As a little girl raised in a liberal Jewish household, I never knew that, for most people, only men could be Rabbis. Likewise, I had no idea that in most households, the women were those taking care of most cleaning, cooking, and childcare. I certainly didn’t know that most moms didn’t stay at the office until way past their kids’ bedtimes. That wasn’t how my house ticked – my mother has always been more career-oriented than my father, and her career has always been more demanding. For years she worked as a clergy person at a synagogue downtown, and my father did most of the housework and child-rearing. I remember being continuously surprised that other dads didn’t bake cakes or do the laundry.
I’ll tell what I’ve always known, though. I will never be President. To be a leader at all, I will make some significant sacrifices. But perhaps that’s a grandiose example. I’ve also always known simpler things. Like the fact that, even though I’m notoriously bossy and opinionated, my opinion will count less when I’m in a room full of men, that my boss will probably be a man, and that when I’m not taken seriously in a workplace I should just deal with it or use my feminine wiles to get ahead. Whatever that means.
In 2010 the Census Bureau found that women made up 50.8% of the population of the USA. That is to say, the majority. And many of us are apparently very driven – according to the Center for American Progress we earn 60% of all undergraduate degrees, 47% of all law degrees, and 48% of all medical degrees. To be sure, this is progress. Look at any graph on the Census Bureau’s website, and you’ll see a steady climb of women’s participation in the workforce. One might be tempted to believe that our leadership would follow a similar pattern. In 2017, shouldn’t our upper management, our Senate, our Congress, be a picture of egalitarianism?
The answer is, of course, a resounding NO. Only 19.6% of Congresspeople and only 21% of Senators are women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. I don’t even want to tell you what percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs we are (4.6%), what percent of top earners (8.1%), and what percentage rate of executive officer positions we hold (14.6%). Hey, that’s almost half, isn’t it? Just round up.
As women, we mostly know this already, even if we can’t recite the precise numbers. Ever since my first job, waiting tables at a café in high school, I’ve known that men call the shots in the world of employment. My first boss, the manager at the café, had a crush on my friend, a fellow waitress. He told her he thought she’d look cute waitressing barefoot, and maybe he’d make her shift manager if she would oblige him. We were 17, and he was 40. I still cringe when I think of her actually going along with it.
It’s unacceptable that young women anywhere should think that it’s plausible for a manager to request something like this. I had no idea that there were women managers out there when I was 17. Maybe if I had known I would have found a different job or urged my friend to refuse, but my knowledge of egalitarianism was, while broader than that of my peers’, still shockingly narrow.
Often I’ve heard people say that change takes time, citing the remarkable progress of the past 50 years in women’s role in the American workforce. They’re not entirely wrong, but I would temper that statement with another, complementary truth. Change happens when we demand it to happen, and although barriers may seem insurmountable, sometimes we just need a higher ladder and some more elbow grease to get over that hurdle.
One such example is Iceland, arguably the world’s most feminist country, where strip clubs and any other form of buying and selling humans is merely illegal, as of March 2010. It may seem difficult to imagine a USA without Hooters and other XXX clubs, but there it is, happening in northern Europe. When asked if she thought it would be difficult for men to acclimate to the new rule, Iceland’s Prime Minister said: “I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.” More importantly, though, the women and girls of Iceland will have the opportunity to get used to the idea that they aren’t for sale. How will their sense of self-worth change when they are the ones to decide just what their worth is?
I have a dear friend who is the youngest ever member of the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset). She was voted into the Knesset at 28 and has been serving since as a member of the Labor party. She tells me often of the difficulties she faces – older Members of Knesset calling her ‘young lady,’ or talking over her at meetings or having her removed from the room for having an opposing opinion. In 2014 she spoke on the TED stage in Tel Aviv about the importance of young people, women, and other minorities engaged in politics. “You know,” she said, “if we had the courage to stand in front of half a million people and tell them that they should be hopeful because change is possible, we must have the courage to go and make this change happen.”
She’s right; it does take courage to question a status quo, especially one as long-standing as the gap in gender equality. It takes guts to stand in an uncomfortable place where we are certainly not wanted and to demand what we deserve. It’s scary to speak about discrepancies and to ask questions that have ugly answers. But these are all the only agents for change. If we want our daughters to see that they are equal, if we don’t demand that which we and they deserve, if we don’t stand up and point a finger at the gaps in fairness, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when progress is delayed and denied.
This illumination can take many forms. It could mean running for office, or starting a petition, or attending a rally, or sponsoring a law. But it can be much simpler than that. We can refuse to give in to the demeaning demands of an unfair boss. We can hire women, and then we can promote them to management positions. We can create art that expresses the absurdity of this situation and raises awareness to other ways the world could work. We can be a living example, by simply living our lives according to the values of equality and egalitarianism.
Another senseless mass shooting, where for a few days, perhaps weeks, people will argue, discuss and voice their heated opinions on gun control and mental health, which means little to nothing to the families of the dead.
They are living a hell so tragic no one can begin to comprehend.
What about the uncomfortable taboo topic? The killer. He’s pure evil, insane and that’s it. End of story, right?
Don’t dare talk about him or I’ll block you on Facebook.
That’s the brutal reality of where this tragedy really begins and ends.
A troubled boy, isolated, mentally disturbed and alone with only his building paranoid delusions, hate and rage turns to the Internet and social media for company. The dark web where the deranged fuel his hatred. Before you dismiss me, you must understand something. What if instead of expelling him from society and his community we offered access to social workers, educators to help him instead?
Please understand I am in a unique position to try and explain the mentally disturbed. I never wanted to be a voice for the shunned or misunderstood.
I am like him, but I am not. I’m the mentally insane. You see I am lucky. I not alone with my illness, I have family and community all around. When I get paranoid, which I sometimes do, or when I get too dark or too manic my loved ones help talk me off the ledge. I’m med compliant, and hyper-vigilant when it comes to my stability. Here’s where it gets tricky; it does not always work. Sometimes the illness wins, my brain goes apeshit, haywire and I have to fight to return to sanity.
We had guns in my home once; my loved ones and I had the common sense to remove them for my safety. And everyone around me. I do not expect you to empathize with the killer(s), I say killers because this nation has a disturbing multitude of mass shootings. Anyone who walks into a school, concert, or church who guns down children is deranged. Every other day someone dies by a bullet. We’ve endured so much pain since Columbine, Sandy Hook and most recently in this advanced country how could we possibly not do something?
Here’s the thing, I have unfortunate family members suffering from mental illness, whose families and friends have given up on them. They are completely alone with their insanity and anguish in a world you cannot begin to ever understand with minds they cannot control. That makes me so goddamn fucking furious, I do not want to hear their pathetic explanations.
They simply gave up on a loved one’s life. Gave up on a human being. I get it, it’s exhausting, and no “fun” to be around a crazy person but fuck you. It could’ve easily have been you and not me in their place.
To the fucked-up underpaid, overworked, dysfunctional “system,” to the educators, social workers, therapists, and psychiatrists you need to do better. You must do better, plain and simple. To the mothers and fathers, you need to take away the smartphones and interact with your children, pay attention to what’s happening around them, who their friends are and who might need extra help. Local politicians, you need to act, and not react.
Wake up and stop hurling accusations of hatred at one other, offer an ear and a voice to anyone who might need a hand.
The futile government is not our last hope; we must be the agents of change.
I have lost friends over the course of my disease. I have felt isolated, despondent and alone. I have felt rage and paranoia.
I have been delusional. Because I have been shown love, and empathy I’m doing okay. Someone has always been there to advocate for me when I am unable. When no one was listening; I learned early how to advocate for myself. I am blessed. My family loves me exactly as I am, and my mother bears the heavy weight on the days I cannot.
I am not a violent person thank God, sane or crazy. I am not a killer; I am not alone with my crazy. I have put into place protections against myself. No assault weapons in my home, or easy access. No guns, no discussion.
Yet there is nothing stopping me from walking into Bass Pro or a gun show and purchasing a weapon of mass destruction. I’d liked to think I could never hurt a soul, but I cannot say with absolute certainty that my mind won’t betray me. I am the person you meet who looks and sounds perfectly normal, who can carry on a conversation with ease, while my mind is moving at lightning speed a thousand steps forward working hard from veering off the tracks.
Judge me if you feel the need to, but do not dismiss my story. If for the simple reason it might spare another mothers’ child’s precious life.
What a judgmental, ugly, cruel world we live in. Don’t count on greed, the NRA, or Trump’s evil administration to save you, your children or your loved ones from the barrel of an assault weapon, and cruel fate.
Gun sense, mental health care, community, and empathy are common sense core values we should all agree on. The only call to arms I’d like to see are open arms, open minds, affirmative, positive action, empathy and open hearts.
“Why is it no one sent me yet one perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get one perfect rose.”―Dorothy Parker
IF YOU ARE SINGLE Lucky you.
You do not have to worry or fret about finding that perfect Valentine’s Day gift!
You may suffer a twinge of jealousy when your friends with boyfriends or married friends are lavished with gifts or have romantic date nights. Don’t. There was likely much worrying and sometimes last minute frantic planning to pull off what appeared to be easy.
A personal assistant sometimes buys the boss’s wife or girlfriend a gift and makes dinner reservations. Is this really what you want? a Valentine’s Day that is delegated to an employee?Singletons, on February 14, put on your jammies, order a pizza and watch 27 Dresses on Netflix. You will be with your favorite, easy-to-get-along-with date…yourself.
THE BOYFRIEND Complicated.
This is tricky. You will have to calculate your status Are you newly together or have you been dating for years? Herein lies a separate problem altogether. An important question because it will determine the value of your gift and the depth of your celebration.
The most challenging Valentine is the newly dating. Do not think it is just you. He is trying to decide how to meet your expectations as well. Here are a few suggested guidelines for the newly dating:
Three Months or Less A card. At the very most, a small gift of no obvious value, for example, a small teddy bear, or a sleeve of golf balls if he’s a golfer. The worst scenario is if you overdo it with an expensive gift and he does not reciprocate. One of you might be quite uncomfortable. Play it safe.
Six Months to One Year At this stage, you can expect as well as give, a gift of more substance. If you are closer to the one year mark, hopefully, you are comfortable discussing Valentine’s Day and can make mutually agreeable plans together. This is the honeymoon phase of dating where couple’s massages, a weekend getaway, even a dinner at a special restaurant are exciting and romantic. If your plans are NOT romantic at this point, perhaps you may want to spend some time reflecting on your goals for this relationship. If marriage is your end run―stop, in the name of love.
THE SMUG MARRIEDS: A delightful reference from Bridget Jones’s Diary.
From the outside looking in, perhaps you may think, “Oh, Valentine’s Day must be so simple for them.”A built-in date, easy to buy a gift, and sending flowers guarantees the perfect day.
In the beginning, a bar is set higher and higher each year, when expectations can run as high as emotions. Proof of love exists in material signs of the perfect card, roses sent to work (who would see them at home?), and the just so perfect gift. Oh, please let it be jewelry. Giant bummer that the price of red roses is doubled on Valentine’s Day. Could my lover just want tulips? Men, here is my absolute favorite gift, write her a love letter. On real paper. With a real pen. Say all the words. Express all of your feelings. Deep sigh. Quote Emily Dickinson, and you will own her heart.
I can recall a Valentine’s Day when I was actually upset with my husband for sending me red roses (at home, he didn’t get many things) for his lack of originality after 16 years of marriage. Really? Is that the best you’ve got? There is a large, flashing warning sign on the couples who have been together a relatively long time. Two scenarios. First, like me, I was still looking for validation in love and wanted to see proof. Second, when the more mature couples (unlike me) who know each other so well, their love is true and proven to the degree even a card is superfluous.
Somehow I never made it to that stage. Thus explaining my singleton status.
My last advice for you is not to forget the people in your life whose Valentine’s Day would become a special, unforgettable day with a Valentine from you. These people will likely not receive any Valentine’s cards, and your thoughtfulness becomes a special act of kindness.
Your mother, father, parents
Single grown children
Unmarried or single brothers and sisters
Unmarried or single friends
Bring a batch of children’s boxed Valentine’s signed, “Your friend,” to a senior home, or the children’s ward of your local hospital.
“Once, when I was young and true, Someone left me sad- Broke my brittle heart in two; And that is very bad.
Love is for unlucky folk, Love is but a curse. Once there was a heart I broke; And that, I think, is worse.”
I’m in a foul mood right now, and usually, when I feel like this I want to get in someone’s face. Here’s the topic of the moment that I need to get off my chest…For the past year, and increasingly during the past week, I’ve skimmed past negative messages I read or see about the women’s marches. People are saying things that imply that women on these demonstrations “are protesting for rights they already have” or “they need to toughen up” or “work harder, that’s how you get what you want” or “man-haters” or whatever they have to say.
Well, here’s what I have to say. The women’s marches are, first of all, an act of democracy where if enough people have something to say and they want to make their point loudly, they gather together to do so. We are lucky to live in a country where we can do such a thing. The women’s marches have taken place all over the world, and have all been peaceful with no violence or arrests. This year, the march I attended was almost half men. And you know what? I wanted to sleep in that day….it was cold, and I felt lazy…my husband made me get up and go and take our daughters.
Rights we already have? Yes, but so many of the older women there did NOT have those rights when they were your age, they had to fight for them, many died fighting for the rights you’re taking for granted today. They know what it looks, feels and smells like when those rights seem threatened again….they can feel it under their skin. They’re out there to make SURE you never lose those rights. They’re not only fighting for yours, but for every person who feels threatened. If this doesn’t resonate with you at all, then don’t march, don’t look, don’t waste your energy on it. But for God’s sake, don’t criticize those who feel the need to make their voices heard. Are they out there hurting you somehow?
Toughen up? I grew up surrounded by boys, older brothers who weren’t always nice to me and we would fight, and a father who was an alcoholic. I was a latch-key kid, home without supervision until my mom got home from a hard days work, only to come home and work until midnight when my dad would stroll on in from the bar and start a fight. I grew up with so much anger inside and a fierce sense of justice, and would fist-fight boys when they bullied others. I’m not proud of this violence I committed, but it’s probably the only reason people didn’t mess with me. (It all does come in handy now when my family tries wrestling me down on the living room floor 😉 )
Work hard to get what you want? I’m the first person in my family to go to a university, graduate, and go back for a Master’s degree. I have had to work hard every single day for every single thing I ever got. Not only does it piss me off if you say we need to work harder, but it makes me sad for your ignorance.
Man hater? I love men. I love men, and I love boys. I have the luxury (or perhaps by design) to be surrounded by amazing men and boys. I suppose if they weren’t, I already cut them out of my life. Every day I’m thankful for my amazingly supportive husband, and I’ve spent a lot of time in my career with really incredible teenage boys and young men who want to make this a better world. I have awesome male friends of all types. I’m so thankful for the men in my life…I love you guys.
