Foster Home #2: The Well Intended Couple

*This is an excerpt from a longer essay titled, “Into the System.” (W.I.P.)


They live in a rich community, and they can’t get pregnant. They feel sorry for me. They bear a vision of how I will be, with just a little polish and shine.

Their house looks like a furniture brochure. I look like a dust ball on their carpet. Stephanie takes me shopping. Blouses and pantyhose. A haircut and new earrings.

I get my own room upstairs, so clean and white. I can’t relax. I tip toe to the bathroom. I steal salami from the refrigerator.

I dream that they will adopt me and we’ll go on exotic vacations. They’ll fix me, and I’ll be their daughter. The child they couldn’t have.

Stephanie instructs me how to make lemon meringue pie. We talk. My voice sounds thick and unwieldy in the stainless steel kitchen. I strive to dazzle her with my charm and wit. I’m obedient. I’m a quick study. I’m worth keeping.

Sometimes I make her laugh. Sometimes I think she likes me.

I stay away from Bob. I don’t want to be alone with him, just in case. He works all the time. I wonder if I’m here as Stephanie’s project. I don’t mind.

Things are looking good for me.

She lets me have a sleepover. I show my friends around, proud. See what I landed. See how big my room is. See my new pretty family with sophisticated tastes. They are my family now, all mine. I get comfortable.

I get careless.

I want to be good for Stephanie. But I can’t tame my hair. Or my anger. Or my crying jags. I can’t smile all the time. I’m not organized. I’m not obedient. All the nice stuff they give me does not cover up the dents and dings.

I sense her disappointment. She is pulling away from me, finding new ways to occupy her time. I hide in the bathroom. I steal cold hot dogs from the refrigerator.

After school, I find the Social Worker on the couch with Stephanie. Stephanie has some issues. She has some concerns. You don’t clean your room, Stephanie says. You don’t use soap in the bath, she says.

I used the gel, I say. That’s for shaving legs, she says.

I’m sorry, I say.

She’s talked it over with the Social Worker. They think I would do better somewhere else. They are not the right people for me. I panic and beg. I plead until I run out of breath. I promise a spotless room and a clean body and perfect grades and the right attitude, anything if I can just stay.

One more day, I cry.

Go get your things, they say.

But I have no things to bring.




Remember These Things

I don’t know why I remember what I was wearing: tie-dye tank top and loose shorts past my knees no bra no shoes I went barefoot everywhere and that day the bus was empty I sat in the back just one long seat taking up too much space looking out the window smudged from greasy foreheads or fingers maybe a little girl’s head pressed against glass making hearts with peanut butter and strawberry jam hands? And that was the day my breast was sore from tiny marks around my aureole left by his braces. Train tracks he called them. It wasn’t love but it was fun and the bus hit a bump an empty beer can rattle-rolled back and forth in time with my belly sick and dizzy and full of fear I remember that rattle but I don’t know why.

I don’t know why I remember falling on the sidewalk, I just do, I do remember it solid cold grating against my cheek like a five o’clock shadow all those pebbles green and silver and yellow and tan making white concrete when you’re standing upright and I needed to be upright and not facedown tonguing the ground so I pushed myself back up into the world. It was a quiet day a perfect sunshine day a tiny breeze ever refreshing and all the quaint houses with their little green yards and beds of bright poppy flowers and sprinklers tick-ticking away a lovely neighborhood so lovely and not mine, I remember now it was the wrong bus stop and if there was a reason, I don’t know why.

I don’t know why I remember these things.

I don’t know why I remember these things about my mother: tarot cards, skinny jeans, a roach clip, a cigarette ember, white musk, a suitcase and a gun. She called me pumpkin. She divided my dark hair on each side to yank and braid and smooth and tie to perfection. My friends had a secret club they wrote her love letters and when she read them she smiled, happy for once. I remember swimming all day long, no I rode my bike all day long riding over to their houses to eat their food to take a bath in their tub to try on their clothes, play their games, any games they had so many like race cars, teddy bears, baby dolls, soccer balls, family nights, movie nights, please let me stay the night! Let me go camping with you! Let me go to the amusement park with you! I’ll even go to church! I remember a night at one house frozen on the hardwood floor no pillows or blankets or room on the bed and their house creaked so scary the shadows like claws on the walls wishing for my room my bed my mom I loved her so much I wrote her love letters, I remember. I remember my love red hot a terrible inferno.

