Posts in The Lady of Leisure

By JESSICA KANE, written in 1996  

Eddie said he had something for me. Good, I thought. Hopefully not whole grain bread or millet which is what he usually pulls out of his alarmingly bright red knapsack.

Moments later, he shuffled back into his windowless soundproof teeny tiny room with no carbohydrates, thank god, but with some strange looking ‘culotte suit’. I guess that’s what you’d call it. A cotton ‘jumper’ with short-like appendages. It was white with navy blue polka dots. Something I never intended to receive, ever.

Ed has given me some very strange clothing, though, now that I am forced to think about it. One day he came over and presented to me an off-white long sleeveless prairie-type dress. Another day he arrived and pulled out a purple, rather homely knee length version of a cheerleading skirt. I usually laugh after the silent pauses. See, I mostly wear my pajamas or tight whore-type clothes. Ed never cares, though, if I like them or not. But when I tried on this latest costume, which was, I learned, purchased at a flea market in Berlin in order to make monetary change, I fell in love with it. Granted, it hugs my crotch, almost causing premature ejaculation, but with my thigh high black leather boots, it makes a most original and stunning combination.

I straddled Ed while he sat on some sort of chair in his dark room and felt aroused in my new costume. His room always makes me feel contented. Even when all other things are going wrong. Like now, for instance. But in that little room, nothing can go wrong... Unless you’re trying to sleep on a piece of four-inch foam when it’s freezing... but that only happened once.

I’ve had two near out of body experiences in that room. One occurred on the first night I ever slept there. And the other time was more recent, while he was downstairs having a rehearsal with some of the people in his band. Both times I felt myself leaving my body, and both times I was so frightened I made myself focus on some door knob or the chair in order to come back to the land of bridges and burgers in one piece.

You know, I hate it when I’m in the middle of an activity like writing and I go to push in my chair and something like a basket on the floor is blocking my way. I get hot at these moments. And violent. Sometimes I kick the basket, even though it really hasn’t done anything wrong. I get mean sometimes. Eddie doesn’t. He’s always really calm. He judges a lot. People and stuff. He’ll be the first to admit it. He’s right most of the time though, as far as judgments go. But me, well, I know better than to judge whole-heartedly. I only do it on spurts... Like kicking stuff out of my way, calling Peter my roommate a fatter and more stupid version of one of those old tiny dog toys on wheels, or placing ant poison out when the sight of a zillion ants running around the foot of my bed makes my entire life feel ruined. At moments like these, I feel no remorse. At these moments, everything deserves what they get. And if the ants decide in a revolutionary modus operandi to climb into my bed and all get in my mouth to suffocate me, well I wouldn’t blame them.

Little ants. Little teeny tiny ants. Speeding around my floor. I watch them sometimes. Once, I sliced an overly large crumb in threes so one of the little guys could shove it down the crack leading to his home. He politely waited until I finished and carried on. I wonder if he thought I was god or something. I don’t know if I really did it to help him though. I think I was just looking for entertainment to mask my pickled boredom. But every time I decide to have a rampage with the little ants, I have bad luck the next day. Of course, the man on the bus told me that I don’t have bad luck, that people make their own luck. And I agree with him, I guess. Maybe I just like the feeling of things seemingly bad happening, cause it makes me feel detached. Like when I cut my finger with the knife just before, or when my story got rejected from Playboy Magazine, or… when I got my car towed for the second time in two weeks. But the bus driver was in a verbal mood. I guess it was my penance for riding for free. And he mentioned that in a subtle way, meaning he said it in the most painfully blatant way possible. “You’re riding the bus for free, aren’t you?” “I guess I am,” I said. And I guess that’s luck. I rode em free all damn day. Only got denied by one mean white lady. “You may not get on this bus,” she said. Didn’t even look at me. I was glad, though, not to have made eye contact. She was angry. I didn’t mind. She must have been justified. All anger is to somebody. But I had to ride the bus so much, because I needed to get my damn car back. That they towed. Again.

In the last three months, I have served more hours at the Parking Violations Bureau and the Department of Motor Vehicles than I have spent making money. But this time, I decided to switch it up a bit and head over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard first. Get that initial headache over with right off the bat. But after I got off the bus, said good-bye to the nice black man who let me on free, headed closer and closer to that big ugly blue sign which so many people have looked at with bad feelings, addressed the security guard, and was directed over to window one, I was told I needed a picture ID. “But I called and spoke with a woman on the phone who told me that I didn’t need to have my drivers license.” (I lost my drivers license. (And my coat and my hat.)) So the man took my birth certificate, credit cards, checkbook, etc, all those things to make sure that some other asshole wasn’t trying to pay the 250$ to retrieve an impounded car with stale Hawaiian rolls in the trunk and spilled fruit punch on the passenger seat with pennies stuck to it, and went into the rear of the office.

Soon, a lady with a bright red, like Ed’s bag except patent leather, and it was a hat and not a bag, entered my peripherals. She was like a truck and in no mood for pedestrians. Big, richly black, with fierce pinkk make-up. “I was the lady you spoke with and I said you didn’t need your drivers license, that you could use another form of picture ID.”

“But I didn’t hear you say anything about a picture ID.”

“No picture ID, no car.”

“But I don’t want my car, I just want the summons so that I can go to court and get this whole mess cleared up.”

“No Picture ID, No summons. Sorry.”

I couldn’t believe how badly I wanted to stroll the muddy shit caked walkways of The Brooklyn Navy Yard. I could see in my mind in slo-mo all those cute boys gathered for the weekly auction bartering over all those rusted unclaimed beauties sitting there glistening in over-ripe excitement. “Ma’am, you cannot get your summons.”

At that moment, I ceased being calm. My inner princess was exposed, the guards off duty. I let each foot hit the ground in whatever way they chose. Palsy, rage, it didn’t matter. Inhibitions were replaced by such gloom that I now don’t know how I even managed to make it out the door. And when I finally did reach the outdoors, I leaned against a blue walkway banister and shed tears for approximately 1 minute and 37 seconds. I almost felt at one with my body. And for a moment my phlegm-ridden cough ceased. But I soon regained my faculties and my hack and let my mind once again take control of my body while I rested, and was inwardly greeted by my most favorite state of nothingness.

Two tows in two weeks. Am I stupid? Trying to beat a Guinness Record? Showing off to my peers? Committing a kind of belabored suicide? To ponder further seemed senseless, so I walkked to Jay Street and contemplated instead my last 100 dollars in the bank, the rent that I have not yet paid, the bills that I threw in the garbage during a fit of unharnessed laughter, and how I was counting, for my survival, on having that short story published in Playboy Magazine.

Now I am angry again. Because the K key on my computer is broken, making it either unresponsive to my touch or more often, going haywire at my pointer finger’s mere presence. But I don’t slam it. I breath deep and let the happy stuff rise to my head. I now feel like no matter what happens, nothing can really affect me. Could that be possible? Well, I sure have a lot of opportunities to test the theory. Like when I get to spend eight hours a day dealing with bureaucracy. As a matter of fact, since I always adapt so well to everything, this is the first time I’ve realized that’s what I’ve been up against.

So I walked to the Jay Street/Tech College stop and the buses were on their 6 minute pause and I asked the first driver if I could ride for free. But he said no. Said he was concerned his superior was spying on him. So I said fine. Oh yeah, I guess that makes two rejections. But that one didn’t really count because I went right next door, or rather marched right next door to bus number two and didn’t even ask for a free ride. I just started talking about misfortune and hit the jackpot. That started him jawing. He’s the one who told me each person makes their own luck. And I agreed. I guess I did. So, we got to Jerolemon, my most favorite place for foot and ground to meet, said good-bye, and headed towards that pillared wonderland where misery alone has probably weakened the foundation, the PVB, and I got on the over-crowded elevator to floor 9.

So much of the time I’m not part of the world. I’m thinking about why I’m scared to leave my body and if there is somehow a connection between that and the fact that I am always making my life complicated simply to avoid total freedom. I seem to like spending endless time getting myself out of mischief and talking misery with the folks. So the elevator opened and I walkked the familiar hallway and realized it wasn’t familiar, that I had gotten off on the wrong floor. I decided to take the stairs but when I realized I couldn’t enter the next floor via the stairwell, I ran down and pressed the ‘up’ button, fiercely. A man lookked at me the way people look at angry people. With curiosity. Then the elevator came and I got off on the right floor.

Wait a minute. The phone is ringing.... Sorry. It was Eddie. The reason I interject this information is because, believe it or not, it’s relevant. See, last night, after Eddie and I had sex and I put my underwear back on (or actually, a different dirty pair that I grabbed from the floor, under one of Eddie’s boots) along with my new polka dotted culotte-suit and black leather vest (I still was wearing my thigh high boots) and after he said, “I’ve never seen anything like it” (I just almost kicked my basket again) I put on Eddie’s jacket and we left for my place. And as we came up my block, I had this sudden urge to check for my car. And I started walking faster and faster as I got closer to where I’d parked. And soon the whole block was visible and yet I was still searching for the beginnings of my little black bumper to enter the frame. But it was now in vain. “Eddie, I cannot believe this.” Eddie was silent. Or maybe he said, “They towed it again?” and I probably held my head and said, “But I just had my car towed two weeks ago!”

Two weeks ago it was easy. I just made up a brilliant story, got a dismissal and picked up my car with not a dime in my pocket... But again? Alright, I thought. I can handle this. I still have that comfy place inside of me.

So we entered my apartment building, which was illuminated by the flashing of red and white lights from the fire truck and ambulance that I forgot to mention were right outside. A couple girls had been sitting on the stoop but I guess they would have been there regardless cause when I asked them what was going on they said, “What?” like they hadn’t noticed. And I took out my key and opened the door in record time. (I always have races with the mundane.) And we were greeted by a wafting hot sweaty sweet and sour stench. Like dough. And I got angry. What’s more, Peter was on the phone, probably pretending to be a funny guy, and I wanted to call the tow yard. I picked up another phone and told the tubbelard to get off. I was fierce and it gave me warm fuzzies. Peter took his extra sweaty sour time and I’m sure was able to stick in a couple of real winners, but finally got off. And I called the tow yard.