My point with all of the above is partly to tell some of my story, in the hope that you will see I am not who you think I am, just because I attend women’s marches. It’s also to say hey- look at me – I am white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, married, able-bodied, insured, live in a safe town, …so why do I need to march? And what were these marches all about if women already have rights? It would be a really long story to give you all the reasons, but I’ll tell you a few main ideas.
I have daughters. I have one that is good at math and science. When she was in 3rd grade, some boys in the class told her girls can’t do the math. Since then, she’s pretty much gotten 100% on every math test she’s ever taken, so she found her own way to kick their ass. (Unfortunately, when I was her age, I listened to those boys.) My older daughter was told girls couldn’t ride motorcycles. Well, she can spin mud in their faces with her back tire now. Pretty much every day, my girls get some message that they aren’t as good as or as strong as boys – messages from boys, from men, from media, from girls, women, society.
I march for them, and they march for themselves, not because this is about their RIGHTS but because of what IS RIGHT and what they deserve, and we STILL feel the need to voice that. Girls today STILL and always must be taught to stand up for themselves, and be shown there are millions of women (and men) standing beside them. I march for my mom, who wasn’t a fighter before but is now. I march for my mother-in-law, who can’t march now, but was an attorney who put away a LOT of child abusers in her career. Their generation paved the way for mine, and when they get concerned by things being seen and heard today, then something’s up, and it’s time to get out the marching boots to make sure we don’t go backward.
How about Larry Nassar, Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and all the other ones including the non-famous ones? How many missing women and girl posts do I have to see every day? Where are they? How many girls and boys and women need to be abused, raped, harassed, assaulted, molested, trafficked for you to understand that once a year we might just gather together with our sisters and say WE ARE STRONG and we won’t let this happen anymore? If you don’t think this is an issue, then you’re damn lucky….as in, won the lottery lucky.
Have you looked at the photos of our Presidents since the “birth” of the USA? Just take a quick glance. While you’re at it, take a look at the beautiful photos of our founding fathers that hang in museums. Take a look at the photos of our US Senate and House of Representatives right now. I’m not criticizing, just wondering does anything strike you? Again, I have daughters, so I notice things. These marches aren’t to blame men for always being the leaders; they’re to get WOMEN to step up if they WANT TO, to feel EMPOWERED to run for office and make positive changes. I want to see more women in ALL types of leadership positions….CEO’s, government, engineering, movie producers and directors, talk show hosts, racecar drivers, everywhere, and while we’re at it, let’s have them be ALL colors and types of people! I don’t want them to “steal these jobs” or take from men; I just want them to GO FOR IT if they want it! Be strong and take those big opportunities and go out there and offer our world more of a balance. And if you’re home taking care of loved ones and your household, whether you’re a man or woman, THAT TOO is a noble profession, and I thank you for it!!
I also marched for some women I know, who today cannot march. Some are sick, some have passed away, some are in abusive relationships, some don’t feel empowered, some were unsure or scared, some just don’t know, and some aren’t even born yet.
Yes, women have rights. What if you’re a transgender woman? A Muslim woman? An uninsured woman? A woman of color? An immigrant? What if you’re gay? Come to think of it, what if you’re a man and you’re one of those things? I marched for you, too. I marched for you because I’m tired of you being blamed.
That’s the story on my end that I felt I needed to tell just because I’m pissed off. So I would love it if anyone who wants to criticize, demean, scold, or ridicule anyone for peacefully exercising our democratic rights would simply shut it. Ignore it and be on your way. Or try to listen and learn. Ask why, instead of telling us how ridiculous we are as you roll your eyes.
As I sit here and decide to delete or keep this – the owls are outside again, and it sounds like there are at least 3 of them this time. They’re only out there if something is eating at me and I start writing; I guess it’s my sign to publish.
Love & peace to all (it’s not just for hippies anymore.)
Let it, Ripple…
There is a din. It resonates still louder until it is deafening, the clangs so arresting, they
transmute the void of my mind to a vibrant reality.
I. There is an abyss in the fine grains of sand that stretch for miles into nothingness. Sometimes, the remnants are charred black, sometimes a resplendent glow that would put even the purest of souls to shame. Sometimes, the gentlest froth of the cerulean waves placates my churning insides. But your voice, like a gleaming jewel, pierces the calm with vibrant hues of shimmery richness. It slices the delirium with clarity, tones from static, healing from a purple bruise. Order from chaos.
II. Doric columns and baroque frames. Gilded metal and burnt sienna. The fragrance of
incense inflected with awe. We revel in the universal prowess of Monet and Van Gogh,
the more covert touch of Bernini and the enigmatic canvas of Still. Leviathan slits and
evanescent arcs, chrome and technicolor synchronize in irreplicable mosaics and
diaphanous frescoes. It’s an anathema to verbalize, so we observe the paradox of
ingenuity. A fusion of art and engineering. Ethereal landscapes unfasten riveted
imaginations and terrifying caricatures warp distorted thoughts of ourselves, of the
universe. Battered by the allure of verdant and crimson, appreciation is the only medicine,
In the inferno of ignited conceptions and furtive secrets. My eyes cloud in the search for
precision, amid the shrine of art and culture. What demarcates fabrication and reality? The
wanderer and his wanderess.
III. The fervent words of yesterday and the raw magnetism of tomorrow engulf me, control
me. I am paralyzed by the mutual exclusiveness of desire and abomination. Decadent
momentums. Enrapturing inertias. You bound ahead of me, shattering my visions of a dual
tomorrow. You approach me in a cerulean glow. You wear scuffed shoes and a glacial
gaze. My coal tresses bouncing in the pulse. Grotesque intrigue and lightning fast
aversion. You compel me to veer my path in allegories.
In the cosmic expanse of time, we are only a speck in the embattled field of hearts and
intersections. Some will continue in linear lines. Others will curve.
Everyone needs a hobby. I like collecting broken boys.
I wouldn’t have brought it up, but once you’ve seen a pattern, it’s very hard to un-see it, and recently, my vision cleared enough that I couldn’t not see it. What I thought was an incidental thread was, in fact, the underlying and overwhelming motif, repeating and repeating and repeating, dark and indelible and now so obvious that I’m embarrassed not to have noticed it sooner. If I try to unpick it, will that make the whole design disintegrate in my hands? If this is what’s been holding everything together, how can I take the risk of letting everything fall apart? And is it self-pity or self-knowledge that keeps me circling this obsession? Am I seeking comfort in the prison of my pain, or freedom from the fear of it?
The thing about my broken boys is that I not only date them, I create them. I write them into existence. I set them up for the abyss right from the start. My little Hamlets, doomed to suffer and crash and destroy everything they touch, including themselves. They never disappoint and are always disappointed. I give them mothers who don’t love them, fathers who aren’t there, siblings they loathe, adults they can’t trust, friends they fuck over, drugs they ingest in a hopeless attempt to fill the void where love should be, and I make them do terrible things. They rape. They kill. They use up their worlds as their worlds use up them. The best they can hope for is some kind of closure, but they are always, in some way or other, annihilated.
On some intuitive level, my boys know they’re alone. That they won’t survive without love. This is their sadness, and the sadness is so deep, so painful, that it must be protected and hidden and never touched. Sadness underlines their lives, their actions, their wants. Sadness makes them fearful, and fear makes them angry. Angry boys are dangerous boys. They destroy whatever they touch because their touch taints, and anything within their reach must not be worth having. They see life as life sees them.
I know what they want and what they need and what they just can’t have. I wind the barbed wire of words around them in ways they can’t escape, and I place the rusty razor’s edge just within reach of their grasping fingers, and they take it, every time, hurting someone else before slicing their own souls open to get some relief, and we know that all they want is love. For someone to see them. At any cost.
They need love. I need them to be unfixable. Because if they can be fixed, what’s the point of me? And if I can fix them, maybe that means some else can. Maybe they can fix themselves. And then they won’t need me. They might write themselves new endings. They might become free.
In the pattern of broken boys, in that dirty, repeating motif, is me, of course. They’re the past that I constantly mine, digging in the dark of the days when I was them. I can’t help but poke around in the muck and shit, sticking my fingers on blisters and in wounds to see what’s there and how much it hurts. I want to write something I can feel, that smells of suffering and fighting, that maybe…maybe…offers my boys a sliver of a chance, a cruel hope of redemption that they’ll never get. But it’s fun to see them reach for it.
My broken boys have held me down, held me back, and held me up. When I couldn’t look at myself, I could look at them, and I love them for that. Unlike them, I got a second chance. I got out. But I lived the pain I put my boys through. I think that’s why I do it. Why I write and rewrite myself into them. It reminds me of what shaped me, and how I need my dark edge. I need to remember all of it, and I need to remember that I did get redemption, which is why my broken boys must stay trapped. They’re the little Virgils of my own Divine Comedy, forever shut out of Paradise, doomed to guide me through the terrors of inferno and the drudgery of purgatory because they know the landscape so well because it’s really not their fault because that’s the tragedy of it all. They have to suffer, and they can’t escape. It just makes for a better story that way.
I don’t know why I drink.
For the way it makes me feel I guess –
like so maybe
the bad things don’t feel like they are all my fault.
So that if I hurt you, I will remember it fuzzy-like.
Like maybe you had asked for it;
or perhaps my actions were justified
in the way people instinctively realize that
a poor, tired, worn-out mother can only
take so much, and then somehow they are excused for their missteps.
We all make mistakes, you know… we all do. Even you.
Oh, and I’ve made so many!
I had an abortion, did I tell you that?
Of course, I did.
Fine. I was 18.
Stupidest selfish thing I ever did.
I could have had that baby, but I wanted my life.
I could have had it and being a big girl and taken care of my business.
Coulda been a waitress; sucked it up, asked for help.
But no. I didn’t do that.
At the time, I felt I deserved more than that.
The truth is I didn’t deserve Shit.
I think that’s why I drink.
Because I took more than my share.
I didn’t pay back the Karma.
I didn’t drink the Koolaid, or maybe I did; whatever.
It doesn’t matter now, I’m looking straight down the barrel of death.
Grim Reaper knows I owe; God knows too. That’s why He keeps it all locked up when I come
I got Hep. Some kinda hep.
Baby haunts me, you know.
She woulda been 26.
You woulda had a sister, imagine that.
It’s so hard for me to be nice to you
because when I look in your eyes
I see that baby, like a little tadpole;
getting swirled down a drain, over and over.
A tadpole body with big baby eyes
and a little round cupid bow baby-mouth, crying
While the water rolls over her face and it washes her into the
eddy, down the hole, circular, figure-eights, whoosh!
Up the vacuum, down the toilet.
Who knows where they go.
I drink because it’s easier than having failed at being successful.
I’m good at being a failure.
I drink because I am a sad story and its a better story
then the one where I might have pulled my life together.
Poor her, they say, poor woman.
Lost her man to a young hussy;
lost her job,
lost her babies to drugs,
and the drinking
and the crazies, Shit.
Seems I couldn’t keep a hold on any of y’all.
So, here I am. Old and ugly. Jaded as hell.
But I got my
cigarette to blow away the jitters,
beer to silence the tadpole baby,
vodka to tear my hands free from your shoulders
as I shake you and say:
Don’t be like me, son, don’t be like me! Then if I have to, a bit of
coke, meth, or whatever
to make sure it all goes away.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Deanna pushing a baby carriage.
Most of us grew up singing this little ditty in the schoolyard when our friends expressed their “love” for someone of the opposite sex. The expectation set forth as children was to “grow up, get married and live happily ever after,” end of story. This dream triggers many little girls to play house, sometimes carrying out the fantasy with a pretend wedding.
I recently overheard a woman in conversation with a friend, state “I’ve been dating him for 2 1/2 years and I’m tired of waiting. If there is no ring on this finger in the next 3-months, I’m out the door.” Society has long dictated that after a certain period of dating, the expectation is either the couple moves in together as a precursor to marriage, or they become engaged. Once a ring is given, they commence planning of an elaborate, and often times expensive, party to celebrate their upcoming nuptials. Many couples dive deep into debt for the societal idea of a dream wedding.
Marriage is the legal binding of two individuals, one that can only be broken by annulment, divorce or death. The costs not only financially but emotionally and mentally of divorce can cripple an individual. However, there is a new way of thinking emerging. Marriage is not the next logical step in a relationship.
Divorce rates are high and rising. Most couples head to “the alter” with the good intentions of “until death do us part” professing their undying love. In our throwaway society, it’s an unfortunate fact that many marriages end in divorce. Type in divorce statistics in any search engine and you will come up with a myriad of facts. According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Phycology, “50% of first marriages, 67% of second marriages and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.” (qtd. divorcerate.org Baker).These statistics show with each subsequent marriage the chances of divorce raise substantially.
Most of the news today is peppered with the sordid details of celebrity marriages and divorces. Do a Google search for divorce lawyers and you will see proof of this growing epidemic, one that has a cure.
Without marriage, there can be no divorce. The remedy for divorce is found in a quietly growing minority of couples in long-term, loving, and monogamous relationships that choose the marriage free route. Though not a “licensed” union, this growing number of couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is no less committed than their married counterparts. A common statement one hears from these couples is, “I don’t need a government-regulated piece of paper to prove my love.” These couples simply feel no need to make it legal in the eyes of the law.
An internet search for couples that are committed but not married will give terms such as “happily unmarried, marriage free and serial monogamy.” There is even a website dedicated to alternatives to marriage called unmarried.org. Though many of these couples do elect to live together, there is growing number who choose not share a residence but spend 4-5 nights together each week at one home or the other—getting the best of both worlds.
There are advantages of maintaining separate residences. If they are individuals who need their time alone, they have the ability to retreat to their own home. The man never has to see the woman with a “green mask” on her face, nor does the woman have to be a part of “boys video game night.” The times they do share together are special, for they choose to come together by choice.
What about getting to know your significant other complete with bad habits and all? Does love mean that you need to be a witness to your significant others peculiar behaviors on a day-to-day basis? By not living together, the mundane items are not a part of your life. There is no assigning or arguing about who does what chores. Money, which is separate, is not an issue for argument, so there will not be the hidden purchases from a spouse that can cause issues in many relationships. If a couple has different sleep cycles (one is a night owl and one is an early bird), concessions are only made on the days together.
An obvious disadvantage to separate residences is monetary cost and upkeep of two separate homes. Rent or mortgage, utilities, duplication of household necessities, and groceries are but a few. Admittedly, combining finances doubles the purchasing power and lower a debt burden. For the lower income couple, living together may be the best economic choice and their primary reason for living together or getting married. However, for those who can financially sustain two separate residences, the equity in two separate investments is more conducive to an individual’s financial portfolio.
Though one portion of the wedding vow, deals with monogamy (forsaking all others, keeping only unto her for as long as you both shall live), infidelity is becoming one of the biggest reasons cited for divorce. According to an article in Family Planning Perspectives, 70% of responders in a survey indicated they had only one partner in the preceding 12-months. Klitsch goes on the state “the vast majority of American women and men aged 18-59 are relatively monogamous” referring to a national survey on sexual activity (Klitsch, 37).
Are the remaining 30% those responsible for infidelity in divorce? A study in 1997 indicated an estimate of roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage (Buss & Shackelford 31). Monogamy is a commitment option whether a couple chooses to marry, cohabitate, or remain happily unmarried.
One of the disadvantages of not getting married is the inability to cover your significant other (if living together) on your medical insurance. With guidelines changing, some employers allow domestic partner benefits if the couple is a gay/lesbian, but some offer nothing for male-female couples. However, the couple must reside in a country where domestic partnership is recognized. Each state, and employers within those states, have different human resources policies. Another hindrance is in the likelihood of a medical emergency the “I’m the significant other” does not hold the same weight as “I’m the spouse.” With pre-planning, a medical-legal document can be drawn up called an Advanced Directive allowing your wishes to be put in place before an emergency arises. Some of the other drawbacks that I’ve heard; not being able to refer to the other person as “my husband” or “my wife,” or not having the same last name. Though many women who do marry are opting to retain their maiden names for professional reasons. The big disadvantage from a few of my female friends, when asked, was the ring and the dream of a wedding.
Many individuals would debate the question of children, with the stance that parents should be married. Marriage with its high divorce rates is no guarantee that a child will grow to adulthood with both parents living in the same household. A large majority of children who live in single-parent households are the silent victims of divorce. If you look at the statistics from The Census Bureau (Grall 1-12) the percent of single-parent households in the United States is 28.8%. Of those, 45% are mothers who are separated or divorced. Of fathers who are the custodial parents, 57% are separated or divorced.
My concluding thoughts turn to my own relationships. I have had both, the long-term marriage and the long-term committed relationship.
I participated in the “living together before getting married” and the marriage lasted for more than 20-years. The marriage license I had was not a protection of the side effects of a mid-life crisis, nor did it guarantee that I would grow old with that person. Neither did the marriage license of Wisconsin guarantee that I would receive half of everything that I contributed to that marriage. It did not. While the child from that marriage was relatively grown at 17, he was still impacted by divorce.
The long-term relationship I am part of is built on love and respect. At this time in our lives, we have the financial ability and have chosen maintain our own residences and investments. Spending time in either one 4-5 days per week. I have found the long-term committed relationship to be the best of both worlds. We communicate more freely and several times per day with great respect. Because the day-to-day routine is not part of our relationship, there is no loss of romance, respect, appreciation, or a decrease in the sexual intimacy. We have had many discussions about marriage and have simply determined that getting married would not make us any closer than we are now. However, we are contemplating moving in together. For us, first comes love, and then comes happily unmarried.
I know many couples that have been married for 35 plus years, beating the odds, and I applaud their success, however, these couples married in a society that held marriage in a higher regard than what it is today. In that society, marriage was necessary for most women and was necessary for the procreation of children, a society that has faded to a distant memory. Additionally, the attitude was one of fixing something that was broken, rather than tossing it out and getting a new one. In the here and the now of today’s society and its escalating divorce rates, marriage is not the next logical step in a relationship.
Divorce Rate: Jennifer Baker, Director of the Post-Graduate Program in Marriage and Family Therapy at Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, MO. Web
Klitsch, Michael. “Monogamy Is The Rule, Many Partners The Exception Among Most Americans,
First U.S. Sex Survey Finds.” Family Planning Perspectives”. 27.1 (1995): 37. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web.
13 Nov. 2011.
Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Susceptibility to infidelity in the first year of marriage.
Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 193-221.
Grall, T. United States. Census Bureau. Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Support. Washington, DC, 2009. Print.
Before I begin this piece about men and their sexual misconduct, I feel like I have to give a few disclaimers. First, for clarity’s sake, I must mention that numerous times throughout this piece I use the terms “male” and “man” interchangeably. With the understanding that with both terms, I am referring to males of all ages, young and old, because I believe it is an indisputable fact that the acts of sexual misconduct that I refer to in this piece are not just relegated to just one age group, but unfortunately apply to all of them.
Secondly, for brevity’s sake, I use the phrase “sexual misconduct” to include all unwanted acts of a sexual nature, specifically directed by males towards females. This is meant to include all instances of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape, regardless of the age of the perpetrator or victim. While admitting that each act has different definitions and dimensions which I don’t have the space to go into here, I also offer that often they are interrelated and have many similarities with the single biggest one being that they are all a result of a male’s volitional choice to commit them.
Thirdly and most importantly, my female readers should know that I am well aware and cognizant of the fact that there is nothing particularly earth-shattering about anything that I have to say in this piece. My purpose in writing it is solely based on the fact that I believe that all men need to begin to openly, honestly and respectfully join in the conversation that is currently occurring in this country about the sexual misconduct of males and I consider this piece another one of my tiny contributions to this long overdue discussion. I hope that all of my female readers see it as a statement of a loyal ally to the cause of making women’s lives more equitable and safe and that my male readers are potentially inspired or moved by it to make their own similar statement.
With that being said, like a lot of people I am going to hopefully remember 2017 and the early days of 2018 as a period of time that we as a nation driven by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, not only started to have a meaningful conversation about the sexual misconduct of males in the workplace and in everyday life, but also as a marked time in history when we began to have a realistic discussion of what we need to do about it as a culture and society.
For too long the sexual misconduct of men has erroneously been thought of as strictly a woman‘s issue, when in fact, it has always primarily been a man’s issue. Women have only been forced to deal with it as one of theirs because they are, a vast majority of the time, the victims of the misconduct. To be clear, I feel that it is a problem that originates with men and if it is ever to be solved or eradicated, must be solved or eradicated by men.
When it comes to explaining why men commit these acts, for better or for worse, here are some of my general observations on the subject, culled from my fifty plus years of being an American male. For starters, I think when we do discuss it, we must dispense with the catch-all and cop out apologetic phrase “ he was only acting like a real man, “ and its spiritually similar sidekick excuse of it was “ just boys being boys.“ I have a palpable detestation for both because they tend to suggest that males are somehow bound or even enslaved to not only a rigid determinism based in their biological and physiological make up but also to an equally rigid set of socially constructed rules and expectations about what masculinity should and shouldn’t be which all men are obligated to follow and obey.
Some men would actually have you believe because of one or both of these two irresistible influences they are helpless when it comes to controlling themselves sexually, to which I call bullsh*t. I maintain that any man who clings to this absurd myth is lying to himself and anyone he repeats this lie to and is probably guilty of either rationalizing or attempting to cover up his sexual behavior/misbehavior or both with this untruth.
I feel that it is ridiculous to have to say this, but say this I must – men are always completely capable of controlling their mouths, hands, and penises regardless of what any of them say to the contrary. Like I said in one of my opening disclaimers, I believe that all acts of sexual misconduct committed by males are the direct results of the conscious decisions to commit them by these same males and consequently, all males, therefore, should always be held responsible for their thoughts, words, deeds, actions, and their sexual drives and urges.
When it comes to sexual misconduct, the problem isn’t with the powerful male libido per se, but with how some men choose to express it inappropriately and destructively.
And while I think that the men that commit these acts commit them for a myriad of reasons ( revenge, feelings of inferiority, hostility or hatred towards women, etc.), I also believe that these reasons all have at their root this common causation – a man commits an act of sexual misconduct largely because he thinks he can do it and get away with it.
I come to this conclusion based largely on the thoughts, words, and deeds of men I have known throughout my entire life. For me, what these experiences with other men have bore out is that in America, males are indoctrinated with a sense of entitlement toward females and the female body and this mantra, based in sexism and misogyny, unfortunately, controls a vast majority of the thought processes and behavior of males towards the opposite sex in our society. Add to this the dangerous mix of a superior physicality, an ability to instill fear in females, a sense of self aggrandizement which is encouraged in all males, an emotional fragility based in the societal discouragement to show emotions and fuel it with their own fear of the power of a women’s sexuality and you have a frightening prototype for a large number of modern American males.
It is my stern belief that unless a male in this society actively strives to resist this social conditioning and sense of male privilege, that he is exposed to from birth, it will tend to tragically encourage him to psychologically arm himself with the concept that he possesses the freedom to treat females any way he sees fit, and he will present, in one form or another, a clear and present danger to every female he encounters.
So in the face of all this, where do we go from here, you may ask? Before I give some of my thoughts on where I think the solutions lie, I first have to confess that I consider myself an optimistic realist, which is to say that while I try to remain positive towards the problems and conflicts of this life, I also willingly acknowledge pragmatic realizations of the truth when it comes to solutions. When applying my philosophy to the current subject I am moved to say this – while I believe that the fact that men have a choice when it comes to committing these acts contains the seeds of hope for change in the future, I also simultaneously believe that it will not happen without a gargantuan amount of self-examination and commitment to the hard work of change by males in this society.
To express it another way; real verifiable positive change in the sexual interactions between men and women in this society will only begin to occur when males, on a large scale, choose to begin to take honest assessments of and personal responsibility for their behavior towards females.
To do that, among other things, males in this culture have to get better at listening to the females they encounter in their lives and at understanding and agreeing with the immovable truth that when to comes to their sexual advances towards them, females should always be the final arbiters of what is right or wrong in any given situation.
If there is any chance of decreasing the number of instances of sexual misconduct committed by males towards females in our society, it is imperative that men first begin to widely accept the facts that “No” ALWAYS means “No” and that if a male proceeds sexually in any way, after he hears the word, his behavior risks being considered sexual coercion and/or sexual assault or rape.
As entrenched as sexism and misogyny are in our culture, all of us, males and females alike, have to realize when males are committing these acts they are not violating the societal norms of our culture per se, as some commentators would have you believe, but they are in many ways expressing the societal norms of the same. Until we change this paradigm, we are dooming one half our population to be continually victimized sexually in a seemingly infinite number of ways in their daily lives. To paraphrase one of my favorite writers, Jackson Katz, from his wonderful 2006 book The Macho Paradox –
“… the mistreatment of women is so pervasive in our society that most men, through our choice of being either a perpetrator or bystander of this mistreatment have to “a greater or lesser extent played a role in its perpetuation” and because of this “have a strong incentive to avert our eyes” to the mistreatment that we see all around us.”
It is my impassioned belief that for the overall health of our society, males can no longer afford to avert their eyes or act like they don’t have the power to choose the nature of their sexual behavior or to pretend that their choices don’t have real-life consequences for themselves and for those they choose to victimize. Like the movement so gloriously proclaims – “Time’s Up “ when it comes to that childish and malicious chicanery.
We frozen women
bury our cold dead
in the night
shivering and alone,
the wolf howls above us,
we cry in solitude
and our tears turn to snow.
But what if we turned on a lantern?
What if we saw in the distance
a flash of a skirt,
a glint of a shovel,
heard a sigh of a tear.
We are not alone,
my wailing women.
We carry so much:
our slut shame,
our body shame,
our queer shame,
our blood and bruises all over our bodies,
our rapes by friends and strangers,
our assaults by coworkers and passersby,
our catcalls and obscenities thrown our way
What if we turn all the lights on
in the goddamn house
and realize we are not alone at all.
We are all there in the same room,
standing together, strong.
Not a single woman must
bury her wounds alone,
our grievances and pain
do not have to be buried by ourselves,
but in fact together we can fucking raise the dead,
just with our voices,
loud and raging out
into the night sky,
so loud that the moon shakes
with our vibrations and stompings of Earth.
We are the night.
I woke up, mouth wide open, with my cheek snuggled into the wet spot of saliva on my pillow. The scent of stale vodka, tinged with a splash of cranberry, emanated from my pores, powering through the makeup I couldn’t be bothered to wash off before having sloppy, drunk hotel sex. I rolled over to see my boyfriend in a similar state and could only smile. We had a good time the night before. I won $250 at the roulette table, spent zero dollars on drinks and was sufficiently sloshed by night’s end in that happy, light way that doesn’t always occur in Vegas, but when it does, it’s a big win. We drove in from LA the night before, and this hangover wasn’t going to stop us because we were in our late 20s, a time when three ibuprofen and a big glass of water can still miraculously bring you back to life.
We were with the couple (fair to medium on the fun scale) that set us up several months prior, and the boys wanted to go to some buffet for brunch. A couple of self-proclaimed “foodies” who often spoke wistfully and obnoxiously of their Ivy League days, I wasn’t surprised to learn they were more excited for this buffet over general Vegas debauchery. I remember consciously reassuring myself it was important to have different interests in a relationship. Anyway, this place was the supposed holy grail of Vegas buffets. They really sold it, too. “King crab legs, green applewood smoked wagyu beef, handmade dim sum, baked-to-order chocolate lava cake and…an omelet bar.” I wasn’t impressed by the omelet bar since that’s a major selling point for a Holiday Inn Express, but the rest sounded quite promising. I am easily swayed by the lure of red meat, chocolate desserts and bottomless mimosas in the morning.
As we sauntered through the casino floor, ensconced by the melodious sounds of slot machines, my boyfriend and I held hands, relishing our first official weekend away together. Full disclosure, I really was obsessed with him. He was like a literal Disney prince — 6 feet tall with big blue eyes similar to a sweet, cartoon owl and one of those flashy Crest White Strips grins. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were veneers since he came from serious cash in comparison to my Becky Conner-like upbringing. And yes, he was very intelligent, mentioning how he enjoyed “dropping the H bomb” about where he went to school. Plus, he was sort of funny. Dad jokes, of course, but I’ve never been above those. He knew my preferred drink (Belvedere rocks with lime) and would replenish it for me without even having to ask. He thought my unbridled enthusiasm for Vegas was delightfully charming over unabashedly trashy. Sometimes he’d even give me a twenty, so I could indulge my “old man” proclivity for posting up at a video poker bar with a cocktail and a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but I think doing so inside is a cheap thrill.
Drunk in love and ready to be drunk in reality, we rounded the corner to the buffet. What I saw can only be described as an actual mob in the queue for this place. We were dealing with over 100 people in line. And yes, there were hordes of children. Children! I like kids, but I am always mystified at the sight of them in Las Vegas. What on earth are they supposed to do there? I feel sorry for them, I do, but I certainly don’t want to be around them either. I mean, I’m on vacation. And what kind of idiot pays $50 for children to eat at a buffet with rosemary marinated tri-tip?
Regardless, I quickly determined that we needed to make a break for it and figure out Plan B.
“Oh, well!” I declared, throwing up my hands. “Good thing we’re in Vegas, and there are literally hundreds of other places we can go for brunch! Sorry, guys. We tried!”
The three of them clearly could not compute what I had said. My boyfriend rubbed my shoulders with a smarmy smile I found infuriating and patronizing. “We’ll just wait in line, hon. This place is supposed to be amazing.”
I slow blinked at him in disbelief. “But look at all these people! We could be here for hours, and we’re on vacation!” Didn’t he understand how to prioritize and maximize fun on vacation? You only get so many of them and to waste a single moment waiting in line would be a travesty. I would have gladly shown him the ways of my world, but I was quickly rebuffed.
“It’ll move fast,” he said. I didn’t believe it, so much so that I went up to the front to confirm the wait time with the hostess. As suspected, it was horrifying news.
“About two and a half hours,” she said, an eyebrow raised, as if to challenge me.
Two and a half hours? Of waiting? To eat? In Las Vegas? When I’m starving? NO. Absolutely not. This was unacceptable, and I returned to my boyfriend to deliver the message, hoping it would knock some much-needed sense into him. Surely he would get it. He was dating me for several months now. He knew how I felt about long lines and frankly, the world in general when I was completely ravenous.
I told them the wait time, and still, nobody looked fazed! They honestly looked prepared to wait in this godforsaken line for years if that’s how long it was going to take to eat at this buffet. I was legitimately disturbed. How did I wind up traveling for leisure with people like this? I must have audibly scoffed, so my boyfriend offered me another $20 to go play while they waited, but I was hungry. Hon-gray! I refused to be bought off by this man.
“If you’re making me eat here,” I proclaimed. “We have to do something.”
Now he looked at me like I was a crazy person. “There’s nothing to do, babe, but wait.”
I shook my head. False. This was LAS VEGAS, and if he wasn’t going to do anything, I was going to take care of it myself. “I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?” He loud-whispered, looking supremely embarrassed of me. No matter. I marched back up to that hostess and pulled a $100 out of my purse from my hard-earned winnings the evening before. Soon he’d be grateful!
“There are three others in my party. Will this get us to the front of the line?” Of course, it did. Vegas, baby. I waved them over to the buffet entrance, excited and proud of my baller accomplishment, but they just looked at me like I was Scarface.
We were shown to our table, and I watched them, baffled, as they immediately went to wait in line at the omelet bar. My boyfriend began his so-called magical buffet experience in the only line in the place. I just shook my head. There was nothing to say. We simply saw the world differently. He saw lines, and I saw opportunities. It was at that moment I realized we probably wouldn’t work out. I had two mimosas and a prime cut of filet mignon by the time they all finally sat down with their eggs.
“That was humiliating,” my boyfriend muttered to me. Yeah, I knew how he felt.
“How’s that omelet?” I asked him, ripping apart a crab leg with gusto.
Back in LA, as predicted, we eventually called it quits.
My new boyfriend never asks me to wait in line to eat. He doesn’t want to wait either.
Tossed and turned vehemently again.
Apathetic and stoic you
show no signs of a struggle.
Our what feeds our why
halted only by our when.
At the scene of our crime
remains unsolved our puzzle.
Your guilty feet leave
no new prints behind.
I hate that, yet again
you’ve overpowered my mind.
Cruel, cruel nightwalker are ye.
Never you tire of smearing
my heart’s chalk outline?
If I suffer from another spazz-fest, I’m gonna slap myself in the face – hard. I am friggin’ sick and tired of dealing with my hyper-sensitive reactions – especially when I’m consciously aware I have an ongoing habit of overreacting to, well, almost anything.
Consumed by worry and exhausted from frequent panic attacks, I am miserable. I’m angry and lonely. I’m mentally weak and physically drained. It’s indisputable: I’m often a basket case consumed by crippling anxiety. Although I like to think of myself as a well-balanced, rational guy, some days I find that I’m a little bit psycho. But it’s not all my fault, right?
I agree; I need to tone-down my emotional outbursts. However, if everyone would just quit their constant fuckery, I would be just fine. If everyone would just listen to me, I wouldn’t have to worry, and my angry loneliness would disappear. If everyone would just meet my expectations – which aren’t outrageous – I wouldn’t overreact – and I wouldn’t be mentally and physically drained. After all, I don’t enjoy being distraught over stupid shit; it sucks. However, when I feel hurt, picked on, or ignored – and there isn’t a quick resolution – my obsession begins. To top it off, I make sure whomever I think hurt me knows it. That’s right. They offended me. They stirred up another hysterical episode.
During my last meltdown, I scheduled an emergency appointment with a shrink to understand my despair better. I was smack in the middle of another emotional crisis. After painfully explaining my grief in excruciating detail, the doc sternly pointed at me and said these insulting words:
“Dave, you are codependent.”
“WTF? What do you mean by codependent?”
I wanted to argue. I wanted to cry. I was pissed. Clearly, my psychiatrist was just like everyone else pulling the same old fuckery. I listened anyway, expecting a second unresolved mental breakdown on top of the one I just carefully explained. The most common theme of codependency is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity.
Immediately, I asked for a prescription to ward off this ugly diagnosis. Surly, powerful psych drugs were necessary to prevent my hyper-sensitive overreactions from reoccurring. I readily admitted that some days, I’m a little bit psycho.
“I’m afraid a prescription won’t help you. It’s not about what people say or do to you. It’s all about how you react. You must find your own serenity.”
“It’s all about how I react? I must find serenity? BS. I’ve never experienced serenity – ever. How can I possibly find serenity when everyone else is the asshole?”
I was on the verge of firing this so-called shrink. I needed a real doctor – a doctor that understood me. During my drive home, I thought about the judgment that was slapped upon me. I’ve heard the word before.
A few years ago, one of my friends suggested I read the book Codependent No More. Allegedly, codependency had a stifling hold on my life, and I didn’t even know it. Reluctantly, I purchased an electronic copy and downloaded it to my phone. What a waste of money. It’s not all my fault, right? Everyone else makes me a little bit psycho.
That night, I read a few chapters. A point or two began to resonate: I’ve been afraid to allow others to be who they are, I’ve been afraid to lose control of them, I’ve forced people to see things my way. I failed with all these efforts. My attempt to control others provoked their anger and as a byproduct, created misery for myself. Eventually, I realized it was time to learn how to control the only thing I had the genuine power to control: myself.
To begin the anti-spazz healing process, I started to accept that I have no power over anyone’s thoughts or actions. Instead of blaming everyone else for my despair, I forced myself to look closer at me. Clearly, I have a disabling fear of rejection. Obviously, I suffer from approval addiction. Undoubtedly, I create an unhealthy validation of others by obsessing in my own negative thoughts.
At the end of the day, all I’m left with is me. I am left with my thoughts, my emotions, and my actions. It is my decision how I chose to think, feel, and behave. I can choose to be distraught, frantic, and frenzied with another spazz-fest; or I can choose to be lucid, rational, and reasonable. I can choose to consume myself with misery, or I can choose to reach for serenity. It’s a long road, but a worthwhile goal. I refuse to make others and myself miserable with my selfish anxiety-laced emotional outbursts.
Yeah, I’m still a little bit psycho. But I’m working on it.
Break 1 The first time we broke up, we met at an old-fashioned ice cream stand. I ordered a strawberry shake, and we sat at the edge of the patio, off by ourselves. It was late spring, and it was my doing. She was electric and attractive, but ultimately, too young, too impish, and too gaseous. Not as in flatulence, but rather the type of person that tends to expand and take up all possible space. It was a charming attribute in some ways because when we first met, it was daily love texts, praise for my good looks, and sweet kisses day and night. But anytime you take one step, there’s another unless you want to go backward, and I felt like I had a perpetually raised foot with nowhere to put it. So, the solution was to be a gentleman and cut my losses early. I told her I didn’t want to hold her back. I thought it went pretty well, but as I was heading home, I got a text.
“Can’t we just get together and make each other feel good? Xxoo.”
It was a while before I heard from her again, right when summertime was in full bloom, spreading warmth and possibility, like a classic car tuned to a favorite radio station. No particular place to go. Long days and longer nights.
“You doing anything this weekend?” she texted me out of the blue, “I need to ramble.”
No harm in taking a drive, I thought, as long as I put ground rules in place. The car was a neutral space. So, I said yes, bought some French bread and cheese, packed a picnic basket, grabbed a blanket, and picked her up at her apartment. Off we went down the Natchez Trace. We listened to music for awhile, though mostly she talked over the tunes, telling me about some troubles back home, childhood trauma and hospital visits. She teared up a little as she got to the heavy parts, so I patted her knee platonically and started to think maybe I hadn’t been patient enough. We stopped at a little waterfall hike and took the winding rocky trail all the way to the bottom, where she told me about some more troubles back home, friend issues among those who didn’t understand her and had our picnic as the sun began to set. I’d never met her family or her friends, but I listened mindfully until she was done. Then I took a break to go to the bathroom, at which time she texted me.
“You make me so happy. Xxoo.”
This made me feel good. It capped off a perfect afternoon. I’d enjoyed her company, taken in by the sweeter parts of her soul, while still keeping my boundaries. On the drive home, however, I put on a Massive Attack CD, and she fell into my lap, and as she parted her lips, it became clear she was going to stay the night. She stayed over the next day and the day after, as well, and soon I began reading books by my favorite Zen authors on how to love better. For the rest of the summer, I spent long nights trying to make her orgasm, sitting on the front porch afterward to gaze at the stars while she smoked her pipe. She had developed an aversion to going out in public together, but I still managed to take her to movies or concerts occasionally. Sometimes I felt rejuvenated, other times I felt 100 years old, like, the time I took her out to a nice Lebanese restaurant, and over the appetizer, she told me about a couple she knew back home that she wouldn’t mind having a threesome with. Later that night, she texted me from her side of the bed.
“I still think about that road head I gave you on the Trace. It was hot even for me. Xxoo.”
Break 2 Texting was her preferred method of communication, and as I said, she was much younger. Call me old school, but I felt like it crushed nuance. I still had a flip phone. But, I rolled with things, at least until we broke up for the second time, which happened in the middle of fall when the leaves had turned colors, and light jacket weather was in full force. She had switched to Facebook Messenger as her preferred mode of communication, and so I got an account to keep up.
One day while I was at work she began a long thread about feeling disconnected from her family, her dad was a narcissist and unable to give her real love. It was sad, but I offered some encouragement, and during one of my responses, the account shut down mid-sentence. Confused, I went looking for her in the virtual world, and stumbled upon a second, alternative site, under her first name only – Riley – where she’d posted memes and musings about the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, smoking weed, and being drunk all day, while inviting men to massage her. She had also posted strange pictures, one in which she was double exposed to show two heads and four arms, in a kind of binary lotus pose; and another that had her with her arms around another woman, both principals in various degrees of suggestiveness and undress, though not naked. The dates on the posts were a few years old, well before our time together, but as I looked, I recalled stories I’d been told and where the lines of omission fell. Nonetheless, I let it go, and she went radio silent. Three days later, she responded, back to texting.
“Stressed, so I deactivated my Facebook for a while.”
And then, xxoo, with a photo attachment of her naked torso, neck to belly button. It looked like an old shot because I’d seen her breasts many times at this juncture. But, maybe I just looked at them differently. I’d begun to look at everything differently. I sent her a picture from her alt-site, which I’d downloaded.
“Where did you find that?” she texted immediately.
I didn’t have time to reply.
“Did you take it off my thumb drive?” came lightning fast.
I switched to email.
“You know, Riley, you’re afraid to go out in public and seem pretty concerned about what people think, but this was in plain sight. Anyone could’ve seen it.” I added the URL, hit send and then texted, “sent e-mail.”
Funnily enough, she thanked me. She had no idea it was out there and added, “this is no excuse, but that was a few years ago when I was fucked up on prescription drugs all the time and out of my mind. I don’t even remember it.” Suddenly I realized that I’d always felt she wasn’t entirely on the level…until she said this, which I believed fully. Somehow it gave me closure. I didn’t reach out, and she didn’t say any more. It was over.
Until the third time, we broke up.
Break 3 “I miss you. Xxoo.”
It was only ten days later, close to Thanksgiving and the coming of the gourds, when I got this text from her, out of nowhere. It was as if nothing had happened. She wanted to talk and wound up rolling by Saturday evening, after the art crawl. When she got to the house, she looked good; she was wearing these nice turquoise earrings I’d given her, her mascara perfectly accentuated her soulful eyes, and I could smell a hint of perfume as she entered the room. It was a change. Normally, when we got together, she dressed down – worn jeans and army boots, no make-up, chipped nails, hair tied in a ponytail out of haste. She seemed happier than I’d seen her in some time.
“I like your earrings,” I said.
“Oh, yeah,” she laughed, “I put these on when I went out, I forgot you gave them to me.”
I put on a Marvin Gaye record, and we sat on opposite ends of my long mid-century sofa and made small talk. Intuitively, it felt like she’d moved on, found someone, and I was kind of relieved. I’m always up for friendship, and the conversation was open and relaxed. This is what I was thinking as she moved closer on the couch, put her head on my shoulder, and then, took my hand to lead me down the hall to the bedroom.
Over breakfast, she sat naked at the little table across from me, nibbling at her toast, telling me I had put the moves on her when she was in a vulnerable state. I felt very strange like I’d cheated on myself and someone else at the same time. But, I pushed ahead because something was nagging at me.
“Yeah, I slept with him,” she said, meeting my gaze as she answered my question. “Can you blame me? We’d broken up.”
“You move fast,” I said. “It was only ten days ago.”
“I knew him already,” she shrugged.” It just happened, we only went out twice.”
But that wasn’t the crux of what bothered me, so I continued to push.
“Did you use protection?”
I groaned, muttering her name three times as I buried my head in my hands. I was remarkably calm, my inner voice telling me what’s done is done. “And you didn’t tell me last night, beforehand,” I said quietly. Silence fell, heavy.
“People have done it to me before,” she said defensively, lips pressed together. “Back in the day I was living with this guy, and I found the condom in the bathroom after he had sex behind my back.” This was the first I’d heard of the live-in, but that wasn’t the point.
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” I replied. “What I meant was hopefully the guy didn’t give you an STD, and hopefully you didn’t give me one as well. Or worse than an STD.”
We’d been sloppy at times, but always with the understanding that since we didn’t have anything when we started, we wouldn’t get anything now. I felt like an idiot and prayed for a future without a complicated pill regime…or worse. She remained still. She didn’t apologize, but she didn’t argue. It was in her nature to argue, so that was unusual.
“If you want to stay with this guy, do so,” I finally said, “But it’s up to you. And either way, you should be tested.”
I figured she’d just stick with him and I’d go to my doctor, and hopefully, all would be well, and then I would get my mind, body, and space back. But, for the first time since I’d known her, she surprised me. Later that day, she texted me and said she’d messaged the guy and told him she couldn’t see him anymore. Then, for the first time in our relationship, she apologized, via email. And, then she went and got tested.
“I guess we’re game on again, xxoo,” she texted when she learned the results.
And, we were. For awhile. But, something had changed between us, in a way that went beyond the day to day quirks of life. Now that we had survived, she displayed more and more signs of detachment, the type of waning interest indicators you’ll find listed on those Doctor Love websites, which I’d begun checking fairly regularly. I wondered what was wrong with me and went back to counseling. Perhaps it was my ego, in that I thought only I could crack the code. In the meantime, the relationship lingered and then devolved, remaining mostly sexual until I broke up with her for the third time, although to be fair, I think she had already run out the emotional door. I don’t even have a good story to tell about it.
My counselor advocated no contact. They all do, and I get it. So, I blocked Riley on Facebook and deleted her number from my phone. I kept other lines of communication open but did not reach out. For the next month or so, I was on edge at times, thinking it was inevitable that she would eventually resurface when I least expected. Sure enough, about six weeks in, I received a flurry of brief and pointed emails, cartwheeling between romantic ruminations and flat-out insults. I poked back, not always kindly, which made me upset at myself because I wanted to stay positive. I had failed, however, so I deleted my email account altogether. Then came silence, another six weeks or so, and my anxiety lessened. A haze was definitely lifting.
Then, one day, at the beginning of winter, when it was cold and icy outside, my cell went off, rapid-fire vibrations around 9 in the evening, random texts one after the other.
I didn’t recognize the number at first, but then I placed the area code and remembered. But, somehow, it didn’t sound like her, if a text can carry personality.
“Is this Riley?” No reply. “Are you okay?” I tapped, with my index finger. I’d recently upgraded to an android.
This went on for awhile, a storm of one syllable bombs, so fast that I barely had time to read them, let alone reply. It was unsettling, and I wondered if they were even meant for me. “Well, if you’re okay, I’ll go then,” I texted back. “Have a good night.”
“Good night?” she replied.
“Old mannn,” came immediately.
“This little girl,” and finally…
“All alone tonight.”
The thing about no contact is you leave behind the piece of what was, what got you in there in the first place. It’s human nature to want to see that thing again, just like you want to see your children as toddlers again, just for a moment, running excitedly through the playground. Or you want to see your parents back among the living, sitting at the kitchen table, even if it’s just to hassle you for your life choices. Or, you want to be the man you were when you were even nine months younger, idealistic, waiting for your life to change. You can wish for these things, but maybe only one will happen. Maybe.
So after the last text, I did as I was advised and quietly blocked her number, knocking out the final bridge.
Within a country once so proud,
respect and morals have fallen to the ground.
Wayward children runaround,
their lack of respect the new age playground.
Once upon a time, sounds like the beginning of a children’s nursery rhyme,
so I will spare you of your time,
to forget again
no thickness of skin
so offended within
no longer any understanding of the in-between.
rational reason tossed aside like an unread book full of life.
The strife of daily life consumes us all
kills our yearning souls,
we’ve become molds of subservient beings,
we forgot the real meaning of being
at play in the field of life.
Its unfair advantage, we all still creep by.
Stagnant pageant questions leave disbelief
while the glistening of life’s dimming light brow-beats down
the only savior is a confidence in stride to set a soul free.
The motion of survival propels one down the street of semi-broken dreams.
A glean from the above street lights glistens upon darkness flight to
walk towards what is right.
Truth, and then decency, shall prevail;
differences struggle, cast wayside of ego and pride.
All once felt lost
we must confront the hate-filled demons which reside,
the weakness of a soul life.
How could you forgive me if I can’t find it in my heart to forgive myself?
For what, love?
Oh, you know the goddamn basics, for living, breathing, existing.
For letting the negative thoughts push against my brain dominating my train of thought.
I get it, girlfriend.
I have been you, bitch bossy, whiny, a pity party of one without the bouncy balloons, silver glitter, and rainbow streamers.
I have been the unicorn’s worst enemy and the sunshine’s cloud cover bummer.
But, haven’t you been happy at times too?
Oh yes, I have had my fill of belly laughter and giddy memories.
I guess it just feels like a long time ago, walkin’ in these Debby downer, brown muddy, winter boots.
Why are you so fucking hard on yourself?
Because my broken dream train left the station and dumped me by the side of an empty road.
Crappy cornfields instead of sea green, healing waters.
I’ve traveled so far, lost in search of meaning and purpose.
Forever chasing the sun.
The blissed-out feeling, ya’ know?
You can’t always be happy; life doesn’t work like a goddamn, children’s Disney show.
Luck, no I have not been extremely lucky.
Not so much, you say?
Why, what more would you want?
I want peace of mind, fame, riches, glory, and a glass house by the beach.
It’s all messed up, mostly I long for quiet purpose, less self-loathing, and security.
I’d love Chris Cornell and Dolores O’ Riordan to sing a rhapsody of “Black Hole Sun” and “Linger” exclusively for me. But don’t you get it they can’t; they’re on a different, magical, mystical groovy plane now.
Starstuff, Stardust, star bright lights illuminating the night.
Can I go there and release all this black toxic waste, dark matter, and foul energy?
Nope, you aren’t ready.
You cannot miss the magic you might see, man.
Signed sincerely, me.
I’m a work in progress.
Man, all this creativity is killing me.
The hatred and fucked up, dirty, foul-mouthed, ugly cruel world is bringing me down.
I’m a speck of shit on an old, worn out shoe.
They were so young, so alive, and so goddamn worthy of living.
Pure, innocent and raw, they were the shiniest kind of beautiful talent and humanity.
Don’t you get it; they were a lot like you.
Fucking Jesus Christ gems, they were. I’m not.
To check out young and beautiful, so swollen with talent.
Where does life go?
It leaves the universe exploding with promise.
The future filled with hope.
All the best ones do.
I won’t pretend living has been easy, nah, not for me.
I won’t sugar coat the dark, winter blues with a blanket of fluffy, white snow.
White is not a color I’d choose to paint my canvas.
Fuck that, give me citrine, tangerine, cobalt, the golden sun and keep her silver fox moon shadow away.
I curse the dark that boxes in my head, bleeding me bone dry.
It’s the exact flipside of happy.
Don’t you get it?
You get to feel all the feels way deep inside, discover colors bursting and understand the black holes too.
You are one lucky bastard, a sister who gets to feel life and experience all the sadness and happiness upon your shoulders.
It’s heavy, but it’s true.
Your luck is the sheer weight of being alive.
It is not only yours, and these words don’t belong to you.
They’re for someone else, needing to hear them too.
There are no straight lines, just sweet and somber melodies.
It’s rock and roll, art, love, words, feelings, and all the strong, compassionate people who’ll carry you through.
Until one day when the breath quiets and the heart sings, swaying back and forth towards infinity.
And a life, well lived majestically and brutally honest somewhere in the middle.
Stay a while longer.
The magic and mystery never ends.
On December 3, 2015, my parents – at 73 years of age – moved to Los Angeles, from New York City. The city they had lived in, their whole lives. They had traveled. Florida and Puerto Rico. Still extremely east coast. December 3rd was my middle daughter’s 6th birthday, and my Mom and Dad told her that the move was FOR her! It was HER birthday present.
Truth be told – my Dad was suffering from 4 different types of 9/11 related cancers. My parents lived in a townhouse near Ground Zero at the time of the tragedy and for the following 14 years. He had suffered cardiac arrest in the summer of 2015 and almost did not make it. That scared him, and he immediately decided to pack up and move out to CA to be close to us. He said, “In case his days were numbered.”
When we met them at the Burbank airport – I saw my Dad walking towards us. He was wearing a navy blue and lime green tracksuit and a black fedora. Of course, he had his gym bag slung over his shoulder. There was a pep in his step that I hadn’t seen in a long while. My daughter ran to him – arms wide open, and I captured the moment in a picture. One that will make me smile and cry all at the same time for the rest of my life.
The following seven months and three weeks were a roller coaster of emotions. My Dad was getting sicker and sicker daily. Los Angeles doctors had never seen the types of cancer my father was fighting. (Fighting cancer is not for the faint of heart.) In New York – the doctors were familiar. There are many people suffering there. I gave birth to a third daughter in February. Although a happy time for all of us, it was also a stressful time. It was hard to take care of my three children and help my parents adjust to this new place and watch my father succumb to the diseases he had fought against, like a lion, for 12 years.
I was trying to help him. Driving him to doctors and hospitals. Getting referrals. The time difference between the East Coast and the West Coast didn’t help. And the guy who lived directly below their condo who left his Yorkie outside on the terrace all day when he went to work. The Yorkie who barked incessantly, relentlessly while my father suffered from migraines. These things didn’t help.
He left his last voicemail for me on July 8th, 2016. He talked about having come back from the gym, and maybe it was a little too much for him because he was tired. He said he was “alright?” But there was a question in his voice almost as if he wanted me to call him back and assure him that he was. My Dad was not a second-guesser. He knew whether or not he was alright. If he was questioning it… that meant he was not alright.
On July 12th, 2016 – my mother called and asked my brother and me to come to their home. She said my father was unable to walk. When we got there his appearance shocked me. He didn’t look like my Dad. He was so thin. He didn’t quite understand anything we were saying. We got him straight to the hospital. He died on July 24, 2016, at 9:48 AM. I was holding him in my arms. The days and months to follow were the darkest, most confusing, hurtful, hollow days of my life. Still somehow – I am here.
The following March of 2017, my husband’s mother passed away in New York City at only 62 years of age. She was a big personality. A woman who birthed SIX children. A woman who lived for Christmas. My mother-in-law loved the holidays and her children and her grandchildren. She even wrapped the door to her apartment with wrapping paper. She gave a gift to everyone. She cooked on Christmas Eve, and everyone from everywhere was welcomed to come over and join in celebrating. She is greatly missed.
This year as my husband and I sat on the living room floor, staying up late, slicing off pieces of scotch tape, and chopping up long square pieces of wrapping paper… there was a deep sadness that filled the room. Our children were sleeping. They were so excited as all children are on Christmas Eve. But he and I were robotic.
Was this the last of the Christmases? Or had it already happened, a few years back, when my Dad was still alive – here with us – well enough to eat lots of cake and cookies and open up a package of socks he may have received as a present. He loved anything you would give him, and he’d spend a lot of time looking at it. A LOT OF TIME. (Gift giving and the holidays) Had it already happened when my mother in law was here and in the kitchen cooking baked ziti and rice and beans and wearing a Christmas sweater with her hair newly cut and dyed? Were those the last Christmases? And we didn’t even know it?
My husband and I packed all of Santa Amazon’s presents under the Christmas tree. Piles of them – one on top of another. We stood back, and we were semi-proud. But indifferent. My Mom was not around this year either. She stayed home, in her condo, “too grief-stricken to participate,” she said. Everyone experiences grief differently and year 2 hits some harder than the 1st year.
Christmas day was nothing like it used to be. We spent the morning watching our children tear open the presents and then my husband went back to bed. I cleaned everything up and sat alone and drank tea. We had nowhere to be. No need to shower, and put on my new Christmas clothes and perfume because we weren’t heading over to see my parents. You know – to deliver their presents to them. My Dad is gone, and my Mom wanted no visitors. We weren’t planning a FaceTime call to the East Coast to say Merry Christmas to my mother-in-law so she could show us all the gifts the kids gave her. She is no longer with us either.
So deep down in the pit of my stomach I know for sure there will be no more Christmases. No. Not like the ones we used to know. Not with the people we used to have. The ones we loved so very dearly. Or should I say – the ones who loved us so very dearly? These are facts. And this post-holiday grief could really bury me if I let it. But I won’t. Because my Dad and my mother-in-law would never want that. Spring will be here soon. And new Christmas traditions will start to poke their heads up and enchant us without us even knowing it. We have to make the best of all of it… “In case our days are numbered.”
On the second day of the new year, I was driving the back road from Millerton to our country home in Boston Corners. The sky was cloudy and overcast, and a dull whitish light hung over the landscape. Frost-tinged the dead straw-colored grasses in the fields at the sides of the road. I had gone to Millerton to have a document notarized for Neil. I was his power of attorney, and he was lying in bed in his condo unable to get up and make the trip himself. On New Year’s Eve, he was released into home hospice with stage IV stomach cancer. The oncologist who reviewed his case reckoned his life expectancy in weeks.
For about six months, Neil had been struggling with health challenges, and his condition had grown steadily worse. He had suffered, and everyone who cared about him felt helpless to alleviate his suffering. In the beginning of October, he had surgery to remove scar tissue and adhesions from a previous surgery. It was a risky operation; the doctors hadn’t wanted to do it, but in the end, they had no choice. Thirteen feet of his colon had been excised. He hadn’t recovered. He suffered from fevers and recurrent urinary tract infections. He had trouble eating and keeping down his food. He was in and out of the small local hospital, where he’d be hooked up to an IV, given artificial nutrition and hydration. After a few days, he’d gain strength, and be discharged. Once home, the cycle would start again.
Not until December, when he checked into a larger regional hospital with a cancer center did we learn what was really wrong. For nearly twenty-five years Neil had been cancer-free; no longer. Whether or not this cancer was related to his earlier cancer, the doctors could not say, since they did not have his records. However, the oncologist said that he suspected that the cancers were not related.
Having shopped for groceries and picked up Neil’s medications, I was waiting at his home on New Year’s Eve when he arrived from the hospital. The day before a peg tube had been inserted in his abdomen to drain away the bile that was obstructed by the tumor. He had a foley catheter to drain his bladder, which was riddled with infection. And he also had a colostomy bag, which he had lived with for nearly a quarter-century after he had survived his first bout with cancer. After he arrived home, he collapsed in bed. He didn’t get up all night. At the time, we wondered if he would get up at all. But he did. And in those first days of January, I had remained upstate, doing what I could, which that day meant using my power of attorney to have a document notarized so Neil could receive the last installment of an inheritance left to him by a friend.
I liked driving the back road from Millerton with its twisting curves and inclines. I passed fields and farms, a pond, a meadow. There were horses and cows in the fields, and often I saw wild animals, mostly deer, wild turkeys, opossums, and sometimes foxes and skunks. One had to be careful, but that was more of a problem at dusk, or at night, or in the early morning.
Now it was mid-afternoon. Ordinarily, I would have found the view dreary at this time of year, but that day it seemed to me to have a subtle beauty composed of pale and earth-colored tints. Frost glittered on the fields like a coating of sugar. I passed the immense dark red barn that was now the Re Gallery, once it had housed hundreds of cows. Now it was a dramatic setting for large artworks, thanks to its enterprising artist owner.
At first, I did not notice the large hawk camouflaged by the tall grasses at the side of the road. Just as I rounded the bend, I saw the big beautiful bird lift up suddenly, and I heard a thump as it struck the wheel well of the front passenger side of the car. With a sick feeling, I stopped the car and got out.
The hawk lay on its back in the road, perfectly still. I looked at it. The belly band of dark streaks on the whitish underparts and the dark bar on the leading edge of the underwing identified it as a red-tailed hawk. Its tail feathers were not yet red, and I guessed it was immature. For a while, I stood gazing sadly at the hawk I had killed. No other car passed by. I did not linger long, and as I drove away, I couldn’t dismiss my sense of unease. The hawk’s death seemed a bad omen. I felt a helpless passivity as if I were waiting for the approach of a catastrophe.
Just eleven days later, at ten o’clock at night on Friday, January the 13th, I amputated the tip of my left index finger in the door of the very same car that had killed the hawk.
We were traveling from the city to our country house, as we did almost every weekend. My husband was driving. I was half dozing in the car. About halfway through our journey, Keith stopped at a gas station to buy a cold drink. I wasn’t going to get out, then reconsidered. Did I want anything? I thought perhaps I’d take a look.
Without paying attention, I shut the car door. I felt something—I couldn’t say exactly what—and looked back. My fingertip with the whole nail on it was sticking in the car door, severed from the rest of me. In the garish light illuminating the gas station parking lot, it looked surreal. There was a crescent of dirt under the fingernail that seemed sad to me now that it was no longer connected to me.
All my life that fingertip had done what I wanted it to, and now it never would again.
My husband said I let out a little yelp. I have no recollection of it. He was ahead of me and stopped in his tracks.
“I snapped my fingertip off in the car door.”
He was beside me in a flash. He opened the car door and got my fingertip out of it. I hadn’t looked at my severed finger, and I didn’t look at it now, but I pressed the tip back on the finger as if it could magically reattach. We hurried inside the convenience shop of the gas station.
To the woman standing behind the cash register, my husband exclaimed that he needed paper towels, I told her what happened. At that moment when I felt hypersensitive yet numb and shocked, I was puzzled by her lack of reaction. I wondered if she thought I was an idiot, and I thought that I could understand why she might think that. She offered my husband a cloth, and he asked her again for paper towels. She gave us a couple of them, and I created a makeshift bandage. Now I wouldn’t have to look at it. We asked her where the nearest hospital was, and she said, “Carmel.”
Back in the car, I said, “You’re going to have to navigate us because I can’t do anything.” With GPS he located the hospital, a small facility with only one doctor on duty in the emergency room and about twelve beds, just a couple of which were filled. It was a cold night. They wanted me to put on a paper-thin hospital gown, but I kept on my jeans and long underwear. I unwrapped the paper towel from my finger, keeping my eyes averted as I laid the severed tip on a piece of gauze on the table next to the bed. While the nurse went to get a plastic container with ice to keep the fingertip in, I snapped a picture of the fingertip with my iPhone. Only Keith was in the room with me. I felt some misgivings, but I did it anyway.
It scarcely seemed possible that it had been a part of me and was no longer, but there was no denying the evidence in front of me. I heard the doctor say that my fingertip could not be reattached. Nevertheless, the fingertip was placed on ice in a plastic cup with a screw top to preserve it. It sat on the little table next to my bed, and I did not let it out of my sight.
Almost immediately I was given a tetanus shot, and an intravenous line was inserted to administer antibiotics. As I averted my eyes and my husband held my other hand, my finger was X-rayed and bandaged. To say that Keith was a great comfort to me doesn’t come close. That night when I brought him only trouble and worry, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was one hundred percent there for me if indeed I had ever doubted it.
Whether from shock or the influx of a massive dose of antibiotics, I felt an uncontrollable wave of nausea and threw up in a green vomit bag. At the same time, my bowels loosened. I was so involved in my physical drama that at first I could hardly pay attention to what Dr. Allison, the ER doctor, was saying, which was, that I was going to be transferred to Westchester Hospital because they couldn’t treat me at Putnam. As her words sunk in, I began to have doubts. I wondered why I should be treated in Westchester just because it was closer to Putnam when I lived in New York City with its many renowned hospitals. But which one should I go to with the injury that I had? I had no idea.
I asked my husband to call my primary care physician. At 12:30 AM, he would reach a service, but hopefully, the doctor would call back. In the meantime, I remembered a hometown acquaintance living in Larchmont who had injured her hand in a fall that necessitated hand surgery some fifteen years ago. I recalled her telling me back then about calling her brother, a hand surgeon in Atlanta, Georgia, to ask him for advice. We weren’t close, but she sent me a holiday card every year, and I had her contact information on my phone. Surely, she’d know what I should do.
I called her, and fortunately, she picked up right away. I realized I must have woken her, for her voice sounded as if she had been asleep. I wasted no time. “Hello, this is Adrienne Pine. I know you’re surprised to hear from me. I’m calling because I snapped off my fingertip in a car door. We’re upstate in a hospital emergency room, and they’re going to transfer me. I want to go back to New York City, but I don’t know which hospital to go to, I remembered you had hand surgery. Where should I go?”
She was alert right away. She asked a couple of questions, and she said, “Go to the Hospital for Special Surgery.”
“Is that a good place?”
“Thank you,” I said, and I hung up.
“I don’t want to go to Westchester,” I told Dr. Allison. “I live in Manhattan, and it makes no sense. I want to go to the Hospital for Special Surgery.”
“I’ll try to arrange for the transfer,” she responded.
She went away to make the telephone calls. After a while, she reported, “The Hospital for Special Surgery has no ER. You have to go to Weill-Cornell. That’s the emergency room for the Hospital for Special Surgery.”
“Okay.” I wasn’t arguing. I was feeling pretty miserable. Codeine does not agree with me, and they had no other painkillers, so I wasn’t given anything for pain. I was thirsty after throwing up, but they wouldn’t let me drink or eat anything. I thought it was doubtful that I would be given general anesthesia, but it didn’t matter. At the same time, I had bouts of diarrhea, and I had to keep getting up and going to the bathroom, wheeling the IV stand with me.
While we were waiting for the approval, my primary care doctor’s partner called my husband back. She recommended two hand surgeons at Mt. Sinai Hospital and gave us their numbers. My husband left messages. When he mentioned this to Dr. Allison, she replied firmly, “You’re going to Weill-Cornell. I’m just about to get the transfer approved, and it’s taken me an hour and a half.”
“That’s great,” I replied. “Thank you very much.
After the transfer was approved, I was told that it would be another three-and-a-half hour wait before the ambulance arrived. In fact, the wait turned out to be more than four hours. My husband could have driven me back to the city in an hour and a quarter, but under the hospital’s rules, I had to remain under care. If my husband had driven me, it would have been considered a discharge.
It was a long night. Keith went off to the waiting room where there was a couch, and he could lie down and nap. My night was wakeful, fitful, punctuated by bouts of diarrhea and nausea. The nurse gave me Zofran for the latter, administered through the IV. “It’s a miracle drug,” she claimed. “You won’t believe how much better you’ll feel.”
But it didn’t work for me. My mouth was so parched I was uncomfortable. I was given a plastic cup of water that I was forbidden to drink. All night I rinsed my mouth and spat the water back into the cup.
Sometime after 4:00 AM, the ambulance arrived from the Bronx. The EMTs were two African-Americans, a man, and a woman. The woman was talkative, the man taciturn. She asked me what had happened to me. I told her. “Can I see it?” she asked with a lively interest that took me aback.
“Absolutely not. It’s bandaged.”
Her curiosity about my finger unnerved me. I didn’t want to look at it; why should she?
“I’m keeping my fingertip in this container,” I told her, “even though they told me they couldn’t reattach it. The EMT expressed confidence that somehow they would find a way to reattach my fingertip. I didn’t believe her but appreciated her optimism.
By this time I was wearing a paper diaper that was way too big for me and two hospital gowns, also way too big, tied front to back. The nurse detached the IV but kept in the port in case it would be needed later. The interior of the ambulance resembled a station wagon with the seats out. They slid me in, and I lay on my back on a stretcher and placed the cup of water on a little ledge staring up at the bright lights. Although I wasn’t allowed to drink the water, rinsing my mouth helped me through the ordeal.
My husband would be driving back to the city in our car and dropping off our things at home before meeting me at the Weill-Cornell ER. I had my cell phone and a mobile battery charger, my health insurance card and basic IDs, a credit card, and some cash. The nurse suggested I turn over my watch to my husband, and I did. I wear a watch almost all the time, even when I sleep, and in the ambulance I missed it. I didn’t want to pull out my cell phone constantly to check the time. But even had I been wearing my watch, I think I would have lost my sense of passing time. Time had become the distance we had to travel to get to the hospital in the city.
I begged the EMTs to turn the lights off and the heat on. The inside of the ambulance was freezing. I had my down coat laid over me, but I was still cold.
“There’s only heat in the cab,” I was told.
They weren’t kidding, but they did turn up the heat in the cab so high that after awhile the interior of the ambulance was quite warm. Yoga breathing got me through that ride and through that night, deep breathing that begins with a slow, measured inhalation followed by a slower, deeper exhalation. At the bottom of the breath, all the air is forcefully expelled, creating a vacuum in the lungs that air rushes to fill in an effortless inhale. The lungs continue expanding with breath forward and back and from side to side. This kind of breathing not only moves all the dead, stale air out of the lungs and rejuvenates the body with oxygen, but it also creates a deep feeling of relaxation that is very powerful.
All through that long ambulance ride, I concentrated on breathing. I tried not to think of what lay ahead of me or what was behind me. I wanted to see the stars out of the ambulance windows as I lay on my back, but my line of sight was not at the correct angle. Instead, I got the night glare of the lights over the interstate. After what seemed a long time we got off the highway. We drove through the Bronx and crossed into Manhattan. Soon, I knew, we would be at the hospital at East 68 Street and York Avenue. I called my husband on my cell phone. He had almost reached our apartment, where he would unload the car, and then head over to the hospital.
At five-thirty in the morning, the Weill-Cornell emergency room was packed. Every room was full, and the hallways were lined with sick people on gurneys. My husband arrived soon after me. I didn’t mind that there was no bed. “Nothing’s wrong with my legs,” I declared. I was tired of lying down.
On the plus side of the long wait for my transfer and ambulance was that that the Weil Cornell emergency room was expecting me. A team had been alerted, and my paperwork transferred with me. Still, I had to wait about an hour or so. I asked the physician’s assistant, who was organizing my paperwork if there was anything besides codeine that she could give me for pain.
I hesitated and then said, “Okay.’
Noting my ambivalence, she said she would bring me “a baby dose.”
However, she disappeared and never came. Meanwhile, I sat on a chair wearing my down coat over the two front-to-back too-large hospital gowns from Putnam Hospital. In the pocket of my coat was the sealed plastic cup holding my fingertip on ice. In my right hand, I still held the cup of water I had brought with me. Every now and then, I swished out my mouth.
At last, my name was called. Two doctors had arrived, and I was ushered into a small room where one of them was waiting for me. I soon learned he was Dr. James Evans, a first-year resident of St. Paul, Minnesota. He asked about the X-rays of my finger. Apparently, the ones taken in Putnam Hospital had not traveled with me. Very gently he laid my hand on the table and X-rayed my finger again. The other doctor arrived with a sealed metal box of sterilized surgical instruments. This was Dr. Rudy Jastrow from Nebraska, a third-year resident. He would perform the procedure, and Dr. Evans would assist.
Both doctors ignored the fingertip I had brought with me, confirming what Dr. Allison at the Putnam Hospital had said. “The vascular system of the fingertip is too small to reattach, but honestly, you’re better off this way,” Dr. Jastrow informed me. “Often with reattachments, there is not a good outcome in terms of sensation.”
I looked away while Dr. Evans gently unwrapped my bandage, and they examined my wound. Though I wasn’t ready to look at it myself, I wanted to hear what they had to say about the injury I had inflicted on myself.
The tip was amputated just past the distal interphalangeal joint. The doctors told me that I had lost the nail bed and would never have a nail. My injury was a crush, and there were bits of bone sticking out and pieces of crushed bone inside the bone. They would give me a digital block, which was a local anesthetic, cleanse and debride my wound, and then stitch my finger back up. Because the tip had been cut at an angle, there was some skin to help form a finger pad.
At first Dr. Evans tried to simplify his explanation, but I told him that there was no need to; I had learned anatomical terms from my study of the skeletal-muscular system the previous year in an anatomy class for yoga professionals. I told him my interest in anatomy had grown out of having sciatica. “I was never interested in learning about my body until it started falling apart. Now I’m fascinated. I think all schoolchildren should be required to study human anatomy,” I said.
The two residents agreed wholeheartedly. They were young and fresh-faced, with strong, healthy bodies. They radiated strength, compassion, and competence. They asked for the narrative of my night, and I told them. They approved of Putnam Hospital’s administering the tetanus shot and intravenous antibiotics. “They did exactly the right thing.”
Dr. Rudy Jastrow gently probed the sides of my finger, noting that I had feeling, and I could flex the finger—all good signs. I took the doctor’s words to heart. “Don’t even worry about what your finger looks like,” he said. “The first thing you need to do is avoid an infection. The second is to restore functionality. After that, you can address the appearance.” He said my finger would take one year “to resolve.” I mulled over the word, “resolve.” What did he mean? I wondered, but now was not the time for conversation, not when he was about to operate.
I didn’t watch him debride my finger and sew it back up. I have no memory of how long it took. My husband remained at my side. After the procedure was finished, my finger was bandaged—first with a smaller bandage and then a larger one. The residents said goodbye, and I thanked them, and they left.
My husband and I remained in the room while I took off the two hospital gowns tied front to back that I had worn since I was at Putnam Hospital and changed into the clean clothes that my husband had brought me from home. Then my husband surprised me by encouraging me to do something that was characteristic of me, but not of him.
All through the procedure, my fingertip had been sitting on a shelf, still in the sealed, ice-filled plastic container. The residents had not so much as glanced at it. To the hospital, it was medical waste.
“Let’s take it with us,” Keith said. “In the spring, we’ll bury it in the garden.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I don’t want to leave it here.”
It came home with us, and we put it in the freezer. Most people, I knew, would consider this a macabre act, but Keith understood me, and I was grateful to him.
It was about nine am when we finally got back to our apartment. Only twelve hours had elapsed since we got our car washed on First Avenue before heading upstate. It had been a long night, and we collapsed on the bed and fell asleep.
* * *
A calamity can occur in an instant. The trauma reveals itself in stages, perhaps only as much as we can bear at a time. For two weeks, I avoided looking at my finger. When I scrolled through the photo on my iPhone of the severed tip resting on a scrap of bloodied gauze, I felt physically ill. But even though I didn’t look for it again, neither did I delete it from my phone.
The first few days after returning home from the hospital, I felt emotionally numb. At the same time, my body felt abnormally sensitive. I could eat only the plainest foods. For several days I existed on scrambled eggs and white rice. Exotic smells made me ill.
I lay in bed and read. When I am low, I have often found it a great comfort to reread a favorite book that I haven’t read in a long time, enough to have forgotten parts of it. Sometimes while rereading, I will suddenly remember what lies ahead, like driving on a curving road when you suddenly have a glimpse of what’s around the bend. Reading is a great pleasure and consolation for me, and I consider this aspect of rereading, when suddenly you anticipate what’s next after you’d forgotten it, one of reading’s great pleasures. And so I looked for a book I already knew and loved but didn’t entirely remember.
In the cabinet under my night table, I found Iris Origo’s The Last Attachment, her narrative of Lord Byron and Teresa Guiciolli, encompassing Byron’s years in Italy and leading to his tragic death in Greece. The last time I had put it down, months ago, I had been somewhere in the middle, because there was a bookmark. I picked up where I had left off and read it almost to the end, then skipped ahead to the very end and came back. And when I had finished that, I went back to the very beginning and started over.
