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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Andrew Cuomo Your Father is Mario Cuomo NOT Ronald Reagan!


I left the New York State capitol yesterday, where demonstrators were streaming into the building to protest Andrew Cuomo’s state budget. The budget gives tax breaks to millionaires in a state loaded with them while making devastating cuts to education in the poorest school districts. The demonstrators planned on spending the night at the capitol, inspired by the example of protesters against Republican Governor Scott Walker.

Did someone really say that Andrew was not only a Democrat, but Mario Cuomo’s son?

In 1984, Mario Cuomo thrilled Democrats across the nation with a visionary speech that denounced President Reagan’s portrait of America as a “shining city on a hill.” Mario Cuomo told Reagan, “Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ than it is just a ‘Shining City on a Hill.’”

What more appropriate description could there be of New York, which boasts the biggest gap between the rich and poor of any state in the nation, than a tale of two cities.
Mario Cuomo went on to use words that could be a direct indictment of his son’s budget. He said Reagan’s philosophy was to

“Make the rich richer, and what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those who are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.” Instead, he urged the President to listen to Americans like “a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire.”

Mario Cuomo laid out the task for Democrats in the 1984 election: “We must convince them that we don’t have to settle for two cities, that we can have one city, indivisible, shining for all of its people.” And he asserted, “We speak for young people demanding an education and a future.”

While New York faces a budget crisis — and budget cuts are inevitable — Andrew Cuomo has chosen to emulate Reagan rather than his father. As the New York Times wrote in a March 20th editorial, “Just extending the surcharge on New York’s highest earners through 2012 would add an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue to the upcoming budget and $4 billion the following fiscal year. Without that surcharge and other targeted tax increases, Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts in education and other vital services will inevitably be deeper and more painful than necessary, harming both individuals and the foundation for the state’s future economic growth.”

The choice is most stark when it comes to education. As the Times pointed out, “For instance, Mr. Cuomo wants to withhold a $1.2 billion payment due to poor school districts under a 2006 court order. If the Legislature agrees, it will be the second year in a row that the ordered payment is not made. And it will further widen an already unconscionably wide gap between rich and poor school districts.”

The editors at the Times highlighted the injustice of that gap in another editorial a few days later, in which they compared two school districts, echoing Mario Cuomo’s portrait of two cities. In wealthy Syosset, which offers almost 30 Advanced Placement courses to children who graduate to Ivy League schools, Cuomo proposed to cut $212 per student. In upstate Ilion, which has one AP class and where one-third of the students qualify for the school lunch program, Cuomo’s budget cut $688 per student.

The buzz around Albany is that this is all about Andrew Cuomo’s insatiable desire to be president based on a strategy of being a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. At the same time that Cuomo has insisted on giving tax breaks to the rich, he’s begun pressing the State Legislature to legalize gay marriage. His father’s moving address was based on unifying people, saying, “Remember that, unlike any other Party, we embrace men and women of every color, every creed, every orientation, every economic class.”

His son seems to have put his finger in his ears after “orientation.” But then, the wealthy Democratic donors who are spending millions of dollars to push Cuomo’s budget plan don’t hear that well either.

One courageous New York Senator is rejecting the calculus that civil rights will trump economic rights. Manhattan Senator Thomas Duane, an openly gay champion of marriage equality, will vote against the budget. But where are the rest of New York’s Democrats, who control the State Assembly and make up a 48% of the State Senate?

Only seven Democratic Assemblymembers had the guts to buck the Democratic Governor and vote against the budget bill that will lower tax rates for the rich. A handful of Democratic Senators will join them. The rest are captive of Albany’s craven “let’s make a deal” politics that seems to strip state legislators of the courage to do what is right.

In 1984, Mario Cuomo told the nation that:

The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence. The Republicans —
the Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. “The strong” — “The strong,” they tell us, “will inherit the land.” We Democrats believe in something else. We democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once.

Mario Cuomo seems to have lost one of his own family members along the way.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and is writing a book on the progressive campaign to enact health reform. This post appeared first at NewDeal 2.0, the Roosevelt Institute blog.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BLOOD ISN"T THICKER THAN WATER


By Jennifer Orellana

I sat there with the phone attached to my ear, just waiting for this dream to end. This had to be a dream. No way could this be true. I tried to keep my composure and not break down crying because I could feel the anticipation of my mother and step father radiating towards me.

They wanted to know what was going on but I couldn’t tear myself away from the phone. Not for one second, because then I might just miss an important detail. Finally after twenty minutes my mother couldn’t take it anymore. She stood up and said,

“What has he done now?!” But I couldn’t hear her. My mind was drifting to someplace else, back to a time when things were a lot simpler…

*****

“Um I want the six piece with French fries and an apple juice please!” I screamed into the drive thru order box.

“Are you sure you’re going to eat all your food Jen?”

“Yes dad, I’m not a little girl anymore I’m already eight and a half years old.” I said as a matter of fact.

