• Driving While Grieving

    by Amie Newman

    When I am 22 years old it’s an adventure: the two of us live in an old school bus with no bathroom, on a river crowded with crawdads, in rural North Carolina. We break up shortly afterward, but not before hopping a plane to Greece, sleeping on the deck of a boat making its way across the ocean to Israel, settling into kibbutz life for a time, and getting stuck in Egypt traveling through the desert on horses, in search of pyramids.

    Thirty years later, I sit with him in an old cottage with missing shingles and stucco walls. There are gaping holes in the ceiling and paper taped to the floor to protect the newly sanded wood beneath.

    It’s winter and the house is surrounded by at least 6 inches of smooth, pearly snow. The land sits directly across the canyon from the white buttes sparse with the splinter of green trees, presenting themselves to the soft cotton-tipped peaks. I stare out at a vast bleached field that bails to a bouldered river below. It’s so cold even the quail are hiding. A lone hawk surveys the land.

    I raise my eyebrows and take a deep, long inhale. I exhale my exhaustion and try to zero in on the quiet glory of my surroundings wishing desperately for release. This is his cottage in this photo-perfect terrain, and we are here together: middle-aged, separated from our respective spouses, each of us with children, years of baggage, and shared history between us. It’s been thirty years and we’ve found our way back to each other in a dark time.

    I leave his house, a scribbling drive through the mountains and head home to the city a few hours away. I wind my way over wet roads, through the glowing emerald trees and mountains that swell with pride, though it’s all blurry through my glassy eyes. The tears are nearly there but I will them away. The music, the beauty of the view, and my dog snoring in the back of the car keep me hovering close to but not entirely present. I ignore the pain that sits like a boulder in my belly.

    I think of my mother’s death during these drives back and forth over the mountains to visit him.

    I crack bit by bit. Mile by mile. Season after season. Egged on by the sparkle of the green moss, the blinding of the mountain snow, the brightening of autumn leaves, I drive. Hands gripping the wheel, I can’t run. My foot on the gas, my mother’s absence squeezes me tight and my grief has nowhere to go. I wail to release the beast.

    I picture myself pulling up to his mountain retreat. His wide shy smile and dark eyes. I gently caress his face, his hair. I lean in for kisses I can’t forget. The way he kisses me with a desire that never retreats. But as much as I want him and this old cabin to help, they don’t fill the holes cratered by her absence.

    Shortly after my mother dies, I wake up and think: “I am free.” I feel despondent. But with the despondence comes a degree of relief. It’s a relief I continue to feel now, almost three years later — the mystifying mix of despair and release. I am both crushed and liberated. The constant mental friction is overwhelming. There is no center. Nothing keeps me tethered to this plane. I float.

    This is how it happened: Thirty years after we live in that school bus together, he flies across the country for a job interview, to the state I live in now. He and his wife are divorcing and he’s looking to move this way permanently.

    I’m separated from my husband. My mother has been dead for a year. I know he is coming because he emails me. I am desperate to see him — even with my mother’s death a constant echo in my ear. I have no idea if my home holds a place for me any longer. Nothing feels right. My kids are both out of the house. I am no longer living with the man I spent 25 years growing into adulthood with. My closest relationships gone or forever shifted in the span of a year. I am searching for a way out of the pain and spend a lot of time taking deep inhales and holding my breath, still and focused. In this place, hovering between inhale and exhale, I exist without grief.

    My mother is killed in a car accident one dark December evening, on a rainy road under construction. She is at the wheel of her black Honda Accord, headed home from a weekly volunteer job tutoring refugee women in English. A young woman, a staff member with the organization that runs the class, is in the passenger seat having taken my mother up on her offer to drive her home that evening. Seattle winter nights carry a hint of danger in the eternal dreariness.

    The headlights of the car on the other side of the road veer too close to my mother’s and she is hit head-on. Her car spins, T-boned by the car behind her.

    The moments between impact and when the paramedics show up are unknown to me. The young woman suffers broken bones. The left side of my mother’s body is smashed but she is alive when the ambulance arrives. Twice she is resuscitated on the way to the hospital, her pacemaker struggling to stay operational. Still, after hours in the trauma ward, she dies on the table in a white hospital gown. I am right beside her.

    I feel my soul slowly dissolve in the moments after her death. Before we part forever, I whisper in her ear, “I love you and always will” and fall apart.

    I stumble through the days, weeks, and months, in shock, without the faintest idea of how to live without her.

    A year after her death. I head to the only bar within walking distance of my house. A big neon sign rests atop a bright blue wall. I get there before him. It’s loud inside, and dim-lit, but bright enough to feel seen so I head to a cocktail table and high booth. He arrives soon after. We hug awkwardly. He knows I’m grieving but neither of us knows what we’re supposed to do with ourselves. We leave in his rented car, drive down to the lake, and park. He forgets to put the parking brake on, and we start to roll toward the lake. Then we have sex, and he drives me home, to grieve.

    He takes the job for which he had interviewed and moves to the eastern part of the state. He lives on the third deepest lake in the country, in a clean, new rental condo, and waits for me to visit. I do. But I’m not sure I should be there. I have no idea what I need even if it’s what I want (to believe).

    We spend time together, suspended from our day-to-day lives. Snowshoeing in the mountains, paddle-boarding the lake, sleeping in the woods. We eat edibles and merge, skin to skin, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes we practically hypnotize. We slide into the empty spaces left by our former lives. Together we find a similar journey and without speaking know, there is a reason for us here and now.

    When I think about what’s next, I drift away on dreams I am in no way ready to turn into reality.

    The drive is long and winding between our homes. I miss my mother. My kids. My marriage. I take the time in the car, for hours and hours, to simply exist. I am not here, and I am not there. In the car, I am safely moving.

    I remain unsure of what I need or want. He loves me through it.

    Eventually, he moves to his house on the bluff, the deep lake in the distance. The cottage is in disrepair but the view is too juicy to pass up. I continue to visit him. The drives shake something free from me.

    When I leave his little house and this man I have known and loved for decades, another trip across the mountain passes ahead of me, there is a brutally beautiful moment that always gets me. Not more than five miles outside of town lives a short tunnel. It takes only seconds to fly through it. But every time, every single time my car approaches the wide mouth of the other side, I feel as if I’m being birthed into an awesome world, glorious, sharp, and inexplicable. Thrust into a natural beauty that makes my abdomen contract and release. An opening.

    On my final trip over and back, I cry. I know I will miss him deeply but the space between what was and what is, it’s vast. It’s time to stay put for a bit, examining what I’ve shaken free on these long journeys. I dull the aching that accompanies me everywhere by homing in on the hurt of the here and now while I drive — releasing the guttural sadness from my body, I hit the steering wheel and scream.

    I relearn the sound of my voice, on those drives, with no one but me to hear. I discover a sliver of self-love and hold it tight. I acknowledge to myself the nuances of what it means to grieve a mother whose love and life were complicated. I find pride in having raised two humans into adulthood. I sit with the love of a man who walked alongside me for 25 years, in sickness and in health, through the pain and joys of parenthood, and a life well-lived. I am flooded with moments of release.

    I revel in the right mix of blue skies, white clouds, sunshine, and wind. I roll down my window, feel the breeze kiss the tears on my cheeks, and when the light hits my eyes, I fan my fingers and wiggle them in the air toward the heavens above. I’m almost home.

    Amie Newman is a strategic communications professional and creative writer and editor with extensive experience bringing social change organizations’ stories and issues to life to bolster awareness and compel action. She works primarily with mission-driven organizations to use communication to create the change we want to see in the world. Her personal essays have been published in Entropy, Lillith, ManifestStation, Kveller, Ask Me About My Uterus, and Bright Magazine. Her journalism has been published in Truthout, Common Dreams, Huffington Post, Ms. Magazine online, and in an anthology for high-school students about reproductive rights by Greenhaven Publishing. Amie Newman Twitter: @amienewman Instagram: @amiebnewman

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  • The Friend Who Got Away

     “I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life.”

    My best friend sobs on the other end of the phone. Over two weeks back from her honeymoon, and this is our first check-in, our longest conversational drought in years. Well, until now. I look back from midlife and wonder if I left her too long, unmoored and adrift in a marital tempest she never anticipated. 

    We met the first day of evangelical school kindergarten, both wearing shapeless 1970s polyester dresses with too many frills. Among the first things we learned? How to grow up to be the sort of God-fearing woman a good Christian man might marry. We graduated together, attended the same college, took many of the same classes, so alike we could not find the line where one started and the other began. Our caps and gowns were black, our hair was big, and our dreams were identical. 

