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THREE MONTHS TODAY

THREE MONTHS TODAY

Remember when you (if you) had your first baby and she or he turned THREE MONTHS? The change of language happened swiftly. “How old is your baby?” people would ask prior to this. “ Three weeks, seven weeks, ten weeks,” we spoke in segments of our calendars. But when twelve weeks came around, there was a significant shift and the answer became THREE MONTHS instead of twelve weeks. We wanted more substance in time. We wanted to create a more fullness to their littleness, their vulnerability. The THREE MONTHS time stamp sealed their fate into being a growing person and on the important track of aging.

Today is THREE MONTHS.

It sounds so much longer than ELEVEN WEEKS. There is a momentum to weeks as a definition of healing, but THREE MONTHS TODAY feels like a long time. I almost feel normal, that is until I wake up in the morning and look down and see two bowling balls standing completely upright even though I am lying completely flat. We fifty year old mamas know damn straight that this is a near impossible feat in our aging upper bodies.

Everywhere I go because I know so many people, I run into people I know. I went to a beautiful event last night with about four hundred women, the night before I went to an outdoor concert attended by at least two thousand people and I saw hundreds of familiar faces. Because I am an open book, (or open chest these days) there is a curiosity about my speedy recovery. Frankly I am curious too and I wish I could do a full blown show and tell. When I was on the other side of this, the side of curiosity and fear and worry, I had no idea about what went into this experience. I was afraid and the irony is that I was not afraid of the cancer part of this which as I write this find hilarious, but afraid of the surgery and the post experience.

I have healed rapidly and I feel amazing and this seems like a spectacular occurrence to the women who have not gone through this. I love that my writing gives women permission to ask the questions, to feel comfortable poking and prodding at these hard discs that are my upper body. I am humbled that my writing has given some a window into this one particular experience that is so undeniably female. We are talking about breasts and women and breasts have significant histories. Breasts get a lot of press, but in all sincerity, there are so many other cancers that need cover girl status. It’s not nearly as sexy to discuss ovarian and pancreatic cancer as it is breasts, but these cancers are the deadly ones. Breast cancer these days is so much more curable if caught early.

I border line between avoiding doctors visits and pharmaceutical prescriptions aka burying my head in the sand and being proactive and doing the regular checkups that we must advocate for ourselves. Not getting a mammogram can be a deadly decision. Then a breast cancer diagnosis becomes a very different conversation then the one I was fortunate to have. I am lucky because for some reason I let four years go by. I always got mammograms, and then decided to go on a two year cycle instead of every year. When I went through my separation from my husband, left my home of twenty years, had the self induced responsibility and weight of breaking up our family unit, then a flood at my business, that two year cycle mistakenly turned into four years. The only reason I even realized my miss was due to a random visit to my doctor because I was sick and needed to get checked for strep throat. When I was there, my always very normal blood pressure was super high. I became nervous as I also started experiencing some serious heartburn and was thinking about heart disease or a stroke or something horrible. So I went to my regular doctor to get my blood pressure checked again. After some good deep breathing and five tries, my blood pressure was normal and we made an appointment for something that would check my heartburn. On the way out, Dr. T said, “Alayne, do you realize it has been four years since your last mammogram?” “No, I didn’t realize that.” I made the appointment and here I am, three years later. Two cancer diagnois’, three surgeries, radiation, genetic testing, positive BRCA2, having to tell the family to get genetic testing.

Alive. Happy. Brave. Fearless. (kind of).

Paying attention to our body’s messaging systems is our best ally. I am fortunate to have the wisdom of instant replay and can see how my life and this new life unfolded before my very eyes. It is serendipitous and it does feel like divine intervention, the unusual sickness in the winter, the need to go to the medical center, the high blood pressure needing to get rechecked. Because I know my body’s mechanisms, I paid attention to the tweaks and took action accordingly. I am a better person from this. Yes there is more surgery, yes there are more fills (well maybe only one more, drats, I was really enjoying my boob fills with Dr. Hottie) but the nuggets, the wisdom, and the friendships I have formed from an otherwise shitty diagnosis has made this THREE MONTHS TODAY, some of the nicest memories in my already very full life.

I wouldn’t dare to say that breast cancer was a blessing because that just sounds cliché and stupid, I don’t wish breast cancer and mastectomies on anyone because lots can go wrong. But when things go right, HERE I AM.


dancing up a storm with my dear friend and photographer, Julie Brigidi and some other superchicks at the event last night, Kym and Kirsten on the beautiful Blithewold lawn in Bristol, RI -no better place to spend my life- THREE MONTHS INDEED.
recipes

HOT FUDGE SAUCE

HOT FUDGE SAUCE

If I close my eyes, I can see the almond color refrigerator. I think it was a side by side, but I can’t imagine it was in the late seventies. Like soldiers, there they stood at full attention, a line up of homemade frozen ice cream parfaits layered with homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade hot fudge sauce. They started and ended with the darkest of brown chocolate sauce waiting to be consumed by my grandfather or someone other than my diabetic grandmother who made them for “us.”

My visits to my grandmother’s house, (my mother’s mother who we called Kitsie) from the time she and my grandfather lived on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, Mass to her basement apartment in Newton were some of the best memories of my young life. I was so fortunate to have a loving, kind relationship and a lengthy one with both sets of my grandparents. I have written about them many times and the positive influence they have had in my life. My grandparents still have this influence in me even though only one of the four of them is still alive.

My grandmother’s voices are in my head in my daily life especially when I am in the kitchen. From the type of sponge I use to wash dishes (Dobie, unless our friend Kalman comes for a visit from Israel or I go there, then he brings these amazing silver toned scrubbers) the way I clean as I go, wiping counter tops down, washing the dishes so there isn’t a big mess as I prepare my meal. The way I grocery shop driving to a variety of little stores to buy specific things, Persimmon Provision in Barrington for meat, Fruitland or Decastros for my fruits and vegetables, Green Grocer for the organic staples; Venda Ravioli for Italian goodness and so on; this is all when I have the time to do this. When it comes to food, I usually make the time because my grandmother taught me that food is love and love is worth the drive. When I don’t have the time to drive everywhere, I go to Whole Foods, the little one on the East Side, but my preference is always the small privately owned stores where I can talk to Champ, the butcher or Harold the fruit guy and find out about their kids and their lives. Like her mother, my mother did this too and though I dreaded the outings when I was a child, my memories of the experience are really special. Little did I know that these shopping excursions would be forming my foundation in the kitchen and my love to cook.

My aunt Kiley and I used to make fun of all of the driving to these small stores my grandmother would do. But like most traits we laughed about in our youth, I find myself mirroring many of the same ones in my fifties. This feels like I am honoring my grandmother and it comforts me.

