Sunday, October 30, 2011

Six years ago...

Six years ago our friend got married in New England. I hadn't seen Kurt in five years, maybe longer. We were friends and he offered to give me a ride to the wedding.

Thirteen hours later, we were wrapped up in the sheets of an anonymous hotel room in Connecticut. Thirteen hours later, I said, I'm going to marry you, boy.

That was October of 2005. We were only kids with a suicidal penchant for being lost and outside.

A lot has happened since then.





We only dated for a short time before things got serious. And by serious, I mean I was pregnant and we were sober and small and standing on our feet for the first time.

Scouty B is in there. Amazing.

Halloween 2006





My grandmother said I was the biggest pregnant woman she's ever seen.

And then suddenly we were mommy and daddy.

Is it okay that I barely remember those kids?

We always tell Scouty, "You're the one who made us into a mommy and daddy. We were so lost without you. You were a tiny star in the sky and we wished for a little girl with red hair and big brown eyes. You saw how much we loved you without even knowing you, so you came down and did your beautiful star magic and turned us into a family."

Louise is my baby, so she's special. The last one. The one who stays tiny the longest. The one I cradle in my arms, the one with cheeks that go on forever.

Scouty was there, though, when we had no idea what in the fuck we were doing. She was there in our tiny apartment with the furnace that made noise. She was up with us at night while we panicked with bottles tucked under our chins, trailing a blanket across the cold kitchen vinyl as we paced into the night. She didn't have a big mom and dad to bring her home, like Louisey did. When Scouty cried, we came to life in a flurry, bumping into one another, saying, "Oh my god."

The three of us, we learned how to be people together.

When my friends have new babies, first babies, they talk about their fears and perceived near brushes with death. They talk about not being able to shower because the baby will cry in her crib. Sometimes they break down crying over lunch, and I remember.

But, I don't really remember. It feels a million miles away that we were only kids, fumbling with the car seat straps with shaking hands.

I can't get them to tighten!
You're making her cry, let me see.
You have to pull on that strap.
I'm pulling!
Get her back out of the goddamn thing!
I can't get the buckle, you have to help me!

Sometimes it seemed like we weren't going to survive it. Sometimes we yelled at each other over directions and applesauce. Sometimes we clung helplessly to one another under a giant moon, threatening to drop right into the sea.

It might be hard to remember those kids with torn clothing and a broken thermostat, but I remember you, love. I remember that you were there with me, holding my hand the whole time.

Happy kind of anniversary.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How did I get through it?

Melissa from Bubby and Bean asked, How did you get through such a scary, intense time? about my post on PPD yesterday.

That's a hard question to answer because I'm not really sure at what point I felt like I really did get over it.

Over time, I calmed down about some things. I started taking sleeping pills and Scouty eventually slept through the night. I also went back to college after taking a semester off to have my baby. All of these things helped me to not feel TOTALLY BATSHIT CRAZY all the time. Just getting out of the house and interacting with other human beings and getting some more sleep was helpful to a degree.

But, I was still having panic attacks.
I was still having obsessive thoughts about terrible things happening to my baby.

Every time we got in the car, I'd suffer a 5 minutes daydream about how I was going to lose control of myself and wreck the car. How she'd be trapped inside and screaming. How I would wail.
Every time we went swimming, I envisioned her drowning.
Every time we went to the playground, I pictured her falling from the slide.
Every time we went to a restaurant, I was sure she would be poisoned.

I mean, it was nuts.

I became a super, over the top germ-o-phobe. I was preoccupied with germs. I would force everybody who came near us to sanitize. I would wipe down the equipment at the indoor play area with sanitizing wipes and watch my girl like a hawk to make sure she didn't put her hands in her mouth. One time, I went to the grocery store and realized that I didn't have any hand sanitizer, so... instead of driving in the right direction to get home, I went in the opposite direction to a park, pulled in next to a secluded bathroom and ran inside and washed my hands. I couldn't just pull into a McDonalds or something where everybody in the world was using the bathrooms. That would be like washing my hands in filth and stickiness and germs.

So, there was that. People made fun of me. My husband rolled his eyes. I kept having panic attacks. But mostly, I just faked my way through it. Mostly, I just told myself that if I pretended like it wasn't happening and stayed out in the world, I could keep it from consuming me.

And I guess it worked. But it wasn't really any way to live.

When Scouty was 8 months old, I went to the ER because I was dizzy and had heart palpitations. From there, I saw a therapist and was diagnosed with having PPD, OCD and Panic Disorder.

I never had a single moment of panic until Scout was born. It was really confusing. I chose not to medicate and just work with keeping my freaking out under control. I got pretty okay at keeping it at bay, besides all the sanitizing and hand washing until my hands bled, I mean.

When Scouty was about two years old, I was pretty okay. I only had a panic attack on a semi-monthly basis, and even then... I had learned a lot about getting through them. It was really rare that an episode would totally floor me.

When I was pregnant with Louise, I started having palpitations and had to wear a heart monitor. Nobody seemed to be concerned THAT MY HEART WASN'T WORKING RIGHT, and I felt really panicked about it. I talked with my OB/GYN and he said that as soon as Louise was born, he would put me on Zoloft. I was wary of taking it, but I was way way way more wary of having another baby and starting all over with going crazy and freaking out and losing all the ground I had gained on my own.


Allow me to say that I love Zoloft so much that I could be a pharmaceutical rep for them, (except that I'm a saggy middle aged mom who doesn't wear make up and cuts her own hair.)

I mean, all the getting better I did on my own, where I learned to just ride the panic wave, to get through it without falling apart. How I figured out that, if I was feeling panicky, I should just go somewhere public where I felt like I had no choice but to hold it together. How I downed melatonin and sleeping pills every single day because I wouldn't sleep other wise. Sometimes I took a sleeping pill in the middle of the day just to calm my nerves. How, if I didn't exercise in the evening, I would be jittery and falling apart by bedtime. How I would sit in a coffee shop hiding behind a book, not really reading it, just trying to remember how to be a human being.

I wrote, too. I sat and manically typed and typed and typed into the night. I wrote my book. It wasn't about panic, but it was full of darkness and light. It all took place under the trees. I couldn't rest until the story was out of me.

I was even a little bit afraid of being better. I thought I wouldn't be brilliant if something was in my head, suppressing my fears and impulses. But, like I already said. How I was living was not really anything I'd recommend.

Within a week of starting Zoloft, I felt okay. I felt kind of REALLY FUCKING okay. Within another few weeks, I could sleep at night without taking any pills. I could allow my children to play at the park without squirming out of my skin about all the germs they were amassing. I even let people sit down with me, talk with me and hold my hands without making them sanitize, (most of the time, at least.)

I guess, how I got through such a terrible time is that I faked it. I pretended nothing was wrong. I got a firm strangle hold on my sanity and held on to it with mad, white fists. I got through it because I loved my baby and I didn't have the option of losing it. And then, the thing that really worked was that I finally asked for help and got it.

I haven't panicked in probably a year and a half. I haven't been up all night obsessing about everything that could go wrong. I can drive without having to mentally prepare myself for crashing. I can interact with people without seeing them as a source of potential disaster. I don't even believe that monsters are lurking on the stairs at night anymore. I don't even believe that something is going to go wrong.

I am able to love my kids without being constantly aware of how DEVASTATING and UNDOING it would be if they weren't here with me and alive and okay and happy. I am not afraid of my love, any more. I don't live every day from the point of view that I couldn't take it if anything happened to them. That's what my panic was all about. I had never loved anything purely, before. I had never been somebody's mommy. I was afraid that deep down, I wasn't good enough to be what they deserved.

I know that I am, now.

I can't even say for sure that nothing will ever happen to them, or to me. I can understand, though, that chances are that nothing will. Chances are that we'll live a long time together and I'll get to love them until I'd old and tired. Chances are that even then, at the end of my long life, I won't be ready to let them go, and that's okay. It's just the price I pay to get to love something this much. It's worth it, and I'm not scared anymore.

lake erie, pregnant with louise


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Postpartum Depression - There was nothing on the stairs.

The birth of my first daughter was a nightmare. Nothing went as planned. I labored for fifteen hours and then she was cut from my belly. They placed me into a recovery room alone. I had only gotten a glimpse of her. I stayed there for hours.

Finally, we left the hospital to head home with our new little girl, our new life. I hadn't eaten a single bite of food. My baby was so tiny her car seat. She was a little diamond and everything in the world threatened to swallow her up. Except in my arms. In my arms, she felt like a very solid thing.

We lived almost an hour away. I was going to college in the country. Kurt drove to the city to work, leaving me in a tiny apartment on a lawn shared by a family with dogs. I pictured what those dogs could do to destroy my life. Scout was so quiet in the back. Her face in the mirror was perfect; she was sleeping.

Kurt was talking to me, only I wasn't there, not really. I was stretching thin across the side of the highway. I was clinging desperately to the child-me, to the person I was three days before. I wanted to run. I wanted to take it all back and I was being obliterated by the sunlight.

"A couple was arrested because their baby was dead," he told me as I stared across a green field spotted with faraway cows. I reached for them. I wrapped their solid legs in panicked fists. I wanted to be anonymous and roaming. "They never changed the baby's diaper and it got so bad that she died of an infection."

No. This was not the world. Pulling away from the hospital, I joked about a murder of crows that suddenly scattered at the sound of our car. That is either a really good omen, or a bad one. Now we had our love all bundled up outside of our bodies, we made a person and the world was mean and terrifying.

Babies didn't die, I thought. They couldn't; because we would all be driven insane at the mention of it.

At home, my little sister was there. I didn't want my mother. I didn't want the women who had come before me. Kurt, Audra and I were kids, but we could do this. My baby was resting on my belly, feeding from my breast. There was a crime show on tv. I hadn't sleep in so long; I couldn't eat. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I dreamed about abuse. I pictured my daughter being stolen and violated.

I snapped awake and things weren't normal. The room was suddenly small and filthy. There was dust on everything. The television screen was a million miles away. The ceiling was tilted and the walls were closing in. "Can I talk to you in the bedroom?" I asked my husband. I handed my daughter to my sister.

This was it, I thought. I had read about postpartum psychosis and now it was happening, I thought. I was losing my mind. I couldn't stand without help. I was prescribed opiates. Kurt helped me into bed. I was trembling. My heart was racing. Everything was wrong. Even Kurt looked different, like his eyes were too big and dark for his face. I buried myself under the blankets and sobbed.

He put on the television for me. Flipping through the channels, I asked him to stop on a car race. I didn't watch this sort of thing ever, but something about the neatness of the oval and the steady pace of the cars was comforting. The voices in the background were even and friendly. There would be hundreds of these laps. I could lay here for hours and the cars would keep going around. This wasn't the sort of world where bad things happened to little girls. How could anyone handle something so ugly?

I fell asleep for an hour. My husband was so tentative and scared to wake me. "She's hungry," he said.

My sister had gone into town and alerted the women, my mom and aunts, that I was sobbing alone in my bed. That I was afraid I was losing my mind. They sent her back to me with bags of produce, told her to cook for me, to get me to eat.

Sitting up, with half a veggie burger in my belly and my daughter in tact, I felt almost normal. She had survived the hour while I slept. Maybe I would try to sleep again, someday. I wasn't sure if it was okay. Did people sleep when they had a newborn? What if she suffocated in the night? What if she cried and I couldn't hear her? What if someone broke in and came creeping up the stairs to get her? It was too much.

That night, nursing her at 4 am, the news on the television told me that a twenty year old father had put his baby into the microwave. He was trying to kill her and make it look like an accident, but the medical examiners knew. The world was full of monsters and I was incapable. I thought I might throw up, but I couldn't stand. I called to my husband. Pounded on the wall. Panicking, I cried his name in the night. Oh, help! I needed to get up. I needed to get away from here.

But, looking down into her little face.

She was so sleepy and still and warm. She smelled like life and her eyes moved under their tiny lids. She dreamed about being inside of me. She dreamed about a world of water and the sound of my heart like the tide. Her little fingers stretched in her sleep. She plucked at the very fabric of existence. I didn't know how, but I would keep her safe.

Was that a footstep on the stairs? My voice reached an impossible pitch. Something was in the basement. I squinted in the dark for the brass doorknob, willing it not to turn. I needed to get up. I needed to throw open the curtains and see the moon. I needed to know there were places where clover grew, where petals were carried on a breeze.

He came for me. Scrambling out of the bedroom, my love came for me asking, "What's the matter?"

Could I tell him? Could I bear to tell him that he was losing me? That I was only barely clinging to being okay? What would happen when I went insane? Who would feed my baby? Who would love my family?

There was nothing on the stairs. The world was sleeping, but that wasn't me, anymore.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

My experience at the BlogHer Writers Conference

It was beautiful in New York. Sunny and mild and perfect. I grabbed lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in... I don't even know. 10 years? He was beautiful and healthy and I was so happy to be talking with him that I kept interrupting him mid-sentence to say, "You're so cute. I'm so happy to be sitting here with you. Okay, go on."

