Contributors Summer 2016

Jerri Bell
Jerri Bell (Care Packages) is the Managing Editor for O-Dark-Thirty, the literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project. She and former Marine Tracy Crow are the co-authors of It’s My Country Too: True Stories of Women Under Fire from the American Revolution to Afghanistan (University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, forthcoming).

Kay Merkel Boroff
Kay Merkel Boraff (Painting the Elephant Gold) lived in Viet-Nam 68-70 and was married to an Air America pilot who was killed flying in Laos 18 Feb 70. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Texas Short Stories 2, Taos Magazine, Grasslands Review, Fifth Wednesday, Stone Voices, Turk’s Head, and Paper Nautilus.

Jessica Braun_Headshot
Jessica Braun‘s (Stay Awake) writing has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, NEPA Family Magazine, and Literary Mama. She lives with her husband and two daughters in coastal Massachusetts. For more of Jessica’s writing, visit her blog at www.nocigarettesnobologna.com.

Rachel Crawford
Rachel Crawford (Mourning Light) is a writer, teacher, and editor. Her work has appeared in Red Rock Review, Lucid Rhythms, The Lyric, Apeiron Review, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey, Freshwater Poetry Journal, Literary Juice, The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature, Anima Poetry Journal, Crack the Spine, Rock & Sling: A Journal of Witness, and RiverSedge. She lives in central Texas with her husband and daughter.

Kelly DuMar
Kelly DuMar (All These Cures) is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator. Her poems have appeared in Lumina Online, Corium, Cape Cod Review, Kindred, and Tupelo Quarterly. Her poetry chapbook, “All These Cures,” was published by Lit House Press and her plays have been produced around the US and Canada. Her new book of poetry & prose will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. Her website is kellydumar.com

Magdalene Fry
Magdalene Fry (Barks & Vois) is a single-parent advocate from Wayne County, West Virginia, and was educated at Anglia Ruskin and Marshall Universities. She lives in Michigan with her daughter and works as a mental health and wellness coordinator. These selections are from her books Barks and Vois.

Fay Bio picture
Fay Henexson (Illustrator) is a native Californian, a librarian by profession, and a photographer by avocation. Fay has developed a particular interest in using the camera to find abstracts in old buildings, neglected machinery, and other objects. Her work can be seen on her website and its companion blog, Spirit Standing Still.

typewriter
Liam Hogan (Living in Fear) is a student in the Writing B.F.A. program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. This is his first professional publication.

Jennifer Schomberg Kanke
Jennifer Schomburg Kanke (I Am Not Worth $8.50) is originally from Columbus, Ohio and currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida where she teaches creative writing and critical theory at Florida State University. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, and Nimrod.

Danielle Kelly
Danielle Kelly (What to Do on a Day Like This) holds an MFA from West Virginia Wesleyan College and is Managing Editor of HeartWood, an online literary journal. She is a banker, a multi-denominational church singer, and currently serves as Adjunct Instructor of English at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, WV.

Lucinda Kempe
Lucinda Kempe (On Perseverance) has work published or forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Summerset Review, Matter Press’s Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, decomP, and Corium. She won the Joseph Kelly Prize for Creative Writing in 2015 and is an M.F.A. candidate in writing and creative literature at Stony Brook University.

Katherine Koller
Katherine Koller (The Caregivers) is about to begin her career as Development Fellow for the Chicago nonprofit Peer Health Exchange. She graduated from Northwestern University, where she majored in theatre with a concentration in performance, activism, and human rights, and a minor in creative nonfiction. She also taught Pregnancy Prevention in Chicago Public Schools and directed a course in consulting for nonprofits.

Len Kuntz
Len Kuntz (Twisters) is author of The Dark Sunshine and an upcoming story collection I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You.

Cyndy Muscatel
Cyndy Muscatel (A Fine Line) has had short stories, poetry, and essays published in many literary journals. A former journalist, she now writes two blogs. She teaches fiction writing and memoir, and is also a speaker and workshop presenter. She is writing a memoir of her years teaching in the inner city of Seattle.

