The Mazie Days

When I moved in with my dad at ten years old, my little sister—who was four–stayed behind with my mom. My relationship with my mom wasn’t a good one after I left and because of that, I barely saw Mazie for the next few years. When I did see her however, we both knew that when I left, we wouldn’t know how long it would be till we saw each other again. I can still see her banging on the glass window by the front door, tears streaming down her face, begging me to stay. Hear her screaming and feel her tugging on my shirt late at night on the front stoop trying to bring me back inside.

Finally, after months and months of this irregularity, my grandparents intervened. A schedule was put together. Mazie and I would see each other every weekend at our grandparent’s house. I learned a lot about my sister in those weekends. I caught up on lost time.


(Me and Mazie reunited)

It became obvious that she was pretty weird (read: unique). She could memorize everyone’s phone number by heart. Even people who would only call for our grandpa. She knew the order of the presidents backwards and forwards. She found humor in almost every situation. Her laughter was contagious. She could learn song lyrics after only hearing them once. She would spend hours singing and dancing in the living room, begging anyone and everyone to watch and listen at all times.


(A picture’s worth a thousand words, right?)

We quickly became used to the routine of seeing each other. Neither of us cried when it came time to say goodbye. We knew it would only be a few short days until we’d see each other again. As the years passed and this routine solidified—heck, we even spent every school holiday and summer vacation together–it was almost like we forgot all the time we had spent apart.

Last year, our schedule changed. My mom, who has battled behavioral-emotional disorders her entire life, was severely struggling. It became apparent that she couldn’t care for Mazie the way that she wanted and the way Mazie needed. Mazie moved in with my grandparents and me.

But I’ve been away at school this past year. I haven’t seen Mazie as much as usual. I went months without seeing her just like when I was in middle school. Except this time, it didn’t feel so bad. I knew with certainty that I would see her when I returned.


(Mazie and I on our winter break)

Now, Mazie’s thirteen years old. To fill her time, she mostly plays on her Nook (which she promised she would read books on but I’m pretty sure she’s only watched YouTube videos on), eats junk food, or hangs around me asking every five seconds what I’m doing and where I’m going–when most of the time I’m just walking up or down stairs. I try not to let it bother me, but sometimes it gets on my last nerve to be asked where I’m going when I open the bathroom door. Sometimes, she’ll ask to sleep in my bed just to be close. I usually say no. Who wants to share a nice big comfy bed with their little sister who steals the covers?

But the other night after writing about May ( I was feeling pretty down. So when she hinted at staying with me for the night, I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “You wanna sleep with me tonight?”

Her face lit up. “Yes!”

As I brushed my teeth, Mazie called to me from my bedroom. “Hey Abbey! I found something to keep me occupied.”

I spit in the sink. “Oh, really? What’s that?”

“Looking at myself in the mirror.”

I finished up in the bathroom and went in my room where she lay sprawled across my bed with a small mirror in her hand, staring at herself.

Since I write in my journal (yes, I write even more than on here; it’s really problematic) and read before bed, I decided to let Mazie listen to my iPod. That way, her inner narcissist would be stamped out and I would get a little silence to focus on the words on the pages.

As we sat next to each other, me scribbling in my notebook, her wearing gigantic headphones over her ears, I started to hear her little voice slip out lines from the song she was listening to. It was like traveling back in time when she was just a single digit girl, when her voice was just as small as her stature.

It’s hard to express what this moment meant to me. As she switched songs, she smiled and sang along as if I wasn’t even sitting there. As if she didn’t even realize the words were escaping her mouth. It was a moment of pure childhood innocence and reminded me of all the reasons I love her.

When we shut the light, she held my hand.


Today I’m giving my very first violin lesson. I figured that in honor of this exciting day, I’d write about how I came to play the violin in the first place. Enjoy! 

violin pictures  4

My musical life began when I was just a little girl visiting my grandparents on the weekend. My grandpa would come down the stairs singing his original song: “Goooood morning everybody, good morning. How’s my little Abigail, how are you today?” On and on it went. As a boy, my grandpa never had any musical training; he simply grew up to have a great appreciation for it. He made songs for all different things, including one about our dog, Cindy, “Retuuuuurn the Cindah! Return that pooch! We don’t need another mooch!”

Having served in the military, he loved band marches and some mornings, would play John Philip Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” [1]while marching around the house waving a giant American flag while I trailed behind waving a small one of my own. (I’m not making this up. My aunt told me that my grandpa used to do this when she would bring a boy home that she liked.)

When my grandpa and I drove to church on Sunday mornings, we would sing pre-school favorites like “Old MacDonald,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” but my personal favorite was when he would sing “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” while pushing me and my best friend at the time, Matthew (until he discovered I was a girl, or as legend has it) on a bench swing, back and forth.

On Sunday nights, my grandparents would drive me home and play the oldies (but goodies) that they listened to growing up. I learned the words to every song on the cassette. My personal favorite was The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”[2]. I even made a dance to it. Music was something I learned anyone could do, even without special training.

Although I seemed to have a natural ability for learning the words and tunes to the songs I heard, it wasn’t until I took music class in elementary school that I realized just how much I loved music. Mr. Lynch, my music teacher, had our class listen to classical pieces and taught us about all the different instruments in an orchestra. The best part of music class was when we began to play various instruments. I played the xylophone for the first time and in the third grade, I learned how to play the recorder. I missed the first day of reading music but somehow taught myself how to understand this new secret language that none of my family understood. I felt like a little spy.

By the fourth grade it was time to pick an instrument to play for the next year in middle school. Since I had experienced success with the xylophone and recorder, I was convinced I would be just as talented on all the more sophisticated instruments we were going to try.

The first instrument was the bongos. I immediately realized that this was not going to be as easy as I expected. How was it possible for anyone to use one hand to hit one drum with one rhythm and the other hand to hit another drum with another rhythm? I was not coordinated enough for this.