I make people blush, in my old age. I can't help it. If you're beautiful and awesome, I have to say so. People don't feel free to say so, often enough. There are so many great things about being grown up, and this is maybe one of my favorites. I am finally not inside my head, worrying about myself and what everybody is thinking of me. I am able to actually be with somebody and see them and more often than not, they totally blast me out of the water with their beauty. How could I keep that to myself?

I also stayed up late talking with my gorgeous brave New Yorker cousin about our passed down family craziness and relationships and making it on our own in a big, bad world. I grew up being the oldest of thirteen grandchildren on my mother's side of the family. I used to feel awkward and obvious and old, like I was surrounded by adorable children, and I was just the big goofy pre-teen going through an endless rebellious phase.

When you're thirteen and somebody is eight, it seems like there is always going to be a huge chasm of experience between you. When we were kids, I was so much older than my cousin, but now we're both grown ups and so we're equals. I absolutely loved talking with her, hearing her secrets and appreciating that I've known this drop dead gorgeous, tall, long haired, successful woman since she was a chubby, silly, adorable little baby.

So. The conference itself.

I didn't know what I was hoping to get out of attending. I didn't know what phase of writing life I was in. I wasn't sure about the solidity of the ground I was standing on. I just wanted to go, and hope that some writerly magic would be swept up around me. Maybe some of it would even wear off on me.

Can I tell you that I think that very thing totally happened?

Honestly, I have been going down this rabbit hole for a LONG TIME. I have been researching the publishing business since I was in college. I had a list of agents I wanted to query long before I was done writing and editing my book. I have compiled such a mountain of advice about writing a query and how to send it out, it's ridiculous. I have been very determined and thorough about gathering practical information.

Where I haven't been so educated and exhaustive is in the real experience of being a published author. I have known for a long time about the proper format for a query letter, but I had no idea how many rejections brilliant people go through. I had no idea how many successful authors think about giving up. I learned so much about earning publication through grit and tears and sleeplessness. I found out that PRETTY MUCH NOBODY gets plucked from the tar, shined up and set on her feet on a pile of money.

If I feel like I have suffered, bled and been beaten by this process, I need to tighten up my little orthopedic mom-shoe buckles, smooth the front of my only semi-stylish, deceptively comfortable sweat shirt dress and get ready to bleed and cry and shake my fists at the sky some more. There won't even be an end in sight. There won't be any certainty. The only certainty I will have is the fact that I believe in my ability.

I learned that you don't quit, because that's the whole point. When you quit, you're not a writer. Only people who want to be writers quit. Only people who don't know for sure that they're writers quit.

I learned that before your book is published, you're going to cry. You are going to feel like you aren't good enough. You are going to be disappointed and rejected and passed over hundreds of times. Maybe thousands of times. And no matter how fucking amazing and talented you KNOW you are, pretty much nobody in the business is going to see it. Not only do you only NEED one yes, you will only GET one yes. (That means lots and lots of nos.) There is nothing to be ashamed about when you're stowing away another rejection. Amazing authors are rejected. That's just how it goes.

Also, I gathered a lot of information about how important a "platform" is. I have been hesitant to come up with a platform and a target audience. I am not a marketing person. I do not find the idea of "selling myself" to be fun. I don't want to decide what somebody is looking for and try to mold myself to be that something.

I've always felt that way. I don't care about fabulous-ness and reputation and being appealing. I'm too lazy or stubborn or something. I just want to be allowed to be who I am. If you've been reading this blog for a while, I'm sure you've noticed that I am SO TOTALLY OKAY with it if somebody disagrees with me or suspects they might not even like me. I don't agree with everybody. I don't like everybody. I certainly don't require that everybody likes me. (Remember when I was talking about how much I love being old? This is another reason why.)


I had the very valuable lesson hammered into me at this conference that the process of finding an agent and selling your book is TOTALLY ONE HUNDRED PERCENT about finding out what somebody wants and making sure you've packaged yourself to be that thing. I HAVE TO CARE ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT THESE PARTICULAR PEOPLE LIKE ME, if I want to succeed at this.

Do you have any idea how HUGE that is for me? It's like... the clouds are parting, huge. I get it, huge.

It doesn't mean I'm being a big fake douche if I say, "You're looking for me. You want this thing and this thing and this thing. I am those things." Even if I know that there's SO MUCH MORE to me and that really, I'm magic and my platform is anybody who is susceptible to magic. It doesn't matter if my package is a little shinier than I really am. It doesn't matter how resistant I am to the idea of networking and impressing... no matter how much I don't want a pretty bow stuck to my head, I NEED IT. I NEED TO BE SELL-ABLE. I NEED TO BE A THING THAT IS REASONABLE AND DEPENDABLE. I need to fit in somewhere.

So, here I go.
Revamping my approach.
Taking all mentions of godlessness and rebellion out of my query letter.
Smoothing out my wrinkles.
Because, as much as I LOVE showing off my imperfections in my writing, that isn't what selling myself is about.
I will embrace the idea of a smooth, shiny platform and leave revealing how I'm just a mixed up, twisted, disgusting and brilliant, giant human, blotting out the sun with my very tiny existence... I'll leave all of that for my writing.

Check your sass, Amanda. Put on a little makeup and a tool belt. You've got a platform to build.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Blogher Book Club Review of Julie Klam's Love At First Bark

Disclosure: I am not a dog person.

Disclosure: I am not a dog person person.

Disclosure: Dog people often seem crazy to me, or at least like they need a child in their lives to rationalize how okay they are with somebody else's fecal matter.

Disclosure: When I volunteered to review this book, I felt pretty much like, "Meh, I'm sure I'll be able to remain objective enough to not simply barf all over the page when tell people what I thought."

Love at First Bark by Julie Klam is a memoir written by a dog person. It details her escapades with too little space and too many dogs. There is a lot of talk about following dogs around, picking poop off of her carpet. Of fecal incontinence. Of persistent doggie misbehavior.

And I found this book to be totally delightful.

Julie Klam's voice and point of view are so fun and refreshing and positive; her story was impossible not to like. She talked about her experiences with fostering dogs who needed homes, and although I'm totally not a dog person I found her love of these dogs and her compassion towards them to be admirable and even beautiful.

Klam is a high-energy narrator. She is quirky and possesses the elusive "adorkable" quality that people love in a character. She is kind and spirited. Reading about her thoughts and choices endeared her to me. I absolutely didn't feel like I was reading a book meant only for "dog people." Her story wasn't simply a story about owning dogs. It was about her life and the people and things she loves. She just happens to love dogs. A lot.

Click Here to read more about Julie Klam and her book, Love At First Bark, and to find out what the other Blogher bloggers thought. I haven't had a chance to check out the other reviews, yet... but I'm sure they loved this book as much as I did.

I was paid for this review. All opinions and ideas are my own.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Small Miracles - Indie Ink Writing Challenge

There wouldn’t be anything for them. I saw this coming. Jim was gone all night again. When he got home there wouldn’t be any money. The girls would wake up, tall with stretching bones under the baby pajamas I had to cut the feet out of. They outgrew them years ago. I put them to bed with broken zippers, little patches worn rough on the bottoms of their feet. Their shoes had holes. He was gone all night and it was payday, three days before Christmas.

“It’s okay, Mom,” my oldest would say.

“I’ll take you down to the courthouse to see the tree. You know how much you love seeing the lights,” I would tell her.

“Not this year,” she’d answer.

She was getting too old to believe in things.

I scanned the room wildly, my eyes settling on the curtains and sofa cushions for a moment. Could I make them something? I didn’t even know how to sew. My oldest girl wouldn’t be placated by watching the trains come in, all wrapped up in a swirl of snowflakes. She wouldn’t want to wait in line at the Jubilee Kitchen for a hot slice of turkey.

Morning would come while I sat here at the card table under the kitchen light, drinking the dregs from a cup of coffee I’d brewed three time with the same grinds. Biting my nails until they bled.

The stairs would creak under their weight. My baby, sleepy eyed and hopeful, she would crane her neck to peer over the bannister. She didn’t yet understand that Jim always drank away all of our money. We weren’t a family like she learned about in her coloring books. Her daddy was dead. Jim kept a roof over our heads. We weren’t a family that woke up together. There weren’t any miracles.

Except that there had been a man on the corner, waiting in his truck for someone. When I walked past him, he called out to me. “Come here, girl,” he said, although I wasn’t any girl. I stopped and looked at him from the other side of the street. He said it again, “Come here, I want to talk to you.”

I knew I shouldn’t. I knew that Jim would hunt this man down and kill him if he caught me talking to him. I knew what he wanted, and I still approached him.

“Where you headed?” he asked.

“Home, I guess,” I said, dragging my toe through the gravel. I didn’t know what I had to be coy about. I didn’t even have any underwear that fit, anymore. All of the food went to my babies. I didn’t really eat. I couldn’t keep anything down for the guilt over having a full belly when my girls would have empty ones again soon.

“Get in and I’ll take you,” he said.

I almost listened to him. I wasn’t used to ignoring a command. I even took a step toward the passenger door when he got distracted by his cell phone. “Shut up for a minute,” he said to me and answered the call. “Christ, girl,” he said into the phone. “I told you I don’t know. Eight, maybe eight-fifteen.”

It was just past seven-thirty. He wasn’t planning on spending more than ten minutes on me. I could do him for ten minutes. I scanned the parts of his body that I could see. He was compact and solid, his arms were covered in hair. I forced down an urge to laugh. I could do it. “I don’t give a fuck what he wants,” he said. “Put him to bed and I’ll see him in the morning.” He leaned over, still talking to his woman on the phone and pushed open the door for me.

“No,” I said. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

He put his fingers to his lips. His eyes were full of warning. I walked the rest of the way home feeling his eyes on my back, pale blue and cold. I’d do better to stay quiet, they said to me. Now it was almost three in the morning. I had the stove hanging open for warmth, but I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering.

The girls would be awake in a few hours.

I put on a skirt with nothing underneath. Under one of Jim’s heavy flannels, I wore a white t-shirt without a bra. It was cold. I decided to go out and find him at the bar, before all the money was gone.

Noël again
photo by mattia bellitti


For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Stefan challenged me with "The mere thought of it was motivation enough to act..." and I challenged Airicka Phoenix with "There once was a lady who swallowed a fly".


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Upcoming trip to Blogher Writers Conference

So, I'm leaving for the second time this month.

Did I tell you that I went to Chicago to sit on a panel for the IHA a few weeks ago? Well, I did. It was interesting and I met some pretty mamas who love Trader Joes and panic about hydrogenated oils as much as I do. The most eventful thing about it was that I went on an airplane and stayed in a hotel in a faraway city ALL BY MYSELF.

You would think that kind of thing would be fabulous, but all I did was miss my family and bother Kurt for phone pictures of the girls.

They are really just that irresistible.

I'm flying out on Thursday morning to attend the Blogher Writer's Conference in NYC. (I'm volunteering at the registration desk, so if you're there, please be sure to say hi!)

I'm not really sure what it is people do at writer's conferences. I'm not really sure what I should have prepared ahead of time. I don't really know what an "elevator pitch" is. All I know is that I have a shiny, wrapped up and polished little book in my hands, I have an unmarketable angle on it (or so I've heard), I solid query letter (or at least I think so) and I've heard that if you're looking for a magical, writerly shot in the buns, writer's conferences are the place to be.

It feels brave sometimes, to have no idea what the fuck I'm doing, and doing it anyway.

I like being on planes. I press my nose against the window.
I like checking into hotels and saying, "Oh, yes. I'm here on business."
It feels like I'm a kid playing a game where I wear a fake mustache and my mom's high heels. Not that you'd ever catch me in a pair of heels, but whatever. You know what I mean. Wish me luck on not being figured out, again.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On the top shelf of my closet...

I'm a massively unstable person.

It used to manifest in some colorful ways.

Now, I find myself surrounded by things. Things get piled up all around me. I jump at the sound of the coffee maker in the kitchen, having been lost looking through boxes of photographs. I finally moved them from the entertainment center to a high shelf in my closet, upstairs. I was wary of putting them up there, out of my reach. What if it was Tuesday and I had no idea where I was going? What if I couldn't remember when I smoked, when we held hands and you wore a plastic necklace to the bar? What if I forgot that we both wore sunglasses and posed smiling in your kitchen the day you overdosed?

I don't put things away, not really.

What if I can't remember Louise in my memories of last Christmas? I don't want to alarm myself, but I was there and Daddy and Scouty sat with me on the floor. My mom cried in our chair because my grandmother was dead. Her funeral was Christmas Eve. I went alone and came home, listening to tinny, faraway carols on the radio. I ran to you and we ate miniature cakes at the conservatory. There was a towering pile of presents, but I can't remember Louise.

There must be a picture to cure that. There is. She was small and sleepy and wore reindeer pajamas. I don't like to put her away in the dark where I have to stand on tip-toes and feel blindly along the edge of a shelf for her.