    Throughout our lives, we always helped each other figure out what to do. We could be career women who made good Christian husbands happy. Of course, we fell in love at the same time. My husband snores in the other room. It is two in the morning, and I am wedged in our rental’s guest room closet, whispering my outrage to avoid waking him. I have only been married a few months, long enough to know my new mate gets grumpy when his sleep is interrupted.

     “But this was your honeymoon,” I murmur. “How could it already be ruined?” Voice bucking with emotion, she relives the trip, picture postcards of sun-drenched beaches and volcano hikes, epic kisses and glorious sunsets. A lovesick husband who indulged her every whim. “That sounds amazing,” I whisper. “But you’re not telling me everything.” 

    “Because if I tell anyone, that means it really happened.” “What?” My voice rises. I hear my husband sigh and drag my volume to a notch above silence. “Tell me. Please.” She gulps a shaky breath. “We were at the gate to board our return flight.” Her voice is flat and disembodied, like she forces words through another person’s mouth. “And. . . and I told him how excited I was to interview for a work promotion with this tan. I held up my arm, and my wedding ring caught the light, and he grabbed my wrist and hissed, ‘I told you not to apply for that job.’ And I laughed and said, ‘You didn’t mean it,’ and tried to pull my arm away because he was hurting me.” 

    She stops. “He was rough with you?” I practically shout. “I wish it had stopped there,” she mutters. “He just . . . his face turned into this monster mask, all red and nostrils flaring. He shouted obscenities I can’t bring myself to repeat and left me at the gate, taking all our money and telling me to get myself home.” 

    She was penniless, slack-jawed, and sobbing. Briefly, she considered calling her father collect to arrange a ride from the airport, but she froze. Her father could never know. He would show her new husband a thing or two about respect. If he manhandled and cursed her in public, how would her husband make her pay for an indiscretion once they were alone? 

    She boarded the flight, still dazed by the whiplash of his temper. As she listened to the announcements and buckled her seat belt, he stalked onto the plane less than a minute before the crew sealed the door. “All the way home, he punished me in cruel ways. He called me names, sneered at my attempts to mollify him, and mocked the book I tried to read to escape. And now, he expects me to act lovey-dovey like nothing happened.” Her voice rises. “AND I’LL NEVER FORGET IT. I’m still terrified of doing or saying something to set him off. Less than a month married, and I don’t know what to do.” 

    It is the first time I don’t know what to tell her. We end the call by promising each other a safe space, a place to always be believed, a haven to cry and vent, wail and pray. Because she doesn’t know my story. I have been keeping things from her, too. I have already heard the word bitch more times in my three-month union than in my other twenty-two years of life, but I tell myself his behavior is my fault. 

    We were taught that Christian wives find ways to make their husbands happy. Maybe we can help each other be that kind of wife. We have never been closer or more connected. Our friendship will be one people hold up and say, “This is a friendship you should strive for.” As the months pass, we share escalating scenes of verbal and emotional abuse. Reckless driving and red lights run while cowering in the passenger seat. Being pushed from a moving car at midnight. Going to the bank the day after payday to find one cent in a joint account. Explosive screams and shoves into furniture and walls. 

    We fantasize about leaving them, but we don’t know how. Besides, what will people think? The world we came from instilled a conviction that decent women do not leave. We will be damaged goods people talk about behind their hands. No other good Christian man will ever marry us.

     I only understand that my marriage is life or death when a gun distills it to one steel-shrouded point. I divorce my husband. She stays with hers. Our friendship is burdened with the weight of our split decisions. Eventually, it breaks. 

    I always thought my divorce sowed the seed that ended our friendship, but I was wrong. Our friendship ended with me wedged in a closet, the first time she told me her husband abused her. I should have ended the call and gotten in the car. I could have been at her house in less than five hours. Maybe the element of surprise would have been enough to force her onto the other path. It might have given us both the strength to leave at the same time. We could have rejected our evangelical upbringing, traveled the world, and met our soulmates together. We could still be best friends. 

    With the benefit of age and life experience, I understand how I failed her. I was supposed to tell her to leave, but I didn’t know how. The consequences of my failure fully manifested by the time we hit forty. Losing her decades-long friendship is one of my greatest regrets. She stopped speaking to me more than a decade ago. I still miss her; I’ll always love her; and I can’t fix our relationship. Her silence is my punishment.

    Andra Watkins is the author of four books. Her memoir Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace hit the NYT bestseller list in October 2015. Her well-reviewed Nowhere trilogy targets the fiction lover. She gives rousting keynote speeches and has yet to meet a destination she doesn’t like. You can find her at her website, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • To Middle Age and Beyond

    I’m lying on the living room floor, talking into the phone while chewing on my hair, just like I used to in high school. Occasionally I cackle and roll over. My voice drops as we conspire. My best friend of thirty years is on the other end of the line.

    My husband glances at me and smirks as he walks by, amused by my girlish antics. I feel bad for him and most men, who never get to experience friendship like this. It’s like a river, wide and narrow, deep and shallow, always changing but ever-present.

    “You’re my best friend,” he said to me once between the bedsheets.

    “Bernice is my best friend,” I answered matter-of-factly.

    It amazes me that I now have a best friend and a husband. A decade ago, I confided in Bernice that I doubted my ability to have a serious romantic relationship.

    “After six months or a year, I can’t stand the sight of them. I’m just not cut out for long-term commitment.”

    She reminded me of our friendship. “You are not the problem,” she said.

    This phone call, when I told her about a slight from someone in my family, she said, “Well, I might be biased since I’m on Team Lindsey, but they are totally in the wrong.” She’s only half-joking. Everyone deserves a Bernice.

    We talk about the heavy stuff, my struggles with anxiety and my therapeutic journey, her pandemic fears, and grief at her father’s passing. We talk about the superficial stuff, popular videos and memes, funny occurrences in our day-to-day. New recipes and restaurants. Old memories from our high school theatre production. The price of gas. Or mutual enemies. You name it, we’ve gone there.

    Now, her voice comes to me through the phone line, heavy with exhaustion and regret. “I should probably get to bed. I love you.”

    “Love you too. Good night.”

    But then, our rapid-fire conversation picks up again.

    “Did you read that?”

    “Yes! Did you see that?”

    “Yes! “What did you think?”

    “Loved it. You?”

    “Loved it.”

    After a few more attempts, we press the red buttons on our respective cell phones and go our separate ways. We both have to get back to reality. She, to bed to prepare for another long day of teaching and parenting. Me, to roll out my back and decompress with some unrealistic reality TV. This is friendship in middle-age.

    These marathon phone calls don’t happen as often anymore, but they never get old. In fact, they make me feel young and euphoric. A smile still tugs at the corners of my mouth all evening as I move through my routine. I apply moisturizer and brush my teeth with a goofy grin on my face, my husband shaking his head at me.

    In junior high, we would spend entire snow days on the corded telephone, eating Captain Crunch and watching Who’s the Boss, talking about everything and nothing. We never ran out of things to say. And the few silent moments were completely comfortable.

    A lot has changed since then. 1500 kilometers and an ocean separate us. She has gained a child and lost a father. I have discovered my life’s purpose in writing. Yet, although we have both aged and changed, something stays intrinsically the same.

    She is still that little girl who wore the same outfit as me on the first day of Grade One. We buried a plum pit from her lunch in the schoolyard and fantasized about coming back as women to a full-grown tree. We imagined plucking ripe fruit from heavy branches and juices running down our chins.

    The pit rotted in the ground, but our friendship did not. It has grown and matured, with layers of experience and memories. Over time, we’ve built a friendship like a tree, bigger and stronger with each passing year, the rings denoting the good and the bad.

    Sometimes, our friendship stagnated. We risked letting it slip into the past, getting caught up in new life journeys and friendships, travels and trials. But one or the other of us hung on that extra bit tighter and kept the hope burning a little bit brighter.

    Now, we have been enjoying a bountiful crop for years. The tree is so strong it needs less maintenance, but we love to prune it when we can.

    Last year, when Bernice was vacationing with her family 400 kilometers away from me, I didn’t hesitate to make the drive to see her for just one day. I was nervous about how our relationship might have fractured and faltered after a year-and-a-half separation and a global pandemic, but she was there for me, just the same yet slightly different. I hope she would say the same.