“Twisters” by Len Kuntz

Twisters (Bamboo Sprout)
“Bamboo Sprout,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

I am six almost seven when the twister comes do you see it do you see it my brother asks it must be as far away as dickinson or fargo the hill we live on gives a view of the flat land and on it this afternoon with the sky gone gray as night this twister is a manic marauder a cone-shaped thing aladdin’s angry genie unleashed will it take us I ask you’re such a scaredy cat my brother says but he doesn’t realize I’m not really afraid he sleeps downstairs and can’t hear their fights mom’s muffled shrieks her squeals mirror glass shattering atop their dresser pipe or fist hitting the wall going through it on the other side of mine my little indian warrior clock with its big brown eyes coming free of its nail breaking off one pony tail when it hits the floor and bounces dead as I always knew hate you hate you I hate you she screams and so he hits her my father does hits or slaps I’m leaving you you’re a monster oh yeah I’ll show you a monster last night was the worst every evening is bad but last night the floor shook bombs exploded I expected smoke expected flames to burn their room to cinders but breakfast came and mom was at the stove frying flap jacks wearing a head scarf and jackie o sunglasses smoking silent as a hollow log saying stop your gawking and eat go on you let it get cold and I’ll whoop you sure as satan and now in the distance the cyclone is swiveling its smoke hips and I imagine it sucking up barns and buildings and houses with screaming children and astonished parents milk cows and chickens hogs farms being rolled up like rugs the moss place folger’s farm chicory square all of them slurped up that massive funnel of dirt while I wait our turn kenny says we better get downstairs come on you stupid turd I shake him off fine go ahead and die see if I care he might mean it he might know more than I think there the twister jerks pivots like a spastic ballet dancer made of dust moving through smolinski’s plot swiveling mowing pulverizing breaking things apart wherever it finds them a motorcycle comes flying this way hurled a mile through space like a chrome asteroid this is it this is it this is deliverance this is god acting saying I’ve heard your prayers this is his wrath that I’ve read about only at the bottom of bell street where the coolie sits the twister veers east without warning east east why east I’ve been waiting my whole life my short life willing eager to give it up and there you go god there you go you do not exist don’t tell me any more lies there you go no different than the gray ghost vapors my mother blows out of her nose when she smokes mom dad and me the fight between three maybe not tonight but tomorrow tomorrow the twister will reappear a different cyclone but just as savage and cruel and it might finally be the one that takes me the one that ends it all.

 

 

Len Kuntz is author of The Dark Sunshine and an upcoming story collection I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You.

 

“The Caregivers” by Katherine Koller

The Caregivers (The Mask of Comedy)
“The Mask of Comedy,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

Tessa ~
I was sixteen when I realized my dad was cheating on my mom. I was the only one who noticed. I had to tell her. For years after, they were in counseling and my mom was trying so hard, while my dad was just lying, deceiving, and deteriorating.

And then he started making the sketchiest career choices. Like starting his own cell phone business in the middle of the recession when he knew nothing about business or cell phones. Then he tried selling cars. Then he couldn’t hold down a job at all.

They got divorced. For so long my mom hated him. She treated him horribly. I mean, I hated him, too. I treated him horribly. We just didn’t realize. We didn’t understand that the first sign of dementia isn’t trouble remembering. It’s behavioral changes. People with Frontal Temporal Dementia lose any kind of empathy. They can’t read anyone else’s feelings. But he was only fifty. And it’s so hard to diagnose it early on.

I didn’t even notice the physical symptoms until ten years later. It started in his arms.

Carrie ~
My father had six children: me, another girl with my mom, and four more with his wife after her.

Not one of them helped when my dad got sick. It was a full-time job. I used to spend so much time at Maryhaven—the nursing home my dad was in—and the patients all loved me cause I’d come in singing My Fair Lady at the top of my lungs. I used to do improv, see. I used to do Comedy Sportz, so I’d really put on a show. Then I got into organizing ice-cream socials and music therapy—oh, and animal therapy, everyone loves playing with puppies. And I’d connect with the patients’ families—I knew what they were going through—so when a position opened at Mather Pavillion, I took it. I was basically doing the same things I’d already done at Maryhaven, but this time for pay. Except I haven’t been able to work since I broke my kneecap. I’m on my feet the entire time at work. Thank God my insurance covers me while I’m on crutches, cause I literally can’t do anything there sitting down.

Amber ~
So I’m the oldest of six, and I’m thirty. Andrew, my middle brother with Down syndrome, is twenty-three. It’s kind of a joke that two months after I got married, my mom asked when I was going to start having kids. I told her, “I spent my childhood raising your kids and I’m still looking after Andrew.”

Every summer I took care of my younger brothers. When I went looking for a real job, everyone asked, “Any previous job experience?” Um, none, technically.

So instead of kids, I have a lot of pets: two dogs, four cats, two chipmunks, a ball python, and a fennec fox. And Andrew’s the only one in the family besides me who knows all their names.

My husband, Gus, is really good about it all. His parents died when he was two and his grandma raised him. We met in high school, so he knew my story. My mom got custody of the younger boys at first, but when she moved to Vermont my dad fought for Andrew and won. Dad has nine siblings here in Milwaukee and Andrew’s very close with his grandma. But Grandma can’t really do much now and my father’s a vascular surgeon, so he’s always on call. Gus and I take Andrew every other weekend to help out. His favorite thing is pasta. Gus makes it every night he’s here.

