Spaghetti Can Flowers

Receiving wild flowers in a spaghetti can is not something a girl forgets, especially when they arrive with bacon, wrapped old-school style by the butcher.

“Mary Ellen?”

I was staying at a B & B in small-town Quebec when I heard the door knock. Checking that I was presentable, I put on my mask and opened it.

A thin, sun-hardened arm reached out and passed me the flowers. They had clearly been arranged with care, not simply tossed in the can.

“These are so beautiful, thank you, I-“

The other thin, sun-hardened arm reached out and passed me a package wrapped in brown paper.

“It’s for your breakfast with your friend. You’re going to visit her today, right? It’s bacon.”

Wearing a black kaftan, hair up in a bun, mask on, I stood holding the flowers and bacon. The moment felt surreal and for a second I felt like an actress in a scene from a quirky indie film.

Standing in front of me was the man I had dated when I was just twenty-one years old. Now, thirty years later, he stood before me with these sweet offerings.

I had traveled to rural Quebec for a late summer visit with one of my dearest girlfriends. Realizing my old boyfriend lived nearby, I had reached out to him thinking it would be nice to have a coffee and catch up. But that’s not quite what happened…

I ended up sitting on a lawn chair, in a field behind a workshop, drinking wine from a dirty mason jar. An alarming-looking fire in a metal barrel and a giant pirate’s flag were the only decor. Joining us were his ex brother-in-law and a fast-talking man wearing a straw fedora.

At various points in the evening the guys took turns urinating outside.

“If you need to go pee you can just do it out here, don’t worry, we won’t look and you’ll be safe. I’ll protect you,” said my ex.

Wait what? Peeing outside? What is happening?

On the walk over to his artist meets Hells’ Angels living quarters, I had struggled to connect with the man I once knew. He had a hard time making eye contact, was fidgety and clearly drunk.

I learned he had a grown daughter whom he deeply loved. That he knew how to survive in the wilderness (yikes, why?) and had spent time in Ireland. He’d also worked for years on large ships and loved to write poetry. That’s what I got, just a broad outline. But there were details. The details were in the scent he gave off: a blend of grief and complete despair.

“You know me. I’ve been trying to kill myself for years,” he said casually, just like someone might say, “you know me, I love ice cream.”

His pain completely overwhelmed me. I felt like any second it might swallow me up whole. Part of me wanted to run – fast – away from the field. But I also knew that his pain deserved to be seen, his pain deserved to be acknowledged. And so I sat in the field, drinking wine from a dirty mason jar and bore witness to it.

Later that night, alone at my B & B, I was overcome with sorrow. It shattered my twenty-one year old’s heart to see him so broken. I remembered him being wild and troubled when we dated, but also kind and romantic. One time he surprised me at the bus station:
I was returning from visiting a friend and there he was, hands in his pockets, staring at the windows trying to locate me, his eyes lighting up when he saw me. I distinctly remember thinking: “I can’t believe he’s here!” There were no cell phones or emojis back then, but if there were I would have texted my girlfriends:
“OMG he’s waiting at the station for me!💖😍🤸‍♀️👏💕”

Being presented with flowers and bacon the morning after such a crushing evening was not something I was prepared for. But, the moment was tender and real and awkward and despite the sadness I felt it was also beautiful.

#trauma #oldboyfriends #lifestories #quebec

Just Breathe

“I can’t breathe.”

“You’re breathing.”

“No, I’m not. Call 911.”

“You’re having a panic attack.”

“I know I’m having a panic attack, don’t you think I know I’m having a panic attack?”

“Well if you know you’re having a panic attack then you know that it’ll be over soon.”

“That’s not helpful. Being rational is useless during a panic attack.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I can’t stop shaking and my teeth are chattering.”

Marissa took three Xanax.

“Jesus! Don’t gobble those up they’re not candies!”

“Don’t yell at me! I can’t breathe. And these pills are only .5 milligrams each – one pill does nothing.”

Mark sighed.

“I have to change out of my nightgown, when the paramedics arrive I need to be properly dressed.”

“The paramedics are not coming, you’re breathing. You’re going to be fine. Come here.”

Mark grabbed Marissa and held her from behind, wrapping his arms across her chest.

“You’re choking me.”

He lowered his arms.

“Ok that feels better, thanks. But my teeth are chattering, I’m scared.”

“Open your mouth wide.”

“Why?”

“If you open your mouth wide your teeth won’t be able to chatter.”

“Oh good idea, thanks,” said Marissa.

