South Franklin Street

I just finished watching the movie, Wild, based on the wonderful memoir by Cheryl Strayed.  And as I walked out of that theater, I couldn’t help but feel sad and more alone than I have felt in a long while.

I wrote a memoir about getting married and divorced.  I wrote a memoir about how lonely I was, about how it felt to have someone you love reject you, about how sometimes you need to start your life over again even if you lack the basic tools to do so.  An agent loved my book, took it on as hers, and I thought that was the beginning of something.  But publishers didn’t love it like we did.  They felt that nothing happened.  They like books like Wild, because in that book something happened.  So I had to make something happen.  Now it’s a different book.  I miss my memoir.

Crises are not always big.  Sometimes they are small and fall into the crevices of our hearts.  Hearts are not smooth, nor are they heart-shaped.

What if your crisis is that you eat too much?

What if your crisis is that you let your kids have too much sugar, or that you and your husband had exactly two therapy-worthy fights in front of them?

What if your crisis is that you told your father you hated him once, and have never forgiven yourself for it?

I walked myself to sanity once too.  It was not the Pacific Crest Trail, but it was South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre, and that path back to the one and only place I have ever lived on my own, was just as treacherous.

What if your crisis is that you don’t protect yourself from anything or anyone?

What if your crisis is that you don’t always know where to put a comma?

What if your crisis is that you loved someone that you shouldn’t have?

What if your crisis is that you don’t like playing board games with your kids?

What if your crisis is that you feel like no other person on the face of this earth understands you just as you are?

I don’t have one big crisis to sustain a book.  I have a million little ones that I carve into my chest day after day.

God is in the Belly

Last night it was my husband’s turn to take our eight-year-old twin daughters to bed. In recent years, our bedtime routine has been downgraded from a full-on vaudeville act which included singing, dancing, and occasional joke telling, to a leisurely tuck-in full of questions ranging anywhere from “Can we paint our room black?” (No.) to “Is God real?” (Um???) Last night, the latter happened, and had it been me in the room, had I been the one to receive the God question, I might have been okay with what happened. But it was not me. And I was not alright.

I was born on a Sunday, and we all missed mass that day.

When my daughters were born, we made the decision to not have them baptized. They’ve never stepped foot in a church, and up until the age of five they believed our local churches to be mystical castles. They’ve heard about religion, specifically the Catholic tradition, from grandparents and various community members, but they’ve never been formally instructed by any stretch of the imagination. Then, at the age of four, my grandmother decided to introduce them to Ba, my long-dead grandfather. And with that came heaven, because how could I look at their faces and tell them that Ba was simply no more? Because how could I believe that myself? Because how could I allow them to be so jaded at four years old that they believe nothing but blackness waits for them at the end of this light we call life? Because it was 2:30 on a Monday and I was in a hurry to shuttle them from school to piano and to make dinner and do homework in between. And because heaven was easy.

My grandmother wrapped a rosary around her wrist and prayed for my grandfather’s return. I hung rosaries from my preteen neck and pretended to be Madonna.

Match-made-in-heavenWhen I was twelve, I asked my father if I could “drop out” of my Roman Catholic instruction. He sat on the edge of my bed with particles of light in the sunbeams around him. I told him I didn’t believe in God, or heaven, or Jesus, or any of it. He told me faith is walking off a cliff and knowing someone will be there to catch you. No one has ever been there to catch me.
When I was marrying my first husband, we were married in a church by a Catholic priest who was later revealed to have a fetish for the feet of underage girls, and I told him what I knew he wanted to hear. Yes, I believe in the institution of marriage. Yes, I will honor and obey. Yes, yes, yes. We divorced eighteen months later.

Father Penn told my second-grade Sunday school class that Satan was making us yawn during his sermon, and that we should resist Satan and all of his ignorance by staying awake.

When I found out about the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, the children who were exactly the same age as my children, I called my mother with hysteria in my voice and sobs in my throat. I don’t know what to do with this, I don’t know where to put this. I would have given anything for a jar marked ‘FAITH’ in which to pour that pain.

The most religious person I know is my grandmother, who believes with equal conviction that a Scorpio rising sign has more of an influence on your physical appearance than genetics.

Before my girls were born, I swore that as a mother I would “breastfeed, use cloth diapers, and smile a lot.” None of those things happened. I also swore that I would debunk the Santa Claus myth early, not spend money on Christmas presents, never let my kids have soda, and be painstakingly honest most of the time. I just finished ordering two Kindle Fires to place under our tree from Santa, and I’m pretty sure one of my daughters is hooked on Pepsi. And now, they think their great-grandfather is walking around on a cloud somewhere in the sky. And it isn’t that horrible after all, because I’d like to think he’s there too. So, maybe talking to my kids about God isn’t the end of the world. Maybe the best religion is made up of the bits and pieces that work for each of us. What would my life had been like if, during that faith conversation, my father had said he didn’t know? That he was confused too, and that it was okay to be uncertain. Would I have been the better for it? Or would I have struggled more, not having something-real or not- to grab onto in the face of a storm?

There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.

What happened last night was the inevitable. “The girls asked if God is real,” my husband said.
Me: And?
Him: And what? I told them that I don’t believe in God.
Me: And what did they say?
Him: They said they don’t either.
And an incredible sadness welled up inside my belly, where they once lived, where I rubbed them, and sang to them, and prayed to God for them.

If there was ever a moment I believed in God it was when I first held them in my arms.

Belly Shots

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. 

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.

Continue reading “Belly Shots”

A Snow Day Poem

A Snow Day Poem

If I could take images or memories and implant them into my daughters’ brains without expensive surgery or a lot of pain on their part, I would choose the following three moments:

1.  The day I first saw them-

purple and small

their skin still slick with the insides of me

my rapid sobs fogging the thick glass between us

the center of me suddenly collapsing in on itself.

2.  The preschool Christmas show.

They stood apart from me, separate

out                        there.

and I was in here, all alone.

The First Noel echoed between us.

and I swelled both with love and fear

the way a body holds its water in the wake of a shortage.

3.  Now, right this minute.

When bedtime stories come from their mouths

and my tongue is silent.  When the space between them

is filled with nicknames for cute boys and stories of lunchtime

betrayals.

And suddenly,

all the pain I have ever felt in my life

falls away with each whisper I cannot hear.