A Simple Life

“Why do you have to bring such chaos into our lives? I feel like everything you do is complicated and noisy.”

“First of all, thank you so much. What a lovely thing to say – that I bring chaos into our lives. Second of all, I bring color into our lives, not chaos, there’s a big difference.”

“Well then you need to tone down the color, maybe add a little beige to it. I just want to live a simple, quiet life.”

“A simple, quiet life? What does that even mean?”

“It means the fire alarm always goes off when you cook. It means when you have your girlfriends over for wine and cheese it turns into an insane eighties dance party and you get mad at me for not joining in. It means you make super random decisions like you’re suddenly going to bake pot brownies, but then you don’t measure properly and the marijuana sends you into a paranoia spiral. A simple, quiet life is the opposite of all that.”

“Wow, okay, well…. The pot brownies were an innocent mistake – you know I’m partially dyslexic, I messed up the numbers. The fire alarm is because I like to try new recipes and sometimes they don’t go exactly as planned. What are we gonna do, eat baked salmon every night? And you should have joined our dance party, we were having fun. Remember fun?”

“You exhaust me.”

“Well you bore me!”

Amy put on her big chunky heeled boots and stomped loudly out of the house. Half an hour later she was back with three bags of groceries. She turned on her Spotify 80’s Hits Mix and started cooking.

“Guess what,” she yelled,

“I’m cooking without a recipe, so get ready for more chaos!”

She took a sip of Pinot Noir and twirled around the kitchen, using the spatula as a microphone to sing along with The Go Go’s:

Can you hear them
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that’s no surprise

An hour later:

“Dinner is served – even though I’m still pissed.”

Dave joined her at the table. The kitchen looked like a gang of toddlers had trashed it, but he didn’t say anything. At least the fire alarm hadn’t gone off.

“Tonight’s menu features Thai chicken and coconut rice.”

“Smells good. Thanks for making dinner.”

“You’re welcome.”

“This is actually really really good.”

“Take out actually and I’ll happily accept the compliment.”

“This is really really good.”

“Thanks. It love it,” Amy said, taking a giant bite.

“I didn’t mean what I said earlier, or maybe I meant some of it, I don’t know. But I love you. It’s just this fucking pandemic. We’re with each other 24/7, it’s not normal.”

“Preach!” said Amy, raising her glass in the air. “The other day you were so irritating that I was about to hop a plane – Covid be damned – to somewhere sunny where there are cabana boys and umbrella drinks.”

They continued eating in silence.

“Maybe we should take a mini-break,” said Amy.

“But where would we go? The U.S. border is closed. And anyways, I don’t feel safe flying yet.”

“No, I meant take a break from each other.”

“What?”

“Don’t get upset, just listen for a second. Relationships are suffering in the pandemic and divorce rates are skyrocketing. We don’t have kids, we don’t even have a cat. So why don’t we take advantage of that flexibility and try living ‘together but apart’ for a few months. It’s actually a very popular trend, it started way before the pandemic. Even The New York Times wrote an article on the phenomenon – lots of couples are living separately and they’re really happy.”

Dave wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“No. No way. That sounds like a one-way ticket to divorce.”

“Why don’t you read up on it first before you say no. It has nothing to do with divorcing. You could have more of the simple quiet life that you like and I could be…me.”

“This is just your pandemic stress talking. Let’s keep things as they are, I don’t want to rock the boat.”

“Well maybe the boat needs to be rocked. Maybe the boat needs to be fucking flipped over!” cried Amy.

“This is what I was talking about earlier – everything is always chaotic with you. You’re suggesting a major life change in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s complete insanity.”

“Fine. Do you mind cleaning up?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks.”

Amy went to the living room, took her laptop and googled “Caribbean destinations that Canadians are allowed to visit” and scrolled through the covid rules and regulations. Then she booked a hotel and flight, leaving in one week and staying for two weeks.

Yes, I’ll be on a plane, probably a crowded one. So yes, I’m taking a chance. But our boat needs to be rocked. And I need a cabana boy and an umbrella drink like yesterday.

I See You

“I can’t do this anymore, I’ve made such a mess of my life.”

“You can do this and you will. And never mind a little mess, life is messy, big deal.”

“Wait a second, who are you? Are you a ghost? Am I dreaming? Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that sleeping pill.”

“I am you. I am your other half.”

“I thought that was for lovers. Like you find your other half and then you live happily ever after.”

“No, not at all. Finding your other half is about becoming your truest, most beautiful, most whole self.”

“I’m not sure I understand. I’m not sure I even believe you exist.”

“Whether you believe it or not it’s true. I’m here and I see you. You are glorious and you are worthy. But first, you must let me in.”

“How? Do we need to perform a ceremony?”

“Of course not, you’ve watched too many movies. You let me in by believing for one minute – just one minute – that you are deserving. One minute every day focus on that. It won’t be easy. It sounds easy, but it won’t be easy.”

“And then what?”

“And then one day you’ll realize that what felt like a crazy homework assignment no longer feels crazy. And when it no longer feels crazy is when I – your other half – have joined you on this messy, colorful, most divine journey called life.”

“This is kind of a lot to take in.”

“I know. But what do you have to lose? You put trust into that eight step skincare routine you do every night, so the least you can do is give me a chance.”

“True. Alright, well, even though I’m doubting my sanity right now, I’ll try. Because honestly, what good is great skin if I’m living such an empty life.”

“All those fancy serums wasted.”

“When does this start?”

“Now. I’m going to disappear and I’ll reappear if you complete your assignment.”

“It’s kinda like spiritual homework.”

“It’s exactly like spiritual homework.”