I don’t know why I remember the bus number: 58. Route 58 from Boulder to Lafayette and back again every half hour from 6 a.m. to midnight except Saturday and Sunday good luck finding a ride then. It was the right bus the wrong bus stop. I had a little cry on the ground and heaved myself back into the world. Bold colors everywhere even on my ugly tie-dye. I wandered through the stupid fucking streets with the crappy little houses full of asshole people. The heat oppressive and my heart jackknifing in time with my heavy feet. Then there was the rattle in my pocket my fingers rolling back and forth across the label the scratch of fingernail to paper and plastic a ball of lint caught between my pinky and ring finger. Why would I remember that? Or how it was bright enough to want sunglasses and hot enough to want water and easy enough to swallow a bottle of pills all cotton mouthed and chalky throated and kids playing in the park, kids laughing and moms watching and dads working and all the people doing all their things and I told myself to remember it, I told myself…

…I don’t want to remember this next part.

Why I remember. Out of all the things I could remember: I wasn’t wearing a bra. I had no shoes. That my legs were hairy and I wanted to say sorry. That they were going to find the train tracks: it wasn’t love but it was fun. Everything was white lights and needles and loud machines: their hands, my head. My head especially firecrackers of blooming white flash bulbs of emergency crowding around me with distant voices and solemn faces looming full of slurred and silly gibberish. What a nonsense thing to remember but I do doctors and nurses and interns and my mother off camera and I was there too!  I was there black coal fizzing out of my throat the tube so cruel to my tongue and sucking up a swirling mess sick like on a swaying ship and no balance (no bra!)I’m choking on ocean I reach for the air, or wait— I grabbed for the rail—it was metal I think, no, no—it was a wet noodle it was a fish I couldn’t catch it was a pinprick in my arm and it was a little red balloon no a little green monster no it was blurry blubbery snotty fear no more voices no more white I hear them fuzzy through a tin can and I remember the earthquake feeling a terrible shaking a volcano ripping me like an inferno a tidal wave a bitter black heart that only I could see.

*This Essay was published in the March 2017 issue of Indiana Voice Journal. Check it out!

A Letter to My Therapy Group

Dear Group,

This illness has been my single most defining force, whether I wanted it to be or not. It has destroyed the last decade of my life, aged me beyond my years, worn me out and separated me from people I loved and from people who might’ve loved me back. It has always chosen the hard path, the path of most resistance, the quick escapes and easy ways out. It has shrunken my brain, widened my body, sagged my cheeks and dulled my eyes. It has stolen me from myself, stolen my time here on earth. It has been cruel. It has been unforgiving.

I sit here today, one hot mess.

I have been on medication now for two years, a.k.a. “managing my illness.” Progress has been slow. Before I finally admitted my illness and accepted help for it, I spent 10 years sequestered in my apartment. I’d go weeks without leaving or talking to anyone other than my husband. He was my only friend and my only family. Everyone else had abandoned me, some of them for a good reason. I simply did not feel like I deserved to be alive. I felt like I had failed as a human, and it was important to keep myself away from people so that I wouldn’t hurt them, and so they wouldn’t hurt me.  Isolation was my self-medication. It was my truth, my life, and my slow, tortured attempt at suicide.

Things have changed in the last two years. I am not constantly in the grip of my illness and medication has created a window of opportunity to think before I react, a skill impossible for people with bipolar to master without help and practice.  I have done a lot of healing and learning.  I am starting to want things for myself, and sometimes I even feel *gasp* hope.

I am better now, but here is the thing I need to share with you:  I am full of fear, and in spite of help and medication, I am continuing to punish myself through isolation. I recognize that I am at the stage in my recovery where I need to forgive myself, and rejoining the world is part of that process. But, group, my heart still believes that I don’t deserve life, friends, family, or a chance at some kind of self-fulfillment. I am paralyzed by the notion that I am unlikable, that I won’t be accepted, and that I have nothing to offer the world or myself.

It’s been so long since I’ve had relationships with other people. I am afraid that I will manipulate and hurt and sabotage them like I did so long ago. I am afraid to connect to people, feel close to them, go through the good and bad of what relationships have to offer.  I am afraid to find out that, even with the illness managed, I am simply not a worthwhile person.  That I am too needy to be a good friend. So far, I have not found a way to forgive myself, and I’m afraid I will never be able to figure out how to do so. It’s an infuriating and willful place to be.

That’s where I am, group. I’m lonely, I’m scared, I don’t really know who I am without the grip of mental illness defining my personality.