Tammy ~
I would have Andrew out here in Vermont with me if I’d had my way. But I didn’t have an extra $60,000 a year. So, he’s there in Milwaukee. I tried making Amber his legal guardian, but my ex-husband and I do a lot of fighting so he’s the legal guardian. It should be Amber cause she actually makes the decisions. The group home calls her cause they’ve learned that her dad never answers his phone. He’s kinda not real responsible.

I told Amber I don’t want Andrew living with her cause it’s too much for anybody. She’s always wanted to move to Portland, so if she does she’ll probably bring him with her. She’s been closer to him than any of the other kids. She’s the oldest. She really goes out of her way. She’s the one I count on.

Naomi ~
When I was younger, I worked at a camp for kids with special needs. My brother called them, the Tards. He’d say such horrible things and make me cry. Like, “Why do you want to work with kids who only have half a brain?”

Years later, Caroline was born. She had the lowest muscle tone the physical therapist had ever seen, like a ragdoll. But she was a happy baby, really delightful, and my brother adored her. Then she started missing milestones. Sitting up, scooting, and each one she missed was another blow. We waited four years for a diagnosis. Prader-Willi syndrome was literally the last thing they tested her for.

Tessa ~
Finally, my dad got diagnosed with ALS and Frontal Temporal Dementia. But by then he didn’t have health insurance because he’d been let go from his job. And his crazy schemes had lost so much money. I didn’t know how we were going to afford it. His healthcare, I mean.

I finally found a nursing home to take him if he got on Medicaid. But to get on Medicaid, you need bank statements from the last five years. I knew his current bank, but had no clue which bank he’d had before that. I basically had to make a list of every local bank, walk in, and say, “Did this person have a bank account within the last five years?” And I’d show them my Power-of-Attorney papers. There was no other way to do it.

Ten banks rejected me before I found the right one. I was so relieved…until that man, with that stupid little mustache, came back and said, “You’re missing one of the Power of Attorney pages. We can’t give you the records.” Well, I started crying right there in the middle of the bank. I sobbed my whole story through tears and snot. Finally, he was just like, “Okay, okay, I’ll give you what you need. Just stop crying!”

So eventually I got my dad into the nursing home. I was still taking care of him though. You’ve got to keep an eye on the staff. You’ve got to make it clear that someone’s holding them accountable. Because they will do whatever they can get away with. I even had to teach the nurses how to get him out of bed. They were lifting him by the arms. The arms! With his ALS, that was the most painful part of his body. And I thought, “If they’re messing up when I’m around, what are they doing when I’m not?”

It wasn’t just the nurses. Uhhggg, the doctors would ask him all these health questions and then stare at him like they were expecting to get some legitimate answer. And I’m just going, “You want his answer? Or the truth? Cause if you want the truth, you should probably be talking to me.” I had to take him to the hospital once for severe rectal bleeding. The doctor asked my permission to do an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, every oscopy you can think of. He said it might be cancer. So I’m like, “If you find cancer are you going to save him?” And he said, “Oooh, well, no but…” Then why put him through those painful tests if he’s already dying? You’re going to make him suffer because you want money? No. Leave him alone. I just want him to be comfortable.

Carrie ~
Two years ago, I was walking outside my apartment, and tripped. That’s all. I tripped and broke my patella bone! Well I was healing, slowly, and then I tripped on my crutches and cut my face open! You see this scar? I needed twenty stitches! And I hurt my knee all over again. The doctor said this happens all the time because crutches are so hard to use! But anyway, I’m not even sure I believe in doctors anymore. My physical therapist has done a thousand times better for my knee than any of the doctors.

The medical system is so fucked. Like with my dad? When he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? I’d stop by once a week, make sure he had groceries and everything. But he got worse and I started coming every other day, then once a day, then three times a day for all the meals. It was my whole life… One night, I get to his house after grocery shopping, and I call, “Daaad,” but he doesn’t come. So I’m frantically screaming his name, expecting to see him lying on the floor. And I can’t find him anywhere. I assume he’s wandered off and gotten lost, you know? I call my friends; we’re running around Evanston searching the streets. I’ve called the police, and three hours later, we can’t find him anywhere.

So I’m lying on the kitchen floor, sobbing, when Dad just strides through the front door with his head wrapped in bandages. Apparently he tripped on the sidewalk, his glasses cut his face, and the neighbors called an ambulance. They never even bothered telling me. And then the hospital! He wears a bracelet saying he has Alzheimer’s, with my number, and no one called. They sent him home—alone. They just stitched him up, wrapped his head, and told him not to lie down.

