Sunday, December 23, 2012

IN TRANSIT by DeAnn Louise Daigle

I like small; I like small
Places, I like tiny figurines, I 
Like miniature paintings, small boxes,
Small jewelry, small uncomplicated
Life-style, small notebooks, small
Books, small computers.  I don’t know
Why I’m that way, I just am.

The more I think about Mom, the
More I wonder.  I never really knew
My mother.  She kept big secrets
From me, really big secrets, I would
Find out about and not have the courage
Or the know-how to ask her real questions
Or, was I afraid to find out that

What I’d heard was true?  And then,
What about Dad?  I loved him so
Much, then when, after Mom had told
Me he did not drink, I found that he
Disappeared periodically and this was in
Fact because he did drink.  He made Mom
Cry.  I was angry with him.  Why did he 
Not just stop drinking?

It did something to me as a young
Child to be getting half-truths, double
Talk, and protective untruths.  Somehow,
I had to muddle my way through this
Maze to find in life who I really
Was; and could that truth, would
That truth really be so bad, so incomprehensible
That I would rather die than go on
Living?  Why could Mom and Dad
Not just be honest with me?  Why

Did they feel so protective of me, so
Much so that it actually complicated
My life, making me timid, shy,
Reticent about what I was, who I
Was, and what if what I was
Told was true – about Mom – about
Dad – about me?  What if it were
True?  Could their love for me not
Hold me, shelter me, protect me?

Or were they so unfinished themselves
And so not quite grown-up yet
Themselves, that dealing with the 
Consequences of the truth-telling to a real
Other human being, another child apart
From themselves but part of them,
Be too, all too overwhelming?  Would
Having the truth come out be so
Awfully devastating that the unbearable
Would become the …? 

There were whispers in corners, in
Hallways, in the room at the bottom
Of the stairs.  I only heard portions
And I knew secrets were being
Kept from me, and I knew but
Didn’t know.  I always didn’t
Know until late in adult life
I just had to know – for sure,
For truth, for my own locked up
Inability to grow and become truly
Myself – to become myself.

And so, I justify the book.  My
Husband, my Jim, tells me I
Ought to embrace my book, be
Proud of my book – and it suddenly
Occurs to me that I treat my book
The way my mother treated me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I do not have the sanity required to deal with them/you right now or I truly do not have the sanity required to deal with or even think about any of this right now.

Words that I have either thought or said more times lately than I can count but still I am calm and patient with the kids, and the family, the federal government and holiday planning on how to make sure we can all survive having Mom and Dad under one roof and both sitting near enough to me but far enough away from each other to not cause more stress and strife. 

The required patience to make sure everyone is happy and calm is at best unlikely and at worst impossible.  Couple in with that a three-year –old, a teenager  and a husband who tried to make it through the holidays with the required calm and cooking to keep everyone happy and on their diets. As well as the growing sense of loss that I keep to myself from them over no longer having Nana here in Tennessee and knowing all the happy peaceful  holiday pictures that will flood Facebook from my family in Florida where they have Nana,  my sanity.

Then there is the new year and all it brings in: another court date with my ex and the continued parade of paper work and doctor visits with all the new checkups they want Dad to get.  Appointments for Brianna and my continued search for a doctor for my stress and depression.

I will make myself appear at least to have the required sanity, calm and patience to get through the holiday season and into the new year . I always do...

Well, kinda.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The Way taught the "law of believing." Believing was a "law," like gravity.
If I believed positively, I'd receive positive results.
If I believed negatively, I'd receive the consequences of my negative believing.
One of the believing formulas was "confession of receipt yields receipt of confession."

I sat in the hallway at the Catawba County building where the 4-H Department was housed. Like many home schoolers my children were involved with 4-H, the national youth organization that promotes hands-on learning. The four Hs stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.

My children and I were at the agency for a meeting of some sort. I liked 4-H and what it provided for my children. One of my fondest 4-H memories is when my children and I incubated twenty-two chicken eggs and all but two hatched. My kids and I had fun going into a dark closet and "candling" the eggs. Candling is a process that shines light on an egg shell in such a way that a person can see the embryo developing inside the shell. It seems we used a shoe box or something to hold the egg and somehow direct the flashlight beam through a small hole that then allowed us to peer through the translucent shell and see the shadow of life in process.

I sat in the hallway at the 4-H building.
I sat in a chair leaning forward with my elbows propped on my knees; the forward-leaning position helped me inhale. I would often sleep in a similar fashion - sitting pretzel-legged while I leaned forward over a husband pillow.

I pulled out my albuterol inhaler, put the device to my mouth tightly wrapping my lips around the plastic mouthpiece that held the medicinal canister, pressed down on the aerosol canister, and inhaled deeply as I could between my wheezes.

It didn't help much. Nothing ever helped much.

So I sat, as I had countless times prior and as I did countless times afterward.

I sat.
I wheezed.
I silently spoke in tongues.
I inhaled my aerosol.
I trembled.
I sweat.

I sat.
I waited it out; we had to be at the building for awhile anyway.

As I sat wheezing, Lois, another home school mom whom I looked up to as a mentor and who was a nurse by occupation stated, "Carol, have you ever thought that maybe it's God's will that you have asthma? That there must be some purpose in it, that He is trying to teach you something?"

Lois was a Christian.
I was too, but I was a more like an alternative Christian; I was a Way believer.