Thanks for listening,

Amy                                                                                                                      June 12, 2012 

(found while cleaning my desk)

*Photo Credit: Porsche Linn

Excerpt from 2016 Pacific Crest Trail Journal

*Earlier this year, I backpacked 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (A 2,660-mile trail from Mexico to Canada.) The plan was to hike the entire distance, but I did not make it. Here is a journal entry from Day 7. Interested in reading more?(Bonus: I met a nudist hiker a few weeks in) Day 1 PCT 2016 I may share more here as I rummage through my journal, reminisce, and try to talk myself into trying again in 2017. It would be my third attempt. As Churchill says: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

(Day 7: March 20, 2016)

The trek from Chariot Canyon to Scissors Crossing was my final day on the trail last year, and it was an extremely painful 15 miles. I have regaled Aaron with stories about how the elevation profile for this part is a dirty LIAR and that we will go up for HOURS instead of a lackadaisical DOWN like the profile PROMISED. Of course, my memory is tainted with the amount of pain I was in. I remember the traverse of granite mountain as hellish, and the flat, crazy hot,  going-the-wrong-direction trail to the underpass as hell’s middle finger aimed at you when you turn your back. (Yes, I know hell has no fingers.)

What happens is: we wake up at dawn, tumble out of our tent with sleepy eyes, try to get water without waking up some hikers that came in the night, super- bandage all the blisters, click our packs, and take deep breaths. “This will be HORRIBLE,” I tell Aaron. And so we go.

And it’s….not so bad. The fact that it’s early morning and in the shade helps. A lot. “Just wait, suddenly we’re gonna go STRAIGHT UP,” I keep saying, but it never happens. Steep parts, sure. Hard? Yes; pretty much the whole trail is hard for me. But it’s not the monster that has plagued me for a year. “Whew, hard.” Aaron says when we reach the top, but I think he’s just protecting my ego. “Blisters, pain, so thirsty…” I mumble, a little shame-faced.

Thirst has been catching up, btw. We bring enough water, but not ENOUGH water, right? This morning I woke up a little horse. And water seems to be popping into unrelated thoughts more and more. Showing up in song lyrics. When Aaron tries to get me to play “What we’ll eat in Julian”, I can only conjure visions of water pouring from a pitcher.

We reach the flat, last few miles to Scissors Crossing. It’s so long. The dirt is burning my feet, expanding them, turning the skin into bubbles of future pain. And the trail goes the wrong way. Then changes its mind and cuts back along the road. Hot. Hot. Hot. Water.

We have water. But we don’t count on caches, so we mete it out because we will dry camp tonight. Yet both of us are secretly wishing: Please let there be water at Scissors crossing. Pretty please. We cross the street before the underpass, and spot some plastic hidden in the bushes. We rummage through them. “Nothing.” Aaron says, disappointed. Then I see it. “There!” I shout. One single, glimmering, beautiful 19oz bottle of fresh, glorious water. “Let’s share.” we gulp it down in minus 1 second. Oh, man. that’s the stuff.


Finally at the Scissors, we find water, La Croix sparkling water, shade and cell service. Again, I marvel at strangers so going out of their way to help other strangers. We lounge in the shade like kings, taking pictures, texting, napping and making our customary stupid jokes. We do drink some of the water there, but don’t refill because others might need it more. It’s a fantastic break. Last year, when I got here, my feet were bloody and gross. Now they’re just….gross. Blisters, but not get-off-the-trail blisters. Not yet. Hopefully never.

It’s 3 and the hottest day, it feels like. But we want to head up into the San Felipe Hills. The trail looks daunting, how it hugs the side of the mountain, cutting steep-looking zig-zags up the slope. Oh well, let’s go.


We cross the street and it’s like the desert instantly changes. There are all these alien-looking cacti everywhere. Things are stark. Things want to poke. Yet they are also blooming, giving mixed messages. And we are climbing, climbing, it’s windy and steep and never ending. It’s scary. But gorgeous. We are so far above Scissors Crossing. Did it even exist? Were we actually there? Maybe we’ve always been here, forever climbing.

The sun hits that magical hour where colors are enhanced, everything is super saturated and my heart swells with the beauty I am in the midst of. We find a campsite off the trail that feels like we are nowhere near civilization. It’s just us and red rocks, plants ever aiming their needles at us, a purple-pink sunset spreading over us while a blueish-white moon patiently waits for her entrance cue.





