Monday, December 12, 2011

THE OWL by Debby Ogg

It had been one of those long, exhausting days. There had been several emergencies, people needing assistance immediately, and more than one at a time. It had been the stuff that nightmares are made of, and I had wished to replicate myself or just be able to bi-locate to meet all the needs. But now the day was almost done; just one more visit to make.

It was nearing dusk in late Spring. I raced down the office stairs, knowing I was late for my next appointment. The air was cool, misty, and the peepers were singing their songs. I opened the windows of the car, took a moment for the car to warm up, and inhaled the intoxicating perfume of moist soil and lilac. Senses heightened and brightened, the rhythm of the day slowed down. The sense of urgency evaporated, and driving well below the speed limit, I was open to each sight, each sound, as I crossed the Reservoir bridge.

It was only a hundred feet or so later, that I saw what I thought was a large wing sticking up in the road. My breath caught in my throat. I feared it was an injured hawk. I slowed down to a crawl, not wanting to startle it if it still was alive. I pulled off the road, as much as I could, and jumped out of the car. I hadn’t a thought in my mind. It wasn’t a hawk. It was an owl, lying on its side, its large three-foot wing at an angle in the air.

At that moment, a man came running across the road. He was babbling about how he hadn’t seen the bird, that it had swooped down in front of him, and that he tried to avoid hitting him, but he had. He clearly felt terrible, but his presence seemed to disappear as I approached the bird from behind. It wasn’t moving. Very large, brown and white, I wasn’t certain if it was dead or alive. I placed my hands over him, hovering just a few inches above his body, and felt my hands pulsating. I prayed. I asked Creator to help this suffering creature. I imagined the sweetest love pouring through my hands into his body, into his mind and spirit. I was there for minutes when I felt the need to see him fully.

I moved around to be in front of him, and crouched down. At first I noticed his talons, which were larger than my hands. I looked up into his face, and it was only then that I realized that he was alive. His eyes were bright yellow, very round, blinking slowly, and so very beautiful. He was so very beautiful. He was breathing; he was not struggling. I put my hands over him again, pouring energy into him. I used my breath to connect with the energy all around me, and my hands, hot and electrified, were transmitting it to him. He wasn’t frightened. I don’t know how he communicated that to me, but he did. He took in everything given to him. I felt transported into the world of his spirit.

It was then that a DEC officer pulled up behind me. She was asking me to leave the scene. I hadn’t realized that there was traffic stopped in both directions. She was brusque and she was frightening. I begged her to take care with him, to bring him to Heinz Meng in New Paltz, a raptor rehabber. She said she had orders to follow, and they were none of my concern, and again insisted that I leave, right then.

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I left. I never found out what happened to the owl. I was so touched by our moments together, by the way his eyes looked at me, which felt so much like the way I was looking at him, in appreciation, in sadness. It was one of those once in a lifetime encounters. Every day since, I see his face. I pray for his safety wherever he may be. May it be so.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

LOYALTY by Nina Garnham

My mother was every advertiser’s dream because of her unwavering brand loyalty. Here are her brands:

Lucky Strike cigarettes
Tide laundry detergent in powder form
Crest toothpaste
Wonder Bread
Thomas’ English Muffins
Breck Shampoo
Palmolive dish soap
Mr. Clean
Maxwell House Coffee
Manishevitz Matzoh’s
Pontiac cars
Minute Maid frozen orange juice
Welch’s Grape Jelly
Skippy Peanut Butter, creamy only
Ritz Crackers

During her lifetime, she only changed a few things. She quit smoking. She stopped buying Wonder Bread. And she started driving Toyotas. Otherwise, her shopping list, a close-knit family, stuck together like lint in the clothes dryer.

My mother demanded complete loyalty according to her strict definitions. When she visited an apartment I had when I was in my early twenties and saw Colgate toothpaste in the bathroom, she took it as a personal affront. “Nina, how could you?” she wondered aloud.

Relatives had to conform to her ideas of loyalty or else she was likely to cut off all communication. Neighbors too. No one could criticize her parents, her brother, or her Uncle Milton. She would enforce these Cold War developments with other family members:

My father was not to see or call his only brother;
We weren’t supposed to call Aunt Florrie or Uncle Joe;
Helen and Zigmunt were out;
We weren’t supposed to go inside Mary Ligouri’s apartment in 2D anymore.

The reasons for these silences were usually unknown to us kids.

I was not immune from the threat of excommunication. “When you were little, you’d go off with anybody,” Mom often lamented, afraid of her 4-year-old’s possible disloyalty so early on. It terrified her.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Writing about writing, writing as a little girl, before I can read, before I can write anything other than my name, my name, written out in full, painfully, unhappy that it is so, so long, so many letters to write, Maria Christina Franke, but at least not as long as my sister’s name, which still has the hyphenated second last name, Elizabeth Diana Franke-Ruta, the Ruta being a post office mistake, a small town on the Italian Riviera where my grandfather, a man I never met, my father’s father, lived and wrote, taking Franke-Ruta as his pen name, his name still popping up as a minor, very minor German writer of the 1930s.

Writing. My mother in the manic periods of her mental illness writing and writing, the typewriter clicking away as she writes short stories, some about us, about three children who live in Switzerland, the three children she sends to Switzerland to live with the German grandparents, the grandparents who had gotten out of Italy, walked out of an Italian jail in Lucca, the jailers not wanting them, this Jewish woman and her German husband, the writer, letting them walk, the jailers eating lunch in the next room, the cell door unlocked. Mother the writer sends us to Switzerland but we never get there, stopped by her mother at Ernst Stein’s Great Neck house with its white painted wooden paneling, so clean and glossy and beautiful. Writing as a little girl, scribbling lines across the page, just lines of scribble, “Look, Diana, I’m writing.”

Writing, my mother telling me how to write a story so that something that seems so hard is now easy, just tell the story to yourself and then write it, just write it, don’t worry, if you can tell the story, you can write it and I do and the little eight year old story I write about a donkey who did something I no longer remember, the story my mother helps me write, the two of us sitting in the rain drenched summer house in Inverness, the ferns wet and smelling of urine, everything wet, leaves dripping, the two of us against the world, safe in our little house, and she helps me write a story.

Writing in Mr. Trouse’s English class, writing about Macbeth, angry, furious, stubborn, twisting my hair into knots, sitting and refusing to write, then slowly, dragging my pen across the ruled paper, writing, writing about Lady Macbeth, about the words Mr. Trouse loved and so I loved too, writing about Lady Macbeth and her madness, pushing, forcing the words out, the writing rough and uneven, the pen tight, the ink spreading. And when Mr. Trouse comes to class the next day, holds up a paper and says to us, “What do you think of this?” and when he reads my writing and I think he is reading it to shame me and my anger, and when a boy raises his hand and says “It reads like honey,” and Trouse says yes, that’s what I thought too, I wonder how the words they hear are so different from the words I felt.

And summer, bored, lying on the couch, my little brothers and sister screaming, the ugly tract house, reading, reading Willa Cather, reading stories of Swedish pioneer girls and prairies, of wheat and sun and trains across the fields and I know that this is beautiful writing, that this is how I want to write.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

LONG SHOT by Lynn Faye

I went through this inexplicable period of promiscuity after I got divorced. I shouldn't say inexplicable in view of what preceded it, but looking back on it now, it seems very far away.

My mother was -- in many ways -- a prude. Oh, she talked a good game on the outside: loved the nudie ladies in Vegas; always warned me and my sisters and girlfriends to come to her if we got pregnant too soon -- said she knew what she was doing at our ages. She married the guy who turned her on and who seemed dangerous and then spent the rest of her lifetime trying to understand why he was such a chick-magnet and liked it that way.

My Dad was actually a prude, too. Wanted us to be ladies. Stay on the straight and narrow. Keep our thighs closed and cleavage covered. He talked a good game, too. And acted out plenty. But basically, he wanted his daughters to be good -- nice girls. I guess to atone for his prostitute sister and keep us away from her life of crime and degradation.

My folks were from hardscrabble backgrounds and worked hard to make up for it.

Mom -- from an orthodox Jewish family. Decided to rebel and marry the guy who wasn't even Bar Mitzvahed. All my Dad knew about orthodoxy was that he wanted to be far away from it. So did my Mom.

So the seeds of rebellion were planted in me long before I was born.

I tried doing the conventional things but was always just a step "out there."
Was boy crazy early.
Had sex early.
Ran off to New York for college to get away from home and never went back while all my friends stayed Midwest.
I wanted out of that stifling home. I'd flee my family and mistakes and make a new life.