I was so pissed. I called the hospital and I told them they’d made a big mistake. I told them if I had more time and energy, I would sue their asses. He had a medical bracelet and they never even called. At least they waived the medical bills, which saved us a few thousand dollars.

Amber ~
Andrew was diagnosed with Down syndrome before he was even born. The doctors suggested my mom have an abortion, but both my parents are pro-life. My mom actually had her tubes tied after my first two younger bothers were born, but my dad said, “If a vascular surgeon can’t have a ton of kids, who can?” So she had the surgery reversed, and had Andrew. After Andrew was born, she wanted more kids so he’d have younger siblings to play with, since the first three of us were so much older.

Tammy ~
The second Andrew was born I saw the doctor crossing her arms, shaking her head, and looking at him. She was Indian. They don’t understand why we have Down’s kids. In India, basically they’ll kill females. So a retarded child, why even have it? It’s not a fun thing, when you just have a baby and see the doctor shaking her head.

I had a blood test. Can’t even think of the name, it’s been so long. They said it came up normal. I had no idea. Except he was smaller. I thought, “God, I’m not gaining weight like I did with the others.” Makes sense though, cause they’re little people.

The hospital sent a representative from the Downs National Alliance. She came in all cheery telling me it’s not as grim as the public thinks. She was right. He’s one of my easiest kids. And the Alliance people say there’s a list as long as your arm of people willing to adopt Down’s kids. I said, “Really? Cool, but I’m keeping him.”

Naomi ~
The doctor said, “Do not look up Prader-Willi on the internet!” So of course we did. And what we found, it was just, it was just…devastating. Severely obese children eating themselves to death. Parents finding their children eating garbage, or getting calls in the middle of the night to say their kid had broken into a store to steal food.

I have had weight issues since I got pregnant the first time, so it felt like an insatiable appetite was probably worse than any other disability my baby could have. I waited for years, dreading the night I’d come downstairs and find her stealing food from the refrigerator, or worse, eating out of the garbage. I wouldn’t want to go downstairs in the middle of the night for fear of it beginning.

But it never did. To this day Caroline has never eaten anything I haven’t given her. She’s eighteen now, and it was definitely a trade-off, but I’d take the way it turned out over the alternative any day. You see, Caroline’s IQ is lower than most kids with Prader-Willi. She reads at a seventh grade level and math is much lower. So we could…brainwash her, kind of. Ever since she was four, her breakfast, lunch, and dinner have been the exact same food, same portion, every day. And since her cognitive function is so much lower, she doesn’t question it.

Most kids with Prader-Willi turn eighteen and realize that they have free will. They emancipate themselves and within three or four months, they gain a hundred pounds. There’s nothing the parents can do about it. Usually, they die. We’re not going to have to go through that with Caroline. I’ll take our situation any day.

Of course now, with her peers going to college, and prom…it hits home. She’s not going to do those things. But it’s a lot harder for me. Caroline always says, “I’m the luckiest girl in the world!” That’s how she sees it. She wakes up happy, she goes to bed happy. Her quality of life is damn good.

Tessa ~
If I wanted to go on a date, I had to stop by the nursing home first to check on Dad. If I wanted to go out with my friends, I had to stop by the nursing home first to check on Dad. And then I’d be at this hip bar, drinking a fruity margarita, surrounded by my dolled-up friends, and just feel…miserable. I was a real downer. I’d spend the whole outing wishing I were at home, being a downer alone.

Carrie ~
I don’t talk to my siblings anymore. I’m the only one of my father’s six children who did anything for him. My brothers were all too busy. Towards the end of his life, my dad started asking for my sister. She agreed to Skype with him. But after the second time she said she wasn’t going to do it anymore, because she wasn’t getting anything out if it. We haven’t spoken since.

Amber ~
Once Andrew turned twenty-one, he was too old for public school, so my dad put him in a home. It’s okay I guess. I wanted a nicer home for him, but I don’t think he minds. The really nice homes have twenty-five year wait lists. We had to find this one at the last minute, because it was always the plan for my mom to keep him at home. But she wanted to get far away from my dad, and when she moved to Vermont she lost custody of Andrew. So now I do most of the caregiving. I handle emergencies. On weekends I bathe him and cut his nails. The home’s supposed to do it, but he hates water so they don’t force him.

Tammy ~
I think Andrew is happy. My son Michael says, “Mom, Andrew likes to go to dances cause he’s with his homies.” Michael stayed and watched once, and said Andrew gets out in the middle of the dance floor, takes the microphone, lifts his shirt up. He’s got a big pasty-white belly, and is doing a belly dance in front of everyone. “He’s like a different person with his homies,” Michael says. “Like he knows those are his peeps.”