When I was a child, my mother had a seizure and went into a coma. I was sitting at the table eating Doritos and I heard a thud from the living room and my baby brother was crying. I found him, lying on the floor at the end of an unraveled blanket. My mom was rigid, her arms were turned against themselves like claws. She had been eating lunch and feeding the baby. Her plate had been resting on the arm of the couch, but now it was stuck to the side of her face.

I picked up my brother. I didn't understand. I thought that her plate was a frisbee; that somebody had thrown it at her head and knocked her out.

Later, when I was nine, she contracted spinal meningitis and my father went away on a fishing trip. She couldn't move. It was Easter and the four of us, my brothers, sister and I huddled around our baskets, eating candy until we were sick. The floor was littered with sparkling wrappers and my mother was grey and sleeping.

I tried to cook eggs and toast for us. I was the oldest. I made a mess of things and buttered the bread before putting it into the toaster.

As soon as I had babies, I developed panic disorder. I was dying, I thought. I had a hidden condition. I would pass out and hit my head in the kitchen while Kurt was at work. I feared losing my mind while driving. I didn't sleep at night, listening to my baby girl breathing in the monitor. There was mold in the shower of our rental. I cleaned my hands until they were cracked and sore.

I've always had a hard time letting go of things, but when I do, it's like the sky is opened up like an egg. Everything pours out.

I spent all weekend getting rid of things and putting things away. I feel hollowed out with smooth insides. I feel like I'm getting the hang of things, again. Waking up early and breakfast's on the stove. Little things that rattle, tiny shoes with buckles, soft pink sleepers and the infant bathtub. We'll never use them again.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall Fun List - Checking things off

We've been checking things off of our Fall Fun List!

5. Simmons Pumpkin Festival

7. Pumpkin Butter

8. Prepare garden beds for next year

9. Go hiking

21. Do something brave

23. Warm Cider

24. Kabocha Squash with Honey and Thyme

25. Go on a hayride

26. Make Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

31. Dye my hair

33. Pumpkin and Banana smoothies.

34. Get the front yard neat and clean

37. Finish my manuscript

42. Cook with disgusting amounts of pumpkin

45. Get back into a yoga and weights routine

47. Drink fresh pressed apple cider

48. Decorate for Halloween

How is your fall list coming along?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Once upon a time, there was a war. Indie Ink Writing Challenge.

Once upon a time, the Forest People and the human beings from the town were at war. The Forest People broke into homes at night and stole babies. They turned all the water in the wells to bile. Worst of all, they took the maidenhood of the town’s young women. Once you’d been sullied by a forest man, you were barren for life. You lived out your days crying like a lamb in the clover fields, waiting for a dark lover that would never return.

Except in the case of my grandmother.

She was done in by one of the men from the forest, and he came back. He stole in through her window at night and left her gifts while she slept; a section of wild honeycomb, a necklace carved from bear bone. He wound purple strands of heather through her dark hair. He worshipped her; he would do anything to stay in her favor.

Her father, my great-grandfather, he was a soldier. He noticed something strange hanging about his daughter. He saw that she smiled to herself over the evening dishes, that she was often broken out in a fine mist of sweat when she came downstairs for breakfast.

He waited up one night and listened at her bedroom door. Hearing the sound of fervent whispering, he rushed into her room to find her sheets rumpled and the curtains pulled back. Standing in the middle of the moonlight was a demon with long limbs and silver hair that glowed faintly like the reflection of light on water. His daughter lay limp in the thing’s arms.

“She’s carrying my child,” the forest thing said without speaking. “It is almost time.”

My grandfather went wild with indignation. His daughter was pure. A human woman had never been implanted with a demon baby. He charged at the creature, swinging his sword over his head and demanding that the demon free my grandmother.

“I will not,” the creature said, its black eyes narrowing. “I love her and the baby. She belongs to me, now.”

My grandmother opened her eyes. “It’s true, father,” she said. “I am beginning to labor.”

This was too much for my great-grandfather to bear. He lashed out at the two of them, his heart broken. He plunged his blade into the Forest Man’s belly. Black blood ushered forth from the wound, the creature cried black tears. My grandmother crumpled onto the hardwood.

“I am dying, my love,” the creature gurgled.

“You promised,” my mother cried into the shimmery night air. “You swore to never leave me.”

“I am sorry,” the Forest Man said, clutching at his wound.

“It is time,” my grandmother said. “Your child is almost here.”

My great-grandfather stepped towards them, huddled together on the bare floor, his daughter’s dress pulled up around her waist. Her stomach bulged; her skin was near to ripping. How had he been oblivious to her condition until this moment?

“Not you!” my grandmother screamed. “Stay away from me or I will have you murdered where you stand. It wouldn’t take but a snap of my fingers.”

He was scared and still.

My grandmother grunted and pushed. Her hair was soaking. She held the slender, gray the hand of the creature. “Don’t go,” she said to him. “Don’t leave without me.” She panted and swore. The demon called out in pain and rolled onto his side. A dark puddle of blood grew slippery and wide around him. My grandmother knelt in it like a dog, wiped it across her face, licked it from her fingertips and smeared the front of her nightshirt.

“Here, my darling,” she whispered to the creature, “she is almost here.” She placed the forest man's trembling hand between her legs. “Feel her hair,” she said. “I love you, she is almost here.”

She removed her nightshirt, baring her body to her father who stood mute in the doorway. Her breasts were full and heavy, her thighs covered in smears of black blood. She wrapped the infant in her clothing and placed her on the rapidly rising and falling chest of the creature. Picking up her father’s blade and cleaning the hilt with her hair, she braced herself against the tip and fell purposefully over the body of her dying love.

They say my mother ended the wars.

The Forest People retreated to the land beyond the river and human kind expanded westward, leaving an expanse of barren forest where no one tread willingly, not even animals. The place between worlds was cursed. My mother and I lived in a cottage there on the hillside where my grandparents were buried next to the well. We brought them things, orange pebbles from the river, locks of our hair and the ends of all of our bread.

No one was sure who my father was. My mother had many suitors. Some of them had footfalls like cotton, some of them were men from the town. She had only accepted one of them, she said, and someday he would come for me, to crown me the princess of his people. The rest of them fell ill and doting, drawn in by her beauty, invited into her bed lined with the skin of a black bear she felled in the winter. We ate even its heart.

The rest of the men clawed at the sky, refusing to eat or drink, tortured by having been near enough to smell the honey of her skin. They walked blindly through the forest at midnight to fall at her feet. “There, there,” she said, stroking their hair, squeezing sweet wine onto their tongues with the hem of her dress, "you found me." Many of them came to her bed, but she had only chosen one.