My faith hadn’t been completely shaken yet, though. I still had plenty of instruments to try, right?  But as I tried the next set of band instruments (the flute, the clarinet, and the trumpet) I quickly learned that my musical talent had ended with the recorder. If I needed my lips to play it, it wasn’t going to happen. How did anyone play these instruments without seriously getting lightheaded?

But just before my musical dreams shattered, we tried the violin. Finally, an instrument that didn’t require my mouth to make a sound. The wooden body fit under my chin perfectly. The bow felt natural in my hand. And within one class, Mr. Lynch asked me to help other students as they also tried it.

And so when I came home one day to my dad’s house for a weekly visit (I hadn’t yet moved in with him) and he asked that we carefully decide which instrument I would play next year so we could hand in the right paperwork I told him I had already made the decision and handed in my paperwork. It was obvious. I didn’t choose the violin. The violin chose me.


Happy Father’s Day!

Hi everyone! Just wanted to wish all the fathers and father-like figures a Happy Father’s Day today! I especially want to thank my own grandfather for helping raise me and for always keeping me laughing. And a special wish for my father, wherever he may be–I hope he knows how much I love him, how I think of him every day and am grateful for even the short amount of time we had together. I love you.

Dad and Abigail13

Both my dad and grandpa together! And that wild child is me 🙂

Are We There Yet?

For my writing workshop, we were given the prompt to write about a time that we encountered authority. I closed my eyes and reached back into my memory to pull out this gem. Enjoy! 

speed limit

Sitting in the backseat of the minivan with my little sister beside me screaming along incorrectly to song lyrics from the radio, my aunt’s on again-off again (currently on) boyfriend chain smoking in the passenger’s seat in front of me, and my aunt driving way over the speed limit, we made our way through the heat and humidity of late August towards the Dutchess County Fair in upstate New York. With no air condition and windows that only opened an inch in the backseat, I was already miserable and cranky. My aunt and boyfriend argued back and forth about where we were, if we should have made a left turn five minutes ago and I really think you should slow down… Suddenly, breaking through the chaos, red and blue lights flashed in the rear view mirror.

“Oh…fuck,” my aunt said, slamming her palm against the furry steering wheel cover.

My little sister started panicking, her eyes welling up with tears thinking that we’d all be headed to jail due to her irrational fear of authority instilled in her by grandparents that threatened that the policeman is on the corner if she didn’t go to bed on time. I shushed her into silence as we slowed to a stop on what appeared to be a main street in a little quaint town where I imagined little quaint people lived. All cross ventilation we had from the open front windows stopped, and the heat settled around me like a blanket I was trapped under. Please let this be quick.

A cop with gray hair peeking out the sides of his hat and rotund belly pouring over his belt slowly approached the drivers’ side window and upon looking inside, smirked. I guess I would too if I pulled someone over and discovered such a motley crew inside. The driver being a woman with slicked back hair tied in ribbons, only wearing a bikini top and short shorts that revealed almost all of her unnaturally orange skin. Her presumed lover sitting beside her with hair spiked high like a porcupine, dark sunglasses covering half his face, and gold chains around his neck. And in the back seat, two strangely ordinary looking children wearing jean shorts and button up shirts.

The officer asked my aunt if she knew what she did wrong. She lied and said she didn’t, and he informed her that she had been speeding. 55 in a 30. I was almost tempted to explain to the officer, that no, he had got it all wrong. You see sir, where you see a minivan my aunt sees a sports car and due to this delusion she feels it perfectly acceptable to speed. I held my tongue.

She apologized overdramatically again and again and explained that she never saw a sign stating the speed limit, and we were lost anyway, and oh, did I mention that my speedometer is broken?

He nodded knowingly and subtly tried to reprimand her for her wrongdoing but it was obvious that he was getting a kick out this encounter and wanted to see how long he could make it continue. Despite the fluttering of my aunt’s eyelashes, the officer asked for her license and registration. She leaned over to the passenger’s side to open the glove compartment and I could have sworn I saw him check out the tattoos on her back. To avoid throwing up, I focused my concentration out my window, looking into the shop along the sidewalk and watching people walk by. I wonder what it’s like to come from a normal family?

My aunt sat back up and handed the officer her registration and then sifted through her wallet for her license. Nodding to herself, she handed it to him. The officer brought it close to his face and squinted. My aunt peered up at him expectantly.

Breaking into a fit of laughter, she said My girl friend brought that back for me from Vegas! It’s Betty Boop! You see? She leaned out her window to point at the picture on the fake ID she had handed him.  

Looking up at my aunt and back down at the fake Betty Boop ID, the officer laughed. A big, jolly Santa Claus laugh. I can’t wait to tell the other guys about this, I could practically hear his mind screaming. Yes, we were certainly the weirdest family he had met. At least for today.

My aunt handed him her real ID and he gave her back Betty’s.

Again, the officer took my aunt’s ID and brought it close to his face. He must have forgotten his reading glasses at home. This time, he was the first one to break out laughing.

Is this you?! he choked out, pointing to my aunt’s picture on her ID.

Yea!! my aunt said encouragingly, egging on whatever joke was going to ensue about her photograph. It became clear to me that she was willing to do just about anything to get out of receiving a ticket, including being the butt end of a joke. I got that picture taken when I was 23 and I just REFUSE to change it!  

Your hair takes up the whole frame!

I know!



Laughing. Oh, I know it’s hilarious. But please, can we just get moving again?

After the laughter died down, he handed her back her license and said For that picture, I won’t give you a ticket. But don’t let me catch you speeding again. His tone feigned seriousness and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had winked at her afterwards. My aunt thanked him most graciously over and over and he slowly returned to his car and pulled around us.

My aunt whipped around to face my sister and me in the back seat.

“Don’t tell your grandfather about this.”

