Well, that’s a wrap, people! I went through with the surgery and made it home safe and sound.

Funny thing was, thanks to a really good doctor and the miracle of modern medicine, the biggest post-op hurtle for me was not internal.

(Oh, trigger warning for anyone who would gladly trade a body part for a little peace and quiet and just can’t with me right now. I get it- we have that in common sometimes. Still, you may want to look away.) 

The most challenging thing about the past two weeks has been to do nothing.

Believe me, no one was more excited than I was, at the prospect of endless Netflix and guilt free napping. In fact, when I was making the decision to go forward with a hysterectomy, I had to check in with myself several times to make sure it wasn’t just because I wanted a vacation.

It took all of four days for the fun of that life to wear off, which is when boredom, and boredom’s BFF, anxiety, came a knockin’.

Doing nothing was surprisingly un-fun, and not because I have such a kick-ass work ethic or anything. (Obvs.) Actually, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that made taking a break in order to heal so hard.

I thought maybe it was Facebook.

You know, seeing all those people out in the world with all their goings on, maybe that’s what was getting me down.  So I made what was, for me, a giant leap, and took the app off my phone. At the risk of being flagged by Zuckerberg’s flying monkeys or whatever, let me just say that, while this turned out not to be the answer to my acute post-op discomfort, it did end up being the single best decision I’ve made in months. (And you know how I feel about Facebook.) It has been nothing short of life changing, but I digress.

One thing that happened was, by cutting way back on Facebook, I had one less place to hide. Same with my daily list of things to do, without it I felt exposed and just, well, uncomfortable.

No, too general. Ok, I felt anxious.

Nope, go deeper. Ok, the truth is that without the wall of distractions I have carefully built, brick by brick, I felt guilty.

It seems weird, but the feeling that I do not think I am good enough unless I am constantly doing shit (driving, teaching, cleaning, trying, working, writing, talking), was so rock solid, and I would bet my last Percocet I am not the only woman who feels this way.

I can’t just be here– Mama’s gotta earn it.

One of the perks of having a hole drilled in your belly button and an organ pulled out is that you can’t get up and run away from the realizations that find you while flat on your back in bed.

Not that I didn’t try.

First, I did some serious online shopping. Pro-tip: If you ever have surgery or an injury or anything else that requires a lengthy convalescence, do yourself a favor and disable Amazon on-click ordering. The irony that, to escape feelings of existential guilt, I would turn to plastic mason jar lids, new underwear, black toothpaste, scented candles, and a spiralizer, thereby plunging me into still more guilt of the money-blowing variety, is not lost on me.

When that got old, I resorted to my go-to remedy for guilt and self-loathing, which is, as you may know, planning!

I planned the shit out of my future life. I planned meals and trips for the family. I planned activities for the kids and wrote out an entire home yoga practice which actually makes me want to laugh, it is such a pipe dream. I signed some online petitions and planned how I might take action on causes like gun-control and immigration.

Hey, that’s a good question, isn’t it?

There I was with all that time, and a deep craving to fill it, so why didn’t I do something worthwhile? Why didn’t I research the issues I say I care about so that my knowledge goes  deeper than a BuzzFeed article?

Why didn’t I write, since I’m always wishing for more time alone to do just that?

Because that’s the joke, y’all. Being “crazy busy”makes it impossible to do deep work. And even though I’m just learning, my suspicion is that it’s no friend to deep love, either.

You know how every yoga class ends with Savasana, or corpse pose?

I always hear teachers saying this is the most important of all the asanas, and also the most challenging. “Yeah, right,” I snort, positioning my little lavender eye pillow and settling back for my version of the pose, where I ponder the perfect shag haircut and consider what I’ll have for lunch.

It turns out that the reason Savasana is easy for me is that I’ve never really done it.

For some of us, being still is hard-won.

For some of us, believing we have the right to be still, to take up space while doing absolutely nothing, is the true work of healing.


Let It Go!

Let It Go!

This week, I was planning on writing about a book I just listened to, called Soulful Simplicityand how, while not exactly ground breaking, it had inspired me to do a major clutter clear and closet purge. (FYI, this moved me much closer to my lofty goal of creating my own capsule wardrobe for slackers, consisting of pretty much only jeans and white t-shirts. We will revisit this topic in future posts.)

But then, in keeping with my nature, another shiny thing caught my eye, and I dove head first down the rabbit hole of Bullet Journaling. I thought maybe I’d post about that instead, how it made me feel super organized, and also a little insane. images

The BuJo, as it is cringingly called, is either the neatest thing to spring forth from the personal productivity world, or sent directly from hell to make us all feel like losers with shit handwriting. In a bullet journal you track habits, make lists, and “migrate” tasks, all using colored pens and something called washi tape. It’s porn for the persnickity. It both soothes and creates anxiety and I totally dig it.

Soulful Simplicity and bullet journaling might seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. One practice is all about paring down and getting less busy, and one practice elevates business to an art form, but it occurred to me that, for someone looking for order and reassurance, they fit together perfectly.

Get rid of all the stuff + Complete all the tasks = You will be OK.

My sister told me once that she is sometimes scared when she rides her big horse, Sharkey. At first I was surprised because I’m the kind of person who, if at all possible, tries never to do anything scary, so people who “feel the fear and do it anyway” are like sparkly unicorns in my world. The fact that at any moment Sharkey could decide he’s had enough and throw her off, doesn’t dampen the joy she feels as she gallops him around.

It would appear then, that it’s possible to hang on and let go at the very same time. Who knew?

Anyway, tomorrow I have a task written in my bullet journal: surgery.

Yep, tomorrow I will be bidding a fond farewell to my uterus. For all who have listened to my epic period stories and TMI rants about the whole sitch down there, this is indeed an event worth celebrating. It’s nothing really serious, but it still feels like kind of a big deal, parting with a body part and all.

There are only empty pages in my journal after the word surgery, because I have no idea what to expect, how long it will take me to recover, or just how it will feel to have my uterus gone. I can’t know for sure yet, but I imagine it’s not all binge watching The Crown and eating take-out. There are so many places my dark mind can go with this.

Will I have regret that I didn’t try more herbs, more acupuncture, more positive thinking to cure the stupid condition that got me here? (See? Bad attitude.)

Should I have taken the suggestion of the Chinese doctor who said I could fix fibroids by hula hooping a half hour every day? I mean, I hula hooped occasionally, but I never really committed to it, if I’m being honest.

Maybe I’m a quitter.

How long before I feel like my old self again, and should that even be the goal?

Or maybe none of that will occur to me, because maybe, just maybe, I will be too busy shouting from the rooftops— YeeeeeeeHaawww!! Free at last! Free. At. Last.


I might look back on our trip to Hawaii, last summer where I was dead sure I would be eaten by a shark on account of leaking blood like a fucking sieve, and feel only pure relief to have that chapter closed.

Staring at all those blank pages in February, I can’t help it— I want to know what to expect. 

Hold please, while I consult my pretty Bujo “Feelings Tracker.”

Nope, some things, like feelings, can’t be planned.

Hard truth, I guess: Letting go is always a little risky, even when it’s liberating.

Which brings me back to closet cleaning. Right now, my closet is full of empty hangers, and I’ll admit, it’s a little tough to let go. What am I doing, I think? I’m not ready. I need these things. Even though I haven’t worn or thought about them in years, they feel like part of me, and I want them back.

I want the crochet poncho I made a decade ago, because it’s not just some ugly poncho, it’s  hours spent at home with my babies, and the rhythm of those early years. I want the cute velvet jacket because it’s me, twenty pounds ago, with a career and my own apartment and all that discretionary income. Sigh.

It’s not the things I’ll miss, it’s the person I was when I had them.

Look, I’m not saying that parting with a pair of tired wedge sandals is the same as having an organ removed but, in a way, for me, it’s not completely different. I’m ready for this operation– I’m past ready. It is my choice and I am lucky beyond measure that I am able to have it done.

Yes, and…

I just have to take a moment.

When I got pregnant I couldn’t believe the whole system actually worked the way the films in health class said it would. It seemed crazy— while I lay around eating gyros and watching Seinfeld, my uterus held the developing human, kept them hydrated, and even made a placenta, for god’s sake.

And when having a vbac with my second son, I was amazed at how my uterus ran the show. She performed like a champ, this organ that I’d barely noticed all my life, doing most of the work, contracting and pushing out an actual person. A miracle.