With her mouth open and Mark holding her, Marissa moved her body slowly side to side. The repetitive motion helped to soothe her.

“I’m getting aroused.”

“What?!” cried Marissa.

“You’re moving back and forth against my crotch, what did you expect?”

“Oh My God – sorry!”

They both started laughing.

“I can’t laugh, it’ll make the attack worse.”

Marissa adjusted her body so that she was moving back and forth along Mark’s thigh instead.

“FYI: I won’t have the energy to do anything about your arousal. After my panic attacks I’m always completely drained.”

“I didn’t expect you to, I’m not a complete ogre.”

“I’m freezing.”

“You’re actually not cold, it’s just your psyche fucking with you.”

“Alright. I’m going to pace around the kitchen for awhile. The movement calms me.”

“Okay but where’s your cell phone? I don’t want you calling the paramedics.”

“I won’t,” said Marissa with her mouth wide open.

“Remember that Yakity Yak clattering teeth toy? Do they still sell those? I want one.”

“I’ll look online now,” said Mark, sitting down with his laptop.

Marissa continued pacing back and forth while wringing her hands like they’d just been stung by bees.

“This is a good look, isn’t it? I’ve never felt more unattractive in my life.”

“You’re beautiful. Even when you’re panic-attacking you’re breathtakingly beautiful.”

“That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me. Did you find the Yakity Yak teeth?”

“I did, I’m ordering them now.”

“Thanks. I think the drugs are kicking in, I feel like I can breathe again.”

“Yakity Yak Yay!” cried Mark.

Careless Whispers

“Don’t be so careless with your life.”

“Excuse me?” Jen said, looking around for the person attached to the voice. But there was no one. The closest human was the chatty fella with the Corgi and he was at the bottom of the hill playing tug-o-war.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night, clearly I’m hallucinating.

“You’re not hallucinating,” said the voice.

“Listen, whomever you are. You’re being very judge-y, just zip it,” whispered Jen, irritated.

“I have a right to judge you, I’m God, judging is part of my job description.”

“First of all, I don’t believe in God, so you don’t exist. Second of all, I’m not careless with my life. Not that it’s any of your damn business.”

“But you are careless. You act like you have all the time in the world. You live with no sense of urgency, each day just another day. The passivity with which you breeze through life is infuriating.”

“Oh My God, leave me alone God. Why are you hounding me? I’m just trying to relax in the park on a nice day. Go away.”

Putting in her ear buds Jen chose a Spotify playlist:
1980’s Alternative.

Depeche Mode played as Jen stared up at the tree.

“We interrupt your regular programming with a message from God:”

Sighing, Jen lay down on the grass.

“Jen, you’re stuck. You need an action plan. You need to make some big changes in your life and instead you’re loafing around like sourdough.”

Jen laughed.

“That’s funny. But listen God, I’m fine – really. You can stop obsessing about me. While it’s true that my life could use a Glow-Up, I think you have bigger fish to fry. Don’t you watch your own news? Like Russia invading Ukraine. Like the pandemic. Like fast fashion killing our planet. Like your crazy people overturning Roe vs Wade.”

“Those are not my people. I’m Pro-Choice.”

“You are?”

“Of course I am. Now listen, I happen to know that you are unhappy in both your job and relationship and that you’re not taking good care of your health. This is your freaking life Jen, how can you be passive with your own life?”

“I’m not passive I’m depressed, there’s a difference.”

“So tell your Doctor and get on anti-depressants.”

“I’m already on an anti-depressant.”

“Yikes.”

“What do you mean yikes?” asked Jen feeling insulted.

“I just thought you would have more pep in your step if you were on an anti-depressant.”

“It’s not like you take a pill and then turn into Doris Day, it’s not that simple.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know. I thought it worked like that.”

“Well it doesn’t. And before you say I should see a therapist, I already do.”

Jen took a sip from her water bottle.

Eighties alternative music played for the next few minutes and Jen started to relax.

“Think of me like a Life Coach,” said God, who was suddenly back.

“Life coaches are ridiculous. They’re like not even a real thing. It’s not like Harvard offers a PhD program in Life Coaching.”

God ignored her snark.

“Regardless, I’m here to help you.”

“Fine, fine. Help me. Do your God thing.” Jen said resignedly. She didn’t have the courage to argue with a God who didn’t even really exist.

Closing her eyes, Jen said:

“I’m just going to take a little cat nap.”

“Okay, I’ll go visit that cute Corgi at the bottom of the hill.”

“Mabel, the Corgi’s name is Mabel, I just remembered,” said Jen

“OMG. What a cute dog name,” said God.