Sometimes I felt him watching me from the forest. Once, I even heard him speaking as I drew water from our well. “Mine,” he said, and all of the hair on my body stood on end. I felt him, a warm breeze on the bareness of my neck, but I kept my face averted. I watched the rippling surface of the water below as I lowered my bucket. Suddenly, his face appeared over my shoulder in the reflection. Silver hair so fine and straight, wide, yellow eyes like gold. I only caught a glimpse of him and my heart stopped beating.

I startled and pitched forward, falling like a stone into the blackness of the well. I plunged head first into the icy water, kicking wildly. I could see a circle of light in the sky. I reached for it, fumbling and panicking for the surface, for air that would never come.

“You are mine,” he said.

He was near to me. I felt his slipperiness in the water. “You have nothing to fear.” I stopped struggling. I knew him before he touched me. Grasping me around my ribcage, he pulled me down like a stone.


For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Diane challenged me with Tell us a good old-fashioned "Once upon a time" story and I challenged Jules with That's how everybody found out about me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The world is big...

It's evening and I can see my reflection in the glass of the window. My hair is too short. I wasn't brave enough for this before. I used to have hair that was heavy on my back, a constant pressure between my shoulder blades. Now I am made of new skin. I'm brushed and pink and wearing sensible shoes. I very seldom come home with mud under my nails.

Scout and Daddy are writing check lists in the living room. Kurt writes down a series of shapes and objects for Scouty to find around the house. Scouty just writes her name seven times along the side of the paper and checks it off.

She pretended she was me, this afternoon. She called me "honey" and "daughter." She chewed on the end of her pen and scribbled on my grocery pad, mumbling under her breath things like, "Eggs, okay, we have eggs. How about milk? No, I already wrote milk." She said to me, "Honey, remember how I showed you how to cook waffles? Could you make one for me, your mother?"

Only, when she says mother, it sounds like mudder.

I feel like I barely remember them as babies. What did it feel like to press their soft little faces to my breast? Louise couldn't bear to be away from me, not even for a few minutes. I would pull over to the side of the road and walk around the car to get to her. My throat would be burning and I opened her door and leaned in, wrapping my arms clumsily around the car seat. I tried make myself small enough to fit there, next to her. I closed my eyes and nestled against her tiny little throat. She suckled on my chin. The world went by outside and we were quiet.

That was as close as we were going to get anymore, kid. I wanted her that desperate way, too. I cried in the picture window until I thought I would never breathe again, the first time she went visiting without me.

Grandma's house isn't so far away, now. There is space between us. Sometimes it still breaks my heart to think of my baby sleeping all alone through the long, dark night. Sometimes she still belongs to me, but I know. I know all about the world and how it's terrible and it will break her heart. I also know better than to keep her from it. I would be a sorry old liar if I believed the heartbreak wasn't worth it. The world is big, but it's all there is, too. There is sunlight and water, too.

There are giant pines that border our back yard. There is so much to see. There is death and there are mornings that felt like they would never come, and there is love, too.


Today's post is a link up with Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary's Just Write. If you want to join in, write something about the details of your day and link up! Be sure to read a few other pieces and get to know some great new writers in the process.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

You're a piece of shit, and I forgive you.

Forgiveness is a tricky thing.

About once a year, one of my douchey ex-boyfriends contacts me via facebook and wants to be internet friends. So, about once a year, I go on a little rant about HOW IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE THAT SOMEBODY SO DOUCHEY COULD BELIEVE THAT I WOULD EVER WANT TO BE FACEBOOK BUDDIES?

I think it has to do with how we get older and learn to "forgive." We say, as a young person, I carried around so much anger at my father, but now that I'm grown, I've learned to forgive him, for me, not for him.

But what does that really mean?

That kind of "forgiveness" isn't so much about saying, "I forgive you," as it is saying, "I am willing to stop vilifying you in my mind and allowing my outrage over your villainy to affect me."

It doesn't have anything to do with you not being a villain, it has everything to do with the fact that I don't need a villain in my life. I don't need somebody to blame, anymore. I don't need somebody to be angry at. I'm not afraid of the truth about me, that I'm just a little, tiny person who thought she wasn't good enough. I am not in so low a place that it benefits me to say, "Yes, I am inferior, but HE did this to me and HE did this to me." I am not so ashamed of myself that I need somebody to be angry at, to justify who I am.

That's how I forgive you.

Something else is, at the time of this unbelievable negative and failing relationship, I was convinced that he was doing SO MUCH STUFF to damage me and hurt me. I see now that he was TOTALLY doing a TON of disgusting, unforgivable, harmful, mean and dirty stuff, but that none of the hurt he inflicted on me was original. His role in my life wasn't original. He was just the way I was manifesting my glitches.

My father hated me. Everything he did, all of our interactions were meant to show me that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. He resented me, belittled me, competed with me. He spanked me, bullied me with religion, infused me with anger and fear.

I used to not blame them, because I hated myself. I used to think, "Of course they were mean to me. Look at me."

But, really. I was just a kid. They weren't crushing me; they were crushing a little kid with big brown eyes and chubby cheeks. They were crushing a little girl. Embarrassing her. Making her afraid and ashamed. Now that I have my own children, I see their parenting for what it was. Hopelessly and fiercely flawed. Soul crushing and hobbling. The fact that my dad didn't love me was my original damage.

All of the stupid pageantry of that "relationship" with that douche... that was all just me acting out on my original hurts. That was me not knowing that my childhood wasn't normal. It was me not understanding that what my daddy told me wasn't the truth about who I was.

I'm not mad at any of them, anymore, though. I think that sometimes people call what I'm doing "forgiveness." It's true that I don't feel upset, anymore. I don't feel like I want to punch anybody in the face anymore. Instead of saying, "I forgive you because I see that what you did wasn't that bad," I am doing this:

I am letting go of my anger towards you because you really are THAT DISGUSTING, and I don't need a disgusting thing to cling to anymore, to make excuses for myself, to help define me.

I have a family, two daughters that are so important and beautiful they are like the ocean, I am propelled across a blue space of gratitude, pushed and pulled on their tides, tumbled about and made new. Every day. They're THAT GOOD.

My husband is the most admirable and impressive person that has ever existed. He holds me by my ankles, keeps my hair from catching fire, keeps me from brushing too close to oblivion. His body is where I rest. He has hands that are warm and steady and calm. He has seen me through a puddle of blood and urine on the floor of a hospital bathroom. I was shaking and vomiting from the pain. Our baby girl slept in the doorway. He has SEEN ME.

What use do I have for being angry because you were mean and you were thoughtless and you were harmful and you were selfish? Why would I turn my back, even for a second on all that light, to pay attention to the rags of embarrassment you tied to me?