They told me my car had been towed three days ago. Which I had already speculated, though not on an action-oriented level of consciousness. I just had had that feeling that something was missing. But it was just as well. If I had known yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that, it surely would have ruined important plans. And I talked about this with Edward who wanted some toast. Not during my talk of course. He had mentioned the toast beforehand. Way beforehand.

So Ed had to leave that night, last night, to work the late shift at the hospital in Jersey. He does that three times a week. And he wondered if it was cold out and I said it was. And I then convinced him to wear his jacket, the one I’d been wearing. And maybe you see my stupidity at having insisted Ed wear the jacket... BECAUSE MY DAMN KKEYS WERE IN THE POCKET!!!! And even though I locked them in my car not a month ago, parked illegally no less, and had several helpful gentlemen from Bangladesh jimmy the passenger door so fiercely that it now doesn’t even open except from the inside, I haven’t yet gotten a duplicate made.

But, later that evening, last evening, at 2 am, I received a call from Ed. “I have your keys.” “Oh Christ.” No problem though. I can handle it. Because it doesn’t matter. Some people use stuff like, “Laugh in the face of adversity.” Not me. I think about airplanes and bowel movements. So we discussed whether or not he should take the train in from Philly tomorrow to return them. We never reached a conclusion.

In the DMV, there were many people. Many people who looked unhealthy and unhappy under the work-horse florescent lighting. The guard didn’t know the answers to any of my questions. And I was getting angry. But then I was OK again. It fluttered, like a pecker passing a nudie movie theater from inside a paddy wagon. Intense but temporary. And I waited in the info line, got my number which estimated 77 minutes of free time before the 5 minutes of fee time, and I thought, what to do, what to do.... Instantly, I had a most severely brilliant idea. In a nutshell, I trucked it on over to the Arches and got myself a Vegetarian Big Mac, Coke, and large fry. While I forced it down, feeling connected to many fat lumpy skinned individuals, an adorable male child played peek-a-boo with me. I was ravaging too relentlessly to play for long but I think he felt happy instead of feeling ignored.

So I got my temporary driver’s license and wailed with debatable joy over to the bus where I got another free ride back to the Navy Yard. In the rear of the office, Señora Truck shuffled papers. I waved, Bonjour! and had no problem exchanging the proper certificates. Then I hopped in a dirty old pick-up, maneuvered by a charming lad. I said, “Nice truck, man.” And he said, “Yesterday, they blocked me in an I couldn’t take no body no where.” “Stupid fucking assholes.” And we finally arrived to the sight of my confused vehicle where I retrieved my summons, thanked everyone for for everything. Thank you, thankk you. Thank you. And I left.

Back at the DMV, my friends recognized me at once. “You again?” “You ought to get a job here, Darlin’!” And I laughed whole heartedly and walked to get my number and waited for the voice to bark it back out. In no time flat, my number was called and consciousness took a minute or two for action to resume. “You know what to do, Baby,” my friends cheered me on. The lady at the tow desk took one lookk at my ticket and guttered, “You’ll never get it dismissed or even discussed until you get a copy of it from microfiche which will take at least 30 days.” I knew better than to trust such negativity. The problem was minuscule. It was just that the ticket had been wet causing it to be completely illegible. But I knew the rules in that place more than she did. And with confidence I walked into room 4 where one woman judge reigned.

She had beautiful eyes, deep breathing control, and organization skills extraordinaire. A beautiful black woman with straight darkk hair and a nice striped suit. Looked almost Egyptian. I didn’t even look at the clock sitting there listening to her, that’s how mesmorizing she was. “This ticket is dismissed.” “You are guilty.” Ahhh, it was beautiful. My turn arrived shortly, but of course as soon as she began speaking to me, as soon as that mouth opened, ready to amaze me with another veritable vocal symphony, this other judge, this loud nasal creature, entered and sat down not three feet away. It sounded like he may have been swearing someone in, but we both paused to look his way, making sure some pissed off animal from the zoo hadn’t somehow escaped and gotten lost behind the other judge’s desk.

My case wound up being legitimate, thankks to my quick and even wit. I told her that the Tow Zone Sign had been defaced, making it completely illegible. She raised her gavel and smacked it down on formica and announced: Adjourned! And told me to come back with some more evidence. So, I ran down and out of the building, to Duane Reed to purchase Polaroid film and then hopped on the 2 for a dollar. Earlier, I had gotten 20 bucks from an ATM at the DMV. That’s how I paid for McDonald’s. Which I only mention so you wouldn’t think I had ridden free all day with money in me pants. So, I rode the 2 for a buck cause I spent the rest on film and ran home. It was raining hard, yet I took photos in the rain, fighting away an unruly umbrella that I wound up stamping on. A police car tried to drive by but I stopped it, thinking they could accompany me to PVB as my representatives. I told them my case but I forgot why they said no. I thought maybe it would have been Will Rodriguez, the cop who pulled me over the other week for a blown headlight but gave me his number as a citation substitute and said I owed him pizza. Never did call him.

Anyhow, as I finished taking my photos which, due to rain, could have been seen as either a street or a close up of eczema, I decided to resort to Plan B and write a statement about damn bureaucracy and the god damn government and how they ruin lives and have the neighbors sign it. It was written strategically in its unintimidating brilliance. But by this time it was heading towards 3 PM and Parking Palace closed at 4.30. So I grabbed some folks, told em this and that, and the signatures went a’ flying. Even had one of the Downs Syndrome guys who live in my building sign it. That took about 5 or 6 minutes alone, but was worth it. I even had the fat guy next door who pretends like he doesn’t have a dog, but really does, sign it. (His massive head and gut were hanging out his window and I couldn’t pass it up, like a Ferris wheel at the amusement park.) His poor dog. I haven’t been giving it biscuits lately... tomorrow I will.

At 3:30 I was back on the 2. For free this time. I just jumped the turnstile. Entered the building, caught the vator, held it for a lady and her strollered pal, and we were off. Right into Room Four I went and there sat Madame Judge. Calm and movin’ like a snake doin’ the butterfly. I waited my turn, but when the big hand meandered towards the 5, I began to panic. Luckily, the Madame took me next, explaining to the others my earlier adjournment and that she had to leave as soon as possible. I got up to the desk and my heart was beating hard, but I opened my mouth and out unfurled this long sateen ribbon of the most sincere truth I have uttered to another individual in a long long time. She looked at me kind of baffled at which point I handed her my petition and photographs. Well, she looked at them for a good short while and then she started laughing and said: “Now, this is a first.” And she started shaking her head, smiling, and I had no idea what was gonna happen next but she pulled out that stamp, the one with my favorite words: Dismissed. And smacked it down on my summons. Hallelujah!

I walked out of that room holding my accomplishment high but my friends in the lobby were not as excited as they had been, when I was more of a stranger. They still said, “Whoo hoo, go and get your car, baby.” But I knew it was forced. Which made it seem less than an accomplishment. But I tried not to think their thoughts. Maybe they were just tired. It was late in the day. And at least I didn’t have to pay. At least I got 2 dismissals in 2 weeks. At least I beat the damn system.

But… I couldn’t get my car because Eddie had my damn keys! Fine with me, I said. So I went to the bank, got my second to last 20, and rewarded my success with a little Chinese food. Which I didn’t like. But I ate it anyhow. Felt sick and liked that feeling. Left the place. Paid for the train. Rode the train. Got off the train. Came inside, got a drinkk, thought about my novel that’s three years behind schedule. Watched the news about some terrorist bombing, thought about what it would be like to struggle for my survival and got really hot cause my room’s right above the boiler room, decided to make some toast, cut three pieces and my finger, left two in the toaster, ate one, talked to my father about all the wonderful things I plan to do, and then I was going to do nothing, but remembered that the only way things happen is if I make them happen. Then I thought maybe happenings are overrated. But then I thought thinkking might be over rated. And now? Wow. It’s much later than it used to be. But I’ve decided to start a shuttle service, escorting people who have had their cars towed back and forth to DMV, PVB, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Give ‘em the red carpet treatment... for a reasonable fee, of course.

Putting out Fires

I was in a tiny chapel. In a room with Mary and a little two-inch Jesus on a cross, and a fire hydrant on the floor. And I wondered which object was most sacred. They all put out fires in their various capacities. And I said to Jesus, You look silly up there on that cross. And I said to Mary, I like you and all, but you look silly too. And then I looked at the fire hydrant, who looked the least silly of all.  And I thought about how it might be more sensible to carry around one of those than a Mary or a Jesus. And I guess people sometimes do, but they don’t call it religion, even though it protects what is most sacred as far as objects are concerned – themselves. Is this a promotion for fire hydrants? I can’t remember.


The Messiness of Judging.

I’m waiting for my mother’s nurse to pick up. The hospital recording has been on a loop for 20 minutes. Our hospital is committed to integrity, to the destitute, the sick. Our physicians and nurses have trained at some of the most prestigious colleges in the county. Our patients’ health and comfort is our #1 priority. The woman on the recording sounds so clear and passionate. I can picture her in the recording studio. Maybe she had to audition for the part. Maybe she got paid a lot of money to say these things. Finally a nurse picks up. She sounds exhausted. Would never have gotten the part.

“Has anyone been in to see my mother? She’s hysterical and can’t breathe.”

“Your mother is getting a new nurse.”

“But the nurse I spoke with earlier said she was on her way with meds!”

“Someone will be there within the hour.”

“She’s got to suffer for an hour?” 

“Someone will be there as soon as they can.”

“That’s not what your hospital recording says!”

The nurse takes a deep breath. “Oh god,” she mutters. Then I hear the phone land on a hard surface.

I know from experience what happens when the recording ends. When the recording ends, individuals take over. Recordings are usually neat and tidy. Real individuals are not. There may still be a commitment to life, to kindness, but unscripted commitments are harder to decipher. I think because behind the slogans and edited promises, everyone has to deal with their own relationship between the way we are told things are going to be and the way things are.

My mother for example has a slogan that goes something like: I am a strong as shit individual with impeccable judgment. And she often is. But behind the scenes, in the moments of reality when whatever pain sets in and there’s no one around to slogan to, she cannot handle her anxiety and has a tendency to drink herself nearly to death and wind up in the hospital on life support.

