Spring: Five Haiku by Loree Griffin Burns

Spring: Five Haiku

Posted Posted in Blog

By Loree Griffin Burns

haiku on spring snow
the neighborhood mice were out
before me, scribbling

spring loneliness—
clutching one warm chicken egg
in each cold hand

direct from the clouds
or waylaid by a pin oak
two types of spring rain

the fancy brick house
is empty now; the tulips
don’t seem to notice

riotous yellow—
missing the girl who called it
“for Cynthia”


About the Writer:
Loree writes about science and nature for readers of all ages. Back in 2011, during a rainy vacation in Rhode Island, she and her family stopped into a used book sale at the local public library. That’s where she picked up a used copy of haiku master Clark Strand’s Seeds of a Birch Tree on a whim, for fifty cents. She’s been counting syllables on her fingers ever since. You can read more about Loree’s children’s books, essays, and haiku at loreeburns.com.

A Veg-iversary by Suzanne Strempek Shea

A Veg-iversary

Posted Posted in Blog

By Suzanne Strempek Shea

Thirty years ago, I ate my final meal as a carnivore. Long after everyone else cut into their T-bones barbecued on my cousin Richie’s gas grill, I stared at mine, the last one for 365 days.

That was my original plan: one meatless year. Over the previous 364 days, I’d frequently found myself in the company of fit and fun vegetarians. As someone raised on meat in every meal and often for snacks, I was intrigued. Then I came across a newspaper article on the realities of veal. As an animal lover, that was enough to convince me to hop onto the vegetarian platform.

“I’m going to have the eggplant parmesan,” I started announcing at dinners out. “Because do you know how they get veal?” Even if no one expressed interest, I’d begin reciting the harsh realities of a veal calf’s brief life.

One night, a friend countered, “Well, what do you think they do to the rest of the animals on the menu?”

Point made, taken, known.

During my youngest years, my family kept a coop to supply poultry for the restaurant we owned. I was well aware that “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” wasn’t just a cliché. Through my college years I fished, and I also worked on a deep-sea charter, where the pre-death flopping of the catch was just one more sound in an enjoyable day.

As a New Englander, I attended enough lobster dinners (more accurately called lobster boils) to know that the normally blackish-green lobster shells weren’t orange from sunburn. Back then, I didn’t know what happened to cows or pigs or sheep in the slaughterhouse; my research left me almost regretting learning about electrocution and gassing.

I might have started my meatless year with hopes of looking like my perky veg pals, but I have continued it to this day in consideration of animals other than the dogs and horses that I have known and loved. I simply don’t want another being to die so I can eat.

I’ve spent nearly three decades learning (and explaining and defending now and then). Who knew broccoli soup is basically chicken broth with broccoli thrown in? Or that cheese isn’t a vegetarian option because the rennet used to produce it comes from the stomachs of calves, goats, or sheep? I found out humans are called omnivores because we’re able to exist on a diet of meat or plants, or both, a fact I recite each time I get a cold and my mom advises, “You need a steak.”

I’ve tried new recipes, starting with a fabulous nut loaf in Diet for a Small Planet, my first veg bible. I stopped announcing why I was ordering pasta instead of pork. Now, I pick the moments when I tell someone that I consume nothing that has a face or a mother.

Some argue that the asparagus on my plate was another victim of the knife. They ask, “If we’re not to eat them, why did God create all these creatures running through the woods?” If nobody ate meat, I’m asked, what would happen to all the cattle on earth? If I think I’m saving a halibut by not ordering one, don’t I realize that it’s lying dead in the restaurant kitchen anyhow, that it will simply go to the next customer? I’m just one person, they remind me, what difference can one person’s food choices make?

Aren’t they only animals, anyhow?

We can only really save ourselves, I guess. As for anybody—or anything—else, we can only try.

For the 30th anniversary of the way I’ve chosen to eat, I’m considering going vegan for 365. No animal products at all—no dairy, eggs, honey. No wool sweaters or down vests. No face creams, lip balms, or cleaning products an animal might have even glanced at. I stopped buying and wearing leather and down 20 years ago, so my closets are already there. Milk-containing milk chocolate might be a slower conversion for me. It’s all a process.

If I turn around to look back on my life, I’d like to see 30 years of lives that might have been spared due to my not ordering the kind of food I gorged on during my first 31 years: Flintstonian-sized turkey legs, pillowy scallops, Polish ham sliced thin.

In anthropomorphisms that recently had an acquaintance rolling her eyes over my years of “not eating the best kind of food,” I like to imagine that turkeys are gobbling their thanks, scallops are clapping in the mud, and pigs are grunting a Happy 30th Anniversary to this one little person and her one little decision.


About the Writer:
Suzanne Strempek Shea is the facilitator of the summer Creative Writing Field Seminar in Ireland, the director of the undergraduate creative writing program, and the Writer-in-Residence at Bay Path University. The latest of her eleven books are the biography This Is Paradise and the novel Make a Wish But Not For Money. Her memoirs include Songs from a Lead-lined Room, Shelf Life, and Sundays in America. Suzanne won the 2000 New England Book Award for contributions her books have made to the literature of the region. She’s been featured on NBC’s “Today,” on National Public Radio, and in USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. Her work has appeared in publications including The Boston Globe, The Irish Times, Yankee, and The Bark.

How the Walk of Shame Led Me Home by Casey Lane

How the Walk of Shame Led Me Home

Posted Posted in Blog

By Casey Lane

What one-night stands have to teach us

The walk of shame is a sobering act. It’s a moment of pure clarity in which we, for those few steps, that short drive, that time in the shower, are awakened, by euphoria or contrast, to the dispassionate truth of who we are.

Expectation

If you’ve ever lain in bed, the sheets draped over your legs and waist, the moonlight illuminating the curve of your spine while he rubs your back gently, the thick coarseness of his hands reminding you of your femininity, every hill and valley of your body a landscape of his desire, while the gentle smile of peaceful satisfaction rests on your lips, then what I have to say may not interest you.

Reality

But if you’ve ever laid in bed, lifting the sheets up and over your hips—locking them beneath your armpit as if tenting your body for sin—his hand flopped open, unknowingly on the back of your head, scratching your scalp like he’s rewarding a dog who’s just learned to sit, your eyes using the moonlight to scan the room for casualties—a shirt on the undusted nightstand beside you, pants in tango with whatever towel he’s calling a quilt—as his phone rings, its display showing the name of his best girlfriend, the cheerfulness of his “Hello” cutting the stilted silence of your immoral affliction as you slide out of bed and restore your underwear to duty, dress in the bathroom, then with a quick smile of forced satisfaction, wave goodbye while he looks at you confused (the phone still at his ear) and he half-heartedly mouths, “Where are you going?” while you keep moving, grab your purse, take a final sickening look around the room, tiptoe down the stairs, out the front door, and jog towards your car in Guest Parking, I’m here for you.

Awakening

I have too many stories like that, stories about nights where I’ve come to my senses only after having them pounded back into me. Nights when I’ve had to leave my assumptions about love and return home to the sanctity of regret. Nights that have ended with me standing in the shower, the steam filling my lungs while the heat of the water softens the shame on my skin—pieces of loneliness and self-abandonment swirling down the drain at my feet.

Nights when two felt like one, until I felt like enough.

Nights when I’d return to bed—my own this time—cleaned, lotioned, and pajamaed, the cottons of my clothes and flowered bedspread mixing, hugging my body as they held me tighter, filling the gaps beneath my knees and hips while my head rested on a pillow, the moonlight peeking through another set of blinds—my own this time—dropping breadcrumbs of light on a clear carpeted floor, mapping a route from my bed to the stars.

Acceptance

There’s nowhere to hide when we run from ourselves, no persona we can don that doesn’t rinse in the rain.

The moments between his house and my own were a whirlwind of consciousness. Moments when embarrassment and pride swirled like a tornado gathering force from both sides before finally settling somewhere in between, a vacant and undeveloped space where acceptance wasn’t an admission of guilt but the first step towards love, where the urge to retreat brought me from doubt to disillusion.

That ill-timed exit became my first act of self-care. In that moment, the scratch on my head wasn’t from his hand, but a soulful itching for sudden escape, a gentle nudge from within, ushering me from darkness to awareness, from my back to my feet, from his bed to my own.

And so I walked — shamefully, regretfully, and truthfully—home.


About the Writer:
Casey Lane is a writer, blogger, and International Program Manager for a Los Angeles-based marketing agency. She has self-published a children’s book, Lucky Love & His Moms, and she is currently writing her memoirs. Casey is also working toward her MFA in creative nonfiction writing at Bay Path University.

Hello Vodka by Andy Castillo

Hello Vodka

Posted Posted in Blog

By Andy Castillo

I enter a world of burnt rubber and bumping tires. Rolling luggage and passersby whiz around me, tumbling toward their destinations in a frenzied hurry. Announcements in Russian come rapid-fire over the loudspeakers, reverberating through the crowded St. Petersburg train terminal in a chorus of noise that’s accented by the occasional train whistle.

On the platform, mist swirls around idling trains, mingling with the savory aroma of frying cheburek (meat turnovers), shawarma (wraps filled with roasted meat), and pirozhki (buns stuffed with various fillings), all infused with the stench of cigarette smoke.

Ahead of me, a young woman steps hurriedly from a train car. She’s met by a well-dressed man carrying a bouquet of roses. He sweeps her into an intimate embrace. They forget about the roses and fall into each other, overcome by emotion, oblivious to the chaos surrounding them.

They don’t care about bystanders who smile at their affection. They don’t care about Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump or hacking scandals or the Cold War or the horrific death toll Russia suffered in World War II—topics that are ever at the forefront of my mind as a Westerner traveling to Moscow for the first time. The only thing they care about is each other.

It’s a tender moment in a city forged by violence.

Although more than 75 years have passed, the sting of the Nazi army’s failed Siege of Leningrad (as the city was known during World War II) is evident in St. Petersburg’s historic streets and throughout Russia. Traces of the grueling offensive that began in September 1941 are embedded like the remnant shrapnel preserved in the façade of a building, like the Soviet hammer and sickle emblems emblazoned on structures ranging from light posts to bridges.

For 872 days, Nazi forces blockaded a city the Germans thought would buckle before winter. But despite extreme hardship and apparently insurmountable odds, the city’s defenders never surrendered. The toll was great; 800,000 civilians died, most from starvation.

In 21st-century St. Petersburg, my sleeper train awaits beside the platform just ahead of me. I climb its steps a few minutes before 9:00 p.m. Inside, narrow hallways crisscross the train. I find my room; there’s a middle-aged man inside.

Aleksei is his name. He is 40 years old and heavy set, with a light floral scarf wrapped loosely around a tweed suit. His shoes have been discarded beneath one of the two small beds in our compartment. He looks at me and smiles a broad, toothy smile, then takes a sip from a glass of hot tea resting on a pull-out table. In broken English, he explains that he is traveling for work, to Moscow, where he owns a customs business that deals mostly with European clients. It’s a trip he makes regularly.

“If you’re traveling by train, you must have black tea with lemon. Only on the train,” Aleksei says. Then he removes a bottle of Johnny Walker from his jacket pocket, takes a swig, and orders dinner for us: Caviar and toast, sauerkraut, sausage, pickles, ketchup, and spicy mustard, topped off with two shots of vodka.

“Forty percent only. Not 38,” he says, taking another swig of his whiskey.