So, I married a guy who didn't turn me on.
Avoid my mother's mistake and stay safe.
Our sex life was terrible -- even if we didn't realize it right away.
And then, everything about our life together was lousy, too.
Alas, he was from an orthodox Jewish background and had the same hang ups as my mother - just pretended that he didn't.
Like they say, we all marry our mothers.

So, after five years of lousy sex and playing house, when I got divorced, I wanted to play. I wanted no relationship of import with anyone. I'd gotten hurt and wasn't going to let that happen again.
So, I became a tramp for awhile. Not a big tramp -- but still a tramp.
Picked up men -- wherever. Slept with them. Discarded them. And didn't like them, either.
I was enjoying myself. Or was I?
I was acting just like my father -- acting out.
But I'm not a man and I didn't fare well acting like one. I still got hurt.
You can't just pick up people, sleep with them, and drop them -- without getting hurt.

On vacations, where no one knew me, I was fearless.
Flirt. Pick 'em up. Sleep with 'em. Have great sex. Feel nothing.
Ignored the rumblings of pain; hurt; -- when the men acted just as I expected and had set myself up for.

And one day, I found myself in London.
I picked up someone whose face and name I can't remember anymore.
He was foreign. Maybe Indian. Maybe African.
Mysterious. Dangerous. Interesting.
Had dinner with him.
Slept with him.
There we were in a hotel room. Perhaps mine. Perhaps his.
Along the way, the sex got rough. Not S & M stuff. But rougher than I was accustomed to. I don't remember if he bit me; hit me; or what?
But when I awoke the next morning, I was very sore. I could barely walk. The insides of my thighs were black and blue. He was gone -- as expected. I was alone.

I couldn't believe it. How had I come this far away? What was I thinking?
I could have been killed. Beaten. Drugged. I was lucky. I was only bruised -- in every way.
I was hurt but suddenly alert.
I was so very far away from home; physically, mentally, emotionally.
And I was done with this phase of my life. I would have to rebel in some other way.
I was not my father.
Not my mother, either.
Actually, not even me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

As Far Away from Home as Possible by DeAnn Louise Daigle

When I think of home
I think of warm and fuzzy.
Why would I want to leave it?

Home is where I was nurtured
And made to feel secure.
Home was fine. The Beauty of
The Woods, the Sound of Birds
Chirping. Mom and Dad downstairs.

The cats in the shed. Jackie,
My bird, in the cage. And
Eventually the dog I’d always
Longed for, Chillie – all living
Elements of my warm and fuzzy.

Mom reading fairy tales to me
And Dad reading me the funny
Papers on Saturdays. Warm
And fuzzy. Why would I want
To leave home? I didn’t.
I wanted home to remain
Like this safe place forever.

Home wasn’t all safe and secure.
There were awful edges, sharp edges.
Dad’s drinking, Mom’s having
Awful bouts of worry. Their
Fighting left me feeling nothing
Was safe; the world could
Come crashing at any moment.

There was unspoken tension
I never knew was there.
I felt it without knowing
What it was.

Dad didn’t drink, Mom told me.
He wasn’t like the other men
Who sat around and drank beer
When they weren’t working in
The fields or potato houses.

Dad didn’t sit around and
Drink with them, he hid his
Drinking from me, from Mom.
Only, she knew. She suspected.

She also suspected, when he disappeared
For two weeks at a time, that he
Was bedding down other women.
She hinted at this only once –
Implying that he’d slept with
Her brother’s wife. How did I
Understand this? I’m sure I

Didn’t. I may have been 5 years
Old at the time. He’d been gone
And she was upset. So much is
Feelingly blacked out for me.

Only years later as I reflected on my
Attraction to a particular boy cousin
Did I begin to think that maybe
He’s Dad’s son. My aunt had eight
Children and her husband, Mom’s
Brother, could have easily just
Counted this one as another of his own.

But, did he suspect? He was in a beer
Stupor most of the time.

Did all of these people live a
Closed harmony in suspicion
Of one another?

If not consciously in my mind,
Then, feelingly in my heart, I
Took in all of these tensions and
Suspicions, lost hope, lost
Affections, lost warmth and feelings of
Distance inside.

I took them in, gathered them up –
All of these surmises and speculations
And bits and pieces of gossip gathered
Here and there, of overhearing. I
Took them in and tried, tried very
Hard to piece together the story of
My life, because their story was

So much my story.

Of course, there was then my
Mother and me and how maybe
My cousin, Dad’s nephew,
Might be my real father. That
Too was tucked away in my
Eleven year old mind. Such
Quietly explosive stuff borders

On the mystical.

The church was
At the center of all of our lives.
It taught us right from wrong,
Good from bad. The priest was
Passionate at the lectern and
Told us these Beautiful sad stories
About Mary, the Mother of God.

We all heard the stories and I
Wept right along with the
Priest, and the men, who came
To the store after Mass would
Poke fun at the crying priest.

But, people came from all the
Surrounding villages when during
The month of May, the month
Of Mary, we gathered in cars
Reciting the rosary. Cars filled
The church’s parking lot at the
Shrines he had built,

The first one to our Lady of Lourdes –
A grotto with the statue of Mary and
A statue of the kneeling St. Bernadette on
Beautiful white rocks with running
Water the priest had had piped in from
The brook that ran behind the
Grotto. People came from miles

Around to see what the priest
Had done. He enlisted the very people
Who laughed at him to build all
Of the shrines that would follow.
St. Joseph, the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
St. Therese of Lisieux.

In the summertime, there were
Processions on Sunday Evenings and
We walked around the large
Illuminated rosary at the edge
Of the water, where there was
Open ground and the grass was
Very green.

Ave, ave, ave, Maria, ave, ave
Ave Maria.

I have demons. I battle demons
In the night, and it’s all quite

Monday, October 17, 2011


Jim -- a different version of the man that I usually love. He wore white cotton shirts with short sleeves rolled up: a pack of Lucky Strikes could fit right in. We met on the plane, sitting next to each other. My divorce was just finalized and his wife had recently died. We both upgraded to first class. He was seated at the window. I, with my pearl earrings punctuating my smile, sat down next to him. The flight left Newark airport on a clear late winter morning, a smooth glide into the sky. Jim said, “Do you want to see my house?” I leaned across the space surrounding his chest to see the dot through the window. We talked and laughed and then he asked me to join him for dinner that night .

“I'm traveling with my sister and brother-in-law, so I'd like to include them.”

“Fine, wherever you want to go.” I didn't know...I had never been to this island in the Bahamas. I thought a safe bet would be to meet at the hotel where my family and I were staying.

I quickly swallowed a Nexium in the lobby shortly before I escorted him into the hotel restaurant. Susan, my sister, and Jay were seated at the table surrounded by perfectly-manicured palm trees. Jim asked me to order for him. I ordered shrimp not knowing it would be a different version. There were little shrimp still in their shells, not like the jumbo pink and white meat he loved to bathe in cocktail sauce at Ruth's Chris. After dinner, Jim and I went for a walk along the water on a wooden bridge over the man-made canal with domesticated baby sharks swimming beneath us. He took out a cigarette, “I hope you don't mind.”

“Well...” I spoke in a pitch that signaled disdain.

He said he would blow the smoke in a different direction -- whatever the hell that means! Jim walked me to my hotel room and we said goodnight. Then Jim went to the casino and met Jay, my brother-in-law. They became quick Blackjack buds. Jim won big! He called and invited all of us to have dinner with him at a restaurant that was featured on the TV food show as one of the food wonders of the world. We dressed in our Bahamian whites. A limo drove up to our hotel to drive us to the restaurant. As Jim climbed in, he held the side handle with his left arm and grimaced: a pain shot up to his chest. He dismissed it and we drove on. We arrived at the small white and blue stucco building and were escorted to the red velvet dining room. Seated on the tall black cushioned chairs, we ordered Champagne, caviar, conch fritters and steak. We toasted to a lasting friendship. After baked Alaska and cognac we went to the casino and Jim taught me how to shoot craps. After rolling the dice a few times, Jim asked me to join him the next day on a Catamaran cruise on the Caribbean Sea.

The next day came. Jay left early to go fishing. Susan and I were about to go to breakfast when the phone rang. “This is the Queen Anne Hospital, can I talk to Edna?” My head became light, my stomach quivered and my first thought was that something happened to my daughter; even though, Jackie was in New York City. Then the nurse said, “ Jim asked me to call you. He's in the hospital.”

“What happened?”

“I can't tell you but he wanted you to know that he cannot meet you today.” I grabbed the white pen and memo pad left by telephone and below the word “Atlantis” I wrote the name and address of the hospital. We waited for Jay to return from fishing. His netted cap with the Yankee insignia led his way into the room. “Let's go to the hospital.”

When we arrived at the emergency room, we found Jim lying on brown paper covering the metal gurney. He looked so vulnerable: a 6'2” man exposed, hurting, tearful. We stayed with him for awhile then offered to call his nephew in Miami and wished him well. I cried. I knew this man only a few days and yet he touched my heart. He was a different version of the men I usually loved, the ones whom I loved more than they loved me.

Jim fell in love with me; he longed for me and embraced my whole life. After we started dating, he told anyone who asked how we met that I gave him a heart attack. The story would annoy me, mostly because he'd go into all the details of his health and hospital stay. Jim was born and raised in Kentucky; a country boy and I, a native of New York City. Even our love of horses was different. I would cheer the Quarter horses as they jumped over the cavaletti and he would root for the Thoroughbreds to win the trifecta. We traveled to many places after our time in the Bahamas. My favorite was our trip to the Derby in Kentucky. While in Kentucky, Jim showed us the apartment where he lived, above the store in Eatontown; the cannon ball sticking out of the stone wall which is a landmark from the Civil War and the huge green field with Fort Knox in the distance, where he played with his friends and became infected with a terrible rash from poison oak. He missed school for 3 months.

Jim was the kind of man who kept 1-800-Flowers in business. On our first date, and on many others, he knocked on my door with a fragrant bouquet. He sent flowers on Mother's Day, on my birthday, when I was promoted at work. All of my colleagues rushed into my office to find out who sent me a dozen red roses. Now that Jim has passed away, our differences have faded and I miss holding his hand, listening to his deep resonant voice. Forever, I am grateful that I welcomed into my life a different version of the man I usually love.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

UNDEFINED TIME by Rosalyn Z. Clark

I remember as a young girl sharing fruit with my Poppa.
He would peel the apple carefully in one neat swirl.
Next he would slice the apple neatly and share the slices of apple with me.
I quietly spitting out the apple seeds, but Poppa he would eat apple seeds and all.
The pomegranate, Poppa called Chinese apple, he also sliced oh so carefully.
While Poppa and I are eating this fruit we are laughing as we see each other with juice running down our chins.
Now with the grapefruits, Poppa also slices them oh so neatly, so their juices do not escape.
Now he shares the slices of the grapefruit equally.
Soon only the skins of the grapefruit are left.

Undefined time has passed.
I am a grandmother now and I am sharing an apple with my granddaughter.
First, I peel the apple carefully in one complete swirl and while I am slicing the apple, my granddaughter is eating the peel and laughing. So unexpected.
Next we sit companionably and eat the slices of apple and I tell her about my Poppa who taught me how to peel the apple in one complete swirl.

Once again time and years go by, my granddaughter is now a mother of her own girl.
She is now sharing an apple with her daughter, but this time she is not peeling the apple, but only slices the apple very carefully and shares them with her.
I ask my granddaughter why doesn’t she peel the fruit?
Oh Grandma, don’t you know there are vitamins in the peel?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

IN A CROWD by Gina Crehan

I lived on St. Marks Place in the East Village in the late 60’s. People lived on the street, crowded the streets, the cafes, the stoops….everything, everywhere, everyone was happening! It was a foreign, exotic bazaar and one of the nuclear spots for the worldwide youth revolution…drugs, free sex, free thoughts, new ideas, new religions, message and music. It was as viral as the internet of today and as momentous. It was like passing through a door to a somewhere else where you could never go back the other way again.

We were called Hippies but that seems too conventional, too limiting to this movement of rampant self expression which exploded at this time. It was our time! If you were 16 or younger, you still had parents. If you were over 28, you were too ingrained in the “old ways.” Whatever it was -- the music, the drugs, the Eastern religion -- the message was infectious and it was our fantastic kingdom…a mythological place where people dressed as they never had before, trusted easily, spoke a new language and tore down conventional social norms, in the snap of a finger.

It wasn’t all great, however. Some people OD’d, never came back from magic-kingdom thinking and some radicalized this “good vibe” and morphed things into anarchy and violence.

For me, it was about the clothes! Every day was a chance to be a new fairy princess dressed in a fantastic confection of whimsy and wonder, at court in this new mystical world I was now living in.

I started college in upstate NY at a well regarded all girls school. (Women were called “girls” then.) I wore Villager skirts, Shetland sweaters, round collared oxford shirts with circle pins. My curly hair was always a problem as I could never quite get it straight enough to fit into a “waspy” stereotype. On the weekends, my roommate would iron it. If it was humid or I was at a sweaty frat party, I might as well have called it a night, as Cinderella might soon turn into a version of the ugly “stepsister.”

I was a sophomore when I decided to transfer to NYU downtown. Either the upstate girls college was too small for me or I was too big for it…besides, I was a bohemian and a whole world was happening that I just had to be a part of. Because I applied too late, I was denied dorm space but that was quite ok with me. I wound up sharing an apartment with another student I met at a party one evening. Someone I had just met on the street invited me to the party in a crowded walk-up apartment. It was the first time I dropped acid and the first time I really heard the Beatles and boy, I really heard the Beatles. It was a religious experience and as an initiate into a new religious order, I knew I had to shed the old duds.

I was poor, living on my own, with minimal help from my divorced parents….but I knew all about couture clothing. My mother had been a model and both my grandfathers made my clothing from an early age which my mother had designed for me….and so, I hit the thrift shops. In those years, one could find a tattered Chanel jacket, dresses from the ‘40’s and maybe a Mainbocher coat, even though it only had one sleeve. I didn’t exactly have a concept of a “good working wardrobe” and didn’t read Glamour magazine. I bought as much as I could of great loot, as cheap as possible and hauled it home in large garbage bags. Our aptartment only had one bedroom -- a tiny one -- and I had it and arranged my clothing in bags by color, fabric, or mood so I could get at what I wanted more easily.

So it started….my love affair with visual fantasy. In a short time, I became really good at it, layering layers over layers, cutting out patches, making slits and strategically inserting other wisps of whimsy, chiffons, prints, you name it!....pins, buttons, feathers, threads, changing everything as I went along. I never wore the same outfit twice. How could I? I didn’t stop at just the body. There were headdresses
with veils, hats with jewels and plumes; everything had something, somewhere to look at, dangling, jiggling, and shining. I was a moving piece of art!

When the tour buses came to the East Village they always pointed me out. I was told I looked like Stevie Nicks…but I was more a Lady Gaga and then some. I became known as a “visual artist” and clothing was my métier. I got into all the clubs and was invited everywhere…a regal denizen of an illusionary world.

After I graduated college, I got a serious job as a writer for a small business journal. I had to tone my wardrobe down and decided a small gold head band and bright purple maxi coat on which I had sewn yellow stars were suitable conservative work clothes. Whoever I interviewed would initially stare at me in disbelief but once I started asking the questions for my story, my curious intelligence compelled them to answer and we started a dialogue. I always got a byline.

My family never quite adjusted to my eccentricity. When I went home to visit them in suburban NJ, in what I thought was appropriate “garb” -- a long black man’s tailcoat with 100 rhinestone pins and a feather skirt and polka dot hat -- they would open the door and then sometimes slam it in despair. My mother would weep. How was I ever to find a suitable husband looking like that?

Years later, when I became a successful fashion designer, it was she who always rushed up with a huge congratulatory bouquet at the end of my runway show. Tears in her eyes, she would say, “You’re perfect, you’re brilliant…You had us all fooled.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

THE TREE by Peter Bolger

The tree looked Wizard of Oz-ish -- roots radiating, roots rippling in the dirt, roots like layered octopi; branches that spread in a circumference of endless arms yearning, trying to defy the roots' stronghold, reaching for air. The effect was liturgical.

It wasn't the tree the men wanted. It was its representation -- its un-stolid, stuck-but-screaming reach for more, its unbridled attempt to get as far away from home as possible -- that made it the gathering place it was, an ally to the nocturnal denizens of the Fens with their dicks out, jerking, kissing, licking, looking -- looking from the perimeter of the crowd for someone safe, detesting the safety of the outskirts, repulsed by the mediocrity of the middle, detesting the ferocity of the center, the soul stripped in defiance, roots that can't be outrun. The tree was the most alive.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


They lost my clothes and I can’t think about anything else. How can I write when all I can think about is where are my clothes?

I read the instructions carefully for checking out and followed the steps exactly. I put my keys in the drawer, cleaned up all the trash and recyclables and put my luggage out on the porch. The luggage consisted of two suitcases and a large clear trash bag filled to the top with all my dirty laundry from the week. All suitcases and whatever else, were tagged with the appropriate tag identifying the room number, including the big trash bag. I thought carrying the trash bag to the car would be a good idea but the bag was heavier then I expected and the car was a ways away. My partner insisted that leaving the clothes on the porch would be fine and even remarked, “Stop being so controlling, haven’t you learned anything by being here?" I guessed he was right and what could really happen.

Packing, getting dressed and cleaning the room took more time than expected. The dining hall would be closing soon and there is no way I was willing to start my day without breakfast. This meant I probably would be late for class and I was. Walking as fast as I can through the gravel parking lot I see the platform ahead full of luggage waiting to be picked up by their lawful owners. As I get closer I see my luggage, “but wait, where's the trash bag full of clothes?" I am already late but can’t resist my controlling nature to find out why the clothes bag is missing? I go up to the Omega staff that are in the middle of their morning stretching exercises and ask if all the bags are there and were there more coming?

The one staff member seemed confused. “We will be picking up bags all morning and we only did one pick up.”

“But you wouldn’t separate someone’s luggage, would you?” I asked.

“No, of course not!’’ said the attendant.

“Well, I see two of my suitcases, but there was also a large bag of laundry that was also left next to them with a tag tied to it.

“Okay, we didn’t see that,” said the staff member.

“Well,” I said, trying to stay calm, “that bag has all my clothes in it.”

“Well, maybe you left it in the room,” he said.

“No, I left it on the porch.”

“Well, maybe housekeeping picked it up by mistake,” he said.

Now my NYC metro area personality started to show as I responded, “Is someone going to help me find my clothes or do I have to go and ask someone else?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” the young man replied, “it has to be somewhere. What is your room number? I am sure we will find it.”

“Oak-C,” I replied. “Please help me by finding my clothes.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we will find it.”

Now I am even later for class and obsessed with the fear of them not finding my laundry, plus the idea of someone going through my laundry is also not comforting. I feel a bit of panic in my chest as I get closer to my workshop and now I have to write. How do I switch off my panic and turn on my brain or heart or both? Then a voice comes through my head, “Let go, just let go.” Okay, okay, I can let go, right?

After a week of rest, laughter, writing, meditation, music, friends, yoga and later today a massage, I must have learned something. I hope I learned something. Something I can use in my life, something that will help me love others. I hope to be able to go home with new attitudes toward being positive and healthy. Well, if not I will just have to come back. Back to remember what is important. Memories.

NEVER EASY by Jaspal Bajwa

“It’s time,” my father’s quiet yet firm voice cut short my feeble attempts to appear busy re-checking my bags for the umpteenth time. After all, I needed to be sure I had everything I might need for the next nine months at boarding school. Leaving home was not something I looked forward to as a young boy of eight!

The car door slammed shut. I turned back for one last look, waving at the gardener and a few of my close friends from the township attached to the paper factory where my father worked. I could scarcely believe how swiftly the three-month annual vacation had melted away. Why was it that the vacation looked much longer at the outset, I mused.

Two hours later we arrived at the Howrah Railway station. It was the only one where cars could pull up alongside the main platform. A reminder of the grandeur of the British raj. This almost regal manner of boarding a train never failed to fascinate me. I looked around, straining to locate a familiar face. Clearly, we were one of the early ones. None of my school mates had arrived yet. Most of them lived close enough, just across the river in the city of Kolkata.

“Have you kept the pocket-money in a safe place?” asked my father . “And what about your keys?” added my mother. On any other occasion I would have been peeved. Not this time. It was nice to be fussed over. And perhaps receive some extra pocket-money ‘for spending on the way’. It was a good idea to stock up for the two-night journey which lay ahead to reach our school nestled in the Himalayas. I bounded across to the book stall. Never missed an opportunity to browse and savour the inviting smell of new books, momentarily helping me forget the stench of bleaching powder sprinkled as a disinfectant on the rail-tracks. Having bought some comics, I hastened back to the car winding my way through the crowd which was building up. The loud cries of the sellers on the platform reverberated all around me. The beggar with a stump for a leg, was still at the same spot where I had last seen him. Avoiding his doleful eyes, I dropped the change the book seller had given me in his outstretched palm.

As dusk settled, the crows and sparrows struck up a raucous chorus seeking out the nests they had built in the steel structure overhead. The flies and the stray dogs went about doing their business quite unmindful of the blaring car horns and the frenetic activity as everyone scurried around.

Soon enough I could spot a few of my friends. Other than a wave of the hand and a brief hello, each of us continued to hover close to our respective families. Hanging onto the magic of the vacation by a few precious moments. Even as the sounds and smells of a busy railway platform pressed in on us from all sides.

The crackling voice on the overhead loudspeakers announced the Howrah-Kalka Mail was pulling up at the terminal. Almost on cue, the entire crowd craned their necks and precariously leaned over, looking down the platform. The ground shook under our feet, as the majestic black steam engine, with maroon carriages in tow trundled by. I was glad everyone’s attention was momentarily drawn away. I fought back the tears threatening to roll down … the constriction in my throat was making it difficult to keep up the easy banter. I did not want to appear weak in front of my sisters who had come to see their big brother off.

Once our carriage was located; the coolies swung into action. Balancing numerous pieces of luggage on their head and shoulders, they wended their way deftly through the crowd towards our coach. Last minute checks. Renewed instructions to look after ourselves were interrupted by the shrill whistle of the rail-guard vigorously waving his green flag at the end of the platform. Time for the final good-byes . Silent hugs all around. Blinking away my tears, I jumped onto the carriage. Turned back for one last wave . And then we were off.

As the train slowly pulled away into the fast-gathering darkness, each one of us crowded to the windows to lean out and wave … our eyes glued to the slowly receding figures of our families .
Leaving home was never easy.

The train gathered speed and the rhythmic clickety-clack of tracks became louder. We turned to each other. Exchanging hearty stories. Very soon the lump in the throat had been replaced by gurgling laughter which comes so easy amongst friends. The spontaneous camaraderie slowly spread its warm glow. Anticipation of the adventures ahead took hold. We were like young blood-hounds sniffing the air.

We talked late into the night. Continuing long after the lights had been switched off by the teacher who was accompanying us. In the early hours of the morning … lulled by the sounds of the tracks and the occasional steam whistle of the engine in the distance we eventually slept … at home in our togetherness.


Having reached
… I begin
Each moment
…. A new beginning

Sunday, September 18, 2011

TWISTS & TURNS by David Erhart

A different version of life is presented to me during my trip to Omega during the summer of 2011. I suppose the best place to begin is with our afternoon off, on Wednesday, August 24th. The start is simple. I tell Penny that I am going to the fair. You know the Duchess County Fair held along Route 9, on the way up toward Red Hook.

My car ambles into town. The roads I pretty much recognize from the Sunday I came. On Rhinebeck’s Main Street, I march gingerly into CVS and get one of the pharmacists to show me where a bottle of vitamins are to deal with macular degeneration. Macular degeneration of the dry kind is not a big deal coming from the family I do.

Afterwards I zip across the street and go into a bakery and coffee shop whose iced brew I drank last Sunday. I see a crumbly bar to eat. It looks like an apple bar. Definitely, it’s the one I want. Asking the salesperson what’s in it, she goes on at length, but all I hear is “oats” and “chocolate.” Wanting something delicioso, as they say, to wash this baby down with, I order espresso and give the girl my name. Sitting down, I see sections of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal on the counter in front, and since I am a wee bit starved for news, I begin combing. Business section… Tuesday: Market up, Gold down. Then hitting the Journal, I come across an article written about how my favorite baseball team, the Mets, have over the past five years imploded. Isn’t this subject known already?

Off to the fair I go. I’m crawling up a very clogged Route 9. I’m in the process of making a quick decision that I don’t want to stop at this stupid thing, and when I drive by I see why. There are lots and lots of rides, and not one farm animal in sight. Actually, this explanation is weak. In the back I’m sure there are birds, pigs, cows, and all kinds of other animals. I fight the traffic just a little ways further. Then whamo, on my way to Red Hook. It’s a curious town with a funny name. I really want to see it. Driving through, I catch the name of an Indian Restaurant and wonder if it’s doing as well as the restaurant in Rhinebeck that said “Essuyez vos pieds.”