Me, for example, when I’m writing this, I’m pretty grounded in my ideas for about 10 minutes at a time. But in between those moments, when the vastness of everything collides with the tininess of who I think I am, when my insane restlessness causes unbearable pain, I clench, and then go to places like to look for things to better organize my pantry.

I think of the nurse, obviously in no mood to hear about slogans. Perhaps she hasn’t slept in days and has been taking care of so many sick and destitute people that she has not been able to take care of herself. Maybe I caught her at one of those moments when she didn't have enough energy to pretend to be a spokesperson for anything. Who knows what people have to deal with behind their job descriptions.

There’s the slogan, and then the fractaling inward to a more intimate reality, to those minutes in secrecy behind all closed doors, where there are are individuals dealing with themselves and other individuals.

My mother's neighbor has visited my mother every day in the hospital. He cares about my mother. And yet, he’s the one who gives her the vodka. He says he figures if she doesn’t get it from him, she’ll get it from someone else. He doesn’t think of himself as being a bad person, he’s just doing what he does based on the equipment and experiences he has. Just like the woman who called from the Special Olympics on the other line who got upset with me because I didn't have time to listen to her slogan. “Thanks a lot,” she told me. “Now I won’t meet my quota.” I laughed to myself thinking I must be attracting every fed up person in the country. And I couldn't wait to dismiss her as horrible, to throw her in that bin in my mind where ridiculously horrible people go. But if I dismissed everyone for being horrible, who would be left? Not even me. And I wouldn’t be able to call anyone to commiserate with, because they’d all be in my trash can.

I think my expectations for people were learned from television. I grew up on television. Life on television always had a beginning, middle and end, applause and credits. People on television were always who they said they were and if they weren’t everyone would band together and help get them back. I remember when the television shows would end, resenting the real people around me for not being recognizable from one day to the next. What I didn’t realize was that the people on television were dependent on a budget, on someone to write their lines, on rehearsals. I didn’t understand that in real life people were dealing with their own thoughts and doing their best to express them in some manner that didn’t get them made fun of, divorced, in jail, or all alone.

In reality, things are messy. In reality, the judgments we make of each other are judgments based on each other’s slogans and worldly circumstances. I think of this wealthy relative of mine who says things like, “I feel so badly for your mother. It’s so sad.” And then I think of my mother who says about this same person, “That poor sap. I am so grateful not to be her. She’s never had to survive any sort of malignancy. She’s just so, so blasé. So benign.”

Sometimes I don’t think we really know each other. At best, I think we know our experiences of each other. Or maybe, just our experiences of ourselves experiencing each other. Perhaps the only way to really and truly be neat and tidy is to admit that we're not. When we are honest about our shortcomings, maybe then we become real. And when we are real, maybe then we can be there for each other in ways that rarely disappoint.

The Last Bicker

My grandmother called at 7 A.M. asking if I could come over right away. She said her husband Herschel wasn’t doing well. That he was dying. Not as in one day soon, but as in today.

About 14 months ago, his body stopped producing white blood cells and they gave him a year to live. Last time I was in town, a few months ago, his face was covered in scabs. One of them was bleeding when I went to kiss him hello, but I didn’t think he was really dying. After all, he was still playing golf and driving even. But a few weeks ago, he lost control of his car and sideswiped a tree. Then, the other week he fell. No one knows why or how, but he knocked a really beautiful lamp into a million pieces and bled all over the living room floor.

My grandmother’s corgi was on his couch jumping and barking when I knocked on the door. I heard my grandmother yell, “Quiet Max!” and a minute later a woman with cornrows and an apron answered the door. My Aunt Karen told me there was a new weekend caretaker. (My grandmother fired the last four.) She introduced herself as Toni, and in her eyes I someone kind, thoughtful, and not in the mood for any bullshit. My grandmother was sitting in her chair, wearing what’s become her uniform—the long pink satin nightgown with poufy sleeves. Her hair was wild, like a storm cloud, and her eyes looked sad and worried. In her lap was her phonebook, the pages as disheveled as her hair, exploding out every which way.

“Hello, Darling,” she sang.

I bent down to give her a hug, and her arms lifted around me slowly, covered in brown spots, blood spots, and band aids. She kissed me a bit longer than usual. “I don’t know how much longer he’s gong to be around,” she told me, her voice deep, hoarse, and slightly panicked. “He can’t decide whether to go to the hospital or not.”

“What does his doctor think?”

“He was very rude to me the last time we spoke, so I’m not going to call him. I’m trying to get a hold of one of Herschel’s sons, to see if they’ll call. Oh, Jess, it’s a damn mess.”

Toni passed by with a bucket of cleaning supplies.

“I don’t like her,” my grandmother whispered loudly.


I headed to the kitchen to kiss Hershel hello. He was sitting at the table, hooked to oxygen, practically curled over a plate of toast, like his body was forming back into fetal. He looked so skinny, his face covered with scabs and silver stubble, yet he was wearing brand new baby blue flannel pajamas.

“Hi Herschel,” I said, walking closer.

With his hand, he shooed me away.

I walked back to the living room and sat on the couch, my face flushed with the shame that someone didn’t want me near them. My grandmother was on the phone with Herschel’s son. “Well, I think he should be admitted, Marty. He’s been very demanding. And I’m disabled. I can’t get him everything he needs… Ok, I’ll let him know...”

“That was Marty,” my grandmother told me. He said he’s going to call the doctor and have Herschel admitted.”

“That’s good,” I said.

“Toni!” my grandmother yelled.

A second later, Toni was standing in front of my grandmother’s chair. “Yes, Mrs. Allen.”

“Tell Dr. Allen that I spoke with Marty and that if he would like to go to the hospital, Marty will arrange it with Dr. Kasakov.”

Toni walked back to the kitchen.

“Honey,” my grandma says to me. “Do me a favor, would you?”

Her arthritic finger pointed to a large vase sitting on top of the TV. “Divide those flowers into two vases. Michael brought them yesterday, but they’re so cramped, you can’t even see what they are.”

“That will look pretty.”


“Ok!” I say louder.

“Make sure you take enough leaves off.”


I carried the flowers into the kitchen where Toni was washing some teacups. Her nails were long and red with little rhinestones at each end. I set the vase down on the counter and smiled. “My grandmother wants me to put these in two vases.”

Toni moved away from the sink.

“It’s ok. I can wait. I don’t think it’s an urgent matter.”

“Go ahead,” she said.

“Thank you for being here,” I said softly so Herschel couldn’t hear. “I know it’s got to be difficult...”

Toni smiled, and I felt relieved to connect with someone. I’ve always felt most comfortable around people who are being paid to clean up other people’s messes.


At the sink, I peeled the leaves off the stems. Then found some scotch tape and crisscrossed it over the top of the vase, which I learned how to do from interviewing a florist last year for the little newspaper I sometimes write for. I could hear Herschel around the corner in the little sitting area. He was moaning, “When am I gonna die already?” Toni was checking his oxygen. “When the lord is ready for you, Dr. Allen, he’ll let you know.”

I peeked around the corner and saw him at the kitchen table, still slumped over his toast, like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to eat it or not.

When the bouquets were finished, I had the bright idea to set one on Herschel’s table, thinking it might make him feel happier. I walked around the corner with the vase knowing better than to smile. But as I was setting it down, he shooed me away again. I felt my face flush. Jesus, I’m an idiot. Of course he wouldn’t want flowers. What dying individual wants to see anything blossom? Have the decency to wait for the funeral.

In the midst of a quick 180 headed back to the sink, I heard him mutter, “I love you.” I looked back at him. “I love you,” he said again, and then he shook his head, wincing, “But… no flowers.”

It might have been the first time he ever said I love you to me. And I felt relieved. My biggest nightmare, besides being gang raped, has always been being unwanted.


It was several moments later when I realize something horrible- I hadn’t told Herschel I loved him back. I should have said, “I love you too, Herschel,” but I had been too concerned with eliminating my presence from the room. I debated walking back to say it, since I knew I’d probably never see him again. But I decided not to. I figured he wasn’t thinking about me. He was probably busy enough thinking about not being Herschel anymore.


Even though he’d been a fixture in my life, I’d never exactly known Herschel. Our main conversation for the past 30 years has been, “Hold on, Jessica. I’ll go get grandma.”

The only thing I knew for certain about him was that he didn’t like to drink water. Only black coffee, tea, and an occasional tumbler of gin. And I think the most lively thing I’d ever seen him do, well besides begging for God to let him die, was the time he set some bananas on fire after dinner when I was a kid. I remember he drizzled some liquor on them and lit a match. Other than that, I know he loved golf and musical theater. I used to love when he’d sing with my grandmother during dinner, with a Bing Crosby voice, and then argue about who wrote which one. Maybe it was easier for him to experience emotions when they were accompanied by a big band, tap shoes, and a vibrato.

I was still standing at the sink throwing away leftover stems and leaves when he started moaning again. “What should I do, Toni,” he asked. “Should I go to the hospital?”

I’d never heard Herschel ask anyone what he should do about anything.

“I don’t know, Dr. Allen,” she said, sponging off the table. “That’s up to you.”

“Well, if I go to the hospital, I won’t be able to commit suicide.”

Toni smiled with commiseration and shook her head disapprovingly, “Oh, Dr. Allen.”

She took the toast off the table and started to walk away.

“Don’t leave, Toni.”

“I’m right here, Dr. Allen. I have to get lunch ready for Mrs. Allen.”

“Oh Christ,” he moaned. “I wish I would die already. Why can’t I die? Why can’t I just die?”

“It’s just not your time, Dr. Allen.”

It was so strange seeing these two sides of Herschel- the one that wanted to die, and the one that was scared to. He always seemed so sure of everything.

Then the phone rang.

“Oh, shut up!” he said to the phone.

Maybe that’s why he wasn’t dying. How can you die when you’re so angry?


Toni got some tuna fish from the refrigerator and some bugles from the cupboard. My grandmother always loved her bugles, those triangle-shaped chip things. Like a kid, she’d get so excited about side dishes and desert. Toni began arranging the gourmet cheese and crackers that someone had brought over in a basket, and took out some fruit salad. I left the one bouquet in the kitchen and carried the other into the living room. “I didn’t know you were a florist,” my grandmother smiled.