Like Vines

When the weather turns warm the park transforms into a runway for young lovers. Teenagers lie on the grass, entwined like colorful vines.

Sitting under a pink flowering tree I put on my headphones and hide behind my sunglasses. Hiding so that I can spy.
I spy with my little eye:
Two girls, both wearing checkered Vans and paint splattered jeans. They giggle and kiss, then curl up together, the long unicorn-hair girl lying with her head on the other’s chest. They’re so beautiful I want to paint them. Of course I have no painting supplies with me and I also can’t paint to save my life. So I try to photograph them with my eyes, each time I blink I imagine I’m taking a Polaroid. I just want, I just need, to remember all the details of this sweet sweet tableau.

I spy with my little eye:
Two teens, each wearing a black mask. They’re walking hand in hand until the shaved head kid takes the bleached blonde kid into their arms. They pull down their masks and kiss.

Wow. It’s a kiss for the poets.

But, I also remember this kiss. Though this kiss belongs to these two cuties, it’s also our kiss. Like the Universal Kiss of Our Youth. My body is flooded with feeling, my body, heart and psyche still remember this kiss.

Loneliness – or is it longing? – washes over me making it hard to breathe. I take a sip of water and shed a few tears. The tears feel good and necessary, like when you see a Monet painting in person for the first time.

In my own marriage it’s as if two people are living together, but apart. “Together But Apart.” It could be a book title or the name of a new Netflix series. We don’t really kiss anymore. Or do we? Do we kiss and I just don’t notice? Are the kisses like a beige room that have no impact?

Now I’m angry. I want to kiss, I deserve to kiss. What’s happening to my life? What have I allowed to happen to my life, to me? Because the thing is, when your body, psyche and heart remember what it feels like to kiss like the two masked teens, then the grief you experience when you no longer kiss like that – the grief I’m experiencing right now in this park – the grief is intense. What the hell is wrong with God? What kind of a fucking sadist would make us remember?

Yet…
I spy with my little eye:
Joy. There is still joy, despite God being a sadist. Because these precious young people are growing up in such crazy times and yet here they are still having crushes, still making out, still having googley eyes for each other. They are everything that is right in this world and I love them for it. And I want to sit in this park forever and soak up their rainbow-hued energy.

Photo Source: Pinterest, Sydney Jade

JLo Glow

“You know when you cut open an orange only to realize it’s one of those dried out ones with no flavour?”

“Ya,”

“That’s what I feel like. All my juicy-juice goodness has dried up. I hate being middle-age,” Donna said.

Becky sighed:

“You’ve always been like this. Remember your 25th birthday? You had a meltdown and claimed your life was over and that you had nothing to show for it.”

They laughed.

“Ok, but back to my orange analogy. I could get fillers or Botox, but really I’m looking for ways to get my inside juicy self back.”

“Why don’t you go on a wellness retreat and have an affair.”

“Umm, because I’m married. That’s the worse advice ever, you’re nuts.”

“Affairs at wellness retreats don’t count – just like Vegas, but with green juice. Plus, I read that affairs can actually rejuvenate women better than Juverderm.”

“Very funny. I’ll never have an affair and not because I’m a perfect upstanding citizen. But because I have terrible taste in men. I would end up sleeping with someone completely deranged: the kind of guy who drives a mini-van even though he doesn’t have a family.”

“Oh those guys are creepy. And what about the guys who keep freezers in their garage? Never trust a man with a freezer in his garage.”

“Totally.”

“It’s true that you used to have bad taste in men, but then you married Jack and he’s a decent guy – you could have done a lot worse. Remember Melissa James from college? She just found out her husband has a whole other family. Can you believe that?”

“How do people have the time and energy to keep secret families? Jack and I can barely handle one teenager and two cats. Honestly, I don’t think either of us could pull off an affair, we’re too tired. Even before the pandemic we were burned out. Now it’s a miracle if we’re able to stay up late enough to watch an episode of The Crown.”

“That’s sad,” Becky said laughing.

Donna continued,

“I just watched JLo’s Instagram reels and she is the juiciest fifty-two year old. She literally glows from within. She has this light, happy, sparkly vibe. I bought her entire skincare collection.”

Becky started laughing harder:

“Stop it, I’m gonna pee my pants.”

Donna stretched out on their blanket:

“I forgot to put on sunscreen today,” she said, surveying the park.

“Oh who cares – so you get a few more age spots. If you get enough age spots they’ll blend together and you’ll looked nicely tanned,” Becky said.