“Okay you’re right I keep forgetting how big you are. I know your mom must tell you I’m a bad man and that I’m crazy, and she’s right. But even though I might not be the best dad I do love you very much. I now you’re young but I want you to know that no matter what bad things I do or say I am a part of you, and you are a part of me. My blood runs through your veins and you have to always remember that our blood is thicker than water.”

I looked at him extremely dazed and said, “Okay dad”. Then I grabbed my happy meal with such excitement and we drove off.

*****

“Jen! Hello, what’s going on?” My mom started screaming, obviously getting tenser by the minute. I got off the phone saying goodbye and I love you to my aunt who lived in Virginia, my father’s sister.

“What did she say?” My stepdad asked.

I took a deep breath and looked at my mom and stepdad’s eyes soaked with concern. I had decided not to hold it in anymore, so I told them everything.

“Titi Madeline said that my dad has gotten married to some Italian lady. They had the ceremony in Italy two months ago and the whole family was invited, everyone but me. Oh and I forgot to mention, his new wife is pregnant, I’m going to have another brother or sister.”

My parents looked at me, shocked. They couldn’t believe the news either, especially since I had just seen my dad three months ago. He had taken me out to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant because everyone knows my favorite food is Italian food.

“I wanted to bring you here so that I can tell you that I want things to be different. I mean I look at you and I still see my little girl except you’re not so little anymore. I know I haven’t been in your life the way you’ve wanted me to but I want us to be closer. You are my child, my blood, and I love you.”

I had heard this speech many times before but it just felt so sincere. He was my father and I loved him very much. I wanted him to come to my softball games and I wanted him to be proud of me. But every time I looked into the crowd he wasn’t there. When I looked for him at my graduation, he wasn’t there. When it was my birthday I would sit by the phone and just hope that he would at least call to wish me a happy birthday, but he never did. How could I believe him now when we’ve been through this so many times? I guess I never really did believe things would change but I wanted it to with all my heart, so I clung onto hope.

My mom put her arms around me and held me close telling me that it would be alright and not to let it get to me. But how could I not?! He’s my dad and he didn’t even invite me to his wedding, he didn’t even tell me he was with someone. But that wasn’t even the worse news.

“Ma, he lives on New Dorp now.”

“What? He lives in Staten Island now?”

“Yes,” I said, looking at the floor as tear after tear slowly ran down my cheek.

All my life my father used distance as an excuse as to why he never got to see me.

He lived in the Bronx and I lived in Staten Island. My mom always told me that that wasn’t a logical excuse, that if a parent wanted to see their child there was no amount of distance that would stop them from visiting. But now my dad lived about ten minutes away from me and still I got no phone call or visit.

What was his excuse now? Guess our blood isn’t as thick as he said.

Jennifer Orellana is a junior at the University at Albany, SUNY, majoring in psychology. A student in the Happiness class this semester, Jennifer wrote this piece as part of the "Flip the Script" assignment. She has written a second version of the piece, "flipping the script" and telling the story from her mother's point of view; that piece will appear in the Happiness class blog shortly.>

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

THE SPIRITKEEPER, A Love Story -- Chapter 11

By Lynn Biederstadt

Chapter 11: "EYES IN TWILIGHT"

Grocery bags. Purse. Keys. Travel bag. Laptop. The eternal front-door juggling act of the newly-arrived. This was the moment when the phone was bound to ring. This was the moment when it did.

She dumped her armloads on the counter just as the answering machine picked up. She let the machine screen the call; if this was Ty calling she had no interest in talking to him.

But it wasn’t Ty. It was Kismet.

“McGill? …ummmm…hi….this is David Emory?” The soft voice on the machine was awkward. Shy. Kind of appealing, really, in a grown man. “Hope you don’t mind my calling. I should be home around six on Saturday afternoon, if you’re available…if you feel like stopping by…ahhhhh…oh, it’s 81 Republic Road. Hope to see you. Thanks.”

She arrived an hour ahead of his invitation, claiming the high ground early as she always did when she was about to interview somebody. David didn’t answer the door. She tried the handle: It wasn't locked, but she didn’t go in. She wandered around back, to see if she would find him there.

Nice, neat yard. Nature left largely to itself. House and outbuildings set in a clearing, surrounded by trees, bordered on one side by a flower-decked meadow. Flagstone walkways with thyme growing between the stones; an herby smell when you walked there. And, like a gem at the clearing’s edge, a beautifully preserved old barn. No sign of David.

A peculiar, rhythmic sound worked its way out into the yard through the barn’s tall windows. She followed the sound inside.

The scene was almost too picturesque, too perfect. Like a magazine photo. A third of the old barn had been finished into a huge greatroom, the old post and beam-work exposed from floor to ceiling. Towering windows filled the room with a warm light that a painter would have envied. In the center of the room, a pair of cushy armchairs rested welcomingly on a beautiful Kilim carpet. Along one wall, sat a long wooden farmhouse table laden with books; built high along another were box cubbies, filled with hundreds of skeins of yarn in grays and whites and blacks. Big handmade baskets of washed wool lay here and there. In front of the tall windows stood a great wooden loom. And at that loom sat David.