    Bernice. My friend closer than family, who knows me fully and loves me entirely. I’m so lucky to have her, and our phone calls. A friendship that never gets old, in middle age and beyond. 

    Lindsey Harrington is an Atlantic Canadian writer. She was the 2021 recipient of the Rita Joe Poetry Prize and has had short stories published recently by Long Con Magazine, Off Topic Publishing, and the Icelandic Connection. She is currently working on a short story collection about breakups in all their forms, called Coming Apart. When she’s not writing about heartbreak, she lives happily with her husband and two dogs. Follow her at

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  • Friends Like These

    If you are lucky, you will have a friend in your life who will listen to you go on and on about your complicated marriage, who will sit patiently and nonjudgmentally as you spin in the same circle, like a cat chasing its tail, for ten years. She will discuss it with you over dinner and while sipping cocktails with you at a bar; during long walks with you and your dogs; over the phone when you need to rail about your discontent. She will look at you with love instead of pity, with sympathy instead of attempts to fix. She will offer you more patience than you deserve. When you tell her, everything feels impossible, she will fold you in her arms and say, I know. She will text you more heart emojis than you can count.

    If you are very lucky, you will have another friend who will hear you waffling between staying and going, regardless of how maddening you must be, how clear the decision has to be from her perspective. She will remind you how much she likes him, unwilling to vilify, acknowledging that even the right decision is heartbreaking. Even though she lives 1,500 miles away, she will stay in touch all the time. She will make you feel you aren’t crazy, and acknowledge that it is hard, so hard. She will allow you to arrive at your own pace, never pressing. She will lean in close when you are finally able to whisper the words, I think I want a divorce. She will whisper back, I’m supporting your divorce. She will text you later, I love you x a billion.

    If you are extraordinarily lucky, you will also have a friend who provides regular escape from your house during the pandemic, who invites you over every week to the haven of her backyard, replete with a paradisaically refreshing aqua pool. Over beers, she will kindly remind you how unhappy you are when you try to pretend you aren’t, and that this doesn’t make you a bad person. She will gently nudge you to call her divorce attorney just for information. She will give you a recommendation for her lovely acupuncturist and excellent insurance agent and will personally refinance your house for you after he goes. She will bring out champagne after your divorce hearing and applaud when you shoot the cork across the pool.

    If you are lucky beyond reason, you will have one more friend who is a little older and a lot wiser, who acts as a mentor, big sister, and fairy godmother all in one. During hikes, she will assure you that you are talented, beautiful, and worthy. She will come to your house with fresh pastries, lattes, and books when you are feeling lonely. She will keep the faith that great things will happen to you. She will invite you to join her family for the holidays. She will text you regular check-ins: No need to respond. Just thinking of you and sending hugs. One time, autocorrect will mangle her note so that it reads, Let me know if you are tired of all these chickens, and you will both crack up when you text back, I need a bunch of chickens like I need a hole in the head.

    These are the friends who will jump on a Zoom call to bear witness as you take off your engagement and wedding ring for the very last time. They will drop off pussy willows and fresh eggs and a giant bag of oranges you didn’t know you needed, but that you devour over the sink like you are starving. These friends will sit with you when your ex comes back for the first time to pick up some things, and will hold you while you sob after he leaves. They will mail you bath salts and cards with inspiring, but uncorny, messages. During Covid, they will dress in every layer they own to be able to sit with you in person even when it’s 20 degrees outside. They will remind you how awesome it is to have female roommates when they come to stay in the guest room for a week to keep you company.These women friends will text with you as you set up your first date, gladly receive the address where you’ll be, wait for your home safe message, and giddily follow up the next day, asking for details, hoping for the best for you. When dates go bust, they are the friends who will say, Well, one more f***ing personal growth experience! These friends remind you that with every one, you get better at knowing what you don’t want. And also, what you DO.

    Anne Pinkerton’s poems and essays have appeared in HippocampusSunlight PressModern LossRiver Teeth‘s “Beautiful Things,” EntropyStone Gathering, The BarkArs Medica, and the anthology The Pandemic Midlife Crisis: Gen X Women on the Brink, among others. She received an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University. Her memoir will be published by Vine Leaves Press in 2023. You can find her on Twitter: @aapinkerton, Facebook: @AnnePinkertonWriter, and Instagram: @AnnePinkertonWriter

    Read more from our collection of personal essays about friendship at midlife.