You did it, old girl. Thank you.

It feels really good to have those memories, and those aren’t going anywhere. As for the rest of it, I’m taking the reins, and letting it go, even if I’m a little bit scared.

Alrighty then. See y’all on the flip side 🙂


Surrender the Pink

Surrender the Pink

You know how sometimes you have a little extra time on your hands? Or maybe you just drive by something you’ve driven by a million times before, but suddenly you’re like, “What the fuck??”

Back in early October, I had one of those moments.

See, there are these pink vans peppered about my fair city, advertising a topless maid business. I’ve driven by them for years, rolling my eyes. Once my boys were old enough to read, they asked a lot of questions about them. From the backseat of our minivan I’d hear, “Mom, what is a hot topless maid?” “How come they’re hot?” “Is that why they take their shirts off?” “Is $99 a lot of money for a topless maid?” 

We had some interesting conversations about sex, politics, and jerks in those tender years. The looks on their shining faces gave me hope. They instinctively understood that the whole enterprise was a little whacked.

As years passed, I’ll admit, we all got used to them. The vans were like roadkill– only disturbing if we stopped to notice, and mostly we didn’t. (It’s kind of scary, the things we can stop noticing, which is maybe how free societies crumble, not to be dramatic or anything.)

Then for whatever reason, one night back in October, I saw one, parked in front of a crappy strip mall not far from my house, and I heard a voice saying, “This is bullshit.”

I stopped the car and left a nasty note on the windshield telling the owner exactly what I thought, signing it “A mother who is your worst nightmare!” Shout out to the random guy who snapped this pic:


The note stayed untouched for a few days, and I realized that no one was tending to these vans at all, and that whatever message I left would only ever be seen by the people passing by.

So what did I want to say?

Well, here’s what I didn’t want to say:

I didn’t want to blame the women working for this man. I didn’t even want to call into question his right to have this business. It’s a free country (sort of) and this is apparently all legal and legit.


Time out– just so you know what page I’m on. To me, there’s a difference between nude dancers, and maids who are paid to clean naked. There just is. The number plastered on the side, 1-800-SO-DIRTY, says it all. It’s the power play there that makes this disturbing. While that kind of thing might be fun and a-ok between real life lovers, when money (power) is in the picture, let’s be real.

Oh, and also, the guy with the money (power) in this scenario is a total stranger to the woman. I ask you- What could possibly go wrong???

Even though I am no fan at all of this guy or his business, my goal was just to get him to stop taking up our public parking spots with his offensive advertising, and to start a conversation about the message these vans send. He gets a voice, so I do to, was my thinking.

Free country.

Over the next few months, I had my say:

At one point, photos of the signs were posted on another neighborhood’s Next Door page, and the response was encouraging. That was when I realized that it wasn’t just my friends who were giving their thumbs up. Lots of people responded that they also resented the presence of these vans in their neighborhood.

Then this happened:


It totally wasn’t me, I swear. Neither was the bent license plate, windshield wipers, or the note on the windshield reading, “Sugar in the gas tank, asshole— more to come!”

This van was gone the next day. The. Next. Day. Gals, it’s possible that our good manners are slowing us down. Just sayin.’

As for me, I played nice.

I made online complaints to parking enforcement, emailed and called my LA City Council member, called local law enforcement, and the Department of Transportation to register complaints. Legally, vehicles can not be parked on public streets for longer than three days, without being moved. Even though every person I spoke to agreed that the vans should go, no one was optimistic.

It seemed like nothing short of spray paint and elbow grease was going to work.

Then, last week, I drove by the spot where one of my vans has sat for months, and saw this:


Gone. Just like that.

I couldn’t believe it.

I’d become so used to feeling like nothing I do matters, that I was nearly knocked off my feet at this tiny ray of hope. I was on top of the world and utterly proud of myself, for about a whole minute.

After all, the truth is that there is no way of knowing whether my actions had anything to do with the van disappearing. There is no doubt that it took several people registering complaints, and the passage of many weeks before that one van disappeared. When some of my friends congratulated me, I was honest when I said I didn’t think I could claim any credit.

But y’all – it felt SO good to think I had had something to do with it.