A beautiful Parkway called the Taconic is the next thing on my slate. And here I am penetrated by a paralyzing thought. I was driving to Maine last week with my wife and twenty year old daughter, Claire. Claire was in the back, sprawled out in recovery from her party the night before. When all of a sudden, just south of Bangor, I fell asleep at the wheel. It just happened for a second, but I fell asleep at the goddamn wheel. I drifted, drifted into the left lane. There were no trucks, nor cars on the road. If there had been, my sleeping may not have occurred. But holy smokes, this one event would have been life’s moment most devastating.

A steep bank would have caught the car and flipped it down its side. Trees and rocks waited at the bottom. Who knows what they could have done? I’ve had horrible dreams of killing my daughter like I had dreams about killing my father. In this moment of senseless wandering, I came close to making these true.

All right... all right, my guide is speaking. She articulates the following: “Don’t drive long distances. And for God’s sakes, let your daughters drive, always.”

You see, a different version of life has come upon me. High-strung before my brain injury, I became even more high-strung after it. And now, ladies and gentlemen, my strings are tightened like the very tightest of a violin.

Back at Omega, it’s six o’clock, and I am on my way to dinner. Suddenly, it occurs to me. I am not hungry for food at all. I retreat to the Sanctuary where I go into the empty space, sit in a grounded chair, and let pictures of the weeks personages play out before me.

This Sanctuary is a Cathedral in the Woods, blessed from the heart by God. I sit there for a long period of time before another person enters. After some moments I open my eyes and see a young girl lying in fetal position up front where the alter would be. Quietly I get up, leave the building, place my shoes on my feet and see the scuffed heels of my prostrate partner’s sandals. Who the heck knows? Maybe we both found this chapel exactly when we needed to.

I walk down the path toward the campus’s main road. I have my flashlight around my neck but don’t use it. I feel truly blessed by my moments alone and decide that instead of spending so much time heading outward, I should begin the process of going within.

LIZA by Klara Dannar

I prepared for my first visit to the refugee camp in Ghana by reading and talking with friends who had been there before. I meditated on the obvious contrasts: my life of comfort and privilege vs endless loss, hunger and discrimination.

My family had received so much, from so many, two years before when my father and sister both died of cancer. Friends and strangers carried us through that heart-breaking time. It was impossible to thank them all, so I embraced the decision to go to Ghana as an opportunity to give something back; in a way I believed my father and sister would have embraced.

It surprised me that I was going on a church mission trip. I had avoided organized religion since high school. As a perpetual spiritual seeker I had experimented with Buddhist meditation, Native American ceremonies, Sufi dancing and just about every other group I could test drive from the sidelines. A year before, in the darkness of grief, I started attending a small rural Christian church near me. I cautiously checked the waters by volunteering to be the parish nurse for the congregation and assisted members with health concerns.

I was comfortable in the caregiving role and looked forward to working in the refugee camp clinic. I met Liza my first day in Ghana. That evening, we were alone when she looked into my eyes, then away, while she held both my hands.

“I only opened the door,” she said quietly. “The rebels stormed in. They killed my father, and raped and captured my mother in front of all of her six children. As the oldest, I gathered my sisters and brothers and fled. Later we returned home. When I was out foraging for food, the house was torched. All of my siblings died. I was captured. I was a young girl, not familiar with the ways of men. I was raped repeatedly, until I lost consciousness. I awoke later with my vagina filled with salt to stop the bleeding. Soon I realized I was pregnant and escaped and fled to this camp.”

She released my hands. I remember repeating, “I am so sorry….so sorry…”

The next morning Liza led the morning prayer. In a clear, confident voice, she began, “I am so grateful for my life, for my opportunity to be of service to others, for the richness of my many blessings.”

I had imagined the refugee camp as an opportunity to give back, but by the morning of the second day it was clear everything had shifted. It was no longer possible to stay on the fringes of a belief system, or to continue to hide behind the secure role of caregiver. I listened in silence and contemplated the contrasts in our lives, and in our reactions to grief and loss.

I had been launched on a personal spiritual pilgrimage that would challenge me look deeply into my own soul.

Friday, September 16, 2011

THE BLUE BUTTERFLY by J. Murphy Krimshaw

The assignment in my writing class was “leaving… write a piece on leaving! This struck terror in my heart. I would have to say my emotional framework has been formed by “leaving”. I was always leaving, someone else was leaving and whatever or wherever I was living seemed to leave me as well. I came to realize this couldn’t be stopped and a life worth living had a lot of entries and exits in it, but somehow the exits were a lot harder to bear.

When I arrived in Paris, I was almost ready to throw myself in the quai. My heartbreak was real, visceral, searing…a deep wound. I saw it coming but I didn’t quite expect him to break up with me the night before I left. We couldn’t decide on a place to meet, so I chose a tony Upper Eastside lounge with zebra covered cushions, curvy small cocktail tables and dim lighting. The ceiling was dropped to create cozy nooks and intimate spots. The place was busy, filled with blind dates, Match meetings and other assorted “adult” singles looking for “the one” In my optimism, I was hoping he would say he’d give it a try, couldn’t live without me, would stay in touch while I was away…but he didn’t.

We had an on and off again relationship, at least in a spatial way. What I mean by that: is not seeing him for periods of time, but that did not diminish thinking about him every hour, every day and knowing he was doing the same thing about me. Maybe 40 times a day, we used to joke! We called it “the longing” and indeed it was. I called him the blue butterfly, he sent me many images of the Morpho Blue as his symbol. I had never felt so emotionally compelled by anyone before…obsessed, actually. This was movie stuff. Not possible, but it was true and it was happening to me and like a good film noir or wrenching romance, it would have to have a sad, heart breaking ending, by definition. I realized it was hopeless for me and I was in destiny’s hands. I used to say, “Cupid shot me through the heart and then shot me in the foot!”

It started innocently enough. I met him at a cocktail party for an Architecture & Design Fair…over the cheese platter, in fact. We immediately started to talk and fell in love. He was handsome, very handsome, dressed in a grey flannel suit with a black turtleneck, in lieu of a shirt and tie. I could see his physique beneath the fabric and knew he worked out. His grooming was impeccable…studied, hip! He had great hands, well articulated with long fingers. My opening line made him laugh and we soon discovered we had a similar aesthetic, saw things with a similar eye, knew a lot about literature and cooking. He was not in the design world, but a guest of a friend and told me he was a writer and didn’t elaborate on what.

Three months of adventure, both romantic and fun, not just museums and movies, but poetry readings, reading to one another DH Lawrence, Billy Collins, Bachada lessons, (the Dominican National Dance), fishing, cycling and old movies, lots of old movies! He was smart, an expert on almost everything and I learned a lot; a real lot!
He was different.

One warm Spring day he prepared a gourmet picnic lunch in a grand English basket with a complete set of china. He brought a rug, a canopy, and speakers to a hill he knew with an incredible view of the Hudson. I brought the crystal; my mother’s rose vase, flowers and 10 silly surprise gifts, laboriously wrapped. I wore a gingham dress. He asked me to. We stayed till sunset and attempted to make love on the lawn. Suddenly, some hikers appeared and caught us bare assed.

In general, we couldn’t keep our hands off one another; nowhere was excluded.
I didn’t necessarily see him every weekend or every day but the relationship had a consistency of its own strung together with emails, letters, long love letters, cards and jokes. I confessed to my girlfriends I was in love, madly in love and I was. They asked me if I had ever seen where he lived and in fact, I had not. He told me his “meat market” loft was under construction, though we did drive by the building once or twice and he did seem involved in all sorts of issues of construction, something I actually knew a great deal about, having re-done a number of apartments with my ex-husband. I gave him advice.

And so, one night I met him in a strange Medina-like bar in a Mid Eastern restaurant in the East 40’s. I arrived early which was quite unusual for me. I decided to dress like Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. I had on garters which exposed themselves when I crossed my legs. He soon appeared briefcase in hand. He was edgy, didn’t kiss me and seemed overly serious. I casually looked down and noticed he had a wedding band on. Yup, he was married!...about four years but not really to his soul mate. A mistake! She traveled a great deal for business and recently spent 3 or 4 months in Argentina, returning every now and then.

I was in shock. My heart sank. I didn’t yell. He asked if I wanted to hit him and though I did, I refrained. I just said I had fallen in love with him and what he had done was cruel and he was a coward.

More than a year later, I looked up the definition of sociopath: a person so pathologically self centered, they were incapable of feelings for anyone else.


There was a different version of my childhood challenge of sex abuse and the true version.

The different version was the story of my brother, two-and-a-half years older than I, beating me up all the time. This usually occurred when my mother left me at home alone with Toby while I baby sat my baby brother, Fate, who was 10 years younger. Mother used to say, “I was afraid to leave you at home with your brother for fear he would kill you.” I often wonder now, “Then, why did you leave me at home alone with him?” This was true but the different version. The true version was something my mother never knew.

For some reason my brother had gotten off to a bad start in his life. Well, maybe I did too, but I didn’t behave as aggressively as he did. He was a baby when a housekeeper gave him gonorrhea. I never did learn how that happened. I can only guess. My parents divorced when I was 4 and Toby was 6 or 7. He had already headed down the road labeled “difficult child.” I can sort of understand my mother’s wiping her hands clean of him and getting him out of her hair at times. I never had that luxury.

By the time he was nine, he was sent off to military school to set him straight. I didn’t know why. I thought he was the privileged one and loved more than I. Years later, I dreamed of going to a boarding school (maybe to get away from him or to have the same opportunity). As a therapist today, I have my own ideas about his being sent away. I think he needed more love than he received. I also heard stories about my grandmother, with whom we lived, chasing and beating him with a broom. I don’t remember ever witnessing that, but, then, I don’t remember much of my life at that time anyway.

My step-father to be, Miles Christian, was an instructor/teacher at Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee. My grandmother, mother, and I went to visit Toby once during the year he was there. I think we stayed in something like a bed and breakfast. I don’t really remember. But I do remember mother coming back from a date with Miles one night and saying, “Miles asked me to marry him.” I was probably 7 or 8 at the time and asked, “Did he get down on his hands and knees to propose?” As I’ve said in another story of mine, Miles was one of handsomest men I’d ever seen, next to Clark Gable.

In the summer following, when I was 8, I was visiting my cousins in Mansfield, Ohio. Joyanne, two years younger, and I were walking across the back of the couch while playing tight-rope walkers, when I lost my balance and fell on the floor on my back, pulling her right to the spot that broke my arm above the elbow. I was in the hospital a whole week for that injury. (Healthcare was different then.)

During my convalescence there, my grandmother appeared every day, but there was no visit from my mother for 3 or 4 days. Again, I didn’t feel very important to her. When she did come, she announced that she and Miles had gotten married. In those days, before any conflict between us, I called him dad because my own father did not seem to care enough to be in my life. I sometimes think my mother kept him away. Anyway, I was gifted with a puppy after the hospital stay for what I had gone through.

So we, now a family, found a house to rent in Shiloh a short distance away from Plymouth. We had an ice box and a cistern from which we pumped water. There was an abandoned building next door that was infested with fleas, and I ended up with bites all over my legs from playing there.

My brother’s introduction of sex to me first came, as with many children, innocent enough I would guess at the time, but when I reflect on our ages, we were past the age of “show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” But that’s how it started at 8 and 11. It transitioned from that to, “Let’s draw pictures of each other.” Somehow he made it clear we were not to tell mother.

Perhaps, I did get a temporary reprieve from the progression of the abuse. It was the start of the United States’ involvement in World War II. Miles joined the Navy as an officer, and following his training near Chicago, he was stationed in San Diego, California. So he and mother packed up Toby, and they all left me behind with my grandmother, abandoned and separate from my family. I didn’t understand why or what I had done to be left behind. Later on, when I was told and understood that it was due to Toby’s bad behavior, the damage to my psyche had been done. Still, what kind of excuse was that? Mother couldn’t handle us both?

They were there somewhat less than a year. It certainly didn’t change Toby for the better, just as military school had not,. I was excited when mother and Toby returned and bought a house in Plymouth, Ohio. Miles was not to come home for about 2 more years. When their furniture arrived, I was trying to untie a package when Toby hacked my hand with a knife. I still have the scar from it on my hand. That was just the beginning.

He was always beating me up when he felt like it, but sometimes, like other brothers and sisters, we were chums and sneaked out the door of my room onto the roof and climbed down a trellis to go see friends in the neighborhood, or sometimes during the day, we sneaked off with bathing suits under our clothes to go swimming (I couldn’t swim yet) in the creek of other school chums, where I almost drown. That occasion made me all the more determined to learn to swim.

When did the molestation begin? Most all of it is a haze in my mind. I think it began as I went into maturity and started developing breasts. He would always grab at me when no one was looking. I can’t tell you what actually happened, but I know it did. I remember his erect penis. Nothing else. There was a large old barn on our property that we played in. My memory of what took place there seems only to be imagined. But, what I think happened was that Toby invited some of the town boys to watch. In my mind’s eye, I see them lined up against the barn wall on the second floor watching us demonstrate sex. I don’t know if this actually happened, but I think it did.

What I do remember is being left alone with him and running for the bathroom to lock the only door that locked in our house. I didn’t want him to touch me. I ran and I screamed in terror. He refused to leave me alone.

Somewhere around 15 years of age, I got another reprieve when he dropped out of school and joined the military. I had peace for the next couple years, and when he returned after getting out before his time was served, he didn’t bother me anymore.

Years later, I have tried to figure out what happened to him to make him so unhappy and aggressive. He became an alcoholic and died young at 45 after choking on food in a restaurant. I learned how to forgive him. On another day, I will tell about a past-life memory that explains why he victimized me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Standing at my desk, with fifty three pairs of expectant eyes focused on me to hear the answer to a challenge question posed by my first grade teacher, I found my voice stuck – stuck amidst the vocal chords. The harder it tried to come out, the more it got stuck. My abs constricted as if to push the voice out, the throat stretched itself to ease the passageway, the tongue and the lips did their usual synchronized movement to articulate the first sounds of the answer. But no air was coming out … as if the lungs had spontaneously called a strike.

Seeing the slowing rising eyebrows of my teacher and imagining the reactions of my classmates, I was sinking rapidly into a deep hole of embarrassment. As soon as I distracted myself from the act of speaking, the syllables began to flow out in staccato: “The Univvv … ”. With a glimmer of renewed hope, all of my gazillion brain cells were back to attending to my voice. Like a child slamming the door when paid too much attention, my voice retracted back into its chambers. The entire uncoordinated attempt to pry it out resumed – abs, throat, tongue, lips; it wasn’t clear which of them were helping . At that point, I lowered myself onto the seat. With arms resting on the desk in the front, eyes staring at the knots in the grains of the wooden desk, I was completely oblivious of what transpired in the rest of the class.

After the class, a couple of my friends came by and inquired casually. They even invented stories about people born with a terrible stuttering disability and reassured me that mine was of a milder kind. Conveniently, I accepted the interpretation of it being a disability and refocused my intellect in devising many tricks to minimize its social impact. Friends and family alike made adjustments so as to avoid putting me in uncomfortable situations. For countless errands that involved talking to strangers, my little brother would be dispatched instead of me. In spite of being a class topper, the privilege of addressing student assemblies was offered to other students. Whenever I struggled with a word, my friends completed it to avoid more embarrassment for me. When a new student would make fun of me, my fast friends would show him his place. Getting comfortable with this special attention, I almost began to feel good about my stuttering.

Fast forward to the mid-term assessments in the eighth grade theatre class. It was my turn to go to the stage and act out a dialog between two historic characters. As I walked towards the stage, the corners of my eyes saw classmates disengaging; I even imagined them talking in a hush-hush voice. Climbing steps of the stage, I recalled a much-celebrated argument between an 18th century emperor and his chief minister. I pictured ornate palatial chambers and immersed myself into the emotions of the characters. I presented the back and forth argument in two different voices – with a fluency and tempo that was unparalleled in my speaking stints. It ended with an applause that sounded like thunder that brings rain to barren lands. As I basked in the glory of the performance, a gut-wrenching thought grew more intense … it wasn’t a disability!

What was it then? Why me? Was my mind playing games? If so, I would sure show it its place! Easier said than done, I discovered in the journey that followed. Through therapies and quackery, through proud moments and dismal disappointments, through determination and self-pity, I came to realize that my voice was very much intact, but my mind was worse than a drunken monkey. My voice found a new life, loud and clear, loaded with emotions. It found expression through speeches at Princeton Toastmasters and story-telling clubs. Taming my monkey mind became the new goal for me. There began a conquest that is sure to last multiple life-times!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

MOMENTUM by Judy Coppel

We lived in our marriage for seventeen years. We seesawed from the high of blissful exploration and sexuality that began our life together into the balancing act that dominated the middle years.

Those years began with so much promise. And then, President Kennedy was assassinated, Vietnam raged, my husband who was in the Air Force, stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, was never deployed overseas. We were, in fact, living in Charleston when our first child was born. She had a full head of silky black hair and long black lashes that caressed her cheeks while she slept. There was no denying her Mediterranean heritage, a distinct contrast to the soft white down that covered the heads of most other infants in the nursery.