“I’m so glad you find me amusing.”

Becky passed a peach scented gum drop to Donna.

“Is this candy or an edible?”

“It’s an artisanal CBD edible. You should see the packaging – so chic. I read about them in Vogue.”

Donna popped it in her mouth.

“Delicious, thanks.”

“Okay, now back to your problem: You need to start putting yourself first. You still make breakfast every morning for your husband and teenage son – like a freaking 1950’s housewife.”

“It’s just this little ritual we have, it’s sweet.”

“It’s not sweet, it’s pathetic. Take that morning time and spend it doing something you like. You love reading those alphabet thrillers. So start your mornings with coffee and a book, the guys will survive without bacon and waffles.”

“I don’t know, it’s like this family bonding time—”

“Is it really though? Aren’t they both usually on their phones?”

“Well, kind of, but—”

“I think that you not feeling your juiciest is partly because you let people take advantage of you, including those who love you. Start making yourself a priority or you’ll become resentful. And nothing ages a woman more than resentment.”

“Wow, you’re fired up this morning. I feel like I have a bitchy life coach. Ok I’m doing it. Starting tomorrow the boys are on their own for breakfast.”

They lay in silence for awhile, enjoying the sunshine and light breeze.

“And a yearly girls trip. We should start doing a yearly girls trip. No partners, no kids, no pets.”

“Jack wouldn’t like that, he doesn’t like me travelling without him.”

“Too bad. You deserve a yearly getaway without any mothering or wife-y duties, that’s not a big ask. You’ve really given away a lot of your power, it’s upsetting. If you want JLo’s juicy vibe you’re gonna have to reclaim your damn power – that’s her secret, not her skincare line.”

A few minutes passed and Donna kicked off her Birkenstocks.

“You’re right, I have given away a lot of my power and it’s a sickening feeling. But because I’ve given away so much of it, it sort of feels impossible to get it back. Like I don’t have enough power to get my power back, if that makes sense.”

“It makes total sense. But I know you can do it. And unless you want to feel like a dried out piece of orange for the rest of your life, you have to do it.”

Becky reached out for Donna’s hand:

“I hope I’m not being too harsh, I just love you so much.”

“I love you too babe. And isn’t my hand soft? It’s JLo’s body moisturizer.”

Photo: Jlobeauty.com

Candy Roses

Dancing in her garden is the tattered lace lady. Every night it’s the same thing. Always dancing, always wearing an old torn lace dress.

Her neighbour leaves a note complaining that her garden is too unruly, that it’s nothing but weeds.

“Not true,” says Michelle, the tattered lace lady the next day.
“If only you would accept my invitation to come over for wine and raspberry biscuits, then I could tell you all about my flowers.”

“No I can’t, but thank you.”

“You have an open invitation all summer, knock on the back gate anytime.”

The next evening, sitting by her side window, the neighbour watches the lady through binoculars. She’s wearing a long black lace dress, tiered like a cake, the bottom tier completely unravelling.

Has she never heard of a seamstress?

This time she’s dancing with two other ladies. Their feet are bare, their hair long and their faces happy-looking. It’s past eleven o’clock, well it’s three minutes pass eleven o’clock and the music is too loud:
But Every Time It Rains
You’re Here in My Head
Like The Sun Coming Out
Oh I Just Know Something Good Is Going to Happen

The neighbour decides that enough is enough. I mean how is she supposed to sleep with all this noise and mayhem? Not that she’s sleeping yet, but she could be, she could be trying to sleep – and that’s the point. She checks her face in the hall mirror, smooths her hair, then marches out.

Knocking on Michelle’s rainbow-painted gate, she’s ready to confront her.

The gate opens:
“Oh look, it’s you! How wonderful that it’s you! Join us at our Blood Moon Party! Come, take my hand.”

“Blood Moon party, is that some sort of witchcraft thing? I’m a Presbyterian so…”

“No, no, don’t worry. It’s just that Blood Moons are very special. They only happen twice a year. So we celebrate with pink champagne, berries and red velvet cake.”

They walk together under the rose-filled pathway to her yard. The coral flowers smelling like candies, begging to be plucked from their vines and eaten.

“Ladies, meet my lovely neighbour Pamela.”

“Welcome Pamela! I’m Jess and this is Christina, may I pour you a glass of champagne?”

“Oh well, I’m not much of a drinker, but I suppose one glass is alright, thank you.”

“May The Goddess of all Moons – The Blood Moon – know we are eternally grateful for her beauty, power and gifts.”

