Voices

Category: Voices

HerStories Voices: The Healing Notes of Song

Happy November. Our theme this month is gratitude, which is one of my favorite topics to write about. This week’s essay may require some Kleenex. I was incredibly touched by Sarah’s story of music, healing, and gratitude. I believe in the power of music to heal. I hope you enjoy – Allie

HerStories Voices

My children recently attended a music class at the library. It was a wild, over-crowded affair, but it made the kids smile. They enthusiastically shook tambourines, swirled scarves in the air, and stomped their feet as they sang songs about birds, the sunshine, and a ladybug.

As I watched my strong and healthy children dance and laugh their way through class with the other pre-school aged children, I couldn’t help but compare the experience to a music therapy session I observed many years before.

At the time, I was twenty-four, and my fourteen-year-old sister was recovering at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center after suffering from a brain hemorrhage. After brain surgery, days in a coma, and then weeks in the ICU at another hospital, she entered the rehabilitation program at Hershey to re-learn how to speak, eat, walk, and basically every other function that comes naturally to an average teenaged girl.

As her mental and physical functions were gradually restored, and she was more able to interact with the world around her, she began to participate in some unique therapy sessions, such as music therapy.

On the first day of music therapy, the therapist placed a tambourine in her hand, but it immediately fell to the ground with a chorus of clangs. She simply did not have enough strength to even grasp the instrument.

For the remainder of class, she slumped in her wheelchair as I helped her hold the tambourine. As the therapist led the class in a song with lyrics containing the phrase, “happy and delighted,” I wondered if my sister would ever feel those emotions again.

For several weeks, she lacked the awareness to even react to the music; however, as motor and cognitive skills returned and she could again do things like brush her teeth, music therapy became even more engaging and beneficial to her. Eventually, my sister could grasp the tambourine or bang the drum with success, and as her speech became clearer, she even sang along to the music.

During my sister’s last therapy session, we sat next to her roommate, an eleven-year-old girl with leukemia. She had been discharged and then re-admitted during the five weeks we had spent at Hershey. She looked even paler and weaker than before, and she no longer smiled.

Another girl was new to the group. She had been in a car accident with her family, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. She had little hope of recovering movement.

The music therapist tried to engage all of the girls by playing the guitar and asking them to share something that made them happy. Neither of the other girls said they were happy about anything. Eventually, one was finally encouraged to say, “Mashed potatoes.”

My heart felt heavier and heavier as the session progressed. These girls could not think of one thing that provoked joy. Would they ever find anything to be happy about?

When it was my sister’s turn, she looked at me and said, “I get to go home.” I should have only been thrilled to hear this, but I couldn’t help but think of how unfair it was that those two girls might never get to say the same.

The therapist then tried to urge the group to play various instruments. My sister selected bongos and began playing enthusiastically. The girl with leukemia initially refused to participate but then resigned herself to limply clapping her hands. The paralyzed girl tried to blow on a party horn, but she was too weak to hold it between her lips.

As the noise in the room escalated, my sister, still in a wheelchair, stopped beating the bongos, reached over, and held the instrument to the girl’s mouth. The two briefly made eye contact, but the music was the only communication between them.

This scene replays in my mind when I hear the sound of bongos, see a party horn, or watch my own able children dance their way through a music class. I often wonder what ever happened to those two girls. I want to believe that they are somewhere enjoying music and able to quickly list many things in which they find happiness. However, I know that not everyone heals. Not every patient gets to leave the hospital. Not every child gets the chance to sing and dance her way through life.

I am so thankful that my sister got to continue her dance through life. After leaving the hospital, her love of music only grew. Her body and brain slowly healed during months of outpatient programs. She eventually returned to her own high school to graduate with her class.

She now lives in Music City and attends concerts regularly. Just last year she smiled through her wedding ceremony as her husband played guitar and serenaded her with a song he wrote.

My sister doesn’t remember much of her rehabilitation at Hershey, but I like to think that she still, somewhere deep in her subconscious, hears chords of the songs she sang in therapy all of those years ago.

Maybe when she faces struggles in life, she can hear the reverberation of a tambourine, shaken wildly, but joyfully. Maybe the phrase “happy and delighted” runs through her mind when she sees something beautiful. Maybe those healing notes of music that helped stitch together the wiring in her brain and helped her recognize the world around her again, maybe those notes play on for her.

They play on for me.

I hear them when I press play on the car stereo, so my son can listen to his favorite song “just one more time.” I feel them when I abandon dirty dishes in the sink to go help fasten my daughter’s Cinderella costume, so we can dance at a pretend ball.

The echo of songs from long ago remind me that life is short and unpredictable, so I encourage my children to always sing strongly, play loudly, and dance wildly because others cannot. I hope this is a lesson that hums through their veins not just during music class but throughout their entire lives.

 

me-2Sarah is a current stay-at-home mom. After years of teaching high school English, she is enjoying focusing on her two children while learning to slow down and look at the world through their eyes. She has learned more about dinosaurs and princesses in the past few years than she ever thought possible. Sarah writes about parenting on her blog, One Mile Smile, and has recently been published in the following sites: Mothers Always Write, Parent.Co, and Her View From Home. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

**The holidays are upon us! So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood makes a great gift!

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Ghosts Are Afraid of Mirrors: The Moment I Gave Up My Ghost For Good

Our October theme for HerStories Voices is fear. So many young woman today look to Hollywood and fashion runways for role models and develop unrealistic expectations of what it means to be beautiful. In the age of photo shop and flattering photo filters, I fear my daughter will measure herself against unrealistic portrayals, which can lead to dire consequences. This week’s essay, written by Gina Paulhus, paints a harrowing portrait of an eating disorder that shook me to my core. I’m so grateful that our author has recovered – and that she’s bravely shared her story for others.

—Allie

HerStories Voices

Ghosts Are Afraid of Mirrors: The Moment I Gave Up My Ghost For Good

It had been a lonely summer. I hadn’t seen any friends in a long time. In fact, I hadn’t made a friend in years. I was twenty-one, on break from university and suffering from chronic depression. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be alive. I found myself engaging in bizarre behaviors that made little sense and were dangerous. And yet, I couldn’t stop these bizarre behaviors. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to stop.

I was a gymnast, which was the one thing that tethered me to any sort of reality that summer. As much as I loved gymnastics, it was just one more place in my life that I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up. That I wouldn’t be accepted. That I wasn’t good enough. This fear drove me to create rules for myself that I would never imagine inflicting upon another person. This fear clouded my thinking and dictated my every waking move.

My coach closed our gymnastics club for three weeks each summer. This left me with an empty slate of time that was begging to be filled. For a depressed girl with too much time on her hands, it was destructive. I had an unreasonable goal to weigh less than 100 pounds, for no reason other than to see if it was possible. And maybe, just maybe, people would finally notice that something was wrong. I was terrified and excited about the prospect.

I decided to spend those precious weeks off by not eating any food for the entire twenty-one days. Seemed simple enough, except that I was bulimic. I’d left my days of the tidier eating disorder of anorexia behind. This was my sad reality and I was determined to make it work.

I rolled out of my bed on a steamy July morning. The sheets were tangled and sticky from the tossing and turning and nightmares that had transpired throughout the night. The breathtaking view of the river outside my window did little to alter my sullen mood. I was unsure as to what the day would entail, but like always, it would start with judgment time.

I kicked off my pajamas and went to the bathroom to pee to reduce any extraneous weight. Must. Reduce. Weight. I gingerly tapped my toe to the scale to trigger it on. The familiar grey letters jolted to life as I lightly stepped onto the heartless device that would dictate how I’d spend my entire day. I rationalized that the more carefully I stepped on the scale, the lesser the number it would register.

  • 105.1.

This was no good. No good at all. I peered out the window to ensure I was alone. Mom’s car wasn’t there. Perfect. My weight always dropped after bingeing and purging, probably due to dehydration, but no matter. I was all about results. I proceeded to ransack the kitchen and binge on anything and everything I could find. The supplies were low on this particular day, which had a lot to do with my sinister habit. So I bolted to my car, with fistfuls of chewed up blueberry muffin in hand to keep me busy on the ride. I hit up a bunch of drive-thrus and binged for a couple more hours. I ate until my jaw throbbed and my stomach was stretched further than I’d ever stretched it before. I ate until I forgot everything else that hurt.

