Missing Dylan


We were a house of three women. I worked as a healer a few blocks from home, my daughter, Kristen, studied at Marylhurst University and her daughter, Isabella was tricycle age.

We had new neighbors, Genevieve from England, married to Troy from the United States.  We’d met briefly on the street with a wave and welcome but little more. Until one morning Genevieve knocked on my door, her young son, Dylan in hand.

“I have a job interview in a few hours and no one to watch my son. Would you take him for me please? It should not be long.”

Her desperation coupled with his big brown eyes could produce nothing but a definite, yes.

That afternoon young Dylan walked through our front door and straight into our hearts. He fit in our family like he’d been born to it, making all of us look forward to any occasion that might bless us with his company.

One memory stands out – a room to room chase with Isabella and Dylan tearing through the house,  their screams and laughter filing the air. I had just toweled dry in the bathroom, my hair still dripping as I made my way to the dresser.  Then, slam! My bedroom door sprang open. Dylan raced in, saw me naked, stopped like he’d been struck by lightning, eyes as wide as dinner plates and said …not a word. Clearly his first revealing look at a woman’s body.

“Sorry dear,” I said grabbing underwear, “better run back out and play.” And he did, with a changed look in his eyes. Oh my, I thought.  Best be careful.

We were all in love with Dylan and he with us, so much so that when he began daycare the following year, he took a photo of his three women to tape to his cubbie. His mom explained as she froze our smiling faces in Fujicolor. “It’s to help him feel at home.”

Then came the sad day when Genevieve and Troy announced their return to England. I remember holding Dylan on my lap under a cloudless blue sky in the cozy comfort of our side yard. He fingered my long hair as he turned, his innocent young eyes looking straight into mine.

“If we go so far away, Ma, how shall I ever find my way back to you again?”

I promised we would always stay in touch with his parents, making a clear trail for him to follow. This gave him shallow comfort as he pulled painfully away from our lives and hurting hearts. And they did come to visit years later, but I was living in the country, far from Kristen and Isabella, too ill to make the drive.

Honestly, I have no idea how many years have passed now, but Dylan has a younger sister older than he was when we knew him, and the young master himself is more young man than boy.

I found this photo of him on Facebook today and wept from missing him.

Nobody dies

This past week I was privileged to connect two of my favorite women whose sons both died in the prime of their lives. But it was not loss alone that reached nearly 3,000 miles to open dialogue between them, it was the fact that both young men found ways to communicate with their mothers after death.

Below is a series of letters begun by Pat, who lives in upstate New York.

Hello Karen,

Since my son, Doug, died at age 17, I associate feathers with his spirit. No matter where I am, a feather appears. Only yesterday I was working cutting hostas, got all done, put my tools away, shut the shed door, looked down at my autumn joy plant, and on top lay the littlest fluffy feather. Strange how they always show up when I am not thinking about them. Or maybe I want them to show up. I am hoping you have some answers for me. Am I a nut case?  Love pat

Dear Pat,

There is a whole world of sensitive people out there, who can be called nut cases if you like, but I would choose kinder more appropriate words  to describe the eternal  bonding between a mother and her son.  I believe what you experience is fairly common, but folks have no place to talk about it.

I remember feeling distraught about this ‘gift’ of mine, when I was meditating, maybe 35 years ago, while sitting under a tree in Seattle. In my mind, I said, ‘Am I just nuts or are you really there? I need to know because it’s no fun being so different.’ I got up to make my way back to see a client and saw a penny shining from the ground in a way that got my attention. I picked it up knowing it was a sign. After that I saw a penny every time I had a client, and if the penny dropped from my hands or rolled away so I couldn’t get it again, they would cancel. At some point that stopped. Just didn’t need the proof anymore, I guess.

I forwarded your email to my friend Dicksie who lives in Arizona and asked her to write you. She also lost a son, only he leaves dimes in her path. Lucky you for having the comfort of that connection.  Karen

Hi Pat.

You don’t know me, but I am a friend of Karen’s. She shared your email about the feathers because if you’re a “nut case,” so am I.  I lost my son 16 years ago – and for me, its dimes.  I’m not sure how it started, but when he was still with me, I once found three dimes in one day and something good happened – can’t even remember now – but from then on, I declared them as good luck.  When I found one, I’d throw it in my car to help keep me safe, or stick it in a windowsill, that type of thing.  After my son died, his wife gave me a little box with three dimes in it.  When she was cleaning out his truck, she found them.  She said she knew he’d thrown them in there because of me.

Since then, I find them at the weirdest times in the weirdest places – and I know they are a message from him, just saying “Hi Mom!”  I have told friends and relatives about this – and then they started finding them too and would write or call and tell me about their “dime experiences.”  I was visiting family in Utah once and told my two nieces about it.  They were both silent and I was sure they were thinking “poor Dicksie.”  Then my one niece, who had gotten in the back seat, looked down at the floor and there was a dime!  That made believers out of them.  My other niece wrote me a card a couple of months later – said she had been really depressed, had been out mowing her lawn and found two dimes!

So, I don’t care if I am a nut case, it makes me feel good when I find one – and it makes me feel good that others find them and call me or write me to tell me about it. Enjoy your feathers.  It is a lovely way to stay in touch!    Dicksie

A final note from Henry Miller:

Of course you don’t die

Nobody dies

Death doesn’t exist

You only reach a new level of vision

A new realm of consciousness

A new unknown world


Fetal Position


I’m homeless. Not in a cardboard sign, sleep on the street kind of way, but still homeless. Once a week I search the new rental listings printed in miniscule type on both sides of a real estate flier, but Southern California listings give me pause. The rentals are three times what I paid in Oregon.I have not worked in a month and don’t know when I will again. Still, I trudge forward knowing that this passage is not just an act of determination and will, but also a deeply felt destiny.

My son Clay and his lady Khrystyne have taken me in, so shelter and comfort are provided. But I have already stayed too long, putting both feet in the center of their lives, when all I intended was to touch down lightly.

Each day I struggle to stay positive and upbeat, but often I am immobilized by fear – the reality of my situation landing hard and raw on the uncertain landscape of my heart. At these times, demons spring from the shadows to rage and throw fireballs of negative thoughts across my weakness.

“You have no home,” they tell me. “You belong no where. You are not working. Nobody knows you. How will you survive? Where is your life partner? Why have you always been such a solo act, so extremely independent and alone? Everyone else your age is settled, yet you are untethered.”

These thoughts find me between wake and sleep, lodging my spirit in unreality, but I refuse to let them own me. They are the underbelly of my experience, feelings that catch me when I am fragile and unguarded. Some people soothe themselves through such times with alcohol, sex or drugs, but my medicine has always been movies, lots of wonderful imaginings to distract and calm a troubled mind.

Yet most of the time I feel excited, strong, brave and resolute. I like the person I am becoming because she has thrown off the stagnation of an unworthy life and is open – wide open to embracing new people, places, ideas and possibilities. Other’s like this new me also, but what’s more important is that I like her.