The four women raise their crystal glasses to Michelle’s toast.
The champagne is delicious, the bubbles dancing a little salsa on the tip of Pamela’s tongue.

“Shall we sit and eat cake and berries?” Michelle asks, leading them all to a table covered in – of course – tattered ivory lace.

“You love lace don’t you?” asks Pamela

Laughing, Michelle answers:

“I do, I do. In fact I’m going to a flea market next weekend in search of more lace. Do you want to come with me?”

Old stuff on tables. Dead people’s stuff. Was it at least washed, or did it smell? And really, how much tattered lace can one woman have? Maybe Michelle suffered from some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder.

“I would love to go, I’ve never been to a flea market before.”

Holy Hell, what am I doing? Well, it’ll be like an experiment. I’ll study the flea market people like I study birds.

The ladies start eating cake with berries. Large forkfuls of cake, crumbs falling out of their mouths which they quickly scoop up with their tongues.

Pamela begins with a proper dainty bite, but the cake and berries taste so good that soon she’s eating big pieces, cream cheese frosting painting her lips.

“What sort of gifts does The Blood Moon give?” asks Pamela, curious.

“Well, often you will feel deep shifts in your inner life, you might even get a sudden illumination,” answers Michelle, tying her long hair up in a messy bun.

Sounds very witchcraft-y. But oh well, this cake is so good and the flowers smell like candies and the ladies are so friendly…

“To our guest Pamela: may The Blood Moon bestow upon you a powerful life-changing revelation.”

“To Pamela!” the ladies toast.

Pamela smiles, hiding the fact that she would have preferred a less dramatic toast. This one has her worried that The Blood Moon may bestow upon her something a little too intense.

As the ladies chat, Pamela gazes around the garden and realizes that it’s the most beautiful garden she’s ever seen. She’s embarrassed that she complained about it. Sure, it’s tall and wild, but it’s dazzling.

Thinking about the flea market, Pamela decides she’ll look for vintage crystal glasses. Then she’ll buy herself a bottle of this scrumptious pink champagne and celebrate whatever The Blood Moon reveals to her. She’s up for anything.
I mean not anything anything, but anything.

Artwork: “Vision of Gaia” by Ninquelen on Deviant Art

I Remember You

Sunshine hits my face and for a moment I feel like everything is right in the world.

“Girl, you better figure out your shit today. If you don’t, I’m bringing back the grey and rain.”

Excuse me? Who’s talking? There’s no one on the street except three people down the block waiting for the bus.

Like an idiot I answer the voice:

“I’m going for a walk and doing some self-reflection. Then I’ll be writing in my journal. Does that count?”

“No that doesn’t count! You gotta do more than self-reflect. And toss that damn unicorn journal. You’re lost. Your body is here, but your beautiful, vibrant essence is MIA. Find it. Life is short and frankly you’ve wasted a lot of it,”

“Alright, I get it. I’m on it. By the way, are you The Sun?” I ask the voice.

“Of course I’m The Sun, who else would I be?!”

For the love of God. I get one moment of lovely sunshine warming my face and now the actual sun is harassing me. Nice.

Staring at a tree whose pink buds are just starting to bloom, I suddenly feel like crying, but nothing happens.

Fucking anti-depressants.

Walking through the park I imagine myself twirling and dancing but I’m too self-conscious, even though there’s no one around. Wait, it’s a sunny day – why is there no one around?

“For the next half hour the park’s all yours, so use it!” The Sun bellows at me.

“Okayyyy!” I shout back.

Jesus.

I look around tentatively and then spread my arms wide and start twirling. Slowly, then faster, not whirling-dervish fast, but a joyful, awkward twirl like you might see in a Greta Gerwig film.

A 1980’s modern jazz move that I used to do in dance class pops into my head and soon I’m sailing through the air.

Oh I remember now. I remember this girl.

This girl had the kind of energy that drew people to her, she was an introverted extrovert. She needed days of solitude to recharge, but her energy force was electric and her light was dazzling. Not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that made others want to explore their own light.

This girl loved to laugh and she loved celebrating all of life’s beauty:

“I’ve never seen a coral Peony – my God it’s stunning!”

“Look at that handsome man wearing the 1940’s-style suit, how cool is he?!”

“Come here quick – check out the sunset. Can you believe those colors?!”

Oh yes – this girl – I know you!

I want you back. I’m so sorry I let you go. I’m so sorry I let people stomp on you. I’m so sorry I stopped believing in you.

But I’m here now and I want you to know that I’m grateful. For without you I’m just a shell of myself, like an oyster without a pearl.