Amber ~
I end up doing most of the work because my brothers aren’t married and go out on weekends. I’ll call and say, “When did you speak to Andrew last? If you’re in town you should see him.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, I should do that.” And it’s like “Yeah. You should do that.” In most families one person becomes the caregiver because it’s just easier that way. If you had six people responsible for Andrew, and communication wasn’t perfect, it would get really confusing.

Naomi ~
I’d keep Caroline home forever if I could, but she’s such a social kid. We’re looking to find two or three other families with special-needs kids and buy a house where they can live together. With a fulltime caregiver, of course. We’re lucky we can afford to do that.

My son’s been wonderful. My husband, too. Don’t get me wrong, Grant drives me nuts, but he’s so good with Caroline. He’s really been my partner in all this. Of course, Caroline gets a lot of her bad habits from him. Like licking the yogurt off the top of the lid. Well, that might be a Prader-Willi thing, but Grant does it, too!

If I were asked to give advice to parents of a Prader-Willi baby, know what I’d tell them? Nothing. Caroline is skinny, she’s never stolen food, she’s the only kid with Prader-Willi and a nut allergy to survive. I don’t want to give false hope. Our happiness is so rare.

Tessa ~
Everyone says, “I can’t believe you did all that. You’re such a wonderful person.” First of all, I didn’t have a choice. There was no one else to do it. It’s like you don’t realize what you’re capable of until you’re faced with it. And then you just do it. I still struggle with the guilt of wasting so many years hating my father because of that affair. I couldn’t have known what was causing it and all, but still…

You know, when we got the diagnosis, it was almost a relief. Especially for my mom. For all those years he was lying, she kept asking, “What did I do to make him cheat on me?” When we found out that his behavioral changes were a symptom, it was like a million weights had been lifted off her. It all made sense. It was nothing she did.

My mom even visited him in the nursing home. The way his face lit up, she knew he remembered her. She was sitting in that old mauve chair, the one that spilled out stuffing, tenderly spoon-feeding him clumpy rice pudding. “I forgive you,” she told him. “I’m letting this go.” And that was the greatest closure.

Carrie ~
There are two kinds of people. Those who can handle it, and those who can’t. Don’t get me wrong, I think the second kind are ultimately selfish, I’m not defending them. But I will concede that it’s hard to see your father sick and not be the man you grew up with. Since it’s hard, they leave. Anyway, my brothers didn’t care and my sister was too selfish. I was the only one at his funeral. Eight years of caregiving left me drained in every way. It’s been three years since he died, and I’m still tired, but I’m starting to feel like I have a life again.

Amber ~
It’s hard for people to relate when I tell them my brother has Down syndrome. They sympathize and say, “Wow, that sounds terrible.” But they can’t understand. My friend has a cousin with Down syndrome. And finally I could say, “You know what it’s like!” It’s a relief to meet people like that. They reaffirm that what you’re doing is hard and taxing, and difficult. But it’s something you do because it’s family and you love them.

Every aspect of your life becomes: how does this impact the person I’m caring for? My husband and I want to move out to Portland, it’s been my dream forever. But as long as Andrew’s here, I can’t leave him with my dad. I have to put my life on hold until I can bring him with us.

Tammy ~
People say, “God knows who to give those kids to. You’re so patient.” And I’m like, “It’s not like there’s an option, okay? You’re given this and you deal with it. I’m not any more special or any more patient than anybody else. I don’t have a choice.” God, I’m so sick of people saying things like that. If you had one you’d deal with it too. Cause you have to. You don’t have an option. They’re family. What are you going to do?

 

 

Katherine Koller is about to begin her career as Development Fellow for a nonprofit in Chicago called Peer Health Exchange.  She just graduated from Northwestern University, where she majored in theatre, with a concentration in performance, activism, and human rights, and a minor in creative nonfiction writing. In addition to her coursework, Katherine spent three years teaching Pregnancy Prevention in Chicago Public Schools with Peer Health Exchange, and was the Executive Director of a Northwestern course in consulting for nonprofits. She loves the theatre, and acted in many campus theatrical productions.

“I Am Not Worth $8.50” by Jennifer Schomburg Kanke

I am Not Worth (Under the Sea)
“Under the Sea,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

The hallway mirror is veined with gold paint,
each square a repetition of the last,
making the distance from the living room
to my bedroom look farther than it is.
One step, two steps, three and safe
to hold the door shut with thin arms
against whoever wants in tonight.
My parents buy a lock,
it’s broken within a month.
Replacing it would be a waste of money.

 

 

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke is originally from Columbus, Ohio and currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida where she teaches creative writing and critical theory at Florida State University. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, and Nimrod.