Illustration from The Origin of Love (from “Hedwig And The Angry Inch”)
Notebook by Cactico

Marissa

“Open the box,” said Henry.

“You bought me something?”

“It seemed like you needed a little pick me up. Last night you were saying the pandemic was making you feel hopeless. I thought this would help.”

The box was the color of brown craft paper and it was tied with natural twine ribbon. It smelled like patchouli.

Marissa hated the scent of patchouli. It reminded her of a faux hippie girl named Star who had stolen her boyfriend during sophomore year of college.

She opened the box and there lay a gray stone with the word HOPE inscribed on it.

Oh God.

“The salesgirl said you just hold the rock in your hand, focusing your mind on things that bring you joy while massaging it.”

Jesus.

“Wow, well…this is pretty cool. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’m going on a run now, wanna Netflix at 9?”

“Okay.”

Henry kissed Marissa on the tip of her nose.

When he left the house in his olive Lulu Lemon running shorts, Marissa called her best friend Nica.

“Henry gave me a rock that says HOPE.”

“Oh my god, those gray ones right? The ones that say things like LOVE and GRATITUDE. Are they even real rocks? I’m sorry, that gift couldn’t be less you.”

“I know. And I feel like a horrible person because I don’t feel grateful. Whenever Henry buys me a gift I feel like it shows that he doesn’t really know me, like he doesn’t pay attention to who I truly am and that feels so shitty.”

“I totally get it. Like last Christmas when he bought you plaid, flannel pajamas – I wanted to strangle him.”

“Oh I forgot about those. I ended up wearing them all winter because what am I going to do? I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”

“Marissa, maybe you need to hurt his feelings. Maybe you need to scream ‘this is who I am! I need you to really see me.’ Feeling seen is all most of us want anyways.”

“You’re right. Why are you so damn wise? What are you and Jen up to tonight?”

“It’s date night, so we’re trying out that new Mexican restaurant downtown. Hopefully the tables will be spaced out. I’m not comfortable eating inside restaurants yet, but Jen really wants to go and we’re vaccinated, so…”

“You’ll be fine. Have fun and give my love to Jen.”

“Will do. Enjoy your rock tonight.”

“Very funny.”

Marissa put the HOPE rock on her desk in her office, then took a shower and applied a charcoal mask.

“What happened to your face?” asked Henry dripping sweat on their bedroom floor.

“It’s a charcoal face mask, it helps to clear out the pores.”

“You know that’s all bullshit right? None of that stuff actually works. It’s just skincare companies taking advantage of womens’ insecurities,” Henry said as he peeled off his drenched running gear.

Please stop talking.

“Do you mind not taking off your sweaty running clothes in the bedroom? It smells up the whole space,” Marissa said from her side of the bed where she was relaxing.

“You’re in a mood tonight.”

Marissa couldn’t stand the smell so she went downstairs, grabbing a washcloth and towel from the linen closet on her way. When it was time she wiped off the mask with the warm cloth, then followed with a splash of cold water. She dried her skin and inspected herself in the hallway mirror. Her pores looked smaller and clearer and she felt good. What the hell does Henry know about charcoal face masks anyway?

She poured herself a glass of Pinot Noir and settled on the couch with her new book, “H is for Henrietta.”

“Are you going to read that whole series about witches?”

“Yep.”

“I don’t understand what you like about those books.”

“I don’t understand what you like about the war books you read.”

“Where’s your HOPE rock? Aren’t you keeping it with you?”

“Um no, it’s on my desk.”

“Well you can always grab it if you need it.”

“I will, thanks.”

“Do you want to watch that new documentary about the opioid crisis?”

“Not really, life is upsetting enough right now.”

Who is this man? What is wrong with him? Why did I marry him?

Henry poured himself a glass of wine and sat down on the couch.

“What about Justin Theroux’s new show on Apple TV?”

“Okay.”

A quarter of the way through the first episode, Marissa asked:

“Why didn’t we try harder to have children? I feel like we gave up too soon.”

“Can we just watch the show and discuss this later. Not that there’s anything to discuss, we’re better off not having kids – the world is a disaster.”

Marissa got up and opened another bottle of wine, even though the first one was still half full.

“That’s a really expensive bottle, why are you opening it?” Henry asked, his voice tinged with irritation.

“Because we’re living in a fucking pandemic that’s never going to end so why not drink the good stuff?!”

“You’re spiralling. You need your HOPE rock.”

“I hate that rock! You should know that I would hate that rock, you’ve been with me for ten years. I feel like a cardboard cut-out wife that you just project things onto. Like you think your wife should like HOPE rocks and plaid pajamas and rock climbing and Patagonia and cheap wine and fake diamond stud earrings and being childless and being pet-less. But I’m not that person. Why don’t you see me? Why don’t you want to see me?”

“Just because it’s a pandemic doesn’t give you the right to lose your shit. Get it together. And if you don’t like something, speak the hell up. How am I supposed to know that you don’t like Patagonia jackets?”

“Because I read British, French and American Vogue magazine every month. Because I’ve dressed beautifully every day of the pandemic instead of wearing sweatpants. That’s why you should know.”

“I can’t talk with you when you’re this emotional. If you want to calm down and have a rational discussion after the show is over that’s fine, otherwise I’m putting the headphones on.”

“Put them on then. I’ll read my witch novel and maybe I’ll find a spell that I can cast to turn YOU into a freaking HOPE rock.”

And hour later Marissa was in bed, still reading “H is for Henrietta” and still fuming.

Henry came into the bedroom and lay down.

“I had a vasectomy when I was 28. I’m sorry. I never wanted children.”

What?

Marissa felt her face morph into “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

“When we were first dating you told me you wanted two kids.”

“I lied; I was in love with you.”

Marissa opened her bedside table drawer and took half a sedative.

“You shouldn’t take a pill, you’ve had wine, you – “

Marissa shot Henry a death stare.

“Okay let’s just go to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning when we’re fresh. We can’t let this pandemic tear us apart. I just read an article about how Covid stress is causing the divorce rate to skyrocket.”

Marissa didn’t answer. Applying her favorite Dr. Haushka lip balm in the dark, she was thinking about the time she told Henry that she liked the names Olive and Ryder for their children and how he had agreed enthusiastically.

“I know I just told you something shocking and you have every right to hate me right now. But just know that I lied because I was scared of losing you. I love you Marissa. I’m just as in love with you now as I was ten years ago. And I’m sorry about the HOPE rock.”

Marissa applied more lip balm.

“I know we’re childless, but we don’t have to be pet-less.”

Marissa was starting to dose off, her mind tranquil like it had been glazed with marshmallow fluff.

“We could adopt a cat.”

Mary

~ Inspired by a True Story ~

“Your hips are too narrow, you’re going to have trouble giving birth.”

“Oh.”

“Back in your places everyone. Let’s take it from the top.”

After rehearsing the modern dance choreography for an hour and a half, Mary was exhausted. At the bus stop she pulled her neon orange beret down as far as it would go, it was freezing. On the ride home she worked on her homework, but found it difficult to concentrate.

I’m going to have trouble giving birth. Does that mean the baby will get stuck? Will the baby break my narrow hips trying to bust its way out of my vagina? Will the baby die inside me? Will I die? Maybe no one will want to marry me because I don’t have child-bearing hips. Oh My God I’m going to die alone.

“How was dance class honey? Your beef stroganoff is on a plate in the oven.”

“It was pretty good, but my dance teacher said something weird to me, she said I’m going to – ”

“Hold on hon, I have to go wrangle your brothers. They’re fighting like maniacs and your father is at a work event.”

“But mom – ”

Later that night Mary wrote in her journal:

February 17th, 1985

Found out my hips are too narrow to have a baby, so I’ve decided to forget about having children. Anyways, my brothers are crazy – imagine if I had a kid like them?!!!! I’m going to get 3 dogs instead. That creepy guy was watching me dance again, the one who wears burgundy tights. I HATE HIM!!!

After showering and staring at her pores for ten minutes, Mary went to bed. She put on her headphones and listened to The Cure’s “The Head on The Door” for a few minutes before turning off her light. She was exhausted, but she had to say her prayers.

Her brothers didn’t have any Catholic training, but Mary had gone to French Catholic School for three years, so she figured she had a leg up on them. Though, if she were being completely honest with herself, St. Elizabeth’s had been quite stressful. All the classes were in French except for religion class and they were very strict. In first grade Mary used to hold her pee because she didn’t know how to ask to go to the bathroom in French. And their religion teacher was terrifying. Her face dour, with slightly cruel eyes and disapproving of anything joyful. Mary had been relieved when her parents moved her to a secular French school. Still, she figured that having a relationship with God was a good idea, though she mentioned it to no one.

Lately Mary had been asking God for a lot of help and she worried he might cut her off. She didn’t know how many favors she was allowed to ask for.

Dear God,
I hope you had a good day. Please bless mom, dad, Tommy and Mike – even though Tommy and Mike are total freaks. Please keep them all safe, healthy and happy. And when I die, please don’t let it be from fire. I’m still very afraid of fire and I would prefer to die another way, drowning is fine.

I know you are very busy God, like I can’t even imagine what your schedule must be like. I hope you have an assistant, maybe an Angel, helping you keep everything organized. I don’t want to add to your stress, but I do have a couple of favors to ask you:

1. Could you please widen my hips? Apparently my hips are too narrow and it’s going to be hard for me to have a baby. Maybe just a couple of inches on both sides.
2. Also, could you please make that hideous guy in the burgundy tights stop watching me at the dance studio. He’s like 25 or something. So gross.
Thank you for loving me and for watching over us.
Good night.

“Rise and shine and greet the day!” yelled her dad at her bedroom door.

“Dad!” Mary yelled back, half laughing, half groaning, “Stop it!”

After lounging in bed a little longer, Mary hopped up and went straight to her upright mirror. She pulled up her black and white striped nightgown and stared at her hips. Did they look a little wider? No, she must be imagining it. She stared harder, running her hands slowly across her stomach as if she was measuring them. Yes. Yes, they were a bit wider, like maybe an inch on each side.

Thank you SO much God. Now I have options. Maybe I’ll have one baby and one dog. That’s perfect. That’s what I’ll do.

Photo from Periodicult. Mademoiselle Magazine, Danskin 1986.
http://periodicult.com/wp/

Roxie

“Beautiful girl, I love you so much. Give me a kiss.”

“Why do you only talk like that to our dog?”

“What?”

“You never call me beautiful. You never tell me you love me and I can’t remember the last time we kissed.”

“You’re being ridiculous. And you’re making Roxie anxious with your weird energy. See how her ears are pointed back? That means she’s worried.”

“Oh Sweet Jesus.”

“It’s okay Roxie, come here. There you go, belly rubs solve everything.”

“And tonight, like every other night, she’ll lie between us – horizontally – separating us so we can’t cuddle.”

“Since when do you like cuddling? You always say that you can’t sleep in my arms, that you need space.”

“I can’t sleep in your arms because I get too hot. But it would be nice to cuddle before going to sleep. You know, like a normal couple.”

“We are a normal couple. Roxie’s eyes are bulging out, the tone of this conversation is upsetting her.”