The Way didn't believe Jesus was God, like most Christians.
The Way didn't believe the dead are alive, like most Christians.
The Way didn't believe abortion was murder, like most Christians.
The Way didn't believe there were two crucified with Jesus, like most Christians.
The Way didn't believe that Jesus died on Friday and got up on Sunday, like most Christians.
The Way didn't believe that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth do Jesus, like most Christians.
The Way didn't believe a lot of things that most Christians believed.

As a Way believer I knew that God's will was always to heal; it wasn't just a belief, but rather an absolute truth.

I never blamed God for my chronic illnesses.
I seldom even blamed the devil.
I blamed myself.

If I could just believe bigger, I'd be whole.
I would "build my believing" by "putting the Word on" in my mind.
I would "confess" until I died that God wanted me well.
No one could convince me otherwise.

Between gasps for breath, I adamantly answered Lois. "God wants me well, not sick. Even if I die wheezing, I will die confessing that God's will is my wholeness."

Like the countless prior wheezing bouts and the countless wheezing bouts that followed that mid-90s late morning, within an hour or so I was again able to breathe normally like other mammals whose lung sacks are not filled with fluid.

It would be January, 1999, before I had my last real bout with asthma attacks. Doctors had discovered high levels of mercury in my body and I began the process of ridding the poison from my system. The desired outcome was better than I expected - even though I had confessed my healing for almost two decades, I never really thought I'd experience this earth-life without constant inhalers and injections and pills and concoctions and surgeries and the continual carousel of physicians.

It was a two-edged sword, that law of believing.

On one side of the sword, that law kept me going; I clung to that law like it was my god, confessing my healing and awaiting my deliverance from this wretched body that crawled with hives, that was flooded with itchy blood and inflamed tissue and pain, whose oxygen sacs were filled with fluid instead of life-giving oxygen. I would confess myself into believing; what other choice did I have?

On the other side of the sword that law was my accuser; I berated myself for my unbelief. I must be a despicable human being to have so many physical problems. When I had those thoughts, I'd cling to another Bible confession, "There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." I'd tell myself God loves me and doesn't want me beating myself, but what else could I do? The evidence of my unbelief was manifest for all to see.

Once I stepped outside Way doctrine, I began to heal.

What else could I do if I wanted freedom to live....

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

LIMITS by Polly Howells

My father is a beacon to me.  I want to be like him. His life, before I was born, feels mysterious and magical. He was a ballet dancer in New York.  He had another wife before my mother, a wife who is glamorous in my imagination. A wife who was a great deal older than he, whom no one ever talks about.  

He encourages me to dance. I start taking ballet when I am eleven. They mention how my posture changes, my walking improves, after this. After I start taking ballet classes.

Father is the treasurer of the Ballet School. The head of the school -- my teacher, Esther Brooks -- and he are very good friends. I think he is in love with her. I look at her tight little breasts and the way she ties her black cardigan sweater across them to accentuate them and her waist, over her leotard. I never see her husband. I know she has one, but he is never around. Mother doesn’t’ have breasts like this – hers are long and floppy. Father picks me up from ballet school. I am such a dutiful daughter. I am so devoted to the idea of ballet that I come to watch a class when I have a cold and can’t actually take class.

But there are limits.  When I am fifteen I hear about a dance camp in Colorado. I suggest to him that I want to go. He discourages me. He says there will be all sorts of people there. Homosexuals, for instance. He doesn’t think I should go. Needless to say, I don’t. 

There are always limits. He encourages me to dance. I learn square dancing long before I begin to learn ballet. But he watches me one night, square dancing in the school gym. Afterwards he admonishes me:  “Don’t ever let the boys know you know more than they do!”  I gasp inwardly. But I learn my lesson. 

I learn my lesson so well. I go to the same college he went to, Harvard. I go there because he did. Because he loved it there. I don’t love it there. When he went there, after his stifling boarding school life at St. Paul’s, Harvard was the definition of freedom. He could go into Boston on the subway as late as he wanted. He simply loved it.

My mother says I can do what I want. “You’re free, white, and 21,” said with a wink but meant as a truth.

At Harvard I can’t do what I want. Girls must be girls. I can’t ride the subway late at night. Too dangerous. I can’t stay out past eleven without writing where I am going in the dormitory sign-out book. The dorm parents – whom I never see – are responsible for us. It is the beginning of the so-called sexual revolution, and there are regulations in the dorm as to how far the door must be open if we are entertaining a male caller in our room.

It all becomes about sex. I lose my virginity at the end of my freshman year.  Begin my first real sexual relationship the next fall. Fighting the limits my father has set for me, the limits on my desire.  But doing it clandestinely. Signing out to false places so that I can sleep with my boyfriends. 

And as for classes, I don’t speak. It’s almost as though I have been thrown back a generation or two – to the Victorian era -- just by being at Harvard. Girls should be seen and not heard. I become mute.  Don’t ever let the boys know you know more than they do. The letter of the law. I don’t let on.  I keep my smarts to myself, only letting the teachers know, through the tortured but brilliant papers I write. Love letters to the teachers. I still have these essays, mute testaments to the miserable years I spent at that college – the college that really should be nameless from here on in -- filled with my querulous passion. 

I study Russian at that college. I write a senior thesis on three little-known Soviet children’s authors.  No one can read these writers but me -- none of my friends.  The perfection my father has ordained for me has by this time become a solitary cell. But I don’t blame him. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In Celebration of Yoga by Lynne Reitman

She was larger than life and was being honored by her many disciples – neighborhood yogis she had trained to be kripalu yoga teachers. One of the most devoted trainees had thought that she should be honored for her years of teaching and several yogis had been organizing the event for months. I was one of her trainees but not a devotee.