When AnnMargaret was just four months old, her father was discharged and we moved back to Miami to begin our real life together. Ours was a very traditional marriage. He worked. I stayed home to raise our daughter and the other children we wanted. He struggled to find meaningful work, but somehow we slogged on. Finally, through a family friend he got a referral to work in an insurance agency, and found the niche he had been looking for.

The birth of our first child had been so easy we had no reason to anticipate problems with any future children. I teetered between happiness and depression as the next five pregnancies ended in miscarriage. Finally, I was able to carry a second child to term, only to learn a week before her birth that she would not be born alive. I had joyfully prepared the nursery for her arrival…instead I came home with empty arms and a heavy heart. Shortly thereafter we moved into our new four bedroom home, purchased with the expectation of more children.

Believing we wouldn’t have another biological child the decision was made to adopt. On the day the agency called to tell me our application for adoption had been accepted, I learned I was pregnant again. The pregnancy was fraught with problems and misgivings. As we drove to the hospital for the birth of our third child we decided that if the baby was a girl her name would be Joy. And, indeed, she has lived up to her name. When Joy was just nine months old, to my surprise, I learned I was pregnant again. Not surprisingly, considering my history, the obstetrician strongly recommended a tubal ligation after the birth of our son, Marc. Our family was complete.

My husband was a good man, I was a good woman, but we were beginning to lose our balance. The world outside came into our home every evening by way of national news. There were more assassinations, Watergate, Woodstock, Hippies, free love, and the Women’s Movement. I celebrated my thirtieth birthday by going to hear Gloria Steinem speak and purchased her newest book which she autographed. We were feeling the pull of earth’s gravity and were fearful we would never soar again. We were weighted down by financial issues, children, and the awakening realization that we had limited our potentials, our possibilities, by our choices: each other.

We spent long evenings into early mornings talking endlessly about our issues, how to make our marriage work, how to make it better. I tried going back to school, he sabotaged my efforts. I tried enlarging our circle of friends, he refused to participate. He started to abuse substances, proposed an open marriage. Nothing was working.

One evening the children begged to attend a carnival sponsored by the elementary school they attended. Finally, their father was persuaded to go with us. Our son was very excited about a two-person ride, (with a name like Seesaw or Rocket) and asked his father to go on the ride with him. Sadly, he sullenly refused. Seeing the disappointment on my then seven year old son’s face, I offered to go on the ride with him. The object of the ride was to use the weight of your body and holding onto the metal bar create enough momentum to propel the cage up and over the top. We stepped into the cage and rocked back and forth until our momentum carried us over the top as we loosed the pull of earth’s gravity. I looked down on my husband and the father of my children, knowing as we went over the top that we were leaving him behind and soaring into a new life.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


As I careened the car around in a tight U-turn in the middle of Main Street, safely of course, clearly aware that there was plenty of time and space to do this, he said, for the first time:
“I had no idea you are such a scofflaw”, with a laugh both a bit terrified and intrigued. I suppose that was the beginning of our many adventures, not all involving breaking the law.

A sunny Fall day in Western New York was the setting, Rochester specifically, a white-collar city developed around Eastman Kodak and later IBM, industrial giants who invested in civic culture and beauty, and grew up a little jewel of a city. Built along the Genesee River, with river walks and bridges and parks full of flowers, Eastman hid his smoke-belching factories on the outskirts. George Eastman built his legacy along this river, too, upstream from the city center. He built a red-brick classic campus, reminiscent of the Ivies, for the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester. A beautifully landscaped, pristine-looking college with world class schools of Medicine and Engineering, where families and students ate picnics and played frisbee while watching the U.of R. crew team compete along the Genesee, which runs parallel to the Main Street of campus.

That was our final destination, our reason for being in Rochester on our first driving date out of our own city, Buffalo, a distinctly more blue-collar and industrial town. Our beloved Buffalo, formerly the Queen City of the Great Lakes, home of more millionaires in 1900 than all but three other U.S. cities. Designed by the legendary Fredrick Law Olmsted around a system of elegant parkways and intricately landscaped parks, our city was now struggling to maintain the best of her heritage after the breaking of her backbone, first by the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, bypassing Niagara Falls which formerly blocked passage to the East Coast, and then by the fall of Bethlehem Steel.

So in this more prosperous city, at the University of Rochester, we were going to see my daughter’s dance performance at the end of her Junior year of college. I wanted to expand and deepen our intimacy by revealing and sharing with each other the important parts of our lives. I was aware of feeling vulnerable and nervous. Sharing my love of travel and adventure, and sharing my adored daughter’s life was offering a tender and important part of myself, saying, “Do you understand? Can you appreciate and resonate with this about me? Can our relationship grow this way?”

And he, in the passenger seat on this particular adventure, was undoubtedly assessing our future, too, silently saying: “So this is who you are. I love your sense of exploration, trying to find the Art Gallery, the Ethiopian restaurant, then somewhere to park in this over-crowded campus on performance night. But… I don’t know about this scofflaw part of you. First, a sudden U-turn on a busy Friday afternoon on Main Street, and then, parking illegally, flagrantly, so we would be near the Auditorium. What other blasphemous things are you willing to do? What other, perhaps dangerously illegal, things have you lurking in your past?”

But you, too, my Darling, were revealing ways in which you are willing to be a scofflaw. I watched in silent amusement as you politely and somewhat sadly pointed out to the woman at the ticket desk of the Art Museum that we were there late in the day and could not take full advantage of the museum. I quietly chuckled as you skillfully got her to feel sorry for you and to offer to let us in for free! In later adventures, you further explained, without a blink, that when we wanted some favor from a gatekeeper, meaning we wanted to blast through the official rules: “if it’s a woman, I’ll do the talking; if it’s a man, you talk to him.”

In this way the scofflaw adventures of Dr. S and Dr. A began.

And you, my Dear, with your proper New England sensibilities would be horrified, or at least incredulous, that I would be conceptualizing our first out-of-town date this way.

Friday, September 9, 2011

BOY STUFF by John Ellis

Johnny. They called me Johnny. Johnny. The J for Jacob Cohen, owner of a dry goods store in Ofallin, Illinois where my dad said they had curfews for blacks. Jacob was too Jewish for my Southern California transplant parents. They didn’t want me riddled with an old Jewish Man name. So it was John. Very Southern California. The ‘ny’ was a familiar addition, everyone called me Johnny. Like a nice Italian boy from the Bronx. Johnny, the cute, smiling kid with the hair Dippity Dooed to the side and that sharp part, diagonally grazing my scalp revealing the white road to nowhere. Johnny liked his jump suit, a cotton leiderhausen, navy blue with buttons. Worn with a simple white T and brown saddle shoes with white athletic socks. This was my uniform. And I wore it well past the age when it still fit. Little Johnny squeezed into his uniform, to do his job well.

We had a fort on Gayle Street. The sacred sanctuary of boys… and our street was a cul-de-sac of budding testosterone, almost all boys. The Ellis Boys, 2. Right across the street The Byars had 3. The Hydes had 3. All boys. The Miquelons had 2, and Cheryl, the one girl in the mix who I married in a performance, walking down our hallway, the proverbial aisle, as my brother serenaded ‘Here Comes the Bride” on our Acrosonic--Cheryl the first chap lipped girl I kissed at age 6, she was for Barbies. But the boys, we had our sports, our fights, our ping pong paddles, and our fort. Conrad Byars, the oldest and One Adam 12 handsome, a hairy 13, kept Playboys in the Fort. In a metal box that we kept under the floor in a hole we dug. Playboys. He’d lock himself in the fort, which sat in our sideyard, and flip through the pages. What was so interesting? ‘Was Conrad an avid reader?’ Johnny wondered.

The fort was our sanctuary, our special meeting place. We played Black Jack for money here. We lit incense and candles. We convened in the dark cool shack, made of boards we found at the Riverbed and dragged home. My parents, older and more relaxed, allowed our house to be the one with the ugly fort, our yard the football, baseball and Smear the Queer field. Dad proffered the used carpet samples, an array of shags and flokati and low piles patchworked into our wall-to-wall haven. Each time it rained, the must and wet ruined, and dad managed to save the day.

