"The way I write is who I am..." --Joan Didion
Follow me along this journey; wherein, I seek to be the Me that only I can be. As Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, "What I do is me--for that I came." My writing pays homage to that sentiment because no one else in the world can be the you that is you, the me that is me, and the collective sum of "we." What we do is us. That is our mission of LOVE--our purpose for being. For that, we came.
As I "write to see what I say," I can claim seven in-print appearances at this time. That means, my narratives have been selected for print in seven different literary magazines/books. (Three times for international publications!) Please stay tuned as my writing passion grows and develops.
"A Smother of Time"
Can an emerging writer find redemption for a murdered classmate? I tried ever-so-diligently to get my long read about the death of a high school friend published. It was a challenging process that has taken about three years. But I believed in the power of story to soothe wounded souls. Coming Soon--Drunk Monkeys has selected to publish my creative nonfiction work entitled, "A Smother of Time." After I cut the story to below 5,000 words and continued submitting, I finally received an acceptance email from Drunk Monkeys. This monthly online magazine devoted to literature, film, and television, finally tapped my reporting for publication. At its core, this essay combines poetic elements, journalistic details, and evidence gleaned from court documents, intertwined with a creative nonfiction search for judicial harmony out of an incongruous plea deal. I incorporated information from newspaper articles and court documents to formulate the whole account. Yes, sources are listed to back up my written account. Stay tuned! In the meantime, check out more stories at https://www.drunkmonkeys.us/
Just Another Minute
In April of 2022, I had two micro-essays published in a book titled, Just Another Minute. Micro-essays (also called "flash nonfiction") capture a narrative in a limited space. For this book, essay guidelines restricted stories to 100-words. It's not an easy feat to complete a narrative arc in the space of 100 words, but I love the challenge! Because the book collection is published in India, I can state that I have been published internationally for the second time. WooHoo! If you're interested in purchasing a copy (all proceeds go to the publisher--not the authors), head to www.freespiritpublisher.com and click on Just Another Minute.
I'm not sure which one of my two micro-essays won, but I did receive a free copy of the book for winning the contest. YAY! Thank you, Free Spirit Publisher, for the free book!
"Full Circle" addresses the birth of my son and how life--inevitably--comes full circle.
"Hillbilly Justice" focuses on the death of a former student. His name is fictionalized, but the story is true.
This page is the tragic conclusion to "Hillbilly Justice." The premise of the title (and story) is often a discordant tune played out in the foothills of Appalachia.
Hare's Paw Literary Journal, Sept. Issue, 2021: What trip can a newly married couple take during a pandemic? My 795-word nonfiction flash essay explains the answer. Journey with me as I learn new life lessons on such a short trek.
Sad Girls Club Literary Blog, published March 2021: In this essay, I contemplate the question, “what constitutes home.” Through the course of life’s journey and wafting along the winds of time, discovery is found along the road of uncertainty. Although it has taken me many years traveling this road, through the vehicle of writing, I finally arrive. https://www.sadgirlsclublit.com/post/building-eden-traci-musick-shaffer
Ruminate Magazine "What Remains" Theme, Issue 58, Spring 2021 =
Creative Flash Nonfiction (Less than 300 Words)
“I’ll Fly Away” was on page 333 in the Pentecostal hymnal.
It was sung regularly—dare I say religiously—in the church of my childhood. Those years I learned “thou shalt do this and not do that.” It was force-fed religion where I believed God sat in his seat of judgement checking my name each time I sinned. I feared God.
So, it’s no wonder that my adult years found me walking away from organized religion. The tipping point came when a minister said I would doom my child to hell if I divorced his father. I wondered, “What kind of loving God would damn my child?” I no longer wanted any part of a judgmental God.
But in the eyes of a dying brown-eyed, blue-eyed border collie, I saw God for the first time. It wasn’t a damning God, but loving Source Energy. When my fifteen-year-old dog fell ill last January, she went five days without eating. I thought for sure she was leaving me and this world. As I stroked her black and white fur and held her near my heart, I felt pure, positive love. I was sitting on the floor at home willing my Holly-girl to live when I saw God in her eyes.
Through illness she said, “I may not know much about anything, but I do know one thing.”
“What’s that, Holly?”
“I know that every day you wake up, love your life and the world, you are praying,” she said.
As the sun set on day five, Holly ate the scrambled eggs and sausage I offered.
I don’t question why she stayed. All I know is that she didn’t fly away. Not just yet.