Kitsie taught herself to cook as she was the generation that witnessed the first cooking show of the mother of all cooking shows, Julia Child. There was never a stick of margarine in the house, never processed food. Kitsie’s nemesis was sweets. She was always watching her blood sugar on one hand and cooking elaborate sugar laden desserts with the other.

Like a stunning bottle of red wine on a perfect cool fall evening, sometimes Kitsie’s desserts cannot be replicated. This is likely because of the experience surrounding the dessert, the smell of her house, the conversations in the kitchen, and the dishes they were served in. She always made chocolate chip cookies and put them in the freezer. Not only can I taste the frozen cookie as I think about them, I can see my entire being standing in the kitchen, opening the freezer door, reaching into it and pulling one out. I can almost smell Kitsie’s kitchen and like the movie, Back to the Future, I am transported back in time and it feels lovely and safe.

Grandmothers have this magical force especially when they are the good kinds of grandmothers. Many of my close friends have really spectacular loving relationships with their mothers, but didn’t know their grandmothers on that level. I was the opposite and though the pain of not having that type of depth of a relationship with my own mother, my grandparents on both sides served up a plate of delicious love and divine intervention with their examples and their hearts. Food was one of those ways. The action of the recipe and the preparation rather than the voice of it became the ripple effect in its omnipresent force in my life. It still is every time I pull out the hand typed HOT FUDGE SAUCE recipe that Kitsie created on one of about two hundred index cards for my twenty-first birthday because I asked for them. I have two full boxes of these vary worn cards and they all smell like butter, aka my grandmother’s kitchen.

Every time I whip up a batch of the gritty deep chocolate recipe and pass on a jarful to my friends, I pass on her torch, honoring how much she was a great example to me without even trying. I also whole-heartedly share the recipe because everyone needs a batch of homemade hot fudge sauce every once in a while.

Though this recipe is called Chocolate Sauce, i have always referred to it as Hot Fudge Sauce and even though this says margarine, it is a lie, Kitsie never used it. Her recipes assumed lots, like mixing things and temperatures and knowing that bitter chocolate means bitter sweet chocolate. They were also a bit contradictory: “stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil” and the ending with “Don not let it boil.” Translation? Cook over low heat and just cook it until it smells delicious and thickens. 1 square bittersweet melted with 1/4 cup butter, 1 and 1/4 cups of cocoa, 3/4 cups sugar, 1/2 cup evaporated milk. (you know the old school kind in the can.) This freezes perfectly and it also doubles and triples easily.
The box of recipes Kitsie hand typed for me before computers, spell check and backspacing; and all of the ingredients except for the stick of butter because I realized that I am out. If you use the Ghirardelli, it is 2 squares not one since their squares are much thinner than the old fashioned Bakers brand. Carnation makes smaller cans which serve this recipe well if you are only making one batch, this can makes 2 1/2 batches. I usually keep all of this on hand to whip up a batch at the blink of an eye.
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THE BEACH AND ME

THE BEACH AND ME

Finally after a super busy week and a very successful garden tour yesterday complete, I had today, this perfect summer Sunday to get to the beach. My ever patient beach and life partner kindly got the umbrella ready and secure (umbrellas are a must now that I am over the five-o mark). Shoes off, towels down, chairs placed- sunscreen on, followed by my hat (which is also now a must- post 50). I grabbed my beach earrings from my bag, (I can’t go to the beach without earrings and lipstick) and put them on, tarnished from the many beach trips and salty air and sand. I looked around to search out the familiar faces because kind of like season tickets to Fenway, you get to know the regulars. After recognizing the one woman who I call crazy chick, I sighed with the delight of the familiarity of it all. I sat myself down with my pile of magazines and a cooler full of food, ahhh… my beach ritual, tried and true.

Sundays are super crazy at the beach and as much as I love the beach (I seriously could go every single day from 9–3 if I could) Sundays are not my favorite day. Too many people, too many tourists, too many families of the regulars, but like a trooper, I suck it up. After all, this “complaint” is a luxury problem and I laugh at the notion that I would even dare to differentiate a “good” beach day. Aren’t all beach days good — great, actually? I know I am returning back to my sassy self when I hear the first blaring note of a deep base beat coming from the couple in a matching polka dotted bathing suit. They had just driven their dinghy from their big ass boat and not only unloaded pretentious beach equipment, but two very cute, but very yappy dogs and a special dog umbrella to protect them from the blaring heat. And before I knew it, one of those portable Bose type speakers to play their techno crap.

When the second dinghy arrived with another group that polka dot couple seemed to know but didn’t sit next to each other, the sounds of their conversations hummed my way along with the technobeat. “If they are going to have full blown conversations, why don’t they sit next to each other instead of screaming their talking across from each other?” I impatiently stated in a kind of factual annoyed statementy kind of non question. I mean does anyone have any type of beach etiquette anymore?

There is a list of unwritten beach rules that are just part of your fabric if you have grown up anywhere near a beach in your life. The first one besides not smoking, thank goodness this isn’t allowed anymore, should be noise level etiquette. No yelling, no screaming at your kids or your partner, no loud music- definitely the top if the list for sure. I mean why is it that someone thinks their music should be the defining entertainment for all to endure? Today was an unusually odd day because it seemed like no one got the memo that dogs are not permitted on the beach. I love dogs, but if you are going to break the beach rules and bring your dog to the beach, please make sure he or she is not a yapping one that disrupts the beautiful sounds of the waves crashing at the shore and the seagulls flying overhead. On top of the three families who brought their dogs, the yapping from all was followed endlessly by the sounds of “Shhhh. Stop that. Quiet. No.” about a thousand times.

I tried to look at the positive side. I am at the beach. This about sums up the positive. Doesn’t get more positive than this simple fact. I am at the beach with my boyfriend. I have a one hundred and forty dollar beach sticker on my car that I can afford so that I can go to my preferred beach with my partner. I have a cooler full of organic food from Green Grocer in Portsmouth, RI and pies from Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass where I drove to at 8:00am this morning because I am alive and healthy and I could. I am at the beach ELEVEN WEEKS after a seven hour surgery. I am at the beach rocking a kick ass body because not only have I a stellar new set of bad ass ta-tas, but I have been working out and eating clean for almost 4 full weeks straight and feel stronger than I ever have for real.

How’s that for a positive spin around? I sat there starting to go south with my feeling personally offended bitchatude and took a big fat pause. How dare I? I have a friend who just got a really shitty potentially fatal diagnosis and I am guessing she would really appreciate one day on a hot beach with loud music and a set or two of yappy dogs. So I stopped myself. I stopped my feeling of self-righteousness and entitlement and I said thank you. Thank you for the gift of another Sunday at the beach. Even though the peripheral folks were breaking my self proclaimed beach rules, I don’t have to feel personally offended by them. The fact is that their behavior has nothing to do with me UNLESS I LET IT. My life as it stands today with my Wonder Woman lovely bad ass attitude is how do I want to spend my precious time thinking and being.