I can make myself crazy if I think of the years I wasted being crippled to joy, but I don’t want to. Instead, I pull myself up each day and make the phone calls and check the rental lists and connect with people I have never met, with the idea of enlisting them in my search and building future friendships.

Yep! This may be one of the most difficult things I’ve done – cutting away a 40 year history – and it is going much much slower than I had hoped, but I am doing it, one breath at a time, one step at a time.

And any day now, I will land and root, find my people, my clients and my teachers. Maybe even become prosperous and travel with a companion who can open my world a little wider. Maybe I’ll learn to splash paint on a canvas, laugh until my belly hurts and love from a deeper, more whole place in myself.



It’s hard to stay behind in a house where love has gone sour. There are so many memories. A new place is a clean canvas but an old place is a constant reminder of the past and all that was.

I’m sitting outside on the deck my husband built, looking at the angel sculpture he gave me three years ago on Valentine’s Day. Beyond are the raised beds of my garden which we fashioned our first summer, and farther still the well-crafted picnic table he built from discarded lumber. When I look at the hammock, I think of us in it. The tennis balls he gave the dog still hide in tall grass along the driveway, while the forest swing he climbed so high to rope waits down the hill.

Each sight is full of remembered stories, laughter and times of budding promise. I successfully maneuver around these emotional landmines by focusing on other things, but have no defense against the yellow plum tree. That one is unavoidable and goes straight to the heart. It’s a scraggly little thing that sits along the drive. I pass it when I walk up the hill. Most days I stroll past with only a gentle tug near my heart but not today.

Today it stopped me in my tracks, because it’s just now ripening and beginning to display its sun born fruit in radiant shades of delicious. Those plums defined his appetite and the hunger we had for one another. He could not walk past them without plucking great handfuls of over-ripe fruit. His was a balancing act as he made his way to the house loaded with a computer bag, files and tennis gear, topped with as many plums as he could manage – juice already dripping from the corner of his mouth. The plums seemed to define our sensuality and the ripe fullness of that first year when we found such comfort and solace in the body and spirit of one another.

My heart aches at his absence, as I sit trying not to think of him, trying not to dream about him each time I let go of the day and journey into night.

I saw him a few weeks ago and he looked great, much happier and more himself than ever before. Damn! Shouldn’t he be suffering just a little?

In the end incompatibility is no ones fault. It is just there, huge and sad, a reminder that life does not stop giving us endings.

Blind Date


Thirty-seven years ago I bottomed out in my life, and decided to end it. I was living in Ohio, my children were in Philadelphia, and my friend, Joy, whom I lived with, was out for the evening. At that time, I believed that any prescription drug taken in large quantities could kill you, so I went to Joy’s medicine cabinet, swallowed several large vials of pills and lay on my bed, prepared to die.

I had barely closed my eyes when the doorbell rang, persistent and unpleasant. Oh, all right. I’m coming. I’m coming.

I swung the door open to find a dark-haired man in his early 20’s holding a bouquet of flowers.

Hi, I’m Dave, your blind date. Did you forget?

He wore navy pants, a pin-striped shirt and good intentions.

No, Dave, I lied. I didn’t forget. Just give me a minute. He sat in the living room while I changed my clothes. If I’m going to die, I thought, I might as well be having a good time while it’s happening.

I smiled at the bizarre situation unfolding as we drove through the country. Dave lit a joint and passed it in my direction. The humor wore off as I held it to my lips and inhaled. My reality began to shift as it absorbed in my system. Dave had been talking for sometime, but I hadn’t been listening. Suddenly I felt I owed him an explanation.

Dave, there is something I think you should know. I looked in his direction, smiling a thin smile. Just before you came I decided to kill myself and took a whole bunch of pills, so…. ah… actually, I could die any time.

This is a joke, right?

Nope, not a joke, I’m telling the truth.

There was a moment of introspection as he assessed the situation and let the news sink in. The next time he glanced in my direction his face had changed, I could tell he believed me.

Holy Shit! He reached over and positioned the side window so the cold night air flooded my face. Gravel flew and tires squealed as he made a u-turn, going faster than I had ever driven.

What are you trying to do, kill me before the pills kick in?

He didn’t answer; humor was drained from his expression. I’m taking you to the hospital.

No, you’re not.  I’ve spent most of my life in hospitals and I don’t intend to die in one.

You’re not going to die. You’re going to get your stomach pumped.

Dave, I don’t do hospitals, understand?

Twenty minutes later the car shrieked to a halt in front of the ambulance entrance at Columbus General Hospital. He ran around the car and yanked my door open.

I’m not going in there, I insisted. I told you that.

Yes, you are. I’m not going to have a dead girl on my hands. He dragged me from the car, past wheelchairs and magazine racks to the front desk. This woman has to have her stomach pumped, he told the nurse, she’s taken pills. He had a strong grip on my arm, but I pulled away and ran toward the door.

We can’t admit anyone who doesn’t want to be admitted, the nurse told him, sorry. A hot-tempered conversation ensued.

I’d made my way to the sheltering branches of a giant oak and settled in the grass. When Dave emerged, he walked slowly, defeated and tired. He lowered himself on the ground next to me.

Nobody seems to care what happens to people around here, so there’s nothing I can do.

I took his arm to comfort him. That’s okay; it’s not a big deal.

Oh, a human life is not a big deal to you?

My life isn’t. I’ve hated being alive as long as I can remember.

We lay back on the well-manicured lawn and looked at the sky through twilight branches.

Dave, doesn’t it seem that I’m taking a really long time to die? If I think back to the time I took the pills, and all the things we’ve done between now and then, it just seems like I should be dead already. I don’t get it. I don’t even feel sick, maybe something’s gone wrong.

I don’t get it either, he said, but Denny’s restaurant is over there, let’s go get some coffee.

A waitress came over. How you guys doin’ tonight? She was dressed in an orange and white uniform with food stains on her apron. She shifted her weight from one foot to another, as she waited for our order.

I’m fine, Dave answered, but my friend here could die any time, she’s taken a bunch of pills and the hospital won’t admit her.

The waitress chewed on the end of her pencil and looked blankly out the window. Do you know what you want to eat?

What exactly did you take? he asked, as the waitress disengaged and walked through swinging kitchen doors.

I thought back to the empty plastic cylinders but remembered nothing.

I don’t know. I was just sad and went into my room mate’s medicine cabinet and swallowed everything she had. They were all prescription.  He asked for Joy’s phone number and got up to call. When he returned he said, those pills won’t hurt you, there was nothing lethal there.

Stunned and embarrassed, I peered across the table. Then all this was for nothing, right?

He drained the last drops from his cup, and pushed back his chair. It’s beginning to look that way. Come on, I’ll take you home.

Well, look at the bright side, I told him. You’ll probably never have another date like this one.


racoonI was standing in my father’s kitchen near the stove. He sat at the table, whiskey clinking ice against clear glass. Playing cards laid out on the surface, waiting for us to engage in the only way we’d found to relate. He was in a good mood, with no memory of wreaking havoc the night before.

