Midwinter (Spoken Word, Words3)

Cold concrete bit through the denim on my skin, and travelled through my veins, sinking straight into my bones. The lifeless football field felt fragile in February. A stadium filled with nothing but echoes of all the other people who shared the same foundation. I closed my eyes, and it was like nothing had changed. So many mistakes were left untouched, relationships unmarred, and people unbroken.

When the stadium is exclusively mine, it is a sanctuary. On this day, however, the peace was cut short by the sudden realization that I was not alone.

“I bet you’ve never even seen someone make a touchdown on that field,” interrupted a voice behind me.

I opened my eyes and turned to see a young man wearing a letterman’s jacket, his thick, dark brown hair ruffled by the wind. He began a descent to my spot on the bleachers, and held up a finger when I started to speak.

“I didn’t mean to startle you. My name is John,” he said, extending a hand. “You’re Rebecca’s daughter, right?”

I nodded slowly, trying to place him. His cold hand met mine and I shuddered.

“May I sit?” he asked, but did not wait for a reply before doing so. He leaned in a little, smirked, and asked, “Do you come here often?”

Our laughter broke the silence and eased some of the tension.

“No,” I began, “only when it makes sense, or maybe when nothing makes sense.”

“Which is it now?”

“The latter.”

He placed both hands on his knees and stared at the bleachers across the field.

“Your mother and I used to meet here all the time,” he began. “How is she?”

Suddenly I heard my mother’s voice on the phone only a month before, asking when I would visit, when I would bring my husband, and when she would have grandkids.

Then telling me she was sick, but assuring me she would get better. She knew I was busy. And finally, quietly, asking me to come visit when it was convenient.

“Mom has seen better days,” I said softly.

“Haven’t we all?” he asked, but I didn’t feel like I should answer.

“You know,” he continued, “when Rebecca was pregnant with you, she used to come here to sit and figure things out too. Sometimes she would cry. Other times she would just talk to me about how scared she was to be a mother, and how much she wanted you to know that you were loved, that you were the most important thing in her life—even if you found yourself not quite as important to other people. I told her then, and have told her often since, that she should also make sure you also understood that her sacrifice to raise you alone was not your debt to be repaid.”

“What do you mean?”
“The best gift you can give to Rebecca is a life that carries her memory, but does not change or diminish as a result of her absence. You must keep building on the foundation she gave you, and you owe her nothing except to live your best life.”

Once again, I searched my memory for John. My mother spoke of her friends often, and rarely kept secrets from me, but the grief of her own upbringing was a shadow that she could never introduce. My curiosity was beginning to get the best of me.

“John, how did you meet my mother?”

He smiled, and his eyes grew misty.

“I met her on the top of that mountain,” he said, pointing behind us. “One day, I jumped the fence, like I did almost every afternoon. I climbed the trail all the way to the top. She was just sitting there by herself. She had a backpack with her, and she was staring off at the town, but she was miles away.

I had seen her before, but we never really spoke until that day. I made a lot of noise approaching her, and she turned around to look at me. She seemed angry, as though she had been caught doing something wrong. I held up my hands and said, ‘I’m not here to bust you.’”

“For trespassing?” I asked, incredulous.

“And skipping school,” he said.

I was stunned. “Skipping school? You knew her when she was in school?”

He ignored me and went on.

“When she realized who I was, she smiled and let me sit next to her. ‘John, right?’ she said. I nodded and she went on, as though we were always friends. ‘John, do you ever just want to run away? I thought I was going to today, but I am beginning to wonder if maybe I am trapped—like one of those figurines in a snow globe.’ She looked down at her feet and added, ‘I must sound crazy.’

‘Not at all,’ I said. We talked until the sun went down about how maybe one day we would leave this town and start over. It wasn’t romantic or weird. It was simple, like we were destined to be right there at that moment for each other. We were inseparable after that—that is, of course, until the accident.”

“The accident?”

“Listen,” he said, turning to look at me. “The only thing you’re responsible for is making sure she knows you love her. Never stop talking to her. Because the truth is that love knows no borders.”

He reached out to touch my cheeks where tears had started to fall. I closed my eyes in anticipation, but when I opened them, John was gone.

I stood, shakily wiping my own face with my gloves, and descended the concrete stairs. Within moments, I scaled the old iron fence behind the stadium and began a slow climb up the mountain, touching the small portion of my mother’s ashes held in a tiny box in my coat pocket.

“Momma,” I whispered, “I brought you home.”


Black Sock Society

For Kristina and Tim

When my head is more shiny than grey
I shall wear khaki shorts and black socks
that rest unevenly on my calves.
I shall spend my retirement
on coffee and biscuits,
and flirt with every waitress.

In the summertime, I shall wear sandals
with my black socks as I roam the town
searching for a part-time gig
to get me out of the house

and pay for healthcare.