It’s Time to Have an Uncomfortable Conversation With You

I wish there were a way I could talk to you. Somehow skirt around all the buzzwords and inflammatory memes. Avoid the phrases that cause you to relegate real events to political discussions, instead of arousing your sleeping sense of indignity at what is crushing the soul of our country and our humanity.  I want to loosen that tight grip you have on your heart, for you are strangling yourself. You are becoming cold and numb. The tighter you clamp your heart shut, the more you are constricting blood flow to your brain. Emotion has to go through your heart to get to your mind. Insight requires migration through your mind and back down to your heart. It is the circulatory system of knowledge. Knowing what is just and what is unreasonable.

You need to be affected by these deaths. You need to be affected by how we have all been failed by the people we put into a role of authority. Those whom wield power must be held to a higher standard. If they choose to accept the role of authority, they also accept scrutiny. They need to be smarter than us, quicker to glean the crux of a situation, and slower to react to heightened emotional provocation. This is a fair expectation—for our people in power to live up to the badge we have given them.  I know you feel resistive but think of all the other areas where you easily conjure up the expectation of justice and fairness: business, money. The government. We all inherently want the system to be scrupulous and unbiased. We want the institutions to work they way we’ve been told they do.

I feel that you, especially, are quite equipped to stand up to this flawed establishment. You are just as skeptical of authority as the ones in which you currently seem unable to commiserate. I even wonder why you aren’t the loudest of all of us: demanding change, reform. Accountability. I wonder why you don’t feel manipulated by the smooth talkers whispering in your ear and pitting you against your people. Yes, your people: Americans. Humans. Perhaps they contribute to your unwillingness to recognize abuse within an institution you hold up as honorable.

What can I say to you that won’t make you defensive? I want to tell you to look at your family. Your children. Envision them getting pulled over and something going horribly wrong. Imagine the phone call informing they are dead. The loss of control. The terror. The inability to change the outcome. It’s not a political thing. It’s not an ideological platform or an agenda or an opinionated debate point. It’s not even who is right or wrong. It’s just you, and your dead child. You can connect to that, right? Take out the rhetoric, and you can relate, right? Can you loosen your opinions, your vice-like grip even a little bit, and let in the shock of bitter loss? I want to believe you can.

I’d like to ask you to empathize. Just a little. Picture living in a community where no one looks like you. A community that has been told to fear you. And you have been told to fear them. Please don’t make arguments or conjectures. Just picture it. Feel uncomfortable, feel anxious about how you are perceived. I wonder if you need to experience this ‘difference’ to find common ground. Proximity can often breed compassion. I don’t know how else to counter the very human urge to believe that one’s opinions about the world are truth. That how things are for you are how they are for everyone. They are not. Acknowledging that on a fundamental level is not betraying your traditions or your politics or your way of life. It is a neutral acknowledgment. It is part of being a real person.

My guess is that deep down, you are scared. Scared of guilt and blame. Scared that wounds we were taught in school to think of as healed, might not be. You want to believe that our civil wars are over, and you don’t want to consider that you might be wrong. You’re scared to make room for all the different points of view, because what will that mean for you? Your perspective has been the main perspective for a long time. You haven’t truly been challenged like this before. You haven’t had to experience open hostility or judgment over things you can’t control. Like the color of your skin. Your motives haven’t been questioned so vocally that it has become part of the tapestry of our current cultural mood. But you need this growing pain. People are asking you to recognize the wound; that even if you can’t see it, trust that it is there. Because it is making us ill.

I can’t seem to figure you out. I’m confounded by your refusal to look and see what is happening. I’m often embarrassed, and I’m tempted to write you off and name you hopeless. But maybe that you feel fear is a good step. I say go into that fear. Feel uncomfortable. Be the unfavored group. Allow yourself to see what it is like to be characterized. Maybe it’s just finally your turn.

I’d like to consider you as able to be brave and grow, that you can be touched by the ordeal of others, you can do what I am doing now: trying to understand you. I am trying to see the flawed, yet generally good person that you surely are. I am trying to acknowledge your fears and motivations, trying to be kind and gentle with them. I’m telling you: loosen that death grip on your heart and you will feel a kind of relief. You will watch those videos and cry. You will hear that audio and want to tear your heart out. You will mourn our collective loss and hang your head in our collective despair. Come, and join us.