It was one of those transcendent moments when life stood still, and I looked down at myself from the ceiling. A shaft of light ran through me from the crown of my head to the arch in my feet. I realized in that moment, that if I were not related, that I would have nothing to do with my father – ever. I saw no commonality or mutual respect, just a faltering sense of reaching out through decades of broken days and barbed wire.

In that waking up moment, I knew that I could never return. If I cared for my well-being at all, I needed to grieve and walk away.

His partner, Sarah, spoke of spring and planting, not a garden, they were too old to maintain a garden, but flowers, something to admire through the window, something to provide beauty and the promise of spring.

I’ll do it, I offered. Let me make a plot near the birdfeeders, so you can watch the robins visit and the flowers bloom at the same time. I went to the store and bought packets of lilies in various shades of splendor. I dug in soil too early to plant, adding fertilizer and good wishes as I placed each bulb in the cold April earth.

Without fully realizing it, I’d planted the flower of death and resurrection. I never intended to go back and didn’t. I placed no flowers on his grave, but left a living monument that day to the last gesture my love could afford.

For Dicksie

The child is goneumbrella-in-air

Bonds broken

The fabric weak from too much mending

is asked to rend once more


The earthly witness records the trauma


while heaven sends its angels

to take its traveler home


With useless shell discarded

No need to struggle more

It’s just the pain of parting

that stands constant by the door


So in the evening shadows

when grief hides just below

listen for his whisper

and in your heart you’ll know


That though we walk with feet

cemented in this place

his heart is now expansive

his soul is filled with grace.


air-coffeeMy son left today and I am not going to cry.

I am not going to envision the kind of connection we could have if he lived in Portland and not in Los Angeles.

I’m not going to replay all the ways I failed him as a child.

I am not going to dwell on the hurt I know he carries deep in the fabric of his childhood heart.

I am not going to miss his smile for days after he has gone.

I am not going to wish I saw him once a week instead of once a year.

I am not going to wish I could do his childhood over so I could be a better, normal, stable, not so weird mom.

I am not going to take it personally when he’d rather fill his visit here with friends and sports than hang out with his white haired mother.

I’m not going to think about how much I love him as I wash each dish in the sink.

I’m not going to dwell on what a strong man he turned out to be, what a fine husband and father.

I’m not going to yearn for the blonde curly haired toddler I cuddled and played with for so many years, the one who got older and went to live with his dad because I was melting down.

I’m not going to think about how open and loving he is with each child he meets.

I’m not going to think about how much his humor delights me, and how I could not imagine a more perfect son.

I’m not going to miss him with every cell in my mama body.

Well, maybe I will, maybe a little.


paint-swirlMany people envision their ideal writing room as the retreat house I live in.  It is removed from the distractions of the city, looks into a forest of trees through a wall of windows, and is so still I can match the beat of my heart with the ticking clock. There is an abundance of light to balance winter’s grey and every piece of furniture pleases and comforts me. This has been my nest for four years now, a space that healed me when I fragmented. I saw too many clients in the city and had no resting place. I was the surgeon of the heart who dug deep into hemorrhaging spirits and torn dreams. I removed abscesses and lanced tumors. The colors of my days were drop-dead blood-tired red. The flood of clients that moved through my office door has been reduced to a select few who come by word of mouth and are willing to travel to the country.

 It was a day in March, two years ago, when I pulled a chair to the edge of the bed, propped up my feet and talked with my husband about imagining a different future. Maybe a film, I said. Perhaps I can share my work that way. I called friends who are filmmakers and had long discussions. In the end, we decided against film because there would be too many people involved and too much money out.  We found audio accessable, affordable and easy. And so we began in a friend’s sound studio, which sits at the top of 300 acres of pristine land on Ross Mountain. My conversation with Dennis, the owner was endearing. Yes, Karen, come! Ross mountain will give you its magic and you will leave yours in return, a perfect trade. 

We birthed three hours of material from months of editing and discovery. We’d found a new direction, and it grew. We hired website ladies who gave us the idea of a blog, making podcasts and breathing life into an old manuscript which was gathering dust in the closet.

This space has housed that kind of birthing, as well as the stagnant times when I question my life and abilities, cry at my altar and wish to be released from something that restricts my heart, something long lasting that defines my existence, but can not be named. 

My work here is almost over. I feel a stirring to move on – a hunger to rejoin humanity. The gypsy in me is packing her bags. Next I want to write in a house with other people where we can visit, lunch and inspire one another to be more. I am ready to reach again into theater and community.

Soon, this space will hold my leaving and a greater leaving still. The where of that destination I don’t yet know, but I imagine a villa, bicycles and the Mediterranean sea. I will spend half my time in Portland and half my time in sun. I envision a warm place where I can put pen to paper and hear my written voice.

Long day at work

seattle-night-skyVendors were handing fresh strawberries to pedestrians on street corners to celebrate the first day of spring, as I wove through busy intersections on my way to work. Ocean air was tangibly fresh and salty, and drew my eyes to the harbor. The pacific skyline was filled with giant orange cranes hoisting containers on and off railroad cars, as tug boats with blue roofs, white framed windows and bright yellow hulls pulled barges in and out of dock. Waterfowl played above the cool waters that lapped against the shore, incoming fog shrouded a distant beach.

I took a short cut through serpentine streets, as they descended through well groomed neighborhoods, past banked rhododendron hedges and white azaleas. Mt Rainier filled the horizon, as I eased into downtown traffic and finally to a parking place.

I was doing readings in a restaurant during happy hour to make extra cash. The uncluttered white walls and subtle curves of the restaurants’ interior had a calming effect. It was unpretentious and relaxed. I made my way to the long bar in the lounge and settled in under sepia toned lights. Happy hour had begun. Cozy wooden tables were already filled with conversation, cocktails and the energy of letting down after a busy day.

I moved to the coat rack and hung up my purple jacket. I wore purple high heeled shoes with a matching skirt, and a green silk blouse. I was in my purple phase. My hair was gathered and twisted away from my face with a decorative hair stick, emerald-like gems cascaded from each ear. I slipped a fake wedding ring on my hand to avoid propositions, and looked around the room to see how many numbers had been placed on tables. I was happy to see I had very few.

My first customer defined the word gentleman. He had white hair, wore a three piece suit, lavender shirt and soft yellow tie. A bright red handkerchief sprang from his left breast pocket. His face was narrow and intelligent, his eyes deep brown. He flashed a smile that was both tender and curious as I walked to his table. Extending my hand, he shifted a glass of white wine between long artistic fingers, until his right hand became free to meet my own. I pulled out a chair and sat across from him.

So, you’re the card reader, he said, My friends have given me amusing reports of your talents. I thought I would see for myself.

Amusing? I questioned.

You seem to have a skill that is insightful and yet based on chance. I understand your readings are accurate. I find that curious, amusing and improbable.

I liked him immediately, and decided to begin reading. You’re a man who has become successful by using your wits, I told him, but I see decisions being made just as often from your heart, a desire to be fair in all things and most importantly, an active intuition. What I do, is not so different from what you do. You define your abilities as hunches or gut feelings, but it is the same wisdom. You are better than most at knowing who to trust, and what deal to back away from. That is not logic, but the feeling that informs wisdom. We operate in the same way, so you must be amusing as well.

