Nonfiction

breathe in, breathe out, then don’t

{by the grumbles of grumbles and grunts}

Our first dog, Nico, died on Saturday. Really I should say we put Nico down on Saturday because what I wouldn’t give to have just found him dead of his own accord in our house as opposed to the visceral reality of an assisted death for a very sick friend. It would have made things a lot easier. But, as with his whole life, nothing with Nico was ever easy.

Pets are a cruel joke that we play on ourselves. We go into the game knowing as a cold hard fact that we will outlive them. We’re destined to fall in love, share the ins and outs of daily life, and then watch as our friends die. Still we do it, and I don’t know why, maybe because we’re in denial. In the early years this harsh reality seems so far away, something we don’t have to deal with yet, an eventuality that we don’t want to think about until it’s right there staring us in the face. Not that it’s not worth it in many ways, but after a weekend like that I find myself wondering if it really is. Because Nico was sick for so long it’s hard for me to even remember happy Nico and I think that breaks my heart more than anything. I should be sadder. This should have been harder. But he was in so much pain and I just wanted it to go away, for him, for me.

I’ve never seen anything die, not like that, let alone something I loved so dearly. There’s a stillness to a body, to a corpse, when it ceases to take breath and the blood doesn’t flow, when the chest you’ve used as a pillow so many times isn’t moving, that I couldn’t take. It cut my heart in two and I had to go, I couldn’t bear to look at it any longer, the hollow shell that used to be my dog. Every second that ticked by past his last breath and my gasping tears was one more where I could feel it building in me, a primal response that I couldn’t control, RUN, THIS ISN’T RIGHT. GET AWAY. But I didn’t want to go and leave him there alone. But he wasn’t there anymore, it was just Jon and I and a jar of snickers labeled ‘human treats’ and a poorly placed ad for a pet photographer and it was time to leave.



In This Skin

{By Rachel at A Southern Fairytale}

Comfortable in this skin.

I’m not. And I am.

I’ve gained weight. Quite a bit.

I look at you and I don’t see your size, I see your sparkling eyes, your boisterous infectious laugh, your beautiful hair, your captivating smile, your heart, your elegant hands, your adorable sprinkling of freckles, the bounce in your step, your sassy-ness; all the things that make you who you are, the things that endear you to me, draw me to you.

And yet.

And. Yet.



To Sing My Song

{by Laurie White of Laurie Writes}

I drove the old roads yesterday, as I rarely do anymore unless someone died, as someone had. Turning instinctively on numbered streets — that party there, that unfortunate conversation on that street corner, I knew the sounds and the smells of the neighborhoods, felt the grit of the pavement and the echoes of so many voices up through the undercarriage of a car I never could have afforded then, can barely afford now.

Road miles, they carry us, somehow.

Monday was PG County and a dead body in a Hawaiian shirt, unbearable grief and chicken joints and that school I went to once. I forgot about D’s corner lot house, the irritation of the left turn. The shortcut through the 7-11 that I made still-instinctively after 20 years away made me want to smoke more than usual, an urge staved off mostly by the almost seven dollar price for a pack that made me smile big.



The Falling Away of Everything Wrong.

{by Kari of Through a Glass Darkly}

photo credit.

I keep telling Mike that being at the pool is going to give me plenty of fodder to write my Great American Novel. There are so many things to observe at the pool, so much of humanity (and flesh) on display. It reminds me that there really is nothing new under the sun. (Except possibly my blindingly white skin.)

It is still hard for me to watch those girls that I never was: the confident ones in the tiny bikinis with their perfect tans and their perfect hair and their perfect boyfriends to rub sunscreen on their shoulders (get a room!). I relate more to the ones who are holding back, shy in their bathing suits, aware of their flaws. Of course, they don’t have to be wearing bathing suits to be that shy. I see it at school, too – the girls who, somehow, aren’t awkward at all. And the girls who are profoundly aware of their own awkwardness. I am sometimes overwhelmed with the feeling that I need to take these girls aside, the shy bathing-suit clad, the awkward, and tell them: You might not be like the girls over there, but you are still wonderful. There are things I wouldn’t say, because I know they would not hear them: You will look back and realize you were looking pretty great after all. And: At the same time, you would never go back and relive these days for anything.