He was small at the immense mechanism, like an organist at a mighty instrument. He hadn’t heard her come in, so utterly engaged was he in his task. She had never seen a man weave. His body worked the cadence of the loom with a lithe, languid grace, no movement wasted. His sure, steady hands moved over the pale grey threads with practiced efficiency. His focus was captivating.

It was only when he sat up to stretch his back that he realized he had a visitor. He looked up at her over the glasses perched halfway down his nose and smiled his welcome. It was the first time she had ever seen him smile: a startling, wonderful, childlike grin with nothing held back, completely unexpected and totally disarming. It changed his face. It changed everything about him. When he smiled, you couldn’t help but smile back.

He swung his legs over the bench and came to greet her. She realized that she’d never really seen him upright and full-on. He was taller than she’d thought, narrow through the shoulders, built vertical. His slender frame was draped in charcoal grey head to foot, shirt buttoned to the neck. This was a guy who would have seemed perfectly at home teaching a hip and wildly popular course in Contemporary Art at some first-choice urban university, pedaling to his classes on a bike, worshipped by adoring students. Whatever had been the matter with him those few days ago was gone from him now. The intensity was gone. The distraction was gone. The shy was gone. He didn’t look like a man in mortal danger from some improbable gift. Whoever David Emory was, today he was whole.

“You got my phone message. Good. I’d hoped you wouldn’t mind my looking up your phone number; Eli Cline told me who you were. Come sit.” He led her to one of the comfortable chairs in the center of the room.

“I was wondering where that beautiful white jacket of yours came from,” she said admiringly. “Now I think I know.”

“My friend Marjorie Maxwell spins for me. Her sister Martha does the sewing. I’ll introduce you one of these days; their cottage is right up the road. I hope you like cats.” His voice was at the low end of tenor, with a soft smoky cast. For all the cordiality of his welcome, his speech had a halting quality, as if he weren’t used to talking for more than a sentence or two at a time. “Can I get you a cup of something…” he glanced at his wristwatch “…or, better still, a glass of something?”

“I will if you will. Thank you.”

The place had the heady smell of wood and wool, earth and clean hay. In the field beyond the tall windows, a half-dozen sheep grazed. The peace was exquisite. This was a place where the world didn’t come.

He came back to her holding a glass of white wine by its stem, the bowl clouded by the coolness of the golden liquid. “Try that,” he said.

“Thank you…may I call you David?”

“I think we’re past that formality, don’t you?”

“You know, I’ve driven by this house a dozen times. I’ve always thought how beautiful it was. We’re neighbors. Did you know?”

“I did. You were pretty big news on the small town tom-tom last month. Everybody knows everything about everybody here.”

“And you’ve been here just about forever, I understand. Eli told me that your family was in textiles?”

“Yeah, although I’m not sure they would have understood this.” He waved a hand at the room. “For them, it was all about big noisy machines. I’m the only one who ever wove by hand, for the pleasure of it.”

“It suits you.”

“Keeps me sane. More or less.” He quickly changed the subject. “Speaking of Eli, you’ve made quite an impression on him, you know. I think he likes that you’re not afraid of him. Most everybody is, most of the time. Including me.”

“I have a particular fondness for tough nuts.”

“Then you are going to love Eli. You actually told him he was crazy?”

“That would be me.”

“Brave woman.” A reflective silence. “I expect you’re wondering why I asked you over.” Silence again; David had a habit of gathering quiet around him when he was considering what to say. “I wanted to apologize for the other day. In the road. And after. Don’t misunderstand: I’m grateful that you were there. But I know it must have been…difficult for you.”

He had given her an opening. “Not for me. More for you, I think,” she said. “This happens often?”

“More and more often, unfortunately.” He paused, prepared, and finally got to the point he’d been hovering around. “I know Eli told you about me. And I know that you’re… having a hard time with it.”

“I reacted badly. I was rude. I’m sorry.”

“No. No. Don’t be sorry. I wouldn’t believe it either, if I were you.”

“You’ve got to admit, it’s not something you hear every day.”

“And you accepted my invitation to find out whether I really was around the bend. I get it. But I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. I’m a pretty ordinary guy.”

“All evidence to the contrary.”

A grin. “Well, there’s that.”

“You know, I followed you to town.”

“I know. I saw you. Don’t look so disappointed: You’re very good at tailing people—really.”

“Would it surprise you to hear that more than a few folks in the village think you’re crazy? I also heard, let’s see…that you’re a good guy…eccentric, odd, private, tragic, mysterious…oh, and a murderer. I think that covers it.”

He chuckled. “Apparently things are improving over there.”

“But crazy, David?”

“You could make a case for crazy.”

“I’ll tell you who did make a case for it: Doctor Arledge. He made a point of warning me about you.”

David fidgeted with his wine glass. For someone whose affect seemed so open, he didn’t give a lot away. But his expressive hands said more than he did. She would have to learn to decode them.

“Jon Arledge. I’d wondered whether there was anyone left in town whose ear he hadn’t poisoned.

“Why does he have it in for you?”

“The doctor and I are suffering a fundamental difference of opinion. I believe that I’m sane. He believes I should be locked up for the rest of my life.”

“Because of your…?”

A gentle evasion. “And other things.”

She decided to go for it. “David, how long have you had your gift?”

A hesitation. “A long time.”

“They come to you? Animals? People? The dead?”

“Not the dead. But what they were, yes.”

“You mean ghosts.”

“No, not ghosts. Not like ‘I see dead people.’ More like when someone you’ve loved dies you carry a part of that person. Closer to that. But much, much bigger.”

"Why collect souls, David?”

His shoulders went up. A defensive tell. David carried his nerves high in his body. She had moved into a very private space and he didn’t like it. His shoulders and his silence gave him away.

She took another path. “What’s it like when it happens?”

“You mean the it you don’t believe in?” he asked.

“I’d really like to know.”

“Ever bungee jumped?”

“Yes.”

“Into a canyon? At night?”

“What does it feel like? Right now?”

The shoulders again. “It feels….busy. Sometimes it feels as if I can’t breathe.”

“Is it like hearing voices?”

“More like standing in a crowded subway car. It’s so crowded nobody can move, yet nobody’s actually touching you. Except that you’re also the subway car.” A weary smile. “It has its good parts. When it happens, I can see color. That’s pretty nice…” He tugged at his grey clothing, an explanation. “I’m color-blind.”

She looked for the at-war in him; the crazy. It just wasn’t there. He wasn’t ranting from some imaginary dimension. He was simply telling a truth as he saw it. He seemed saner, smarter, calmer than she’d anticipated. And it made her all the more determined to find out exactly how deep he ran.

“These souls: Do you seek them out?”

“Not at first.”

“But now?”

His eyes lowered. A qualified yes. She could see that progress was going to be made by inches with this one. So she did what she always did when a subject wasn’t delivering what she wanted. She pushed him, probing with rapid-fire questions for the one unguarded emotion that would bring others along with it.

“How many can you…hold?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I think not one more.” There it was: the awareness of what Cline had talked about; the possibility of the fatal full-stop.

“Do they know that the others are there?”

“I do. I don’t think they do.”

“Can you feel them die?” Not exactly.

“Can you feel what was wrong with them in life?” No.

The harder she pushed, the shorter his answers got; and the paler he became, his impatience drawn so far into him that he could barely speak around it. David doesn’t argue and he won’t get angry, Cline had said. But if he didn’t, she felt certain, it was an act of will, not of nature. These answers came from a sense of obligation, not from a desire to make himself known to her.

“How did it start?”

“You mean, did I bump my head and there it was?”

“Okay, when did it start?”

“Around the time my wife died.”

“Is that what caused it, do you think?”

He balked, the first time she had seen this conflict-averse man come anywhere close to ire. “Does it matter?”

He stood. “I’m sorry. The question-and-answer portion of our program has ended for the day.” He was tired. She’d worn his patience raw. But he was too well-mannered to let the mood last long. “Come with me. There’s something I wanted to give you.”

The “something I wanted to give you” turned out to be the strangest gift of her life.

She followed David out of the barn and down a jeep-wide dirt track that led into the woods. The road narrowed to a well-worn path into the trees, and at the road’s terminus stood the stump of a tree that had probably been two hundred years old. Three people holding hands could barely have circled it, it was that big.

She laid her hands on the stump’s smooth, flat surface. “What a beautiful tree this must have been.”

“It was.” His voice was deceptively casual. “This was where my wife died. I had it cut down.”

McGill stammered an apology. But it was not David’s way to let an uncomfortable moment last long. With his unfailing politeness, he sent the awkwardness away. “Don’t be. You couldn’t have known. And it’s become a was, not an is. It’s past.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“Patience. You’ll see.”

McGill had never been comfortable in the outdoors. Nature was very big and very open, and very scary. But David was here, and David was an education.

No sooner were they past the tree stump and onto the path than the energy of his walk changed. David tuned himself to his surroundings with soft footfalls; an alert, reverent attention that was fascinating to see. She would have bet that he could tell you the tiniest thing that had happened since he’d last been here—what bud had bloomed, which bird had made a nest. It was an intimacy like a friendship of very long standing, intensely personal but not private; something she could observe but never understand.

Sensing her anxiety, David kept talking, directing her attention to any little thing that offered the potential to distract her. And those distractions were easy enough to come by: The place was beautiful.

Dogwoods bloomed like snowfall under the canopies of taller trees. The path wound past secret galleries—one at the meadow’s edge, another in a copse of silver maples, a third beside a tiny, spring-fed pond. Each meditative space framed a jewel-like view, yet each alteration had been coaxed from the landscape with a deference for what Nature had already established there: A wood was still a wood, a meadow stayed a meadow, a pond remained a pond. In some of the galleries, she saw a heart-touching evidence of an unsaid thing… here and there, two chairs, sometimes three, an arrangement for conversations that she suspected rarely ever happened; a life that hadn’t turned out quite the way he’d expected it to.