The undisciplined way I read mirrored my undisciplined life.
I slept in yoga pants, a long-sleeved tee-shirt, and a very warm sweater vest my great-aunt had knitted for me from Aran wool my husband and I had bought over three decades ago during our honeymoon in Ireland.
I had been told to keep my finger elevated above my heart at all times to reduce the swelling, and this, I did not find hard to do. I also was not allowed to get the finger wet. My husband gave me a sponge bath in the bathtub. I cleaned my face with a waterless cleanser and toner. And when my hair got dirty, I went to the beauty parlor across the street and had them wash it for me. Close friends came to see me and brought or sent food.
Their suggestions, their gifts, and visits made me feel loved, as did the affection from my friends and family. I yielded to a self-protective urge. I told only the people that I thought would be kind to me. And some people I told only in stages—first in texts, and then in phone calls. One of the first people I notified was my rabbi. I sent her an email, informing her of what had happened and asking if she would make a pastoral visit.
She came and was a great comfort to me, taking my injured hand between her soft palms, offering a prayer for healing.
My eyes filled with tears as the Hebrew words washed over me. I had tried so hard to be strong and remain calm through my ordeal, now I could let go and focus on healing.
I rested in bed, watching the progression of daylight through the window falling across the bedspread, and I sank into a reverie. It was as if I could feel the texture of time. Or perhaps I could see through the texture of time as if time had become translucent. I felt close to eternity. These moments did not last. Eventually, I would succumb to boredom or restlessness or pain. But they did exist, and they were a consolation.
Of immediate concern was my follow-up visit with a doctor. In my discharge notes from the ER, I was given the telephone number of the referral service at the Hospital for Special Surgery, instructed to see a hand specialist in three days, and my family doctor as soon as possible.
I was discharged on Saturday. Even before I managed to reach the referral service on Monday, I felt anxiety about scheduling an appointment. The referral service provider gave me the names and contact information of three doctors. When I called the first doctor, I was asked what was the matter with me and told quite loftily that the doctor would probably not accept my case. No one called me back, and I wondered if a severed fingertip was simply too pedestrian for this doctor to consent to treat. If that was the case, I didn’t want him to be my doctor either.
The second doctor was a Taiwanese-American woman. On her video on the HSS website, she spoke of how she decided to become a hand specialist after she learned how common hand injuries are in Asia, where employee protection standards are not as rigorous as in the United States. I called and spoke to her office assistant, who said she would discuss my case with the doctor and get back to me. She called to say that the doctor would see me in two weeks.
“But Weill Cornell ER says I must see someone on Tuesday, and today is Monday,” I said. “I need to see someone tomorrow. Can’t she work me in?”
“She doesn’t think she needs to see you tomorrow. She doesn’t think she needs to see you for two weeks.”
“But she hasn’t examined me, and my discharge papers say otherwise,” I argued. I wondered if my injury was not severe enough compared to the calamities suffered by Asian workers. I’d struck out twice.
The third doctor was on vacation for the next week and a half. Feeling frustrated, I called back the referral service. “You have to give me more names.” The woman I spoke to took pity on me. She said she would find a doctor for me and call me back. “Dr. Aaron Shapiro will see you on Wednesday,” she said when she phoned. “That’s the best I can do.”
“Thank you so much,” I replied. “That’s only the day after Tuesday.”
Dr. Shapiro’s office was expecting me, and I set up the appointment. Later I looked up the doctor on the HSS website. He had gone to UCLA Medical School. Coincidentally, my doctor friend Susanna had taught a medical ethics course there for some 25 years. Susanna didn’t remember Dr. Shapiro, but when I read her his biography off of the HSS website, she commented that he must be an excellent doctor because the orthopedic fellowships he had held were very competitive. “He’s had twenty years of advanced training, and I am sure he’s very competent.”
I was relieved, but nervous. I hadn’t faced my injury yet, what was ahead of me, what it really meant to me. All day long, I held my left arm stiffly bent at the elbow, the hand elevated and at a distance from me. I tried not to think about it, not to look at it. But at the doctor’s office, I would have to confront what it meant to me.
My husband delayed going to his office that day to accompany me, and a friend who lived nearby dropped in so I could give her theater tickets to a play that evening that I did not feel well enough to attend. They were both with me when Sara, the physician’s assistant, gently unwrapped the large bandage. Underneath was a smaller yellowish bandage stuck onto the wound with dried blood.
I looked at it and looked away, suddenly overcome by tears.
“It’s okay to cry,” Sara said.
“Are you going to take off the bandage?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see how it goes.”
With tweezers, she carefully lifted off the yellow bandage and laid it on the metal examining table, it was covered with dark and rusty dried blood. I still could not bring myself to look at the finger, but Sara said, “It looks great.” I found that hard to believe. She explained that there was no infection and assured me that I was going to be okay.
Dr. Shapiro came in, and I told him what my friend Susanna had said about him, wanting to establish a rapport, for him to take good care of me. He had reviewed the X-rays. “Did you know there’s still part of the nail bed left?”
“The residents said I lost the nail bed,” I replied.
He shook his head. “You still have a piece of it,” he said.
“Will it grow back into a nail?”
“It could be a blessing or a curse,” he explained. “Usually, it’s a problem because the nail grows in strangely, at a perpendicular angle, or curved under. If that happens, I’ll have to do another procedure to remove it.” I took in that information and filed it away. The thought of another procedure was just too much for me. I would deal with it when the time came.
In childhood, I naturally shrank from physical risk. Other than a broken arm when I was ten years old, I had managed to avoid most injuries. I didn’t let myself relive that moment when I closed the car door on my finger. I knew I had to focus my strength on getting better. I had to protect myself, and that also meant protecting myself emotionally from those who were not supportive or did not wish me well, or even those who may have meant well but did not act well. I developed this survival strategy over time.
That day in the doctor’s office I listened carefully. I felt grateful that such care was available to me. I appreciated Sara’s gentle touch as she carefully put another clean yellow bandage directly on the wound. She loosely wound a new gauze bandage around my finger, wrapping it around my palm and the base of my thumb. At home I would continue with antibiotics and Tylenol for pain, keep the finger elevated and protected as much as possible.
At my next visit one week later, Dr. Shapiro and Sara were pleased with my progress. Sara replaced the large gauze bandage with a small gauze sleeve to slip over my finger like a sock. Dr. Shapiro prescribed occupational therapy and sent me across the street to the Hospital for Special Surgery’s OT department for Hand and Upper Extremities. The OT, Alex, made me a splint to wear over the finger when I left the house, and I scheduled several sessions.
Sara had given me extra gauze sleeves to replace the one I was wearing, but I avoided kitchen work; I did not cook or clean, and the sleeve didn’t get dirty. I continued to have my hair washed at the beauty salon across the street. The following week Sara removed the yellow bandage and the gauze sleeve.
Two-and-a-half weeks have passed, I thought. My birthday has come and gone. At the age, I am now, and for the rest of my life, I will live without my fingertip, and the time has come for me to look at it and accept it. And so I did.
I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and that close my vision was blurred, but I could see it, and I saw enough. A large scab had formed over the wound. The new tip of my finger was still very swollen, though the swelling had gone down. In my mind, I heard the echo of Dr. Jastrow’s voice: “Don’t worry about what it looks like. Concentrate on getting back functionality.”
“It’s okay,” Sara said soothingly. “You’ve been through a trauma. Baby steps. You’re doing great.”
She asked me to flex and extend the distal joint of the finger repeatedly. It was difficult; the swelling made my finger feel tight, and, as hard as I tried, it would not flex as much as my other index finger. But Sara pronounced herself satisfied. She took an ordinary band-aid, tapered the sides and ends with scissors and fitted it over my finger.
“That’s all you need now,” she said, “just the band-aid and the splint over it when you go out.” Now I was allowed to get the fingertip wet but not soak it. Dr. Shapiro was going on vacation, and I would not see him for three weeks. Before I left, he urged me to try and use my finger as much as possible. While he watched, I tried to press the home button on my iPhone, but it was too painful. “Then don’t do it,” he said, “not yet.”
The slightest touch was excruciating to my damaged nerves. At the occupational therapy appointment, the OT told me that the goal was to desensitize my finger. I had a window of time, and if I didn’t succeed, my finger would never be desensitized. What I needed to do, she said, was to bombard my finger with all kinds of sensation. She gave me a bowl of glass marbles and asked me to pick them up one by one, holding each between my index finger and thumb. It was astonishing how difficult this was for me.
In the meantime, she refits my splint, which was too big now the bandage had been removed. I told her I had marbles at home, and she told me to practice twice a day. I should also try rubbing my finger gently over different textures, such as a terrycloth towel. When I was a little better, I could try immersing my finger in a bowl of raw rice grains or dried chickpeas.
In the days immediately following the injury, I had naturally begun to extend my forefinger beyond the others, to keep it out of the way and avoid using it. This practice was a big no-no, according to Alex. If I continued, I would damage the tendons and muscles of the forefinger. What I needed to do was to try to use the finger normally. Alex gave me a buddy band to wrap around my first two fingers to keep them together. She also gave me a roll of stretchy, self-adhesive Koban tape to wear for protection when I didn’t want to wear the splint.
My finger was injured, but the rest of my body yearned to move, my muscles used. I emailed two of my yoga teachers about my injury. Jenny and Aiko wrote back with sympathy and practical advice and visited me at home. Jenny came first, bringing gluten-free brownies, flowers, and friendship. She sat with me and cheered me up and gave me tips on how to adapt my yoga practice to my current needs. I told her how yoga breathing had gotten me through that bad night of the accident, and she encouraged me to continue with a daily breathing practice and shared tips and ideas. She suggested that I strap my left arm to my chest so I wouldn’t worry about its placement while I moved the rest of my body freely through some standing poses.
Akiko brought me a special gift, a tiny figure of the elephant god Ganesh and the following mantra, “Aum Shri Ganeshaya Namah.” Ganesh, Akiko told me, is the god of overcoming obstacles. And sometimes he will put obstacles in our way, that we need to overcome. “May Ganesh and his mantra protect you and remove all the obstacles that lie along your journey to recovery,” she said. And she kissed my damaged fingertip. She told me how to do yoga poses against the wall rather than on the floor, so they weren’t weight-bearing. She sat and drank tea with me, and we talked about our daughters who are nearly the same age.
Exactly one week after the accident I was scheduled to give a reading. The venue was a prestigious Manhattan bookstore, and I had received the date months before, long before I realized that it would coincide with Inauguration Day. I had asked a friend of mine, a Mexican poet married to an American and living in Manhattan, to read with me. In December, when plans for the protest were brewing, and some people I knew were planning trips to Washington, I wondered briefly if I should try to reschedule and decided against it. It had not been easy to schedule that date in the first place, I did not want to disappoint my friend Serena, and plenty of people were staying in New York and planning to join the protest there.
Before the accident, Serena and I had discussed the reading. I would introduce her and read the English translations of her poetry published in her recent collection, which was bilingual. We had been planning to meet at one of our favorite cafés.
Immediately after the accident, I put off making a decision about the reading. I did not call the bookstore. I emailed Serena about what had happened to me, but I never said anything about canceling. I only said I couldn’t meet her at the café, and could we work together by phone and email.
Preparing for the reading was good for me. It reminded me that I was a writer, even though for the present I had lost the mind-hand connection essential to my writing when words seem to flow from my mind through my fingers and onto the screen or the page. It doesn’t matter whether I am typing on a computer or writing by hand with a pencil or pen. What is necessary is that the effort of the process not intrude into my consciousness, so I become aware of how I am writing instead of what I am writing.
That was impossible now. My finger hurt too much to write by hand, and typing on the computer was possible as long as the second finger of my left hand pressed the keys of the index finger as well as its own. I could type this way, but I felt strange about it because, in order to do it, I had to extend my index finger beyond the others, in precisely the way that Alex had told me NOT to do. The writing was physically difficult for me. But editing a poetry translation was a good task for me. There wasn’t a lot of physical writing to do, but it still engaged the same parts of my brain as writing did.
I met the challenge and gave the reading. My finger was still in the big bandage then, but people who didn’t know about it didn’t notice it, including Javier, the bookstore manager who curated the reading series.
To our small audience, Serena and I spoke about nurturing community and honoring diversity, instead of building walls between us as nations and individuals. We emphasized what connects us rather than what divides us. In my introduction to her poetry, I spoke of Serena’s evocation of “La Mujer Prisma,” the “Prism Woman,” an archetype for the millennium, a wife, and mother raising a family in a fast-paced global city, whose complexities call upon her ingenuity, resourcefulness, and warrior strengths. She is worldly, successful, bound by tethers of love to her family, at the height of her powers. By day, she is what the world and her family insist that she be; at night, another self-emerges, spiritual and sensual, with the cold fire of the changeable moon.
“Today,” I concluded, “when we have inaugurated a President who is unfit for the office and whose history of assaulting women and hostility to feminism and women’s issues needs no introduction, ‘La Mujer Prisma’ is more necessary than ever. In these dark days, let us look to her as an inspiration to prepare and gird us for the struggles that lie ahead.”
Even as I spoke, I felt my own words flowing through me and encouraging me. My path of healing loomed ahead of me, stony and difficult, but I felt empowered; I started to think that I was going to be okay.
* * *
This narrative began with Neil—with his illness, his fatal diagnosis, my worry and wish to help. And although this story soon shifted its focus to my injury and its aftermath, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped worrying about Neil. He was always on my mind. I called him frequently and kept in touch with him, but I also took the accident as a warning: I had gotten in too deep, and I couldn’t keep it up without damage to myself.
I don’t think the accident would have happened had I not been so consumed with Neil. That was why I wasn’t paying attention when I got out of the car at the gas station that night, why I hadn’t noticed that I hadn’t stepped clear of the door before I closed it.
After the accident, it was another week before we went upstate. By that time, two other female friends of Neil had taken charge. Indeed, their influences had begun to make themselves felt in the three weeks between Neil’s diagnosis and my accident, and my efforts to maneuver around their hostility had taken a toll on me. The power that Neil had given to me they took away—not de jure but de facto. They disliked me and were jealous of the trust Neil had placed in me. They convinced him to leave them money and to do it in such a way as to bypass the will and my future role as executor by naming them beneficiaries on his investment account that was managed by the brother of one of them. I wasn’t sure what Neil understood of the financial arrangements he let them set up for him. When I asked him about it, he was unclear. Yet it was his choice. And so I stepped back. I moved from the foreground of his life to the middle ground.
In retrospect, the accident was a clear sign to me that I was more fragile and susceptible than I knew. At the same time, I was lucky that the damage was as limited as it was. Next time might be different. I knew I had to protect myself against such a “next time.”
I availed myself of the avenues of healing that were open to me—physical, mental, spiritual. I learned all over again that I was blessed in people who cared about me. Sometimes it seemed as if my injury were a mirror reflecting back truths to me I had not known.