Now it was time to pay the price. I locked myself into the bathroom, even though I was home alone—you can never be too careful—and purged until I was sure I got everything out. This exhausting task was unpleasant to say the least, but the calm buzz and sense of completion I experienced afterward made it all worthwhile.

  • 103.2.

This was simply not working for me. I was so sick of staying still. Nothing is worse than staying still. I was due back to gymnastics practice in less than a week. My goal was to be under 100 pounds, and I simply wasn’t going to accept this disappointing turn of events. Double digits or nothing. I was done playing games.

I threw on my sweatpants and a jacket, even though the temperature was 95 degrees. The hotter I could get, the lighter I’d be when I finished. I began jogging, with no particular destination in mind. Several hours later, my legs finally began to seize in protest and I hobbled back home.

  • 101.0.

Ok, this had potential. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. From the front, I thought my stomach looked grotesque, in spite of the ribs poking through and the vacant space where my breasts used to be. I grabbed my handheld mirror to use it to check my appearance from the rear. When I saw myself from behind, however, I was shocked.

I observed bones protruding through areas that used to be smooth—more than I ever had before. I felt like I was looking at myself through an evil funhouse mirror at the carnival. Everything looked distorted and wrong. The most disturbing sight, however, was the back of my knee. My knee was now wider than my calf, and wider than my thigh.

My knee was the widest part of my leg.

At that moment, on that July day, I realized that I could not make my knee smaller, no matter what I did or didn’t eat. My bones were not going to get smaller. Something about the refusal of my body to transfer itself into what I wanted it to be served as a reality check. This reality check somehow managed to accomplish what so many loved ones and self-help books couldn’t. I realized I was striving to achieve an ideal appearance that wasn’t possible due to the God-given structure of my actual bones. If my bones were going to be steadfast, my options were limited.

The rear view vantage point provided me with another perspective that I was unable to see before. What I thought was my goal turned out to be a farce. I was chasing a house of cards—and for the first time I knew it. From that point on, I vowed to attempt to eat—to keep it down—and to exercise within reason and not with excess abandon. I vowed to become my best self—a self that might not be suited for the cover of a magazine, but a self that was my only option to fully live the life I had been given. I vowed to own my space in the world. For the first time, I accepted that some things in life just cannot be changed. This realization was both disappointing and freeing all at the same time.

My fear of gaining weight was briefly replaced with a fear of the unknown. How do I eat like a normal person? I ignored the worry and walked over to the toaster. I slid a slice of bread into it and pressed the lever. The second hand on the clock ticked incessantly. I had never felt this uncomfortable, this unnatural. I pulled the toast out and grabbed a knife and a stick of butter. I spread the butter on the toast, hands shaking, with steely resolve.

I sat down at the kitchen table and ate a piece of toast. I was twenty-one and hadn’t eaten toast since I was twelve. I savored the toast, and felt a sense of calm and peace wash over me. At the same time, I mourned the ending of a battle that existed only in my mind, with a prize that was nothing more than an illusion. I had been chasing something that was meaningless for so long, and I was tired. So very tired.

 

ginaGina Paulhus, CPT struggled with eating disorders for many years and has since recovered. She owns her own in home personal training company called ‘Home Bodies’ that services clients throughout New England. Gina holds a Bachelor’s degree from UMass Lowell in Psychology and Business. She volunteers with MentorConnect—When relationships replace eating disorders. She also writes for Recovery Warriors. She is passionate about helping people from all walks of life learn how to efficiently and holistically manage their health, both mental and physical. In her spare time she enjoys yoga and practicing and competing as an adult gymnast.

Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

**Allie is accepting submissions for our November Voices column– the theme is gratitude. See submission guidelines here, and email Allie at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com.

**There are still a few more days to enter our book giveaway in honor of our two-year HerTake column anniversary! Read Nina’s post and enter here.