I can say that when I think about you, I don't feel like I used to. I don't feel sad and scared and hurt and wild with anger. I don't feel outraged. I don't feel like I wasn't worth the truth.

That doesn't mean that I don't still believe that you were wrong. I still define you and your role in my life with those same negative adjectives.

I just don't let them define me.

That's what I mean when I say I forgive you.

I asked my husband, "Then what is stopping us from passing our dysfunction on to our kids? How are we able to not hurt them when people hurt their kids all the time because they were hurt, in the first place?"

And he said, "Because sometimes people just are. If they are smart enough and self-aware enough and love their kids enough, they just don't."

I believe him.

My babies are still young, but they are my priority. People love to talk about how annoying and challenging and exhausting their kids are, and mine are, too. But, my priority is to love them, and let that love color and bond with every other aspect of my life. My only job in this world is to make sure that my frustrations and embarrassments, my feelings of failure and my dark past, don't ever come close to touching them.

I will do whatever I need to in private, furiously writing, locking up all my shutters against the wind. I will be hard at work CONSTANTLY, telling myself the truth, living in a way where darkness can't collect in my corners, admitting who I am and where I've been, working through, working through, so that I am the best thing I can be.

Just for them.

I will not be passive towards the pejorative messages I've been given about myself. I will not be lazy in making my choices. I will not let one of those, "You're worthless, you weren't worth my kindness or my honesty or my care," messages slip in and inform the way I treat people, or treat myself.

Just for them, you're a piece of shit, and I forgive you.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Blogher Book Club Review - How to Be An American Housewife

How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway is a charming mother-daughter story about connecting with one another through exploring family culture and history. It follows the life of a Japanese-American housewife, Shoko, who disgraces her family by falling in love with the wrong man. In an attempt to right her wrongs, she marries an American soldier and moves to the US. In the process she estranges herself from her family and tries, despite her quirky, determined nature to adopt an "American" way of living.

Shoko's daughter, Suiko, is grown, with a daughter of her own. Finding herself lost between cultures and unable to connect with and feel understood by her mother, she lives an unhappy, aimless existence. It's not until Shoko falls ill and requests that Suiko travel to Japan, that Suiko is able to open herself to her Japanese roots. In learning about the place of her mother's upbringing and spending time with her family, immersing herself in their culture, the nature of patience and love are illuminated. In learning about her mother, Suiko learns the most about herself.

This story was fast paced and beautifully written. Shoko's story was interspersed with American culture from the 1950's, which was a totally charming device. Despite our cultural differences, I found myself identifying with Shoko more than her American daughter. I admire her determination and defiance in the face of a world full of people who seek to control her. If you've ever been told what to do or felt like you weren't able to make your own choices, you'll fall for Shoko's story, too.

Click here to find out more about the book, and to read the opinions of the other Blogher Book Club Bloggers.

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Letting go - Indie Ink Writing Challenge

I guess, if I had to choose one thing, I’d say I have a problem with holding on to things.

I collected things.

My grandmother Magdalena said to me, “Elaina Bell, I have no idea what an eight year old girl plans to do with so many buttons.” I just liked them. They were smooth and flat and felt good between my fingers. Sometimes I sat on the bare wood floor of my attic room and surrounded myself by them. I’d line them up in concentric circles, arranging them by color and hue. After spending hours placing them just so, before I could even appreciate them for their preciseness, I would swipe at them with my palm and send them scattering under the bed and into the corners with the lint and dust.

Under a board I pried loose in my closet, I kept a box full of burned down matches. Late at night, the smell of grandmother’s pipe tobacco creeping up the stairs, I would take them out in the dark and chew on their blackened little heads. The taste of the charred wood reminded me of mother. My mother built a fire and put all of my papers there when we moved in with grandma. “He won’t be able to prove anything,” she said, poking at the embers with a stick. Sometimes she lit a match and let it burn for a second. Then she pinched the little flame between her fingers and used the burnt end to blacken the lids of her eyes.

My mother wore silver clips in her hair and she was always losing them. We had to take a trip into town in the neighbor's car to Woolworth’s every few weeks to buy more. She didn’t know that I had exactly forty seven of them. Not a single one had been misplaced all this time. They lined up neatly along a rectangle of cardboard, snapped there sweetly and tucked under the end of my mattress.

My bedframe was made of brass and grandmother gave me a quilt of pink and blue patches when I was born. Nobody knew if I was going to be a boy or a girl. My grandmother wasn’t one for guessing. She just plodded along with the things she knew and didn’t know.

I had fish. I caught them in the trickle of a stream that made up the border between our land and the neighbors'. They were all boys and they lived in a cabin at the foot of the mountain. I watched them from a flat warm rock on our side of the water. The sun shone through the heavy pines and warmed the granite under my bare feet and legs. They were teenagers, most of them, with broad backs and filthy hands. They left finger prints all over everything they touched.

I caught minnows and bluegill. Grandmother barely ever baked anymore. She didn’t notice when her biggest mixing bowl went missing. I kept the fish under my bed, three or four at a time. I didn’t feed them. I didn’t want to. I liked the thought of them with me while I slept. I liked that they had nothing, only me, and I was nothing, too.

Sometimes one of them would grow bold and leap onto the cold floor, dying with the sound of a little wing fluttering in the night. I had a cigar box full of their tiny skeletons. Some of them had dried flesh that clung to their spines like the body of the Pharaoh in the museum in the city. I heard about him on the radio. He was wrapped in bandages and preserved with honey for thousands of years. My fish were honest to goodness mummies; I wrapped them in fabric scraps I ripped from the end of my tattered quilt.

My mother gave birth to a baby boy.

“Impossible,” my grandmother Magdalena said as she labored. “You’ve been here nearly seven months and I’ve never seen you leave the property.” She left though. I knew because she came home with wet hems and sooty fingerprints on her throat.

“He’s too early,” my mother said through clenched teeth. “Do something to stop him from coming.”

She knew as well as anybody that you couldn’t stop a life that wanted to be started, even one that was doomed to end just as soon. My mother buried the baby under the roots of an old tree while my grandmother watched, leaning on the long handle of the shovel. She pressed her open mouth to the wet leaves and mud. No sound came out of her, only the ugly smear of her broken face and black match-stained tears.

"I'll put on some coffee," grandmother said as my mother clawed at the dirt, clutching handfuls of earth and moss to her breast and opening her mouth for the rain. "There's no use in all of us freezing out here with him, poor thing."

I wanted the baby. I wanted a cradle to creak while I slept.