I remember filling out the application to enter the teacher training program and there was a question that asked about “teachers that had been special to you”. I couldn’t think of any. I had always been wary of teachers – afraid of their need to be admired as the driving force in the relationship. Somehow my needs were often lost. Of course, I had many teachers that I admired and who admired me for admiring them. But I was applying to become a yoga teacher and wanted the focus to be on me. I was actually on a quest for myself.

Over the hours of training our master yoga teacher and her teaching partner taught our class of 15 – 14 women and one man – and I was moved, touched, and repulsed by the experience. Both teachers, one blonde, the other brunette, both in their 50s with huge manes of curly hair, very stylish yoga clothes, wearing trinkets and making gestures that drew attention to themselves while they were teaching us to look inward through the practice of yoga.
So when I heard about the celebration I stayed clear of the preparations knowing that I would feel diminished by the abilities of the others to beautifully decorate a room, cook healthy and nutritious meals, and bring thought and meaning to a special event such as this. For months the discussions went on about the best way to…... so many talented yogis with large egos, celebrating the Yogi with the very largest ego, to honor her teaching of losing ego.

I had decided that my contribution to the celebration would be a cake bought in a local overpriced bakery that made only gluten free products. I thought this would resonate with the feeling tone of the event. We were told to include a sign indicating ingredients in all the food we brought due to all the special food needs of the yogis. No sugar, no nuts, no wheat, no caffeine, no carbohydrates, no fat and, of course, delicious.

On the day of the party I woke up feeling exhausted. I worked in the morning and took a walk in the afternoon then realized I felt too ill to attend this event. I had thought that I wanted to go because, aside from all my disdain, I was grateful for the teachings I received through my yoga training – even learning to be grateful was part of my experience with yoga.

I bought the cake that met some of the “no this, no that” requirements and took it to the place where the festivities were to occur. I figured there would be lots of yogis setting up and decorating and I would just drop off my cake and go home. I was eager to get into bed and watch “Law and Order” which is what I do when I don’t feel well.
I entered the church where many local celebrations occur and I felt sad that I wouldn’t be there that night but knew that I felt too horrible to deal with the crowds, the lights, the energy. It did look beautiful. Only one devotee was there studying the room with great seriousness. She came up to me and took my cake which seemed so crass in this otherwise splendid environment. In a hushed tone. sounding so very earnest and sincere, she told me what each decoration meant. She said that if I felt better later on I should come at 8 pm when the most significant devotions were to be spoken.

I left knowing I wouldn’t be back that evening but feeling bad for myself that I would miss this event with my teacher and friends and that I knew I really didn’t care but I was afraid that it was the first step toward a life of total isolation – which is both my fear and longing. Was I really not feeling well?

I went home and joyfully got into bed. It felt so good. I was so happy I had what felt like forever to just lie in bed. Nobody was home and I could indulge in the lowest form of relaxation – TV.

Usually in the course of any week I see my yoga friends in 2 yoga classes -one being followed by coffee. We also meditate and discuss the dharma one evening a month. I don’t often go to the class our celebrated teacher gives because she talks throughout the class and I can’t find room for myself with all that chatter. But the week after the party I avoided all things yoga not want to hear how wonderful the celebration was nor endure looks of judgment about my not having been there. I felt genuinely sad about not attending and was suspicious of my illness and whether I had really wanted to go – ambivalence being the core of all emotional life for me.

It was easy to miss these events – I continued to feel ill and barely managed to work all week – while being pulled out of bed to handle a few work related emergencies. I saw the pictures of the celebration on facebook, posted under the title, “Love Fest”. There were forty pictures of beautifully adorned yogis wearing soft colors and flowing attire while giving heartfelt thanks to their truly exquisite Yoga Teacher who wore black stockings and a mini skirt – hmmm.

She sent out an e-mail saying how much love she felt and then added how she missed the people who weren’t there and hoped to see them soon. It was a generic e-mail to the 100 or so yogis in the community but somehow I thought she was talking to me. Chastising me through cyber space for not being appreciative enough – how embarrassing. I thought of telling her I was sick but then I decided – no – she was right – I’m not appreciative enough. I’m somewhat appreciative but ambivalent.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

SUGAR GLUE by Susan Micari

That Christmas I was 13, I decided to make a gingerbread house for the family while they were out shopping.  I began in the morning, as soon as they had left.  I had already searched recipes, and found a gingerbread recipe that would make a dough strong enough to build the house but not tough, so that my creation would be crisp and light, buttery and fragrant with spice.  It would be rich with butter, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and cloves. There would be cutout windows, with melted lemon candies for stained glass, baked right in.  There would be shutters, and doors, a chimney, and a fence.  It would be decorated with meringue icing, egg whites with cream of tartar, sugar, and lemon oil.  I knew how terrific my mother’s soft, steaming deep-dish gingerbread with lemon sauce was, and how much I craved that desert of winter Sundays.  
Sugar Glue

My house would look as good as it tasted.  There would be candies all over it, and none of the candies I hated.   Silver candy beads, candy buttons in pastel colors that came on long strips of paper, tiny candy canes, and ribbon candy in cinnamon and clove for the fence.  I would use red and green m&ms, and so every bite might have peppermint, or chocolate, or lemon, embedded in soft pillows of snow made of my meringue over buttery, crunchy spice cookie.  I knew I could make this.  I had seen the non-pareil at The Lady Cake Bake Shop on Route 25A, right down the street from Manero’s Steak House.  It was spectacular, and they had decorated theirs with cookies.  Cookie on cookie?  Too thick, too similar.  Nahh, I could do better.