Fair enough, he said. Can I buy you a drink?

Music played in the background as the bartender scurried from one customer to the next. I was grateful for the quiet volume of the music, because Saturday night’s bartender preferred a louder variety of popular music and cranked up the sound. On those nights I went home with a headache after screaming my readings above lyrics about a Pink Cadillac.

I don’t drink, I told him. Odd isn’t it? A card reader who works in a bar and doesn’t drink. Thanks anyway.

Are you morally opposed to alcohol?

Not at all. My body just won’t accept it. It makes me feel ill. It’s the same with coffee. I might as well drop acid as drink a cup of coffee.

He smiled, but I could tell that my last remark made him uncomfortable. I was immediately sorry I’d said it. I didn’t want to give him the idea I was a drug head. He was already taking a risk. He looked at me with penetrating deep brown eyes that held such intensity, that I began to wonder who was reading whom.

You are a curiosity to me, he said kindly.

That makes two of us, I replied. I am a curiosity to myself. If you figure me out, let me know. I’d appreciate it.

He laughed and our connection deepened. The waiter came over to see if he wanted more wine, but was waved away.

Alright, he said. Let’s see what information you glean from those astounding cards of yours. He shuffled the deck like a man used to playing poker, then handed them back. I began placing them on the table when he covered my hand to stop me.

You don’t need these cards, do you? he smiled. Can you read for me without them?

Of course, I said, I already have. The cards just make it quick and easy. I like to use them because they give my customers visual images to go away with, which most people remember longer than words. I can do it with or without the cards, I  repeated, which do you prefer?

All right, he said, turn them over. We had entered a contest driven by his curiosity. I turned over The Emperor, the Five of Pentacles and Ten of Pentacles. The symbols on the cards have a way of lighting up for me, so I can understand which aspects of the card holds the most importance. The face of the Emperor filled with light, the cane pictured in the five and the coins of the ten. I began to read:

I see another white haired man in the card of the Emperor, a close friend, someone with fullness of face and a more casual approach to both attire and his work life than you have. You share conservative views and a long history.

My eyes caught the figure of a man, leaning on a crutch in the five of pentacles. He is pictured outside on the street, as if kept away from the good things he desires.

I’m thinking your friend is in poor health right now, and that you are concerned for him. There is respect in the friendship that has been built on years of trust. He is going through a difficult time and you want to help.

My eyes moved to the ten of pentacles, a card filled with money and images of family.

He’s been a friend for so long, you are almost like brothers. I’m thinking that you share a business life, and that you are very affected by his suffering. The cards show recovery and a return to prosperity, so I wouldn’t worry.

He confirmed my reading and sat in silence. I had a sense that he lived alone, while his friend enjoyed both wife and family.

Has your wife died? I asked. He nodded and I felt an accepted loneliness he no longer questioned.  I envisioned him raising from his bed in a well-ordered house, and going into a drawing room, where he sat by the window enjoying strong morning coffee and the New York Times. The table’s companion chair remained empty, as a reminder of his wife’s absence. In the evening I saw him going to a dimly lit study and settling into a leather armchair with a half finished book. The patterns and traces of his life invisibly defined and seized him in a way that had become unnoticed.

We talked casually for a few moments before I excused myself.

I’m sorry for your loss, I said, referring to his wife. He smiled in return, Thank you. I appreicate the information about my friend. I returned his smile knowing that it had not been the information about his friend that had brought comfort, but a sense of being truly seen, heard and understood without judgment. It’s not perdictions we crave, but soul recognition. I collected my fee and moved to the next table.

 I glanced over at the next numbered table and saw a balding man with glasses in a brown cotton shirt, sitting next to a much younger woman. They were draining the last drops of Belgium ale as they pushed back their chairs to leave.

Sorry, they said, as I approached. We’re running late and have decided to move on.

I was glad for the break and headed toward the salad bar to fortify myself for the evening ahead. I was sprinkling blue cheese and olive oil on a plate of greens when Julia walked in.

Oh good, she said, You’re back. I want a reading as soon as you’re done eating. It’s very important.

Julia was a tall thin attorney whose wallet overflowed with hundred dollar bills. She slipped off her white business jacket and settled in a corner table with her friend, Jan. Julia liked white, the way I liked purple. She looked chic and Barbie doll like in linen. Silver bracelets rattled on her right arm, and black and white sling back heels graced her feet. Her best friend, Jan, was her opposite. Jan was tough, liked wearing heavy boots and jeans, chain smoked and rarely smiled. The waiter delivered the usual salt-rimmed margarita to Julia, and a gin and tonic ‘straight up’ to Jan.

Here we go again, I thought, cornering stray pieces of arugula with my fork and hurrying the last traces of salad into my mouth. The bartender inspected a glass in the overhead light, frowned at specks of dust, and polished it clean with a bar towel. He nodded his head in Julia’s direction to indicate that she was my next client, then smiled, knowing how frustrated I felt after reading for her. We shared a moment of silent understanding, before I took my dishes to the clearing cart and went to the table.

Jan never stayed for Julia’s readings, That woman freaks me out!  True to form, she excused herself as I approached, pulled up a nearby stool and settled into more comfortable conversation with the bartender about politics and economics.

She wanted no part of Julia’s “woo- woo – personal growth experience,” and had no idea how someone with a rational mind could believe such non-sense, let alone pay to hear it. The bright flame of her match was replaced by the glow of Jan’s next cigarette, as blue smoke drifted into the air and encircled her head.

            Oh, Karen, Julia said, with positive excitement. I want to read about Karl. I’ve just met him and we have a date this Friday. She held up a picture torn from a magazine of a stocky Lebanese man with olive skin and spiked dark hair. He’s a chef, she continued, a famous chef.

I mentally fortified myself as I sat under the  glow of the wall light and examined her photo. Let’s not read about this guy tonight, I suggested. How is your work going?

She gave me a puzzled look and began fidgeting impatiently with her napkin. I have a big case pending, which you know, and have to travel again next week for another deposition. Work is fine. I want to talk about Karl, she repeated, moving into her forceful attorney mode.

Julia always wanted to talk about the next man, but I could no longer indulge her. She was radiant in her excitement, but my obvious reluctance stopped her in mid-speech.

I can’t do this anymore, I confessed, because the men are not the issue. They’re a diversion. For me to continue reading about each new man is a disservice to both of us. I think you know that.

A look of cold despair crossed her face, an unsettling sense of delusion. She began to lobby me once more. Julia did not allow herself to think of her past, although it festered in the depth of her soul. She wanted to focus on external relationships and staying in control, the very qualities that made her a excellent attorney.

This man is different, she continued. I’m sure he’s the right one.

I was unyielding, knowing from experience that she would become rapidly suspicious, jealous and finally cold toward him in a few short weeks.