The day retired as they walked. And after ten minutes with no sight of fence, sidewalk or road, the retreat of the light put her on edge. For a queasy moment, she wrestled with the memory of what Arledge had said about David and death. How smart had it been, she wondered, to take a twilight walk into the deep woods with a man she’d met in an asylum for the insane.

“How far does this go on?” she asked uneasily.

“About 300 acres…a little more,” he said. “But don’t worry: We’ve arrived. Now come sit.”

He guided her the final few steps to a rustic bent-willow bench in a grove of birches at the edge of a lake-sized pond. He sat beside her. The night was balmy. The birch bark glowed white in the failing light. “Okay. Now watch. Listen.”

Although McGill had bought a house in the country, she never sat outside at night. Darkness outside was even worse than darkness inside. It was bigger. And darker. And more threatening. And yet, in this huge, suffocating darkness, she found reassurance in the presence of this peculiar man.

Watch. Listen. As the faint fuscia of last light smoldered over the treetops, one by one her senses opened to his invitation. Tree frogs trilled. A breeze rustled the high leaves and whispered through the low places. She smelled the exhaling of green things. She heard the trickle of an unseen creek.

David dug into his pocket and brought out a flashlight the size of a pencil stub, the kind of light made for locating a front door lock and good for little else. Inexplicably, he leaned forward slowly, held the light close to the ground and clicked it on.

“My God,” she breathed.

Reflections. Eyes. All around them, revealed in the muted light; the eyes of a dozen creatures that had come together at the edge of the gathering dark. Just sitting. Watching. Visiting. Visiting him.

He watched her reaction with tilted head and sidelong glance, enjoying her enjoyment. His smoky two-note chuckle patted the darkness.

She whispered, afraid she’d frighten their guests away. “Does this happen often?”

“Not always. Often enough.”

They sat with their visitors in the electric quiet until the twilight had disappeared. David’s clothing had melted into the grey of the evening; only his white hair was visible, luminous in the dying light. Too soon, it was time to go. Under a pale fingernail moon, he took them back along the unseeable path with an unnervingly sure sense of the way home.

It was only after he had put her into her car and waved her good-bye that she realized what he had done and why. This had been his thank you for her help. An act of unadulterated kindness. And a consolation prize for all those things he had no intention of telling her.

She couldn’t sleep. She paced from one room to the other. Picked books up and put them down. Turned on the TV and switched madly through the channels. The encounter in the woods had left her wired. Dazzled. Restless. Grateful. And a lot of other feelings that she wasn’t sure she wanted to understand.

She did what she never did. What she’d said she wouldn’t do. What she had absolutely no good reason for doing. She called Ty.

She hoped he’d be asleep. She hoped he’d be alone. She hoped his phone would be turned off. She meant only to drop a guerilla “I love you” on him, an innocent enough way to spill off some of the residual voltage left over from two hours with David Emory.

Two rings. Three. Four, before the call got picked up. But it wasn’t Ty answering. It was Manny, wakened from sleep. “This’s Manny. This better be good.”

“Manny, I’m sorry. I was calling Ty. Did I call you by mistake?”

The hostile silence crackled. “No, Gee, this is his phone. He doesn’t want to talk to you. You’ve really pissed him off, this time.”

“Are you back in Tokyo?”

“Uh-uh. The whole Japan leg is fucked up, now. Some legal bullshit.”

“So where’s Ty?”

“You really want to know, McGill? And you think I’d tell you anyway? Why don’t you be smart this once and stay out of his face for awhile. Let him cool down.”

The slap. The cold water in the face. The bear trap. The iceberg in open water. “Is this really any of your business, Manny?”

“I’m the one holding Ty’s phone, so you tell me. Forgive me for saying this, but how stupid are you? Listen—I’m gonna give you some free advice. Whoever this guy is you’re seeing on the side, stop it. Don’t keep calling it work. It’s just pissing Ty off.”

What guy? I’m not….”

“I’m telling you. Don’t be stupid. Cut if off. Before something bad happens. You hearing me?” He yawned. “That’s all I got. I’m going back to sleep. Ty will call when he feels like it. G’night. Remember what I told you.”

Novelist Lynn Biederstadt is the author of two previous novels. Her blog is called Sky Diaries.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"The Journey We Take Alone" Part 3

Note to Readers: In a March 13th post on MyStoryLives, writer Alexander (Sandy) Prisant began writing what he said might be his final writing project. This past week, he was hospitalized (he's home now.) Meanwhile, his wife, Susan Prisant, wrote the following. Part II of "The Journey We Take Alone" appeared March 16th.

By Susan Prisant

When I cry at night there is no one to comfort me; he is my love and my lover, my confidant and comrade; he is my husband.

I married Sandy at 18; I love him deeply and took our marriage vows—in sickness and health, for better or for worse—to be a part of my life forever. We’ve been married for 47 years. Forty-seven years.

In 1995, the illness of a lifetime became very real and those marriage vows became the essence of my life. Sandy’s illness came to dominate my life. Sometimes we had a month—even six—of peace, tranquility, love and happiness.

New remedies. New treatments. Death knocking so insistently. But we always made it through together. For better or worse; in sickness and health—we always made it through together.