I cut a pattern for the house out of waxed paper; the house was to be huge, 14 inches by 10, if I could do it.  To make sure the house was cut correctly I taped my pattern together, to see if my angles, my sizing was correct.  The chimney pieces were more forgiving, if they weren’t perfect, I could cut the gingerbread when it was still warm, or use more of the pure melted sugar that would be my caramel glue to piece the house together, and then I’d cover it with meringue and powdered sugar, to give the effect of two snow falls, or of snow that has warmed and then frozen again.  A double glaze I wondered if anyone would notice.  I would.

I mixed the dough by hand, but it was hard, as the recipe called for enough flour to make study figures, but not so much that you had inedible cookie.  So I used the mixer to soften butter, added molasses, sugar, honey, and egg yolk, and beat them until they were smooth and shiny, like brown taffy.  Elastic and fragrant, the sugar granules must dissolve so that they don’t leave a distinct crystalline bite to the dough.  No!  Then the flour, and the spices, and my secret: salt and pepper.  Every good baker knows that sweetness must be tempered with salt, and I knew that black pepper was good with sweet spice.  Very good.  My secret.

I kneaded the dough and rolled it out, piece by piece.  There weren’t to be huge wasted bits after I placed my pattern.  You can’t roll cookie dough out twice—the result is tough and floury.  But if I needed more dough than I had measured, the little left over scraps would be fine for shutters, reindeer, and other little bits nobody would eat.  

I placed the pattern out on the dough and with a very sharp knife dipped in water, cut the pieces as I needed them, laying them out on aluminum cookie sheets without edges, so that getting the baked cookie off of them would be a matter of sliding them off sheet at the right moment.   If taken off too soon they would bend on the cooling rack and be spoiled, and if too late, they might continue to dry out in the pan and carbonize.  

The pattern was so big that I had to bake two pieces at a time, carefully switching the sheets half way through the baking from top to bottom shelf so that neither would brown too much and both would bake evenly.  Then, I let them cool enough so that using a very large, flat spatula and icing blade, I could slide them to cooling racks so that they would finish their cooling without warping.  I laid each piece out on the dining room table, on six cooling racks, and when they were dry enough, placed them on parchment paper, to rest before the construction. 

I was all dressed up in my orange striped tee shirt dress, with my special apron over it.  A friend of my grandmother’s who understood real aprons had made it for me.  It protected the chest, and had many gathers to accent the waist, collected under a white chiffon waistband that was wide and ended in long sashes that looked like chiffon horse tails, and that swished attractively at the tush below the big bow.  The fabric was black, with red roses on it, and there were two big pockets, big enough for measuring spoons, or a recipe card, but which I used to hold the dishtowel I draped over my tummy and tucked into each pocket to protect the apron.  The pockets were crosshatched with pink silk embroidery thread, and my name was picked out in stitching over the breast.  My hair was done up, and I had slept in rollers so that it too would be smooth and sassy, curly but loose.  I glanced in the mirror over the bar and liked what I saw.  

It was afternoon when the baking was done, the smells of spice and butter everywhere. I would display the house on the bar that separated the living room from the dining room.  It was backed with a large mirror and would reflect the back of the house, which would be as decorated at the front.  There would be something beautiful to see at every angle.  I cleaned off the bar and put my parents cocktail shaker set in the cabinet beneath, next to their one bottle each of vodka and vermouth, and their silver-rimmed martini glasses.  

It was time to make the sugar glue, and quickly, so I could finish my house before the family returned.  Though some people mixed sugar and water in a heavy cast iron pan and boiled it to the hard crack stage, I used sugar and flame alone.  This was the only dangerous part of the job, for after your flame curled the edges of the sugar into pale lemon puddles that quickly turned to dark caramel, you had to move quickly, stirring the caramel and cutting the flame before it all turned dark brown, or your liquid pool of caramel would turn to hard glass in the pan and you would have to start over, scraping and melting the sugar glass under hot water for long minutes I didn’t have now.   If my attention strayed, and some of the liquid sugar dropped on my wrist, it would be an instant second-degree burn.  I tested the stage by pulling my wooden spoon through the melted sugar before it turned too brown.  A set of tiny spider silk threads rose from the molten lake and hardened instantly.  This was the moment.

Now quickly dipping the side of the gingerbread I wanted to attach, I assembled the walls and roof quickly, without hesitation and I lived inside my creation as it grew.  

The afternoon grew dim and I had to decorate before the family came home.  I poured my candies into little bowls, and mixed my egg whites and cream of tartar, sugar and lemon oil in to a large bowl of fluffy snow.  The powdered sugar was nearby to cover any mistakes and to double-glaze my work with a second snowfall.  I covered my roof with m&ms, the gables with tiny candy canes, the silver beads I saved for the windows and door.  I permitted no gumdrops here, no gelatinous fruity globules that might look good but taste false and ruin the taste of my cookies.  No.  Every bite would be varied and delicious, all texture and flavors complementary and intentional.

I arranged my house and set it carefully on the bar.  I was exhausted.  Just at that moment I heard the family station wagon pull into the drive.  Quickly now, I ran to the living room and pretended to sleep on the couch so I might hear every word my family said about it.  The car stopped, and the doors chunked open. My brothers’ feet hit the asphalt, and I heard the hatch open in the back, the sound of metal singing over metal as my father’s wheelchair was pulled out, and the snap as it opened and locked into place.  The door opened and I heard shuffling feet, stomping, packages dropping.  Then silence.  The smell hung in the air; they couldn’t miss it, could they?