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  • Space To Imagine

    A blue-walled loft bedroom in an old church converted into condos. A wide leather couch, piled with blankets, in a cramped but comfortable house. A two-level, wood-floored apartment filled with abstract art, dried rose petals, and light. And a cozy guest room in a college town that I still think of as home.

    Most friendships involve a balance between space and attention, with both parties weighing the needs of the friendship against the other obligations and people in their lives. During the winter and spring leading up to my divorce, several friends gave me the gift of space in a very particular way: opening up their homes to me, whether they were physically present or not.

    Frankie was the first to make the offer, when I called her sobbing after my marriage—or the half-truths we had been telling ourselves about it—collapsed spectacularly on a cold February night. Instead of a planned romantic getaway to New York City with my husband, I slept on a friend’s pullout couch so I could catch an early morning flight from Boston to west Texas. Bleary-eyed and heartbroken, I spent the weekend soaking in the peace of Frankie’s house: sitting with her as she folded laundry, working a puzzle at the card table in the front living room, eating home-cooked meals in the kitchen with Frankie and her husband, Monty. I flew back to Boston having solved nothing, but feeling somehow steadied, and more ready for whatever was coming next.

    Lauryn was the next one to give me a house key. After returning from Frankie’s, I went home only long enough to empty my suitcase and repack it with clean winter clothes. I dragged myself back through the snow to East Boston, where Lauryn had left a key under a loose brick near the front entrance, and spent six days staying alone in the apartment she shared with her husband and children. I slept in the loft and raided Lauryn’s tea stash in the mornings, a vase of daffodils adding a splash of cheer to the kitchen windowsill. I walked down snowy streets in the morning to catch the train to work, trying to adjust to this new wrinkle in my universe, unsure if anything would ever be the same again.

    Chrissy and I went for a walk at the end of that week, bundled up against the cold winds whipping off the harbor. Her blue eyes, piercing and kind, met mine above her purple down coat, as she listened to me trying to make sense of my new reality. She invited me to stay the following weekend while her husband was away for work, insisting she could use another adult presence in the house with the kids. “You’d be doing me a favor,” she said. I packed a weekend bag and turned up on her doorstep, as agreed, helping with the dishes and admiring her daughter’s crayon drawings while I talked to her nearly teenage son about superheroes.

    That spring, Chrissy put me in touch with Carolyn, who welcomed me into her spare bedroom for a couple of weekends. I slept under a puffy white duvet, waking to pink skies over the nearby airport and making friends with Phoenix the goldendoodle, who liked to steal my socks. One night, curled up in a cream-colored armchair, I spilled the complicated story of my marriage and how it might be ending. Carolyn listened with quiet attention, her luminous blue eyes taking in my every word and gesture. When I tried to pull back, making the sort-of-apology so many women do for taking up so much conversational space, she waved me off: “You have no idea the processing that’s happened in this room!”

    That spring marked a turning point for me: not only facing the fissures in my marriage, but deciding to walk away from it instead of trying to mend what was left. Concurrently, it became the beginning of a life I chose for myself, independent of the past decisions I’d made or the models I’d always followed. I thought often of Birdie, Jean Stapleton’s character in You’ve Got Mail, telling Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life!”

    That was the gift my friends gave me: the gift of space, room to breathe, time to set down all that had happened and look at it from every angle, and envision something new. Sometimes they were there to examine it with me, as when Frankie and I took a rambling walk through her neighborhood on a warm February day. Sometimes the imagining happened in solitude, as when I later spent three weeks dog-sitting for Carolyn and living solo in her apartment. Every morning I woke up and tried to picture it: what if I lived here? What if this were my life?

    I appreciated the literal space, of course: the distance from my ex at a time when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue living with him or not. But the gift went beyond the physical: it was a gift of imagination, at a time when the containers that had previously held my life were breaking apart or shattering into pieces. These women gave me new rooms to inhabit, the chance to ask questions and try new ideas on for size. They gave me space to mourn what had ended, and to dream about what might happen next. As my definition of myself and the role I played in the world was changing drastically, they gave me the chance to simply be who I was right then—however messy or unformed on any given day. 