Forming a Writing Habit in 6 Easy Steps: Carnanan Smithee is Here to Help

If you want to find the perfect system for producing the best words, don’t listen to other people. They’ll just feed you a lot of words. I say, don’t eat them! I have even tastier words right here, and I’m willing to put them on a tiny, rectangular plate and serve them to you on a table made of pallet boards and metal pipes, like at the cool café you take your parents to make them feel uncomfortable. Smithee is more than glad to make you uncomfortable and also show you the one true way to form a habit out of that dastardliest of drugs: writing. So listen. And listen carefully:


When I write, I load my fingers with the finest fake Cuban cigar I can find at BevMo and sip a glass of scotch on the rocks. Oh, I don’t smoke cigars. And I drink chardonnay, not scotch. And writing isn’t really about smoking cigars or fancy drinks, either. It’s about giving the impression to all whom might be looking through your window that you are a very serious writer currently lost in deep thought. When I am feeling especially writerly, I’ll don a deerstalker cap to accentuate my spectacles, tobacco pipe, and big, big brain. If you’re too dim to remember anything else, at least remember always to dress for the story you want to write.


Stop writing all your junk longhand on pieces of college-ruled binder paper like a school girl with a crush on her P.E. teacher. Oh, I know all the hacks who count say to do this. I say, hogwash! Have you ever seen a computer? Buy one! You can type to your heart’s delight and then edit everything when you realize you suck. Can you do that if you write your book on a piece of paper? No! There is absolutely no way to change anything once you’ve committed ink to paper, so just stay away from that bad mojo at all cost. Most importantly, when you are out and about and your brain stumbles like a drunkard on your next big idea, remember never to write it down anywhere unless it’s on a computer.


Special Smithee Creative Prompt: Drive immediately to the nearest Costco and purchase a package of index cards. Make sure to buy bulk, so you are saving tons of money because you are a broke writer newb. Unwrap the package and then start scribbling whatever words pop into your head on each card. Don’t think, just write. Commit ink to paper. No erasing. The past is pointless! Move forward. Always move forward. Once you have filled out every single card, set it aside. Take some time for yourself. Maybe a bath, or a nice little gardening session. Then head back to your cracked kitchen table and sit on your wobbly chair. Look at what you’ve created. These are your writing prompts. Every time you are writing and get stumped for more than ten seconds, pull a card from the deck and use it to lubricate your brain. You’re welcome! Also, it’s good to keep in mind that I make more money than you.


Schedule. Schedule. Schedule. Some so-called professionals will tell you that you can write whenever you “feel” inspired. What’s all this hippie gobbledygook? Guess what, if that’s true, then you will never write! Feelings are for teeny, tiny, sad little wimpy types. Inspiration doesn’t knock on people’s doors and offer them a giant check with lots of zeroes on it. How can this be? You might be wondering to yourself while you sit there in your snug sweatpants and an unwashed t-shirt. Well, Smithee once waited by the door to get knocked up by inspiration, and it never happened. Now Smithee keeps a rigorous schedule and never strays from it EVER. Here’s the schedule you need to be a successful writer: Wake up. Eat breakfast. Read the newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit down on a chair outside and take a break for one hour. Eat lunch. Read a different newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for two hours. Write for two hours. Eat dinner. Sit on another chair for one hour. Drink a cocktail. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Write for two hours. Read a book. Sleep. If you can’t keep this schedule, do not write EVER. Don’t wait for inspiration to knock you up, hippie. Take the initiative to go out there and knock inspiration up.


Self-talk. How you talk to yourself is important. If you say the wrong things to yourself, you will not succeed. You will fail. Miserably. Every morning when I wake up, I look at myself in my gold-plated bathroom mirror, and I say the following: “Today is the most important day of your life. Do not fuck this up or you will fail, and there will be no way to recover from it EVER.” Always say this eight times, just in case.

 I hope these pointers have been helpful to all you young, wannabe Smithees out there in internet land! Happy writing to you!

Love Doctor 3

Author Bio: Carnanan Smithee, the world’s Author Auteur, wields their keyboard like a scalpel ready to cut the flesh off words. Born to write, Smithee is doing the unthinkable: writing to write the good write. They are the quintessential Writer’s Writer, impregnating the world with stories and birthing a legacy via C-section. They also have two ferrets and love ginseng lollipops.






Writing Advice From Carnanan Smithee: The Writer’s Writer


Love Doctor 3

Smithee Says: “Thise who can’t write, do.”







Hello, I am the world renowned Author Auteur, Carnanan  Smithee ( you may know me from my multitude of amazing ebooks, like: “Luscious Lust and the Bodacious Bust” or “That Scary Time Something Happened!”, among others), and I have some news for you: Just because you write a good story, it doesn’t mean much ado about nothing if you haven’t written a good Intro. Your first paragraph should be as exact and enticing as that last piece of spam you accidentally clicked on because, yeah…it was that good.

You need to establish mood and setting, ASAP. Do not be afraid to go big. Lay it all out there, adjectives, adverbs- just go for it. Remember, readers can be pretty dim, so you have to S P E L  it out for them.

Don’t forget about the rules! The rules are always important. But sometimes you have to break the rules. But you don’t have to waste your time learning rules if you don’t want to. It’ll either come naturally or it won’t. This is very important, whether you follow the rules or break them: Make sure your intro is good. If your intro is bad: People. Will. Just. Know.

So, get out your thinking caps.

Here is an example of a good Intro:

It was a dark and stormy night. The moon lit up the stormy night. But the night was dark still. Still, it was a special night. A night for ghosts and voodoo and merrymaking, and stuff like that. But it was a night for you and me, too. And a night where maybe your Mom might have a heart attack. You know, like that kind of night. An anything-could-happen-tonight type thing. Even sex. And the night had a lot of howling wind. And that made it look like the night was crying. It was a good set up for nighttime intrigue and murder mystery thriller. Like for a moment, the rain stopped and the dark night sky was a killer, and the moon was a bloody eye. So there was a foreboding feel to it all. Then the storm came back, harder than ever. And so it began.

An alternate, more subversive Intro:

The night was dark. The night was moody. There was a feeling in the air that affected the night oh so much, a dark, moody feeling that can only happen in the night. People were walking, as was bound to happen on any regular old night, but this was no “regular” night. This was irregular, like a sandwich cut into three pieces, or a salad with only jicama and sprouts. But who were these people? Where were they going? What kinds of “thoughts” were pervading their tiny, puny human brains? That mattered no more than what the pathetic ants were carrying on their backs, because, at that exact moment in time, fate was at work. And fate is one cruel bitch if you try to stand in her way.

There you have it, folks. Learn a little, why don’t ya?!  Smithee out.






Sleepy Seeds

I love to watch my animals sleep. I have three of them, two cats and a dog. They all have strong and particular personalities. There’s Seven the cat, who struts through the halls with a John Wayne swagger and a caterwaul made of sand paper and bourbon. But when I find her asleep in her little red house, with her perfect black nose resting on her mitten-white front paws, she looks so delicate it’s heart-breaking.

There’s also Sammy the Love Kitten. “Love Kitten” because she reminds me of Nermal from the Garfield cartoon: an impossibly cute kitten that bullies with her affection. Sammy will be limp as a rag doll in our laps, begging for pets, and then harass Seven around the house when she thinks no one sees. Once curled up on her cat condo, though, she’s different. Her whiskers tremble with fitful dreams, and she peeps like a tiny bird fallen from its nest. Mew? Mew?  She asks her unanswerable questions. It’s a little sad, and a lot adorable.

Newest to our family is Nisa, a gorgeous, three-year-old German Shepherd we adopted and who is intent on herding us with her intense eyes. She is a somber animal; she didn’t even wag her tail the first six months we had her. Serious and alert, Nisa is slow to offer affectionate demonstration, which is probably why her sleeping face slays me so. Soft. Delicate. Almost angelic. Her sleep is deep and peaceful; I can see the sweet puppy she once was before life taught her how to be anxious.

Studying my husband, Aaron, while he sleeps doesn’t fill me with the same affection that my sleeping animals do. The lack of expression of his features disturbs me. It’s as if the thing that makes him him is absent. He’s just a stranger, or a body, a creature. Even worse: a machine, downloading and updating. I ’m being forced to recognize identity is nothing but a construct, that the “Aaron” I know is really a face on the green screen while his brain –the wizard behind the curtain –toggles switches and performs illusions.

I’m a terrible sleeper; I toss and turn most nights, especially when Aaron snores. There are people out there who have said that when their life partners die, they can’t sleep at night because they miss their partner’s snoring. This is hard for me to picture. Aaron’s snoring is half trumpet, and half asphyxiated duck. Unfortunately, it is easy for me to picture him dead, and I spend ample time torturing myself over it. I specifically focus on how I wouldn’t have him around in which to share the experience of his death. I wouldn’t be able to tell him what having your spouse die on you is like.