I shall buy wind chimes for my wife,
and wear earplugs when I sneak outside
for an afternoon cigar.

If you catch me on the right day,
I will tell you a story
about a young man
with thick black hair
who walked on dirt roads
instead of sidewalks.

A man who dreamed of the future,
but rarely the past,
and chuckled from beneath his hat
to warm the chill in his bones
when first he saw a pair
of black socks peeping

from the trouser leg
of a charming old man.

Battles (Spoken Word, Words3)

She does better sleeping in the room across the hall. From there, she can use the old desktop computer to read the obituaries and scour the internet for breaking news until she gets too tired to keep her eyes open. I say scour loosely, of course. She can’t get very far with the parental controls. It drives her crazy, getting the message that a site has been blocked.

The computer is old, I tell her. Someone else put those rules on there and I can’t get them off. I’ll talk to someone about it soon, when we have more money to fix it. Mercifully, that explanation works every time. But it doesn’t stop chaos from chattering away through her brain. I keep an eye on her through the open door. Terrorist attacks, car crashes, and natural disasters fill monitor. I never fight with her about it.. The truth is, she probably won’t remember it by tomorrow, and chastising her may end with a door closing in my face.

I know from experience, that the anxiety will always find a new fixation, and we will start it all again anyway. As horrible as it sounds, she might as well fixate on a disaster that isn’t ripping apart her life so she doesn’t have to face her disease every waking moment.

She spends more time watching the computer screen than she does watching her soap opera, The Young and the Restless, which is on five times every week for one hour every day. A few months ago, I got my hands on some old recordings from the early 90s. Between the new episodes, I occasionally trick her into watching the reruns. Her eyes are glued to the characters, and it is the only time when she becomes distracted from all of the ways her brain is trying to suffocate her. These are the happiest moments, where the demons lurk in the shadows and wait their turn to play. Sometimes I like to picture this as my personal journey to Mordor. We go over the mountains of triumph and hold hands as we cross through the dark valleys in her memory together. While the disease erases precious things so often, like the memory of teaching me to read, or even the fact that I am her granddaughter, it hasn’t completely extinguished her fire.

On a better day, while she sipped on sweet tea in her rocker and watched a drama unfold before her on television, I suggested that Victor Newman should really end up with Jack Abbott. The writers had gone everywhere else. She whipped her head around at me, and her eyes were wide.

“Victor Newman does not go for both women and men. And if he does, then I’m getting to him before he spots your grandpa in heaven,” she quipped, moving one hand over her bouffant hairdo. “This is no competition for that shiny bald head.

That sent us both into fits of giggles that brought tears to our eyes. We settled down, and her eyes went back to the screen.

I’m not sure what is worse anymore: when she forgets, or when she remembers. A few moments after our laughter died down, she wondered aloud where he was—not Victor Newman, of course—my grandfather.

The tears came back behind my eyes, and I was relieved that she didn’t turn to look at me. I cleared my throat and did what I do best. I lied.

Gesturing towards the television in front of us as if to indicate time by her soap opera, I replied, “It’s the middle of the day, Gran. He’s at work.”

She nodded, moving her rocking chair slowly back and forth. Never mind that we were not in her house, or that it was dark outside, or that he had been dead for five years. In the ground before he knew that she would grieve him anew almost every day for the rest of her life. By the time the episode ended, she wanted to know where she was, and why she couldn’t go home.

“I know you don’t think I can take care of myself, but I can,” she said to me, as I escorted her down the hall. I turned on the light in her room.

“I know you can,” I replied. “But it’s too late to go home now. You may as well get some sleep, and we can talk about it tomorrow.”

She nodded and walked to her bed, found her housecoat and slipped her arms through it.

“I’m just going to check the news first. Can you help me get this thing on?”

I sighed, and shuffled to the computer on the desk in the corner. The next morning, she woke and cried softly through dawn like she always does. She pulls herself together before she leaves the bedroom for breakfast. I don’t ask her why she cries, or even acknowledge it. Gran presents herself with an air of dignity that is a last little grasp she has on the life she led before her memory began to fail her, and her anxiety moved in to consume the rest of her waking hours. She still combs her hair. She still brushes her teeth. When we go out, she takes two hours to dress for the occasion, even if it’s just to get her hair reset.

When my mother or uncle call, they never believe me when I ask how she’s doing. Which is fair, because I never tell the truth.

“She’s fine,” I say. “We’re okay.”

“Miranda,” my mother says slowly, “she’s only going to get worse. We need to get her set up in a nursing home. You can’t spend the best years of your life taking care of her.”

Of course, what neither of us say, but both of us understand, is that the odds are not in our favor. One day, this will be our mountain to climb too. And yet, beneath shattered debris of her past, my grandmother is alive and she’s fighting. If she only has one memory left before it ends, I want it to be of me fearless by her side, ready to carry the light when she no longer can.

