Sometimes I see scenes from my life like a long, disjointed movie on which the credits should have rolled hours ago. But it just keeps going, at least for now. Still, my lifetime, like the life cycles of the ash trees in my backyard, is finite. My trees, although a year or two younger than I am, are at the end of their life cycles, according to an arborist who came out to determine why they looked so poorly this fall. He recommends cutting them down and replacing them with young catalpa trees, but I am torn. It will take years for the new trees to provide the shade the old ones do now, and I don’t want to leave my son John, who will inherit this house, with the cost and worry of taking down the ash trees. The trees are living beings but not sentient, as far as I know, so I assume they have no sense of their impending end of days.
Damn those trees. Until this fall I always took them—and their shade—for granted. I even planted a garden of shade-loving plants beneath the shelter created by the giant canopy of the tree on the north side of the house. But then I believed Paul, my third husband and the love of my life, would live forever. He certainly seemed invincible. In his sixties he had low blood pressure, even lower cholesterol, and the sex drive of a teenager. He shoveled snow, raked leaves, kept the yard weeded, and built every stick of furniture in our house—right up till he developed a pain in his right upper abdominal cavity in the spring of 2014. He went to the doctor in July, spent the summer months undergoing tests, was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in late October, and died in the predawn darkness of November 7, 2014. It happened too fast for me to comprehend. Continue reading
I have a fatal attraction to shoes. For a brief period, in my early adulthood, I strayed into a certain leather handbag attraction, but I never lost my lust for shoes.
A deep leather handbag, one that can hold a toaster comfortably, gave me a sense of completeness. What can go wrong in my world when I’ve got everything I need slung over my shoulder? Eventually the price of a good leather handbag exceeded my budget, and, like bitter lovers, we broke up.
Shoes have always captured my attention, with an urgent whisper saying You must have me! I was five years old the first time it happened. I begged for a pair of shoes like the older girl next door was wearing. “Can I have a pair of Beverly shoes?” I whined. They were red canvas espadrilles with long laces that entwined up Beverly’s ankles. To my five year old eyes they were riveting. Continue reading
The bus headed for Cluj splashes in the puddle as it rolls in to the station in Gheorgheni, Romania on Friday at two pm. My heart jumps. I climb the few steps, hand the money to the driver and tell him to drop me off at the brewery, opposite the University of Veterinary Medicine and Agricultural Studies in Cluj. I squeeze my small backpack in the narrow alley between the rows of seats and look for an empty one. I find two vacant seats together, throw my backpack beside me and sink into the plush covering.
The bus cradles me. I slip into sleep, far away from my week of teaching English as a foreign language to lanky pimple-faced boys and wannabe fashionista girls in Salamon Erno High School in my home town, Gheorgheni.
Cluj, the flashy, fancy, everyone’s favorite city, boasts the largest student population from all over Romania. I graduated from one of its universities, Babes-Bolyai in English and Hungarian literature. Leo, my boyfriend of two years, still studies in Cluj to become a veterinarian. We meet every two weeks. He visits his family in Gheorgheni once a month, and I travel to Cluj once a month. I look forward to this weekend. Continue reading
A knife has many uses in the wilderness. I’ve taken Jamie’s knife from her, the weight of it added to mine in my pocket every day, the weight of trust hitting my leg, of no new scars.
She is my student on a month-long wilderness expedition. Our goals are to develop leadership skills, provide opportunities for reflection and growth, travel 150 miles by foot and canoe, and return everyone to their families safely. On the sixth day of the trip, another student tells my co-instructor and me that Jamie has both snuck a pocket knife on the trip, and told her teammate about her history of cutting. So it becomes my job, standing together on a trail slightly removed from the campsite, to ask Jamie for her knife. I tell her I, too, snuck my knife onto my expedition when I was a teenage student in our program. I ask her for the specifics of her past: where, when, under what circumstances, how recently. She cries and then confides, cutting, scratching, wrists, thighs, the past two years. I thank her and offer to carry her knife and allow her its use whenever she needs to chop vegetables or would like to whittle a stick or fillet a fish. We return to camp with the weight in my pocket doubled.
Something was terribly wrong. My lower abdomen was swollen and sore. I had lost nearly ten pounds in the past two weeks. I could no longer keep my food down, and a screaming pain ripped through my vagina every time I peed. In order to keep this mysterious condition from my strict Mennonite missionary parents, I ran outside after almost every meal and vomited behind the hedge near the veranda of our house.
It was November of 1969. Just a few weeks earlier, I had graduated at the top of my high school class at the Liceo de San Carlos in Asunción, Paraguay. My life lay ahead of me like a shiny blank whiteboard, inviting me to imagine endless possibilities. Now, at home at my parents’ leprosy station for summer vacation, I felt only a dark cloud of pain and confusion.
It was early Spring in Los Angeles and the day was perfect; temperature in the high 60’s, an easy breeze drifting across the city. The conditions were ideal for sitting outside, listening to music and maybe even taking in a show. I have lived in Los Angeles for decades and learned to appreciate the colorful absurdity that is L.A., and the bizarre streak that runs through many of its inhabitants. As a purveyor of public transportation, I know that freaky things happen while riding the bus, but just as many occur while you wait.
Two days after it happened, my best friend told me she was eighty percent sure she was drugged and raped at her hostel in Panama.
We both willed her to be wrong, but there was the blood in her underwear, the sick feeling in her head the morning after a night she couldn’t remember, the slow piecing together of half-memories. There was the fear, bone-deep, that overwhelmed her when she locked eyes with a man who resembled one of her rapists. Her instinct told her that her body had been violated. We both trusted it, because this wasn’t the first time.