Why Do I Write, Anyway?


Last night I sat down to write the first version of today’s blog post. It was a particularly personal (read: exploitative) tale about my loving (read: insane) family (as per usual) but by the end–I don’t know how–I came to think about why I write in the first place. And that’s when I realized I needed to write a new post for today.

Because I got excited. I mean, really excited. My gears started turning and I couldn’t stop thinking of things to write–about why I write– long enough to brush my teeth efficiently. I mean let’s face it; I’ve had a pretty atypical childhood and adolescence. But last night as I wrote just how dysfunctional everything can feel at times in my family, I realized that I don’t just write for fun. I write to survive.

I’ve written my whole life. Before I entered kindergarten (I never went to pre-school) I made my mom write the letters of the alphabet down the left side of a sheet of paper so I could copy each letter over and over again all the way across to the right side. In the first grade, my class spent most of the year creating our own stories that we made into books. I wrote a book about my favorite color (which was green at the time), the baby my mom miscarried before she had me, and one about a pacifist princess who was trapped inside of a castle while a war was raging outside. Each page had an illustration and at the end of each book was a page entitled “About the Author.” Here, I wrote about where I lived and who I lived with and what I wanted to be when I grew up. With each new book, my dream profession changed. In one book, I wanted to be a ballerina; the next, a mother; the next, a rocket scientist. I guess I didn’t realize that writing could be a profession.

As I grew older and the world became more confusing, writing became an outlet, like many artistic endeavors. It became, and still is, a way for me to release emotion in a safe, healthy, and creative way. In this way, writing has been a way to heal. Writing has helped me make sense of a world that I don’t understand.

I write to solve problems in my own life and to help solve problems in my friends lives. I write to help others in the hopes that by sharing my stories, someone else will feel as though they aren’t alone and that one person in the world understands.

I write to escape a life I sometimes feel too big for because my dreams sometimes feel so grand that they feel impossible to accomplish. I write to escape a life I sometimes feel doomed for. Writing is my way to create a better life for myself than the lives of my family before me. It’s not that their lives haven’t been fulfilling to themselves, it’s just that I want something different. Although I’m scared I’ll never reach my dreams, I’m even more terrified of staying exactly where I have been the last twenty years and never reaching farther than the safety of my backyard. And that fear, of never even attempting to fulfill my dreams, is much scarier than the grandness of the dreams themselves.

And so with each piece of writing I complete, I feel more motivated and more inspired to write the next piece. One great idea can sometimes spawn off a slew of other great ideas. It’s self-perpetuating inspiration. Sometimes the thoughts come so fast I’m afraid I won’t be able to capture them all. They race one after another through my mind, as if they’re testing to see how quickly I can respond to their demands of being written down before they disappear forever.

One of the most exciting things about writing for me is that when I start, I can never be sure of where I’m going to end up. Like last night for instance. I started out by writing about my family and ended up writing about my need to write. Writing for me, is like a road trip without a map. Sometimes you end up in a really cool place like a water park or a zoo. Sometimes you end up in weird places like your ex-boyfriends house. And other times you end up in really painful places, like your dad’s hospital bed. But by traveling through language, I learn about myself and suddenly, I’ve created something. What was once a blank piece of paper is now filled with my thoughts. What was once nothing, is now something.

To conclude with all my writing about writing, I’m happy (and super proud) to announce that this summer I’ll be taking the next step toward my dream of becoming a writer. At the end of May I’ll be headed to NYU for their creative nonfiction summer writing program for four weeks. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and I thank each and every person who has ever taken the time out of their day to read my blog. You are helping my dreams come true.

The Best Summer Day


You are only eleven years old. Waking up early, you rub your palms against your eyes and squint against the sun streaming through the spaces between your venetian blinds. As you roll over in bed, you already feel the humidity in the air, the stickiness on your skin. Slowly, you sit up and swing your legs to meet the floor and stand up, reaching to the ceiling attempting to wake your body up.

You slowly make your way down the narrow and steep stairs of your old house to find your dad, already awake and dressed, sitting in the living room hunched over his tackle box intricately working on his fishing lures. Without disturbing him, you pour yourself a glass of orange juice and sit down on the couch and watch as he works intently. He wishes you a good morning but you don’t talk much as his attention is focused elsewhere and you are still half asleep. After finishing your glass of juice, you climb upstairs to get ready for the day.

In the bathroom, you splash cool water on your face to awaken your senses. You slip into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and tie your tangled brown hair into a ponytail to keep your neck cool. And despite the air being blown into your room from the fans in the windows, the room is still stifling.

To escape the heat, you carefully descend the dangerous flight of stairs once more and pour yourself a bowl of Kix cereal and sit at the kitchen table, watching the beads of condensation roll down your second glass of orange juice. You put your dishes in the sink when you’re finished and peer into the living room only to find your dad in the same position as before, concentrating hard on the small pieces of fishing bait. Returning to your room, you leave the lights off, hoping to keep the room from heating up any more and lay on your bed reading the newest Harry Potter.

By mid-morning, the radio turns on downstairs to signify that your dad has finally relocated. You turn your TV on and watch the Animal Planet for a little while until your dad makes his way up the stairs to ask if you want to practice softball outside despite the heat. You happily agree–still completely unaware of your lack of talent for softball–and collect your mitt, bat, and softballs and bound outside into your backyard, which feels as if it goes on for miles. Your dad follows behind you with water bottles and sunscreen, which he forces you to slather on before throwing a single pitch.

Standing in front of the garden you had both planted, you swing relentlessly, hitting one out of every ten pitches—if that. But no matter how awful you are, you don’t realize it then because all your dad does is give you advice on how to improve your stance and how to swing in a straight line. Instead of listening to his advice however, all you can manage to do is imitate the baseball player’s you watch on TV and wiggle your butt while the pitch is thrown and spit before you get ready to swing. And even though you totally stink, you know your dad is having just as much fun laughing at your jokes.

After spending the afternoon in the blazing sun, you both finally return inside for lunch. Your dad makes you a grilled cheese sandwich that he nearly burns as you pour yourself a glass of apple juice and grab a can of Coca-Cola for him and put both on the coffee table in the living room. You put the baseball game on and when he brings your sandwich inside he sits down beside you, cracks open the can of Coke and sips it as you ask him to explain what an RBI is for the three hundredth time.

Once you finish eating, your dad suggests you go to White Pond, the perfect swimming spot for a day like today. You race to your room and slip into a bathing suit, grab a towel, and rush down the stairs, only careful enough not to slide all the way down. Squirting sunscreen on your hands, you rub it in all different directions on your milk white skin while you wait for your dad to come down the stairs. Finally, you load the car with boogie boards and hop in, rolling your window down and sticking your head outside to feel the breeze. Your dad’s hands beat the steering wheel in rhythm to “Scarlet Begonias” * as the music is carried along the wind. You drive along the highway, the late afternoon sun warming your skin and slowly, your eyelids begin to droop.

The next time you open them, you’ve arrived at the Pond, quickly shake off your grogginess, and rush to the waters edge. You lay your towel on the grass and with your dad’s help, inch your way into the water on the stone wall that leads into its depths. It’s slippery and without water shoes, one false move and it could all be over. But in his cut off jean shorts, he holds your hands to help you in and once you’re safely in the water, he swims past you and encourages you to follow. Not a very good swimmer, you decide to stay closer to shore and sit on the stone wall, watching him swim all the way out to the middle of the Pond where he finds a giant rock to stand on. He waves to you and you both laugh. You float in the water, staying close to the stone wall, in case you get tired and need a rest, and finally feel relief from the summer sun. You watch the tiny minnows swim past your toes and splash around to watch them take off in different directions.

After what feels like hours, your dad returns to your side and helps you out of the water, holding on to your pruney fingertips. You race back to the car and decide to get Italian take-out from your favorite restaurant for dinner. As you drive down the highway once more, the late afternoon sun and warm breeze dry the hairs around your forehead and make your skin feel brand new.

You return home with your Italian dishes to sit at the coffee table once more and he puts on The Beatle’s movie, “A Hard Day’s Night.” You eat until you’re just about to explode when your dad suggests making malted milk shakes. You excitedly agree and when he goes into the kitchen thunder rumbles the house. Frightened, you abandon the movie and race to the kitchen to watch as he puts ice cream into the blender. You hear the rain begin to patter on the roof and pour down the gutters. The thunder booms outside and you almost jump out of your seat. But your dad turns the blender on and suddenly, the sound of thunder is masked and you have nothing to be afraid of anymore.

Returning to the living room with your shakes, you stretch out on the couch and after only two sips, your eyes flutter closed and you are asleep. The next time you open them, you’re in bed as your dad places a kiss on your forehead and leaves your bedroom as quietly as possible, not realizing you’ve woken up.

“Hey dad?”

He turns in the doorway of your bedroom, his silhouette tall and lanky.

“Thanks for the best day.”

Even in the dim light from the hallway, you can see a smile spread across his face as he replies, “I love you Abigail. Sweet Dreams. Sleep Tight.”

Finally, the humidity has lifted and a cool breeze drifts into your room as sleep overcomes you in one swift gesture.

*For those of you that would like to hear “Scarlet Begonias”, here it is!

If A Tree Falls In The Woods

It was a Sunday afternoon in October 2001 and I was at my grandparents’ house as usual. My grandpa and I had gone to church that morning and returned home to the breakfast of champions with rolls from the bakery and over easy eggs cooked to perfection by my grandma. I was living with my mom at the time and knew that that evening my grandparents’ would be driving me back home where I would stay during the week until they would return on Friday afternoon to pick me up again. My time was running out and all I wanted to do was go bowling. I had just seen the Disney Channel Original movie Alley Cats Strike about a bowling team that conquered the odds and won the championship game of their lives and I just wanted to recreate the winning scene in real life. So over breakfast I begged my grandpa to take me to the bowling alley. Unfortunately, he wasn’t having any of it.

As we sat at the kitchen table, the wind rattled against the windows as the sun shined in through the curtain. It’s a beautiful day my grandpa insisted, why would you want to go bowling when we could do something outside instead? After complaining half the afternoon away, I finally decided to listen to his suggestion. Doing anything–even if it wasn’t bowing– would be better than just sitting at home. Since he was in the mood to be outside, we decided to go to the local nature center.

I put on a sweater and a pair of comfortable sneakers before heading outside to wait for my grandpa. Leaves floated on the wind/road the wind, spinning around my head and I ran up and down our driveway pretending that I was a witch, just waiting to take off into the sky.

Arriving at the center, my grandpa and I realized we were almost the only people around. It was pretty deserted, probably because it was a Sunday afternoon. We went inside and looked at a few exhibits of animals that could be found on the park’s grounds. Stuffed foxes and owls peered through the glass to look at me with their marble eyes and although I was interested, I must admit, they kind of creeped me out. We talked to a man about birds of prey and quietly left the building to walk along the grounds. Despite the chill and whip of the wind in the air, we decided to take a walk into the woods where a path had been carved out for fellow hikers.

As we walked along the trail, trees lining our path left and right, branches crunched under our feet and we crossed a little bridge over a stream. Pausing, my grandpa noticed a white birch tree. I had never seen one before and he was taking the time to explain to me that some trees have white bark—they weren’t sick, it was just the way they were. Contrary to the animals, I thought these trees were really cool. Even at eight years old, I liked finding beauty in things that were a little odd. As he continued talking about the birch tree however, we heard a distinct crack. This was not a little crack either, like stepping on a twig. This was the crack of a tree that was about to lose a limb.