**Have you ordered your copy of So Glad They Told Me yet? Available in Kindle and paperback!

**Check out this amazing deal on blog course bundles! Limited time only– just through Tuesday!– so don’t miss out!

HerStories Voices: The Miscarriage

Welcome back to the Voices Column! I hope everyone had a great summer. This month we’re featuring essays about friendship – the good, bad, sad, and funny stories you have about your friends. Looking ahead, we’ll be accepting submissions of stories about your fears for the month of October. November’s theme is gratitude. This week’s essay was written by one of our So Glad They Told Me anthology contributors, Hannah Harlow. It’s about how one of her friendships was affected by a miscarriage. – Allie

HerStories Voices

THE MISCARRIAGE

“Tell me about your miscarriage,” Pia said.

“What about it?” We walked the bricked Cambridge sidewalks pushing my sleeping baby in a stroller. She already knew how shattered I had been after I miscarried my first pregnancy at 14 weeks—what sort of details did she want?

“Like, what happened exactly?”

Pia had always been my husband’s friend, really. They were best friends in college. Shortly after I met my husband, I needed a place to live and Pia had a room open for six months in her Brooklyn apartment. I was new to town, a little lonely, often lost, and Pia took me in. She took me to parties and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me on the weekends as we ate cereal straight out of the box. Pia asked lots of questions, seemed genuinely interested in whatever I had to say. She introduced me to her parents. She made me laugh. Then the six months were up, I moved into a new place, and Pia gradually went back to being my husband’s friend. I didn’t know how to change that.

But occasionally it would just be us again and it could almost feel like old times. Pia and her husband had just started trying for a baby. Nothing had happened yet, but Pia was convinced something would.

“I want to be prepared,” she said.

So, I cautiously explained what had happened during the D&C. As Pia leaned in her curly dark head in that familiar way, I went on less reluctantly, because Pia could draw out the joy of sharing things you rarely talk about. She made you feel special for your experiences just by wanting to know about them. She’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. So I told her how the doctor inserted seaweed in my vagina, how bad the cramps were. I explained how my husband missed all of it, because he was stuck in Ethiopia on business with no flights home for days and how sick we felt over it. How the doctor had given me the drug Versed, how he said it would make me forget, but I remembered everything. I remembered gripping my mother’s hand while I stared at the whites of the ceiling, and I remembered the pain. What I didn’t tell Pia was how I held it all in until the doctor walked out of the room and then I burst into tears in my mother’s arms. She held me tight and whispered, “You’re so strong.” I thought, what other way is there to be? Because isn’t every woman who has ever gone through this strong?

“But now I have my son,” I told Pia. “So will you. Someday.” But I regretted it as soon as I said it. How could I know? What if it never happened for her?

Pia miscarried. Then she failed to get pregnant again, through three years of trying, through years and multiple rounds of IVF, and probably more that I don’t know about. Because we stopped seeing each other. We stopped talking.

During this same time I conceived and gave birth to our second beautiful, healthy son. We were grateful for everything we had, but that didn’t stop Pia from not wanting to come around anymore.

I even helped facilitate our distance—I didn’t call or text or reach out in any way. I felt guilty for our good luck and guilty for abandoning her, but I thought it was for the best. I missed her. But I understood how she felt. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to hang out with me either.

The day the doctor told me he couldn’t find a heartbeat, he handed me a prescription and I took it to CVS. The line at the pharmacy wound down the aisle of diapers and wipes and bottles and pacifiers. I thought, you can’t be serious. I stared at the baby things and tried not to weep. I wanted nothing to do with babies or their paraphernalia.

This was the cosmic response to lost pregnancies, it seemed. Suddenly there were babies everywhere: when I showed up to receive a haircut from a new and very pregnant stylist; when friends announced their pregnancies; every time I took a swig of wine and thought about what that meant, or didn’t mean.

As Pia struggled to conceive and I kept my distance, my husband continued to text and email and occasionally visit her. “I’m going to Pia’s, do you mind?” he’d say. “I think it’s hard for her to visit us.”

What he didn’t say to me was, “You’re not invited.”

I would say that I knew, that I understood, because I did. I knew Pia had shown strength in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I knew friendships don’t always travel in a straight line. But what I didn’t know or understand until then, as I cared for and loved our two utterly perfect children, was how much it can hurt to be so happy.

 

 

hannah-harlowHannah Harlow has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College. She recently had an essay appear in the HerStories Anthology, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Her writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Day One, Synaesthesia Magazine, failbetter, and elsewhere. She promotes books for a living and lives outside of Boston with her husband and two sons. Find her online at www.hannahharlow.com or on Twitter: @hhharlow.

 

**You can submit your October/November Voices submissions to Allie by emailing your essay to her at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com. For more submission guidelines, visit here.

**Have you heard about our So Glad They Told Me virtual book club in October? We’d love to have you join us on Facebook for a fun, informal book discussion! Details here, and you can order a copy of So Glad They Told Me on Kindle or paperback right here.

herstories-projectvirtual-book-club

 

 

 

HerStories Voices: Good Morning Chaos

I must admit, when I first read this week’s essay, I experienced a bit of anxiety. The events of Jackie Pick’s morning routine gave my heart palpitations, and yet I was also comforted by the fact that I am not alone. I don’t know how many times I have asked myself if my children thrive on chaos. For the record, this momma does not – not that that matters to anyone in my family. I think many readers will commiserate with Jackie. – Allie

HerStories Voices

We have routines. Bags packed the night before. Clothes laid out. A healthy breakfast every morning. Daily chores—the same ones each day. Consistency. We’ve been getting up and getting ready for school for years, and yet I’m not sure why so many mornings feel like we’re one missing library book away from total systemic failure.

The goal? Leave the house prepared and ready to face the day at 8:15. This gives us plenty of time to get to school by the first bell at 8:25 without them racing to their classrooms and starting the day feeling behind.

As morning shift supervisor cum breakfast chef/hair stylist, one cup of hot coffee is all I want in the mornings. The children seem to sense the best part of my waking up and horn in on this, no matter what time of day I’m percolating.

Will today be the day our routines work for us?

5:45 I rise, put on a pot of coffee, and make a plan to get the house organized before the rest of the family wakes up.

5:46 Rest of family wakes up.

5:47 Older children ask if they can help make their breakfasts.

5:48 We mop up eggs that were accidentally dropped on the floor. I ask the kids to let me finish breakfast prep.

5:50 Breakfast is served.

5:51 Breakfast is over.

5:52 The children disappear into corners of the house unknown, their whereabouts only hinted at by the occasional shrieks, giggles, and kerfuffles. My coffee is left untouched by timely requests for assistance with toothpaste, shoes, clothing, sibling disputes, forgotten homework, last minute projects involving dried pasta, friendship issues, questions about death, and dog walking.

7:45 AM. I start the countdown.

“Thirty minutes! You need to be in the car in thirty minutes! Are you dressed and ready to go?”

“Yes!” they reply. I grab my coffee cup, reheat it, and head to my bedroom to throw on some clothes. I pause at the boys’ bedroom, which looks like a FEMA training site.

“Kids! Do your chores!”

They don’t respond, so I seek them out. One son has taken up refuge under a blanket to read. Another is in the basement with his sister, cracking open a paint set that, I note with horror, is not water soluble.

“Boys and girl, please do your chores. And also,” I say to the one who has Jackson Pollocked his clothing, “Please change. We leave in 28 minutes.”

“Okay.” There is no push back, but they move in slow motion. I urge them to put some pep in their step with a motivational tool I like to call, “The Raised Eyebrow.”

8:00. Chores are completed due in no small part to my hovering over them like a gargoyle with morning breath.

“We are leaving in fifteen minutes! Make sure you brush your teeth!” My youngest runs up to me and asks if I will braid her hair. I gaze as my coffee longingly as I divide her soft, wild curls into three sections.

8:07 One son decides this is the perfect time to practice piano. His desire to improve his accuracy is evidenced by his playing those wrong notes repeatedly and loudly. I praise his persistence and turn away so he can’t see my nervous twitch.

8:09 The other son informs me he can’t find a permission slip I need to sign, his hat, his shoes, or his “good” socks. We treasure hunt. It is not exactly a mother-son bonding opportunity.

8:14 I call the kids for a final inspection. What had been, moments before, three dressed children, are now three piles of laundry with bare feet and questionable hairstyles. Faces have regrown fragments of last night’s barbecue sauce, and teeth are decidedly Hulk-ish: green and angry.

“What are you doing? That’s not what you were wearing before.”

“We changed.”

“I see that. Where are the clothes you were wearing?” I don’t know why I bother to ask, I know exactly where these perfectly clean clothes are: in a heap on the floor three inches from the laundry basket.