In time, I found another role with Neil. We—Keith and I—became his good friends again. We shared some happy times together. Because Neil, too, confounded the predictions; he lived months longer than the doctor said he would. As I write these words, he is still living. His survival, tenuous and determined, is a reminder that, although we must put our trust in our doctors, they don’t know everything.
Dr. Shapiro and Sara both warned me that the healing process for my finger would take a long time. Indeed, it seemed to me that, with each visit to the doctor’s office, the prognosis of how much time it would take, grew longer. At first, Dr. Shapiro said the swelling would last six months, then he extended it to one year, and then eighteen months. Sara told me she thought the swelling might never entirely go down. At the same time, they both assured me that the finger was healing splendidly.
By that time I had gone from bandages to band-aids, from elevating the hand and not getting it wet, to getting it wet but not soaking it, to attempting to use it as I had been accustomed to. A large scab formed over the wound, then it fell off, and the skin underneath peeled numerous times. Sara explained that because my finger was so swollen, the skin was already dead when it formed because it didn’t have a blood supply. For several days I kept applying a Vitamin E oil to my fingertip as the skin was repeatedly sloughed off. I used almost half the little bottle because my skin peeled so much. Eventually, the skin stopped peeling, and the scab was gone.
Then came the ordeal of the sutures. I was told that the sutures would reabsorb, but they did not. Over the next couple of months, I endured episodes when the swelling and pain would increase until I was quite uncomfortable, and then a suture would work its way out of my fingertip, a process that could take anywhere from three to ten days. It was like having a splinter times ten. Sometimes it seemed as if my finger were giving birth to the suture. The swelling and pain would increase by degrees until finally, the suture poked out of the skin. It gradually worked its way out. Then came relief and a decrease in swelling. The sutures were one-half to three-quarters of an inch long when they came out. Somehow I had expected they would be like thread, but they were like little wires. I think they were made out of animal gut. Perhaps it was for the best that my body didn’t want to absorb them, even though the process of expelling them was painful.
Four times I experienced the expulsion of the sutures. The fifth time my fingertip swelled what came out was the residual nail growing in oddly, just as Dr. Shapiro had predicted. It looked like a diagonal sliver peering over the back of my fingertip, a moon rising over a plateau. After a while, it caught on clothing, and I had to file it down. It was an annoyance, but it didn’t hurt except when it caught and bent backward. What was painful was the swelling just behind the nail. I had come a long way toward desensitizing the new fingertip, but that bump of swelling just behind the nail was a problem When I brushed the back of my finger against any surface, the pain was compelling.
In the middle of April, I made an appointment with Dr. Shapiro to ask him about it. At the beginning of the month, he had said that he didn’t think I needed to see him anymore, and he didn’t think I would benefit from more occupational therapy. “However, I’ll always see you if you need me,” he assured me.
With the eruption of the nail and the increased swelling, I thought I did need him. He said that he couldn’t tell if the bump of swelling was caused by the residual nail bed, as I hypothesized. He advised me to try and live with the nail as it was. If he removed it, it would be another procedure from which I would have to recover. Contradicting what he had said on the previous visit, he ordered more occupational therapy for me.
I had the feeling that Dr. Shapiro was prescribing more occupational therapy as a way to get rid of me. It seemed to me that he thought my improvement was good enough, and I should move on, leaving him to concentrate on more urgent cases. “Stop worrying about your finger,” he ordered me. “Worry about Trump. Or anything else.”
I was already plenty worried about Trump, and I also had a fractured tooth and an abscess that was taking my attention. But I was acutely aware of my poor, wounded, swollen fingertip every minute of the day, and I wanted to get better than I was. I followed Dr. Shapiro’s instructions and walked over to the occupational therapy center, handed over my paperwork, and made an appointment.
Over the past ten weeks, I had already had six occupational therapy appointments, five with Alex and one with Emily when Alex was on vacation. I had progressed through a series of ever more difficult exercises that involved, in Alex’s words, “bombarding the finger with sensations.” I remember one afternoon when the simple task Alex asked me to do—compress the two ends of a clothespin together to open the other end—was so incredibly painful that tears filled my eyes. One day about a month later, after I’d successfully poked holes into a tub of light-blue medicinal-quality silly putty, Alex remarked, “That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile.”
I hadn’t been aware of the fact that I wasn’t smiling.
I had scheduled eight occupational therapy appointments in all, but during the period when my finger began to spit out the sutures, the swelling increased so much that therapy seemed counterproductive. In the meantime, the occupational therapy prescription expired. When Dr. Shapiro wrote me a new prescription, and I scheduled the visit, I hadn’t had an appointment in over a month.
The night before the appointment, Alex emailed me to reschedule, but I never saw the email. I received a phone call that morning asking me to come in half an hour instead of at two o’clock. I live on the other side of Manhattan from the Hospital for Special Surgery, and even with a car service, I needed to allow forty-five minutes, depending on the traffic. And furthermore, I was in the middle of a cooking project, and I couldn’t drop it. I objected and was told I could keep the original appointment.
When I arrived, I learned that Alex had been called away to a meeting, and I was reassigned to John. This change proved to be fortuitous, because John brought a new perspective to my treatment, and he made a compression bandage I could wear.
Alex had also wanted me to sleep with a compression bandage over my fingertip. She said it would reduce the swelling and help to reshape the fingertip. The problem was that the bandage she gave me was so tight that it hurt after only a few minutes. Even had it fit, the bandage had a gel lining that didn’t breathe, and when I took it off, my fingertip was soaking wet.
When John advocated a compression bandage, I told him about my problem with the bandage Alex had given me. “The bandages we get don’t come in enough sizes,” explained John. “The size Alex gave you is too small for almost everyone, even with a normal fingertip, and the next size is too big. We need in-between sizes. But I’ll make you a compression bandage that fits.”
After measuring my finger, John went over to a sewing machine I hadn’t noticed before and sewed a seam through the too-big bandage, altering it to the dimensions of my fingertip. His sewing was crude, but it worked. The bandage he gave me was not too tight, and I was able to sleep with it. I was able to bear the sweating. As I am continued to wear it, it helped to reshape my finger.
My health insurance approved the four new visits that Dr. Shapiro prescribed for me, but John didn’t think I needed them. “Just use your finger in normal activity, as you’ve been doing, as much as you can,” he said. He reassured me that if I required a new bandage or had any other need, I could email him and come in, and he would help me.
John disputed what Dr. Shapiro had said. He was “almost one hundred percent certain” that the swollen bump on the back of my fingertip was due to the nail. “The nail bed extends behind the nail,” he said. “That’s exactly where it is.”
“I know that,” I said. “I thought so, too.”
The distinction meant something to me because of the decision I would have to make down the road about whether to have the residual nail removed or not. Dr. Shapiro had asked me to try and live with it. In terms of living with a small piece of misshapen nail that wasn’t very attractive, I thought I could live with it, but if it were the cause of the worst of my swelling, and the swelling didn’t go down on its own, I didn’t think I wanted to live with that.
As time went on and my finger grew less sensitive, I found the swelling to be the hardest part of it to bear. In the aftermath of the accident, I had thought that getting used to the change in the length of my finger would be hardest. But perhaps because I was relatively fortunate in having lost only the tip of the finger, the swelling was worse for me.
Sara said it was because the fingertip is so small that any amount of swelling is significant. Over a larger area of the body, like the knee, for example, the swelling would be more dispersed. But there is not a lot of space for swelling to go in a finger.
* * *
After the accident, I contacted a college classmate who at our reunion the previous autumn had spoken publicly and candidly of the crises she had faced. While pregnant with her first child, she had suffered a devastating stroke on the right side of her body and had to be airlifted across the state of Massachusetts to Massachusetts General Hospital. She recovered thanks to the excellent medical treatment she received, and her child, a daughter, survived, but she was left paralyzed on the right side of her body, and she is right-handed. She had to learn how to write with her left hand, to drive a car only with hand controls, and make many more adaptations. Through it all, she benefited from her husband’s intelligent and loving support. She went on to have a second child, a son, without difficulty and managed a successful legal career.
Then came September 11, 2001. Her husband was giving a speech at a breakfast gathering at the Windows on the World restaurant in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and he perished.
With bravery and determination, my friend managed to raise two beautiful children who are a credit to her and her late husband. I wrote to tell her about my accident:
I want to let you know that through all this, the thought of you is an inspiration to me. When I think of all you have overcome with courage and grace, it gives me the fortitude to deal with the loss of this piece of myself.
With admiration and affection,
She wrote back:
So sorry to hear of your accident, and so glad to hear from you.
You are very kind to consider me an inspiration, but the truth is, we all do whatever is needed, particularly we women who often have to get our families through difficult situations.
Please focus not on the little piece of you that you lost but on the enormous part of you that you still have.
Her words were a comfort to me.
Another consolation came from an acquaintance, a photographer and artist whom I have come to know over the many years I have lived in my neighborhood. One evening she invited me to her apartment for a glass of wine. I thought I was familiar with her photographs, and indeed I owned one of them, but I hadn’t known that she had completed a series of works in full color documenting surgeries in progress. She showed me her portfolios. There was a pair of Siamese twins joined at the head who were successfully separated and a person whose entire ribcage was removed and then put back. There were photographs of breast cancer surgeries and breast reconstructions, bone grafts and skin grafts.
I was in awe of the photographs and what they showed. Truly, in the grand scheme of things, what had happened to me was pretty small potatoes. I told her so, and she replied, “That’s what I wanted you to see. You’ll be fine.”
* * *
On June 19, after a hiatus of two months, I went to see Dr. Shapiro. Five months had passed since the accident. Dr. Shapiro was pleased with my progress. I told him that I could write and type pretty well. What was hardest for me were the twisting actions with my forefinger and thumb and compression between the forefinger and thumb. Dr. Shapiro said that these functions might get better with time. I talked about my continuing problems with swelling, and again he said it would take 18 months for the swelling to go down.
“It’s not like a real fingertip,” I said. “I don’t have that sensitivity. There are still micro-areas of hypersensitivity and numbness.”
“That, too, may improve with time,” he said. “Although of course, we can’t predict the future.”
He examined the little nail growing in at a diagonal.
“You told me to live with it, and I’m living with it,” I said. “I file it. I don’t know what else to do with it.”
“That’s about all you can do,” Dr. Shapiro said. “It looks good. I know you don’t think so, but it looks much better than the last time I saw it. You may actually have a functional nail here.”
“What do you mean by that?” I wondered. I couldn’t imagine that the nail would really grow back in.
“I mean it may offer your finger some protection,” he said.
I had brought in the compression bandage that John, the occupational therapist, had altered for me and showed it to Dr. Shapiro. He said I didn’t need to wear it. “Just live your life as normally as possible,” he said.
“So I don’t need to see you anymore,” I said.
“I thought so,” I said. And as he turned to go, I said, “I have a present for you.”
I gave him a jar of my homemade organic blueberry jam. “I even picked the berries,” I told him. “I hope you and your family enjoy it.”
And I hugged him.
* * *
Sara stopped in to see me before I left. She was glowing. She said her baby was due in four days, but she didn’t think it would come until the following week. “Girl or boy?” I asked.
“Girl.” In response to my questions, she said she would name her daughter Willow, and she would be on maternity leave for four months.
“It’s nice you’ll have all that time,” I said. “Willow will be rolling over on one side by the time you go back to work.”
She smiled at that thought and then asked to see my finger.
“It looks great,” she proclaimed.
“People hardly notice it.”
“See what I told you?”
I couldn’t help it; my eyes filled with tears, and I saw, in response, her eyes prick up, too, in sympathy, and then the moment passed.
“I wish you an easy and successful delivery.”
She nodded. “That’s what we all hope for.”
I gave her a jar of my raspberry jam as a gesture of thanks.
When I paid my co-pay, Nikki, the bookkeeper said, “I see you don’t have to come back. I hope you have a nice summer.”
I had six appointments with Dr. Shapiro and nine occupational therapy appointments. I got better over time, just as they all predicted. And so I am living with it. I have come to realize that the healing process is unique to each individual, even those with a similar injury or disease, and I am grateful for all that I did not lose. And I am going on with my life.
The circulation of this article, and dozens upon dozens of articles analyzing and critiquing it has spurred some heated conversation. Particularly, the phrase; “If what Aziz Ansari did was sexual assault then every person I know has been assaulted lol. This was just a bad date. You gotta know where to draw the line” has been floating around quite a bit.
And though that phrase is extremely dismissive, there is a nugget of truth in there: we need to draw the line. No more confusion. No more ‘misunderstandings’ or ‘mixed signals.’ But where is the line?
This is a conversation I find myself having a lot these days. People who pose the question; “Well what’s the difference between what the media is calling sexual assault and [xyz regularly observed behavior that seemingly undermines that]” and my answer is always the same: consent.
Consent is always the difference.
A sexual act or behavior, degrading or otherwise, that unfolds between two consenting adults that are both comfortable with the situation IS NOT sexual assault. A sexual act, flattering or otherwise that unfolds between an adult and another person (adult or minor) without consent IS SEXUAL ASSAULT.
The issue that I think everyone is circling with the more recent Aziz Ansari incident is: Well if consent is the line, what is consent? And I think the reason this is even a question is that the interpretation of consent differs from person to person, but the definition is not up for interpretation.
Consent is when a sober adult acknowledges that they are comfortable with a situation and are willing to proceed with what is being proposed. If any part of the above equation is missing: IT IS NOT CONSENT. If the person is not an adult, not sober, not willing, OR NOT COMFORTABLE it is not consent.
This issue is objective, not subjective, which I think is where some people are disagreeing. If a person doesn’t want to engage in a sexual act but later coerced into willingly agreeing to it, that is not consenting, because the person was not comfortable. The person is uncomfortable by virtue of the fact that they have to be coerced.
With that being said, there’s a clear and understandable reason why someone who reads an account of mild sexual assault may disagree that consent was violated. There are many people out there who think of assault as something that is physical or threatening. They think of a person with their face ground into the tile of a public restroom or lying unconscious behind a dumpster. They think violence and malintent and alcoholism and predators. More than anything, they don’t think of people they know.
Acknowledging that sexually aggressive behavior that violates someone’s personal comfort is in fact assault, would entail revisiting their entire sexual history and realizing that they have experienced assault themselves, though they’ve never thought of themselves as a victim.
I empathize. I’ve done that song and dance – and it was fucking frightening. But I couldn’t deny that the psychological repercussions I was left with after the relationship that indicated trauma. There are always undeniable indicators like suicidal thoughts, crying after the encounter, nightmares, evidence of conditioned thought patterns, panic attacks that are triggered by sexual acts, and much more.
But even if you decide for yourself that you’re personal experiences in aggressive sexual situations did not make you uncomfortable enough for you to want to consider it assault-like behavior – this doesn’t mean that someone else in the same situation, under similar conditions and environment, would not find the behavior uncomfortable.
Your own personal level of comfort is the only subjective area of consent, which should not be taken into consideration when assessing someone else’s announcement that they’ve been assaulted.