My grandpa stopped talking midsentence and my heart stopped in my chest. Panicked, we looked to our right and our left, trying to see where the crack came from. If a tree was going to fall, it’d be best to get out of its way. After a few silent moments, we figured we were safe and I slowly exhaled.

My relief didn’t last long, however. Suddenly, as if through instinct, I took a side step over to my right. Holding my grandpa’s hand, I yanked him toward me but he wouldn’t budge. Before I knew it, his grasp slipped from mine and I watched as a tree branch sent him flying through the air just like the way Superman flew in cartoons.

Superman Flying

It had happened in only a fraction of a second, but the entire day had changed in immeasurable ways. What was once a nice day out for grandpa-granddaughter bonding-time-in-nature had suddenly turned into a tragedy that would surely be on the front page of the newspaper the next day. I could see it now: “8 Year Old Granddaughter Watches Grandfather Get Decapitated By Tree On Innocent Hike Through Woods”. I knew we should’ve gone bowling.

Shocked, I rushed to my grandpa’s side. He lay on the trail, still conscious and surprisingly, propped up on one elbow. The only difference I noticed in his appearance were two new holes in the knees of his blue jeans. There were no bones sticking out of his skin and his head was still safely in place. His cap hadn’t even been jostled. The brown limb that had fallen, lay across his legs. He was not crying or screaming in pain so I didn’t understand just how serious the situation was. All I knew for certain was that we needed help. And we needed help now. He was certainly not going to be walking the rest of the trail on his own.

Lying in the dirt, he remained calm and instructed me on what we had to do to get ourselves out of the situation. The first and most obvious thing we had to do was call 911 but since his cell phone was in his back pocket and the tree was crushing his legs and consequently his cell phone as well, before we could even call for help we had to get the limb off of his legs. But considering we were a bit of an odd couple–a sixty-pound eight-year-old and an incapacitated accident victim–it didn’t seem likely that the limb would be going anywhere any time soon. It didn’t seem possible that either one of us would be able to lift a forty foot limb off of his body.

But I guess what they say about adrenaline rushes is true. You’ve heard the stories. A mom’s baby is trapped under a car so she lifts the whole thing up to rescue the child. A man rolls a helicopter over to save a trapped passenger. And so despite my paralyzing fear, I bent down and wrapped my scrawny chicken arms around the limb, took a deep breath, and slowly lifted it an inch off of my grandpa and rolled it slowly back to the ground. Unfortunately, my adrenaline rush didn’t give me enough superhuman strength to throw the limb through the woods, which is what I would’ve liked to do.

My grandpa then instructed me to retrieve his cell phone in his back pocket and while he called 911, I stood a few feet away from him screaming at the top of my lungs repeatedly. HELP!

Since we were in the middle of the woods however, cell phone reception was poor and he could barely get a call to 911 to go through. In desperation, he even considered having me walk the rest of the trail alone until I came out of the woods and could get help. But the sun was setting and walking alone in the woods was not something I thought I could do. But if I had to, I would’ve. Thankfully though, he got another idea. He took the cell phone out again and instead, called my grandma at home so she could call 911 and have the EMTs sent to us. I was still screaming, hoping that someone would hear my cries for help. Tired, I took a seat on the limb that had fallen and for the first time since the crack, looked behind me at the trail we had walked along so happily before. The bridge we had crossed was nowhere to be found, though. It had disappeared behind the curtain of the treetop that had fallen. All I could see was a great canopy of green leaves.

The call to my grandma worked. She had called 911 and they were on their way. As we waited for them to arrive, the sun disappeared behind the hills surrounding us and it became dark. The cell phone rang and it was the EMTs. They needed our location. Since my grandpa couldn’t exactly get up and tell them any significant features of the part of the trail we were on, I had to get on the phone. The reception was poor and I could barely understand the man on the other end. But I did my best and told them we had just crossed a bridge and that we were right by a sign for a Frog Pond. Despite my efforts to have them locate us easily though, when they finally arrived they came through the brush, not even using the trail because they couldn’t find it in the dark. All they had to do was follow my screams.

They immediately went to my grandpa’s side and I watched on in horror as they quickly and methodically cut all his clothes off except his underwear. I’d never seen anyone that naked before except myself and my little sister and I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for the both of us. They wrapped a brace around his neck and rolled him onto a wooden board where they strapped him on tight, only leaving one arm free (which my grandpa later told me he had requested so he could strangle anyone if they hurt him).

A woman approached me wearing a faded pink sweatshirt and khaki pants with two dogs. She had been walking in the woods when she too heard the crack and my screams but couldn’t find us until she had left the trail and saw the EMTs entering the woods at a different site. She followed them to meet us, hoping to help. She spoke to me in a soft voice and as they packaged my grandpa up as if they were going to mail him across the country, she offered me a piggy-back ride out of the woods. But I couldn’t accept. I could barely speak. They draped a white sheet over my grandpa for discretion (and I would assume, warmth) and six men collectively lifted him up and started marching along the trail.

I followed them until we finally reached the mouth of the woods. I took my first step onto concrete and knew I would not be returning to the forest anytime soon. My grandma and aunt were waiting for us and while they spoke with the EMTs, I sat on the hood of a police officers car, exhausted both mentally and physically.

Finally, my grandma and aunt claimed me and we piled into our caravan and followed the ambulance to the hospital. I was examined by a doctor to make sure I hadn’t been hurt and was free to go when I was found to be completely unscathed. I had escaped death by only a side step to the right.

When I left the doctor’s office, I followed my grandma to the emergency room where we waited for my grandpa who had been taken away for countless tests. A few dark twigs lay strewn across the hospital’s white tile floor from when they carried him in. And that is the last image I remember from the night.