When Julia came for her first reading a year ago, I was surprised by her past. She was a frightened child whose mother valued material things and worked excessively to acquire them. Her father had abandoned the family at an early age. In their absence, Julia looked to her uncle to provide the love and connection she needed. When she was in elementary school her uncle disappeared, and she was the one to find his body. He had killed himself a week earliest in a small trailer and the body had decomposed in summer heat. In a moment of unguarded vulnerability, she described the overwhelming smell that came from the trailer, and the sound of buzzing flies that blanketed the screen door.

Julia could not allow love in her life, as much as she craved it, because she believed it would end in abandonment. She knew she could not stand a repeat performance of loss, so she abandoned the men in her life first, before they could abandon her. Her friend, Jan was a reflection of the tough person she wanted to be, but could not achieve.

Julia gave me a ‘what am I paying you for,’ look and continued. Please, just put the cards out. I need to know.

I put the cards away and restated my message, It’s time to address this issue at its core, I said gently. You need a good therapist. You have post traumatic stress, and no man is going to fix that.

But, she continued, if I can’t talk to my psychic about these things, who can I talk to?

A therapist or a shaman, I repeated. This is not for your psychic, Julia. See someone else.  She pushed her chair from the table, paid her tab and went away.  I had no doubt she’d come back another day with the same questions about another man. 

That evening, I did readings about impending legal battles, custody cases, internal political disputes and for a secretary who believed she was being stalked. I even read for a woman persistent enough to have tracked me from the television station to the restaurant.  Her face was especially sad. She wore loose knit clothes over a large framed body and had deep lines in her face that showed years of stress and toil.

As she and I sat together, it became clear that she was looking for future predictions of the National Inquirer type. She’d come for a reading because she wanted her future told, without taking responsibility for anything it might hold. When I repeatedly brought her back to a path of action and accountability, she recoiled. In the end, she threw down her money and left saying, You’re nothing like you were on television!

I smiled to myself as I packed up my things.  I guess that was my worst fear, to have someone tell me I’m horrible at what I do, but because of the painful place that birthed her comment, I didn’t take it in. To be read for, a person needs to be open to being seen, and to the possibility of new thought, which requires the courage to change.

I was relieved to finish work when I packed up my things and headed for the door. My thoughts were racing from the people I had seen and the energies taken in.

tugboatThe lights of Seattle shown on downtown office buildings, as I pushed open the door and stepped outside.  The night air teemed with the wet, green smells of marine life, as I stopped to breath the cool night air, trying to be more present, trying to release the visions and stories I had so intimately held. The bobbing procession of tug boats and fishing fleets were at rest under evening shades of purple and pink, as I cut through alleys that led out of downtown and back up the hill to Mt Baker. I was grateful for my car, but missed visiting the salmonberry, quince and little violets I once walked past on my way to the bus. The lights of downtown faded with each mile I traveled, and the maple lined boulevards skirting Lake Washington rose in the headlights. My little Datsun wound around residential streets until it came to rest in front of my storefront perched at the crest of the hill.

 I held the energies of my clients too strongly to go to sleep, so I went to Rip’s market to pick up the evening paper. Rip and I were visiting about our work days, when a man from the neighborhood burst through the door, pulled a gun from the folds of his jacket and handed it to Rip.  Here, take this, he said. I just shot my wife. Better call the police. 

 Seattle was a city of extremes and it was taking a toll. Some mornings I would stand in a welfare line to receive free rice and cheese, and the same evening dine on pheasant in the wealthy homes of grateful clients on ‘millionaire hill.’ I felt myself being ripped apart by the intensity of Seattle’s urban environment, and decided it was time to move back to Portland.


elevatorI once had a job working for an employment agency. I was young and desperate. My boss was a sleazy guy who liked young girls. He’d call us into his office one at a time to inquire about our love lives. Think of me as your father, he’d say, as he probed for details with a sick curiosity that would make the National Inquirer proud.

Every day I rose from my bed, put on a dress and rode the bus downtown. I pushed against a revolving golden door, walked through a lobby, got in an elevator and pressed the button for the fifth floor. We all stood together in long awkward moments of silence and waiting. When the elevator door opened, I got out, walked to my little cubicle, hung up my coat, and began my day making cold calls. It was my job to find new businesses to hire our applicants. 

When lunch came, I got up, put on my coat, stepped into the elevator, pushed the button for the first floor, waited again, and got out. I walked through the lobby to the golden revolving door, then stepped outside into measured minutes of freedom. I took a deep breath of fresh air and felt sunlight on my face, like a prisoner doing time in the yard. I ate a thirty minute lunch, left a tip on the counter and headed outside. After lunch, you guessed it.  I pushed against the golden revolving door, walked through the lobby, got into the elevator, pressed the button for the fifth floor, waited, got out of the elevator, walked to my cubicle, took off my coat, picked up the phone and made phone calls.

 Sometimes this routine was broken by an orange light flashing on my phone. That meant the manager had dreamed up some excuse to call me into his office, so he could slime me with questions about my non-existent love life. His cubicle was set higher than ours, in case we missed the fact that he was God. He made afternoon rounds of all the young women he’d placed in his barnyard cubicles, strutting through the aisles, like a rooster surveying hens.

Sometimes an actual human being came in to fill out an application, which was a delightful distraction, but short lived.

At five o’clock, I rose from my desk, grabbed my coat and stepped into the elevator. I pressed the button for the first floor, and listened to the elevator squeak and groan as it carried us slowly down. The heavy silver doors opened. I’d walk across the lobby, out the golden revolving door and into the street.

This went on for three entire months, until one day something inside me broke. I picked up the phone to call employers, but had nothing to say. The elevator door was all I could think of. It was large, coffin like, silver and waiting. I saw my whole life being played out like a rat in a maze and wanted to vomit. I knew in that moment that I could never go up and down in that box again. After the rooster-warden made his rounds, I decided to make some very different kind of phone calls. I took out the yellow card files that held the jobs and the white files that held the names of each applicant, and called them one at time. I have the perfect job for you, but don’t tell them the agency sent you, or you’ll be charged a fee. Just go over and introduce yourself and tell them what you’re good at. Oh, and whatever you do, no matter how desperate you are, don’t ever ever come to this agency to find work. You will not be happy with the result.

It was Friday. I collected my paycheck, told the manager I was leaving to start a brothel and walked out the door. I walked straight ahead to the elevator, then made a sharp right turn and took the stairs.

Never too late

lemonsI met my husband, Gib, at my granddaughter’s lemonade stand. He was whizzing by on his bike, did a U turn, took off his helmet and said, I read somewhere that you should never pass a lemonade stand.

Isabella poured him a tall glass of refreshment while I sat on the front steps of the house, soaking sun into my face, and wondering who this tall man with the quick smile and grey hair might be.

At 60, I had resolved to live alone. Relationships had not been kind. Besides, it’s difficult to think about dating when you’re a grandmother. The dating pool looks a little too much like the near-death club.