I promise I won’t let anyone take you from me again.

I’ll twirl every day and leave a trail of sparkle behind me wherever I go. I will fall madly in love with myself and only those who encourage me to be radiant will be allowed in my sacred inner circle. And if anyone dares try to snuff you out again they will be sorry they ever met me.

I’m dancing for you right now – can you see me? It’s not a beautiful dance because I’m out of practice – but it’s all for you. I love you and I need you.

Please come back to me.

My entire body tingles and The Sun whispers in my ear:

“Good job girl, good job.”

I’m crying now, gorgeous gentle tears, that despite my anti-depressants have broken through. I feel like a 1960’s hippie who’s just experienced her first transcendental experience.

“Thank you,” I whisper to The Sun, “thank you.”

“The Sun Goddess,” an original painting by Wincy Xavier, At Saatchi Art.

The Edit

“What happened to our bookcase in the living room?” Jodie asked.

“I organized the books by color,” answered Lily.

“Well obviously, but why?”

“I watched this show on Netflix about organizing your home to create a calm and happy environment. I’m doing our bedroom closet next. Actually – this weekend I need you to go through your clothes and shoes and put stuff you don’t wear anymore into a bag for The Goodwill.”

Jodie debated whether it was worth arguing over this insane new obsession of Lily’s and decided against it. They had been navigating multiple rough patches lately and were long overdue for a smooth patch.

“Okay no problem,” she said, taking a sip of Cabernet.

The next day Jodie went through her side of the closet.

“You have thirty-three printed tunics,” Lily yelled from the living room. “You can probably get rid of a few of the older ones.”

Jodie didn’t say anything. Even though she was working from home because of the pandemic, a tunic over slim black pants was still her work uniform of choice and she didn’t want to part with any of them.

Resignedly she picked out her three least favorite and threw them in a giant blue recycling bag.

Lily was at the bedroom door now:

“Thanks babe, I really appreciate you doing this. Don’t forget you have a million maxi dresses at the back of the closet.”

Lord Give Me Strength.

The maxi dress section proved to be a landmine, each dress tagged with its own memory:

Jodie had worn the black floral one on their first date to a gallery opening. After flirting over art, they had shared a bottle of wine with oysters and frites at Bistro Figaro.

On their trip to Cape Cod, where they had kissed ice cream off each other’s lips, she had worn the flaxseed linen dress almost every day.

The olive tiered maxi she had bought for their two year anniversary dinner. Though her high heels had pinched her toes, the night had still been blissful.

Suddenly Jodie was sobbing. Sitting on the carpet she was struck by how old these joyful memories were. There were no recent joyful memories. It would be easy to blame the pandemic, but it wasn’t the virus’s fault. Prior to Covid Jodie had sensed a shift in their relationship, they had become more like roommates; the romance had disappeared.

When they first started dating Jodie had made it clear that romance was important to her. She loved getting flowers, walking hand in hand and any and all sweet gestures. Obviously the pandemic was stressful, but it wasn’t an excuse to ignore your partner’s needs. Plus, they didn’t have kids – not even a cat – so they had it much easier than others.

They had time for romance.

Jodie blew her nose then took half a Xanax from her bedside table. Back at her pile she chose three dresses for The Goodwill.

“I’m finished,” she yelled, leaving the bedroom to pour herself a glass of wine.

“Oh great thanks, now I can get to work. I bought all new hangers, clear bins and labels. And of course I will color-code the closet too.”

Jodie took a large sip of wine:

“Do you color code the black? Like lightest black to darkest black?” Jodie asked.

“Are you making fun of me?”

“No, just curious.”

“I don’t color code the black. Why are you drinking wine at three o’clock in the afternoon?”

“I’m self-medicating.”

“What’s wrong? Anything I can do to help?”

Jodie stared at her.

You can stop trying to fix our broken relationship by organizing our house.

“It’s just…a lot of beautiful memories came up when I went through the closet. I feel like I just gave away some of our happiest times to The Goodwill. And I’m worried that we’re not making any new happy memories.”

“You can’t put that kind of pressure on us, I mean we’re in the middle of a god damn pandemic. You’re too much of a romantic. Not everything is champagne and chocolate, sometimes it’s just peanut butter sandwiches.”

“Peanut butter sandwiches are fine, but not everyday. When was the last time we had sex? Do you even remember? Because I don’t.”

“Again with the pressure. We’re both working from home and we haven’t killed each other yet or died from COVID, so I’m scoring that as a win. We can have tons of sex once things calm down,” Lily said exasperated, walking to the bedroom to work on the closet.