It seemed I was always surprising my grandmother. When I became a columnist for the local newspaper, she said, “My granddaughter, the columnist???” I hated the thought that I’d disappointed her. She’d had such promise for me when I was young. “You are so good on the piano you could be a pianist!” “You write such good stories, you could be a novelist!” “You sing so beautifully, you could be on Broadway!” But with each year that passed, I feared I hadn’t quite achieved the hopes she had for me. “What do you mean, you published that yourself? Will anybody read it? What about having a baby? Is it too late?” But I was glad to see her smile. She had such a lovely smile. Even at 87, she hardly had a wrinkle. Maybe it was the Oil of Olay, that little pink bottle sitting on her bathroom sink all my life.


My grandmother was trying to figure out the best place to put this new bouquet.

“How ‘bout on the table by the stairs.”

I carried it over to the stairs and placed it down.

“Not on the wood though, honey. Put some newspaper down first.”

In front of her chair was a paper grocery bag filled with newspapers. Mostly Plain Dealers and a few Sunday New York Times. She slowly leaned over, reaching for the edge of the bag. Her eyes squinted in pain and she whispered, “Owww. Dammit… Don’t ever get old, Jessica.”

I smiled and placed the flowers on the table. I could hear Herschel moaning again, but my grandmother couldn’t. She was too busy watching Max who was staring at us through the big window out back.

“Jess, honey,” my grandmother said. “Let Max in, will you?”

The back door was right next to where Herschel was. Herschel and his oxygen tank. My Aunt Karen told me the main reason Herschel sat in the kitchen was because my grandmother didn’t like the sound it made. “But she hardly hears anything,” I’d said. My aunt shook her head, as if my grandmother was an evil horrible woman. But the truth is, I can feel that same evil horrible blood flowing though my own veins. I can actually understand why I wouldn’t want my husband to be clicking and clacking on oxygen right next to me, even if I could hardly hear it. The idea that he needed it to live would pale slightly beneath my having to endure its irritating noise carving through my own sense of peace. I’m fairly certain I would also have to send him out of the room, to avoid bleeding from the inside out. But the difference is, I would know better than to behave like this when people were over. I’d be very nice and friendly while people were over and only after they were gone, would I send him out of the room. That way, no one would ever call me evil, and even if my husband told everyone what I’d done, no one would believe him.


I walked past Herschel and his oxygen once again and opened the back door for Max, who shuffled in and sniffed the carpet around Herschel’s feet looking for scraps. Herschel nudged him out of his way. Max was panting. “Oh would you shut up,” Herschel muttered. “God damn dog.”

Herschel was out of white blood cells and also out of patience. In all the years I’d known him, I never heard him blurt out so much.

“Toni, I think I should go to the hospital. Something’s not right.”

“Should I tell Mrs. Allen?”

“Might as well.”

Toni turned the corner and saw me at the sink. I poured a glass of water so it didn’t look like I was eavesdropping. I gave her a smile so she knew I appreciated her, and then a look of commiseration because I knew she was going to have to talk with my grandmother who was not going to like a word of what she had to say.

I followed Toni into the living room.

Before we got there, my grandmother yelled, “Toni!”

“Yes, Mrs. Allen.”

My grandmother jumped, “Jesus, you scared me.”

“Dr. Allen says he is ready to go to the hospital.”

“Very well. I’ll call Marty… Did you make lunch yet?”

“Yes. Mrs. Allen. Do you still want it?”

“Well, I still have to eat, don’t I?”


My grandmother picked up the phone and looked through her mess of a phonebook for Marty’s number again. “Hi Marty, uh… Herschel says he’s ready to go to the hospital… Ok… Thank you.”

“Alright,” my grandmother winced, lifting herself with the help of her walker.

“Can I help you, grandma?”

“No, dear. I have to do it myself.”

Once she was standing, she ice-skated her walker into the kitchen and lowered herself down in her chair. “Ach! Dammit… Herschel, I spoke with Marty and he says the ambulance will be here within the hour.”

Herschel said nothing.

“Did you hear me, Herschel?”

“Yes, Eunice.”

My grandmother dished herself some tuna fish, moving so slowly.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat, Dr. Allen?”

“No thank you, Toni.”

My grandmother crunched on a bugle. “You should eat something, Herschel. Who knows when they’ll feed you at the hospital.”

“I’m not hungry, Eunice.”

There was nothing that appealed to me at the table, but I knew better not to eat. My grandmother absolutely doesn’t understand people who sit at the table without eating.

“Help yourself, Jess.”

“Thank you.”

“Toni, uh, the coffee is cold.”

“I’ll warm it up for you, Mrs. Allen.”

“That would be nice…. And this melon is old. Isn’t there a new melon in the refrigerator?”

“I’ll check, Mrs. Allen.”

“When will the ambulance be here?” Herschel asked again.

“Marty said it’ll be here within the hour…”

“I’d like Toni to come with me to the hospital.”

Eunice put down her bugle. “She can’t come with you Herschel! What about me? Who’s going to take care of me? I’m disabled too, you know!”

“Oh yes... I forgot. I wasn’t thinking about you,” Herschel said.

“Yes, I know you weren’t.”


I think this might be the theme of all the women in my family - what about me.

I think it stems from not having our emotional needs met when we were children. It’s one of those generational viruses- while the mothers were wondering what about me, the children were falling through the cracks, making promises to themselves never to be forgotten again. Being heard becomes a compulsion. And for some of us, feeling invisible for just one second is unbearable. We must make ourselves heard, even if what we are about to say has nothing to do with who we really are.


“Toni would you mind getting my things together for the hospital?”

“Of course not, Dr. Allen.”

“He doesn’t need much, Toni. He’ll have everything he needs there.”

Herschel closed his eyes, surrendering. “I’ll need my wallet, Eunice.”

“What do you need your wallet for?”

“My insurance cards, my credit cards.”

“You don’t need the whole wallet, Herschel. You’ll need your insurance cards and you can have 20 dollars cash.”

“Eunice, why do you have to argue with everything I say?”

He was almost whining. It was too much to take. I crunched on a bugle. The noise was incredibly loud.

“Jess,” my grandmother said. “There’s a green bag from the natural history museum on that shelf over there. Would you go and get it?”

I was grateful to get away from the table. The shelf my grandmother was pointing to was loaded with tons of crap-- the only bag I could see was about the size of a small pocketbook, and so caked in dust, it hardly looked green.

“This?” I asked.

“Yes, dear.”

“It’s really dusty, Grandma.”

“Well, wet some paper towels and wipe it off.”

In the sink I watched the stream of dust turn black and whoosh down the drain, revealing the words Natural History.

“Here you go, grandma.”

“Very good. Now, if you go look on my dresser, you’ll find a little plastic wallet insert.”

In a moment, my grandmother and her arthritic fingers were shoving Herschel’s insurance cards inside. “Dammit… Darling, do me a favor and cut these cards so they’ll fit.”

“You want me to cut his insurance cards?”

“As long as they can read the numbers, what difference does it make? There should be a pair of scissors on my desk.”

I looked at Herschel who was staring at his toast, probably thinking of much bigger issues than the size of his insurance cards.

“There should also be some address labels there, Jess. Stick one on the bag, would you?”


Within 20 minutes, Herschel’s belongings were neatly packed into this nine-inch green plastic bag. All the things he’d need for his final departure from Planet Earth:

A little plastic wallet, his identification cards, and a pair of thick reading glasses.

“Do you want your Zoloft?” Eunice asked.


“Your sleeping pills?”

He shook his head no. “Is the sports section in my bag?”

It was the most lucid thing I’d heard him say. How funny, where people find peace.

“I’m sorry that you’re having a hard time,” my grandmother said.

“Don’t,” Herschel said, not wanting her to talk.

“Don’t worry, darling, you’ll back in a couple days.”

Herschel muttered, this time angrily, “No, I will never be back here again.”


My grandmother and Herschel said nothing after that. They just sat there in silence I couldn’t make sense of, and I felt flooded with anxiety. They’d been notorious bickerers from the moment they were married, from the moment they left their previous spouses to live happily ever after with each other and then realized they weren’t as happy as they’d hoped they’d be. And I thought of my own husband, the way we bicker. I always assumed as we got older, we’d cut that out, that our wisdom would just show up like crows feet and varicose veins. But I guess it doesn’t quite work this way. I guess childhood issues don’t go away until you take care of them. And I prayed this wouldn’t be me one day. And then I prayed for peace and love for my grandma and Herschel.

A second later, Herschel reached for a cracker. “Why am I eating this?” he muttered, and placed it down.

I thought of my Aunt Karen and my mother saying how horrible it all is, all this dying. But to me, what’s more horrible than death is the way people die. There must an art, or at least a more elegant way to prepare for death than this. Some wise person who comes over the house and makes everyone go around the room to say what they’re grateful for. Something to give everyone meaning and closure, so the spirit doesn’t need to be artificially loosened from attachments and regrets with Zoloft and sleeping pills and the sports section.

“Toni, before the ambulance gets here, I’d like to use the bathroom.”

“Ok Dr. Allen.”

Toni helped Herschel out of his walker, and guided him to the bathroom. “I have a sister who works at the hospital, Dr. Allen,” she said softly. “I’ll make sure she checks in on you.”

“Thank you, Toni.” Herschel said.

At the table, Eunice started to cry. “It's been so upsetting, Jess,” she said. “He’s been falling apart. He’s been crying all night, I just wanna die. He’s scared. And I don’t blame him. But it’s been awful. And very hard on me.”

“I can understand,” I said, which I could.

Eunice reached for her walker and hauled herself up from the kitchen table. I walked next to her as she shuffled back to the living room. “You know what Jess, could you put Herschel’s name on his cane?”

Eunice lowered herself back into her lounge chair and a moment later, Herschel shuffled out of the bathroom. Toni helped him to his chair, right next to Eunice’s, and he slumped in. Then the doorbell rang.

“It’s them, Herschel. It’s the ambulance.”

Max started with his barking, so I rushed him outside and then followed Toni to the door. Standing there were two fluffy blonde teenagers, a boy and a girl, in EMT uniforms. It looked like they were trick or treating, but instead of asking for candy, they maneuvered a large stretcher through the door and set it up in the middle of the living room.

Herschel stood up, with the help of Toni. He looked all crooked and weak, and was having trouble breathing without his oxygen, which was still in the kitchen attached to his walker.