Two great quotes came across my inbox today sandwiching my day. This one started me off from my dear friend, Chris; quote by Dr. Robert Holden

“The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.”

Then this great quote ended my day in the universal timing it usually does by the Matriarch of Positive Thinking, Louise Hay,

“I do not fix problems, I fix my thinking. Then problems fix themselves.”

I simply must let the “stuff” go. I can’t control it. I can’t allow it because it impacts my health and I choose health over nonsense and drama that has nothing to do with me. So when I go to the beach again, I have so many choices. I could bring headphones, I could meditate, I could send love and light, I could ignore the bullshit or I could choose to stay home. Whatever I decide to do and think is up to me and me alone. I just have to catch myself when I start to go south in my head, the rewards of doing so are really the stuff that makes a beach day truly spectacular.

BAM.


“my” beach on a not so busy day.

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ALMOST THREE MONTHS

ALMOST THREE MONTHS

There is an odd sense of urgency you feel when you have a cancer diagnosis no matter how early it was caught, how lucky you are and how often the words “they got it all,” are said. So ALMOST THREE MONTHS in as good as I feel, I am humbled daily by my privilege to live and I don’t take it lightly. People say there are “gifts” in all of this trauma. This is usually true with any downswing in our lives, what we do with what we experience is part of the unique process called survival. I tend to live knowing this and I think I have actually been living this way since my brother died over twenty years ago. But it is the sense of urgency that is my newest friend and this has created a mixed bag of feelings for me.

I am trying not to minimize how early my breast cancer was caught, I tend to do things like this. Not take it seriously, like it wasn’t life threatening because it was caught so early, and I find myself thinking, to quote one of the many quotes from Ann, “Don’t be so dramatic, Alayne.” But the fact that I am coming to grips with is that I have had breast cancer twice in two years to the day and I have a genetic mutation that makes me a much higher risk to get something again.

I am not being dramatic, I am being pragmatic and this is where the sense of urgency stems from. The balancing act, the need to watch my lifestyle more closely so as not to aggravate and stimulate. I have a friend who was just diagnosed with a really advanced stage cancer. Her sense of urgency is no comparison to mine but its humble lesson is a reminder to me to not wait to do the shit I want to do whatever that is. Right now, it is to write. I just want to write about everything. I want to garden and to write. I want to go to the beach, to garden and to write. I want to say yes to the people I love and no to the people I don’t. I want to get rid of all of the stuff in my house that I no longer need, that is weighing me down so it makes it easier to enjoy my space. I want to watch nature and put down my phone and smoke pot and create art in my barn on a rainy day. I want to go for bike rides and gather my friends for more picnics in the park. I want to go to my favorite gym in Newport often and workout with all of the rocking cool fit chicks that I get to call my workout friends. I want to cut more flowers and make bouquets for random people so that they smile unexpectedly. I want to give compliments unabashedly to many friends and strangers because it just feels pure goodness when I do. I want to dance with my partner more often and go out to dinner with my son when he is home. As I write all of this today on ALMOST THREE MONTHS, I realize that I do all of this now. I feel lucky to have received the “live in the present” memo early and the irony of this whole shabang is I feel lucky and grateful beyond measure. This feels weird to write because why would someone with two time in two years cancer diagnosis feel lucky? One (very superficial) reason is for this seriously awesome new set of breasts I have been fortunate to land. I remember feeling so sad about having to have my breasts removed and the notion of having a fake body part was freaking me out. It all feels so trite now, but if I go back to my early writings, I had a super heavy heart. Heavy heart no more, my new dress up boobs are a blast as they stand at full attention –standing, sitting, lying down, running, jumping-zero movement. When I hug someone, I find myself using the excuse to have the discussion because seriously when you hug me there is no mistaking their incredible fakeness. They are two solid baseballs, not softballs attached to the front of my body. And I love them.

I love wearing low cut dresses around my house where it is so obvious that not only do I have fake boobs, but that I have weird indentations and areas that are clearly uneven from a double mastectomy. I love giving people permission to look, to feel, to ask. I love to get the conversation going because I can. The fact is that someone you know will be going through this same exact experience and maybe they will be less scared because I created the environment to ask me about the contents of my upper body making it more accessible for the conversation. So here is a brief explanation of where I am at and what I have to look forward to over the next coming months. I hope it will serve as a forward to someone you know who may be contemplating their own sadness at the prospect of a mastectomy. Every single experience is different, but for me it has so far been without challenge or problem (knock on wood).

My new rack is temporary. When you get a mastectomy, it is not that your breasts are getting taken off, but rather scooped out. The skin on the outside remains and that is new container for the temporary inserts called tissue expanders. These very thick silicone discs have built in pinsize magnetic ports that allow for the plastic surgeon to find and inject saline fluid to literally slowly expand them over the next five months. The reason for this is especially because I had radiation the first time around so the tissue had to come from the lattimus dorsi muscles in my back, hence the angel wing scars. The tissue has to slowly repair itself and has to expand slow and steady to be able to fit the new silicone that will be exchanged for these sometime in October or November (five months or more from original surgery date).

It all sound awful, but like anything in life, it is what you get used to and the glory of the tissue expanders is that I get to play dress up as I decide on the how much is too much size. For my body type, the expanders can only each hold 550 cc of saline and right now I am up to 500. BAM. The more liquid that gets added, the tighter the skin gets because it is like a balloon maxed out, when you put a little air in it, it has some wiggle room, when you fill it to the max, it is stretched to the max and therefore no wiggle room.

I am asked if I have trouble sleeping. Once you go through any breast surgery with drains especially, you quickly learn that lying on your stomach or your sides isn’t going to be the go to sleep position anymore. You adapt quick because you have to sleep. (thank you medical marijuana again) When you get to the point I am at, I can much more easily sleep on my side, but not on my front because it seriously feels like a tetter totter piece of playground equipment. The other question I get is, “What do they feel like?” They don’t. There is no feeling. Here is another question, “What about sexual feeling?” None. But I did nipple sparing so I still have my own nipples, but though they are responsive to touch and temperature, they feel it, but I don’t. This being said, I really enjoy the no sensation sensation. Like childbirth, this is impossible to explain unless you have experienced the experience so you’ll have to trust me on this one.