My mother spoke, “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” and then she snapped, “Don’t touch it!”  I heard her go to the bedroom and a few moments later the sound of the Polaroid snapped, too.  Nobody had come into the living room to find me, so I yawned loudly.  My mother peeked in, eyebrows raised in semicircles as I pretended to open my eyes from a deep sleep.  She led me to the bar and posed me in front of my beautiful house.  I have a picture memory of this, me fiddling with some detail of the ginger bread self-consciously.  Mom said quietly, “This is beautiful.  You are a great cook.”  And she looked at me softly, her eyes changing from emerald to some deeper green than seawater, a look like the kiss I craved and so seldom received.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

THE SCRAMBLER by Carol Welch

It is, or as least was, a ride at the fair. Like a giant steel spider with bent legs extending from a central pole with a short metal bench seat at the end of each leg, the contraption whirled round and round. I have no idea why I liked "The Scrambler."

I liked "The Zipper" too. Cages, in which we sat in an almost standing position, were attached somehow to the part of the ride that took us up and around like a ferris wheel. As two of us stood-sat in the cage our hands held to some bars in front of us and we would rock the cage so that we were spinning upside down while the ferris wheel-like contraption took us around and around.

In September, 1974, I went to the Catawba County Fair with Ron and Beth and Mike. Ron and I were not dating at the time; we were pot-smoking buddies.

Ron was overweight and his nickname was Fatman. But he didn't mind; he seemed to like the nickname. He had straight jet black hair that almost reached his shoulders. His eyes were brown and he had high cheek bones, like an American Indian.

Ron was from the rougher side of town, Longview. His grandparents had raised he and his brother after their parents were killed in an auto accident. Ron called his Grandma "Mom" and his grandpa "Pop." "Mom" dipped snuff and always had her spitoon handy. Ron's family raised rabbits and we'd often have a meal with rabbit meat.

I was from the side of town that had more money, Hillcrest area, near The Pines. I was petite and athletic. I could turn the eyes of most guys. My legs were one of my sexiest qualities...and my belly button, so I was told.

In September, 1974, I was 15 years old; Ron was at least 16.

As Mike and Beth and Ron and I walked the hard-packed dirt fairway filled with people between the various rides and side shows and food tents, I thought, "I could make myself fall in love with Ron. I bet he hasn't had many girlfriends." And that night, I decided that I would drop hints. I'm not sure what and how I dropped hints, but Ron got the message.

We became an item, Fatman and Carol. With Fatman, I fully entered the realm of psychedelic drugs.

In September, 1974, we were at the Catawba County Fairgrounds. The lights and smells and sounds were real.

In October, 1974, I lay in Catawba Memorial Hospital. The Intensive Care Unit was real. The three pods of jimson seeds I had ingested were real.

The aquarium and the royal king and the rape and the stadium and the witch doctors and the flesh-eating roaches - they weren't real, except in my psyche.

Today is Halloween, 2012. Those images from that October, 1974, four-day dance with the devil's weed are still vivid. I can almost smell them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

FRIENDS by Pooja Khurana

Growing up with Cerebral Palsy wasn't easy for her. Many people, adults and kids alike, had difficulty accepting her disability and instead of learning more about it, the kids would make fun of her and the adults were no better with their ignorant comments.

In junior and high school, she often felt like "the ugly duckling" because she had a face full of pimples, she walked with a limp, had a left hand with crooked fingers, she wore a big bulky brace on her left leg and orthotic on her right foot, which could easily be seen if she didn't have them covered up enough. She was also called a walking duck and quacked at by her peers because, to them, it looked like she was waddling when she walked. However, as she grew older she realized that ht comments were being made because people were scared to get to know her because in "their" eyes, she was "different" and because of this, she often had a hard time looking int he mirror and seeing anything else but her discrepancies.

She thought it would get better in college, but unfortunately, it didn't, and like high school, she was having trouble dealing with her Cerebral Palsy. However, it was far worse dealing with it in college because in high school she was at least getting good grades. In college, she was failing all her major classes, passing on the electives, and being constantly ridiculed by her peers.

An example of this was when she was living in the college apartments.  She had just moved in, and the girls who she was living with were all friends with each other already and she was the “outsider.” If they were in the living room, she was not allowed to be in there with them.  She felt like she was in prison.  She had been living with these girls for about a month, and she thought everything was going smoothly, but she was wrong!  One night, she made the “fatal” mistake of taking her roommate’s pizza box out of the refrigerator and instead of returning it to the fridge, where it was originally, she moved it to the freezer.  At the time, she did not realize that the pizza was intended for a party in someone else’s apartment that very night.  Her roommates should have told her that they would be removing the pizza, soon and to wait until they took it out, if she had trouble taking it out and then putting it back herself.  After all, she wasn’t a mind reader.  After she put the pizza in the freezer, she went to bed thinking nothing of it.  

A little while later, her roommate came into their bedroom and started screaming at her.  Her roommate stated that she had no right to move her stuff and then she started cursing at her.  After her roommate left the room, she cried herself to sleep.  Her roommate was screaming so much that she couldn’t even defend herself, not that her roommate gave her any chance to speak at all.  