“Shush, girl,” mother said to me when I asked for another brother. “Your brother broke my heart.” She sat in the rocking chair on grandmother’s porch and shook her head, no, no, no. I found her there, each morning, her forehead creased, eyes glassy and far away.

“Good morning, mama,” I said. She petted my hair absentmindedly. I thought that she would find a way to bring him back to us. I figured that she couldn’t tolerate much more of being away from him. And then, one morning, one of the neighbors found her dead in the creek.

“Oh no!” the neighbor boy wailed from the trees. The sun had only just crept over the horizon, sneaking under the curtains, a hue of electric green. I sat up in bed and ran to the window. “Oh no,” he cried. “Oh no, no, no!”

He carried her like she was a child. Her wet and matted hair left a dark mark on his shoulder. My grandmother looked at him with her hard, cold eyes, the legs of his pants torn and reaching the whole way to his knees. I wondered if he would have outgrown my mother, too.

None of his clothes fit him. He worked with an axe, keeping his family in firewood. He was closer to my age than my mother’s, but he didn’t fit into any of his boy’s clothing. I wondered if he loved her, the way he was carrying on, crying and kissing her blue lips. I wondered if he would miss her when she was buried.

I wondered too about the baby out in the heather. Would he have eyes, still? Were his bones brittle like my fish?

“Let it go, Elaina,” my grandmother said. “You make me ill with all of your wondering. Sometime you will see that you have to let things go.”

I didn't, though. I had a little metal spade that I kept in the blackberry bushes.

Norwegian Wood 7
photo by asmund heimark

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Sir challenged me with: Write about performing an intervention on yourself regarding some part of your personality that you think needs work. and I challenged Shiv with: I had to look really far down, deep down under everything.


On ruining my pants, being unmarketable and telling the truth...

I wanted to give up on being a writer this afternoon, so then I just hurried up and caught on fire and wrote this.


One afternoon, my brother Adam and I were enticed away from our porch by a group of neighborhood kids promising to show us a field of bamboo. I'm not sure why this prospect was exciting to us, but we took off running up the hill and into the forest without mentioning to anybody where we were going. We pushed our way through brambles and low hanging branches to end up in a clearing where there were a bunch of hollow sticks growing straight out of the ground. I suppose they were some kind of cattail, but we didn't know that. Bamboo was exotic. Panda bears ate it. We decided to cut some open and taste what was inside.

My brother pulled a tiny Swiss army knife out of his pocket and started sawing away at the sticks. He felled one for each of us. I picked up the end of mine and raised it to my tongue and tasted it. It just tasted like a stick.

"I don't think we can eat these," I said.

We decided to come up with other uses for our bamboo. Some of the boys tried whacking stuff with theirs, which worked out moderately well. My brother tried running and jamming the end of his into the ground, so that he would be pole vaulted into the air, but that didn't work either. He just ended up on his butt in the leaves.

Eventually, we all dragged our bamboo stalks out of the woods and held them over our heads like big, wobbly batons and pretended like we were in a parade. I made trumpet noises and led the procession with my stick waving and wiggling all over the place. As we reached the bottom of the hill and approached our trailer lot, a sudden and intense feeling of dread overcame me. I felt like the devil himself had reached into my guts and started rifling around in my belly. From one hundred yards away, I could see the tiny outline of my mother standing in our gravely front yard with her hands on her hips.

"Oh no," Adam said, his bamboo pole drooping obscenely. "We didn't tell her we were leaving."

This was going to mean a spanking. In fact, Adam and I made very, very many mistakes over the course of our childhood afternoons that merited a spanking.

Our parents owned a big, splintered stick that they called "the lickin' stick," aptly named because it was used for giving lickings. I'm not sure where it came from originally, but it looked like the sawed off bar of an old crib. It was thick and sturdy and solid, and rested on the windowsill above the kitchen window. My brother made the mistake once of placing his hands over his behind during a spanking, and he came away with swollen, bruised knuckles and fingers that couldn't bend for a week. He also attempted to run away sometimes instead of standing and facing his beating, which only put the fury and splendor of our vengeful God into the heart of our mother, who was faster and meaner than my brother could ever be. She chased him down every time, the crack of the lickin' stick ringing against his burning cheeks.

I got new pink pants for church on Easter, but before we could all make it into the car to head to the morning service, I walked across the street and through the wet grass of my neighbor's yard. My foot slipped a few times on my way to the top of the little hill where his trailer sat. I got an idea from all that slipping, I guess, because before anybody knew it, I was sliding down that hill on my butt. It was so fast and so slippery that I went back up for a second time, and then a third. By the time my entire family was dressed in their Easter finest, my back side was covered in mud and grass stains so wet and ground in that they were never coming out.

I don't know what was wrong with me and didn't have an answer when my mother asked me, "Amanda, what is WRONG with you?" She had a way of emphasizing her words so that they cut right through your stupidity and got to the person who was hiding inside of you. I remember that about her. When you really disappointed her by doing something really terrible, like ruining your brand new pair of pink Easter pants from K-mart that cost more money than they should, she would clench her teeth and open her eyes really wide and say, "What is WRONG with you?"

My father spanked me for that particular offense. I'm afraid that he must have gotten a little carried away with himself, seeing as how these pants were new and I made us late for church on Easter. I wasn't able to walk very well after my punishment. Angry red welts were raised on my skin, and a kind of tiny madness was raised inside of me.

After I limped back to my bedroom and spent the afternoon crying, I got mad instead of sad. Only, I didn't have anybody to punish, so I took my Raggedy Anne and Andy dolls and I told them, "There is something WRONG with you, children," and I laid them over my knee and beat the hell out of them. Even when they cried, I just kept handing out lickings. My mother walked in on me and asked what I was doing. "I'm hitting them," I said.

"You shouldn't hit your dolls," she told me softly.

"They deserved it," I said.

"Come here," she told me. When I stood to cross the room to fold myself into her arms, I winced and walked gingerly with a bent back. "What's the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said. "My butt hurts."

She took a look at me, where my father had spanked me and she gasped. "Lay down," she told me in a funny voice that was full of sadness, and she went away for a second and came back with a bowl of water, a washcloth and the tub of Vaseline. I burned up of embarrassment as she washed me and spread the salve onto my damaged skin. I hated everything.

Later, she called my father into the living room where we were sitting together on our scratchy tweed sofa, looking at book. "Show him," my mother said, and I peeled my underwear away from where they were stuck to the Vaseline.

He nodded silently for a minute and he knelt in front of me. "I'm sorry," he told me. "I'm sorry that I hurt you."

I didn't see why he was sorry, though. I was the idiot who ruined my pants.