I don’t think I could survive his death, so I want to die before he dies. It makes me feel guilty, though, that if I get my way, my death will burden him with the loss of a loved one. I have a profound urge to protect him from everything. I prize his sheltered upbringing, complete with a life of little adversity or deep scarring. I don’t want him to know true, haunting pain; probably because I’ve had such a rough go of it. Living with me is as close as he needs to get to how cruel life can be for a person.

Nights are when I am most tuned in to how short life is. Or, better yet, how long death is. I don’t want anyone I know ever to die. The lack of control panics me. The injustice. I conjure the faces of those I love and obsessively hex them with impending death, like a morbid lullaby. To my animals: Someday soon you will die, and I will have to live without you. My husband: You will die and no longer exist. My In-laws: You are going to be dead for eternity! And myself: Life is a conveyor belt to death. You are going to blink out. No more you. When the agonizing recitation finally abates, only then can I fall asleep; hands balled into fists, tear-stained face buried in the pillow, cheeks as red as a toddler exhausted from their tantrum.

I started thinking for a while that I may not be able to prevent death, but there is a way I can lessen how directly it affects me: by loving as little as possible. No love equals no loss. If I didn’t have these cats, this dog, this man at my side, I wouldn’t have to contend with losing them. Then I wouldn’t carry this future hurt. Then I could sleep at night like a normal person. It’s a tempting notion. But I had another thought: what if, instead of loving as little as possible, I love as much as possible? Spread it around. Love far and wide. Feel so much love, for so many, that it thwarts some of the incapacitating pain that death and loss bring?

There is no answer, obviously. I can love. I can not love. Either way, there will be death. And death will always bring out the youngest, simplest, most basic, clichéd emotion in me: “Not fair! Not fair!”

Bad sleeping habits aside, I am a terrific napper. I can nap for an hour mid-day and wake up like I’ve gotten a full night’s rest. There are days where my whole household takes naps together on our giant king size bed. The animals curl up on opposite corners, never leaving quite enough space for Aaron and me. So we stretch out along the edge of the bed, and I spoon him. When he starts to trumpet, usually I curl my feet up and jab them into his back until he stops. But these days I just let him snore. I listen carefully, taking in every snork and slrggg and blrrrrt. Remember this; I tell myself. Someday you may need to miss it.






Mornings and Mom

Mom stopped participating in school mornings around first grade when we still lived in Boulder. One morning, I woke up groggy-eyed to find a note next to an empty bowl on the kitchen table. I’m not helping you get ready for school anymore, the note said. Fix your own hair. Make your own breakfast. Just like that. No explanations, just an abrupt end to what had been ritual for years. She had always been diligent in making sure I looked well cared for when I went to school. She’d comb through my long dark hair and twist it into creative braid ensembles. She’d pick out my clothes: cute dresses my Gramma had sewn, cute black shoes bought on sale at Payless. Now that was over. I sat at the kitchen table, crunching Corn Flakes, hoping my mom would change her mind.

Later, when we moved to Lafayette, mornings became dangerous minefields that I just could not navigate. A step in any direction and BOOM! I was a natural at finding the thing that would set my mother off. She usually wouldn’t wake up until 8:30 or 9 am, and hearing her come up the stairs induced immediate anxiety and jaw clenching. In what mood would she be? Angry quiet, angry sad, or angry angry?

One time she threw the sugar bowl at me. I thought I had covered all the potential grievances that waited in the kitchen: coffee made, dishwasher emptied, cats fed, sink cleaned, dishcloth rinsed and folded crisply on the divider. She came up the stairs and made her way to the kitchen, a frown already set on her face. Not a good sign. I could hear her coffee cup clang against the counter, followed by a heavy sigh. I braced myself. Despite my best efforts, a fuse had been lit.

“What is wrong with you, you ungrateful little brat,” she said, striding toward me so fast, I barely had time to sidestep the hurled sugar bowl aimed at my chest. It banged into the stereo speaker and fell to the hardwood floor, spraying glass and sugar in every direction. I clambered down the stairs to my room before she could wreak any more havoc on me. Damn, I thought, the sugar bowl. I hadn’t considered the sugar bowl because it had been half full. I should’ve topped it off. Coffee, dishwasher, cats, sink, dishcloth, SUGAR, I repeated to myself. After all those lost battles, I still thought I could find the right strategy to win the war.

It’s been years since I’ve lived with my mother, yet my jaw still involuntarily clenches when I hear the sound of footsteps coming upstairs. When my husband walks heavily in the house, I’ll say, “Shhhhh! Don’t walk so loud!” You might wake her.