Jodie took the bottle of wine and a bag of Ruffles to the living room couch. She grabbed a handful of chips and looked at them:

How do some of the chips stay perfectly intact while others get broken?

It turns out that Cabernet and Sour Cream and Onion potato chips were a thing. Like if she owned a restaurant every glass of red wine would be served with a small bowl of these chips.

Lily didn’t eat junk food of any kind. Instead she had her own shelf in their tiny pantry full of protein powders and vitamin mixes for her daily smoothies.

Jodie leaned back and tossed a few more chips in her mouth. If only her therapist hadn’t retired. What kind of a therapist retires during a pandemic?

“Come see what I’m doing,” shouted Lily from the bedroom.

Jodie sighed:

“Be there in a sec.”

She found Lily in a tweaked frenzy:

“See first you have to edit and purge – getting rid of stuff. Then it’s about containing. You can’t just have stuff loose in the closet, everything needs its own place and a label. Like your winter sweaters: they were in a messy pile on the shelf, but now they’re in this clear labeled bin, color-coded and contained.”

Leaning against the wall and sipping her wine, Jodie said:

“You know what else are messy? Feelings are messy. And feelings aren’t meant to be contained in a color-coded, labeled bin. Feelings are meant to be expressed and talked about.”

“What is your problem? I’m working hard to create a calm and happy environment for us by organizing our home and you’re not the least bit grateful.”

“No, I’m not. Because I didn’t ask you to do this. Because this doesn’t need doing. Because this is just another example of you trying to control everything, instead of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Can we talk about our fucking relationship instead of color-coding the closet please?!”

“What is there to talk about? We share a lovely home, we both have successful careers, we’re healthy…”

“That’s what you have to say about our relationship? Are you kidding me?! What about the fact that you know romantic gestures are important to me, yet you haven’t bought me flowers in over a year. We don’t hold hands anymore, we don’t make love anymore…”

“Honestly, you are so immature. The new variant is kicking our ass, Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin might blow up the world. Meanwhile you’re talking about us not holding hands? You’re acting like a spoiled teenager instead of a forty-two year old woman.”

Lily turned her back on Jodie and continued organizing their closet. Jodie watched as she used a sharpie to make a label:

“Sweatshirts.”

Back in the kitchen Jodie rinsed out her wine glass. Then she took one of their insulated food bags and filled it with cheese, bread, wine, chocolate, berries and coffee.

Taking a black sharpie from Lily’s bag of supplies in the hallway and a large-sized pad of paper from their office, she started printing words in giant block letters:

I LOVE YOU
BUT THIS RELATIONSHIP
IS NOT MEETING MY NEEDS.
IF PUTIN IS
GOING TO BLOW
US ALL UP
THEN I NEED
SOME ROMANCE
& JOY BEFORE
I DIE.

She put the papers in order and attached a paper clip. Grabbing a clear bin off the floor, she put the papers inside, then labeled the bin:

CHAMPAGNE & CHOCOLATES

Jodie gathered up two cloth masks, her charger, phone, laptop and purse, then ordered an Uber to drive her to the train station.

Two and a half hours later Jodie was at her grandmother’s country house. It was a shabby-chic oasis which her grandmother had left to her in her will – and it was Jodie’s favorite place on earth.

If Lily decided that their relationship was more important than color-coding t-shirts, then she would know where Jodie was.

If not, Jodie would be sad, but she would be okay. And she would live bin-free in the country. Maybe she would even get a cat.

Art by Hiroki_takeda1223 on Instagram

The Thief

Back in the mid-1980’s if you were a victim of sexual violence you hid it behind your stacked rubber Madonna bracelets and teased bangs. No one talked about it.

As a teenager in that era sex was a fraught issue for me. AIDS was front and centre in the 80’s making it scary. Also, my mother was a recovering Catholic, her internalized shame about sexuality passed down to me like a piece of heirloom jewelry.

When I was raped in high school I was still a virgin. I told no one about the assault and when my attacker gossiped that “he’d slept with me,” I brushed it off like it was no big deal.

The trauma quickly morphed into a skilled thief, stealing years of my life.

I didn’t have sex with anyone for the rest of high school. In my early twenties came a brief stage of boyfriends whom I slept with. The men were not worthy of me, but at the time they were all I felt I deserved. My broken psyche did not like what she was seeing though:

“You’re dating total losers, you’re on a precarious path!” she screamed.