I knew the situation was serious but I never knew quite how serious it was. The injuries he sustained were life threatening. He had two punctured lungs, two broken ribs, three broken bones in the foot that required a metal plate to be pieced back together, a broken hip socket and ball (requiring hip replacement surgery), one broken bone in his left knee, a broken femur socket, five smashed spinal protrusions and two minor fractures to the neck. His doctor told him that if he’d gotten hit by the limb a half-inch higher on his back he would’ve died. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: my grandpa’s survival was a miracle.

Even now, twelve years later, my grandpa still credits me with saving his life that day. But what he may not realize is that he saved mine. That tree could’ve hit me instead.

There’s No Place Like Home

I’m convinced I had the best childhood in the history of all childhoods. But then again, chances are that you believe you had the best childhood too. I guess one of the reasons we all feel this way is because it was the time in all of our lives when things were simplest and in our innocence, we were allowed to believe in the unbelievable, the unexplainable, and feel that the world was a truly magical place. For the most part, we followed our parents’ direction and didn’t have to make hard decisions for ourselves; that was our parents’ job. And we always trusted our parents to make the right decision because they always knew best. And because we didn’t have to make these decisions ourselves we had plenty of time instead to imagine magical creatures, time traveling, and alternate universes. We were able to believe in whatever we wanted-whether it be the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, or the Boogey Man. And with all these unbelievable characters alive in our minds, the world was a much more mysterious yet exciting place, with discovery waiting around every corner.


As a kid, the main reason I found such a thrill in these fantastical ideas was because anything was possible; there were no limits. Believing in these ideas was an escape from the real world that I already saw could be harsh and cruel. I witnessed my mom struggle with mental illness; watched my grandparents try to pick up the slack; and even before my dad got sick, saw him fighting against the world just to make a living. I saw growing up as something awful. It seemed like all the grown-ups were unhappy.

And so I believed in the unbelievable with all of my heart. I wrote letters to Santa Claus begging for him to take me with him on his sleigh every Christmas Eve. I left out carrots for the Easter bunny. And once the leaves changed in the fall I pretended I could fly on a broomstick on every gusty day. Looking back, maybe I loved Christmas and Easter so much because to me, it meant that someone out there in the world besides my family loved me enough to bring me a gift and would always be there to take care of me. In a strange way, I could rely on Santa and the Easter bunny in ways that I worried I couldn’t rely on my family. These characters were consistent; my family on the other hand, wasn’t always that way. And even though my belief in these things was a little strong, I was lucky that my family encouraged my imagination and let live in my fantasies instead of telling me the truth and stifling my creativity.

During the times of the year when I didn’t feel magic in my own reality (like when Christmas was finally over), I escaped to the worlds within books and movies. When I entered these worlds, I left my own behind and forgot about anything that was worrying or bothering me, if only for an hour or so.

One of the first books that ever transported me to another world was the Harry Potter series. One weekend when I was about nine years old, I visited one of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family. A few of my other cousins came as well and we all snuggled up in the TV room and watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I had the book at home but had never picked it up. I was amazed. The movie showed a world so much more extravagant than anything I had ever imagined and it was everything I wanted and more. When I returned to my mom’s house that Sunday, I immediately picked the book up and devoured it in days. I found the book to be even better than the movie. I could bring Harry’s world, which was so different from my own, with me anywhere I went and escape at any moment. I loved how quickly he could make things happen with just a wave of his wand and how I knew exactly who the good guys and bad guys were. No matter how complicated the story became, it was still much easier to understand than my own life where no one was purely a good guy or purely a bad guy (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts). I loved transporting myself into a world where I knew that at the end, the good guy would always win-something I wasn’t so sure of in real life. I knew that no matter what outrageous situation Harry found himself in, he’d always find a way out and that somehow, they would solve the problem in a few hundred pages and that Harry would survive his most dangerous battle at the end of the book because, well, it was a series. J.K. Rowling couldn’t exactly kill off the main character and still have a story, after all.


Another story that took me to another world was the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”. I saw so much of myself in Dorothy as she left her old world behind to enter this new, much more exciting-and colorful-world of Oz. She was doing exactly what I had been doing with my books-except it was her reality-or so she thought. Even though the movie gave me a completely irrational fear of tornadoes (considering I live in New York) I always hoped that if I ever did get picked up by one, I’d be taken to Oz as well.


The whole idea of “The Wizard of Oz” however, is that this world is only in her dreams. In the end, Dorothy wakes up and realizes that “there’s no place like home”. And I think I’ve learned this too. No matter how much I may want to escape my reality at times, there is nothing quite like the life I’m living. Sure, there are no fat men in red suits sliding down my chimney to bring me presents every December but the truth is even better: the people I love are the ones to bring those gifts. It is no longer a stranger I believe in, but my own family. Sure, Harry’s world is amazing and filled with magic wands and spells but there are magical things in my own life, even if I just have to look a little harder to find them. And maybe Oz is filled with people in extravagant costumes and personalities but I can find people in my own life that share just these qualities.

I will always love the escape of a good book or movie, but must always remember to look at my own life and realize that even though it’s not magical in the same way as I imagined as a little girl, it is truly magical. And that’s because it’s real.

Getting Stoned

For our first Christmas together, my dad gave me a pair of bubblegum pink pajamas and matching fuzzy slippers that read as follows:

Boys Are Stupid Throw Rocks At Them

Who knew however, that in a twisted turn of fate, three years later, boys would still be stupid but I wouldn’t be the one throwing rocks at them. They would be the ones throwing them at me.


In the eighth grade my dad finally forced me to take the bus to middle school. Gone were the days of him driving me in each day and picking me up. My chauffer was quitting.

The biggest reason that I never wanted to take the bus until then was because of the wait at the bus stop. I was too afraid to stand there with a bunch of kids I didn’t know—especially since I was new to the school district. They had known each other their whole lives and I had no idea who they were. I didn’t know if they were friendly or nasty or if they’d ask me the standard list of questions: “Are you new here?” “Where’d ya go to school before this?” “Why’d ya move?” And no matter how many times I imagined it, they’d always be smacking their gum when asking these questions.