So here I am at ALMOST THREE MONTHS and have had all but one of my last fills (fills are what I go for every 7–10 days to have the fluid added to my tissue expanders so they expand slowly) They are almost maxxed out, hard as a rock, and now I wait patiently for my hopefully final surgery that will be the exchange. At this surgery (because I have the best breast plastic surgeon in the state for sure aka Dr. Hottie) he will not only exchange the silicone for more pliable real feeling silicone implants, but will do some sculpting with some of my own prepared fat from some liposuction (Goodness, I love America), to fill in the holes and indentations from the scooping out of the cancerous tissue. Unfortunately I don’t get to instruct him where he takes that fat from (inner thigh was my choice, but he already rejected that suggestion for some reason)

As I reread this, it sounds bizarre and probably frightening as it did to me the first time I gathered this information from another surgeon two years back which is why I elected to have a lumpectomy the first round. But actually, it has been a completely positive experience. It is not like I had to lose a body part that could not be replaced. I didn’t have to get used to walking on a prosthetic or seeing from one eye. This experience has humbled an already humbled ass. My cup runneth over and I get to share my very positive experience with other women who may be approaching this decision with the same fear I had. I also realize that I am 52 and not childbearing age or younger. I am not just starting my young life experience out. I have had a child, I have had great sexual experiences with my breasts. My life has been full so I cannot speak to the sadness and grief that a much younger woman must have to go through, but I hope that this is a helpful description to some. If anyone ever wants to ask me a question, never hesitate. I am happy to help someone move through the scariness and into the fun of Dolly dressup, go big or go home- that’s my new badass motto.

I leave this writing today with one of my favorite poems by ee. cummings

“i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any — lifted from the no

of all nothing — human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)”

AMEN


After a day of creating art in the barn. Not bad considering they are totally fake and this was at TEN WEEKS.

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THE HOLY CARDINAL

THE HOLY CARDINAL

Electric red, distinctive sounds, bright beauty, the male cardinal is a reminder to me that everything is OK. My cardinal friend is not always available to me as that reminder, but it is like he knows just when I may be on the edge of a personal discovery or on the top of a mountain ready to spread my own wings and then he lets me know. By a sound or a fly by or a perch, always there to say, Alayne, you are ok, everything is ok right here, right now. Be here right here right now.

This cardinal experience for me started when I moved out of my marriage house and into my own condo. I used to walk a lot because my condo was on the water right at the bike path in Bristol, RI and it was a nature dream. Nature always settles me and as one can imagine, leaving a marriage after twenty years required a lot of nature (or alcohol and I wasn’t drinking so plan b) I decided on my many walks that I was really inept at being able to identify bird sounds so I made that a focus on my walks. Being the beach girl that I am, I already knew the sound of seagulls, but recognizing the basic sounds of birds that I witnessed my entire life visually like bluebirds, robins, and sparrows made me feel like I was part of their symphony.

The first time I heard an Osprey before seeing one because I recognized their sounds felt so satisfying. Yes I know there is an app for this bird sound recognition, just like there is an app for the bird itself. I stare at my Field Guide to Birds of North America that my grandmother’s friends, The Dewey Sisters, sent me reminding me that there was a very full life before apps. I am like an old soul on nature’s quest. The book also reminds me that I neglected to send them a thank you note for the book, but I smile at the imperfection of my manners knowing that I am not perfect and I am surely forgiven though I imagine my neglect was talked about over their daily tea in the afternoon.

I take out my old fashioned bird book every once in a while when I see a bird I don’t easily recognize and try to find it. This small task projects me into the present moment as does filling the bird feeders and watching the birds from my window and garden. The first time I really started noticing cardinals was on these healing walks as I contemplated my new life no longer married, and kind of a temporary nomad since I left my home as well. It seemed that every time I would be having any moments of doubt, a fiery red cardinal would come darting by me to remind me to pay attention.

The great thing about google is the instantaneous answer to random thoughts. I googled “Symbolism of a red cardinal.” A boatload of answers came up that all seemed to match where I was at the time. Wake up. Pay attention. Be bold. Stay present. Today when I looked up my cardinal, instead it said “When a cardinal visits your yard, it is a visitor from heaven.”

Well well well. Father’s day. Art in the garden, my barn, living completely in the present with my dear friend, Karen who had come back to my house to complete our art project from the day before. We decided to make more art for our gardens on a beautiful Sunday morning. Here’s the thing though, twenty years ago when my brother died, I had already taken several expressive art classes and part of the incredible healing was a particular art project. I remember it so clearly and it was transforming. I was in my basement working on it and had a rush of grief that came out in a primal sound I have only made that one time. Something happened to me that day. I looked around at all of my stuff in the basement, dishes and cups that were in the “I will fix later” pile that I was never going to fix. That just sat there creating a guilty feeling of ridiculous inadequacy every time I looked at them. I walked over to them and started slamming them on the hard concrete basement floor, shattering them into all shapes and sizes. Crying and screaming while I was slamming. This took my breath away. I sobbed in a way that let every drop of emotion out of my body and I was changed. Those pieces became my first mosaic piece that has come with me on my travels and is a reminder to me that art heals me, like writing, art allows grief to work its way through and out.

This moment renewed my spirt. I never saved a broken dish to repair again, instead threw them in a bucket in a pile to be used in more mosaics. The further deliberate breaking of them is part of the process as the act is in itself a release. Whether throwing them on the ground or putting them in a big bucket and slamming them with a hammer, there is a surge of a feeling that comes up like puking but in a much less disgusting way better way.

So on Father’s Day three days before the summer solstice, Karen and I were out in my barn, slamming dishes and plates and cups to make garden art. As I was slamming the oversized end of a heavy metal wrench I have for some God forsaken reason since I have never needed or used one for that matter, into the bucket of plates, it was like the ghost of Christmas past present and future flashed before me. I saw my brother, my marriage, my home, my father, my cancer diagnosis and the doctor telling me to get my son checked for the BRCA2 gene unfold before me. Tears welled up as I continued to slam and bang the glass. There was one cup that I had in there that said, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” that would just not break. I laughed at the irony. That cup is going on the art piece somewhere for sure as the most obvious symbolism.

As we organized the chunks in some type of order, it was the two of us, two long time women friends who had witnessed all of these life experiences together. Two women who share a bond of unconditional love. Karen has taught me how to be a mother, how to be a good mother, a better mother by her example and her calmness.

Making art in my barn in my own home with a friend who I lived across the street from in my former life for twenty years was way more than a get together, it was a spiritual experience that once again changed me. So when the cardinal decided to show up in my neighbor’s tree, Dottie’s tree, my other maternal role model of a neighbor who also notices and loves cardinals like I do, it was the proverbial frosting on the already perfect cake. When the cardinal decided to not only sing to me, but land in a perfect spot and look right at me at the exact time I needed to hear the wake up call, I looked up with complete affirmation. When the cardinal flew by my face at about five feet distance not once, but twice, I stood breathless, humbled and in awe. When the cardinal landed on my soon to leave my yard fence and fly to my purple birdfeeder where Karen was taking some pictures of me in front of my barn and she snapped a picture of him. Speechless, I stood in the knowing that yes, Dad and Michael and Karen’s Mother, Phyllis and Dottie’s Husband, Armand decided to visit. I thank you, Holy Cardinal for your visit; everything is going to be alright.

