mistake or two never made it to the cash register.

I do recall that there was a sign behind the bar, advertising that shots of whisky – Carstairs and Wilson, all old labels of rye – could be had for 45 cents a shot. A dollar could get me two shots of rye and a Piels to wash them down.

There really was a mounted deer head up on that old faded wall over the mirror, and more than once an off-duty, well juiced cop would put a 38 slug into it for fun. Many a day I spent there – and a few nights too. Actually my last beer there before I went into the army in June of ’66, and my first beer of 1969 in America there when I returned to THE BLOCK. Lucky for me, no bullet holes in my head.


AUTHOR BIO: Bob LaBonza is a child of Brooklyn who survived Viet Nam. For twenty years he was a bartender in big Catskills hotels and raised two beautiful daughters. He lives now in the Hudson Valley and likes a good cigar.

Monday, July 23, 2007

TIMEX by Billy Herman

When the Mets lost at 11:30 I looked at my watch and it said 9:30 and I thought who cares? Who cares about me? Certainly no one evil. No one with bad intentions. Not one who has singled me out with special interest.

I used to have a green Timex I was very fond of. It matched the blue shirt I was very fond of, and both items matched the woman I was thrilled by.

The green watch first broke and then was lost, the shirt got old and was given away to our family friend Leon Scutt, and the woman never took my infatuation seriously so I let her slide.

The power of letting go is called sanity, and it is not to be confused with apathy. Apathy is when you can’t keep up with all the things you care about so you just give up. Like if I cared about the watch, the shirt, and that woman so much that I stopped tying my shoes.

The first two things to maintain are your mind and your body. The old composition of particular watch, shirt, and woman had its time and that time has passed, no matter what time my watch says.

And I’ve reached the point where I don’t doubt my mind. The infatuation was a fine length and a wonderful power struggle between obsession and freedom.


A long-time member of the Authentic Writing workshops, Billy Herman has a degree in English Literature from Bard College and wrote the detective comedy novel “Joe Poughkeepsie” in 1994, published by the Gortday Review, a San Francisco zine. Billy dances -- swing, zydeco and salsa -- interprets the blues on piano and has acted in short films by NYU grad school film majors including Don’t Turn To Sports for Warmth by Brian Loatnan.

IT'S ALL OVER by Judy Benatar

I bit into a crisp, sweet cherry and walked out into the woods with the dogs, grateful anew for the sanctuary of that park-like piece of ground, the comfort of its ancient boulders and perpetual spring that never freezes in winter and is never less than full, even in times of drought.

Henry found this place - our old, modest, sturdy house that dates back to 1905. It would only be later, when we began to truly appreciate where we were, that we bought the extra land behind the house to keep it safe and protect our privacy - even then not fully comprehending that we had assumed guardianship for what many Native Americans (and two coincidental visiting Chinese masters of chi) would immediately recognize as sacred space.

For me, that recognition would come much later, when things went dark, and I felt like my essence was about to dissolve, sensed my very cells vibrating with the effort to remain coherent and connected, and it really did seem that all was over. Only then would I learn about the sanctity of that space. It healed me, at first outside of my conscious awareness; then, with glimmers here and there and more willing participation.

Now, almost a decade beyond that trauma, that pile of evil ashes, I look back at that time and what has transpired since then - and in spite of the grime and guts of events I would have said I would never survive if I’d seen them coming, I find that the mystery has deepened and grown more compelling – and now I’m not sure I believe that all is ever over. There are endings, for sure, pain, loss, death - but there is also change and transformation, even at those times when I am narrowed and dulled and blind to the shifts in the wind and the rearrangement in atoms.

Henry got up out of a sick bed, with a fever of 102, to find this place. He called me where I was working in the Manhattan and said, “I’m going to find a motel and get some sleep. Do you think you can drive up and meet me here? – I think it’s pretty special.”

