writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

Make it so

Kevin called them “false positives,” those faux cheery folks backed up by bitterness and anger, the grinners with the joyless eyes. You know the type, the one with the tight, contained smile and the tense jaw. She plumps up your pillows at the hospital or greets you at the front desk. Her voice is saccharine singsong, but underneath all is thin, threadbare, sparse. There is no room for darkness in the glare of all that artificial light. False positives. Another zinger, courtesy of a man now dead for over 12 years.

I’ve given up on hope. It’s nothing personal. Hope represents delusion, a sort of clinging to a possible outcome as though one has control over that particular outcome. I hope he’ll call. I hope the drugs work. I hope this year is better than last. It may sound melodramatic, but when all of our striving and dreams end up in a corpse plumped up with preservatives or reduced to a box of ashes and bone, what’s the point of just hoping? Make it happen. Figure out what you can do and then do it.

Kevin was a doer. He could be a nasty fuck, too, cruel and quick, but he made goals and pursued them single-mindedly. After his death, I made things happen, too. I shed my job and went to culinary school, a dream that morphed into parenthood and a writer’s composed disposition. Somewhere along the way, I stopped wanting to do. Existence became enough for me, being present with my family, sitting quietly in the living room with a clutch of cats and my laptop. Or maybe I have been making things happen – graduate school, a new career, even curtains. It’s just the progress has been so painfully slow and muddy that it feels like I’ve been standing still. There have been moments of transcendence, but mainly it’s been months of stress with some time off to remember the joy of simple existence. Still, I have made it a long way in two years.

I won’t be a false positive, will not use cheer as a thin veneer over anger. Graduate school is a slog. The outcome may not be worth it. Despite myself, I hope that it is. And I will do my best to make it so.

From the prompt “Hope.”

Image from
Machias Community Church (they claim to offer hope for free. So there’s that . . . ).

Frenzied seamstress

Sunday was a frenzy of measuring, cutting, pressing, and stitching, my final sewing hurrah for the summer. Goodbye, white Ikea panels that were here when we moved in. Hello, flower pattern!

Here are the results, plus gratuitous kitten picture, with the pre-sewfest window in the background.




I spent my second to last week of summer sewing up a storm: curtains and a bedskirt for the master bedroom; repurposed curtains for the laundry, utility closet, and guest room doors (all of the doors in this house have glass panes, even the bathrooms); and new pillowcases to replace the raggedy ones in the office.

It was my most efficient week of the season, small, contained, and satisfying, metronomic in its housewifely rhythm, pressing, threading, stitching, clipping. Finishing each task was like clicking a seatbelt into place. Another hem carefully ironed and sewn. Click. A bright new curtain threaded onto the rod. Click. Stacked washer and dryer hidden behind a wall of fabric. Click. It also made me feel boring as hell. What did I have to talk/write about? Nothing but the day to day and my dread of what lies ahead. School. A necessary evil.

So I’ve made my curtains and purchased my books and sung my mournful song. Next week the boy and I hang out. The week after that, school begins for both of us. No matter what this year brings, I have decided family is
the priority from now on. It has always been a priority, of course, but I am a good girl, a rule follower, and have subsumed my personal life for classes and studying. This is part of the graduate school experience. However, I plan on loosening my approach this year for the sake of sanity and connection. Husband on a trip that coincides with my two-day school week (as will happen in early September)? No babysitter for us. Sick kid? I’ll stay home if necessary, no apologies. Weekend work? Some of those days will be reserved for the three of us.

Because of my husband’s upcoming trip, I I already know I am going to miss the second week of one of my classes, a anticipated situation that pulls me between my two extremes, the obligations of family and school. If a student misses more than two sessions of a particular class, she fails it. My (perhaps bad) attitude right now is go ahead and fail me, though I doubt it will come to that.

I can’t decide if I just don’t care about school anymore, am finally focusing on what really matters, or a little of both. The boy has only one childhood. By the time I am done with my program – with thousands of hours remaining for licensure – he will be heading to middle school. I want to be present for as much as I can, while still giving my attention to the path that rolls out in front of me, an indefinite journey that requires making peace with and finding balance between my three major roles of mother, wife, and student. The first two outweigh the last.

And that’s how it needs to be.

Image of bedroom curtains by me.


Going it alone

A well-known actor and comedian hangs himself with a belt, just like the boy I never knew, Shane, my seventh grade contemporary, former classmates of my classmates. Everyone said he didn’t mean to do it. He had a fight with his mother. He thought somebody would find him. He didn’t understand the permanence of his decision. Isn’t it always that way in the end? Eventually, you are found. Sometimes, it is too late.

In the movie scene, in the last frames of the episode, in the middle of the book with the troubled character who reminds you of yourself, the man kicks away the chair beneath him. We see his body gently sway. His feet point to the floor. We hope that the beam collapses or the rope breaks. We want someone to find him before it is too late, a rescuer with a hunch, the last person he spoke with, the roommate with the sensitive ears. Failing that, we want it to be quick. We don’t want to see what happens when a body is subjected to such violence.

Suicide as plot device can fool you into believing you know what it is like to feel that sort of despair. Unless you have felt that sort of despair. You don’t really know such deep bleakness until you are in that moment yourself. I’ve been there, but I’ve never been there, if that makes any sense. And I hope to never feel that way again, though I know the odds are against me.

We are born into this world alone. We die alone. Hear it deeply voiced and serious, a cliché-ridden movie trailer voiceover to a film you don’t want to see. But perhaps it is true. We emerge as singletons, the symbiotic relationship with our mothers broken at birth. When the time comes to make our exit from this life, we do so without a guide or companion.

I suspect those who attempt suicide feel this aloneness more keenly than most.

From the prompt “Solitary.”

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