Yes indeed.





The Holy Cardinal, a pic of me seeing the cardinal in the tree, Karen and me (aka-Wilma and Betty, Lucy and Ethel) my first mosaic. It’s big- about 3 feet x 4 feet

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NOT BUYING A CAR

NOT BUYING A CAR

One thing I know about myself is when I feel anxious, it translates into shopping and or eating. I learned this from Ann. When in doubt, when sad, when worried, shop. The spending of money whether you have it or you don’t have it satisfies. It is a distraction. Because I surely don’t need more stuff, I have taken to shopping for immediate gratification items like cars. Yes cars. Ridiculous, complete waste of money, but the thrill of getting a car in my head and walking into a dealership and buying a car and then driving off the lot with it in the same day is electrifying. For the past few days, I have had this bug in my head, but I refuse to allow its energy. Like a drink for an alcoholic, I keep saying to myself, the car will be there after my son graduates from college or in this case, a day at a time, tomorrow. Thankfully I have not caved because I do not need a car, nor do I want one. I am paying for my son to go to college and that is my car at this time in my world. Besides, my dearest oldest best friend needs a car badly and if I were going to have any whim it would be to get her a car. Yep, I can rationalize anything on the thrill of the hunt.

I am sure that this feeling that comes over me is to fill the hole of worry and fret that has stemmed from MY DOCTOR VISIT. There are two voices that go like this.

VOICE # 1 (the voice of reason aka my grandfather, Herbie, Mr. pragmatic and Mr. live till you are 99 and counting)

“You do not need a car. You are paying for your son to go to school and that is expensive enough for a sharing parent to have to accomplish. You have a car. Save your money.”

VOICE # 2 (the voice of Ann? Dad? throw caution to the wind, buy now, fill the hole now, worry later, you can always worry later, right? It’s only a $___ monthly payment. GO for it.)

“Oh just buy the flippin car, what the fuck, you work hard, you had cancer twice, who knows how long you will be on this side of the ground, enjoy your life, buy the car.”

As I write this, it sounds absolutely ridiculous. The ability to rationalize irrational thoughts astounds me. The fucked up thing is I am not even drinking alcohol or eating sugar right now which is usually my go to reason for irresponsible behavior. It is stress and worry. No hiding it.

What if my son has the BRCA2 genetic mutation? Will it be like an instant replay rewind of my brother all over again? I am trying hard not to visualize this because I surely know from many experiences not to affirm negative thinking. I think it is a totally natural thought, self-protection to prepare myself for worse case scenario. I am pragmatic, resilient. I know that my work is to work on staying in the moment. I know that everything about this scenario is out of my control. I must let it go.

So today when I woke up after my coffee, after my morning garden walk, after my inhalations of honeysuckle and my new rose bush, I did what usually gives me a full on sense of calm, besides chocolate or sweet bread French toast that is, I called my friend Karen. Karen is like a maternal soul to me, I lived across the street from her for almost twenty years and when Dave and I separated I left my neighborhood with Karen and Bob in it too. I asked her if she wanted to go to Lowes and the consignment store with me.

Like Lucy and Ethel. Like Wilma and Betty. Shopping for more flowers for our gardens, laughing our asses off as I can usually persuade her to buy things she didn’t know she needed when she left the house with me. Birdfeeders, birdfood, garden project items to label our veggies. I laughed so hard as I watched her come out of Ace Hardware with the long wooden sticks we would need to ask her husband to cut for us to glue the plates onto for our garden label idea I saw at Mt. Hope Farm in Bristol, RI last week. I am talking laughing so hard I started crying. Better than a cry, a hearty deep, can’t catch your breath laugh is like a deep gut scream on a thrilling roller coaster ride. It releases your stress like nothing else and it comes out of nowhere. The laughing present.

Just what I needed.

Way cheaper than a car and way more responsible than a car.

Maybe.

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MY DOCTOR VISIT

MY DOCTOR VISIT

The thing about cancer is that you are in bed with your doctor and not in the good kind of way either, besides mine is a chick and I don’t swing that way anyway.

Add to the cancer cocktail, having the BRCA2 gene and you have the regular check up platinum VIP card because regular checks and pokes are part of my party now.

This is a good part of the challenge of early diagnosis; you get checked often so if the “it” you dread comes back, it will hopefully be an early “it.” As was mine and voila in a whirlwind, off with the boobs, on with the boobs and now I get to go to the other Dr. (Dr. Hottie in case anyone reading this forgot about him) every ten days for more pokes and fills. At least fills are fun because each time I get one, it is like playing porn star dress up. They are stellar and amazing if I do say so myself. Of all the things that suck about surgery and cancer and BRCA2, this has been the most surprising and fun aspect of this whole shindig. I can’t believe I am writing this let alone saying this aloud to whomever may be reading this.

I have seen the light as early as I have because I am fit, my cancer was caught early twice, I don’t smoke, I am not overweight, I have a healthy kickass attitude and NO CHEMO. I think of all of the things I am most grateful for in all of these catch shit early appointments, NO CHEMO is the greatest blessing.

So yesterday was my first appointment since the last surgery with my regular breast surgeon. Not the breast plastic surgeon, the other surgeon, my dear Dr. W. who is like a superchick times a million and my soul sister for sure. She is not an alarmist, she is also not to be fucked around with. Down to business to discuss the seriousness of my future.

“There is more and more research coming out about BRCA2, Alayne,” she said with the calmness and preventative sound in her tone. The latest has been that you are in a higher risk for colon cancer so it is important to get your colonoscopies every five years instead of ten.”

She continued, “Also there is a higher risk of thyroid cancer too so when was the last time you had an ultrasound?”

I had found out I had nodules on my thyroid when I was 40 so I have been having my thyroid monitored for twelve years, two biopsies later and still benign. Phew. That doesn’t mean that the nodules haven’t changed over twelve years, in fact they have grown, but are still benign. Double Phew. I don’t want to have my thyroid taken out. The thyroid is like the head honcho of our entire organ system in our bodies.

On she went in her pragmatic serious Doctor tone though great because it is the truth, I was starting to freak a bit. I find the balancing act between freaking out with worry and burying my head in the sand and ignoring all the potential threats coming at me challenging. My positive constitution I have been quite proud of for the past TEN WEEKS TODAY was starting to head south, but I trudged on.

“I will schedule you for an ultrasound of your thyroid and your uterus; at some point we may want to discuss taking your uterus out too, but we can talk about this later.” For fuck sake, how many body parts can come out and off?

The uterus is also on the agenda due to my father’s sister, my aunt having a sarcoma of the uterus so yet another body part to concern myself with. By the way, with all of these body parts coming off, why aren’t I at least ten pounds lighter? Oh yeah, my new bodacious kick ass tits must weigh at least tenJ

Holy shit. I am thrust right back into the downer side of cancer. I thought I was considered a “survivor.” I thought me and my sportin new boobs were good to go.