Like the Goddess Artemis, my psyche was my protector. But since she was broken she didn’t know how to best take care of me. Fearing for my safety, she went a bit nuts and shut me down completely.

“No men, no dating, no sex!” she yelled.

So I spent 3/4 of my twenties and the first few years of my thirties single. I was like a flower that had been planted, started growing and then just before it could blossom a crazy gardener came along and put a giant terracotta pot on top of it – killing it.

Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with being single, but being single because of unresolved trauma is very different.

The trauma thief stole my entire early adulthood. Years meant for learning about myself and relationships. For making mistakes and exploring my sexuality. For learning how to trust my instincts and stand up for myself. For dating wannabe poets and having affairs with much older lovers. But I was completely Shut Down, so I lost an entire decade. Pouf!

I spent part of that decade in Austin, a city I loved. I made beautiful friendships and had a great job. But I spent most nights alone. No cute Austin musicians or Texas cowboys for me.

I still grieve for those lost years. Looking at photos of myself from that time I see such a lovely, lonely girl. Though I’m not a big believer in destiny, I do believe that had I seen a therapist during those years I would have stayed in Austin – that it actually was my destiny to stay there. I can totally see myself married, with a grown child, still living in Texas and fighting the Handmaid’s Tale tyranny of Governor Greg Abbott.

Since then I have had the luxury of being able to work with a couple of excellent therapists, but there will forever be a little nest of grief inside of me. I envision it like a small bird’s nest, but with some glittery grass, for even in my grief there is sparkle. There are no birds or eggs in the nest. It is empty, but pretty and it lives in my throat.

(In the ancient Indian text the Vedas, the throat chakra is associated with the ability to speak your personal truth.)

“Sanctuary” by artist Sarah Treanor

A Million Pieces

“So, Janet, how have you been feeling since our last session?”

“Broken.”

“In what way?”

“In what way do I feel broken? You know, like in the typical broken way. Like if you imagine a vase dropping to the floor and shattering into a million pieces. And then maybe imagine trying to bend down and pick up the pieces, but in doing so you cut both your hands and feet on the ceramic shards. So now you’re sitting on the floor surrounded by pieces of your favorite flea market vintage vase and you’re bleeding. The blood is staining the ceramic shards so that instead of their pale oatmeal color they are turning a light rose shade. And as you’re sitting there in pain, both because you lost your favorite vase and because you now have cuts – and because you feel broken – you realize that you actually like the light rose color. So you think about just continuing to sit on the floor and allowing your blood to stain all the pieces of the vase. Because this rose color, it’s so much prettier.”

“I see. Well, that doesn’t sound too good.

“Nope.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard about the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi? The art of putting broken pieces of pottery back together with gold? It’s built on the idea that in embracing imperfections you can create an even stronger and more beautiful piece of art. Does that idea resonate with you at all?”

“No.”

“Why do you think it doesn’t resonate with you?”

“Well, first of all I don’t have any gold to repair the vase with. Second of all, I’m kind of like bleeding out on the floor, so I don’t really have the energy to repair anything.”

“I understand. I’m very concerned about you feeling broken. Are you having any suicidal thoughts?”

“You mean like taking the broken ceramic pieces and plunging them into my neck or heart?”

“Yes. Or, any other type of suicidal thoughts.”

“Not really. I’m too drained from feeling broken to take any action, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“Okay. Remember in our last session I asked you to keep a Joy Journal? Have you written down any moments of joy from the last two weeks?”

“Let me check…My favorite bakery gave me an extra cupcake, so like I paid for one but got two. I don’t know if that qualifies, but I did write it down.”

“Good. What else?”

“I discovered an affordable eye cream that works just as well as the expensive one I was using.”

“Very good. What else?”

“I saw a very pretty red bird on the bush outside my house.”

“A cardinal?”

“What?”

“Was the bird a cardinal?”

“I don’t know. It was just a pretty red bird.”

“Excellent. What else?”

“That’s it.”

“Nothing else?”

“No. I mean as I told you at the beginning of the session I’ve been feeling broken. So my life hasn’t exactly been joy-packed.”

“Yes, totally makes sense. Listen Janet I have an idea, if you’re open to it.”

“What is it?”

“Let’s pick up all the broken pieces, one at a time. And you name each piece – for instance grief or loneliness – then we’ll explore the emotions that come up for you.”

“I’m open to that. I mean we’re going to be picking up like a bazillion pieces, but okay. I just have one request.”

“What is it?”

“The Joy Journal has got to go.”

Dr. Finkelstein smiled.