“Holy fuckety fuck. She’s a dog. I love her, you know I do. But why can’t she sleep in her dog bed? The one in the corner that cost a bazillion dollars.”

“She’s a rescue dog and rescue dogs need extra affection.”

“Do you want out of this marriage?”

“What? No, of course not. Don’t be so dramatic. And don’t raise your voice, you’re scaring Roxie.

“She has you wrapped around her little paws.”

“Roxie, come here, it’s okay. Let’s all just calm down and I’ll turn off the light.”

“I can’t take this.”

“You can’t take what?”

“Your primary relationship is with our dog, not me. You love our dog more than you love me. You engage with our dog more than with me. You show affection to our dog more than with me. Our dog has a better wardrobe than me for God’s sake.”

“I think you’re having one of those hormonal imbalance meltdowns. Why don’t you take a Xanax and we’ll go to sleep. Roxie are you warm enough? Let me just pull this blanket up over you.”

“I just can’t…”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m getting dressed.”

“It’s eleven thirty, why are you getting dressed?”

“Because I don’t want to drive over to Sheila’s house wearing a nightgown.”

“You’re acting crazy.”

“Actually I’m fully rational and I’m – what’s that saying? – ‘leaning into my power.’ Maybe tomorrow you can take your four-legged wife to her favorite dog park, the one across town. That will give me time to pack my bags.”

“What? Don’t joke about things like that, it’s not funny. We would both be devastated if you left.”

“Actually you might not even notice I’m gone. And Roxie will be ecstatic to have you all to yourself.”

“What if I buy you the wardrobe of your dreams? Will that help?”

“What?”

“You said earlier that Roxie had a better wardrobe than you. So what if I gave you my credit card and you could buy all that Net-A-Porter stuff that I see you coveting on Instagram. Like those black boots with the weird chunky soles.”

“So let me get this straight: your takeaway from everything I just said is, that you think I would be happier in our relationship if I had a wardrobe as nice as Roxie’s?”

“Well, yes. It would be a tangible symbol of my love for you.”

“Wow.”

“Wow what?”

“Just like an all-around wow.”

“Well…”

“How much?”

“What do you mean how much?”

“How much would I get to put on your credit card for my new wardrobe?”

“Three thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand.”

“You’re negotiating with me?”

“You’re a lawyer, you would negotiate too. Plus, you make a ton of money.”

“Fine. It’s a deal. Five thousand dollars to prove that I love you as much as I love Roxie.”

“Okay then.”

“Thank God. Roxie has calmed down, she can tell that things are better between us.”

“I bet she can, she’s an Empath that Roxie.”

“Actually you’re right, she is an Empath. My sweet little girl.”

(Photo: iStock, NY Times article by Jen A. Miller, March 13th, 2018)

LAURA

“Lizzie said I’m too old to wear ‘Mom jeans.'”

Michelle burst out laughing.

“You are! We wore those back in the eighties.”

“I told her that shaming was not allowed in our home and that I could wear whatever I wanted.”

Michelle snorted.

“Do you even look good in those jeans? Because I’m guessing not.”

“I mean they are not my best look ever. I was in Urban Outfitters buying Lizzie a few things and I needed a pair of jeans; the salesperson said I looked amazing in them.”

Michelle was laughing hysterically now.

“Oh my God, stop it Michelle,” said Laura starting to laugh. “Changing the subject now. How’s Joshua?”

“Joshua is driving me nuts. He just asked me for a hundred dollars to buy some new limited edition sweatshirt. A sweatshirt. I can’t believe we have kids.”

“Me either. Remember in high school when we promised each other that we would never marry, never have kids and just travel the world together?”

“I know, such cuties we were. Ok, gotta go. Love you girl.”

“Bye love.”

Laura put the lasagna in the oven then went into Lizzie’s room to gather the detritus of teenage life:
5 dirty glasses
3 towels stained Manic Panic Electric Pink Pussycat
4 empty chip bags
2 cereal bowls but no spoons
clothing everywhere – like an H & M store on a Saturday.
Her bedroom was a tableau of teenage life that you might stumble upon at a cool downtown gallery.

The one thing that Lizzie kept clean and organized was the makeup area in her bathroom: lipglosses, brushes and eyeliners all standing tall and proud in their clear plastic containers.

“I can’t believe my fourteen year old daughter has her own bathroom,” Laura thought to herself.

Growing up she had shared a cramped, second floor bathroom with two younger brothers. Every morning her mother would yell:

“For the Love of God Laura, let your brothers in the bathroom! You can put your makeup on downstairs.”

Laura’s mother would drive them to school wearing curlers in her hair. Though it was mortifying at the time, Laura now appreciated it as a practical mom thing to do.

After tidying up and doing laundry, Laura poured herself a glass of Cab Sauvignon which she sipped while making a salad.

Lizzie slothed into the house with a deflated look on her face. She had dyed her hair pink to impress Violet, her latest crush. Violet was a very tall, very skinny girl who had long straight aquamarine hair. She wore all-black and spoke with a British accent from her years living in London. In typical high school fashion, where getting one’s heart broken was as common as bad cafeteria food, it turned out that Violet was not interested in Lizzie. Violet only had eyes for Brian.

“How could she like Brian?! He’s like – what’s that word you love using mom?”

“Smarmy?”

“Ya! He’s smarmy! And he wears these eighties style polo shirts with the collar up – like ‘ironic-preppy.’ He’s repulsive.”

“He sounds vile. Listen, I am so, so sorry about Violet, but honey on the positive side – your hair looks amazing!” Laura said while kissing her sweet, freckled, fourteen year old forehead.

“Thanks mom.”