Dr. W. is a big buzzkill today. But I fucking love her. She is honest and realistic and she is watching me like a hawk and I totally appreciate her professional care.

It just sucks. That’s all. The feeling of fretting, worry and anxiousness that I have somehow managed to avoid. in my resilient and forge ahead style came rushing back like first hot day after an icestorm, you know the icicles melting, water streaming.

Dr. W. is the only doctor in the entire group of doctors I have seen in the past two years who actually talked about nutrition and exercise out of the gate. She was the first doctor who ever mentioned the elimination of dairy. I TRUST HER. So when we began reviewing my family history, specifically my brother’s cancer, she realized that she thought my brother had died of adenocarcinoma of the lung at 27, not 25. He was actually diagnosed at 23 and likely it was there at 22 or earlier. This set off the alarm for my son to get a genetic test.

“I thought you said he should wait until later, like 25 or something,” I said.

“For some reason I thought your brother was 27, not 23. Michael should get tested now so he knows. This way we can monitor him early if it is positive.” Totally reasonable if it wasn’t my kid, I guess.

OH MY GOD. Talk about wanting to bury my head in the sand. Here’s the thing, Michael is almost 20, his mannerisms and his funny cynicism are very bright reminders of my brother Michael. As my son, Michael is climbing the age ladder, I can feel myself getting super triggered, like Dickens Ghost of Christmas Past. There are times when I look at my son and he feels like my brother and it is awesome, weird and freaky, sad and lovely at every turn.

When Dr. W. suggested I schedule this genetic test, the stark reminder of the seriousness of this whole situation came to the frontlines of my world. This genetic mutation is a 50/50 shot if one parent has it, assuming the other doesn’t. It doesn’t skip a generation, it doesn’t lessen. If he doesn’t have it, it ends with me. If he does then it continues with him and that sucks. Having the BRCA2 mutation is not a guarantee of cancer. Many people have it and the gene never gets “turned on.” But certainly with my family history, the odds must increase and this is worrisome. I am good at being resilient and strong for my own self. Who knows how I will deal with this next phase of motherhood. Didn’t see this one coming.

So today the day after the appointment, I feel down for really the first time since my surgery. The thought of spending the next few months back in the saddle with the genetic testing and doctor’s appointments, but this time for my son freaks me out and pushes buttons that are way beyond what lies ahead. Yes I know that we of course would rather know and have the information. Yes this is pragmatic and responsible, but it scares the hell out of me and I am not sure if I can handle the answer. Of course I will, what a mother and father need to do for their children has to take a backseat to what is best for them. I know this. It is just so heavy for an almost 20 year old young man just starting his life out to have to even consider though. So today I am sad and teary eyed, thank goodness for writing. It saves me.

CANCER SUCKS.





My brother and me at my wedding in 1990, my son at around 1998–99, me with my brother in 1970 and me with my brother after chemo in 1995 when we still thought we could beat it.

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THE MORNING BREATH

THE MORNING BREATH

“Do you have any honeysuckle?’ I asked the woman working in the perennial section at my local garden center.

“NO.” she stated with a pungent tone. “We try to get rid of honeysuckle, frankly.” Meaning that it was one of those pesky plants this particular garden center found to be a nuisance in a garden.

“Hmmfff. Go fuck yourself.”

That’s what I wanted to say. That was the bubble over my head, but I didn’t of course. I strutted out of there vowing for the millionth time to boycott yet another place on the planet with bad service. (and like all of my self imposed rules and regs, I broke the rule and went back and got way better service, second chances are kind, I am kind, right?)

This was two gardening seasons ago and as I left there with her snotty attitude towards my quest for a honeysuckle plant in hand, I thought about her nerve and of course her inability to be a great saleswoman. Afterall, she had no idea why I would be asking to buy a honeysuckle plant and her tone was insulting off the bat. Does anyone selling plants really know the behind the scenes reason for specific inquiries?

Fast forward to this early am. I am sitting on my back deck with my coffee cup after waking brightly at 4:15am ready to start the day with the cardinal voices outside my window. Reliable, my cardinal friends, they are there every morning for me and my friend, Dottie who I live next door to. Notice I did not say, ‘She lives next door to me,’ because Miss Dot has lived in the house next door to me for over seventy years and is the matriarch of the street for sure. We became fast friends the moment I met her over six years ago and we are huge cardinal fans (the birds not the team, please Red Sox forever for us) and being in our yard fans.

It is super bright and sunny back here at this early morning light of 7:14am. I have already done a boatload of things around my house, folded and put away laundry, straightened up a few things, talked to my aunt and my partner for my daily morning chat and now just basking in the glory of my garden feeling grateful and content in the moment.

Then out of the blue as I took that delicious deep breath, you know the one that reminds you of the power of the present right here right now, the pale yellow fragrant sweetness wafted right into my inhalation. Perfumey, bright, and soft, the honeysuckle plant I managed to find at a much cooler garden center two years ago has finally grown flowers and decided that I was worthy of the release of their sacred smell. Just when I was remembering to take that deep diaphragmatic breath, just when I was remembering in my busy brain of to do lists for my day to shut it the hell off and appreciate the here and now. Like the sweet chirp of the morning cardinal reminding me that yes, everything is going to be alright, the honeysuckle fragrance is the sound, the reminder in my olfactory system to be here. NOW.

I looked at its viney potential as it is working its way up my side railing to meet the wisteria on the other side and I smiled. I smiled because honeysuckle is not about a plant at a garden center two years ago. Honeysuckle is about Jamestown, RI in the summer with my brother in 1976. It is about the happiest time in our young lives when our parents still seemed happily married and we led a relatively normal life. It is about being outside until dark every summer night being surrounded by its nighttime fragrance. It is about the morning walking to school and seeing it growing wildly and learning to bite the end off to suck out the nectar. It is about teaching my son and the neighborhood children to do the same.

Honeysuckle is so much more than walking into a garden center to buy a plant, it is a childhood connection that is sweet and viney and messy and hard to control. It is about good enough, and imperfect. Honeysuckle is about not expecting the smell and then smelling it. It is about waiting for the flowers for two years and then like the magic that nature is, they appear just in time to remind a busy brain to rest and feel the love.

Death of a loved one especially such a young one is a traumatic experience. The thing I love about honeysuckle and all it represents to me is that I can call the memory of my brother back in a nanosecond just by seeing a honeysuckle plant or smelling one. I sit here this morning with my coffee feeling his warmth and his sweet smile, listening to the birds, seeing them fly around my garden knowing that at some point I will be sitting here and I will see a hummingbird at this nuisance of a plant that a bratty garden gal didn’t want to sell me. As I look up every few minutes from my writing today and look at the plant, I am so happy I kept looking for this plant two years ago. Even sweeter is knowing that I planted it after my first surgery and it is blooming after my second one. Blessed and grateful again for nature’s timing and its humble gifts when I look up and breathe. Imperfectly perfect.