Drinking is an intrinsic part of Russian culture. While growing up about 10 kilometers outside St. Petersburg, Aleksei says he made homemade vodka and sauerkraut with his family. They soaked cabbage in water, vodka, and a little bit of salt for about six hours before mashing and transferring it to a three-liter bottle to ferment for six months. The finished sauerkraut’s flavor was intense and harsh—like the country where it was made.

Aleksei, however, represents Russia’s softer side, one that’s unfamiliar to me.

“If you come to Russia, you will find friendly people,” he says.

The compartment door opens and a waitress enters with a tray of food. I try to pay Aleksei for my share, but he refuses my money, waving a limp hand in my direction.

Then he picks up the two shots on the tray and gives one to me.

“Hello vodka,” he says, and throws it back. I follow suit.

In Russia, strict social rules surround the serious business of drinking vodka. According to Aleksei, the first shot of the night (which must always be consumed in one gulp) is proceeded by the toast, “hello vodka”; the second, “to us”; the third, “for family”; the fourth, “for friendship.”

The food disappears almost as fast as the first shot of vodka. Aleksei orders another round.

“To us!” he shouts, and we drink again. Glassy-eyed, he orders more. If he were standing up, he would be staggering. For my part, I’m feeling OK, and for a minute I’m proud of myself for outpacing him. Then I realize he’s probably been drinking all day.

“Why is vodka so popular in Russia?” I ask.

“It’s normal. Vodka is,” Aleksei trails off and smiles, then admits, almost sheepishly, as if he’s telling me a great secret, “I like wine better.”

For vacations, he and his wife often tour the wine countries of Spain and Italy. Personally, Aleksei says, he thinks vodka is overrated, but it’s tradition—especially on the train—in Russia.

The third round is delivered. “For family,” he says, and we drink again.

My head swims. I can’t tell if it’s the alcohol or the rushing train. I lie back on my bed and check the time. It’s nearly 1:00 a.m. I need to sleep and say as much before stumbling down the narrow hallway to the tiny bathroom to brush my teeth.

When I return, a fourth round is on the table. “For friendship,” Aleksei says, looping my arm through his own and tipping back his glass.

The vodka burns down my throat.


About the Writer:
Andy Castillo is an experienced newspaper journalist who has worked for a few publications in western Massachusetts and as staff travel writer for GoNOMAD Travel. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University. He lives in Florence with his wife, Brianna.

Corona, Corazón by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Corona, Corazón

Posted Posted in Blog

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

The first time I had to socially distance, I was six years old with a severe case of strep throat. “Look at those pustules,” the doctor muttered as he gagged me with a tongue depressor. To this day, I cannot stand eating ice cream on a stick.

I lived in my parents’ bedroom that long spring, watching black and white television. I wanted company and wrote to my aunt 40 miles away to send me a Barbie doll. My parents fought when my father wrapped me in a bedspread and sat me on the driveway in a beach chair “to take sun.” My mother cried. She was sure that germs lurked everywhere. She was certain I would contract scarlet fever.

“Fresh air is good for her,” my father bellowed.

My father wanted to cure me. My mother wanted to convalesce me. I acquired my fearsome, what-if imagination from my mother. Disaster and danger were as ubiquitous as grass and sky. Throughout my childhood, I rarely left the house without holding her hand. When I was sick, she told me not to leave her double bed. And for the most part, I didn’t.

Now, my 85-year-old mother lives in a nursing home. I don’t tell her that there has been an outbreak of the coronavirus in her facility. I don’t tell her that she’s tested positive for COVID-19. Thus far, she’s asymptomatic. On the telephone she tells me that her 100-year-old roommate, Sadie, coughed throughout the night, and then went away.

“Where is she now?” I ask.

En el cementerio,” my mother says matter-of-factly in her native Spanish. To think, only a thin curtain separated my mother from Sadie’s mortality.

Illustrations of the virus look like demented tinker toys. Red pieces of wood that resemble golf tees are stabbed into gray pockmarked balls. These invisible and viral tinker toys are on doorknobs, on the mail, on the credit card I hand to the cashier at the grocery store. They’re on the steering wheel of the car.

I don’t take my cell phone with me when I walk the dog in case an errant germ lands on my screen. On one of those walks I see my neighbor weeding in front of his house. He forgets for a moment and steps towards me. I stagger backward. “Yes. Sorry—of course,” he stammers.

I am a few months shy of 60—that boundary between the biblical sounding decree of “who shall live and who shall die.” My husband, who is 60, grocery shops during early morning hours designated for senior citizens. “Do they think old people don’t sleep?” he grouses.

People talk about the “silver linings” of this pandemic. I imagine most of those silver linings have teeth like a buzz saw—a macabre toothy grin. Get too close, and that’s how a limb gets severed. But I love waking up to my sweet husband. In normal times he works out of town during the week. Now, I love hearing his voice booming through the house as he conducts business on video-conferences. He’s a scientist responsible for organizing coronavirus testing sites.

At the home, my mother’s television is always on, broadcasting in the midst of her room’s fluorescent dusk. She checks for pandemic news all day. At night she falls into a restless sleep listening to pandemic bulletins. But nothing on the news is as harrowing for her as the forced quarantine she endures in her six-foot by nine-foot room.

 “Estoy encarcelada.” I’m imprisoned, my mother says.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve wanted to hold my mother’s hand. But right now, I long to do just that.

I’m anxious about being housebound. I’m terrified of becoming the agoraphobic I was in my early 20s. That’s when I moved to New York City to teach myself to be in the world. My cover was that I went there for love and then for graduate school. But the truth is I found comfort in counting my way around the city. I memorized avenues and was mindful of the numbered streets. I ended up living in the city for nine years.  

The news hammers away at me. New York City is the epicenter of the virus. So many people die—young, old, even children—no one is spared. Refrigerated trucks are converted into makeshift morgues. Fifth, Madison, Park—avenues that are tumbleweed empty now.  Yellow police tape does the job of vacating playgrounds and parks.  New York, where I taught myself to be free, is a deathtrap now. 

In Spanish, corona means “crown.”

In astronomy, there is the sun’s luminous corona.

When I visited my son in Spain this past winter, we drove through A Coruña, the largest town in Galicia.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me a story about the time King Solomon, took off his crown and placed it on his mother’s head. There is even a Ladino song with the refrain, Que el coronó, a el su madre, en día de alegria, de su corazón. “When the king crowned his mother, it was a day of joy, a day close to his heart.”

“That is how you honor a mother,” said my own mother.

Corazón, corona.

When my mother calls today, I hear her panting on the other end of the line. I become terrified that she is finally presenting with corona symptoms.

“When is this going away?”

It takes me a moment to understand she’s okay, that she is talking about the virus in general.

“When are you coming to see me? Te extraño.”

On the surface extrañar means “to miss.” Really, though, it’s a deep longing for something one will never have again. It’s a word my mother used whenevershe talked about Cuba. “Hay Cuba como te extraño.”

“I don’t exactly know when we’ll see each other again,” I say to her softly, lovingly. “But we will get through this,” I whisper, entirely unsure of what I have promised.


About the Writer:
Judy Bolton-Fasman is a four-time winner of the American Jewish Press Association’s Simon Rockower Award for her essays. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times (op-ed page), the Times’ family and parenting section (formerly “Motherlode”), the Boston Globe, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Superstition Review, Lunch Ticket, Split Lip Review, Modern Loss, WBUR’s “Cognoscenti” essay page, The Forward, O Magazine, and the Huffington Post. She has been awarded fellowships at the Vermont Studio Center, the Mineral School in Washington State (2018 Erin Donovan Fellow), and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (Alonzo G. Davis Fellow for Latinx Writers 2020).

Who Can't Handle the Truth by Suellen Meyers

Who Can’t Handle the Truth

Posted Posted in Blog

By Suellen Meyers

Zelda Diaz-Blitzstein sent me a text.