“Dinner is fifteen minutes out so don’t eat too much crap.”

Lizzie backward-waved at her from the hallway on her way to her bedroom.

“Smells delicious babe,” her husband kissed her neck as he passed through the kitchen.

“I just need to call Tom Finklestein, be right back,” he said tossing his blazer on the couch.

“Fifteen minutes or I’m never making dinner again.”

The lasagna was a big hit and Lizzie told her dad all about Violet and Smarmy Brian.

“Oh Lizzie, I’m sorry, what an upsetting day. But let me tell you something: anyone who chooses ironic preppy over you has a major problem. As your grandma used to say – For The Love Of God.”

They all laughed. David was very good at making Lizzie laugh when she was upset, it was one of the things Laura loved most about him.

Lizzie’s fuchsia hair had inspired Laura, so in the middle of the night she went into her studio and started working on a new canvas. It would be the final painting in her series entitled “Shirley’s Cakes,” due to showcase at The Topanga Canyon Gallery, where rich Bohemians bought Laura’s artwork.

Her mother, Shirley, had been the love of her life and though she had died over two years ago, Laura still felt raw with grief. Shirley had been an amazing baker and had been especially fond of baking – and eating – cakes. Laura started painting her mother with fuchsia hair and curlers, stirring an oversized bowl of cake batter. The bowl was cauldron-like, as if she was stirring up a magic potion.

As she worked on creating the desired shade of pink, Laura remembered a pink cake Shirley had once baked for her: when Laura first got her period, Shirley had surprised her with a two-layer red velvet cake with pink colored cream cheese icing. It read “Congratulations!” in red cursive and her brothers had been jealous:

“Why does she get a special cake? It’s not fair!’

Shirley had yelled:

“Because she’s a woman today – she got her period! Women deserve period cakes every month.”

Her dad had simply said:

“Stop being knuckleheads so we can eat the cake.”

While painting, Laura often spoke to her mother – out loud. One time David had walked in on her and asked:

“Are you on speakerphone?”

“No, I’m chatting with my mother.”

“Oh…okay…”

Laura told her mother about Violet and Smarmy Brian and about how she and Michelle were planning a girl’s trip to NYC in October.

Shirley always had opinions:

That Violet is faking her accent, she only lived in London for two years. And For The Love Of God Laura, please buy a proper fall coat. Every time you travel to the east coast you’re freezing – you’re such an LA girl! By the way, I love Lizzie’s her new hair color, what a spectacular young woman she is.”

I know. Sometimes I just look at her and I want to cry because she’s so precious to me.”

“That’s how I was with you. When you were young I would just stand at your bedroom door with tears streaming down my face; I was overwhelmed by my love for you.

“I miss you mom. I’m going to make coffee now because I need to be awake when I drive Lizzie to school.”

“Before you go: make sure the gallery prices these painting high. Soon half of Hollywood is going to have Laura Keating paintings in their fancy homes. I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks Mom.”

Laura made a pot of coffee, then had one of her madcap ideas: she would bake Lizzie a Betty Crocker cake for breakfast. Lizzie loved their yellow cake with the canned chocolate frosting. Laura checked the pantry to make sure she had everything and then, since David was still asleep, she took an army shower and threw on her school drop-off uniform:
skinny jeans, tank top and long, kimono-style robe.

She grabbed some healthy snacks for Lizzie and threw them on top of her black Converse so she wouldn’t forget to take them to school.

At 7:00 am Laura woke her up by standing at her door and blasting The Go-Go’s “Our Lips are Sealed” on her iphone.

“OMG mom seriously?! Stop it with the 80’s music wake-ups!”

“But they’re so fun! Get ready, I have a special breakfast for you.”

“I’m not going to school. I don’t want to see Violet and Smarmy Brian googly-eyeing each other.”

“Wear something fabulous – maybe that new asymmetrical top thing-y, and do one of your dramatic cat eyes. Then just walk down those hallways letting your light shine bright.”

“Mom, you sound kind of lit, have you been up all night painting?”

“Yes I have darlin! Breakfast in 20 minutes.”

Laura gulped down coffee and finished frosting the cake. She poured Lizzie a glass of orange juice and set a place for her at the kitchen table with the cake placed in front of her.

David zoomed through and said:

“I’m late, I’ll grab a Starbucks on the road. Cake for breakfast? You’re nuts. Have a good day babe!” He kissed her on the cheek as he flew out.

“You baked me Betty Crocker for breakfast?!”

Lizzie sat down and Laura cut them both big pieces.

“Lizzie, this cake is to celebrate how fucking spectacular you are. Please don’t ever forget it. Got it?

“Got it,” said Lizzie taking a massive bite. “This is sooo yummy!”

“And another thing: between the cake and the orange juice your blood sugar level is going to crash in an hour or less, so make sure to have one of those protein bars on you, otherwise you’re likely to go off.”

“Will do. Becks just texted me. She wants me to come over for dinner tonight, her mom will pick us up. Can I go?”

“Her mom is that super conservative woman right?”

“Ya.”

“Okay, but just promise me you won’t listen to a word she says.”

“I’m going to tell her you made me cake for breakfast.”

“Oh I love that, please do – she will be horrified.”

They finished eating in happy silence.

Photo:
https://manicpanic.com/collections/hair-color/products/electric-pink-pussycat-classic-high-voltage

Erica

“Your eyes look different.”

“What do you mean different?”

“I don’t know. Something has changed.”

“Maybe my eyes look happy because my best friend is coming to visit this week.”

“No, it’s not that, they don’t look happy.”

“What then?”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“Are you trying to say I look older?”

“I mean…your eyes just don’t look like they used to.”