The next morning, she walked into the kitchen, and on the refrigerator was a note for her stating that she didn’t know what the hell she was doing, she had no right to touch anybody things, and that if she didn’t like things the way they were, then she could just move out.  The note also had a bunch of profanities and she was called every name in the book.  When she left the apartment that day, she was in tears.  She cried all the way to school.  On the way to school, she called her mother in tears and told her mom what had happened.  Her mom told her not to worry; her mom would take care of everything.  Once she got to school, she went to go see the vice president of the academic resource center.  She told her to go see the dean of students.  When she told the Dean of Students what she had gone through that morning, she was told that she had the option of moving out of that apartment, so she took it.  

The second apartment she was moved into, she had a whole new set of problems to deal with.  The second set of girls were very nice to her and she lived with them for about three days and she would’ve lived with them permanently, if it hadn’t been for the fact that there were a bunch of stairs that a person had to climb to get into and out of the apartment, which were not safe for her to climb up and down.  

After the two experiences that she went through in the 2 previous apartments, she was so desperate for nice roommates that when she was told that once she made her decision, it would final and that there would be no going back once the decision was finalized, she didn’t care.  She told the Dean of Students that she wanted to stay where she was, even if it was detrimental to her health and safety.  

Her mom was absolutely outraged when she told her what her final decision had been and screamed and cursed her out calling her, “a crazy fucking bitch”.  Her mom didn’t understand how important it was for her daughter to have friends and nice roommates.  The only thing the mom was thinking about was her daughter’s safety, which to her daughter, at that time, wasn’t important.  

After being cursed at by her mom, she then went to the Dean of Students again, and told her that although she was happy living with this group of girls, she had no choice but to move out, because of the issue with the stairs.  At first, the dean said that the decision had been finalized and couldn’t be undone.  When she told her mom this, she was screamed at again, but no cursing this time.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Running around -- that’s pretty much what I don’t do. And I’ve found lots of ways to not do that. Recently I’ve found a really good way. I watch elephants at a waterhole in Africa on a live camera.

Early in the morning if I’m lucky I can see one or several elephants, some storks sometimes, and some odd ruminants with black and white markings and long twisted horns, and almost always there are birds twittering away. One of the great pleasures is that there, at that waterhole, elephants do not run around. There they are, huge wrinkled lumbering things, happy pretty much to be just standing there -- maybe drinking. I have lived long enough to watch an elephant in Africa in real time -- drinking water!

They usually move very slowly. Once when an elephant lifted his huge foot, I thought the camera had frozen. But looking carefully I saw the elephant’s tail swishing, I like to think signifying heartfelt, deep, elephant peace.

So there we are -- consider the elephant, just like the one who went to Paris and lifted barbells with the little old lady, and rode up and down in an elevator, simple pleasures for elephants.

One day in front of the camera, a single old elephant stood there looking straight at me, flopping his ears that had very jagged edges, wrinkled as the oldest elephant in the waterhole universe. He was a gray old thing. He barely moved, lifted one foot -- no Lance Armstrong he. My heart went out to him. The tree, I know that waterhole tree now -- the tree was alive with unseen birds. It had rained a few days ago, the birds must have jam-filled the tree, twittering twittering twittering, the sounds all coming from my computer(can I say OMG)? The old, gray, wrinkled elephant curled his trunk and then tucked it on his tusk. I didn’t know they did that. Then he huffed, then swayed, then moved, swung his trunk again, blew some sand on his back, and after awhile he moved on.

Guess how much running around I did that day? I watched the elephant and then I left him, he was on camera still.

I was glad no camera followed me. Dishes -- I did some dishes;cooking -- I did some cooking, I had to steam some vegetables, carrots, squash; washing -- I needed to do some washing but without a camera watching -- I didn’t do the washing.

Slowly, slowly I moved toward the computer. The elephant was gone. Then slowly, slowly I moved toward an awfully interesting book and read it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

THE TYPEWRITER by Elizabeth Panzer

It was a magic place, that room across the hall. Filled with music, muffled telephone conversations, and typing, lots of typing late at night. And then, all of a sudden it went silent. The day that Missy, my older sister, flew down to Mexico to spend her last semester of high school with her friend Amy.

The records were still stacked 10-high on the turntable changer, and all of her winter clothes still hung in the closet. But the desk was invitingly clear. Papers had been filed or discarded, books were back on the shelves. All that remained was the electric Smith Corona, perched on the vast expanse of desktop.

The desk itself was an old typesetter’s desk. Much higher than a normal desk. I had to climb up onto the special chair to even see the entire desktop. And once up there, I was in another world. A world that revolved around the typewriter.

I remember venturing into Missy’s now vacant room, once a forbidden place unless I’d been invited. I flipped through the records, admiring the record covers. I opened all the little drawers in the back of the desk. But the ultimate temptation was the typewriter. The barely audible hum when I flicked it on. The magic CLACK when I pressed on a key.

I began to explore the typewriter, first typing random letters, just to get a feel for it. Then resurrecting what I remembered from the touch-typing unit our class had in third grade: A S D F G H J K L ;. Yea, I could do this.

And eventually I spent time every night just typing. I’d sit down with no direction, no specific idea. Just let my fingers find the worlds. It was fun. It felt rebellious. I soon let go of capitalization (too much trouble). And punctuation made sudden entrances and exits. But since I owed these pages to no one, I granted myself all the freedoms my classwork forbade. Sentence fragments. Unending paragraphs. I let myself type the way I spoke; I let myself type the way I listened. And soon the typewriter was again singing late into the night.