“He needs oxygen,” Toni told them.

One of the kids ran out to the truck to fetch the bottle.

Eunice looked so upset. “Can I give you a kiss, Herschel?”

He said yes, but he didn’t seem thrilled about it. He also didn’t seem quite completely alive anymore. My grandmother struggled up from her chair and hobbled close enough to him so that their bodies were touching. He pat her back a couple times and she managed to reach her face close enough to kiss his. Then my grandmother returned to her chair and Toni helped Herschel down onto the stretcher, which was just a foot or so off the ground. Once he was lying down, one of the teenagers pressed a lever and the bed jumped up three feet in the air.

“Please, easy,” Herschel moaned.

“Is it supposed to be tilted?” my grandmother asked.

The boy leveled it out.

Max was watching all this through the window, jumping and barking, but his bark was muffled enough through the glass not to be a nuisance. Maybe he wanted to say goodbye. Over the years, Herschel seemed to grow fond of Max. I mean, before he grew un-fond of everything. Every time I had dinner there, the first thing Herschel did when he sat down was toss Max a treat. “Don’t you want to taste it first?” Eunice would say. “Max said he wanted to taste it first,” Herschel would say.


After Herschel was laid out on the stretcher, Toni set the little green bag onto his stomach. Herschel held onto it. Then the EMT's opened the door and I watched them wheel Herschel out. They ducked under the overgrown tree, and were headed along the walkway, until just before they reached the driveway, when Herschel’s head lifted up.

“Hold on,” he said.

The bed stopped.

“What’s going on,” my grandmother asked, seeing the action halted.

No one said anything.

I opened the screen door and stepped outside to see what was going on.

“Toni, what’s going on?” My grandmother’s voice was deep, concerned, and agitated.

Toni sighed and shook her head like she didn’t know and headed past me towards the gurney.

“Toni, can you bring me my other glasses? I want both pairs.”

“Ok, Dr. Allen.”

Toni ran back inside.

“What is it? What does he want?”

“He said he wants his other glasses, Mrs. Allen.”

My grandmother sucked her teeth. “Oh for God’s sake. He has a pair in his bag. What does he need two pair for?”

“I don’t know, Mrs. Allen. He said he wanted both pair.”

“Well, tell him he can pick one, or the other.”

Toni stared at my grandmother with an astounded expression, one I interpreted as meaning: “The man is dying. Give him his two fucking pairs of glasses.”

I was also staring at my grandmother in perhaps a similar way. He’s got macular degeneration, after all. He needs all the glasses he can get.

Toni was caught in the middle. I could see she didn’t know what to do. But a second later, she went to the kitchen table and grabbed Herschel’s other glasses. My grandmother glared at her as she passed by, and shook her head at me like everyone was nuts. “I don’t know why he would want those,” she said to me.

I gave her a look like, “Beats me.”


I stood by the front door as Toni went back outside with the glasses.

“Mrs. Allen said you don’t need two pairs of glasses,” she told Herschel. “That you could choose one or the other.”

Herschel’s eyes got wide. He now looked exacerbated on top of his dying. And he said, “I will take the two pair of glasses.”

“Ok, Dr. Allen,” Toni said.

Toni put the extra pair of glasses in the little green bag and came back inside.

“Dr. Allen said he wanted both pairs.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” my grandmother said.

Meanwhile, the gurney continued toward the ambulance again. For a couple feet or so, and then it stopped again.

My grandmother was really going nuts this time, craning her head to see out the big front window. “Oh for God’s sake. What now!”

I could tell she hated not being able to get up to intervene.

I held open the door again and Toni walked quickly back outside. Herschel was struggling to sit up. He managed to lean up on his elbow so he could reach into the little green bag. Then, he handed Toni the extra pair of glasses.

“Maybe I don’t need two pair after all. If I do, someone can bring them to me.”

Toni looked at Herschel and took the glasses. “Ok, Dr. Allen. Whatever you say.”


Back in the house, Eunice was satisfied. “I told him he only needed one pair.” And the lights began flashing on the ambulance, and it rolled down the street, and Hershel never came back again. And Eunice died three weeks later.

To Be Happy

…And she realized she was old and alone. She wasn’t old really. And she was still beautiful if you took the time to notice but she was pretty sure most people didn’t have that kind of time. And there she was, walking down the street, holding tightly onto that tiny little three-year-old hand. How she envied his way of being alive. His other hand happily strumming along the slats of the wrought iron fence they were passing, giggling at leaves dancing in the wind. And yet she still couldn’t erase the image she’d seen of herself in the tinted car window they’d passed. So old so sad so damaged. What had happened to her? She gave herself the usual pep talk- there's only two ages, alive and dead. And she knew it was true. But still she wished for things to be different. How she envied her son, waving hello to slobbering dogs, stopping to celebrate a garbage truck a tow truck a dislodged chunk of concrete. Not needing to know there was anyone else doing anything better. And she felt ashamed for wishing things were different. It was such an old habit really. She’d been wishing for things to be different almost her entire life. Since the very first time she discovered all the other people who had so many more reasons to be happier than she did. And somewhere along the course of her life, she’d lost the ability to feel what felt good and mostly anguished instead about whatever she’d happened to be thinking about. No, not thinking. More like obsessing. Or strategizing. Well whatever it was, it rarely accomplished anything other than interrupting whatever pleasant feeling had already been there. Always reminding her of all the good reasons why she should be working harder to make things different. And there was her little boy, his little nose sniffing high into the air, announcing so earnestly how he could smell every single flower on the earth. And she was grateful for him, for reminding her to feel the spring breeze. And it did feel delicious. And she smiled. Even though in the background she wondered if anyone passing by still thought her smile was pretty. And then she no longer felt the breeze, only embarrassment and shame to still be wondering how she looked in profile to men half her age that she didn’t even care about anymore. Another old habit. To exist in the glances of others rather than through her own experiences of the world.

Her mother had told her that when she’d been her son’s age she used to say hello to everyone. Wanted to be friends with the whole world. Even she could remember being that way. Always wanting to connect with everyone, experience the beauty of life together. That was the original reason behind her beautiful smile. Not to lure the opposite sex into her bed. These people who'd been lured to her bed in the past had just been the only ones who’d noticed her smile or at least the only ones who had answered the call to connect to the best of their ability. But what she’d really wanted and still longed for was old-fashioned company. Nothing resembling the sad days of her own childhood but the kind of company she imagined from lifetimes ago when she'd laughed in meadows gathering things like nuts and berries with other women while their children happily played together nearby.  Way back when, before someone introduced the idea of something better to do and ways to make life so much easier in the meantime; back before everyone had thought themselves to death.

And this is what she thought about while being dragged by the arm by her excited little boy down the stairs and into the library playroom. To sit amidst all these other moms and nannies who didn't formally know each other but who looked so very much the same checking their emails in between smiling at whatever victory their offspring had achieved, getting up only to resolve the occasional tug-o-war over some prized piece of wheeled plastic, or to rescue their little one from some snot-filled potential case of measles. She felt badly for being one of those germ phobic moms. Hated her under-the-radar messages that other people were contagious. Yet how fiercely she needed to protect him from these others- from their ways of oppressing innocent souls with their criticisms their judgments and their germs.

Her own mother had never let her play with others.  Her own mother had never let her play outside for that matter. From the parking lot and into Saks was the extent of her outdoor experience. This was probably one reason she’d chose to live in the woods. In a rural area. Besides the fact that she’d found some miniscule amount of peace amidst the beauty of nature amidst the absence of people and her preoccupation with wondering whether they noticed or did not notice her existence, her potential. And she was able to appreciate her son’s love of the outdoors, digging till his nails were black, rolling down grassy hills smiling through dirt and leaves without pain, without fear of animals or bugs or their excrement. But still in the background she felt alone in the woods just as she had in the city. Just as she felt no matter where she was. Abandoned by everyone. Forever fantasizing about some grand elsewhere amongst people she felt connected to.  Truly connected to. People she could sit with on a giant gingham tablecloth spread out on some community patch of grass delighting in each other’s aliveness. A dream she’d held onto for years. And yet could never get close enough to see with her own eyes. And now time was slipping away. She could feel it.

When had she gotten so old?  She remembered so clearly wanting desperately to get older- longing for real homework, for her driver’s license, for college, to graduate from college. And then she’d finally entered the real world, armed with such a beautiful collection of meticulously carved out plans for her life. Plans she treasured and with secret confidence, secret assuredness, knew she’d turn into her future. But once she’d found herself surrounded by the world, she didn’t quite know how to let her secret out. And others didn’t quite have a clue it was even there. And she began to wonder and then doubt if she’d really had anything as glorious as she’d been so sure she’d had after all.

And then somewhere along the way, she realized time was passing. And quickly. She could literally feel it speeding up, the seasons spinning around and around as if down the drain of a flushing toilet. People all of a sudden began treating her differently; her grandmother who’d been so sure she was destined for Broadway was now asking how she was going to pay the bills. And then there was the time she’d mentioned to her mother how a friend had started stripping to make some extra cash so she’d still have time to do her own thing during the day, and her mother had gasped, She's too old for that!  But they’d been the same age. It was the first time she’d been too old for anything. And it hurt to imagine it was true, that even something as ridiculous as taking off her clothes in public had become out of her league. And so she’d tried to slow things down, to find whatever brakes she could and screech them to a halt. But things still went faster. And there came a rush to live life. To hurry and make those secret dreams come true before it was too late.

And then she'd met her husband. Who didn’t really have any dreams as far as she could tell. But who could still feel the breeze, and didn’t need to make sure another knew he’d experienced it to make it valid or beautiful. And he’d driven her to the mountains Upstate and to the woods and they’d hiked barefoot over rocks and roots and she’d fallen in love with the wildness of her own feet traipsing along the earth and yet she’d still been obsessed, wondering if she was pretty enough charming enough. Thankfully she’d had the self-control not to ask and she laughed to herself years later when he’d told her how much he appreciated that she’d been able to quietly enjoy his favorite places with him. And then one day she'd overheard him telling a friend how he'd designed a ring.  And she'd felt so sorry for him, for not noticing she’d been close enough to hear. For his inability to notice anything going on around him, really. To even see who she really was. Or that she’d been suffering. And because of this, she hated him. Not entirely. She’d eventually had a child with him after all. This little boy she adored more than anything, more than even all the glorious plans for her future. This little boy who was presently running so self-assuredly over to a crying little girl on the other side of the library to ask what was wrong, if she was ok, if someone took her ball. How she envied her son. For already being so aware, but with the autonomy not to make everything about himself. How she wished she could be more like him. More present. More content with what already was. More than anything, she wanted him to be proud to have a mother like her. Maybe it wasn’t too late to make her dreams come true after all.