Along the way, so many doctors. For many the man I loved was a case study; for others there was, and still is, true compassion and genuine love.

Now Sandy is getting sicker; hours and days in hospital ERs and ICUs are stretching into weeks.

Sometimes we ask “should we stop fighting?” and the answer is always "NO!" -- because we can’t imagine not being there for each other. I want to cry, but never show my tears to him. I wash the floor and all the clothes; I want to cry but never show the tears. And there’s no one here to comfort me.

These words take me back to another, different loss. Callum McCallum was my four-legged best friend, until his death. Years have passed and I am still alone without him.

At the time, I wrote these words:

My best friend died last night. I want to cry, but he’s not here to comfort me. I wash the floor and all the clothes; I want to cry, but he’s not here to comfort me. I neatly packed all his things; I want to cry, but he’s not here to comfort me. My best friend died last night. I want to cry, but he’s not here to comfort me.

Now it’s my husband.

For all the fighting we’ve done for each other, there’s no one here to comfort me.

Writer Susan Prisant has created interactive reading and writing programs for children and wrote 8 children's books to use with these programs. The courses she led were sanctioned by the State of California and later she taught them on the East Coast and also, in the American School in Israel.



Friday, March 25, 2011

THE SPIRITKEEPER -- A Love Story, Chapter 10

By Lynn Biederstadt

Chapter 10: "THE ROAD COMES HOME"

Just after six, the loft’s freight elevator rumbled to life. The freight gate clanked open. The key turned in the front door lock. A familiar voice sang out from the doorway. “McGill, you here? The husband is home!”

She ran to him; threw herself into his long, lean embrace. She was crazy-glad to see him, from the tip of his dyed-sandy head to the knees of his artistically-torn jeans to his neon green Chuck Taylors. His arms were laden with travel bag, flowers, champagne, a Japanese animé doll. More than all those things, he’d brought her himself—exactly what she needed after the madness she’d been exposed to.

“My God, what are you doing here?”

“Problem with the Tokyo venue. I’ve got 36 hours before I’ve got to head back,” he said. “I figured I wouldn’t wait for you to miss another plane.”

They wasted no time. They were in bed before they’d gotten much past hello. Being with Ty was as passionate as it had always been, and as frenetic. Ty was a fighter plane in bed; he rattled headboards. But he was known territory, this man who had been at the center of her life for so long: his smells, his rhythms, the sound of him, even the rasp of his fret-hand calluses. She knew the set of every muscle and the lie of every hair. For the first time in a week, she knew exactly where she was. The road had come home.

The heavy breathing was barely past when the door buzzer started. Car horns barked from the street. The word had already gotten around that Ty Florey was back in town. And now he belonged to everybody. They got up, got dressed. Idyllic interlude over.

At one club after another, velvet ropes parted for them like automatic doors in a supermarket. Paparazzi flashes left afterburns in their eyes. Cristal and autographs flowed. Ty’s entourage grew like a virus, bigger by the minute. The conversation, like the music, was deafening. But Ty was there and she was there, and she remembered how good it could be.

His energy was fun. It always was—for the first few hours. Ty had always been as much about the celebrity as about the music; a hugely magnetic and likeable guy who loved the attention that came with who he was.

His reputation had always been an open invitation to “let’s party”, and he’d earned every second of it. He was a free soul, fearless and open to every kind of experience. He lived with nothing held back; no filters, no restraint or self-denial. He wanted, he took. He thought, he said. He felt, he acted. He swallowed life whole. With Ty, you hung on or you fell away. He’d toughed-out a brutal business and a very public rehab for meth addiction, and he’d wound up bigger than life. A total package that had made him the man-crush of pretty much every twenty-something straight guy in fifteen countries.

She remembered how things had been, early in their relationship, when love was new. It was all-consuming, even then, but different. They were rarely apart, even for an hour. He’d taught her the art of performing…how to let your audience know you were having fun… how to use your body to drive up the groove… how to seem to wring everything out of yourself, and still hold something in reserve. They’d sung together in the shower. He’d sung to her in bed. They’d slow-danced naked on the roof of their apartment building on cool summer nights. That was when it was all-wonderful between them. That was when it was still fun.

Here, now, in the club, the fun was more style than substance. It didn’t take long in the too-bright lights and shouted conversations before McGill started to feel like wallpaper. She tried to tell him about the book going to the top ten. He didn’t hear her. Or didn’t care to. Going solo in the midst of company was the eventual reality of every famous musicians wife: There was always someone who wanted a minute of his time, a piece of his life; always an act that wanted him to sit in for a number or two, always an autograph to sign, a back to slap, an old pal to be greeted or a new one to be made.

Early in their relationship, she’d hated his absences. Later, she’d been resigned to them. Now, she preferred them. The anything-you-want-anything-goes atmosphere of celebrity, the kowtowing laughter, the endless jokes, the pointless, über-extroverted conversations: She found them exhausting. How many rock stars did it take to screw in a light bulb? One to hold the light bulb and know that the world would revolve around him.