I’m so sorry to have to tell you your Dad passed away last night. 

Manny was my biological father, but he wasn’t my dad. Zelda knew him much better than I did. She’d been married to him almost since he and my mother split up 52 years ago. Depending on whose story you believed, Manny either had an affair with Zelda while still married to my mother, which caused the divorce, or Manny first had an affair with a blonde and then met Zelda on an airplane shortly thereafter. I can’t tell you which is accurate because I was a child when all of that happened.

What I can tell you is that one day I was living my five-year-old life like everything was fine, and the next day I was at the Los Angeles airport with my sisters and our mother waiting to board a plane bound for Mom’s hometown of Minneapolis. There we were in our California clothes with coats and snow boots stuffed in carry-on bags ready to be donned at the other end of our adventure. 

At almost 11, my sister Chelle understood what was happening. Margi, at two-and-a-half, hadn’t the foggiest notion of anything beyond her own need to eat, sleep, poop, and play. I was right in the middle—old enough to feel secure in the life I had, with no idea that my parents were breaking up, let alone how that was about to render me fatherless.

I caught on quickly that the subject of Manny upset my mother, something I strived to avoid at all costs. I didn’t ask about him; she didn’t volunteer information. As a result, my mind is like a partially erased chalkboard before that day we left for Minnesota. I know there was the ranch house on Madora Avenue, and that there were neighbors next door who had a swimming pool. There was my swing set and my dog, a cocker spaniel named Cookie. There was never-ending California sunshine and there were trips to the beach, Disneyland, and Knott’s Berry Farm. There was Oakdale Elementary and my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Gonzalez.

I have the photos to substantiate. But when I try to envision my life with Manny in it, there’s a big blank space where my father used to be. I do not remember saying goodbye. 

Eleven years passed before I would speak to or see Manny again. I was the one who initiated the meeting, but I didn’t recognize him at first. Perhaps out of loyalty for my parents (Mom remarried shortly after the divorce and I considered my stepdad my dad), I told Manny a short time after that meeting that I didn’t want to continue seeing him. Again, we lost touch. 

Twenty-eight years later, my husband found Manny and sent him a letter, and we reconnected once more. I was afraid. I had questions, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answers. My mother had Alzheimer’s, so I couldn’t ask her.

I always thought Manny had abandoned Chelle, Margi, and me—until he told me Mom had changed our phone number all those years ago and he couldn’t find us. 

And that’s the thing about about what we think we know. People say things, but that doesn’t mean the things they say are truthful. Just like the manipulation of scientific data, reality can be skewed. 

Today, I am a writer of nonfiction. My previous work revolved around situations where I knew the story first-hand. As I write my current project, a memoir based on my abandonment issues and Manny, I’ve had to rely on historical information found online as well as the accounts of aged relatives I have not spoken to in years. What I have uncovered is melded together like a patchwork quilt. What fits here might not align there, yet some pieces fall into place perfectly, like Goldilocks’ slumber when she lays on the mattress that’s just right. 

Opening myself up to more than one version of truth allows me to tell the story objectively. In my mother and Manny’s case, I can see them as layered beings who did not always make the best choices. Wherever the truth lies, I do not believe either of them intentionally did anything to hurt my sisters or me.   

I lost Manny twice, the first time at five and again, to his death, years later. When I received Zelda’s text, I was devastated. My reaction took me by surprise. I called her immediately. She told me Manny spoke about his three girls until the very end.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sure was nice to hear.


About the Writer:
Suellen Meyers is agoraphobic and she’s not afraid to talk about it. She writes nonfiction on themes of family, loss, addiction, anxiety, agoraphobia, and resilience. Through her writing, she strives to inspire those who live with anxiety and panic disorders to see that they can lead productive and happy lives. Her work has been published in The Manifest-Station and r.kv.r.y Quarterly Journal. Suellen is currently obtaining an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Bay Path University. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband, Gary, and Zoey the Elf Dog. Her website is https://www.fearlessagoraphobic.com.