Friday, October 5, 2012


I already know before I turn my car ignition off that I will write about the book I've been societally coerced to read -- 50 Shades of Grey. I'd managed to avoid it for a full year, dipping and diving between the droves of friends, acquaintances and colleagues who at one time or the other came out to me about reading this ridiculous book. But finally I've succumbed mainly because I realized that I had to use the 3 audio book credits that have been hanging out in my audible account before they expired. 

The book is about S&M, control and submission and the classic "girl who doesn't know she's pretty is rescued by worldly white knight" but with a tried and true twist -- lots of forbidden sex. Poorly written, predictable and smutty, it truly is a ridiculous piece of literature -- that I can't stop listening to and/or thinking about! I'm obsessed with the book and vaguely amused by this as I watch myself devour it. I like the book because it’s about sex and fantasy -- and just like that, 37 years of intelligence, discernment and sophistication unravels into the steaming pile of bullshit that it is, and I am as neanderthal as the first cave man who discovered the magical combination of friction and genitalia. A million years from now there will be cockroaches and sex.

My consciousness has been split in three since I started listening to this book -- The IDIOT, drooling over each cheap scene; the intelligent, mortified, detached SNOB who is watching the IDIOT listening to the book; and the nonchalant SMARTY PANTS me who consistently reminds the other two that the only reason that this is happening is because I've been single for many years, and haven't had a date since I moved my crazy ass to the country over one year ago. Reading about sex and fantasy right now is like dropping a lit match on a huge, dry, tumbleweed in the middle of death valley. I'm an easy target. Still, I find it hard to reconcile my feminist identity with the person willingly listening -- enjoying even (gasp) -- this book. On occasion, I picture Harriett Tubman sitting on a cloud, head in hands, wondering if I got this tendency from the white side of my family...

Even as I write this I'm wondering if the mousy girl in the story will win the heart of the handsome rich asshole, and how much sex I can look forward to in between, and how I will recoup all of the brain cells I've sacrificed in pursuit of this cheap thrill. I'll probably finish the book tonight and tomorrow I'll do the walk of shame over to the classics section in the library and hopefully resuscitate my suicidal brain, before diving into 50 Shades of Grey book two...

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Throwing away!! My name is Lynn Rockman McCourt and I am a collector of things and it is very hard for me to throw things away because I really do love all my collections. Years ago I collected music boxes and I still have them today.

I have always loved dolls and have collected them for years. When I was about 12 years old I had a book called "A Pageant of Dolls." I was also a terrible nail biter. My parents said if I stopped bitting my nails in an allotted amount of time they would order numerous dolls found in this book for me. I was given a certain amount of time for this to happen  Maybe it was 2 months.  They put a medicine called "Thumb" on my nails - it would burn my tongue if I put my fingers in my month - but nothing could stop me - so at the end of the 2 months I hadn't lived up to my part of the deal so my father cancelled the order he had placed for a number of dolls.

As an adult I now purchase my own dolls. I still bite my nails. At the present time I'm only chewing three nails. Maybe by the end of the year I'll stop completely - old habits die hard. I still collect dolls and at the present time I'm collecting Russian and Ukrainian stackable dolls -- the ones that fit inside one another. I never throw any dolls away.

I have many many clothes and I never throw any of them away but I do share the wealth -- I always pass clothes on to my friends and when it's close to holiday time I leave packages in a church or on a bench near the park for someone to enjoy the spoils. It's a good feeling for me and I hope for them. It's always nice to get a present.

Friday, September 21, 2012

AT THE WINDOW by Miriam Daum

“What makes you think you know anything about amputees?”

That was my first introduction to Dr. Black, my new patient, just arrived speeding towards me in his electric wheelchair. The right leg of his green scrub suit was pinned up above the knee.

Dr. Black, an anesthesiologist at the hospital where we both worked, turned out to be a tough customer. Almost each of my instructions or advice was countered with a contradictory response.

“Stress test?  That’s poppycock…Why should I exercise my stump?  It’s just going into a prosthesis anyway... I don’t want to use a ‘safer’ walker; I want crutches.”

When it was time for me to make him a temporary artificial leg, he wanted it in green, not the standard plain plaster-white.

“I’m the consumer…I get to choose,” he said. (He got his green leg; a few drops of food coloring in the plaster water…it matched his scrub suit.)

“I hope you step in a meadow muffin,” was Dr. Black’s standard sendoff to me when leaving at the end of a day or meeting me in the hospital hallway. You had to look twice to see the mischievous grin, the laughter in his piercing blue eyes.

One Monday morning I arrived at the usual early hour for our session. Very early, before 7 a.m. when Dr. Black had to be in the operating room for his day’s work. He did not appear. I called the hospital page operator. 

“Not signed in yet,” she said.

Probably he was delayed in traffic returning from his farm, I thought; he had told me of his planned weekend there. But later that morning one of my colleagues pointed to Dr. Black’s name on the hospital admission list. He was in Cardiac ICU.

I raced up to his room. There he was presiding, sitting up in bed, blue eyes beaming. His audience, fellow physicians, a nurse or two and his wife, arrayed around him.

“So there I was with all the EKG electrodes glued to my chest. I stood up to watch the monitor. Saw myself going into v. tach…said ‘Oh, oh – I better lie down. So I lay down and arrested.”

Shock and disbelief on all our faces…

“But,” he continued with his booming laugh, “the nice girls and boys there brought me back…and then the whole thing happened again…”

Mrs. Black was not laughing as she filled in the saga details. Dr. B had not felt well, she told us, driving down to the farm. 