Like a lot of women socialized to reign it in, I didn’t like sounding too big for my britches. I didn’t want to sound like I thought getting a van towed meant anything in the grand scheme of community action.

There are people living on the streets, after all.

The thing is, when I feel I can’t make a difference, I stay home. I look away. I hush my mouth. What if calling really did help? What if, very secretly, I let myself believe that I can be heard?

I think it’s worth fanning that flame.

I love imagining the conversations that might be happening in cars driving by those vans. “Mom, what’s misogyny?” is a pretty awesome opener, don’t you think? Fan that flame, sister!

At home, my husband had made the same calls to the city I made, and was feeling his own glow of satisfaction. Ever the buzzkill, I reminded him that that particular block is still pretty shitty, managing to add “but at least now, it’s a little less shitty.”

For now, that feels like a call I can answer. I can just try to make things a little less shitty.

In the words of my anonymous pink spray painting comrade,

“More to come.”

Door Dreaming

Door Dreaming

‘Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.” —- Virginia Woolf

Wednesday of last week: I wake early, make coffee, and settle in on the couch in our sunny front room to meditate for a few minutes, go over the day’s schedule, and squeeze in a bit of writing before the house wakes up at 7:00.

It’s easy to get distracted by the morning sounds of garbage trucks and leaf blowers in our neighborhood, but I’m learning to say, “this too” when aversion bubbles up. It works ok.

Then I hear my husband come in and pour his coffee.

Damnit, already?

This too.

That’s kinda bitchy of me.

This too.

I say a quick amen, on the off chance there’s anybody out there, take a breath, and open my laptop. I have an idea and want to get it out before it loses that shimmer of urgency. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, but I’ve been going through such a dry spell that any idea is reason to fall down and kiss the ground.

So I get right to it. Tappity-tap-tap-tap go the keys.

Enter, Chris, who settles across the room from me and smiles. “Morning, baby.”

I want to hurl my laptop at him.

I feel a self-righteous anger way waaaayy out of proportion to the situation. Clearly, we must divorce.

This too.

“Were you writing?” He asks.

“Yes,” I answer, already softening because he thought to ask. Being asked feels like being seen, and that feels like love to me.

“Oh, sorry. I’ll go in the other room,” he says, in a way that tells me he is completely fine with it.

“No, that’s ok, you don’t have to go,” I call after him, guilty.

What a bitch I am. He just wanted to say good morning, and moments alone together don’t happen all that often. Looking down at the screen, I’ve lost hold of the thread and wonder why it even matters. Let’s be honest, this thing I take so seriously is really just a hobby, bringing in no money, taking focus and energy away from the people I love.

I’m reminded of a quote from Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art. “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”

Apologize later and let it pass, I think.

This too.

I’ve just started typing when I hear my youngest son’s door open. His hair is sticking up every which way as he shuffles in and, still warm from sleep, sits next to me. His head rests in my lap and I shift my computer to the arm of the couch.

“Good morning. You’re up early,” I say.

It’s impossible to be mad. He is twelve, and every one of these minutes is precious. I want to keep writing, but I also want to be in this moment with my boy, who won’t be a boy much longer.

I can do both, I decide. Tappity-tap…tap…

It kind of works.

In a way.

But then he’s up and in the kitchen. (Insert Foley effects for: getting the bowl, the spoon, pouring the cereal, the milk, stubbing toe, dropping the spoon, etc.) My lap is empty. The day has begun.

We need more doors, I think.

That is when, as if on cue, our dog Jackson gallops in and makes a flying leap onto my couch next to me. I nudge him away and he settles next to me to lick the cushions until time for his walk. I make a mental note that he is cute but a little gross, and to wash the slipcovers. Trying to find my train of thought again, I hear Jackson on my left, making a noise.

This too.

My brow is furrowed. I type.

The sound persists but so do I until, finally, I turn and find the most lavish display of dog barf I have ever seen. It is everywhere.

This too?

Thus ends the time allotted for writing that day.

Reader, if you think I sound like a privileged housewife, whining about how she gets no respect, well, I’m sure there’s some truth to that. But the need for solitude is basic and profound.