The fort was inclusive. The street – another story. This was the land of Baseball Coach dads who worked in Aerospace. Football Scholarship pops, who thanks to a knee injury, now sold mortgages. Jacob Cohen wouldn’t do well dovening on Gayle Street. You had to play sports. Well. Each season was a different sport, parallel to the professional sport seasons. We played baseball during baseball season. But we couldn’t play baseball when Mr. Scotteline’s shiny red Corvette was parked on the street. He scared us. The Byars' garage door would have to serve as backstop as we carefully woofle balled a pick up game.

Football season-Conrad Byars would throw a spiral as high as he could in the air… and if you could catch it, you could play.

Sports ruled the street. Jeff Byars' parents denied a Mentally Gifted Program so he could stay in the local elementary because they had better after school sports program.

Sports was in the blood stream. Parents bowled for money and trips to Vegas. Danced with each other at Baseball League fundraisers. The Gayle Street Gang as we families called ourselves, attended baseball games at the Big A, Anaheim Stadium, as a troop. and even had our name announced by the game’s announcer. But that’s not my defining moment. No.

It’s a hot Summer Day. We swam in the community pool about 100 yards from our Cherrywood Lane home with walls of geraniums in terra cotta pots on the wall outside the kitchen window. My dad was asleep. Or at work. My mom at work. Clark Reid and I went for a swim. We’d stand in the shallow end legs akimbo. Here we’d swim underneath each others legs, upside down and blow bubbles. It was our innocent choreography. Boy stuff. Like wrestling is a safe way for straight men to touch each other all over, over and over again.

We get home to my air conditioned country kitchen. Sitting on the plastic covered yellow and orange striped couch we’re cool and our wet bathing suits slip a little. Side by side, we sit and pull out our penises. I’m still a boy, like 11-12. Clark 14, has ‘changed’. Larger, hairier and hornier.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BLASPHEMY by Kat McCormick

It was a blasphemy I suppose, but then it really isn’t for me to judge. All I know is that my step-father Charlie went for his usual walk that cool October morning. When he returned home, he seemed upset, my mother told me. He sat down at his desk decorated with plaques, medals, and jet aircraft models perched on pedestals. He wrote something, then he drove his golf cart onto the Arizona golf course behind his house, put the Glock in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

There are moments in life when everything changes.

Many years ago, my husband Barry and I drove to a golf course so that he could pick up a score card. While he went into the pro shop, I picked up my writer’s notebook to observe and write about whatever came my way. As luck would have it, Barry parked in front of a bush that was covered with beautiful Monarch butterflies in their finest stained glass attire sunning themselves, feeding, and perhaps chatting each other up. I got out of the car to get a closer look; and it wasn’t long before I noticed a stick that seemed to be moving with the breeze, getting closer and closer to one of the butterflies.

Suddenly two arms appeared from what I then realized was a praying mantis, and with two tiny hands, it grabbed each of the butterfly’s wings. I wanted to look away, but forced myself to watch as the hideous praying mantis begin to devour the beautiful and delicate fairy princess—I mean, butterfly.

The praying mantis was grotesque—like something from another planet. He had huge fly-like eyes, and he continued to eat—he was actually munching—as the butterfly struggled. At one point, he turned his head 45 degrees and looked directly at me—munching away with a satisfied look on his alien face. I felt like he was jeering me—“do you want a piece of me?” And I have to admit that when he first revealed his true identity, I fought the urge to save the butterfly. What changed my mind was strange because suddenly the prime directive from Star Trek popped into my mind. The prime directive basically says that we shouldn’t interfere in other cultures.

This was a moment that changed my life. I can point to it and say it has something to do with the beauty of life, the miracle tucked inside a single moment—and the cruelty, unfairness, and fear that we must deal with every single day of our lives.

I picked up the pair of butterfly wings that fluttered to the ground after the praying mantis dropped them. They are forever preserved in a ziplock bag which I keep on my writing desk as a reminder that everything can change in a single moment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


It was the summer of my 16th year. The train snaked for what seemed like endless miles with its soothing clickety- clack, clickety- clack. At each station stop heading west, groups of naïve, but prepared 16 year old girls would climb the metal ladders waving back to family, throwing kisses. Formidable size foot lockers were being heaved into the baggage car by dads, brothers and anyone else who chose to take the challenge of the heave. The mood was upbeat, filled with the newness of life.

Our “roomette” was a winner. The bunks fit flatly and securely into the wall of the train car patiently awaiting their release later that evening. On each side was an open but ample area for personal belongings. My buddy, Nan Futeronsky and I lucked out because most of the scouts were occupying berths, one on top of the other, for the journey across country. Some from hometowns like Freehold, New Jersey or Danbury, Connecticut or Wilmington, Delaware were represented. Scranton, Pennsylvania was our bid to fame, home of coal mines and column dumps.

At mealtimes we traipsed and plodded from one car to another toward our destination, the dining car. It was set in what seemed an enormous, bare freight car housing long tables and benches. How they served up all that food is still a mystery to me. We called it the cattle car. Hundreds of girls, with butterflies in their stomachs, scoffing down their dinners, were traveling cross country in dark green shorts, white shirts, lariats around their necks, comfortable shoes, and of course that special wool, green, beret with the girl scout insignia front and center. This was living the good life. Yes, we were on our way to Girl Scout Roundup in Farragut, Idaho.

The frenzied confidence in all of us was evident. Why not? Our training and preparation in primitive camping skills -- such as lashing, tying knots, building camp fires, hanging caches in trees, pitching tents and eating s’mores -- was universal. One particular event will remain permanent always in my mind’s eye. That moment 950 green and white future leaders of the world were released on Yellowstone National Park.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I ALWAYS KNEW by Susan LaFever

I’m telling my story at a horn workshop. I’ve been placed in a group of six similarly-aged women and we attend small-group classes as a unit. We’ve played sextets together, we’ve played solos for each other, we’ve talked about creative horn playing in class. Now we’re sharing our histories.

You might consider us losers. None of us is famous, but some of us play better than others, some of us play better than the instructors. What was it in our past that had prevented our advancing, whatever that is, as far as we had wanted?

Yes, there is a system for producing players; although the figure even for Juilliard grads finding full-time orchestral work is only 5%. What chance did someone outside the system have? I guess you might say none.

I start talking in a low shaky voice. I always knew I was a musician. Even as a toddler I was always singing in the car. (In those days, we didn’t have car seats; the kids just rode in the back seat.) From the age of four I knew I was going to be a professional musician when I was introduced to the violin in a Suzuki class.

I remember standing impatiently as the instructors, one American man and one Japanese man, seemed to talk forever about the proper way to hold and care for your instrument. I just wanted to get my hands on it. When we were finally told to get our instruments, I ran over to the case and opened it to see my little brown violin. I was so eager to absorb everything that I was able to stand still for the lesson, ignoring the burning and growing itch on my leg (something that I’m not able to do now)!

In Suzuki instruction, the parents learn along with the children so they can guide and participate in the practice at home. I remember my mother’s frustration trying to tune our instruments. She couldn’t seem to find the pitch even though I could hear it. The practice sessions were sometimes frustrating as well. Fortunately, we had vinyl discs with the music to play along with that we put on the stereo, a huge cabinet console with built-in speakers that was a piece of furniture that took up a third of one wall.

One day, as we were struggling to learn a new piece, I told Mom I needed to use the bathroom. Figuring I was trying to get out of practicing, she wouldn’t let me go. Finally, there was nothing I could do; a stream of urine came bursting out of me with surprising strength. I can still hear how it sounded as it hit the green carpet in the living room with such force. As I was embarrassedly running to the bathroom, Mom yelled, “You did that on purpose!”

My parents never “got” me. Despite my talent and diligence in music, they had other plans for me. In high school, I would get up at 6am, after several “prompts” from Mom, which involved blinding me by turning on the ceiling light, and calling out to me every few minutes until I finally got up. I practiced the horn for an hour, ate breakfast and went to school, then practiced the horn for another hour after school followed by an hour of piano practice.

I loved practicing and loved my teachers. One day in third grade, I was made to stay after school, probably for talking out of turn. I remember sobbing loudly as my head was down on the desk where I was told to put it for my punishment, but not because I was staying behind; it was because I was going to miss my piano lesson.

My parents being strict and religious, apparently thought music was a good thing to keep me out of trouble before college, but never felt it could be a profession. To bolster their belief, they asked my horn teacher if you can make a living playing the horn. He himself, although principal horn of the local community orchestra, made his living teaching privately. I think they knew the answer would be a qualified no.

I was always a little confused about what love was. It seemed my parents were always thwarting my plans, telling me they knew better and that I would ultimately be happy that I listened to them. I never understood what was wrong with my plans for my own life since they didn’t involve drugs, alcohol or sex. I just wanted to be a musician.