 

“Stay Awake” by Jessica Braun

Stay Awake (Driftwood Detail)
“Driftwood Detail,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

The day I returned from my honeymoon, I weighed 88.3 pounds.The problem was, I didn’t know I had a problem.

Even when I passed out in the bathroom of our honeymoon suite, hitting my head and gushing blood all over the Spanish tile, I didn’t know I had a problem.

“I just got too much sun,” I said to my husband Phil. And I believed it.

I could admit that I obsessed over calories and exercise – but when family members used the word “anorexic,” there was a complete disconnect.

“I am just a picky eater,” I explained. I believed that, too.

At first, Phil supported me in resisting that label. But when my primary care doctor insisted that I enter an eating disorder treatment center, Phil sat silently, slumped over in an orange plastic chair lodged in the corner of the exam room. He looked so tired, so defeated.

Choosing a facility is like looking at colleges, except you are mentally ill and there are no football games. The first place was a psychiatric hospital. We drove up the long driveway, curving around the pastoral grounds. I half expected a deranged lunatic to come sprinting over the hill, chased by a band of orderlies.

As we sat in the waiting room, I reviewed the treatment options in the hospital pamphlet: Day Patient or In-Patient. “I’ll be a day patient,” I whispered to Phil, “but that’s it.” No way was I moving into this place.

The program director had other ideas. “It’s in-patient or nothing.”

“Why?” Phil asked. “Something is better than nothing, right?”

The doctor leaned forward; his relentless eye contact made me squirm. “It won’t work. She will fail.” He looked down at my legs, then back up at me. “Why do you think your feet are blue?”

I looked at my feet, corpse-like in flip-flops. “It’s cold in here?” I squeaked, more of a question than an answer; a little girl scrambling to cover her tracks.

“Come back when you’re ready,” said the doctor, standing up.

“Screw him!” we said, slamming our car doors. But indignation fizzled into silence. I glanced at Phil, his face ashen, his hands white-knuckling the steering wheel. “We’ll find a place,” he said.

He was right. A treatment center for eating disorders – a summer camp version of the psychiatric hospital – agreed to take me as a day patient on a trial basis. I was to show up at 9:00 and leave at 3:00 – and I had to follow the rules. Meals were timed and monitored. A schedule board listed daily activities: “Friendship bracelets at 11:00.” Friendship bracelets? I was 27.

My first lunch was lasagna. I sat staring at the tower of cheese and noodles when the girl across the table leaned in.

“You don’t need to eat it. You get a freebie on your first day.”

I nodded in gratitude. I pushed the lasagna around with my fork and read the rules posted on the wall: No Microwaving, No Bathroom, No Plate Clearing Until Approved. Some girls wept while they ate, others so sedated they dozed off, fork poised mid-air. The rest were robots: Open, chew, swallow. Repeat.

Tune out. Don’t think. Just Eat. These mantras got me through most meals. But foods with no nutritional value -cookies, brownies, donuts – made me want to come out of my skin.

“Some foods can be eaten just for pleasure,” said the cheerful nutritionist with a condescending wink. Sure. Tell that to the poor girl crying over a jelly donut.

I was ten years older than most of the patients. Some looked up to me like a big sister, despite the fact that I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom unsupervised. One girl liked to stop by my room to talk. She looked at the wedding photo I had on the bedside table.

“Wow, you were really sick then, right? I can tell by your arms.” There was admiration in her voice, as if looking emaciated at your wedding was an achievement. “Did you eat your wedding cake?” Her eyes narrowed, hungry for my response.

She wanted me to tell her that you can get away with not eating your own wedding cake; that you can fake being happy and healthy enough to fool people, even your own husband.

“No,” I said. “I didn’t eat it.”

She nodded, relieved. I felt sad. She didn’t know that having a husband just made things more complicated.

But I did. Everyday at 3:00, I exited the world of art therapy and guided journaling and entered my real world, with a husband and a mortgage and a house that needed to be cleaned.

It was impossible to transform from “psych patient” to “wife” in a short car ride, like Clark Kent entering a phone booth and emerging as Superman. So everyday, I stopped for a secret six mile run. I needed the repetitive pounding of my feet hitting the earth, aggressive music blaring in my ears, drowning out my thoughts. With each mile, the events of the day became more distant and foggy. Then I was ready to go home. To be normal.

One afternoon I stopped at the grocery store for some dinner items, still sweaty and dazed from my run. The automatic doors swung open; the blast of air-conditioning like a bucket of ice water. I felt disoriented by the fluorescent lights and crowded aisles.

I wandered around the store with no sense of purpose, and found myself in the bakery aisle. My hands gripped the orange handlebar of the shopping cart when I looked around.