    It felt vulnerable to accept such a gift, and I wished I had something to offer them in return. It was humbling to acknowledge the depth of my own need, and to simply say “Yes” or “Thank you” when they offered their houses or spare rooms. I knew I couldn’t make it up to them, and I knew that wasn’t the point. They are my friends, and they gave me their space. And in so doing, they helped me conceive of and eventually create a new life.

    Katie Noah Gibson is a writer, runner, flower fiend and Texas transplant based in Boston. She does communications work for a small nonprofit, reviews books for Shelf Awareness, and squeezes in yoga when she can. You can find her online at, or on Instagram and Twitter at @katiengibson. 

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  • Alia

    I met Alia on an app for moms called Peanut in January of 2020. I’d never had the chance to date online, and at first, I was paralyzed by the sight of each woman’s face, unsure of whether to swipe right or swipe left. But quickly, I became accustomed to that split second of judgment, that moment of trying to glean some sense of kindness and intellect from pictures of a total stranger. My loneliness was stronger than my self consciousness, and I messaged a few people every day in between diaper changes and feedings. 

    Alia was the only person with whom I managed to push past the pleasantries and have an actual conversation. When we finally met up in person, she thanked me for being vulnerable about the postpartum depression I experienced with my first child that I was wary of with my second. She had chosen not to breastfeed due to her own history of anxiety and depression. 

    We met for coffee in late February at a restaurant in the Upper West Side, a place I selected for its French bistro vibes and excellent light. My baby was at home with my mother, my son was at school, and I was alone in public for the first time in months. It had been over twenty years since I’d been on a blind date, and I was nervous. I arrived early, sitting at a table by the window like any other woman on a Tuesday, enjoying my book, my coffee, and the winter sun, the whole experience a novelty already. 

    Alia arrived wearing her baby nestled in a gray carrier, the curve of his head peeking over the top. She slid into the opposite seat, and we began the awkward dance of getting to know each other. I came to learn that she had migrated from Pakistan as a teenager with her family, settling in South Carolina where her parents still lived. I learned that she worked in finance, and that her husband was a lawyer. When she spoke of her in-laws in Pakistan, her body stiffened and her voice grew defensive; I could feel the tension as she described the expectations of the community. 

    While she talked, I noted the lovely shape of her eyebrows, and the fact that she was so slim just two months after her son’s birth. I could tell I was a few years older than her, and wondered if it showed in my skin. I felt a little embarrassed when she declined the pastries I had ordered to share. She explained that she’d had gestational diabetes and stopped eating sweets during her pregnancy.

    The whole time I talked, summarizing the details of my own life – my South Asian heritage via Guyana, South America, my upbringing in New Jersey, my work life as a textile designer – I wondered if she was bored. I wondered if I seemed manic and sleep deprived, or interesting and normal. I wondered if this was working, if we would meet again, if this was a tiny cornerstone in what would one day be a friendship. 

    Alia and I met up in person one more time before Covid-19 became a global pandemic, and lockdown began in New York City. We met in the first week of March, in what should have been the end of my maternity leave. On a bright crisp day, we settled on a park bench on the grounds of the Museum of Natural History. I remember my daughter wore a knitted gray sweater with bear ears sewn onto the hood. As our babies batted their arms at the trees and squirrels, Alia and I tried to make sense of the virus, which was ominous, but still distant and unreal. We traded the little information we had, debating whether to cancel upcoming travel plans. 

    Alia and her family moved in with her parents down south after the city shut down. In the beginning, we called each other every few weeks to check in. We never had much to say, but I was always grateful to hear from her. “My friend from the app called!” I would tell my husband, a glimmer of excitement in the monotony. 

    I don’t know if Alia ever returned to New York City, if she still works in finance, had another baby, or got divorced. The pandemic severed our tiny strand of connection, but the truth is, there’s no guarantee our friendship would’ve stuck. We related as new moms, but that common experience could only take us so far. The world has changed dramatically since we both swiped right, and no doubt, we have too. My loner tendencies have taken over in the past two years. But perhaps one day, I will reopen the Peanut app and scroll the faces, hunting for that glimmer of connection.

    Sumitra Mattai is a New York-based writer and textile designer. She holds a BFA in Textile Design from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. She explores themes of identity and culture in her work.

    Her IG and Twitter handles are @sumitramattai, and her website is

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