“We’re lying in bed, in the dark, about to go to sleep and from what I understand you’re telling me I look older? Why in God’s name would you say that? I don’t think I’ve ever had a man say something so hurtful to me.”

“Well I mean we all change over time.”

“I feel sick with sadness, like I could vomit tears.”

The next morning Erica stared at her eyes in the bathroom mirror. She did look older, she’d noticed it a little while ago. It was partly hereditary – everyone on her mom’s side of the family got droopy upper eye lids. But for Paul to say something…

Paul regularly said things that left her feeling small. Little things that in the moment felt like nothing, but minutes later left Erica feeling deflated. And she had become so used to feeling this way that it felt normal. Though he said he loved her sparkly, colorful spirit, he was actually snuffing it out one day at a time. And since words left no physical marks, no one could see that she was being hurt over and over again.

Erica was so upset that she ate six Bear Claw cookies for breakfast and gave herself a stomach ache. Lying on the couch for half an hour she tried crying, but nothing happened. Where were her tears?

Her tears were gone. Her tears were gone because her sadness had, unbeknownst to her, turned into anger. And her anger had, within seconds, turned into action. And action took Erica from the couch to Staples, where she bought six boxes, bubble wrap, tape and large sheets of paper.

Erica circled their condo, taking her favorite possessions. Packing quickly, she drank coffee with spoonfuls of sugar. From their bedroom closet she chose only her most loved clothing, folding it in a small suitcase.

Logging onto airbnb she found an artsy, furnished cottage on the opposite side of the city. It was just a few blocks from the water and had a beautiful rose garden. She paid for three months rent and the owner offered to help carry her boxes inside, where she could store them in the den.

She cleaned the coffee pot and put her dirty cup in the dishwasher. On a leftover piece of packing paper she wrote a note to Paul:

You did not break my spirit. You temporarily took the air out of my spirit. You temporarily crushed my spirit. But my spirit is more powerful than you will ever be. My spirit has come roaring back with her drooping eyelids and my spirit has this to say:
“You were lucky to have me, but I’m gone now.”

Drugstore Baby

The following is a true story.

I threw two pregnancy tests into my basket, along with a box of saltine crackers. Fearing being judged by the cashier, I added Lysol wipes, a lipstick and Vogue, as if they would magically hide the tests.

“Wow, you are too old to be buying a pregnancy test. Get your shit together,” said the check-out lady in my head.

At work I lay down in the back room on a disgusting old carpet. I felt like throwing up and my stomach looked four months pregnant. My co-worker agreed:

“Ya, you do look kinda pregnant.”

I googled “can you get pregnant with a vasectomy?” It turns out that yes you can, though rarely. It usually happens because couples have sex too soon, before the semen is sperm-free. OMG. That’s us. I’m 46 years old, my life is in shambles and I’ve only been with my partner for nine months.

Peeing on the sticks I quickly discovered that I was not pregnant – thank god – but still, I knew something was wrong. I had been having horrible panic attacks the last couple of months and something was telling me the panic was my body’s way of waving a giant red flag:

“Hellooooo! There is something fucked up with your health. Do not pass GO. Go directly to the doctor.”

Unfortunately at that time I had a horrible doctor. I knew it would be difficult to convince her that I needed an ultrasound; she always thought I was being neurotic.

An evening of googling, note-taking, and practicing my sales pitch, (including a couple of white lies that I felt were necessary to make my case), and I was ready to face her. I had found enough evidence to suggest that I might have ovarian cancer and therefore would need an ultrasound asap.

My sales pitch worked and my doctor ordered an immediate ultrasound. Yay! The ultrasound revealed a mass. Not so yay. Soon after a cat scan revealed a more detailed image, including “ascites,” – abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen causing swelling. That’s when my doctor gave me a few pamphlets and said:

“The Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital will be taking over your care. Good luck.”

“Okay Byeeeeeeeeee.”

I met with a top gynaecological surgeon and she was fairly confident that whatever I had was not cancerous. Yay! She performed laparoscopic surgery but it didn’t go as expected. Not so yay. She discovered a freak show-looking cancer.

“This isn’t in my wheelhouse,” the gyno-surgeon said.

Okay, maybe she didn’t say that, but she definitely thought that.

A well-known gastrointestinal oncologist then took over my care. I felt like I was an appetizer being passed around that no one wanted to eat.

Canapé anyone?

By this point I was thinking:

“Can we go back to when I thought I was pregnant? I’d like that option please. Just give me the damn baby, I’ll be a great mother, I promise!”

My biopsy was not routine – shocker – and took a long time. A pathologist in Vancouver had to be consulted. The final diagnosis was:
Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma.

What the hell is that?

Apparently it was a rare, incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Wait whaaaattt?

And thus began my cancer saga.

Cancer 101 Reminders:
– Trust Your Gut. If I hadn’t had that ultrasound when I did I would be dead.
– Be super pro-active. If it were
someone you loved who was sick you would move mountains to help them. So move mountains for yourself.

***If you’re a woman: if you experience a swollen-looking abdomen, along with a sense of “fullness” for more than a few days, speak with your doctor.
Women often assume these symptoms are “digestive issues,” when they are in fact symptoms of cancer, especially ovarian cancer.***

A Field Of Lavender

Photo: BECOZI on You Tube

“This isn’t working, I still feel anxious.”

“You’ve been under the blanket for two minutes, it’s not like Xanax, it doesn’t work that fast.”

“But it’s so heavy, I feel like I can’t breathe.”

“Of course it’s heavy, it’s a weighted blanket. And you’re breathing just fine. They’ve sold millions of these, we would have heard if people were being smothered to death.”

“But we didn’t buy this blanket, your mother knit it. And your mother hates me, maybe she overweighted it. Maybe I’m dying as we speak.”

“Oh My God Laura, stop with the theatrics. My mother doesn’t hate you, she’s trying to help. She doesn’t want you to become addicted to pills, she’s worried.”

“You told me your mother doesn’t believe in anxiety. You told me she said I was just looking for attention.”

“True, she did say that, but that was like two years ago. Recently one of the ladies in her book club confided in her that she suffers from anxiety, so now she’s a believer.”

“Well I still think she judges me for it, but it was kind of her to knit the blanket.”

“Yes it was. She’s a good woman. I’m going to run a few errands and I’ll pick something up for dinner. Love you.”

“Love you too. Get some wine, we’re almost out.”

Laura put on her Sarah McLachlan playlist and closed her eyes. The blanket smelled really good, like lavender. Maybe Jeremy’s mother didn’t hate her after all. I mean knitting a blanket this thick was a huge undertaking. Laura decided to invite Mrs. Peters out for a girls afternoon. They would get mani pedis and then have a lovely lunch at The Row House, which was very old-school, white linen, shrimp cocktail-fancy. It would make Jeremy happy too.

She took a deep breath then slowly let it out, pulling the blanket all the way up to her chin.

But I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose

“I love Sarah McLachlan, she doesn’t get enough credit. I mean she created Lilith Fair for God’s sake.”

The heaviness of the blanket forced Laura to breathe slowly. It put her into a calm and somewhat meditative state. She started making a mental list of all that she was grateful for:
– Jeremy
– their beloved, but now dead cat Gus
– her new hair style
– their families and friends
– of course their rent-controlled apartment
– their relatively good health, not counting her anxiety
– her fall Stuart Weitzman boots

“I think this crazy weighted blanket really is working. I feel peaceful, kind of tired like I’m ready for a nap. I wonder how much longer I should lie under it?”

Laura adjusted the blanket so that it went around her neck, with just her head poking out. She would make this Saturday night special. After taking a nap she would dress up in something pretty and light some candles for dinner. They would watch a Criterion film and then make love.

Laura’s breath slowed, like it does at the end of a yoga class when the instructor guides everyone into a tranquil state.

“This is better than taking pills. Then again I can’t use it in public. Imagine me dragging my weighted blanket around like Linus from Charlie Brown. Hilarious!” She giggled.

Surrendering to the blanket, Laura drifted off ~ breathing quietly like a tiny mouse. She felt cocooned in a field of lavender.

“They were out of your favorite wine, but I found another one, it’s French. Apparently it has notes of lavender, which I thought was cool.”

“Laura?”

“Laura?! Wake up Laura!”

Lucky Star

TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL CONTENT

Why can’t I get just one kiss?
Why can’t I get just one kiss?
There may be some things that I wouldn’t miss
But I look at your pants and I need a kiss

“I love your earrings.”

“Thanks. I got them at Le Chateau.”

Why can’t I get just one screw?
Why can’t I get just one screw?
Believe me, I know what to do
But something won’t let me make love to you

“Why do the guys always play this song at every party?”

“They think it makes them cool.”

“As if.”

“I know.”

“Do you think Ed likes me? I thought he did, but now he’s totally ignoring me.”

“Ed is failing French and he’s like barely even cute. You are better than Ed.”

“Okay, okay, thx Jess.”

“Is it just me, or are there no cute guys here? Like not even one.”

“I know, it’s like being at school but with booze. We need new people.”

“I feel like shit, I think it’s these wine coolers. I might throw up.”

“Oh no! Want me to come with you to the bathroom?”

“No, it’s okay. I’m just gonna lie down in Emma’s bedroom for awhile.”

“Don’t choke on your puke! That’s how rock stars always die.”

“I’m not going to choke on my vomit for God’s sake. I’m just lying down for a bit and if I don’t feel better I’m outta here.”

“K. I’m gonna check out the backyard scene.”

“K.”

Emma’s bedroom and bathroom were on the third floor – like her own little dusty rose, wall-to-wall carpeted apartment. Jessie tried throwing up the disgusting Strawberry coolers but nothing happened, so she went into Emma’s bedroom and lay down on the peach-quilted bed.

The bedroom was huge: two single beds, a desk, a long curvy dresser, a Pier One Papasan chair and a vanity table covered with makeup and perfume bottles.

She looked at Emma’s clock radio: 10:45 pm.

“If I don’t feel better in fifteen minutes I’m going home,” she said out loud.

Jessie stared at the ceiling. There was a beautiful crystal chandelier, softly-lit, creating a romantic vibe.

“She even has a dimmer for her light? Jesus.”

She looked again at the bedside table: gold ornate Kleenex box, 2 Swatch watches, one red, one cobalt blue. The newest Cosmopolitan magazine and a heart-shape framed photo of Emma and her beloved, but now dead, cat Gus.

“God I feel nauseas. Maybe I just need to eat something. Did I even have dinner?”

She thought back to earlier in the night. They had all ordered pizza, but Jessie had only eaten a few bites because it was covered in ham and pineapple.

She tried on the cobalt Swatch, it looked good.

A soft knock sounded:

“Jessie, you okay in there?”

“I’m fine Jen, don’t worry, I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“No, it’s Derek, not Jen” said Derek as he opened the door.

“Oh hi Derek, sorry, I thought you were Jen. What are you doing upstairs?”

“I heard Jen talking about you not feeling well, so I figured someone better check on you.”

“Oh thanks, I’m okay. I didn’t eat enough dinner because the pizza was disgusting and then I drank those wine coolers…”

“Wine coolers are never a good idea,” said Derek, sitting down on the bed.

She sighed, “I know.”

“Those football dudes from Sherwood Collegiate just got here and they’re fucking idiots. Who even invited them?”

“I think Sharon whatsername did, she’s into one of them.”

“Sharon smells, like she always smells like baked apples,” said Derek as he lay down next to Jessie. “I mean what? Does her mother bake pies all day? It’s weird.”

“Well, there are worse things to smell like, right?” said Jessie.

“True!” laughed Derek

“I can’t forget to take off this watch before I leave, it’s Emma’s. Can you imagine if I accidentally stole it? Christ.”

“Emma’s too muscular, she’s built like a rugby player,” said Derek.

“I think she’s really beautiful. Like if I were a guy I would totally be into her.”

Jessie started to sit up.

“I feel gross. I’m going home.”

Derek took Jessie by the wrist, the one with the Swatch and lay her back down on the bed.

“Come on, just hang out here with me for a little while.”

“Fine, but for like 5 min max.”

“So, are you and Mike still dating?”

“Mike? No, that’s way way over. I think he’s dating that fake goth girl Chrissy.”

“Oh well, his loss. You’re gorgeous and she wears black lipstick. I mean what’s his problem?”

Jessie laughed.

“Derek, just to warn you, I could literally throw up any minute and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.”

“I’m willing to take the chance.”

“Were you and Mike serious?”

“Well, we weren’t not serious, like we only dated each other. At least I think we only dated each other. At least I only dated him.”

Laughing, Derek said, “you’re funny,” then rolled over on his side and pressed himself up against her.

“Kiss me.”

“Are you insane? I literally just told you I feel like barfing and you want me to kiss you? No.”

He slid his hand up her sweater. It was her new Esprit sweater, dark grey with lime green lighting bolts on it.

“Derek, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but just stop it. I don’t want to fool around.”

“Relax, relax, it’s just a kiss,” he said as he pulled his hand off her chest and kissed her.

“Stop, it. I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

Derek started pulling down her black tights.

“Have you lost your mind? Did you smoke too much hash? Get off of me right now or I’ll scream.”

“No one will hear you.”

“Derek, please.”

“Take a chill pill. We’re just fooling around, that’s what people do at parties.”

Derek had lighting-fast undressing skills and before Jessie knew it her tights were halfway down her legs. Her pale thighs exposed and the bottom half of her legs still covered in opaque black. She was wearing her favorite ankle-boots, the ones that looked like Madonna’s in the Lucky Star video.

“Stop. You’re hurting me.”

“I’m not hurting you. God, I didn’t realize you were so uptight. No wonder Mike left you for Chrissy.”

Jessie tried willing herself to throw up. If she barfed, Derek would surely stop.

“Dear God, please help me puke so that Derek gets off of me.”

Derek was now yanking her underwear down.

“I thought you liked Andrea Henderson? She likes you too you know.”

“I know she likes me. I’m going out with her tomorrow night.”

He managed to get her underwear pulled down while he simultaneously unzipped his jeans. All the while he was holding her down with one surprisingly strong arm.

“Please stop Derek. I don’t want to have sex with you. We can do something else. How about I go down on you?”

Jessie had no desire to go down on Derek but thought it was worth a try, it would buy her some time.

“Come on, you know this is better.”

He continued kissing her, mostly on her neck and strangely they were soft kisses. They were everything that his deep, painful thrusts were not.

Out of the corner of her eye Jessie saw a flash of cobalt from her wrist. She focused on it. She thought of the Swatch magazine ad she’d recently seen in Mademoiselle magazine. It was a color wheel of Swatch Watches, every shade of the rainbow. The fluorescent green one had been her favorite. The cobalt blue was nice though, it was a bright cobalt.

Derek rolled off her.

“That was amazing.”

He turned to her and kissed her on the mouth, a long, deep kiss like they were a happy girlfriend and boyfriend couple.

“I’ll see you downstairs Jess.”

As he zipped up and closed the door behind him, Jessie took off the cobalt Swatch and placed it on the bedside table. She slowly pulled up her underwear and her tights. Easing herself off the bed, she made sure to plump the pillow and smooth out the wrinkles on the quilt, like a hotel maid would do.

At Emma’s vanity table she fixed her hair and sprayed her neck where Derek had been kissing her – with a bottle of Beautiful. Looking closely at each of Emma’s seven lipsticks, she finally decided on Maybelline’s “Iced Berry,” which she applied with her fingers. She took a final look around the pretty bedroom and shut the door behind her.

She decided to go pee because she’d once read that peeing after sex prevented infections.

Downstairs she made a beeline for the study, where she found her black purse and vintage leopard print coat under a massive pile.

“Jessie, are you leaving? Did you throw up? I met this cute guy named Trevor, he’s in Grade 11 at Wrightly High. You look super pale, are you okay?”

“Can you call me a cab? I need to get some air.”

“Ya I’ll call now.”

Jessie was already on her way outside.

“It’ll be here in five minutes or less. Want me to wait with you? You look bad. I mean not ugly bad, just like sick bad.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine. Call me tomorrow and let me know what happens with Trevor, k?”

“K. Hope you feel better,” Jen said as she hugged Jessie.

Outside Jessie fished a cigarette out of her purse. Though she didn’t smoke regularly, she always liked to have a pack on her. She inhaled deeply and tried exhaling like the movie stars did in the late night classic films that she sometimes watched.

As her cab pulled up Derek poked his head out the front door:

“Just wanted to make sure you were getting home safely. Have a good weekend Jess.”

Jessie stared at him, tossed her cigarette on the sidewalk and got in the cab.

This story was inspired by a sexual assault I experienced in high school.