On the Fading of Hotness by Heidi Fettig Parton

On the Fading of Hotness

Posted Posted in Blog

By Heidi Fettig Parton

Nick Flynn is telling this group of writing conference attendees how the French use the term recit in place of memoir, but I can’t focus on what he’s saying. I can’t because, if you don’t know, Flynn is rather swoon worthy. Though I wonder if he’s holding onto a last glimpse of hotness, brilliant sunset that it is. I wondered the same thing last year when I saw Sting up close at a sound check wearing some impossibly skinny jeans. Flynn is scruffier, grungier, than Sting. Flynn is Kurt Cobain with his shit together.

When I squint at Flynn, I see the kind of guy I crushed on in college—all those liberal artsy dudes I never dated because I was attached to the business major I ultimately married. Perhaps Flynn was one of those geniuses in my creative writing courses—the pony-tailed, flannel-shirt-wearing guys who read their essays aloud without the slightest hint of self-consciousness, without the slightest fear their words were anything less than brilliant. God, how I envied them.

Flynn is now turning towards the projected screen behind him, referencing one of his slides. I wonder if he knows that his boyishly messy hair is thinning in back. This isn’t something a person can easily see—and, really, Flynn’s disappearing hair does nothing to undermine his good looks. Hotness doesn’t fade in men the way it does in women. At age 65, Clint Eastwood played the ruggedly sexy photographer opposite Meryl Streep in the film, The Bridges of Madison County. Streep was 46 at the time.

There are, of course, exceptionally well-aged women. Coaxed along by good genes, personal assistants, and airbrushing, Jennifer Aniston continues to smolder on magazine covers at age 51. In recent years, I’ve taken to thumbing through copies of People at store checkouts. I’m watching for the moment when Aniston goes from being “world’s most beautiful woman” to a “woman who still looks good for her age.” I’ve grown obsessed with spying that invisible line. At the same time, I’m cheering Aniston on. I want her declared “world’s sexiest woman” at 65.

If Flynn were to squint at me on the elevator tonight, might he follow me back to my hotel room? Might he see the same woman who, in her thirties, was told she looked 20? “You’re too young to be a mother,” they’d tell me—those men I dated, one after another, in the years following my divorce.

“I’m making up for my twenties,” I’d say. I married, had two children, and graduated from law school, all before age 25.

I am listening intently to Flynn now. He’s reading from his new book of poetry, I Will Destroy You. I stick with his words for a few minutes before checking my phone. Back home, my guy is likely putting our child (my third, the one born when I was a so-called geriatric mother) to bed. He’s the same guy who watched me gyrating to Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” the night I was the only one in the bar who interpreted the song as a dance number.

By then, I’d learned to dance alone, to dance like (and even when) no one was watching. But the tall red head who would become my second husband saw me. Yes, Nick, I’m married and, as I’ve deduced from your poems, so are you. I guess we won’t be squinting after one another as we walk the hall back to my hotel room, and I won’t be running my fingers through your thinning hair. It’s actually okay. I already had plans to solo binge-watch Flea Bag (the season featuring the hot priest); I didn’t really want you to see the cellulite on my thighs; and, thank God, I need never write a recit about our fling.


About the Writer:
Heidi Fettig Parton received her MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University. Her essays and poetry can be found in many publications, including Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, Entropy, Forge Literary Magazine, Harbor Review, St. Paul Almanac, The Manifest-Station, and The Rumpus. Heidi lives in Stillwater, Minnesota, where she’s at work on a generational memoir about divorce. She also serves as a steward of the St. Croix River and its watershed. Her website is www.heidifettigparton.com.

The Value of Flying Solo by Maria Smith

The Value of Flying Solo

Posted Posted in Blog

By Maria Smith

We’re at 30,000 feet. Terry is sitting in the window seat reading before he asks to get up to stretch. Less than a minute after standing, he’s having spasms in his diaphragm, his body is writhing. I need to quickly get him the rest of the way down the aisle to the back galley before he starts convulsing violently.