Simply put, I was intimidated. I saw them every day standing at the corner when my dad would drive past them to take me to school. They were a motley crew composed of an athletic brother and sister—who, I was convinced would be able to smell my unathleticism from a mile away— one tall and lanky European boy and his physically opposite short, round, Hispanic friend, and the “cool” kids, one who dressed in baggy pants with a backwards hat on with a cigarette permanently hanging out of his mouth and the other who kind of looked like Kurt Cobain if you squinted really hard. The athletes intimidated me, the two international kids confused me, but the “cool” kids scared the living daylights out of my thirteen-year old self. I was still watching the Disney Channel. They were probably watching porn.

Standing at the bus stop was like asking a tiny goldfish with a broken fin (ME) to enter the shark tank (THEM). But my dad loved me so much that he forced me to do it anyway.

So on the first day of school I was petrified to stand outside by myself amongst these kids. Fear pulsed through my veins as I said goodbye to my dad, gave another half-hearted attempt at putting up a fight to be driven to school—only to fail, of course—and pulled open my front door to see them all standing there. It was like they were waiting for me.

I put my headphones in and blasted really loud, angry music. I wanted to appear as tough as possible, even if I was wearing a messenger bag and a corduroy jacket.

As I slowly shuffled toward the corner, I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I said silent prayers to the school bus Gods that the bus would arrive early and save me from my misery. But as I stood there, time ticked away and the bus was still not arriving. With each minute that passed, I felt as though I could feel all of the crew’s eyes poring deeper and deeper into my soul. My chest felt tighter and tighter and I thought I might die from lack of oxygen.

After a merciless ten minute wait–which in retrospect is only about three and a half songs long–the bus finally arrived; relief washed over me and I hurried on the bus, lucky enough to find a seat all to myself. Finally, I could breathe easier knowing I had made it over the first hurdle—even if it was by a shoelace.

As the year went on, I got a little more used to standing at the bus stop. I had it down to a science. If I left at exactly 7:24 I could be the first one at the bus stop and be assured that 1) I would never miss the bus and 2) I would never have to walk toward the group of people that scared me so much. I would never have to see who I was keeping company with and could pretend like they didn’t exist as long as I didn’t turn my head. I kept my headphones in at all times and never said a word to anyone. I had my own spot where I stood each day and no one dared to encroach on my territory. We each designated our own places to stand–kind of like how dogs pee on hydrants to claim their territory–except we didn’t pee, we just became creatures of habit.

One day in the middle of winter, I walked out to the bus stop. I was the first one there as usual. The wind was howling around my head and with each gust I felt my organs huddle closer together within my core in an attempt to preserve life. I had whipped my head around to escape the wind’s bite and unfortunately caught sight of my company. No athletes or international friends today. Just me and the two “cool” kids (read: terrifyingly-dangerous-scary-and-much-bigger-than-me boys that could probably snap me in half if they wanted).

An overwhelming wave of panic washed over me. I was all alone with the two guys I was most afraid of in the world. Well, maybe the idea of Osama Bin Laden scared me a little bit more, but he was a distant fear. This was immediate.

Just like the first day of school the bus was late. Of course it was just my luck that the morning I feared for my life my rescue vehicle was running late. (I really shouldn’t have been surprised.) Each minute felt as if it was stretching on for days and even though I had my headphones in and my music was blasting I could still hear the boys’ voices. I didn’t know what they were saying, but then again, I didn’t want to.

All of a sudden, I heard one of them spit. And then I heard their shuffled feet. Frozen—from the cold and pure terror—I didn’t even turn my head to see what they were doing. But I didn’t have to. Because all of a sudden, I felt something hit my backpack. And then something hit my leg. And then a few more things hit the pavement around me.

Tiny, little stones.

I was extremely confused. Were they actually…stoning me? What was this, 400 B.C.E? I was certain I had imagined it. But I was too afraid to turn around to even confront them. And so I just stood there, turning my music louder and louder until suddenly, the bus turned down our street. Slowly, slowly, slowly it rolled its way toward my corner. It stopped in front of me and I rushed on, sat down, and bit my lip to keep from crying.

When I got home that day I wasn’t sure how to tell my dad that his one and only intelligent, talented—and at times, wacky (read: beloved)–daughter had essentially been stoned at the bus stop–NO THANKS TO HIM–so I tried to ease it into casual conversation. I didn’t want him to totally drown in his own guilt. Because if he hadn’t made me take the bus, this never would have happened.

I don’t remember his exact reaction to the news, though. Probably because it was very angry and heated. But I do know that the next day when I found myself alone with the two boys again and little stones landed at my feet, instead of being petrified, I imagined taking my dad’s old hockey stick out with me the next day and beating the boys over their heads asking if they “really wanted to mess with me?!?!” It was a crazy—and somewhat violent—fantasy but it got me through the ten minute wait for the bus.

When I got to school I immediately went to the main office and reported what had happened. I didn’t care if I was a tattletale or a loser/geek/orchestra nerd/wimp. I just didn’t want any more rocks thrown at me.

The next day, when I stood at the bus stop the athletic siblings and international friends had returned. I felt less intimidated by them than usual simply by knowing that there was safety in numbers and the two boys that had harassed me would be less likely to do it or confront me about it in front of other people.

I don’t know if the boys who harassed me ever got in trouble for what they did to me. No one at school called me in to talk about what happened. But maybe they did get talked to because I do know that it never happened again.

After that year, I never had to stand with those boys again. I heard rumors that the one that resembled Kurt Cobain ended up in Juvee and I don’t remember what ever happened to backwards-hat kid.