I was surrounded by donuts: in the bakery case, on the shelves, in boxes arranged on display: Original Glazed, Boston Creme, Confetti Sprinkled, Double Chocolate Dip.

“Can I help you?” said the man behind the counter.

“What?”

“Can I start a box for you?”

“Oh…no. No. Thanks.”

I pushed my cart away from the glass. The idea of “starting a box” of donuts was as bizarre a question to me as “Would you like to sample some arsenic?” I wasn’t someone who ate donuts.

But I was.

The memory came flooding back: the treatment center cafeteria, the saccharine smell of the chocolate glazed donut, the minutes ticking away. It was the only thing left on my plate. I should have eaten it first. Now I was too full.

Just eat it. The hard glaze made a cracking noise against my teeth. The inside was soft, like birthday cake. Bite, chew, swallow. The biting and chewing were actually exciting, like kissing a boy you shouldn’t be kissing. But the swallowing made it real.

“Excuse me!” A shopper was trying to squeeze around me, her cart tapping impatiently at my heels.

The din of the store was muffled in my ears; I couldn’t breathe. I have to get out of here.

I made a beeline for the Exit and escaped to the safety of my car. I sat with the windows closed; my body began to thaw from the arctic climate of the store.

This isn’t working.

My worlds had collided. I thought I was a normal person with some eating issues. But I knew a panic attack in the donut aisle wasn’t normal.

I am not sure how long I sat in that parking lot. I just knew I couldn’t leave. If I left, the whole scene would be pushed to the back of my brain, stuffed in a mental file labeled “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.”

If I left, I would drive home, go inside and make up a story as to why I never made it the grocery store. Let’s just order dinner, I would say to Phil.

I had to tell someone what happened.

I dug my phone out my bag and dialed the treatment center, then my therapist’s extension. Don’t pick up, don’t pick up. I had just enough balls for a recorded confessional; if she answered I would hang up. It went to voicemail.

“Danielle, it’s Jessie. This isn’t working. Being a day patient. It’s just…not working. I’m struggling.”

What do you call these moments? Grace? Seconds of sanity? It’s the truth slicing through the fog of lies you’ve been telling yourself. When time stops long enough for you to ask: What the hell am I doing?

I was admitted the next day and stayed for three weeks. Now, ten years have gone by. I have two beautiful daughters. I had setbacks early in my recovery, but I caught them early. The voice from the parking lot was more dominant. The more I listen to that voice, the stronger it becomes. Don’t go back to sleep, it says. Stay awake.

 

 

Jessica Braun’s writing has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, NEPA Family Magazine, and Literary Mama. She lives with her husband and two daughters in coastal Massachusetts. For more of Jessica’s writing, visit her blog at www.nocigarettesnobologna.com.

 

Two Poems by Magdalene Fry

Barks (Tree Bark #2)
“Tree Bark #2,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

From Barks, no title

Dante and William pulled Gabriel
by the hand, in just that kind of way
little girls would, dressed in lacy
Sabbath shoes, tip toeing to the attic
where someone hid a secret from old
grandmother, and if they didn’t put
up a finger to their lips — the cat
would rend the poke in two with so
many laughters. It is uncountable —
“Shh,” they said and brushed his
tawny feathers between their wide
open palms in turns, “We’re straightening
our scarves about your neck, for tomorrow
some sun would like to glance about your
eyelashes.” Gabriel blushed. How he did.

 

From Vois, no title

Lest a we
sunder the gravel toothed
yesterdays’ big burp,
I light candles
and make single
a self in knowing
there be another I
than me – hallelujah
the brain, the vat
and them birds that
call out how time
is not but space with
light and light
with space – and
the tree nymphs cackle the grandest
middle fingers with
the opal story of
stone and root
and ever green in
mind. And on Olympus
they draw straws
and make card castles
not batting an eye
on the difference
between Delphi
and Solomon –
drink up, Zeus thunders
a surely nominative thy
and begins to speak
in ships and in –
anon, anon, anew.

 

 

Magdalene Fry is a single-parent advocate from Wayne County, West Virginia, and was educated at Anglia Ruskin and Marshall Universities. She lives in Michigan with her daughter and works as a mental health and wellness coordinator. These selections are from her books Barks and Vois.

 

“Living in Fear” by Liam Hogan

Living in Fear 1(Red Volcano)
“Red Volcano,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

today is little white birds and the silent sun
and airplanes, repeating themselves
and sirens

where are you going, friend?
haven’t you heard?
the world is cold, and made of glass

 

 

Liam Cloud Hogan is a student in the Writing B.F.A. program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. This is his first professional publication.