But if it never panned out… then what? Maybe it wouldn’t be such a nightmare. She did love so much about her present life. She loved being a mother, loved that she and her son still slept together, cuddled and whispered jokes that only they could understand while her husband snored in another room. And she was grateful he was ok with this arrangement, grateful that he adored the relationship she had with their son and grateful he knew he was always included. But yet she was secretly starving. Not like the people her friend had been feeding in West Africa but starving in an American way. Stripped of her connections to the earth and to all the others who lived there until she couldn’t figure out where she belonged or who she needed to be to feel worthy of spending time with. The people she called family were all a tedious phone call away.  And they never seemed in a hurry to visit, preferring to send checks or gifts instead. She couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have wanted to be there with her. Why they so stubbornly refused to be the family she wanted and needed them to be. And yet she felt ungrateful to want more. But all she did was want more. And she hoped her son wasn't picking up any of it. Thankfully it didn’t look like he was, playing so beautifully at the train table with a boy around his age, saying excuse me instead of pushing him down as they vroomed around and around, singing together – choo choo! Perhaps his joy made him immune to all negativity. At least so far.

And in a chair nearby, sat this boy’s mother, smiling, asking how old her son was. Wow, almost the exact same age. It was so hard for her to make friends with other moms. And yet there they were, talking about diapers. How both their sons were still wearing them. She’d decided to be herself, she was too tired not to, and so she shared her horror of public restrooms and to her surprise this other mom not only laughed but pulled out of her lovely diaper bag a portable potty and then unlatched it so that it popped up into position right there. And they’d both laughed. Maybe they could be friends, she’d thought. Maybe they could get together for a weekly play date. And then she felt ashamed. To feel so desperate for companionship. Not only for her son but for herself. She was too old for these feelings. And besides, this woman used a straightening iron and lipstick. How could she be friends with someone like her? She hadn't used a blow dryer since before she'd gotten pregnant. And there she was again canceling out a possibility before trying.  She did this constantly.  Her best ideas took only a few more thoughts before she realized they would never work out. She was incapable of making friends. She’d become too strange, too damaged from too much time alone. But what about her son, her son who just put his pudgy little arm around this other little boy and said, You know, I used the big boy potty this morning, while this other little boy said, Wow, looking so very impressed.  She had to laugh. And the other mother was also laughing. They’re so precious together, they both agreed. And then she did it. Suggested they get their boys together sometime. And she’d agreed. And they entered their numbers into their little phones they’d both still been holding onto and she felt a little lighter washing her son’s hands in the bathroom before heading back upstairs and back outside.

And her son ran down the long ramp that he ran down everyday because he loved to run. Loved it so much that he laughed out loud the whole way. And she wondered, what did she love?  She wasn’t sure she even remembered. She'd long ago forgotten how to play. She had only a memory of shiny brown buckeyes, wanting to touch and gather them and bring them home, but having her arm pulled nearly out of its socket by her mother who always had something better to do.  Had she turned into one of those women? One of those women whose todo list had gotten the best of her?  Who became furious, almost murderous every time her husband left a mess? But who could blame her, really. She could hardly handle that her dreams had all but fallen apart; she was not about to let the one thing she did have, her home, turn into anything less than perfect. And she called out to her son, reminding him to stop before the street, and he stopped in his tracks, out of breath, Did you see me, Mama, did you see me running so fast? And she was glad that she had seen. Glad she could multi-task between the incessant narrating of her pain and her pure delight with this little boy. And she smiled and kneeled down to kiss his nose. I love to see you run, she told him. And he took off her glasses and stared so sweetly into her eyes with kissing noises that she returned. She was always happier when she couldn’t see too far. When she was physically unable to see the everything beautiful and happy out there that she was so sure she was lacking, the only frown in some giant dance of laughter. Maybe there was a reason she was born nearsighted. So she could focus instead on her son’s beautiful face, those bright blue sparkling smiling eyes that looked just like her own. And she realized she was happy. Yes, she was happy too.  And suddenly her heart felt so full she didn’t know what to do with herself so she started to worry about losing him. The most terrible horrible thought she could imagine. Maybe that’s why she chose to think so much. Thinking was the cushion that protected her from the unbearable pleasure of the present moment. And she held her son. Told him how much she loved him, cherished him. And he said he loved her too. So much. And she thought about what her mother had accused her of the other day while they’d been on the phone, after she’d finished broadcasting yet another stream of worry. “You’re guilty of dissecticide,” her mother had yelled. “Off with your head!” And she smiled because she knew her mother was right, even if it was probably all her fault. And she took a deep breath and felt a space inside herself; the space she’d abandoned. And so she took another breath. And another. Until she was back beneath her flesh instead of out there, in some no man’s land looking at herself through all the imaginary critical eyes from her past. And she was grateful to remember that through her own eyes her life was beautiful. And she prayed not to forget again that she was worthy enough to be alive, to feel happy right where she already was. But of course she did forget. And then she remembered again. And then sometimes she’d forget to remember…


Bounce House Hell

It was inevitable. I crossed paths with one of those bouncy houses. Brautigan took one look at it and nearly fell on his knees begging to go. Since he’s only three, there was no way in hell I was going to let him in by himself which meant it was going to be the two of us. We waited in line behind this six-year-old who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, kept ear-muffing the kid next to him with the palms of his hands.

Finally it was our turn. It was no big deal. We bounced for three minutes and it was over. But then he spotted the bouncy house next door. This huge thing with a giant bouncy slide. Brautigan had to go on. There was no changing his mind. So we waited in line. The guy who was supposed to be in charge was flirting with some teenage girl. I asked, ‘Should we go in now,” and he said, ‘Yeah yeah, it’s fine.’

So we crawled along this maze thing until we arrived at a little foam climbing wall. We climbed up without much trouble and slid down this little slide. Not so bad. Then, we crawled along this other maze and arrived at a big climbing wall, like 8 feet tall, and that’s when I said to myself, ‘What the mother fuck was I thinking?’ Brautigan took one look at it and turned around. I said, ‘Where are you going?’ and he said, ‘I’m not doing that.’ Little kids were coming at us, charging up the climbing wall. And I knew we had no choice but to turn around. There was no way I could heave myself and my child up that climbing wall. So we backtracked till we got to the little slide and I hoisted Brautigan up to the top without much problem but then there was me. I couldn’t climb up. I kept slipping down. I tried again and again all while holding Brautigan steady at the top so that he wouldn’t be trampled by the scores of oblivious kids siding down. Brautigan looked worried. And that’s when I realized I was in a life/death situation. So I made a growling noise and tried once more with all my might to climb up that slippery germ infested foam wall but I still couldn’t do it. Brautigan’s eyes got wide. ‘Can’t you get up, mama?’ he asked. ‘Of course I’m going to get up, my love.’

As a last resort, I dismantled a piece of the velcro foam that held the slide together and finally, heaved myself up. By this time, I was sweating and shaking but I grabbed Brautigan and finally we escaped into the sea of smiling crazed looking children at which point Brautigan saw the giant Bouncy slide again and said, ‘But Mama, I thought you said we could go down the big slide!” Thankfully at that moment an airplane appeared in the sky so I said, ‘Look! A plane!’ and as he said, ‘Oh, wow!’ I picked him up and ran him to the car.

Getting Out of Things

You know what I’m good at? Actually, let me cut the modest crap. You know what I’m a genius at? Getting out of things. I’m not kidding either. Late fees, library fines, parking tickets. Here’s a true story: I’ve had 43 parking tickets dismissed, including four tows to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  I’ve been getting out of things my whole life, really. Appointments, exercise, meditation, you name it. I think it stems from post-traumatic stress, from being addicted to the feeling of sailing away from something I dread. It makes sense. For most of my life, I never liked being where I was, so I became an escape artist to get out of what felt intolerable. But the trouble is— if you get out of everything, you never really find yourself in a world you’ve gotten into. You just swirl in some ethereal circumference, zoning in and out of the past and dreaming up marvelous futures that somehow never arrive. This all changed though when I had a child. A precious baby boy who was handed to me and placed upon my breast like a little sandbag, forcing me for the first time in my life into the present moment. I think I held him the entire first year of his life. Really, I think I was afraid to put him down. That I’d start running again. And I never ever wanted to run away from my baby. To get out of being a mother.

One of the first things I noticed being present is that most of my moments were filled with this unpleasant sensation like something very wrong was happening but I couldn’t remember what. And I’d have this intense urge to get rid of that feeling. To reach for something chocolate. Something bready. The phone. Facebook. All the things that pried me out of my moment but left me homeless in a manner of speaking, with only places to feel better or worse inside of, yet none to feel cozy in. But with a sleeping baby in my arms, I couldn’t leave so easily, and slowly, I started to surrender. I’d still feel uncomfortable and reach and pry for a way out, but after the 200th time checking my email, and the 200th time checking that my son was breathing normally, and the wondering if I’d ever make any of my dreams come true or if it was too late, I’d look at my baby’s sweet face and remember: There’s nowhere to go. And I’d climb into the moment with my child and stay there, and enter a richness that was too fulfilling to leave. And in that moment, my heart felt so full, like it did when I was real little, before I’d been hurt by life. When I used to feel excited to wake up in the morning, not because there was something particular going on, but because I enjoyed the feeling of being alive. And it felt so good to have that feeling back and to share it with my precious child. And I’d pray for the moment to never pass, which of course it always did. But I’d meet up with it again when I surrendered on some other occasion to the seemingly cruel truth that there was no place to go.

I’m still not present all the time. I’m hardly present at all, really. The land of right here/right now is still a tropical island that I only vacation to occasionally when I forget that I don’t need time off or any plane ticket to get there. But I pray to visit more often. Because if I can give my presence to my little boy, then maybe he will feel cozy here and never try to get out of it like I did.