City Girls

Written for February Words3
Theme: “Love”

(Author’s Note: This piece began in response to a writing prompt at a conference I attended in January. The goal was to focus on a souvenir and form the story around it. I used an actual souvenir from a trip I took years ago and wove a short fictional story that may become a memory for a character in a sequel to The Huntsman. I’ve changed the title since I first read it in February.)

We were a little tipsy by the time we saw the sign for the record store. I can still remember your hand on my arm, guiding me to it through the crowded sidewalks. It was snowing that night in Boston, and we were a few blocks from our hotel.

Between the buzz of my anxiety just beneath the alcohol and the hum of the city around us, I could barely hear your insistence that this place looked like a sanctuary for punk rockers and anarchists. You, who wanted to buy your way into both worlds with your parents’ money. And me, who really just tagged along for free plane tickets and hotel rooms.

The cold pushed us down a stairwell and through the glass door to a bright, open room with white walls. The cashier barely glanced up at us over his rimmed glasses, and I marveled at the thought of him pushing his tiny frame against the wind to wherever he called home once his shift was over. He wore a blue plaid shirt and jeans, but I know you don’t remember. Irony was always lost on you unless it helped you in an argument.

My hands were shaking, but it wasn’t from the lingering cold in my bones. I could feel my stomach clenching in the new silence of the store. I felt around in my pocket for the little pink pill my doctor told me to take for my panic attacks, and when my fingers found it I remembered what the bottle said about mixing it with alcohol.

I weighed my options as you sifted through Iggy Pop and Gogol Bordello albums for the little piece of treasure you believed, with all your heart, had to exist beneath the city streets. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a table filled with books. For the first time on our week-long journey, I found something to distract me from making sure your needs were met. The pill fell back into my coat pocket.

I crossed the room, past photos of Prince and Johnny Cash that stared back at me with what could have been indignation. The table was small—no bigger than the nightstand in our hotel room. A giant book featuring a cover with a tattooed Marilyn Monroe was propped up on top. Various other titles were stacked together next to it. On the shelf beneath that one, local publications were strewn carelessly, almost covering a stack of tiny bright green pocket-sized books covered with illustrations of protestors.

I picked one up, and flipped through the pages enough to realize that it was not exactly a book, but a planner filled with quotes from people who had protested different forms of injustice throughout history. I was fascinated, and I felt a smile cover my face as I read through them. It was at this point that you realized I was not right behind you waiting to be lectured on the imposters of punk rock and the artists that mattered to the genre.

“Are you ready to go?” I heard you ask from over my shoulder. I turned sharply, book in hand, and saw that yours were empty.

“This place doesn’t have anything good,” you added, loud enough for the guy behind the counter to raise an eyebrow as he thumbed through a magazine. “Let’s go grab another beer.”

I looked at you then, sickly pale in the fluorescent light. Your blonde hair was sticking to the sides of your face. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw you completely sober.

“I’m just going to get this,” I said softly.

You took it from my hand and flipped through it before laughing and spitting out, “A planner? Really?”

I felt heat flood my face, and my stomach turned once more. I thought I was going to be sick. Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply and took it back from you.

“I’ll be outside,” you said, pulling out your phone as you left to text someone more vibrant than me. Someone who needed less so they could be more for you. Someone who didn’t need some silly green planner to feel better about their free ticket to Boston.

Except it wasn’t actually free, was it?

After almost two years of watching you drown yourself in alcohol and self-medicating to the point of disaster, that trip to Boston was when we both realized that I was not capable of truly loving you, because you made me hate myself every time I tried.

I barely looked at the cashier when I bought that planner—just like you barely looked at me when I joined you on the sidewalk. We drank that night, and the next. On our last evening there, you roamed the city alone while I packed for the trip home. Somewhere between you falling off your barstool and stumbling to a taxi, I was making a list of all the things I needed to do to move out of our apartment when we got back.

I can’t remember much about Boston—all the streets rich with history, the tiny shops, or the people who lived there. What I remember instead is the chipped nail polish on your fingernails, and the way you painted on your face like a mask every time we left the hotel. I think of you only when I see lipstick stains on cigarette butts. In those moments, I realize you are still out there somewhere in search of the perfect record, the perfect girl, and the perfect distraction. Our ghosts, on the other hand, haunt those cobblestones with all the other memories of love and war.

Minimalism: Letting Go

In the first few areas of your home—the kitchen, the bathroom, and your closet—it is easy to institute new guidelines for living with a minimal amount of items. However, once you reach sentimental or expensive clutter, things start to get tricky.