In November of 1976, we moved in and sat on a comfortable, dilapidated sofa the previous owner had left behind, watching the stars through the sliding glass doors, while we, in turn, were watched by at least a dozen voyeuristic raccoons, drawn by new activity in the vacant house. There were two or three masked faces pressed against every window and door in the long, empty room.

Our daughter, Anna, was born in October of the following year. I felt her moving inside me, as I climbed along a path my woodsman neighbor, Bob, had mowed through his soft, mountain meadow. When she was old enough to laugh with delight, he took her for rides on his tractor, holding her safe against his faded work clothes with one calloused hand, while the other steered the machine, his gaze closer and more of this earth than haunted by the faraway look he usually wore when resting on the hoe he used every day to keep the ditches clear in our long, shared driveway.

It was a gift, a blessing, to know him, tough, grizzled, irreverent, often foul-mouthed, eagle-eyed, and humbled by the wisdom he had gathered through his pores in the passing of seventy-odd years. He got out of his truck in a blizzard, where we’d been stuck for an hour on a steep incline, lay on his back in the snow and ice, and hooked up the ill-fitting chains on our car to work well enough to get us up the mountain to our house, next door to his through some trees. He brushed aside our thanks, but came in for a whiskey, before heading home. He might well have saved our lives that day, since traffic on the mountain is sparse, even in better weather. As he left to head home, Bob tipped his hat to me and said to Henry, who had been fumbling at the fireplace to make him feel welcome, “Next time I might stop by and show you how to make a fuckin’ fire. You sure won’t get one started the way you’re goin.’ Ain’t easy moving from the city to the sticks.”

Bob died before Anna reached three, leaving me bereft and struggling to explain to a toddler what that meant. I didn’t know.

We would go through more deaths in our lives on the mountain, each of them a blow, and then Anna and I would watch Henry tumble into an inner hell that would eventually threaten even our physical safety. Towards the end of that time, I had to ask him to leave the house. The three of us loved each other, but in the long run, it wasn’t enough to buoy or distract him from the pit that swallowed him up. When he died, that was one of the times when I thought it must be all over, but I was still in a place, where I was mistaking the part for the whole. I think that’s a common thing to do, part of the human condition.

Each time I venture into the woods, the whole is there to consider in the comfort of those huge stones, the oak that resembles a sea fan, the small green frog that stares up at me from a spring that is always full and never freezes. It will be my birthday in a couple of days. Maybe I’ll sit out there with this bittersweet ache and act like I belong, even though it’s clear I’m just passing through.

Judy Benetar was a practicing psychiatrist for many years, specializing in the treatment of traumatic abuse. She now lives with three dogs and a cat on a windswept mountain, does Tai Chi, and enjoys the wildlife, the weeds and all shifts in the weather.

Monday, July 2, 2007

REMNANTS RECOVERED, TRACES RESTORED (for Jasvinder) by Julia Lynn Butterfield

Yesterday I came across your Spanish book fallen behind a shelf, the one you’d nicked from the Jawaharlal Nehru University Library in Delhi, and left with me in London before heading off to El Salvador. Inside were some folded crib notes, written in your beautiful scrawled hand—so familiar to me, yet exotic looking, like Farsi or Urdu—speaking decades later of your optimism, passion, and sense of militant dedication. I couldn’t bear to look at it at first; I re-closed the book with its alluring promise: “Essentials of Mastery.” It felt like a time capsule. I wiped it gently with a soft cloth and left it on the blue kitchen chair.

I often think of the bent brown book of Neruda’s memoirs you gave me when we first met, and wish I could put my hands on that. But that one was left behind accidentally in Calcutta and could never be recovered.

I’m curious about this recent impulse of mine, to recover the traces of you, to think about what my longing for you interrupted and impeded, yet at the same time set in motion—Manuel in San Francisco, Carlos Sarandeses in northern Spain—and now I’ve had the option to check back in with both. But our young love is unmatchable…


AUTHOR BIO: Originally from California, Julia Butterfield grew up surrounded by art worlds--high and low, local and international. She went on to live, study and do field work as an anthropologist across Europe and in India. Now director of a college writing center in Manhattan, Julia lives in Brooklyn and takes passionate advantage of all the film and art the city has to offer. She writes of romance and tragedy, of everyday events and more exotic ones.