Mother and Daughter: An (In)Complete History of (Almost) Suicide

One of my earliest memories is this: Sitting in the passenger seat of an old, beat-up blue Volkswagen, tracing a raindrop with my finger as it slides down the window and swallows up other raindrops along the way. My bare feet don’t yet touch the floor. I’m barely tall enough to see the gray world outside. My pajamas are twisted up, cutting a red line into my neck. My mother’s boyfriend opens the door and ponderously shoves a wastebasket full of my socks into the back seat. He is a bear of a man; I adore him, but he can be scary. This morning he is scary. Just sitting next to him brings anxious tears to my eyes.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to some people. You’re going to live with them now.” He forces the car in gear, and we begin to drive away.

“Where is my mom?” I cry, a keening sound too big for my small body.

“Who the hell knows. Probably going to the ocean to drown,” he looks at me. “She doesn’t want you anymore. Now shut it.”



Long before my thoughts of suicide, I was living with my mom’s thoughts of suicide. Her daydreams, fixations, and passive wishes to be non-existent constantly loomed over me. “You know what happens when we die?” she asked me right before my first day of the 1st grade. “Nothing. There is nothing after death. We are a candle snuffed out. No heaven. No reincarnation. We just cease to be.” I froze with fear at the cold, wistful tone in her voice. Like an anchor in my heart, it stuck with me that any moment, my mom could whisk herself away, make herself gone, and I was powerless to stop it.

Her preoccupation kept her unreachable. She locked herself in her room for hours. I’d wait tensely upstairs, watching T.V., unable to help her, unable to leave. Later she smoked her joints and told me her plans. “As soon as you’re eighteen….” she confided, letting the rest of the sentence fall between us.

“You’re the only reason I’m still alive,” she told me other days. Spoken as if to suggest my life had thankfully saved hers, but I heard the trace of resentment hidden underneath the platitude. It was my fault that my mom had to continue to live. Stuffed to the brim with guilt and fear, I’d hide in my room, full of my own resentments. Full of my own budding urges to cease to be.

Holding suicide as a viable option to end suffering was normalized for me. I didn’t question it. I embodied it. When I lived in foster care for the first time, I hoarded the single razor allotted to each girl to shave their legs; hid it under the bunk bed to bring out on those rare moments when I was alone. I traced my veins with the sharp edge the same way I’d traced raindrops on a car window long ago.

The older I got, the stronger the compulsion to tempt death became. At sixteen, newly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and armed with prescription medication, I stalked my ex-boyfriend and pushed his anger triggers relentlessly until he shouted what I unconsciously sought to hear: I don’t want you anymore. He left me at the bus stop, where I swallowed a whole bottle of Nortriptyline. I called my mother, who drove me to the emergency room and flicked my ear every time I tried to close my eyes. “Stay awake,” she murmured over and over. When the doctors pumped my stomach, I went into a seizure and almost died.

The only way I knew how to cope with the burden of my illness and the incessant need for destruction was to follow my mom’s example: become a ghost. I shut the world out. Cut off connections to people, places, things. Experiences. I was haunting my life.

Once, I stood on a bluff over the ocean and was hypnotized by the murky depths below. The pull to just let go, let my body go slack and fall passively into the water, was almost irresistible. It frightened me. How am I so untethered, I wondered, why is the veil between death and me so very fragile? I thought of my mother, how her experience of my earliest memory must’ve been. Did she stand above a bluff like this one? Did she feel a similar impetus to collapse and swan dive into the water? Was she filled with this same heavy sadness? Maybe we were born with a biological imperative to snuff our corrupted line of DNA out. Maybe we were made to self-implode.

With that thought in mind, I went home to sit in a warm bath with a razor at my wrist. I felt under a spell. It would be a suicide that represented all the clichés: relief, revenge, a gift to all those whom would be better off without me. This suicide is inevitable, I thought. This suicide was decided before I was born. I waited it out, teeth clenched, knuckles white, until the moment released me. I was alive, after all. No suicide. No death. Just myself, alone in a tub.

I found out something that day: I didn’t want to die. Suicide was not a ‘truth’ I held dear. It was more a combination of faulty wiring and thinking I assimilated when I was young. With help and effort, I have learned to distinguish between my own, actual beliefs and that other voice that is just a misfire occurring in my brain. Not so for my mother. When I tell her these things, that there is hope, that we do not need to stand so close to the cliff, she doesn’t believe me. She’s still stuck in her moment, flirting with death, unable to tear herself away.

*This essay was published in March 2017 at The Manifest-Station. Check it out!