He tosses me his glasses, rings, and watch. I slip the rings onto my middle finger, hang his glasses on my shirt collar, and shove his watch deep into the pocket of my jeans. I lean my body into his to protect him from falling or hitting his head. During this turmoil, my diamond anniversary band slides off my ring finger and drops into the aisle. A wave of heat flashes over me as I struggle to calm myself. Two flight attendants are rattling off questions about how they can help. I’m half listening while firmly hanging onto Terry and asking for someone to please find my ring.

We still have nearly an hour of flying time. I’m terrified we might be the reason for an emergency landing.

Scenes like this have been the norm for us for over 14 years. Terry has nonepileptic seizures and severe migraines resulting from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and several Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs). His symptoms began shortly after his deployment to Cuba in 2004 and worsened after returning from Iraq in 2007.

Nonepileptic seizures are not treated with medication like epilepsy. They work themselves out and usually resolve more quickly when the person experiencing them listens to a meditation or soothing music and breathes deeply.

On the day of that frantic flight, we were on our way to Operation Mend, a three-week Intensive Therapy Program at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center designed to help veterans and their caregivers navigate the trials of living with PTSD and TBI. Terry wanted to go, but I had mixed feelings about attending yet another program.

“I’m going, with or without you,” he said, “but it’s recommended caregivers also attend.” I’m dubious, but I’m not one to leave any stone unturned.

We had already gone through a shorter program in February 2019 that wasn’t helpful, so I didn’t have much confidence in this one. Going out to Los Angeles for three stressful weeks and potentially not learning anything new would be crushing. I have chronic pain myself from severe scoliosis. Flying all the way across the country and sleeping in a hotel bed would wreak havoc on my body, but my determination to see Terry get well is fiercer than my desire for home comforts.

Our first evening at UCLA, everyone participating in Operation Mend met with the program directors. We each received a large binder containing individualized schedules and handouts for the upcoming classes. I took a quick peek. It’s jam-packed, morning to night!

How am I going to endure 90-minute classes with my back pain? It even hurt to think about sitting on a hard chair for an entire day. The word “failure” begins hemorrhaging from my binder. Surely, I’ll be sent home.

In our counseling sessions, I learn that me panicking during Terry’s seizures was making matters worse. If I remain calm, it would help Terry recover more quickly. I wouldn’t have realized this if it wasn’t for UCLA. Nobody else ever mentioned it.

Fast forward two weeks. While in class, I notice Terry staring into space, one of the precursors of his seizures. He looks at me and rocks his hand signaling it’s happening.

“I’m stepping out,” he says. “I don’t want to disturb anybody.”

 I’m ready to jump up, but stop myself as I glance over at Terry’s therapist who’s co-teaching. He nods at me in a way I interpret to mean “let Terry be.”  I take in a deep breath, exhale, and re-shift my focus, though it’s agonizing not running after Terry! Every visceral part of me wants to cradle him like a baby. I want to hang on tight, just like I did on the airplane—and from day one of these damn seizures.

It might sound counterintuitive, but when someone we love is struggling with trauma, sometimes the best thing we can do for them is to concentrate on ourselves and help them find their own inner power to overcome and fly solo.

Over-controlling was how I lost my ring.


About the Writer:
Maria Smith is an aspiring writer and artist who spent 16 years serving as an officer in the Air Force Reserve, where she achieved the rank of Major. After being honorably discharged due to illness in 2010, she enrolled in the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, CO, completing her doctorate in psychology in March 2014. She earned her MFA from Bay Path University’s Creative Nonfiction Writing program in July 2019. Maria’s art has been displayed in numerous art shows. She created illustrations for the poetry book Paintings in the Sand by Dr. Jason Dias, and designed the cover for his book, The Girlfriend Project. Maria is originally from western Massachusetts; she currently lives in Bluffton, South Carolina with her husband, Terry.