I notice how my fourteen year old has taken up the habit of staying up well past the time the rest of us have gone to sleep. He uses the time to watch old t.v. episodes of Mission Impossible, draw, create, and raid the pantry for snacks. For those few hours, this is his place. I understand how great that feels, and I am happy he’s found that pocket of time for solitude. It’s important.

But the fact is, both of my sons have a room with a door. We have a knock first policy, so they maintain privacy. My husband has an office and, while I know he’d prefer to spend less time there, it does provide solitude when needed.

It has a door.

Several weeks ago, I created this setup in my closet. I wanted to finish a piece I was working on and it actually did the trick. IMG_0655But it also made me want to sob into my pillow. Still, I’m trying to figure out if I can make this a working space. It will require getting rid of most of my clothes, which may be a decent trade, at this point.

Am I privileged? Yes. Obviously.

I have a home and a support system for which I am always wholeheartedly grateful. But the struggle is real for women, especially mothers, who want to want to be creative in the way that requires solitude. We are socialized to believe that it is wrong to ask for it.

“There’s a season for everything,” friends have told me. Roughly translated this means: “You can’t have that now, maybe later.”

Maybe. Unless something or someone else requires your time. And there will always be something else.

Last night I had a dream. Actually, it wasn’t really a dream, exactly. I heard a voice. Creepy, I know.

“Maggie!” was all it said, but it sounded angry and was scary enough that my eyes flew open the second I heard it. It wasn’t my husband, who laughed this morning when I told him about it.

The voice meant business. It was pissed.

My babies were all asleep. The house wasn’t on fire. So what could be so urgent that needed my attention?

What, indeed.

I’m really curious– do you have creative projects that require time and space alone? Have you carved out a corner, a niche, or have you found a door you can close? Maybe you haven’t but you want it so badly that you are screaming on the inside, ashamed of what that must look or sound like on the outside.

Well, I see you.

No shame here, my friends. No shame here.


Family Game Night Fail

Family Game Night Fail

It’s the holidays.

I love everything about this time of year, from the cheesy carols and the smell of cedar, to the movies we’ve all seen a hundred times and the uptick in my cocktail consumption.

But I’ll be honest, even if I’m feeling pretty good and life in my house is humming along just fine, there is sometimes a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that it could should be better.

And by it, I guess I really mean we.

The fam.

This might have started with the Christmas specials we all grew up watching. No one I knew had a family like The Waltons, but that didn’t stop me from feeling that there was something wrong with not at least trying. Clearly, they knew something we didn’t.


Now, thanks to social media, there’s a forever feed of families holding hands in the snow, laughing while decorating the tree, or enjoying that special cozy feeling you might have heard about called hygge. (Ps- If you don’t know what that is, then you have some serious catching up to do on Pinterest.)

I know, I know, “Never compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” But ask any thirteen year old girl (or fifty year old mom) on Instagram and they will tell you, that is a tall order.

Which is how I found myself sitting down to the worst family game night ever.

Our family of four had been kind of slacking on the togetherness thing. It’s easy to do, especially if your kids are at the age when they would rather be online, with their friends, or in their rooms than hanging out with the grownups.

And I can’t just blame my boys. I’m also guilty of putting family time on the back burner, mostly because we have so much of it. Since we homeschool and my husband works from home, we are in each other’s faces a lot. I’d thought the togetherness box was checked, but something still felt like it was missing.

What about… fun?

Five minutes on Facebook and I see at least a dozen friends having what looks like level 10 fun.

They are at Disneyland.

They are decorating hella Christmas cookies.

They are hiking, and snow-angel-ing, and adopting puppies, and just slaying it in the fun department.

So recently, after dinner and before the boys could disappear into their lairs, I proposed that we all play a good old fashioned board game.

Fun, right?

“Someone choose a game!” I hollered good-naturedly, as I went to put my phone away. (Note: Game night, according to the experts requires a complete focus on fun and comradery, so no screens allowed).

When I returned, C. and the boys had set up Parcheesi.

Now, I am sure that when Parcheesi was invented, back in the fucking stone age, it was a great game, but the fun bar was pretty low back then. Now we have a lot of games to choose from and, in my opinion, almost any game is better than Parcheesi.

Not that I’m blaming what happened on their choice of games, but it didn’t help is all I’m saying.