“You didn’t brush your teeth,” I say.

“We did!”

“With toothpaste?”

They run to the bathroom.

8:18 The three kids run back to the front hall where I am desperately pulling a floor-length parka on over my pajamas. They all tumble together in a giant whirlwind of feet and arms. I stop and hold each one, wiping tears and kissing boo-boos. We all take a deep breath. “It’s going to be a great day!” I say more to convince myself than to convince them. They are placated with their choice of Band-Aids.

8:20 Our shedding dog rubs up against all the children to say goodbye, taking them from “rumpled-shabby” to “fuzzy.” The kids want to change clothes again; I offer them a lint brush that I keep handy for just such emergencies. They begin trying to lint brush each other, to their great amusement.

“You have ten seconds to get in the car, or I’m going to school without you.” I grab a floppy hat and my husband’s Ray Bans to disguise my unkempt hair and tired eyes. I wonder what to do if those ten seconds pass. Will I have to drive to school and do a weird victory lap around the parking lot?

I rattle the coffee mug that’s been in the cup holder since yesterday. There is a solid lump of coffee ice that is too far down in the mug for me to lick.

The front door slams again as three children run out of the house, grinning and excited and without coats. I send them back inside.

8:21 They come out with coats on, but without backpacks. Back they go.

8:22 The children fly into the car, tossing their backpacks in the front seat to avoid getting the snow and ice on the car floor on their bags. I squeeze my shoulders together to try to steer without hitting a sharp notebook corner. Once I put the key in the ignition, there is a wall of sound that hits me. It’s not the radio; it’s my children, talking all at once, sharing all the details about their day yesterday. Details I tried in vain to pry out of them at dinner last night, to avail. Last night, everything was “fine.” Today, there are stories, sensory details, hopes, dreams, and subplots. Three at once.

8:24 We make it to the drop-off lane. I pull around and about ten seconds before we get to the teacher whose job it is to open the car doors and get trampled by kids who are jumping out of the car, I ask the kids to gather their bags, unbuckle, and prepare to exit the vehicle. The door is opened with a smile. “GO GO GO!” I urge. I’m half cheerleader, half pit-crew.

While my children tumble out of the car, they say a hurried “I love you!” without turning around. I choose to believe those sentiments are for me, even if they seem lobbed at the front door of the school. I’m ready to go home to finally enjoy my coffee and decompress when there is a tap on my window.

One of the teachers wants to talk with me about something. She smilingly motions for me to pull over and step out of the car. There’s no way for me to convincingly act like I didn’t see or hear her, nor can I hide myself in the picnic basket in the back of the car.

I sigh, pull over, and step out. The teacher hands me the permission slip form we’d searched for this morning. She goes over the form with me, line by excruciating line, all while I’m scanning the parking lot to see who is seeing me in an outfit that makes me look like Minnie Pearl’s Arctic chauffeur. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the sunlight dancing off the zipper on one mom’s bathrobe as she drives off, avoiding eye contact. I thank the teacher and race back into my car. From behind the slightly-tinted glass I truly look around the drop-off for the first time. Parents in pajamas. Parents dressed for work. Moms in athleisure wear. One dad in what I’m pretty sure is a nacho hat. A mom in a prom dress and mukluks. Someone else in jeans rolled just the right way. The children, though, are put together. They seem groomed, fed, rested, and for the most part, excited. They are ready to learn.

That’s the goal, after all. We’ve all achieved it, by hook, crook, or pre-dawn wake up. With assistance, without assistance, with routines or without. The kids are here at school. One mom walks by my car, her daughter’s hand in her right hand, a novelty-sized mug of coffee in her left. I salute her and go on my way.

This is the routine. And now that we’ve waged whatever battles we may have waged (with the kids, with ourselves, with a Pop-Tart wedged in the toaster), it is time to regroup and move on to the next task of the day. I feel a sense of solidarity and self-forgiveness.

8:35 Back home, the house is a disaster, and I’m pretty sure my dog is trying to shame me. I put the coffee cup in the microwave again. I watch the timer count down and think complete and uninterrupted thoughts for the first time this morning. Do the kids thrive on chaos, perhaps? Is that the key? Is this just…normal to them?