The next time I saw him was at our moving sale. I’d been living on the corner of 31st and Taylor in SE and was ready for a change, so I’d answered an ad to be a caretaker on a country estate. The hours were nothing, the land was perfect, and the situation gave me lots of time to replenish and write. I knew I was headed in a new direction, but had no idea the extent of it. Gib walked into the sale eager to visit. Even bought a white elephant chest of drawers my mother had given me. I discovered he lived only two houses away.

 People who live in SE Portland are country people who settled in town. There are chicken coops tucked in side yards, plenty of rabbits, cats and dogs, and even a pot bellied pig. Southeast people wear big flannel shirts to keep warm, boots good for hiking, and drive old pick-up trucks for hauling what we can’t carry on bikes.  We put the things we no longer want on street corners for others to take without cost, and have been lovingly referred to in the press as, “The People’s Republic of Portland.”  So, you can imagine how strange it was to look out my window at 5.30 one morning, and see a gentleman standing under the street light in a three piece suit, polished black shoes, and white cuffed shirt. I threw a shawl over my nightdress and went to investigate. Turns out he was a visiting surgeon who had purchased the house across the street for his son. He was a man of routine, got up and did what he always did, but had no work to go to. He stood alone, like a dream image under the streetlight, waiting for his son to wake up. We were deep in conversation when Gib rounded the corner on his bike. He stopped, wanting to know where the handles were for the chest I’d sold him. I found them garish and tossed them out, I said.

You threw the handles to the chest away? Why would you do that?

They weren’t visually pleasing. Replace them with something better or use a screwdriver.

I thought you’d be moved by now.

Nope, my movers keep calling to back out.

I’ll do it, he said. I’ll help you. And he did. He showed up, hauled, stacked and dripped July sweat like the rest of us. He refused pay so I offered to fix dinner.

The first night was a bust. Gib is a retired engineer and can be too much in his head. We’ve managed to spend an entire evening together without a thing in common, I said. He smiled and left, forgetting his computer. When he came back the following day to retrieve it, we went deeper. Turns out we shared the same birthday, we had daughters who lived near-by, while our sons both lived in Los Angeles. And there was more; I’d lived for years three houses away from his childhood home, we’d both owned the same British car as teenagers, we’d both had the same mismatched marriage partners and resulting heartaches, we were both still young in spirit and athletic in body. But most of all, we were both still hoping to find the happiness we lost in our early years.

I was embarrassed to be getting married at 60, but my friends encouraged me. No, they said. It’s inspiring. It shows that love can happen for anyone at any age.


Here is a memory that still haunts me.

I was living in NE Portland in the late 1980’s, and teaching psychic development classes several times a week. The majority of my students came from the naturopathic, chiropractic, massage and medical schools, needing to balance their academic studies with something more felt, intuitive and humane. A beautiful red headed nurse named Valerie enrolled. She did well in class for several quarters and then began behaving in confrontive and fearful ways. We talked after class and she confided that she had been diagnosed as a Paranoid Schizophrenic, and decided to go off her medication. She was dating a friend of mine who was a psychologist, so we joined forces, both of us talking to her about the importance of her medicine and the need to stay on it. I knew she loved our classes, so I used them as leverage.

I can not allow you to continue with your studies until you’ve gone back on your meds and stabilized.

She did not listen. Valerie dropped out but continued in my life by coming to my home at odd hours, and begging for predictions. She was sure others were plotting against her and insisted I go with her to Canada to help her start a new life.

My husband was a doctor and took me aside to warn me of her condition. She is becoming dangerous now, Karen. She could harm you, so be very careful. I held my ground about the medications, not knowing what else to do. She stopped visiting, but continued to make disturbing phone calls.

slate-floor1One evening I wrote a letter to my sister in New York describing the situation: if we should be murdered in our beds, I want you to ask about Valerie. I dropped the letter in a post box the next morning as I drove my son to school, then stopped at my usual coffee shop to reward myself with tea, a scone and the morning paper. I was thinking how hard it was to get him out of bed on school days, and wondering about a solution, when I saw the Oregonian. The front page displayed a color photo of three bodies being carried from a house in black bags, with insert pictures of Valerie and her little girls. I dropped my tea in horror; my breathing became labored and deep. My mind raced. Could this nightmare be real? I looked again at the photos, the house, the body bags, and the police. The article said that Valerie’s children had been playing on the beach at Rooster Rock State Park when she pulled them away, drove home, shot both of them, then shot herself. Her note said that she did not want them to grow up with the same hellish disease.

I drove home doubled over with grief and disbelief. I could not eat, sleep or think of anything else for weeks. My dreams were haunted. I blamed myself for not knowing how to help. Soon the police arrived, making accusations that I had somehow encouraged her to take such drastic actions through my ‘new age’ methods. They had found class materials and some of our recorded sessions in her home. I was angry, hurt and sarcastic.

Yes, that’s what I do. I charge clients $50, and then tell them to go home, shoot their children and themselves. I make a great living that way, wouldn’t you?

The policeman continued. What exactly are these groups you have? Are they like a séance where you talk to the dead?

I forced a normal tone in my voice. No, they are like a self-improvement class you would take at Portland Community College. I don’t teach there because I like being self-employed, but I used to teach there. I did for years.

The newspapers took up where the police left off.


A columnist from the Oregonian took the opportunity to write at length about her hatred of ‘these ill-equipped new age people.’  Friends, students and professionals wrote letters in my defense, but they were not printed. Willamette Week did a feature article on the psychics Valerie employed. I was encouraged not to meet with the reporter, but I was eager for someone to see the credibility and truth of a situation that was being blown out of proportion, so I gave her a free session, and explained the healing and expansive aspects of the work. The reporter was young and receptive, but her story was written. She was only visiting to fill in the details. That’s when I learned the difference between promoting the truth, and a story that sells papers.

Valerie had been to a competing psychic and reported distorted information about our sessions. This man, whom I had known for years, was telling others to avoid my work based on her paranoid stories. When I called him to talk it out, I found him eager to slander, so I threatened to sue and we parted ways. 

I was being attacked on all fronts, not eating, sleeping, or working.  I closed my business to recover. Months later we found a farm house in the Columbia River Gorge and moved in. I spent months sitting on the front porch of that little white house, looking into miles of rolling hills, tree tops and the river below. I did not want to work again. My body lacked walls, boundaries, and the natural protection that enables people to easily function in the world. My ability to see and help is in direct relation to living filleted open, like a fish. I spent months in silence and introspection, being healed by my surroundings.

playing-cardsWhen clients managed to locate my phone number, I told them I was finished, out of business, with no desire to continue.

I had a client from India who worked at Tektronix. I had read for him for years.  He was always surprised when I knew who he was on the phone. That was our ongoing joke. Kaarin, how you know it is me? When he rang me and asked for a session, I told him what I told everyone else, but he reacted differently, he said, I can wait.

Well dear, you will have to wait a long time because I am finished.

He rang me the week after and asked again. Are you ready yet? Must I wait longer?

I am not ready, I told him, I will never be ready again.

No Kaarin. This is who you are. You can not walk away from yourself. I will wait. You are my psychic. There is no one else.