Here are a few things I consider when addressing these belongings:

I recently met a couple who had downsized from a 4,000 square foot home to one just over 1,900 square feet after their children moved out. They owned several large pieces of valuable furniture that would not fit in their new home. For the last few months, they have stored that furniture in a storage facility while they consider selling it online.

Is it costing more to store them than you would lose by giving them away?

There is nothing wrong with selling your more expensive items that you no longer plan on using, but the important thing is to be realistic about it. Research how much they are worth and create a plan for selling them as quickly as possible. The unfortunate thing about storing things like this in a storage facility is the amount of money you are giving to that facility. The items are out of sight, out of mind. Each month, around $80 is deducted from your checking account, and other priorities make you forget about what you are storing. At the end of 12 months, you have paid $960 to someone else to house your clutter.

If the answer is yes, then it is time to let them go. When I first started reducing my clutter, I had totes full of belongings that were given to me over the years. I couldn’t even remember who gave some of them to me. I was also guilty of holding on to clothes purchased and given to me by fam- ily and friends that I would never wear. They had made their way into storage, but they still sat unused—deteriorating while I waited for a day when they either fit me or I decided that I liked them.

Are you holding on to sentimental items out of obligation or guilt?

When someone gives you a gift, it should be given with the intent to make you happy. Once that happiness is gone, it is time to let go of the item. When you do (as Marie Kondo says in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up), it is like receiving the gift for a second time.

You don’t use it, but you really love it, and you don’t want to part with it just yet. Now what?

There are a couple of options here, and I have tried both. Kondo suggests that you take a photo of the item and get rid of it. That way, you can revisit the photo and how happy the item made you without being weighed down by the responsibility of continuing to store it.

The second option is to create a Happiness Box. This idea comes from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Choose just one box to use for trinkets and mementos with which you cannot part just yet. Visit the box at least quarterly to view your items and consider their value. By doing this, you can continue to let go of items that no longer hold the importance they did in your past, and make room for the moments that will be important in your future.

(Published in Bella Magazine, May 2016)

Poetry: Sweet Sixteen

On moonlit back roads
a cigarette dances
between nervous lips;
the devil, she’s sure
wears a crooked smile.

She is nothing short of captivated
far too young to be out so late;
her fingerprints on a bag of shrooms,
time accelerates ninety miles an hour
to escape headlights she cannot see.
But blue eyes promise
they will not be caught,
two lanes turn to one, lines blur
the adrenaline is what keeps them high
the Main Street stoplight
flashes ahead
the smell of brake fluid
draws him back to her.

Just moments later
they pass a cop car
the speedometer
tells them they’re safe.
Back in town he swears
he will protect her
never let her go;
a few months later
blue eyes will vanish
leaving memories
tattoo souvenirs
a taste for vodka
and a borken heart
sixteen and too young
for all of these things
a cigarette between nervous lips
burning memories
and the smoke forgives
what she can’t forget.


Published in the Winter 2017 edition of Falling Star Magazine.


The Minimalist Vacation

We are right in the middle of vacation season. Whether you are camping, enjoying a weekend get- away, or visiting a location outside of the country, there is no reason that you should bear the weight of overpacked bags to and from your destination. Take the lessons you’ve learned from decluttering your home and use them as you venture out into the world.

Carry only what you are comfortable transporting on your shoulders for a few miles.
The thought alone is probably a little paralyzing. How on earth can you travel with only a backpack full of items for one week? Think of all the shoe and clothing changes—not to mention your toiletries and all of the little “just in case” items.

Now take a deep breath and try to imagine a world where you can easily slip off a plane with just your carry-on bag and start your vacation. You avoid every logistical nightmare, and greatly reduce your unpacking and organizing time at your destination. Additionally, depending on how light you pack, you can easily jump right in to exploring before you even stop to leave your bags at a hotel.

Make a packing list of only necessary items that you know you will use. Then edit it ruthlessly. Ask yourself what can be used in different ways to reduce your luggage. Lay out everything you plan on taking with you next to your bag. Then, reduce again.

Plan ahead.

You may be thinking this is easier said than done, but I assure you that I would never preach something that I do not practice. This month, I am attending FloydFest for five days and I have challenged myself to fit everything (except my tent) into a 33 liter Dakine Campus Backpack. Check out our website (www.lovelybella.com) for the process in detail.

Use the money for experiences instead. Not only will they take up room in your suitcase, but they will be something else you have to find a spot for when you get home. I can’t tell you what trinkets I brought home from a beach trip with my mom in 2008, but I can tell you that going on a mother/daughter trip with her meant more to me than any vacation with people my age. I can remember clearly what it felt like to walk on the beach with her at night with the sand between our toes and know that the strongest woman I’ve ever known was proud of me. The memories of the scenery and the company won’t fade away until long after the t-shirts no longer fit and the porcelain figurines are broken.


(published in Bella Magazine, July 2016)