The microwave chirps merrily as my coffee is heated. I take the mug and curl my hands around its warmth. Maybe with small adjustments, our mornings can be peaceful and…

The phone rings. My kids forgot their lunches.

I grab my floppy hat and go. Maybe I’ll get to sneak a kiss in when I hand off the lunch bags to my kids in the office.

Not that I’ve brushed my teeth yet.

************************************************

 

Jackie Pick Photo 1 (2)Jackie Pick is a former teacher and current writer in Chicago. Her work has been featured on various parenting sites including Mamalode and Scary Mommy, as well as the literary art magazine Selfish. She is a contributing writer to the HerStories Project Anthology: So Glad They Told Me (Summer, 2016) and to Multiples Illuminated (Spring, 2016). She is the co-creator and co-writer of the upcoming short film Bacon Wrapped Dates and occasionally performs sketch and musical comedy in Chicago. You can follow Jackie on twitter (@jackiepick) and Facebook, where she mostly just apologizes for not updating her blog (jackiepickauthor.com).

 

HerStories Voices: What a Sinking Ship Taught Me About Love

This week’s essay, written Louise Gleeson, is about a harrowing night during which the author awaited news of her parents’ fate following a tragic accident. Over the course of many scary hours, Louise reflected on her parents’ marriage. It’s funny how our opinions on marriage change as we get older and our own relationships mature and flourish, or fall apart. Do we learn how be in a successful relationship by modeling our parents behaviors or by avoiding their mistakes? And considering the fact that each marriage is unique, does it even matter? I can’t give away the ending, but I hope you enjoy this wonderful piece of writing. – Allie

HerStories Voices

What a Sinking Ship Taught Me About Love

I’m a high maintenance bedfellow. A sliver of light or a creak of sound during my descent into sleep means game over for the rest of the night. And I’m not that nice about it.

Despite my nocturnal shortcomings, my husband and I have been sharing a bed for two decades, and we’ve become skilled partners under the sheets. I am persistent in my belief we should end each day side by side, and he puts up with me.

I hadn’t thought about it in a bigger picture way until that night. I could hear him moving overhead, dawdling and distracting himself until I came up after him. Sometimes, he gives up and goes to bed ahead of me, especially at the end of one of those days that make it hard to feel any generosity towards each other. But that night, he was waiting.

I was scrolling through my online news feed one last time, before letting the dog out and turning lights off downstairs, when I saw a breaking news headline from The New York Times, “Cruise ship sinks in China on Yangtze River.”

I must have called out his name sometime during the rush between my desk and laptop, with a copy of my parents’ travel itinerary trembling in my hand. I crouched on the floor, not trusting my legs, and desperately tried to clear my thoughts before the pounding sound of my pulse filled the space between my ears.

Somehow he was down on the floor beside me while my panicked whisper filled him in: “My parents’ cruise ship is on the Yangtze River today.” I could hear myself repeating it again and again, as though to convince him to take action—because I didn’t know what to do next.

It was of no consolation that the initial news report said the boat was carrying Chinese tourist groups. My parents never travel through Asia with North American tour groups; they prefer a more authentic experience that allows my adventurous Irish father to enjoy the traditional Asian cuisine and entertainment he has learned to embrace since falling in love with my Chinese mother. In a Skype call a few days earlier, he had boasted about being dubbed Mr. China by his fellow travellers for his ability to assimilate into the local culture.

When my eyes traveled further down the news story to the fact all those on board were between 50 and 80 years of age, I had to flatten myself on the floor to brace against the sudden tilt of the room. The location of the sunken ship was the same sightseeing destination my parent’s cruise ship was meant to be visiting that day.

I watched my husband quietly compare the itinerary he had taken from me to the news article on the screen, and when I saw him begin a search for a contact number on an official government website, I squeezed my eyes closed against the visual of my parents drowning.

I let myself calculate the time difference and started to shake uncontrollably as I imagined them in the past tense. A single thought looped through my brain, like it was trying to keep pace with my persistent pulse:

They must have been so scared for each other.