CRASH by Elena Batt

Sometimes your past follows you around like a shadow, or in the shadows, waiting just around the corner or in the basement so that you turn suddenly and come face to face with it. Your old self and your new self stop abruptly and stare not speaking into the void between you.

Last summer when I moved to Saugerties I was only vaguely aware of the horseshow grounds. And then me and my husband and my dog went to check it out. What were the chances? I thought as wandered through the lanes between the temporary barns. But I knew they’d be there and they were. My old trainer and his wife, and their son who was about the same age I was when I first started riding with them. And I saw myself as they must see me, then and now, and those judgments follow whenever I walk past the deserted barns, covered with snow, and now that it’s summer again I simply avoid them.

My saddle was in the basement and I’m cleaning it in preparation for tomorrow’s ride. The nylon case which is lined with synthetic sheepskin is moldy and I’m alarmed to find that the saddle is ensconced in three different colors of mold, white, green and a rust color that turns the sponge the color of old blood. I’m sitting on the floor of the kitchen, cradling my saddle as I clean it. A Hèrmes, made in France, that carried me for so many years. We’re becoming acquainted again, straps and flaps and the worn places, grimy spots. It cleans up real good.The next morning I’m zipping on my blue suede chaps. A sixteenth birthday present. They were custom made and my initials are in needlepoint on the back strap. And they still fit.

Alison’s friend just finished telling me that the horse I’m riding today is a little crazy. Not malicious crazy, just a little green. I may have a fancy French saddle and custom chaps but it’s been ten years since I rode regularly. I just gulp and try to savor the sensation of fear.

It’s just me in the woods with my new friends and this horse. My sportsbra is digging into me because my tits are so much bigger than they were then and it’s only been 15 minutes and I have saddle sores already but this here today is an act of defiance. We skirt a field, rushing by the trees and my body is lightning, everything is coming back to me: balance, contact, effortless communication. Everything rushes back into me and we are going too fast. Sit up straighter. I try not to hear that cold voice coming over the swamp that I can barely make out through the woods. You’re a fucking disaster. You’re going to ruin that horse. I wanted them to be my parents. I whittled away at myself to become accepted, acceptable. The whites of my eyes were always showing. We’re jumping fences now. Fuck you! I’m jumping fences with everything you taught me, running away with it and the image of you kicking that dog and your rages, we’re clearing them, jumping clean over them and I’m still on.

I see wild turkeys running through the woods out of the corner of my eye. Awkward and ugly. Bailey, the mare I’m riding, always has to be in front of the other horses and she’s stubborn about it so I let her stay ahead. She trots and jogs impatiently and I let her have her way just enough to keep her content. You almost never had mares in the barn back then, you didn’t like them. Too moody and bitchy.

We lose the trail which is marked with orange ribbons. I’m in front so I’m supposed to spot them but they fly by too quickly. It feels like we’re going in circles and we hear the sound of shotguns in the distance. They’re getting closer. Run, turkeys, run, and now we’re all running and singing, too, so the hunters hear us.

We find the trail which leads us by the swamp again, maybe on the other side now and the woods are thick. The cruelest things you ever did to me lie at the bottom of that swamp. The time you gave me a leg up and said I was like a sack of potatoes. I was supposed to jump up as light as a feather so you hefted me over so hard that I flew over the horse and landed in the dust on the other side. To teach me a lesson. Or when my father sold my beloved horse Abby before I went to college. Is yer dad happy? chimed your Irish accent. I bet he’s so happy, was your response to my despair. I was in love with you for a time, your dark hair and muscular shoulders, the way you sat on a horse’s back. A crush. I became a machine, and all the points and ribbons and championships and even the praise I could only meet with a wooden smile. I think I had finally become as close to perfect as I could be, almost invisible.