It started out ok, with each of us rolling the dice trying to get a five. Or a two. Or whatever it is you have to roll before you’re allowed to even begin your epic trudge around the dismal game board.

After about fifteen minutes (but who’s counting), I may have made a comment about not liking Parcheesi, thus breaking The Golden Rule of family game night which is this: stay positive. The success of family game night depends on full compliance and maybe faking. My bad.

Truman, sensing an opportunity, chimed in. “Yeah, who picked this game?”

“You said you liked it,” Chester countered, while rolling the dice.

“I did not.” I felt a kick under the table.

“That was me, Truman,” I said, giving him The Look.

My husband hands me the dice. “Your turn.” Whatever I roll, it is not the right thing.

“Ugh. This game,” I say.

I know, my attitude wasn’t great. But before you judge too harshly, I challenge you to pull out your own Parcheesi board and see how long you can play before wanting to throw the whole thing against the wall and run screaming into the arms of Netflix.

My husband actually hung in there pretty well, but when the kids started bickering, he could maintain the charade no longer. Next thing I knew, he had jumped ship and was chilling with a crossword puzzle in the den.

“What happened to you?” I asked, annoyed that he had broken the fourth wall in our cozy family scene.

“No one seems into it,” he said.

“So?” I answered, a little pissed. Being “into it” seemed completely beside the point of family game night. You plow through, I thought, heading back to have my turn. You plow the fuck through and, eventually, it turns fun.

Or something like that.

I got back to the table, to find only Chester. “Where’s your brother?”

“He left.”


“He said he didn’t want to play.”

What followed was probably exactly what you’d imagine: mild bickering, followed by maternal guilt, teen angst, marital tension, and dashed hopes.

Also, no one had done the dishes.

Normally, the job of dishwashing would go to my husband and boys, but no family game night fail is complete without Mom getting her martyrdom on, so I decided to do them myself.


As I worked with soap and sponge, I allowed myself the luxury of brooding. What was wrong with us? Why can’t we have fun playing a shitty game like other families do? We love each other, it goes without saying. We’ve had lots of great times together and, not to sound braggy, but our family functions pretty well, in general.

This train of thought did nothing to salvage the night, but it passed the time. Like most family stumbles, at least the uncomplicated ones, the only remedy was a good night’s sleep and a new day.

The next night, we sat around the dinner table, same as the night before. I’d made a really lame risotto. It was kind of gluey and had no flavor, probably because I had come down with a head cold and couldn’t taste anything. I’d lost my voice, as well. Not exactly picture perfect.


It’s probably no coincidence that, on the one night that I was forced to listen more than talk, our boys had a lot to say. The food might have been mediocre, but the company was great.

Everyone ate, no one rushed off, and at some point, someone said something, and we cracked up. It was the kind of laughter that feeds on itself, the kind you can’t stop, the kind that’s a choking hazard but totally worth it.

It was the kind of laughter that makes you close. “Carbonated holiness,” as Anne Lamott would say.

At some point, Truman broke the dinnertime rule and pulled out his phone, but instead of checking Instagram, he snapped a pic of me, in full hysterics.


I love this very unflattering photo of me. If, in the end, my sons remember me just like this, I’ll be a proud mom. Our family may never play Parcheesi together again (#goals), and we are not likely to come caroling in your neighborhood this Christmas, but we definitely know how to laugh.

Enjoy your holidays, in your own weird wonderful way. I wish you peace, love, and a fountain of carbonated holiness 🙂

Staring Down the Dark

Staring Down the Dark

I really did plan to write a cheerful holiday post today. I put the order in and sat poised at the keyboard, ready for inspiration. Instead, here is what came out: that time I thought I might die. Proceed with caution if this isn’t your bag 🙂

When I was a kid, I loved being afraid.

Grocery shopping with my mother, I would be drawn by a force I didn’t understand, to the far end of the meat section, where they stocked the chicken and pigs feet, frog legs, fish heads and tongue, all stamped with bright orange stickers, “Low low price!” I’d creep toward the display and stare at it, shivering.

It was brutal, scary, and weirdly soothing.