He called every week and we had the same conversation, until finally I relented and read for him. I am grateful, in retrospect, for his persistence because he helped me open my door and my heart one more time.

The Deer

The deer don’t come around anymore. I used to see them every night. They’d cross our downward stretch of driveway after poaching from my neighbors garden, or nibbling the pears and apples lining the hill. We’ve been adversaries, the deer and I, garden foes, and still I slow my car as I inch down our long winding drive, wanting them to feel safe.

The problem is, they’ve mistaken my raised beds for an all-you-can-eat salad bar. They’ve acquired a taste for spinach, beans, broccoli, strawberries, raspberries and even delicate pink roses. All quite satisifying, then washed down with a cool drink from the pond, like a fine vintage port. 

I move morning mediation to the garden in summer. The deer sense me and leave the space alone, but on days I don’t go down, I’ll glance from the window to see them stomping my vegetables –  as welcome as a workman’s muddy boots on a just mopped floor.  I went screaming from the house last August, as naked as noon, to spook them out of my carrots. Get out! Get Out!  I yelled waving a crimson cloth. The neighbor rushed out to see who had been murdered or was about to be.

 My office window faces birdfeeders, ferns and towering maples. It’s patrolled by Hannah, the neighbor’s lab, and is not the usual path for the deer. But one misty morning, I looked up from my writing to see a large gentle creature standing just beyond. Our eyes met. Everything else fell away. Our vision locked. We studied each other for a long time. In that moment, I had a realization of the abundance in my cupboards and refrigerator, and a glimpse of what it must mean to forage for dinner, searching, finding or doing without. By the time the deer walked on, I had surrendered my strawberry pots, wondering if perhaps they’d like whipping cream served on the side. 

That has all changed now. They’ve moved beyond our ten acre wood. It was evening – I’m sure of that, but the rest I hardly know, because the main road is away from our house, blocking noise, squealing tires and the sounds of shattering glass. A young deer lay dead in the morning, bloody and torn, already buzzing with flies. The highway department promised to come, but it was Sunday, and a holiday followed. The deer lay near the road full of decay and emptiness far too long. The rest of the herd knew. They felt it and distanced themselves. And so they are gone. No more deer in my driveway, leaping over the hill, or rummaging my garden – and you know what? I’ll be darned if I don’t miss them like crazy.

My New Car

I bought my new car thirteen years ago, a Nissan Sentra, because it was red, had a sunroof, was good on gas and reliable.

I still have this brain freeze that allows me to think of it as my new car, even though it has become an embarrassment to friends and family. 

 The roof is caved in from allowing my granddaughters to stand on it, to better reach the yellow plums that line the driveway.

My hubcaps burst free after six months of ownership. I happened to glance to my right and there they were, in tandem, making a run for it through a farmers field.

The windshield cracked coming over the mountains, a gift from a gravel truck, lengthened by a defroster on the inside, meeting ice and snow from without.

My daughter broke my sun visor, but not on purpose.

The dog chewed through my seatbelt, definitely on purpose. (He was angry at being left in the car, while the rest of us went to breakfast. I don’t blame him.)

Someone did a hit and run job on the side mirror.

Ocean air has peeled the paint.

The seats are worn, no longer a comfort to my back.

I reversed into a post, which left a dent. I decided to repair that one myself… with a hammer. You can guess the outcome.

Long story short, I’m getting pressure to replace it. My friends in new cars say they are worried about my safety, a kind way of saying they are worried about my esthetic. I will replace my new car some day, but not soon.

For now, I’m going to drive fourteen hours south to LA, so I can have Thanksgiving with my son. And it will make it, because it runs like a top, although the outside might need a little duct tape.

Death Visits

Death is around my mother now like an energetic cocoon waiting to merge with her physical body and dissolve its solidity into an expansive freedom.

It doesn’t stand by the door the way it does during childbirth. It is more a curious observer there, wondering if mother or child will pass beyond the edge of reality and need a companion to guide their spirit home. No, it is not that kind of death that awaits my mother. That kind of death comes for an otherwise healthy body. Its occasion is sudden, accidental or unexpected.

The death that waits for my mother is slow and subtle. Each day it sucks away minuscule amounts of desire, until her once-active body can no longer will itself to turn the pages of the latest mystery novel arriving in the mail.

The slender hands that once fashioned silky strands of childrens hair into intricate french braids, now struggles to hold a comb or press the spring that fastens her silver hair clip.

The morning reunions she enjoyed with friends at her favorite breakfast café, have been replaced with bottles of painkiller and a glimpse at the newspaper before returning to bed.

This was the woman who danced, sang heart-felt blues at the upright piano and raced around the globe in search of adventure and inspiration. She has no desire to die. Her grasp on life has always been full and present, holding as much of it in each hand as she could manage.

But now she swallows anti-depressants so she can stomach her reality, the reality  of having life’s brilliant dance move farther and farther from her feet. I am not living. I am only existing, she admitted with sadness and resignation. My mother does not believe in complaining, finding fault or dwelling on the negative. She has never referred to herself as old, and continued wearing prom dresses into her eighties.

Death has not claimed her yet, but has moved close enough to examine her breath, weaken her heart and shrivel her body. Her mouth is flung wide in sleep, her breathing open and labored. I know she is fighting. She is thumbing her nose at death and saying, You will not close my mouth or steal my connection to life. Witness the strength of my breathing. Witness the power of my will.

But death does not come at her like a warrior or an avalanche. Death is patient and quiet. Death has time and the confidence that comes from assured victory. It moves slowly, taking back a tablespoon of vitality here, a cup of life force there. It has already stolen the radiance from her smile and precious memories from her heart.

Can she hear death whispering? It is coming closer every day. It’s okay to sleep, death assures her. Let your bed comfort you now. The world is too fast and too noisy. Enjoy the softness of your sheets, the twilight haven of your room. Feel your chest move up and down. There is nothing else that’s important. Just watch your breath move in and out. Begin to surrender. Begin to think about letting go. I have you. As soon as you’re ready, I have you. There is nothing to fear.

One day soon my mother will free herself, like a ship coming untethered from the shore, and we will have her no more.

written 9.25.2008

The talk

The peaches in my neighbors orchard were not good this year, another fall-out of an avoidant summer. I missed picking them and putting them up. I missed seeing their golden beauty radiate from my shelves. My mason jars stand empty and rimmed with dust. I didn’t plant a garden this year. Our beds don’t get enough sun, the soil is better suited for brick making, the deer eat my efforts and well, I just wasn’t into it.

I did pick apples and pears along the driveway with Isabella. She liked carrying my new basket and wearing the tall black boots I bought her for horseback riding. She made up stories as we walked, giving us names and histories other than our own.

We had a serious moment down by the raspberries when she talked about the hard parts of her nine year old life. I am glad she trusts me with that. She asked me if I was wealthy, so I carefully explained the difference between being rich and being generous. Never use money as the measure of wealth, I told her. She wants me to buy her a farm and a horse, one she can care for and love. I wish I could please her in that way.

I told her I was sad at leaving my homelands in New York. I even spoke out loud about buying a cottage on the lake and moving back.