There are two log fences in front of us and I’m game. Bailey clears the first one and my reins are too loose after landing, my legs still coming back into position. She’s distracted by something in the woods. I’d noticed this tendency of hers earlier, maybe she was daydreaming. She’s not paying attention to the jump ahead of us and swerves left sharply. She saw something, maybe she saw you and your cold blue eyes waiting there by the swamp. By the time I realize what’s happening it’s too late, I’ve lost my balance, the saddle slips, something is pulling me down. I hit the earth like a stone, like something dead, as if the weight of the past came crashing down on top of me. I hear snapping sounds and hope that it’s not me, that it’s branches.

Quickly instinct takes over, I get up mumbling assurances to my companions and walk unsteadily over to Bailey, approaching her slowly so she doesn’t run away. She’s standing by the banks of the swamp, staring out across the gray and yellow emptiness. My saddle has slipped and I unbuckle the girth to fix it but my right arm isn’t working properly. And then the lesson you engraved in my soul prevails: that weakness is unacceptable and pain inevitable. I right the saddle and remount and we head home. I’m less trusting. I make Bailey jump more fences to reassure us both. But she’s bored and tired and wants no more of this, wants to be in her stall munching hay. Misbehaving now, pulling me like a rag doll, my hands blistered, shoulder pounding, drenched in sweat, no longer in control. I’m thinking about the fact that I have to be at work at 2 and that I’m not going to make it.

That last summer before I went to college and after I sold my horse I worked for you as a groom to earn some money and started riding again, riding your horses. After one particular afternoon of dust and sweat and shouting I found excuses not to ride anymore, staying on the ground, feeding and mucking. Still your temper snaked out like the lash of a whip until finally during a long silent truck ride home from a horse show I told you, “After this summer I’m never going to work for you again.”

“Ah, you’re just tired,” you said, irritably.

And I was, I was so tired on that ride home until finally we came out of the woods and even though I was hating it, battling with Bailey, fighting just to stay on and feeling broken beyond repair, still, despite everything, I had risen out of the shadows.

* * *

AUTHOR BIO: For three years Elena Batt ran away with the Big Apple circus, traveling up and down the east coast in a unique world that often appears in her writing. She lives now with her husband Adam -- whom she met on the road -- and her pets Java and Saffron in Saugerties, NY and is the Box Office Manager at The Fisher Center at Bard College. Writing and the arts have always been her passion and lately she is allowing her own art to flourish and take center stage.

Monday, June 18, 2007


This place terrifies me! It’s a place inside that fights back all the moments of not being seen, of not being supported or given any sort of appreciation – or maybe it was not enough; maybe this place inside forgot that it was appreciated and it was recognized – but sparsely so and only on occasion — not on a consistent and needed basis.

I guess I left home when I was ten years old. That was the summer I’d come to New York City for the very first time and when my aunt and uncle brought me back to Soldier Pond I cried when I saw my parents. I did not want to come back to them. When my aunt, who was my mother’s sister, and her husband were leaving to return to New York, I wanted to go back with them.

Both parents were surprised I guess; perhaps even shocked that I would feel that way. My mother wept. I guess they did not realize how invisible I felt with them.

How could they know that I’d had the time of my life in New York, not because of the museums and plays and the Bronx Zoo, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, but because my aunt and uncle, who had no children of their own, had played with me, had teased me, had included me in every conversation.

And I’d begun to feel like a somebody – like I was real and visible with likes and dislikes and thoughts of my own. And I could laugh and not worry once about being forgotten.



DeAnn Daigle was born and grew up in a small village in the very north of Maine on the border of Canada. Here she first discovered the beauty of nature, of music and poetry. Her seeking led her to enter religious life for eighteen years, and then led her to leave it. She lives now in the East Village of Manhattan and works on the twenty-ninth floor of a mid-Manhattan skyscraper where she keeps alive her dreams of writing, of singing, of beauty.