I learned then that if I could look long enough at the white belly, the bone, the hoof, my fear would eventually turn to curiosity. By the time I heard Mama calling me, the parts had lost their grisly pull, and although I never wished to see them on my plate, I wasn’t afraid of them anymore, at least until the next time we went shopping, when once again I would wander from the kid-friendly entertainment of the cereal aisle, into the place where nice girls didn’t go.

I remember creating haunted houses in the sweltering attic of our small house, hanging my dolls, bloodied with magic marker, from the ceiling, and arranging bowls of spaghetti brains, broken mirrors, and rubber knives in creepy tableaus.

As I got older, I added to the scene, with death threats scrawled on paper that I carefully burned around the edges, and descriptions like this, next to each installation: “This very baby carriage and it’s human contents was crushed by the axe of a madman!”

It was a little intense for the other grade schoolers in my neighborhood, so usually it was pretty much just me up there, hanging out on summer afternoons, hot as hell and perfectly at home in the dark.

My friend Risa told me that the fact that I wasn’t afraid of the dark was proof that I was The Devil. We were living in the Bible belt, so this was a pretty big deal. After I got over that first rush, similar to getting cast as the lead in the school play, I admit it gave me pause.

I had good reason to think she might be on the right track in her assessment of my character, but in the end I was way too insecure to think I could be the Anti-Christ himself. For one thing, I was having a heck of a time memorizing my multiplication tables, proof, in my own mind, that I would never be tapped for such an important gig.

By fifth grade, I was an avid reader of horror comic books. After comics came ghost stories like The Bell Witch. Later, while my friends were reading Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I read Amityville Horror and Helter Skelter.

I was the kid who was always looking up leprosy in The World Book Encyclopedia, or holding a seance.

My idea of fun was slipping into fear like a pair of comfy slippers and walking around for a while. There were a lot of demons inhabiting my world. For some of us, feeling scared helps us, well, not be so scared.

Once I grew up, my world felt a lot safer, and I mostly seemed normal-ish, at least when it came to my idea of a good time.

Then a few months ago, I decided to address a slowly percolating health issue.

Let me preface this by saying that all the tests have come back clear and I am basically fine. No biggie, as they say. But during the whole biopsy/second opinion process, my entire being was screaming “Are you fucking kidding me? This is a biggie– this is The Biggie!”

Even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, looking back now it’s clear that I employed the skills honed way back when, at the grocery store.

I looked.

Not at Google! I repeat: NOT AT GOOGLE. (Please don’t look at Google while waiting for test results. You’re welcome.)

I looked at what was scary.

After meeting with a surgeon who painted kind of a bleak picture, I found myself strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s, planning my funeral, making a mental list of the friends who I could call on to help my sons and husband once I was gone.

Like a lot of women I know, one of the ways I cope with stress is to share with friends, which I did.

Some friends responded to my news with a big smile and, “Oh stop it– you’re FINE!” They meant only the best, of that I am sure and I love them for wanting to save me from my own dark side, but flipping on the lights isn’t always the compassionate move.

And plus, how could they possibly know I was fine, at that point? I couldn’t know that about them and I would never pretend to.

One friend and I talked about what we could binge watch during my chemo. We discussed the merits of something called “exposure burial” vs. cremation. I instructed her to save my journals but delete my texts, which she totally understood. We laughed about how crazy it was, but we never shut each other down.

She sat with me in the dark.

Although I had been talking funerals, and chemo, and loss, my real fear was of having to go through it alone.

By the simple act of not looking away, she told me that nothing about me was too scary. She would be there, even if/when things got that fucking bad. She would watch t.v with me, and find me banana popsicles, and help me change my bandages.

I’d do the same for her.

There’s an image in my mind that, if it had happened back in 1972, would have made all the difference: it’s of a little girl, at the far end of the meat section. She is shivering from cold coming off the refrigerated cases, and from what she sees when staring into them. She doesn’t want to look away, but feels her friend standing next to her, and knows she is not alone.

They both look.

And they are both afraid, and less afraid, together.

Killing Mama (First draft of part of a thing)

Killing Mama (First draft of part of a thing)

Mama is down at Kirsten’s house having whiskey and Cokes with Kirsten’s daddy. While she is gone, this is my plan:

  1. I will sneak into the bathroom in the dark.
  2. I will take mama’s yellow toothbrush out of the cup by the sink.
  3. I will take the bottle of Windex, which is poison, and I will dip her toothbrush all the way down into the bottle.
  4. I will put the now poisoned toothbrush back into the cup and tonight, when she brushes her teeth, she will fall over onto the pink tile floor and be completely dead.

That is my plan and I do it.

Later, I’m on my bed in the dark, thinking about finding Mama on the bathroom floor after I poison her. I imagine telling Molly and Lynne to come in and see her, lying completely still, in her black robe, with her infected ear, right beside her yellow toothbrush.

The neighbors come over to comfort us because it is a sad day when your mother dies, usually.

I stop thinking about that.

Mama is still not back from Kirsten’s. I’m surprised because when Kirsten’s mother comes home Mama usually skidaddles right out of there because Kirsten’s mother is a health nut and hippy-dippy, Mama says. But she must be having a whole lot of fun over there tonight.

Staring at the glowing stars I have stuck to the ceiling, I start thinking again.

I think about how maybe the police would be called to the scene to solve the mystery of the dead woman with the toothbrush. It’s not what you would call an everyday thing. There would probably be a detective like Columbo, and he might get a feeling about the case. He might take me down to the station to answer a few questions. He would give me a coke and a donut while he smokes a cigarette to help him think.

He will ask me for my alibi and I will tell him this: I went to Rose’s department store to find a certain color of lipstick that I need. They did not have it, I will tell him, because it is sold special only at Castner-Knott’s, which is in Nashville where I couldn’t get to, so I spent the whole afternoon looking at Rose’s department store and didn’t end up buying anything, but I was there, is what I’ll say.

I thought of that alibi a long time ago when I was making the plan, which is how I had it ready.

In the end, Columbo would probably get one of his funny feelings, where he touches his nose and sort of looks up, closing his eyes. He would have a feeling about me, but he wouldn’t say anything because he would be able to see that I was a good girl underneath it all, even if Risa Niedermeyer and all those priss-pots say different, and that Mama was just a bad egg who got what she deserved. He would talk to Miss Nunley at Hobgood Elementary, who would tell him that I am almost never late, and that I won the poster making contest about the four food groups, and I would tell him that I am going to be a Campfire Girl when I am old enough, which is proof that I am a normal person inside, no matter what things look like on the outside.

And then I do the thing professional murderers never do. I get a picture in my head and I look at it: Mama on the floor, next to her toothbrush, dead and gone. I see how she’s funny sometimes, and how Grammie says she can’t help the way she is. And I think how I could never tell anyone the bad thing that I had done, not even Molly and Lynne because even though they hate Mama as much as I do sometimes, they would never commit the crime of poisoning.

I’m the one who would do that.

In my imagination I see Mama walking home from Kirsten’s house. She is happy and talking to the alligators, like she always says, taking her clothes off on the way. She puts on her pink nighty, not the black bathrobe. I see her reaching for her toothbrush and I know what will happen next and I don’t want it to happen after all.

I jump from my bed and look out the window down the street. I don’t see Mama coming, but I know she’ll be here soon. I only have a minute.

I run to get the yellow toothbrush in the pink bathroom. I turn on the hot water and hold it under until it’s steaming. I smell the toothbrush and it smells ok but what if it’s not? What if Windex is so poison that even a little could kill you? Like the people next door who had a baby that drank just a little lighter fluid and died before someone could get to it? Or what if the poison just makes Mama sick and she wonders maybe did someone poison her toothbrush and she calls the police herself, and maybe it won’t be Columbo, but a real scary policeman like the one in that movie I saw about the Badham County Women’s Prison?

There’s not much time.

I take the dripping toothbrush, wrapped in toilet paper, and sneak down the hall. I go out the back door to where the trash cans are. It’s pitch dark and hot as Hades. I lift the lid of one of those cans and push the toothbrush way down under some old hotdogs and a wet Cap’n Crunch box, where even Columbo wouldn’t have the nerve to look.

Next thing, I am washed, in my pajamas and under the covers, staring again at the glowing stars.

I can’t stop thinking. Risa and those girls and even Miss Nunley, they would all say the same thing– no matter what your reasons are, almost killing your mother is nearly as bad as really doing it. It’s not something you do if you are good.

I squeeze my eyes shut and wish so hard for god to change my insides.