“Let’s go to the emergency room,” Mrs. Black had said. 

“No” was the characteristic reply.

Returning home, Dr. B was pale and flushed.

“We’re going to the E.R.,” Mrs. B. proclaimed.

“No,” her husband said. At which point Mrs. B gave him two choices: E.R.or divorce. He went.

“Please stay out of trouble for awhile,” I begged, turning to leave. Patients were waiting for me downstairs. 

“I hope you step in a meadow muffin,” Dr. Black called after me.

Not funny, I mumbled to myself, appalled at his nonchalance in the face of almost-death. Not funny at all.

Later that day after work, I went back up to visit. There was no more audience now. Even Mrs. Black had gone home. I paused at the half-closed door, wondering if I should go in or let him rest. Quietly I pushed the door a little wider. There was Dr. Black sitting in his wheelchair, head turned towards the window. Tears were trickling slowly down his cheeks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

UNSPOKEN by Lynne Reitman

There is a picture I have of Eliana’s birthmother and myself meeting for the first time. Eliana was 22 years old when we went back to Paraguay to meet her. At an internship she had done with an adoption agency, she had heard of a group that organized trips and reunions for families who adopted children from foreign countries. Eliana decided she wanted them to help her find her birthmother.

The program suggested that I write a letter to her birthmother, explaining who I was and how wonderful Eliana was and Eliana wrote a letter asking to meet or correspond or connect in any way she felt she would want to. She specifically said that she was not angry and just wanted to meet. After several months the agency located Esteria Enciso,  Eliana’s birthmother, and started talking to her about possibly meeting the daughter she had given up for adoption 21 years ago. These discussions went on for awhile and by the time we left for our trip to see and tour Paraguay we knew part of that trip would include meeting Eliana’s mother.

Shortly after arriving in Asuncion we were told that the second day of the trip would be the reunion. We were staying in a hotel with many North American families with Paraguayan children and some of them also had reunions scheduled. The anticipation made connecting with these families very easy. We watched in the hotel lobby as families left for and returned from their reunions. The kids huddled to debrief and the parents did the same. Then it was our turn.

On our way to the meeting which was to take place in a private room in a restaurant in Asuncion, we sat in the back of the cab squeezing each other's hands and anxiously smiling. The ride was too short. We arrived at the restaurant and walked around to the rear along a slate path and came to an opening where there was a patio and a sliding glass door into the private room where the meeting was to take place. There, a woman from the agency met us and told us that Eliana’s birthmother and her husband had gotten lost and would be late. We walked into the room with our disappointment and fear.

There were several women in the room – the social worker who had developed a relationship with Eliana’s birthmother, the young woman from the agency who had prepared Eliana, and a young psychologist who would be acting as our translator. There was a large table in the middle of the room filled with rich and creamy Paraguayan cakes and chocolates and two large thermoses of coffee. Cups and saucers and plates were laid out. As much as Eliana and I loved chocolates, for once, they were irrelevant. I took some coffee, which was incredibly tasty and sweet.  I loved this. Through my excitement and worry I realized how happy I was at that moment. How glad I was that we had arrived at this place where Eliana and I were at ease with each other and able to receive her mother into our lives.
Eliana saw them first and went to the glass door to meet them. I saw the resemblance immediately – the heart shaped hairline, the dark brown eyes slightly too far apart, the hesitancy and charming unease that had drawn me to Eliana from the beginning when we first met – here it appeared in her mother. I looked on as they fell into each other and hugged and cried and gazed at each other’s faces. So glad, so immensely glad, to see each other.

Then her mother noticed Eliana’s hands – long with slender fingers that tapered – and she said something to her husband. The translator told us that she had said that Eliana’s hands were just like Melanie’s – their daughter and Eliana’s half-sister. Eliana was thrilled and looked my way – I had very often told her how beautiful her hands were – the frequency with which I said this was a joke between us.

Her gaze toward me brought me into their circle and her mother walked over to me and gave me a deep look of gratitude and love that acknowledged the years that I had raised Eliana and the gesture of bringing her back so they could meet again. We stood holding each other’s arms and looking into each other's eyes and one of the several wonderful people in the room managed to take that picture.

I look at it every day – not just that it’s on my desk – I stop and really look at it. It represents the best of me and the luck I had having this woman be the mother of my child.

As she and Eliana sat side by side holding hands, smiling, excited, surrounded by friends and family – they gave her 2 gifts – a jaunty black hat that I knew Eliana would never wear, and a silver ring that I knew she would never take off. Then Eliana took out the scrapbook she had made for her mother – pictures of her life. This had been a very seriously studied gift. We thought about what pictures would best help her mother see what Eliana’s life was without making her feel too badly about what she had missed. Pictures where there was room for her to imagine herself there. Pictures of Eliana in her halloween costumes, with girlfriends, boyfriends, graduations, volleyball games. And she smiled and touched every picture – the same smile I had seen on Eliana’s face thousands of times that her mother had missed these many years.

They couldn’t get enough of each other so we started making plans to meet again before we had to leave the country. There was confusion and indecision and anxiety in trying to make this plan. Eliana was crying watching her mother go through the same difficulty making decisions as she had. She had always been disarmed by my decisiveness.

We left it to the agency to organize the next meeting, talking to everyone when the emotional charge was lower and thoughts more clear. Eliana and her mother had such a difficult time having to leave each other again. I don’t think they could have done it except for the next family coming into that sweet and sacred space for their reunion.