DISCOVERY by Alice Schuette

At last I have made it back to Woodstock -- to my writing workshop -- after too many years away. I sit in my favorite spot--a long, comfy bench nestled beneath a picture window and a low ceiling which blankets me with hanging plants, and delicate ornaments. I stare silently out the window, and can see the reflection of the flames which are burning in the white brick fireplace behind me. In reality, this flame warms writers pounding on keyboards, sinking their heads into notebooks. But through the window the flame appears bright and real, as if burning outside in the yard, in the center of a gathering of bare branches. At any moment it appears as though an enormous brush fire might ignite. But there is no brush fire, just a simple reflection of something that is not there. The branches lay bare and intact, longing for the sun of spring to at last peek through the clouds.

I relate to this imaginary image. I too appear whole and intact -- with the same body, face, and hands I’ve always had -- but the reflection of my life is burning wildly within -- igniting a new person and new spirit that somehow I can only feel and see. Even writing feels different -- somehow less freeing. I feel like I’m chipping away at stone. And like stone, I have hardened, and gained tremendous strength.

When my first daughter Grace was a newborn, I can remember sitting in the rocking chair across from her crib, and while watching her sleep -- her tiny chest doing a rhythmic dance to the beat of her heart -- I felt my love for her pain me. I thought to myself -- what will I do when she gets sick? She had yet to have even a sniffle, and the very thought of it frightened me to my core. But in time, I survived the colds, the stomach viruses, and even the bloody falls. With each sickness and injury I learned to tighten my gut in order to get through so I could take care of her. When she was nine months old, I took a weekend trip to my parents’ house in New Hampshire. Only a few hours after my arrival, Grace got a temperature of 104. Being away from home, I was forced to take her to the hospital. A blood test was ordered, and I had to hold Grace down so that little needle could prick her tiny vein. Grace began walking when she was ten months old, so at nine months she was flailing and fighting with all her might. But I tightened my gut, did what a mother has to do, and stuck it out. When it was over I felt I had just survived the worst moment ever. Grace was fine, just a fever. But my nerves were twisted and frayed. Little did I know this one event was just preparing me for what was ahead.

My second daughter, Rose, who is now two years old, gets her blood drawn every eight weeks. At one point, my husband Michael and I decided to take turns holding her down. Rose doesn’t fight and flail as much as Grace. Rose screams. From the very core of her soul -- she screams. She was just ten months old the first time I heard this scream. Again, I was at the hospital, but Rose wasn’t fine. The orthopedist was casting her leg. At the time we all thought her leg was broken from a fall off the bed. We later discovered her leg wasn’t broken at all, but instead infested with rheumatoid arthritis.

I held her tight during that casting session. Her gentle little body resting against my chest, my nose buried in the center of her scalp where she still carried that sweet, soft baby smell. And the entire time, Rose screamed that gut wrenching howl. I know now how utterly painful casting her arthritic leg must have been. The worst thing you can do to an arthritic joint is keep it still. So every time I hear that scream, I flash back to that moment of holding her tight while she was essentially being tortured.

Taking turns to get Rose’s blood drawn didn’t go over so well. The last time it was Michael’s turn he came out looking like a wounded child, his freckled face red and blotchy from the tears filling up his eyes. I knew then I had to step up to the plate, tighten that center of my gut, and do what has to be done.

And this is how it’s been for the past year. With all the medicines and doctor’s appointments, I somehow remain intact. The only time I falter -- when I begin to feel myself break -- is when I hear that scream. Only then does that imaginary flame ignite within, changing every bit of who I am. But on the outside, I look whole; I look like myself, just longing for the sun to peek from the clouds to shine some hope on my face.



Alice Schuette lived the dream of many teenagers, becoming a model while still in high school and traveling the world. It didn't take her long to realize that the world of glamour and glitz did not offer anything that she really wanted. She began to write and found Authentic Writing through a Village Voice ad. Later, she enrolled in an MA writing program. A loving marriage and two little daughters later, Alice lives in Connecticut where she writes about her life past and present and leads writing groups.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

FEARS by Sara Miot

When I was a little girl, my fears were the dark, falling and sudden loud noises. So balloons were a problem for me. Birthday parties were a mix of pleasure. Excitement and torture. Especially if there were little boys at the party. I had dreams of falling. Short sudden distances. My father worried that he had caused it, throwing me up into the air and catching me when I was a baby. Fear of the dark stayed with me for a long time. It was when I had my own babies that I finally was able to walk into a dark room without trepidation.