The Finger Literary Journal, published January 2021: In this essay, I contemplate the struggle between my professional career and the career in which I long—writing full time. Through the yearly challenges of teaching, I find solace in the only place that I can: reading and writing. My narrative journey begins grim. But stick with it. Relief arrives at the conclusion. thefingermag.com/2021/01/1723/?fbclid=IwAR1u-F1GYIjPLQlcCD8q3Eb5t3GMXD-AvqKcfRB9zy8_d89Pk5Z3kVqxBdI
Getting published in a female literary magazine makes my heart SWELL with gratitude. Thank you For Women Who Roar for sharing my thoughts on females and the last name dilemma when confronting marriage. --October 12, 2020
Link to online forum = https://www.forwomenwhoroar.com/nonfiction/2020/10/12/the-long-road-to-hyphenation?fbclid=IwAR0xr0brs_e9qRWkbOONT0TUZOJbwgRIU2HcIzUlym5mnqkE88et84xmPZ4
Follow my writing journey through a love affair with author Ray Bradbury. This essay was published by Fourth & Sycamore on April 10, 2019.
Link to online forum = Fourth and Sycamore – A literary journal of the Greenville Public Library (wordpress.com)
Most of the time, I have to write to figure out what I think. In this essay, I research and explore why my memory is so foggy and missing chunks from my life. If you aren't aware of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), read and learn more. Published by Fourth & Sycamore, November 21, 2019.
Link to online forum = Fourth and Sycamore – A literary journal of the Greenville Public Library (wordpress.com)
The Burn of Teenage Heartache
“Is your son dating anyone? I have a student who is quite pretty and smart, but she doesn’t have a date for the prom. She is extremely distraught.”
My cell phone pinged and lit up like a flare in the night sky. A friend, who teaches at a neighboring school district, woke me from a sweet slumber with a teenager’s urgent plea.
In a flash, I am shot backwards to 1988.
It is my senior year at South Point High School. This last year of high school, filled with the highs of academic and musical accomplishments, lingers like bitter medicine in my mouth. The laceration of senior prom overshadows my memory. As another prom season approaches, my scar from three decades ago throbs like a third-degree burn in this former nerd’s teenage soul. Rubbing across this once-upon-a-time wound, I am reminded of the night I lied and labeled it as a “good time.”
During senior English class, I recalled sailing through grammar review exercises. So intent on my work one day, I never saw the “note” appear. Navigating through the blue Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition textbook was my territory. I reigned as Grammar Queen Supreme. Warriner’s had nothing on me. I reveled in the grammar exercises that Mr. Wheeler, our teacher, piled on us. I was in the zone. When the spiral edging of perforated notebook paper magically appeared on my desk, I hadn’t even noticed.
“Adjective clause here. Adverb clause there. I am on a roll!” I whispered, championing myself through the sentences.
Burl leaned his Charlie Brown-sized head towards my desk and pointed with his pencil to the spiral edging wadded up next to my beloved Warriner’s. He sat two seats away from me and with wide eyes continued pointing.
I hadn’t even noticed the miniscule note on my desk. How could I? My focus centered on slaughtering those sentences and serving up some major clauses to feed to those independent ones. Why was my best guy friend interrupting my work here? I had my grammar groove going. I was slicing and dicing away! What did he want?
As I unrolled the spiral edging, I saw nothing.
“What?” I mouthed to him hoping not to get caught talking. Mr. Wheeler was not in the mood to be tested today. He made that clear at the beginning of class.
“Look!” Jeff mouthed again pointing his pencil towards the tiny paper in my hands.
When I looked again, I saw in the tiniest of handwriting: “Have you got a date for the prom?”
Are you kidding me? This guy, friend of mine, ranked as the smartest kid in our senior class, wrote, “Have you got?” Wasn’t he paying attention to these grammar exercises? Didn’t he know the proper form to that question was “Do you have a date for the prom?” Sheesh!
With the quick stroke of my pencil, I scribbled back: “I feel so stupid! I didn’t know this was a note! No, I do not have a date.” I enlarged the word “have” to stress the point that even though I wasn’t ranked #1 in our class, I knew how to write properly. Doubtful he even noticed, but my Grammar Queen tiara would not be tarnished by such sloppy style.
The sad truth remained: I had agonized for months about getting asked to the prom. In high school, I learned that acquiring academic knowledge wasn’t the only goal. I had also learned an important social reality: my book-loving, teacher’s pet, homework-always-completed, awkwardly-shy ways never snagged me a date to any dances. For last year’s junior prom, I begged a sophomore at church to go with me. I didn’t want to be the lone loser without a date. I even had to drive. The poor kid wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license. With senior prom breathing down my anxiety-ridden neck, I was distraught that I would find myself once again begging—possibly even paying—someone to escort me to prom.
But now…facing the wadded up perforated note of an ill-phrased “have you got a date,” I felt a mountainous glacier of anxiety melt off my shoulders. