This selection originally appeared in PANK as part of their This Modern Writer series.  It is also the original version of the piece I performed for Scranton Storyslam, which you can see here.  It is also the opening chapter in my book, which is represented by Meg Thompson.

The women at Weight Watchers are tough.  We are a gang.  We are the Bloods, the Crips, and the Latin Kings all rolled into one.  Sure, we look harmless enough.  Ten or fifteen portly women standing like preschoolers in a straight line outside the door, waiting for the loud mouthed receptionist to swing it open and begin to weigh us.  But make no mistake about it, if you cross us, if you come to a meeting already thin and complaining about five extra pounds that you have gained over the winter and need to lose before bikini season, we will cut you.  We will grab you with our fat little paws, roll you up into a tiny little ball, and kick your skinny ass out of here.  Because this is our turf.  This basement of the Electrical Workers Union, with its mundane pine paneling and shiny medicinal floors, belongs to us every Thursday night from seven until eight fifteen.  So, if you have less than ten pounds to lose, stay the fuck home.  Get a stomach flu, stick your finger down your throat,  or swallow a laxative, we don’t care.  Just don’t come here.

“Ugh, I feel gross,” says Sherri (with an i).

“You’ll be fine,” says a voice from somewhere in the front of the line.

“No, I had a brownie last night and I swear to God it went right to my ass.”

“No, it takes a while to catch up with you.  You’ll probably see it next week,” says a different voice.

“I hate this,” sighs Sherri.

I am late, as always, so I am in the back and can barely hear the riveting comparisons of this week’s sins.  The line snakes around the long thin corridor and is full of women sizing one another up.  We smile and greet one another like we are soldiers on the same side, but internally we are praying for one another’s demise.  I am nowhere near as big as she is.  Wow, I hope I don’t look like that.   We stand staring at one another, bound together reluctantly by overindulgence.

It is warm out and all of us have come dressed as close to naked as we can get without being arrested for indecent exposure.  I’m wearing tiny little knit shorts, a tank top, and socks with sandals.  You cannot stand barefoot on the scale, that is a rule.  You cannot hear your weight, the specific number, out loud.  That is the other rule.  In my hands I hold my bible.  The list of everything that went into my body this week, with the exception of the Snickers Bar and three Tootsie Rolls I jammed in my mouth only moments earlier in the car.

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Two weeks ago-yes it has taken me that long to recover from this incident-I brought my 8-year-old twin daughters to Target for an impromptu shopping trip. As we were sitting in the cafe’ chomping on a very salty soft pretzel, one of my daughters asked me who I thought would grow up to be fat, her or her twin.  Puzzled, I choked down the ICEE I was slurping and asked her why she thought one of them would be fat. Why would you think such a thing? She looked at me, slightly embarrassed, and said softly, “well, because Daddy is skinny, and you’re…not.”

iceeBefore you jump to the conclusion that my daughter is a jerk, let me just say this: I am fat. I have always struggled with my weight, and when I had finally gotten to a point where I was happy with my body, I was blessed with a twin pregnancy. The road back from that birth has not been easy, as most mothers will attest. Being a mom consumes you, and one day you realize that you haven’t really cared for yourself in that way in a really long time. Or, maybe that’s a nice, convenient excuse, I don’t know anymore. All I know is my daughter’s words hit me like a freight train, not because they hurt my feelings-I’ve been called a lot worse-but because her words opened my eyes to this: My daughters have no idea what makes people fat. They have no clue how to keep caloric intake down, which foods linger longer than others, or any of the other helpful and necessary information they need to help control their weight as adults, and you know what? It’s all my fault.

After having read 95,888,888 articles about how we as women are destroying one another with words, or how mothers can imprint their body image issues onto their young, I issued a moratorium on the word “fat” pretty early on. My daughters have never heard me say it, and thankfully have never heard anyone call me by that moniker. I’ve never weighed myself in front of them, or even uttered the word “diet.” I’m pretty strict about what they eat, and try my best to model “good behavior” and “self-control.” But now, here I was faced with a teaching moment, and I couldn’t help but think of it this way- In the effort to prevent future self-loathing, am I setting my daughters up for an unhealthy lifestyle? Would it be the end of the world if my daughter knew that sugary drinks and candy make you fat? So here’s what I said:

“You’re right honey, Mommy is a little fat.  But, I’m working on eating healthy and exercising so that I can be healthier. That’s why Mommy doesn’t eat a lot of junk food.”

I don’t know what I expected. But what I got was a crooked little smile and a quick story about some Minecraft video they had watched earlier that day. My other daughter wasn’t even paying attention.

Look, I don’t know what the answer is, how to shape the outcome of my daughter’s self-image. All I know is, I tend to lean towards no information being on par with misinformation. I want my daughter to love her body, and to accept whatever shape or form it may take, but I also want her to be healthy and to work towards being healthy as an adult. Not skinny, healthy. And I believe it is my job as Mommy to make sure she has all of the information she needs to make the best possible decision she can.

An excerpt from the new book I’m working on:

You are dying. We are driving home from a car dealership in a nearby town, when suddenly- your leg starts to thump, that’s how I know. It’s my signal, my auditory cue. The thumping starts slowly and softly at first, like a slow clap. Your body begins to rock, slightly. Streetlights click on around us and the orange of the sunset dims to pink. We are in the dark.

“You need to get me home,” you say.

“I know, I know,” I answer and press down on the gas pedal.

But my acceleration and half-hearted assurances cannot stop the madness in your veins. The streetlights are streaks now as I speed down Route Six and into Scranton.

“Please, please, get me home, I need to go home.”

“I’m trying, Babe, I’m trying,” I say.

I reach out for you and you pull. You cling to me like I am air. It becomes hard to drive, and I think about pulling over against the blackness of the woods lining the shoulder, but time is of the essence and I know I need to go on. We need to move forward.

“I’m dying, I’m dying, please help me.” Four years earlier, this phrase would have alarmed me, sent me into a panic as well, but I’m becoming familiar with your death, and I react like a woman who has left something in the oven too long.

“You’re not dying honey, you’re not. It will be okay, I’m getting you home. Close your eyes, take a breath.”

Amazingly, you attempt this.

“I can’t,” you snap, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”

It’s either the heart or the head, always, a heart attack or a brain tumor, I prepare for both.

heartbeat[1]_3“Here, let me check.” I slide my right hand across the fabric of your shirt. My touch is magical, it calms you. The thumping slows, the pumping of your blood under my palm is the only sound in the world right now.

“One, two, three,” I count aloud as the car wisps around darkening corners.

This is our song, the thumping, the push of blood against arterial walls, the rush of your breath, the hush of my voice. This is the rhythm of us, the melody between us.

There was a time when I thought our song was Heaven, by Bryan Adams. We made out to it in the back seat of your friend’s car about a week after we started dating. You pushed your tongue hard into my mouth and cupped my face with your large hands. It was early spring, and the windows fogged easily. A boy had never kissed me like that before, with such desperation. But the song disintegrated quickly, and we forgot the heat of that night. Now, our song is medicinal, born out of fear and need, much like the story of us.

“Seventy-four,” I land on a final number as the headlights swipe across the front of our apartment building. We are home and your heart rate is normal.

Later that night, we curl into bed together, a rarity in our lives. But your panic has been especially bad in the weeks and months following the terror attacks, and you’ve needed me, even at night. For a long time after the towers fell, we watched together as the news channels played an endless loop of horror: planes into towers, towers disintegrating into dust, people running from dust, a plume of smoke and dust rising from the belly of Manhattan. That’s what I remember the most: the dust. But these images bother you. The worst part is the falling, you tell me one night while we are wrapped together in bed. My hand still covering the space where I believe your heart to be. Those people jumping, that is the worst. Your heart quickens and the room darkens around us. Now, we watch old game shows to calm your panic. Your heart is slow and steady like the dripping of a faucet, and I lay pressed against you like a dam.

“I’m so sorry,” you whisper one night and pull my arms around you.

“For what?”

“For being so fucked up.”

“You’re not fucked up,” I whisper, “you’re perfect.”

Did I really say that? If I didn’t, I’m sorry, I should have. The jumping bothered everyone. I should have said that too.

10thLogo_400x400This year marks the 10th anniversary of Wilkes University’s Creative Writing MA/MFA Program. I cannot believe it’s been six years since I have walked through those hallowed doors.  Wilkes has done many things for me, but perhaps the most significant is this: Wilkes made it okay for me to consider myself a writer.  No longer was writing a hobby, or something I wished I could do with my life, writing was real and present in my everyday life.  I’m always asked the same question: why an MFA? why Wilkes? My answer is never simple, and it won’t be simple today.

20 Reasons to Consider an MFA:

  1. Because at eleven years old, you told a lie in your writing that was believed deeply by the adults in your life.
  2. Because you invented Richard and Leona when you were twelve.
  3. Because you saw a story about a little girl, and that story started a fire deep inside of you that only a poem could snuff out.
  4. Because divorce and heartbreak and loss and grief and betrayal spill onto the page in exactly the same ink as love and happiness.
  5. Because Richard and Leona were high school sweethearts, you invented a difficult road ahead for them.
  6. Because men have loved you in the wrong ways, and words never have.
  7. Because everyone else in your family paints.
  8. Because in middle school you wrote love poems and sold them for $1 apiece.
  9. Because Richard could never accept his lot in life and gambled away the mortgage payment-which enraged Leona.
  10. Because when bad things happened to you, the answer was never in a bottle, but always in a journal.
  11. Because when you were thirteen, you believed with every fiber of your being that you could communicate with John Lennon, and the only boy in the world who believed you was another poet.
  12. Because Leona ran off with the pool boy, and you had not yet learned of cliché.
  13. Because you couldn’t afford therapy.
  14. Because you have few gifts to offer, words will have to suffice.
  15. Because New York City is beautiful at dusk, and only a poem can tell us so.
  16. Because you loved Richard and Leona, your first characters, even though they couldn’t love each other.
  17. Because life is hard, and words are easier.
  18. Because you have a story that lives inside of you, and if you don’t pay attention, it will claw its way out.
  19. Because Richard and Leona deserve a chance.
  20. Because everyone needs love, and you have learned how to give it…with words.

If you have a belly full of ideas and a heart bursting with stories, you will find no better canvas on which to experiment than the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.

So this is it. This will most likely be the last night I spend in my home, the home in which I have felt protected and loved for the last eight years. Eight wonderful years. When I had no idea where I belonged or who I was, this home pulled me in tight and named me. When I felt rootless and unsure of the future, she nurtured me. I became a mother in this space. I became a wife in this space.  

This home has been the origin of three generations of my family, and now she will give someone else a new start. She has seen births, deaths, marriage, divorce, pain, suffering, kindness, and the deepest of love. We have loved her, have grown in her embrace, and will never forget our time here as a new family.  

Goodbye old girl, you will be missed.

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When your son comes to you with arms outstretched and pain in his cheeks, let him fall into you. Let him cry, let him soften, let him be cotton against this hard world.

When your son needs to be caught, catch him. When he needs to be propped up, stand tall against him like a dam. But don’t rush. Let him walk slowly towards you, so that he may learn to ask for the support he needs.

mom-and-son1-600x401When your son grows angry, sooth him. Be the cool against his heat. Show him that the world is bright, and that he is too.

When your son questions himself, question him right back, so that he might own the convictions resting on his tongue.

When your son asks about girls like they are puzzles, remind him that you are one too, and that the clues are the same.

When your son asks about love, don’t give him the answers. Let him wander through that magical universe and earn his stars.

When your son asks about my daughter, tell him she was loved with just the right amount of restraint, so that she can be her own dam. And that she was held with just the right amount of kindness, so that she can still be the cotton.

Each morning, as I ascend the stairs to your room, I know what I’m going to find-the static filled brown hair, the carelessly tossed limbs, the twists and turns of the covers-but today, today of all days, I forgot.

And for a split second, I expected cribs and baby breath, raised hands and awestruck eyes, warm cheeks and bald heads, shiny lips and the word “Mama.”

I had stop my stride and catch my breath.

AmyeArcher:

My review of Abigail Thomas’ What Comes Next and How to Like It, for Brevity.

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:

by Amye Archer

what-comesI first read Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping as a new mother, my belly still plump, my babies still purple, and my world still so vulnerable and tenuous.  In Thomas’ beautiful memoir, I found someone who understood these things, the difficulties of becoming someone’s mother and someone’s wife, while still unsure of your very self.  Safekeeping was the right book at the right time for me in so many ways, and with Thomas’ new memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It, I found that same understanding and reassurance at-once again-the exact right moment.

What Comes Next is the story of a lifelong friendship between the author and Chuck, a man we come to respect as Thomas’ equal if not soul-mate.  However, as with every book Thomas writes, this is a story of deep reflection and self-examination of herself as a mother, friend, writer, and most importantly…

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I don’t know when it happened, and at the time I was completely unaware of the first break in my parent’s marriage.  But looking back on it now, some thirty years later, I can see a very distinct line in my childhood.  On one side there is light, on the other there is a shadow.

We lived in a top floor apartment until I was six.  I spent a lot of time alone with my mother.  I had Billy Joel’s Glass Houses on cassette.  My father was a drummer in a band, so I was always surrounded by music.  The Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, I had young parents and was lucky enough to be engulfed in these bands from a young age.  But there was something about “You May Be Right,” Billy Joel’s anthem of indignation and unhealthy love that resonated with me at five or six years old.  So, I play the song over and over.  It’s not long before I discover I can tip the radio speakers to the floor and let my neighbors hear it.

My father gives Jennie and me a shower while my mother is out for the night at some aerobics class, (it’s the 80’s).  Jennie has a bathing cap and I don’t.  As the younger sister, I begin to cry and throw a fit.  The bathroom is blue, even the toilet is an aquamarine color.  My father finds an old New York Yankee’s batting helmet and puts Band-Aids over the holes.  There, he says, now you have a bathing cap too.  Later, as he dries us into the fluff of a warm towel he regales us with funny stories about doors and wheels falling off of his car on his drive to work.  We laugh so hard we almost shatter.
brett3My father’s belly is a mountain.  I sprawl out on the peak, feel his breath lift my little body up and down.  On a tiny black and white television, The Yankees are playing the Kansas City Royals.  The room is covered in shadows. George Brett is ejected from the game because he has used too much pine tar on his bat.  My father is whooping and yelling for my mother.  I bounce high into the air and fall.  Some nights the Yankees lose. Other nights, the Yankees win.  Reggie Jackson is my favorite player.  The world around us is pinstriped and perfect.

We come home from a camping trip to find our television has been hit by lightning.  My father places the small black and white on top of our mahogany console.  Jennie and I sprawl out on our shag rug and spend two hours watching Little House on the Prairie.  I fall asleep against the propped elbows of my sister.

This is the light.

03/11/2015

I could write an epic about your lips.

The way they puckered into a kiss before you could even speak, like you knew that love came first-before speech.

The way they glistened in the sun that summer I taught you how to swim and you went under for longer then I care to admit. Your tears slicking the surface of the quiver.

The way they snarled, contorted the whole right side of your mouth into disapproval when I pressed my hands against your small back and propelled you into Kindergarten, where you discovered that no, your teacher wouldn’t let you break out into spontaneous dance, or draw little purple houses on the backs of your hands.

The way they say “Mommy,” like you were always meant to say it to me.

The way the bottom tucks itself up under your front tooth when you’re damming up a river of sobs with the cotton of your interior.

The way they still pucker into a kiss for anyone who will have your kindness.

The way they soften, when the rest of the world is hard.

I’ve been working on a project for about a month now.  I’ve decided to write a book to my daughters.  Not for publication, but for them.  Each day I have written about 250 words, and I thought I would share the first with all of you.  So, here it is: the first page of this new project.

Love Letters

Everyone on Twitter knows how much I love you, except you. Everyone on Faceboook knows the apprehension with which I raise both of you. Everyone on Tumbler knows I have eight-year-old twin girls, that you came to me after a fertility drought, after a bad marriage, after a long, hard battle of thick to thin, and there you were like bulbs in the earth waiting to be plucked.

I write letters to you in this white humming space of a computer screen, and give them to other people. I write love letters to you in the crowded room of my mind, and never see them again.

In my sentences you are still my babies. I remember the smell of you at one week old, ripe with a rotten belly button cord, sweet with synthetic milk on your tongue. I still feel the shape of you against the inside of me, the press of your unborn limbs against my skin.

When you are old enough to know what these words mean, those memories will be dull. They will melt into others and fade against the drama of teenage strife.

This is your eighth year and I’m writing you a book. Every day, 365 total entries, not for publication but for posterity. So you can remember my words, my voice, my addiction to you.

Dear Girls,

This is yours.

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