Maybe I was 8 years old. I had been watching television. Now this television was a work of art. It was just the tube, as it was so aptly named, which was about 12" across and lots of little tubes on a metal base, behind the big tube. I don't know if we called it the boob tube then or if that came later. But anyway, I was watching the tube and it was a science fiction story.

The tube was in a hallway, on the 3rd floor, at the top of a flight of an open stairway. At the bottom of the stairs was a door that separated us from the 2nd floor of Mikinly's meat packing Company. The ground floor was where they took the carcasses that hung from hooks, cut them up and packed them in boxes to go to restaurants. The 2nd floor was a small office and a large open space outside of the office itself, where there were huge garbage cans, as tall as I was. Sometimes there was fat from the meat, that was thrown into those cans. And then there was an open dark space, where work men went to pee. That was where the rats came out from, at night.

My bedroom door, on the 3rd floor, was opposite the head of the stairs. We would take chairs from the kitchen, which was down the other end of the hall. That was a very long hall to me at the time.

So here I am late at night. It's dark outside. My Mommy and Daddy are in the kitchen talking. I don't know where my little brother is. Maybe in bed. And I am sitting on a chair watching the tube with my back to the long hall and kitchen. The stairs going down to the 2nd floor are to my left. Behind the tube are the doors to the living room and my parents’ bedroom. And on the tube in front of me, there is a door, which is slowly opening. On the other side of the door is a flight of stairs going down to the basement and a lady’s voice is saying, "Come on up," and it's dark down the stairs and footsteps are slowly coming up the stairs. There is a man with his head down and as he reaches the top of the stairs he lifts his head up and he has three eyes. One right in the middle of his forehead and I can't move and the tube goes black.

I quietly get off my chair and walk quietly and quickly back to the kitchen where there is warm yellow light and my mother cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and my father is sitting at the dining table and I just quietly sit on one of the kitchen chairs. My father looks up and says, "Shouldn't you get ready for bed?" I just sit there. "Go on now. Get your pajamas on."

I get up and turn the corner to go down the long dark hall toward my bedroom, the one opposite the stairs going down to the 2 nd floor and the rats and my legs won't move. I go back into the kitchen. "It's dark down there," I say.

"Turn on the light," my father says. I go back out to the hall. The light is all the way down at the other end. It is a ceiling light that has a string that hangs down that I can just barely reach. Again my feet won't move. I turn back. "What's the matter?" he says.

"I'm scared," I answer and tell him about the man with three eyes.

"If you don't go and turn that light on you will not be allowed to watch any more TV." Again I try. My feet just won't move down that hall. "O.K., Missy," he says, as he comes with me, "but no more TV."

* * *

Author Bio:

Sara Miot spent most of her childhood in Manhattan where at the age of sixteen she joined the company of the New York City Ballet. Dance and choreography have remained central to her life, as well as painting. drawing and writing. Using her knowledge of the body, Sara has become a first-rate massage therapist, able to access not only the muscles of the body but also the stories and emotions they hold. She lives now in the Catskill mountains with her husband Harry.

THE HUNGER by Daniel Marshall

Adults snickered. Somehow, we knew they loved us, seemed to mean well — remembered our birthdays; but they were not in our world. They snickered about us. We couldn’t escape fast enough.

Some of the aunts on my mother’s side — the outspoken ones — snickered. My father’s siblings didn’t snicker about us, though they seemed in another world; but I do remember my uncle Rob, whom everyone loved, chuckling over an ethnic joke he’d told. They thought things were funny that made me feel uncomfortable.