The Origins of Happily Ever After

Once upon a time there was an anguished cave mother who finally couldn't take it anymore. Every night, she’d arrive back to her cave after hunting and gathering all day long, ready to fall asleep on her cozy boulder, but every night, without fail, her little ones would insist on a story before bed. And back then, without a book to close, a goodnight story could go on and on until almost dawn.  In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for poor prehistoric mothers to miss out on sleep entirely because of little ones begging and pleading for the thousandth time, “Please Mama, tell us what happened next!!! Please, Please, Please!!” But one day, this particular anguished mother just couldn’t think of what happened next.  “But Mama,” the children cried. “You have to think of something more!!!  We need to hear what happens next so that we can fall asleep!”  And so the mother furrowed her bulging brow and tried to imagine what in the world she was going to say, and a moment later, through her lips, a very hoarse voice uttered:  “What happened next, my precious ones???  They all lived Happily. Ever. After.”

After this, she waited, saying nothing more.  She dared not to move even a finger for fear of stirring these blessed creatures.  She just held her breath and waited.  And waited.  And finally, she heard a snore.  Yes. To her utter amazement, the children were asleep. And she tiptoed with delight back to her boulder and also went to sleep.

Of course, in the back of this mother’s prehistoric brain, she knew very well there was no such thing as Happily Ever After.  All of her other stories confirmed that life wasn’t so simple as to be lived Happily Ever After.  Not even grass lived Happily Ever After.  But instead of feeling guilty, she told herself it was just a story, after all.  And it put the kids to sleep for God’s sake.  And everyone needed some rest.  And so she did it again the next night.  And the next night.  And from then on.  And slowly, this mother’s bright-eyed and bushy tail got the attention of other cave mothers in town.  And so she began to share her success.  And pretty soon the entire village began ending their stories the same way. And pretty soon, all the children were going to sleep at a decent hour.

But… there was a minor problem.

All the kids began believing that everyone was going to get their very own happily ever after, too. And the mothers became anguished once again.  Day after day, they cringed, watching their beloved little ones aspiring to such rubbish, talking to each other about what their happily ever afters were going to look like.  And so these mothers decided to get together at a secret town meeting.  “You know what,” one of the well-rested mamas said. “Maybe these little S.O.B’s really will figure out how to live happily ever after—why should we ruin a good thing??”  And before the meeting was through, all of the other mothers nervously agreed.  And so, it was settled.  Happily Ever After lived Happily Ever After.

And from that day forward, generations upon generations of children continued to regurgitate this very flawed concept to their offspring, without ever even imagining it was just a great big lie to get a poor mother some rest.  Little did those ancient mothers know that one day, the whole globe would be paved, often times burying whatever was already there, by people looking, with bleary-eyed hope, for some semblance of that Happily Ever After they really and truly believed in.  Good night.

by Jessica Kane ©2015

The Veteran

There’s this man who comes to the local general store as often as I do. I come to write. And he comes to eat, read the newspaper, and talk to people. At first, I dreaded seeing him. He is old. Wears a Veteran’s hat with pins and stripes all over it. And the way he masticates his liverwurst sandwiches is enough to make me, if I didn’t care so much what others thought of me, hurl something at his elderly liver-spotted head. He always forgets his hearing aid and is always talking about the Decline of America in a voice made for at least 30 people to hear. And he licks his finger to turn the page of his newspaper and then touches things I could potentially touch. But it’s funny. As time has passed, seeing him every day, he has become someone familiar. And the something familiar he’s become has become a source of comfort. I’m ashamed to say I used to sneer at him when I’d hear his phlegm-ridden cough with little bits of animal organs flying out in my midst. Now, I feel a softness about him. I hear his stories. Every time I’m in here, a new one. People sit with him to listen to his stories. He’s had a life. A long life. He’s got great grandkids. A dead wife. A government that never appreciated what he’d really wanted to do for his country. He’s real. He’s more than the liverwurst that could have gotten on me.

How to Have Manners in your Marriage ?

The people I get along with best are the people I am polite with. Manners almost always ensure a hospitable relationship. I used to be inclined to imagine that good behavior in general was inauthentic. Mostly because of the fact that you can be polite with someone and still despise them in the privacy of your own thoughts. But these days, I think of manners more like posture. A deliberate necessity to avoid offending others with our various forms of slovenliness. The problem though, is how to be on good behavior with someone you live with and conceivably love? It takes a lot to be on good behavior all day, but then to do it all night? When my 3-year-old finally goes to sleep, sometimes all I want to do is blob out all over the place, stand at the counter and shove whatever I can find down my throat, and give anyone who comes near me the finger, especially that son of a bitch I married.

I think that’s why most relationships end. Because most of us, at least me, rarely practice good manners with our spouses. Well, unless we’re around other people. I can understand how it happens. The whole reason I got involved with my husband in the first place is because I wanted to have at least one person in the world I could be myself with. Someone I could share everything with- all my childhood stories, my secret wisdoms, my fears; someone I could feel relaxed with, vulnerable with, comfortable being naked with in every which way. But as you get deeper with someone, how do you put the brakes on before the other person discovers that secret fierce fucking animal within who will shit in your proverbial boots if you fuck with them? I just don’t think it's possible.

You can’t live with someone for any extended period of time without this animal emerging. It’s just what happens when we take off our designer clothing (or in my case my pajamas). When we are naked, it’s inevitable that we will release unthinkable things from our depths. And it probably won’t take long before those things get flung at each other.

I think resentment in relationships probably begins when one person first bears witness to another’s beast within. We think, ‘How could they treat me like that!? Have they no manners? Everyone else gets to see them at his/her best, and I get this… monster?’

My husband and I both know we should behave with dignity towards each other. We have both attended seminars, read brilliant wisdom-filled books and articles about conscious relationships, but our animal sides could give a fat shit. When my animal within sees my husband at night lying on the bed with his computer like a side of butchered beef instead of taking out the garbage or at least asking if I’d like a massage, I’m not thinking not to take him personally. I'm not thinking, "The light within me bows to the light within you." I’m already saying out loud something like, “You are a fucking slob. I can’t believe I married such a lummox!” And then he’ll look up at me and say, “Me? I’m a slob? Let’s not forget when I first met you, you had fleas in your bed!” And I'll say, “Well, isn’t that funny. I didn’t have fleas in my bed until you started sleeping in it!!”

I think my favorite moments with my husband are the ones where we treat each other as strangers. Not passing strangers. But more like two people who maybe have been stationed at the same refugee camp. We are on the same survival team. We have good ideas for how to get things accomplished. We are resilient. We are busy. And can make each other laugh really hard recounting all the trials and tribulations we overcame at the end of a really hard day. It doesn’t happen often, but these are the moments I’d want more of, if I could figure out how to have them. When we are polite enough to give space for the animals that we are to roam peacefully.

Thought on World Peace

When I hear people baffled and horrified about the Palestine-Israel situation, it makes me think of that expression, they are the way they are, because I am the way I am. It makes me think of my own much smaller scale Israel-Palestine conflict. The wars I wage on a much more local level. Where words and grudges and judgments are bombs. Where secret moments of dishonesty and manipulation are my strategy. I think about how long my own peace treaties last. Not long. And I wonder if I had more resources at my disposal, and more people pissing me off, if I could be capable of sending larger bombs, if I could be capable of figuring out more complicated ways of burying people. Peace is easy for me to imagine on a global level, but it’s hard for me to mandate in my immediate vicinity. I see myself protecting what I’ve fought for years to claim as my own, spiritual and psychological and emotional things that mostly exist beneath my own flesh. And I’ve been an emotional terrorist, secretly wanting to wipe out everything about another person that is getting in my way of being free. Even if my battles involve the people who share my blood, or the roof over my head, it still prevents peace from happening. And if there isn’t peace in my own home, or in my mind, how can I expect there to be peace in the world?

Love Thyself

Last night, I fell in love with myself for the first time. I’m convinced that this falling in love with myself had to do with a suffering, near-corpse of road kill that I passed by earlier last night.

It was on the Northway, this large black furry object, with a heartbeat so terrified, that it moved the whole furry thing up and down like someone was pumping air in and out of it like a balloon. And my thought about it was sadness. Because I realized that he didn’t want to die. And as cars were roaring past him, laughing, and throwing their McDonalds out their windows, this single creature on earth, on the side of the road, was struggling to survive, to catch his breath, and his life.

And the surge of this something that I was feeling became embedded deep within me. I’m not sure it was embedded physiologically... but certainly into the meat of my spirit. So that perhaps now, I have, as part of my core, the remaining fire of the black-furry-corpse on Interstate 87.

But anyhow, late last night I was in bed when it hit me, this profound experience of falling in love with myself. And it wasn't one of those conceptual experiences that I’ve had while eating chocolate croissants and drinking coffee. It was one of those profound experiences that shifted my perception and the colors of the room. It began with a realization: Oh my God, I’m not going to get to be with me forever!

Previous to this moment of falling in love with myself, I had spent much of my energies hoping other people would take on this vocation. (And spent hundreds of hours shedding tears when I wasn’t successful in these endeavors.) But last night, when I was alone with me (and perhaps the fiery remains of the soul of the large black furry corpse) I realized I had never tried to get me to fall in love with me before… And I had to chuckle.

And it was at that moment that I became to myself like a wife of a soldier going off to war. I wanted to hug myself and appreciate myself and be there for myself before something horrible happened and I’d never get to ever again. And I exclaimed to myself, I love you! Never have I said such a thing! And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t out loud so that my husband could hear. But I exclaimed it inwardly and felt myself sink down into myself, till we were resting under what felt like an apple tree on a beautiful breezy spring day. And yes, I loved myself. And generously shared space with myself. And I am still sharing that space with myself. At least I think I am… It may have worn off just a bit at the moment… Perhaps because I’ve always kind of thought that to love oneself is a silly and indulgent thing to go on and on about. Better to talk about loving thy neighbor instead. Perhaps, though, this is because I never really understood the importance of loving thy self. But maybe it’s as simple as this: “Love thyself, because one day thoust won’t have a self to love.”

An Emergency at Starbucks

I’m at Starbucks, where I occasionally find myself when my husband has a day off to play with our son. And everything was normal. The air conditioning was on. It was cold. I was working on a section of my book. Trying to get creative assistance from chocolate and almonds and green tea. Basically, I was one of several people doing what we usually do in our status quo Starbucks moments. When all of a sudden, there was a siren. A loud siren. The fire alarm. Suddenly everyone’s realities were interrupted and we all looked around at each other, smiling in a way we wouldn’t have without this sound of emergency. We had curious eyebrows, wondering if it was a test. But the alarm wasn’t going off. And it was loud. Everyone was covering their ears. And then, we were all asked to leave the café right away. And I wondered if this really was an emergency. Immediately I felt more grounded than usual. I imagined this must be common for people when something very important is about to happen. Not important like an email sent on accident or a business opportunity gone awry or a toddler running like crazy instead of sitting still. But really important, like the difference between living and dying. I thought about the man who’d been in front of me in line while I was waiting to order my green tea. He’d been talking to his woman friend in a really serious tone about how the last time he’d been in another Starbucks, there’d been a woman in front of him who’d asked for a ‘medium’ instead of a ‘grande’ and that the barista said to her, “Are you kidding me?” I wondered who this guy would be in a real emergency. If he’d finally have something more substantial to use his seriousness for. I imagined he’d probably be the one covering the small toddlers with his big belly to save them from falling debris. Now we are all outside. The manager is panicked, trying to explain to new customers who want lattes that the Starbucks is temporarily closed. The crowd is growing. People’s conversations are meandering away from this potential emergency and back to real estate, stubborn husbands, and the weather. And now it’s just been confirmed. There is not an emergency. The manager has just explained that one of the baristas accidentally leaned on the fire button when she was reaching to throw away her leftover chai. And that the fire department should be turning off the alarm any… ahh, now it’s off. He has unlocked the door. Everyone is getting up, ready to return to their seats.

Now I’m back in the air conditioning. And I kind of miss the siren. By all means, I’m not saying I wish it had been an actual emergency. It’s just that sometimes, it’s refreshing to imagine being called forth toward a larger purpose than just having a good attitude amidst all this American status quo.

Mouse Poo

There is no wrath like a mother discovering mouse poo in her child’s car seat. Living in a rural area, having mice in one’s car is nothing unusual. They can fit into a quarter-sized space and can smell a leftover puff or piece of dropped banana a mile away. We used to have all these wonderful owls on our property and I hadn’t had a mouse in my car since before I got pregnant. But for whatever reason, those owls flew the coop and those pesky mice came back. I was so upset when I found the little black dollops of their presence. I shook my head in disgust and my two-and-a-half year old asked if I was sad and I said, “Yes, I am a little sad, my love, because mice were in our car.” “Mice? What did they do in here, Mama?” “Well, if you really must know, darling, they poo poo-ed.” “Poo poo-ed? They should wear diapers!!” “I agree!” Though I have never been a fan of killing my enemies I would have had no problem setting as many traps as could fit in my car, but after some research, I learned that killing mice rarely solves the problem, because there are always more mice. But I learned there is a way to keep them from your car or home: mice despise the scent of peppermint. So, I bought a bottle of peppermint essential oil, dripped some on some cotton balls, scattered them all over the car. The following day, there were only a few drops of poo, by the floor vent in the passenger side of the front seat. And sure enough, the following day, it was the same thing. And I realized that’s where they were coming in! They must have been entering in their usual way, and upon smelling the peppermint, shit their little britches and about-faced! I can’t count too many things that have given me as much satisfaction. And, since then, all I do is dribble some peppermint oil right on that little floor vent, and we have been mouse-free. So far.

The One-Eyed Crab

Do you ever have one of those moments when you inadvertently disturb your own child? A man at the park gave my two-and-a-half year old a stuffed animal. It was in our small town so nothing disturbing there. Except when we used it a short time later to dry a wet swing and noticed it was missing an eye. My son got so upset and so I said, “I know he only has one eye, but I think that makes him special!” And my son looked at me with curiosity so I continued, “He’s special because he’s got a story to tell! Don’t you want to know what happened to his other eye?” He nodded, still looking curious so I went on and this is what came out of my mouth: “Who knows what happened… maybe a mouse came and ate it!!!” Poor Brautigan, he immediately dropped the toy, held his own eye and looked horrified beyond belief. I tried to tell a better story to fix the first one but nothing redeeming was coming out and I kept laughing at my own stupidity which I’m sure only made the situation even more confusing to my poor boy, but thankfully, a low flying goose came by and I was able to divert his attention.

My Sixth Sense On Vaccination

If you know me well, then you probably know the story of when I first moved to Upstate New York and found a bat in my bedroom. I’d been sleeping when suddenly something flew over my head, and an instant later my husband bolted up, turned on the light and said, “Oh my god, Jess, duck!” And I said, “There’s a duck in our bedroom??!!” And he said, “Jesus Christ, Jess! Duck! It’s a bat!” The following morning I called our cooperative extension because this bat seemed to be stuck in the ductwork and I needed someone to remove it. And after this woman gave me the info I needed, she asked if I wanted her to schedule our rabies vaccinations. I hadn’t even thought of that. “Oh yes,” she said. “You could very well have gotten bit in your sleep and not even have felt it.”


When the guy came to remove the bat, I asked for his opinion and he laughed in my face. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ve worked with bats all my life and you ain’t rolling over on one, that’s for dang sure.”

But then I called my primary care physician and he also agreed that I should get the shots. That he once saw a man die of rabies and that he bit his wife, and then bit her again.

I was in such a pickle.

Should I listen to my doctor who sips diet Coke in between patients, or to a guy who spends his entire life in attics with bats?

Long story short, we got the shots. Injected ourselves with chicken embryo. And my mother bawked at me for the following three days. But I somehow felt safer.

Fast forward to the birth of my son.

Yes, we skipped the Hep B shot because I’d heard in my Bradley Method birth class that it probably wasn’t necessary to inject a newborn with potentially toxic chemicals all to save him from what is predominatnely a sexually transmitted disease. Made sense to me. But we did get the standard fare at his two-month well visit. And then he had a reaction. One that scared me to my very core and then some.

Thank God, the symptoms he exhibited went away on their own two weeks later. But during those sleepless 14 or so nights, I began researching vaccine reactions, to see if anyone else had gone through what we were going through. And in the process, I began to learn about a population of people whose lives had been permanently altered after their child’s routine vaccinations. These people were very upset, not only because their children had been injured, but because their stories were being dismissed as coincidence by nearly everyone, including their pediatricians.

And this bothered me.

What they were told was that vaccines are safe. And that science says so. End of story.

And this bothered me.

How could all these poor parents be completely wrong? Didn’t their concerns warrant any more research to get to the bottom of things?

Well, according to what I’ve heard from these anguished parents, every time they voiced their concerns, they were told one thing and one thing only: There is no correlation between autism and vaccines. The study that made these claims has since been proved fraudulent, and the researcher has had his license revoked. And if they used the word regressive encephalopathy and then asked about the vaccine court where people have won huge settlements after their children have been injured by vaccines, they were told, “That’s only a tiny segment of the population.”

But so what if it’s only a small portion of the population?

What about No Child Left Behind?

The vendetta against these parents who have suffered so much as a consequence of what their doctors assured them was safe baffles me. Especially since so many of the people who dismiss them are intelligent and caring people, the same people who are so furious about the mistreatment of other victims in our society. And it makes me wonder, how it is that people can pick and choose which human-experiencing-hell deserves our compassion and which deserve to be discredited and humiliated via social media?

I think the real problem might have more to do with side-ism.

Our culture has always been obsessed with taking sides and with scorekeeping. Who is the best singer, which team is winning, what political candidate is winning. And instead of communicating with each other, we debate each, regurgitating what we’ve heard from the media, and hope it’s the other person who’s the idiot, and not us.

But being on one side or another presumes that reality is a finite object. And in my experience this is just not the case. Reality is constantly changing—which is why real science is always evolving and correcting itself when we run into new obstacles and start asking new questions.

If science is used to prevent questions from being asked, it’s not about progress, it’s about needing to be right and needing to make sure that others are wrong. And you can look at other parts of the world where that sort of mentality takes place. Substitute the word religion for science, or government for science.

Another problem with side-ist communication is that it challenges free speech. People become afraid to share potentially useful opinions, experiences, and ideas for fear of being publicly humiliated. And then what do you have? A culture of people who pick and choose which are the safest issues to stand behind. Where is the freedom here?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about public health, but looking around, measles or no measles, I’m not seeing a lot of public health. I’m seeing a lot of sick people, a lot of unhappy people, and a lot of furious people. We live in an era where almost everyone is medicated for something, where the word government is practically synonymous with the word corruption, and everyday people are killing or wanting to kill each other. Our planet is polluted with the bi-products of greed, ignorance, and poor planning, and the same goes for our bodies. From what I'm seeing, this world I live in is not so healthy. And yet not many people are talking about all the common denominators. But how can they, when they are focused on one side or the other?

In my opinion, we cannot call our society civilized when people dismiss each other’s most primal concerns- the safety of our own children- as invalid. Dismissing the concerns of people should never happen in any democratic relationship. If you want to see the consequence of this, try it with your spouse or your partner or your child. It does not go over very well. Being dismissed unharnesses the kind of vitriol that makes people furious to be heard at any cost. The kind of vitriol that makes people want to humiliate the other side, shame the other side, and in some cases eliminate the other side altogether just to feel validated.

Everyone has a point. And in my opinion, every point is worthy of considering or at least worth understanding because behind every point is a human being. I want to live in a country where scientists come on the air and say: “As of now, mainstream studies have shown that vaccines are safe but because of deep concerns from a small segment of our population, we are going to put together a team of researchers and get to the bottom of this.” That this is laughable speaks loudly about the sort of mentality that governs our society.

Meanwhile, my pediatrician agreed that we should delay any further vaccines until my son is older. But now, I worry about this whole movement to make vaccinations mandatory. I certainly hope this never gets passed. After all, shouldn’t any medical procedure that involves any kind of risk, no matter how big or small, be voluntary, with informed consent? If I were in charge, I would instead mandate that the spokespeople from each side of this vaccination issue be put on house arrest together until they can truly understand each other’s point of view and come up with a new vaccine strategy that would be safe for all children.