Because I knew if they were on that sunken ship, any fear they felt for themselves would be overwhelmed by the fear they felt for the other. They met and married within six months, against the wishes of both their mothers, because they knew their marriage would leave no room for second-guessing. They raised my sister and me during a time when interracial marriages and biracial children were still something to be judged. They have always been united, because it was an essential part of their choice to be together.

They started traveling abroad without us when I was in my senior year of high school, leaving my younger sister and their travel itinerary in my trustworthy care. It was only when we were grown, and they had both retired, that my mom started including up-to-date photocopies of their passports—in case something happened to them, she explained.

I told her she was being morbid the first time I noticed the additional pages, and she looked at me and said, “If something happened while your father and I were on a trip together, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.”

After we found the number for our government’s travel crisis helpline and gave them my parents’ passport numbers, I followed my husband upstairs not knowing what else I could do. I tried to read a book while waiting for a return call. Beside me, he eventually fell asleep and quietly started to snore. It wasn’t keeping me up this time; I had my adrenaline to do that instead.

Sometime during my teen years, my mom began sleeping upside down in the bed to create some space between her ears and the sound of my dad’s snoring. We used to make fun of them, saying we never knew where we would find her in the bed by morning.

When my sister finally left for university, my mom made the space between her and my dad even greater by moving into the empty room and setting up a new place to sleep. By then, I had started my own journey into romantic relationships, and instead of laughing at their sleeping arrangements, I was judgmental and indignant repeatedly telling her something like snoring would never separate me from my partner in bed.

Maybe I thought it was a sign they had allowed staleness into their relationship, like they weren’t trying hard enough or too easily letting a distance grow between them. At the time, I was still greedy for outward gestures and declarations to reassure me of my romantic partners’ love. Losing myself to that togetherness was part of what I thought united a couple that had declared themselves in love.

My mom would tell me, “Your dad keeps me up. And knowing he keeps me up, keeps him up.” She reassured me they didn’t need to sleep beside each other to stay in love. She was steadfast in her belief. They’ve happily maintained their sleeping arrangement ever since.

Still, it sounded more practical than loving. And I was determined that once I found someone to share my bed with every night, I would not let any space come between us.

I did end up meeting him, the guy who taught me that losing myself to him was not the best way to love or be loved. The reassurances of his love are there beside me each night, whether he is in the bed with me or not. Every time we brought one of our four children home, he moved out of our room for the first few months to allow me to synchronize my sleep with our newborn. He often slept on a couch or curled up in a twin bed in one of the other kids’ rooms And I knew it was a sign of growing love, not an indication that it was lacking.

My parents knew they could be apart without losing their closeness. But when I challenged her all those years ago, my mom was too wise to give that advice away easily. She let me watch her and my dad figuring it out, so I could too. They had a ritual of kissing each other on the lips exactly three times whenever one of them left the house, and that didn’t change with the adjustment to their sleeping habits. In fact, I didn’t notice any blips in their affection for one another. Their nightly ritual of checking in with each other before turning in has been going strong ever since.

And so, while I waited to hear if my parents were on that ship, I was stuck on that thought. If either of my parents had a chance to swim to safety, put on a life jacket, or be rescued, they would have refused unless they could stay together. Their love, even with a greater physical distance placed between them during the nighttime hours, never translated to what they feel for one another.

Maybe, I realized as I waited for news of my parents’ fate, years of partnership turn the desperate need to press our bodies against one another into a quiet gratitude and respect for the other parts of ourselves that become connected.

When the call finally came several hours later, and I was reassured my parents had been further along the Yangtze than the fateful cruise ship, my husband sat up in our bed and shared my relief and tears. Then, without needing a reminder, he turned on his side and settled into a position least likely to make him snore.

And I reached for his hand under the covers and tried to fall asleep before he did.

 

Lousie_Headshots_CLBuchanan-0108bw (2)Louise Gleeson is a journalist, blogger and mother of four. She writes about parenthood, relationships, food and her obsession with concerts. She does whatever she can to avoid acting her age and is on a mission to flog the internet with optimism and joy. Louise blogs at www.latenightplays.com and can be found on Instagram and Twitter @louisegleeson

 

 

 

 

**Our theme for our May Voices column is “motherhood.” Email Allie at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com to submit, and check out our submission guidelines first. We will then take a summer hiatus from our column and will announce our fall themes and re-open submissions in August.