But I know, like all the rest of us, they will have to figure those things out for themselves. So I sit in my chair and watch and pray and root for them to find their way.

There has been a lot of dress talk in my house lately. I have seen a lot of magazine pictures that I know I could never live up to, all those tall leggy women who tower over me. I have been very tired and my class has been very frustrating and the economy has everyone worried about their jobs. I have forgotten things I needed to do. I have not lived up to my own expectations. I have not felt beautiful, inside or out. In the midst of that, I ran across this poem.



Her Mother

{by Gillian Marchenko}

photo credit

Last year in a Ukrainian court room, a stern looking judge asked me to rise. “Mrs. Marchenko, can you be a good mother to this child?” I had been coached beforehand by our adoption coordinator to answer ‘da,’ yes in Russian. Instead, though, I burst into tears.

My tears that day were a showcase of a medley of emotions: fear, insecurity, excitement, expectancy. The judge’s face softened as I stood weakly before her, sobbing. “Sit down, woman. The answer is in your tears.”

*

A year later, I am perched with my legs crisscross on scratchy gray carpet in an observation room with Evangeline, the little girl we adopted from Ukraine, on my lap. We just finished singing The Wheels on the Bus under the watchful eye of a social worker with a yellow pad of paper in one hand and a sharpened number two pencil tipped to take notes in the other.

Evangeline is being evaluated to determine if her behavior falls somewhere on the Autism spectrum or if what she does, stuff like eating dirt off the floor and rocking back and forth all day, are connected to her prior diagnosis of Down syndrome. I wonder internally, are these behaviors simply left over from being orphaned at birth?

*

A couple nights ago when all four of our children were tucked away in bed, I started working on a picture montage documenting Evangeline’s first year home. I scrutinized each picture we had of her and chose only the best: the ones where she looks happy, comfortable, content. While working on my project, I imagined friends and family commenting charitably. “Her hair is so long!” “She is so pretty!” And it’s true. She’s a beautiful girl. Her hair is as soft and shinny as corn silk. Her face is a plump, pink heart.

But so far, the montage falsely documents our first year together. I’ve left out the overarching theme; one of struggle and pain. Correct documentation would include a picture of me crying on my husband’s shoulder. “I can’t do this. She’s not who I expected her to be.” There would be another picture of Evangeline with a huge knot on her forehead from hitting herself on a crib bar at night to fall asleep. There would be a shot of me with scratches on my face from trying to hug her and probably another one with my back to her, my face blotchy and red from anger over her rejection.

*

Today at the evaluation, Evangeline surprises me by happily waving to the social worker when we first walk into the room. She bangs two plastic rings together, and flirts and laughs, this little girl who is typically suspicious of the world and traditionally closed off to me. Her actions both excite and anger me. I am overwhelmed to see her connect to her surroundings but I’m pissed off that she’ll wave hello to a stranger but won’t look me in the eye. If I would have seen these skills displayed earlier, we wouldn’t even be here.



The Boys, Part 1

{by Dera of Casablanca}

I’m driving home from Fiona’s school when she asks me this in a soft voice:

Fiona: “Mom? Did you ever like a boy when you were my age?”

Me: (thinking, “I loved boys in the womb. By seven, I was already over this dating thing and ready to settle down.”)

“Yeah, I think so.”

Fiona: “Were you ever afraid that he didn’t like you back?”

Me: (thinking, “There was little to no fear in my approach. Capture, seize, and conquer. Much easier.”)

“Sure. Is there a boy that you like?”

Fiona: (silence)

I adjust the rear-view mirror, and see the reddest face smiling back at me. I have my answer.

Me: “It’s okay. You don’t have to be embarrassed. Is it someone I know?”

Fiona: (nods with her face buried in her hands)

Me: “Fiona, do I have to guess every boy in our lives or are you going to tell me?”

Fiona: “I’ll give you a guess.”

Me: “A ‘hint’?”

Fiona: “Mmm hmmm.


1. He’s really smart.
2. He has curly hair.
3. His skin looks like your coffee.”

Neve: “Oh, yeah. So he’s from France?”



Breadcrumbs

{by Mary Lauren Weimer, My 3 Little Birds}

I almost didn’t go.

It was spitting Michigan sleet and I was tempted to change into sweatpants and curl up on my chair with dinner in my lap.

Sometimes, if I turned the antenna in just the right way, I could pick up Canadian channels. To me that sounded almost exotic–watching foreign television. But I’d worn a dress and heels to work, and all that wardrobe effort would have been wasted on another evening alone in my apartment if I didn’t venture out.

It was Ash Wednesday. I needed Lent like detox.



Holding Hands

{by Varda of The Squashed Bologna}

{photo credit}


Today my mother was tired when I stopped in to visit, to take her downstairs to lunch. And while many a day I will coax and cajole, force her to rouse herself, to rise to the occasion, today I didn’t. I let her be.

Do you know why? Because I was tired, too.

So I didn’t make her make an effort, make her rise and dress, put in her teeth. I did hand her her hearing aid, however, to make conversation less about shouting and guessing.

And then I laid down beside her on the big, now half-empty bed and held her hand.

And we talked.

About the little things; about everything and nothing.

I told her how we had just this morning measured Ethan, to find he had grown a full half-inch in a month.

She patted her head and mine, proclaimed us both lucky in our luxuriant curly hair.

I talked to her about Jacob. “He’s still autistic, isn’t he?”



everything has a last day

{by Amanda of Last Mom on Earth}

(photo source)

We went on a special date, just Louise and me. She crawled through the aisles of the bookstore and I slowly meandered behind her, reading passages from crisp, unspoiled novels I knew I wasn’t going to buy. Maybe someday.

She talks a lot, when she’s alone with me. She points to things and tells me about them in her funny, amazing language. When something surprises or delights her, her tiny hand flies to her mouth and she chews on her perfect little fingers.

We came home to an empty house and I sat a carton of blueberries on the floor between us. My hands were clumsy and imprecise, picking up toppling handfuls and eating them without discretion. Louise, with her dainty, pointed fingertips, thought carefully about each berry before she chose it with an attitude of satisfaction and ate it, all by itself, like it was the most special and singular blueberry on the planet.

So much thought and care goes into chewing and swallowing a single blueberry when you’re one years old.



testing, one-two

{by Sharone of zizzivivizz}

(photo credit)

The hum and whoosh of an industrial-strength air conditioner have accompanied every exam I can remember taking. They have laid their strains in an insistent ritornello with infinitely subtle variations, little waves and vagaries of sound that can only be detected in a room dedicated to silence, such as this one. Thirty-one heads bow over laminate desks that gleam dully under the unwavering fluorescence of the overhead lights. A deep breath and, with it, the eternal aroma of the classroom: the blue book, which smells, somehow, like other blue books and like nothing else, mingled with the dry, slightly acrid scent of a photocopied essay prompt.

I am sixteen, and the woman at the front of the room is from the University of California, administering a practice placement exam as part of the college preparatory program. At the back of the room sits Mrs. Juhasz, the steely, sharp-eyed Language Arts teacher known for demanding excellence. She is always willing to help me untangle the perplexities I find in the works of Dostoevsky, Dreiser, and the other companions of my extracurricular hours, and yet she has no doubt puzzled over the general indifference with which I greet her actual assignments. In spite of my stubborn determination to work through a daunting personal reading list, in class I am often undisciplined, uninterested, too self-assured and only occasionally earnest, usually preoccupied with boys and friends and the things I will do in two short hours when the final bell rings. But today the prospect of college, of the first plunge into the waiting world, glimmers before me. My stomach will not stop writhing. My fingers are cold, my ears hot. We are told to begin.