Some garden moments this beautiful June 15th of a morning.

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YOU LOOK REALLY NICE

YOU LOOK REALLY NICE

I was shopping in Whole Foods this week stocking up on all kinds of delicious food when a complete stranger, a soft looking, fair skinned woman about my age came up to me out of the blue and said, “YOU LOOK REALLY NICE in that. In that she meant this lovely patterned summer dress I had bought over five years ago in Spain. (I know that sounds incredibly pretentious, like I fly all over the world to buy summer dresses) I had on a bunch of my favorite necklaces and earrings and my hair was silvery and messy in a good way. I actually felt really great. It was also my first foray out into the planet on this super hot day with a sundress and no bra. I have struggled with the no bra thing, but this dress worked without one and since my every expanding breasts are also completely upright, bras are simply not necessary. I was taken by the random compliment by a complete stranger. Even more so since the latest date since DAY ONE is now NINE WEEKS.

NINE WEEKS since I had a seven hour surgery, had a double mastectomy, had reconstruction at the same time, took drugs for two straight weeks and here I am at Whole Foods on a beautiful day getting a super kind compliment from a complete stranger. Of course I said thank you with a ginormous smile, and I was so happy to feel that heartfelt energy boost from a compliment. I started to consider how easy it is to make someone feel better just by saying something nice. If anything, a complete stranger makes it even sweeter since it is pure and unfiltered.

The beauty of this compliment is that I didn’t need it. Don’t get me wrong, a genuine compliment feels terrific at anytime of the day, but a strange feeling has happened to me since I have had this mastectomy. I haven’t really come up with an easy word for it, but my insides feel a power that seems to match my outsides.

For many years since I have owned my own company, there has been a perception of my outsides. I think this is true for anyone. We see someone’s life and we have a definition for our perception of it. Success, lucky, powerful, sad, traumatic, happy, good marriage, bad marriage, great mom, etc. Sometimes this is with judgment or criticism, sometimes it is just observations with no feelings one way or the other. Nevertheless, these words are descriptors of our own perception. No one really knows when looking at someone’s outsides if their insides match.

We humans put up good fronts for the world to see our glimmery side. Photos are a great example of this. We smile for the camera hoping to capture the beauty, the light, the happiness and years later we see the photo not remembering if what we are seeing is the truth or fiction.

We all have perceptions from other people about who and how we are. I am about truth and honesty and have been for sometime. I think the more we talk aloud about what the hell we are feeling, the more permission it gives others to do the same. Marianne Williamson said this best in her famous quote, Our Deepest Fear.

The two time breast cancer diagnosis coupled with finding out I fell into the 12% of possibility that I have the BRCA2 gene has changed me. Having a double mastectomy has changed me. For some strange reason, having my breasts removed removed the old bullshit unhelpful mind speak. The chatter head, the voice of judgment and criticism we all deal with at some point in our lives. My regular morning voice was that I am a slacker, that I don’t do enough. I know that this is not true when I go through the lists of my accomplishments both exterior and interior, but it is that small wee voice inside that is the core. This interior head has moved on. It’s like I received a gift when I had reconstruction. It is not empowerment because let’s face it, if we live in America, we are born with empowerment possibilities. The feeling inside for me is more than this, it is a sense of self worth and depth of spirit and I am changed. The cape metaphor is my favorite. The cape was the outside power, the perception of strength and glory, but when I put my head on my pillow at night, the cape is not with me. I am with me and this is when I know where my level of power is. This is when the chatter and the talk have the biggest voice and sound. This is when my changes are most obvious. The power to stay and communicate this moment, now. This is where I have been living strongly and most importantly calmly and I feel good, accomplished at peace.

The gift of this experience which likely sounds cliché is that it has allowed me to stand at the precipice of my own mortality. This sounds so dramatic because my cancer was caught so early twice, but I refuse to minimize its possibility. I was born into a resilient attitude and resilience is my answer to trauma. This time around, I have allowed myself to wallow, to worry, to be afraid and by allowing myself to feel this fear I have been carried through the eye of the tornado where it is messy and chaotic. Where I have landed is a place I didn’t anticipate, but am forever grateful for coming out alive. For landing on my two feet not needing the cape for immortal strength but knowing that my life is today and today is what matters. No one gets out alive and a good portion of the shit that goes on in our squirrelly heads is nonsense. You know when you hear a word that you never heard before and then you see it and hear it all over the place for the next few days? Or when you think of someone that you haven’t seen in a long while and then you hear from them? Cancer seems like this for me except magnified. Everywhere I turn, someone I know is either getting diagnosed or getting diagnosed again. Doctors love to give out percentages and we love to hear them. After my reconstruction follow up appointment, my beautiful breast surgeon reminded me that there is a 2% chance of recurring breast cancer even with a double mastectomy. I was speaking with some clients who are also friends last night and she mentioned that a friend of hers was one of those 2%. I really got to thinking again even more so about living today for today.

All day long in my business of beauty I hear women say, “I’ve had a gift card to your place for years. I am so busy…or so whatever. I’ll get there sometime.” This used to make me laugh with them in a knowing way as we women consume ourselves with busy-ness. Now it makes me sad with them because so often the busy-ness is a distraction from something inside that refuses to be taken care of. To procrastinate joy and feeling good is not helpful to our health.

I live my life a little differently now, a little sweeter, a little less busy. I want to gather with people I love more -not less. More get togethers on random days, more evening jumps in the ocean, more walks in the garden.

The excuse of breast cancer has taught me this. Being in a small 12 percent of people who have the BRCA gene has given me a much clearer sense of urgency in getting shit done. Cleaning closets, basements, cabinets, getting rid of old crap that is not useful to my house or my soul is part of this process that has allowed me to face the reality of the possibility. My grandparents gave me the gift of pragmatism. There is immense power in this because it is the opposite of putting my head in the sand, it is facing what lies ahead with my hands on my hips, feet firmly planted on the ground, hair blowing in the wind. Like Wonder Woman but without her cape. I am the cape. And I like the fabric and I do look really nice.




Some things I have around my house that are making more sense to me now.

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MISS FOLEY

MISS FOLEY

White hair, knobby knees, beige leather shoes, the kind that you have to be fitted for because of problem feet. Support stockings, plaid wool skirt, sour face, tall and scary, strong like vibe and not in a healthy female way but in a I never got laid, I’m probably never going to get laid but I need to get laid kind of way. (This is mean, I know)

Flashback 1971 wearing my yellow calico print frilly dress with a matching purse that my mother bought me at some hip place like Saks or something, little petticoat built in so the ruffles showed at the bottom. I loved that dress. It was one of those dresses you swirled around in, like a dancer with the cool air hitting your upper thighs. It was a girly frilly dress and I was six years old.