I grew up in a world of stereotypes. It was their world, and at first mine — a world of debate and differences, of enemies and of struggle for recognition and survival. We learned from them that we faced discrimination. Their world was a world of ideologies and positions, of apologetics and demonstration, unlike today’s world of cultures and personality types, of dialogue and sharing.

Sisters snickered about us behind their hands, black books, teaching materials -- their long black rosaries dangling by their sides, fixed at the tops to their black leather belts. Their starchy stiff, arching veils weaved and bobbed as they turned to speak with each other.

I was hungry for affection, tenderness, seriousness, respect. My friends were serious about stickball, wrestling, ring-a-lev-io — except for Bill Benson who was willing to go along with anything, but liked most to sit on a stoop doing nothing. My sister liked him; girls were unpredictable. We boys did things together and did not talk intimately, unless talking about grades counts as intimacy.

We ourselves snickered at what we thought was obvious, was common sense. Although we knew what it was to cry and feel sad, still our clowns and enemies were less than human to us. We didn’t think of them crying as we did. They were always dressed, as far as we were concerned, and never went to sleep — Yankees and Giants, Germans and Japanese, Protestants and Communists. Our enemies were always menacing.

It seemed to me, in high school and college, that students interested in sports or alcohol were among those peers who tended most to snicker, and I drifted away from them. Their world did not feel interesting. I felt uncomfortable with cliques. I wanted to be part of every group, to try everything. Never snicker, I thought.

People I most respected, liked, and admired didn’t snicker; they respected others. Maybe they had areas of weakness, but they could also be tender. It seemed to me that people snickered and disparaged when feeling weak. Though they might protest, “All in good fun!”, to me it didn’t feel like fun.

Sarcasm was worse than snickering. Sometimes my mother laughed a sepulchral, mocking laugh, emanating from her mouth but not from her eyes, bespeaking anger, disparagement, exasperation, manipulation — not humor at all. “Lighten up! Laugh!” she would say, at those times, about something I took seriously. Our second eighth grade teacher scolded the class girls for “making cow eyes at the boys.” I wished some would make cow eyes at me! A later public relative of this manipulative humor was the smug, wry, sardonic wit of William F. Buckley and Rush Limbaugh, from them descending rapidly through the incivilities of the Bob Grants, Steve Maltzbergs, and Sean Hannity’s, the dissembling snidenesses of George Bush, and the ferocity of Dick Cheney into bitterly polarized cliquishness and factionalism.

Whatever my experience of all this was, I did not have coherent knowledge of my tendencies and feelings; but I feared terribly to be disparaged. I was hungry for affection, love, adventure, beauty, knowledge, and activity. Not all the food in the world could satisfy my hunger.

* * *


Daniel Marshall is a writer and a pilgrim. A Brooklyn native, he lived in Berkeley when Berkeley was the center of the universe, has apple picked in New Hampshire and orange picked in Florida, was deeply involved with the Catholic Worker and is now underground, working as a college librarian in Manhattan. He lives in Harlem with his wife Dee and is always searching for community, communion and the reflection of Christ's spirit in the real world.

Friday, May 11, 2007

WITHOUT AN ANSWER by Rosalyn Clark

It seemed to me that most of my life, my long life, a lift of 84 years, so many times, when people have said stupid, mundane things, prejudiced talk, insensitive talk, that all these many years I was “without an answer.”

Maybe some time later, after an asinine conversation, with a friend or a neighbor, or with a person at work, I might then think of an answer, but it was too late. Oh, how many jobs I have had where the patrons were rude and I had no answer.

But as I entered my 80th year, I began to notice a change, a transformation was talking place. Now I am always “with an answer.”

Why, just the other day, sitting and knitting a blanket for my great-granddaughter at the Wool Co. in Woodstock, a young woman came in, a stranger, and sits down to knot near me. She now says to me, “Oh, how nice it is to see someone your age being so busy.”