But I was lucky. Although this was definitely a really weird, atypical, and twisted way of bullying someone and made me feel mortified, in a lot of ways it was nothing compared to the verbal harassment a lot of kids face each day in the halls at school or even in their homes. They get teased mercilessly and called names and with cyber bullying they can be attacked even over the Internet. If there’s one thing I learned from my experience, it’s that no matter how small the incident may seem, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and especially fearful, you have to speak up. Even if you’re afraid, it’s worse to stay silent. Bullies may seem strong and tough because they aren’t afraid to say and do some ugly things, but don’t forget, you have a voice too. And you can’t be afraid to use it.

My Family Confession

While I’m the first person to pretend that everyone’s family is perfect besides my own, the reality is that we’ve all got problems and there is no “perfect” family. Some people don’t even consider their biological relatives their family. Instead, they choose their family to be close friends that they love and care for throughout the years. Families are filled with varying personalities, often with many conflicting ones. Some families, like mine, can be ravaged by mental illness.

Yup, I said it. Mental illness. Two words most of us avoid using and cringe upon hearing.  Images of the mentally ill are of those that sit in wards of mental hospitals rocking back and forth and muttering to themselves or of people so deeply depressed they don’t get out of bed. Often, people with mental illness are thought of as lazy, irresponsible, and just plain crazy. But while these images and stereotypes pervade our culture, the face of mental illness is actually much more common than that. People who suffer from mental illness get up and go to work each day, stand next to you at the supermarket and pick their kids up from the same school as yours. The woman in the above picture is a face of mental illness. That woman is my mother.

From a young age, I knew something was different with my mom. She often let me stay home from school even when I wasn’t sick, would become very sad and cry some days and would fight and yell with my grandparents the next. Sometimes, she would disappear for weeks at a time, leaving me in the care of my grandmother. One time, before she left for one of these periods I asked her where she was going. We stood in in front of the refrigerator, staring at my white socks against the red linoleum floor. Leaning over me she simply said, “To become a better mom.” And being that I was only a kindergartener, I replied excitedly, “Oh, so you’ll be able to know when I want a Kit-Kat bar before I ask for one?!” A small smile, easily misinterpreted as a grimace, flashed across her face and all she said was, “Mhmm” and walked away. I never questioned it again.

By the time I was ten she had returned from her latest stay in a rehabilitation facility. (By this time I had learned she was going away to places for people with mental health issues. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned she also suffered from an addiction problem. Which leads me to ask, which came first, the chicken or the egg?) Despite whatever progress she had made in the weeks she was gone, things fell apart when she came home. Within five days I had moved in with my dad permanently. The first few years of living separately, we barely spoke and when we did it always ended in an argument of epic proportions, the only result being my tear stained pillow.

As the years progressed, our relationship fluctuated. We’d see each other occasionally if she came to visit my grandparents on the weekend but other than that, I never saw her. Sometimes we got along really well and other times we were ready to wring each other’s necks. (This depended on whether she was sober or not.)

Within the last couple of years, while living with my grandparents and being in closer contact with my mom since my dad can no longer act as a buffer, I have witnessed the pain and anguish she suffers from her illness. One morning she’ll be happy and by the afternoon she can be raging and screaming over the littlest thing. It hurts to watch someone that you are supposed to look up to be at the mercy of a disease they can’t control. All you want to do is help but there’s nothing you can do, especially as a daughter. Your mother is supposed to take care of you, not the other way around.

Now that I’ve learned that it is not my job to take care of her, I tend to stick to the sidelines now, watching my whole family unit as a whole. Stepping away from the family, I can see traces of mental illness throughout it. It’s not just my mom who suddenly became mentally ill like one person in a family may get a rare physical condition. Others in the family have illness themselves, just not to such a severe degree. And therefore, the person who suffers the most is usually told to “man up” or “get over it” or is kept hidden away as an invalid, not spoken of amongst friends or other extended family. Mental illness is stigmatized as being something that we should be ashamed of and something that should be kept secret within a family.

I’ve even struggled with this. I am not ashamed to say my dad got cancer and died but I am very reluctant to share my mother’s story about her issues with mental illness and addiction issues. The distinction, it appears, is that my dad did not choose to get cancer and that somehow my mother chose to have a mental illness and addiction problem. But this is wrong. My mom did not choose to have mental illness. She wants to be happy and functional more than anyone in the world. Mental illness is not something that individuals can control. People who suffer from these diseases don’t choose to be this way. They are people, like you and me, with good traits and bad- which makes it so hard to be close to them because it would be so much easier to consider them a complete villain and  eliminate them from your life. But because they are human, they are not all “bad”. Despite the screwed up things they may have done they still do good things that redeem them in some way-just like the rest of us. But because they are stigmatized with the label of mental illness, they must suffer being judged almost every day of their lives.

This is why I’m finally speaking up. The more we pretend there is no problem, the more it gets ignored, and the worse it becomes. My mom suffers from mental health issues and so do others in my family. I’m not ashamed to say it any longer. By revealing the truth to their lives, I want to give them dignity by saying that their lives do not have to be kept hidden like a dirty little secret and they do not suffer alone. Which leads me to say that I have my own mental health issues that I deal with myself.

After going through many traumatic events throughout my life, I suffer from anxiety. It wasn’t until this year that I came to acknowledge it and address it as such. I won’t go into much detail as I’m still learning how to cope with it, but I do know what it feels like to be unable to control your own thoughts. Every day I am doing a balancing act of controlling my thoughts and therefore maintaining my mental health rather than succumbing to the negative and toxic thoughts that stream through my head.

And so I end with this. I know how mental illness can affect a family’s dynamics. I see how its unpredictability can destroy relationships. But I also see the resilience these families have– that no matter how rough and messed up things get, we manage to pull together and love each other regardless of our mental state. Because first and foremost, we are a family. And we love each other no matter what.