As good as it was to have him here, she couldn’t evade the truth of it: Ty hadn’t come back for her, not really. Not once in the hours they’d been together had he asked about herself, her thoughts, her work, her feelings. Fact was, he’d been homesick. He had come back for the photo-op, the familiar turf, and a little sexual home-cookin’. That was what passed for love between them these days.

It took ten minutes to tear him from his conversation. “Ty, could we go home? Just us?”

He looked at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. ”It’s only one o’clock,” he said. Translation: They’d only been partying for five hours; he wasn't spent yet. He threw his arm around her and went back to his conversation: Ty’s version of a problem solved.

She waited another hour, waited until he’d stepped away to talk with a record industry exec at the next table, to free herself. She asked Ty’s assistant Manny to tell her husband that she’d gone home, and slipped out a side door. It was an exit unnoticed and unremarked; the paparazzi were on the lookout for him, not her.

She could have taken their limo. Didn’t want it. The dozing city was a relief after the overheated club, late-April-cool, soothing and quiet in the pink streetlamp twilight. Cabs and limos slowed for her, looking for off-meter fares. But she needed exactly what the night had given her. She oriented herself crosstown, and set out on the mile-plus walk back to the loft.

Her feet found a tempo on the empty sidewalk, and her thoughts fell into pace with it. She had made the bestseller list this week, to public acclaim and a reaction from her husband as nonexistent as if she had dropped her words into the Hudson River the moment they were born. The more time she spent with Ty—the parties, the interviews, the sessions, the tours—the more alone she felt, as if a gaping space had opened up between some invisible-desirable and the person she was. She knew it was her own fault, this inability to accept what he offered her. Standing back from the richness of his life was insanity of a sort. But at least it was an insanity that belonged to no one but herself.

It was three a.m. when she let herself into the silent loft. Three-ten when she tucked herself into the huge bed. Alone.

Thunder.

Not thunder—husband. She woke to find Ty buzzing through their closets like a wasp against glass. Her suitcase lay open on the far end of the mattress, festooned with clothes. He wasn't finding what he was looking for. He was getting pissed about it.

“What are you doing, Ty? Why are you packing my bag?”

“Because you’re coming with me. Tokyo venue is still fucked up. Could be a week, now, maybe two before they get it straightened out. We can go spend some time… Maui, maybe. It’ll be good.”

She should have known this was coming. This what he always did, and it always came out of nowhere. He made decisions. He never asked; he told her, expecting that she would drop everything. Every time she’d gotten comfortable, thinking that maybe for once they were headed in the right direction, their relationship always turned down the rocky road of control.

“Ty, I can’t. I’m working.” Reflexively, she looked to the nightstand. Her notebook was missing. She panicked. “Ty…where’s my notebook?”

It was on the bed, thrown down among the disorder of his packing. “You mean this?” He took that object that was the most intimate, personal, treasured part of herself; held it out the window. “Aren’t you done playing with your imaginary friends?”

She got up and wrapped the sheet around her. She tried to stay passive. When he was in his mood, any response stronger than a murmur would only make this worse. The least show of temper would come back at her a hundredfold. And her notebook would end up on the pavement, twelve stories down.

“Stop. Please. Give me the notebook. Please? You know I can’t go anywhere. I’m in the middle of interviews.” That was a lie. Technically, the St. Amelia’s article was finished—but Ty wouldn’t know that.

“You don’t interview people: You stalk them.”

“What’s the urgency here, Ty?”

“I’m the urgency. Me. Those interview people will wait. I’m here. I’m real—not on paper. You’ve got a husband who wants you with him…what is so fucking important about writing something nobody wants to read?”

Predictable Ty. Every insecurity, every doubt, every confidence: She could count on him to twist it, distort it, and play it back louder. And now she was angry. “Oh that’s right. Arena rock is the secret to world peace. How could I have forgotten?”

He stepped into her. She could feel his breath on her face. She waited for the blow that would follow it. “Is your life with me so bad? Is it?”

“I’ll tell you, you’re not making it any better right now.”

“McGill, I flew all the way from Japan to be with you. And this is what I get. It’s always the same excuses; always the same damned thing.” He threw her notebook into her bag and threw the bag against the wall. Clothes flew everywhere. Her notebook landed in a mangled heap on top. “Tell you what: Fuck this. Stay here. I don’t want you with me. Getting away from you will be the best thing I could do for myself.”

“Ty….I’m sorry.”

“That’s what you always say, and it never means anything. Let me ask you, McGill, do you think this marriage is working? Because I sure as hell don’t.” He snatched up his travel bag and stormed out of the loft.

She heard the freight elevator gates close in the hall. Ty’s harangue still rang against the walls. She found her notebook; smoothed its pages apologetically as if smoothing a ruffled temper. Ladies and gentlemen, for one night only, the real Mister and Mrs. Ty Forey. Paradise Fail.

As much as she wanted to feel awful about it, there was definitely good news/bad news happening here. Bad news: Her marriage was still a trainwreck. Nothing different there. Good news: She’d gotten through Ty’s departure without a black eye to remember him by. Better still, his steamrolling temper had cut her a clear path to go wherever the work invited her, without fear of interruption or distraction. And she knew exactly where that would be.