And this transformed woman answers her right back. “I beg your pardon, I am not a woman who keeps busy, I have passions in my life, which I work on constantly. I have been a serious artist for most of my life, a drummer and a Poet for about 14 years, now I am part of a Memoir writing group for two years and this class has inspired me to have a portfolio on my computer of my stories.”

And the young woman, this stranger, replies, “That is great. I have just sold my business in Saugerties and now I am reinventing myself.”

From then on we just sit quietly and knit away.

THE GIFT by Chris Howard

I shopped in a small boutique in a neighboring town that I tend to shy away from. A store that was highly recommended by a woman I trust in these matters who also has a daughter, although one that is much older now. I was determined to find something personal, something other than the clothes and books that my wife would certainly be showering her with, going in intent on finding some sort of jewelry that she might like, maybe something with her birth stone, as I’d done once before, only this time I couldn’t come up with the mineral.

The place was tiny but every inch of wall and transparent shelf was stuffed with merchandise. Glass cases lined the narrow space, and there were others, free standing, leaving just enough room for someone my size to pass through, all of which were decorated and draped with necklaces and pins and earrings and other trinkets. I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume, unable to focus on any one object.

I must have wandered from the door to the back of the store half a dozen times before spotting the small collection of sculpted fairies on one of the shelves. They were all quite intricate with delicate looking butterfly wings and tiny arms and legs, beautifully proportioned, none more than a few inches tall. Some rode frogs and dragonflies, while others flew on their own. The one that I was constantly drawn back to hovered over a bouquet of white daffodils, suspended by a fine brass rod that sprang from the center of the flowers. The dress reminded me of one of the costumes that my daughter still likes to wear around the house from time to time, although, being the last to enter double digits, her fondness for this may begin to fade. I bobbed and weaved a little, trying to read the price tag that I guessed would be on the bottom. Without my glasses and the angle being as acute as it was, I could see only a white blur on the base, finding any text impossible to discern. I was silently vacillating, it looked pricey, I didn’t have the money for such an expensive gift.

The woman on the phone (the only other person in the store) couldn’t help but notice my somewhat bizarre behavior and asked if there was anything I’d like to see a little closer. I pointed to the little statue as she unlocked the case and slid the glass door to one side. There were so many other objects surrounding the piece that I shied away from trying to remove it myself, asking if she wouldn’t mind. Everything in there looked fragile and it was all the way in the back, behind the others. Reaching into that case with my own clumsy fingers could have caused this afternoon excursion to be extremely costly.

As it turned out there was no price on the bottom at all so she had to do a little research to find out what the damages were going to be. I decided while she was in the back room that I would buy it regardless of the cost, sort of, at least if it didn’t exceed a hundred, scouting the counter in her absence, hoping to reassure myself that there was a credit card machine available. Although she is the youngest of the three, we are the ones with the most history, she being the only one that ever spent time with me during the two years of isolation and legal affairs.

I was relieved at the thirty two dollar price tag, figuring they’re probably cast in China or Vietnam or India or one of the other nations that are slowly putting the bloated, selfish, over consuming, arrogant and unionized U. S. out of business. It was nicely made though, exquisite really; I wasn’t overly concerned about its country of origin, only the little girl it was intended for.

I got back to the office, wrote a short note on the card that I’d picked up on the way, added a little bubble wrap and covered the box in brown paper, addressing it appropriately, and being certain to write “fragile” in enough places that it would be seen regardless of orientation, gaining just a small amount of comfort while understanding the futility of this exercise. The whole operation felt a little strange as this would be the first time that I would be mailing one of my children a birthday present. I suppose it’s something I’m going to have to get used to.

The email came late Saturday although I didn’t pick it up until Sunday afternoon. It was a short thank you note from my daughter sent through my wife’s address; she hasn’t gotten one of her own yet. She told me that she really liked the fairy but wanted to know why it was two days late and added that she was still mad at me for leaving. She will never be permitted to express her own feelings, always being influenced by the will of her mother. I was relieved and almost exhilarated to receive the note, despite the negative aspect, knowing how much courage it took for her to even ask if it would be all right to send it.