In 1971, at Tansey Elementary School in Fall River, Mass, (a public school by the way) despite the revolutionary climate of the times, Tansey had not gotten the memo. Boys and girls were not allowed to play together outside during recess. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school yet and jeans were not even in the radar. The boys were playing kickball or soccer or something “male appropriate” on the other side of the fence. The girls were following their gender protocol by playing hopscotch or jump rope or some girl game we were forced into playing before public elementary schools caught up with Women’s Lib. Before Title 9.

I decided to show off my newly learned headstand, a big feat for a six year old, surely. Bend down, head to ground, tripod first, steady. Lift off. What a sight. On my head, beautiful pose with my frilly dress up to my ears and my white cotton underwear out there for the world to see, or rather the boys on the other side of the fence to come dashing over breaking from their game to see my fabulous headstand. The attention was grand. They were looking at my prowess as a six year old headstander, certainly not my underwear, right? I mean I was six years old, printed underwear with the cartoon of the day hadn’t even been invented yet. Christ, thong underwear and pushup bras hadn’t even been invented yet. Why would a bunch of elementary school boys come rushing over to look at a six year old girl’s white brief underwear? Thankfully the thought wasn’t even in my radar. Not until Miss Foley placed it there because the next thing was hand grabbing, marching, no more recess, fear embarrassment. The old Mean Miss Foley had me tightly by the hand delivering me like a prostitute to the principal, Miss Lenahan. Miss Lenahan was the antithesis of Miss Foley. Kind, soft, loving and grandmotherly like. I was humiliated.

“Do you know what she did outside!!!????” her mean face getting meaner with that familiar twisted scour. I can’t remember as I write this if I had a thought for a fleeting moment that the headstand was the reason, the elegant handstand that I had been practicing endlessly I was being brought to the gallows for. Before I could even have a moment to consider my offense, my dress was pulled up from my hemline to my chest exposing my underwear and my belly button. This act was to demonstrate the actual placement of my frock while I was doing something so obviously shameful. Miss F. went on to explain the horrors of my actions to my beloved Mrs. Lenahan. I am sure there were tears but what I recall the most was the shame and embarrassment about showing my body so innocently. Remember this was 1971 and the differences between old tenured teachers at the time and my 25 year old semi yoga practicing hippy walk around naked parents was quite apparent even to a six year old.

I don’t think my mother was even called. Back then teachers could do these outlandish things in the name of propriety. My mother never had any idea of this traumatic event that would stay with me until 2005 when I wrote this piece. Teachers’ ability to exploit their power had profound effects on our school experiences that our parents never even knew. Goodness knows what would happen now if this same situation occurred. This wasn’t even a private Catholic school, this was a public school.

Flash ahead. Spelling test 1972. Miss Foley as the dictator walking around class like an SS officer barking out the words we were writing down on our lined paper with our number two pencils. I was and still am an excellent speller. In 1971, good spelling, like good penmanship was a badge of honor and so was memorizing the addition and multiplication tables. It is surprising I am a good speller since the way it was taught back then was zero tolerance. No, not bringing a gun to school or saying you are going to blow up first grade with a bomb you made out of playdough and Elmer’s. Zero tolerance for a most heinous crime, spelling errors.

It goes like this. You hear the word, you write it down. Oops, you made a mistake. You write the word ‘Kind’ with a C instead of a K for example (after all this is second grade, words were simple). You realize your error during the spelling test, you erase it, you fix it. Still wrong. No arguing, no negotiating. This is 1970 at Tansey Elementary School in Fall River, Mass and it may as well have been 1930. Mean Miss Foley would smack her lips with glee with the knowledge that Miss perfect speller would be getting at least one wrong on this spelling test.

Last Miss Foley memory, 1973 or 74 now. I am a big shot third grader secure with my teacher Miss Dunn who later became Mrs. Manchester finally free of Miss Foley’s second grade gestapo command. For some reason I managed to get my hands on a forbidden jawbreaker certainly without Ann’s permission for two reasons. The no candy in the morning rule which by the way included the no sugar cereal ever in the house rule and the no candy at school rule.

Well we weren’t in class yet so technically as my young clever mind rationalized as only a seven or eight year old can do when it comes to candy decision making, the jawbreaker found its way into my little mouth and my moving body. Uh oh. The jawbreaker found its way into my throat, stuck. Like a Leave it to Beaver episode, this is a problem. Choke- die. Let someone know I am choking- get bagged for the candy, Ann finds out. I realize I am probably more afraid of my mother finding out I broke the no sugar in the morning rule than I am of choking or in this case dying. Body reacts, coughing, red face, blocked airway. Uh oh the beige shoes are coming at me, quick- this jawbreaker must come out. Smash plop. Divine intervention, just in time for you know who to discover my deviant act.

“Are you all right?” she asks with a disappointed tone. After all the candy is not actually in my mouth so I couldn’t really legally get in trouble for possession. “Yes.” I say somewhat relieved I didn’t die. “Hmmfff,” she grunts, “shouldn’t have been eating candy in the morning anyway.”

G-d Damn it I hate it when Ann is right.

Miss Foley has definitely died by now, she was likely an old sixty something back in 1971. Writing this piece was a huge catharsis for me. It released my safe and controlled writing style into the fiery and vulnerable writing it is today. As I retyped this piece today I also came to some other conclusions. Maybe the struggles I have had with my waist down body image (I haven’t yet written about but this is coming) has a direct connection to the lifting of my dress over 47 years ago. I also have considered that maybe she didn’t like me because I was Jewish. I’ll never know and I don’t need to because here’s the thing about writing; shit comes out. Sticky old dried up useless crap gets released and frees my writing soul so that it can fill back up with better words.

I can’t necessarily forgive Miss Foley’s actions because no one needs to be mean to accomplish learning especially someone 1/8 their size but I forgive her for being born in the earlier part of the century. I forgive her for not having the choices that only come with the changes in time. I am amazed as I rewrite this at the potent realization of how teachers have the ability to exploit their immense power over little children. Maybe one of the reasons I am a good writer (and speller) is because of miss Foley’s strict approach. I also wonder how much she fucked up some of the other unfortunate children who had learning disabilities and reading difficulties prior to their discovery who likely never recovered.

I have been fortunate to have experienced caring loving and kind teachers who were encouraging to my writing, but Miss Foley was not one of them. The good news is I didn’t give her my power. I stored some of it away in that tiny vault in my tiny body keeping it safe for its discovery thirty-five years later in 2005 when I wrote this piece in Hannah Goodman’s writing class. Hannah made me write this. She is one of the great ones.


The first of 4 handwritten pages in 2005 in my first Hannah Goodman writing class that got strict and cranky Miss Foley right out of me.

I haven’t stopped since.