“If you do that Ma, I guess I would not stop crying for a really long time. Maybe days, or months or maybe forever.” 

And so I put that idea in the far corner of my interior shelf. No need to entertain moving when it’s balanced against the heartbreak of a child.

So many strings when we get older, so many roots. Gib says that carrots and potatoes are like eating dirt. He means it as a compliment. I baked a blueberry crisp last night with the last of the fresh berries. The season is turning. Change is in the air. I can smell it and feel it, but for now my feet are firmly planted right where I stand.

Crazy Lady

Hey, Crazy Lady! I worry about you! Your eyes are glazed over, busy seeing into worlds that don’t exist for the rest of us. I visit worlds that don’t exist for most people, but you! Your vision has been rerouted into a world of treachery, danger and unrest.

Like a mother with a colicky baby, you walk the earth, listening to screams, staring into space and wishing for release. Where are the people who will help you? No where apparently. People fear and avoid your malevolent stare and the yellow cast of your skin.

I am so sorry for the world you inhabit. I am sorry for the dark and constant anguish of your mental prison and for the isolated and lonely hell you cannot escape.

Doesn’t anyone anywhere love you enough to fight for your return? Isn’t there anyone who would do battle with the powers of darkness to bring you back into the day? My heart aches for you. It bleeds. Everyday you die a little more, while others witness from an uncomfortable distance.

I hear you have a son who is far away. How much farther a child would have to journey to save his own life, when his mama’s world is so unsafe. His wounding must be deep and avoidant.

I took you home with me through my eyes and dreamed of a baby who was never fed and whose diaper was never changed; so much suffering for one so young. In the dream you were my responsibility and I tried to help, but it was too late. You were already seeing white.

So now what? Shall I call social services? They will inquire, Is she a danger to herself or others? The danger is that a good woman has slipped away from us. She has gone far beyond our reach and is lost in a twilight realm between worlds. People cross the street to avoid her, instead of saying, Come sweet sister. Walk this way. You are lost to us and we must get you back. Who knows what treasures you house in that spirit of yours, treasures that will be lost to us forever, if we don’t bring you home again. Your well-being is our concern. Wouldn’t that be nice!

written August, 2005

The Cornfield

My aunt’s spirit came to visit me the night she died.

I remember it like a midnight fog.

I got up from my bed and let her in.

I don’t remember conversation, just the distinct sense of saying goodbye.

In the morning I woke, thinking it was just another dream, but as I made my way into the living room, past the piano, I noticed the front door ajar, and the reality of the experience came back.

The next week I received a letter from my uncle telling me she had passed, the same day and hour of her visit.

He enclosed a photo of her standing in the cornfield.

He said she was reaching skyward to show how tall the corn had grown, but I saw a farewell wave, a final and loving goodbye.

I’d written a letter ten years earlier, telling her of my love, and expressing all that she’d meant to me. My uncle told me she carried it in her apron pocket until the day she died.

written May 21, 2008

Naked in the Bath

shower-handleWhen I was divorced the first time – still a virgin to divorce – I lost all sense of reality. My house was being sold, my goods auctioned, and my life shattered into a million sharp lethal pieces. I had no way to move forward. The land was too foreign, threatening and unknown. I lost half my body weight.

The night before the auction I went out alone and drank a full bottle of wine. I have a system that does not tolerate alcohol, so a full bottle took me to even more unknown places, all dismal and not numbing enough. I somehow made my way home, opened the car door, spilled out on the lawn, and slept the night.

In the morning people began coming to buy up my life. I rolled from the grass, pushed through the crowd and locked myself in the bathroom. I listened to my life being physically dismantled from the cold enamel of the tub, one material object at a time. Who would I be now, I wondered?  No home, no identity as wife, no job skills, no child support, two small children and a backlog of depression.

My body did not want to participate in the ordeal that lay ahead, but somehow I lived through the day. I rose again and lived through another, and another still.

I met a woman at the library. Her name was Joy. She asked me if I wanted to go for a ride on her motorcycle.

Oh boy, do I ever!

Joy was getting divorced too, from an engineer; mine was a highway patrolmen, neither man a good match for free spirited women.

Joy and I moved in together. She got a job modeling and selling Leggs pantyhose. I sang in the clubs, fronting a rock and roll band.  Eventually, I worked with a classical guitarist, who was a much better fit for my quiet spirit.

At night, Joy and I had long conversations, me perched on top of her refrigerator, her being the more responsible one, and setting limits.

Karen, I don’t like it when you give away my toothbrushes to your friends. They need to buy their own.

We stayed up all night laughing, talking and often crying. We understood and loved each other.  We were full of smiles and raw open pain.

That was 36 years ago. We stay in touch, because I’ll never stop loving her for the way she filled my heart during those lonely confused beginnings. She helped me out of the bathtub and into the world.



I remember piles of broken china and figurines half buried in mounted earth near the small shed by the front porch. I used to sift through them with my young hands, each shattered piece a treasure of discovery.

The farm house was my safe place. I would wake from the chaos of my home, go to the stables, saddle my horse and ride six miles through unfenced terrain until I reached the welcome land that defined my aunt and uncle’s farm. The pond was the first to come into view. It lay quiet on my left, like tea in an unmoved cup. Herds of cows milled behind barbed wire fences on my right, as bright red barns with tall silos beckoned me forward.

I was going away to boarding school. This would be my last visit for a very long time. I was terrified to leave the land and move into an English academy in Vermont, where my days would be alien, structured and organized. I was being sent away for my health. When I neared the barn, I saw my aunt herding cows toward its shadowy interior. I stripped my horse and set her free in the field.

barn door

Aunt Ethel, I shouted, I’m leaving for boarding school this week-end.

She barely looked up.

I don’t know when I’ll be back.

She fingered the cloth hankie that slept in the pocket of her apron. Her red print dress hung above black rubber boots, a splash of mud marked her forehead below short curly hair. She slapped the rump of a cow into the stall and motioned me inside.

Don’t go givin’ yourself airs now, she said, Just cause you’re going to that fancy boarding school. Don’t come home callin’ horse shit, manure.

My heart ached at the thought of leaving. I did not want to be ripped from the four a.m. mornings, when we turned on the radio and danced around the barn together; me balanced on my uncle’s boots, Aunt Ethel squirting warm milk into the mouths of the barn cats, who were lined up waiting and mewing. I did not want to leave the symphony of clocks that ticked and chimed in every room of the house. I wanted to keep smelling black tea served in blue willow cups that warmed my fingers each afternoon. I wanted to keep seeing their reflection in the polished silver sugar bowl that sat on the large oak table.

I put my arm around her.

I’ll come back, I promised.

No, you won’t, she said. Once kids go away, they’re gone. Too bad though. You were the best of the lot.

I lifted the handle on the egg basket and walked to the hen house. Warm tears splashed against soiled brown eggs, as I carefully lifted each one from the safety of its nest. I fingered their fragile vulnerability, as I positioned them layer by layer inside the cold metal wiring of the basket.

written April 16, 2008