She was going back upstate. To where a story still wanted telling. Right about now, compared with real life, even insanity was looking pretty good.

Missouri-based writer Lynn Biederstadt, who blogs at Sky Diaries, is the author of two published novels. MyStoryLives began serializing THE SPIRITKEEPER on March 8th.

CATCHING UP WITH SPRING


“On my morning walk I spotted a mossy green area along the brook that runs adjacent to the trail I hike. The sunlight was streaming in through the trees and it lit the area up making it seem sublime. The area felt so alive and so I snapped a photo. When I downloaded the picture from my camera I was pleasantly surprised to find a rainbow prism of light streaming into the photo; this felt magical to me and it reaffirmed how full of life the spring woods are.”
-Kellie Meisl

Writer and artist Kellie Meisl, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, keeps a blog called Walk, in which this image appears (for some reason, the prism appears there but not here!) A visual artist, she relies on dreams as a springboard for her work. In 2009, she published her first book, "Dream Stories: Recovering the Inner Mystic." Her visual art, including the collage "Shattered Cups," which appeared on the cover of Seeing Red, can be viewed at her website: www.kelliemeisldreamart.com.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Father, Here is a Different Daughter

Note to Readers: In yesterday's post, writer Taina Wagnac wrote the "true" story of her first encounter with her father when she was ten years old. Today, Wagnac experiments with a writing exercise called "flipping the script," that is, writing the story from another perspective, transforming the narrator. Of course, there is the more than one way that a story can unfold, and Wagnac is considering still another revision.

By Taina Wagnac


I was ten years old when I first met my father. I found him sitting in the living room when I rushed home from school that day, my report card clutched tightly in my hand.


My father was wearing a black silk shirt with blue jeans. He had an air of power and strength about him. I had no idea who he was until my mother, who sat rigid in a chair across from him, said “well, aren’t you going to hug your father?”


I was shocked. I didn’t know I even had a father.


The only thing I knew about him was his name, Jean-Mary Wagnac. My mother didn’t keep any pictures of him in the house nor did she ever talk about him. All I knew about him was the fact that he had abandoned me and my mother when I was just an infant. A rush of anger crashed upon me like a tidal wave and my blood began to boil.

“I don’t have a father,” I said, my voice trembling slightly.

“Taina, don’t you talk to your father like that----” my mother began.

“Or what?!” I yelled, “He’s been out of my life for ten years, that’s a lot of birthdays and first school days. Why come back now?”

“I was young and stupid.” said my dad, “I wanted to come back and get a chance to know you.”

“It’s too late for that. You should’ve been there in the very beginning.” I fumed.

“I am mere human who makes mistakes so I at least deserve a second chance,” said my dad.

“Are you saying that I was a mistake? Was that why you left? Because you and mom didn’t plan to have me?”

“No,” said my dad, reaching out to me, “I just wasn’t ready to become a father.”

“That still goes not give you a reason to abandon your responsibilities.”

“I did not abandon you. Now you listen to me, I am your father so you should address me with respect.”

At that point, I was so enraged that my entire body was shaking. This was not how I had imagined my reunion with my father. I had always thought that during my first time meeting my father, he would embrace me and bring me tons of gifts. He then would explain how he was stranded in a forest with no way to contact my mother. After years of wandering, a helicopter would bring him to safety and he would rush over to meet me. But it was only wishful thinking.

“Respect?” I asked coldly, “Right now, I have more respect for the dog.”

“Taina!” my mother screamed.

“It’s true!” I yelled back, “How could you let him in? He left us mom!! He left us to go and enjoy his life. Because of him, we had to struggle just to get by. He’s the reason you work two jobs. It’s because of him we live in this dump or that we sometimes go days without eating. Although we’re struggling, we don’t need him. As a matter a fact, we should thank him for leaving. His absence has allowed me to grow into this phenomenal woman that I am now. It made me appreciate and value the things that we have, though they’re not much. You know what? I also feel sorry for him. You missed out on the life of a wonderful daughter. You missed so many events such as my first A, my spelling bee contest and my communion. I was great in all of them and many people congratulated my mother on having such a smart and awesome daughter. That could’ve been you but it wasn’t nor will it ever.”

“What are you talking about?” my ex-father asked.

“Taina, please don’t do this,” my mom begged.

I ignored both of them.

“You had the chance to be in my life and you rejected it. Unfortunately for you, I don’t give second chances. I’ve done well without you and I have a feeling that I will continue to do well. So at this moment, I am officially renouncing you as my father. I want absolutely nothing to do with you. You’ve never been to a birthday nor to any school do events for that matter so don’t start now. Don’t even bother to change my mind for I am stubborn, just like you.”

I took a deep breath, look my father straight in the eyes and for the first time that day, smiled.

“Congratulations Mr. Wagnac, you no longer have a daughter.”

This was the ending I wished had happened.

Taina Wagnac is a freshman at the University at Albany, SUNY. She grew up in Haiti and moved to the U.S. at age 12.