 

“All These Cures” by Kelly DuMar

All these Cures (Broken Sunset1)
“Broken Sunset,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

One day you imagine the grandmother you need
and find her living in a Swedish bakery serving
tea to customers in wooden booths on wooden
floors in her sweet and steamy shop where she
feeds your hunger for cinnamon and vanilla,
your dream of comfort from butter and baking, the
yeasty promise of pastry curling and browning.

You ring the bell and a door swings open on a
ritual you make so she can greet you. If she speaks
Swedish you will never know. Her intuition is precise
and proofed in silence. The blend of tea she serves
you cannot tell. Her cures are brewed in brightly
painted pots, steeped in mystery, poured into China
cups on saucers she sets steaming under your nose.

Her intention is to love you no matter what and you
learn to let that be a nice surprise. You learn to trust
she means what she makes you feel, warmed and
wanted, sweetened and safely seated, belonging.

Every time you ring the bell a door swings open and
she is there to greet you until the day she doesn’t
because she is dead. You thought she lived where
she would live forever, but your imagination means
more than that. What she leaves you is the shop,
your place in it, and the mystery of who you must
serve in her absence.

 

 

Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from the Boston area. Her poems are published in many literary magazines, including “Lumina Online,” “Corium,” “Cape Cod Review,” “Kindred,” and “Tupelo Quarterly,” and her award-winning poetry chapbook, “All These Cures,” was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year, and she serves on the boards & faculties of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and the Transformative Language Arts Network. Her new book of poetry & prose will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. Her website is kellydumar.com

 

“Mourning Light” by Rachel Crawford

Mourning Light (Shimmer) 
“Shimmer,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

When I woke I thought the sun was shining,
but it was only the overhead light
burning in my daughter’s pink and white room.

Grey light filtered through the leaves of the ash
that tapped on my bedroom window all night
making me dream of rain. I drew the blinds

on the tear-streaked morning, the muddy light,
the ash. I stepped across the hall to find
my daughter fingerpainting on the wall,

her hand a rainbow in mid-air. Still drenched
in dreams of loss, I leaned in the doorway
and watched her paint, one after another,

a yellow sun
shining on a red house
next to a green tree
by a white bridge
crossing a blue river.

 

 

Rachel Crawford is a writer, teacher, and editor whose poems and stories appear in Red Rock Review, Mudlark, Lucid Rhythms, The Lyric, Figures of Speech, Apeiron Review, Red River Review, The Yellow Chair Review, Illya’s Honey, Freshwater Poetry Journal, Adanna Literary Journal (forthcoming), Literary Juice, The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature, Anima Poetry Journal, Crack the Spine, Her Texas, Rock & Sling: A Journal of Witness, and RiverSedge. She lives in central Texas with her husband and daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Painting the Elephant Gold” by Kay Merkel Boruff

Cover Image
“Sandstone Formations,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

Hell, we just wanted to see the show.

~W. C. Williams

The hay is mown and rolled, my summer dreams asleep. The child ascends to dance. In the grayness of gray, each step an entrance, I arrive at the window, you have just walked out the door. Wings shining, eyes bright, you smile your love to me. Wind chimes catch the breeze. Honey bees nestle flowers blanketing fresh dirt. Morning washes over me. Chords from the sonata float with the clouds. Luna moth circling through blue spruce echoes greetings. Trees sway, speckled light refracting on lichen and moss. Smooth rocks celebrate the dawn. Breath lifts me—I am floating, flying. I am once again with you.

The red dirt road snakes among chinaberries, ocher fruit of poisoned passion. I am the child dancing in winter. Day rests on the window sill. The strength death brings frees me. The powerless is the powerful. I resume the baci, the ceremony of embarkation, my altar stacked with hai blossoms and bhat, blessings from the monkey king, music for the dead, light for the living. I set my sights home, home to the red dirt: to the state of grace in wornness, to the Wabi-sabi, shards of pottery, cracks in gold paint, dissonance in the moonlight: May I be a well filled, a song sung, a dream remembered.

 

 

Kay Merkel Boruff lived in Viet-Nam 68-70 & was married to an Air America pilot who was killed flying in Laos 18 Feb 70. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Texas Short Stories 2, Taos Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and the Wichita Falls Record News. In addition, she has work in Suddenly, Grasslands Review, Behind the Lines, Fifth Wednesday, Adanna, Stone Voices, Turk’s Head, and Paper Nautilus. Letters of her husband’s and hers were included in Love and War, 250 Years of Wartime Love Letters. NPR interviewed Boruff regarding her non-profit Merkel & Minor: Vets Helping Vets: A Class Act Production. She attended Burning Man 2012 and then climbed Wayna Picchu in Peru on her 71st birthday.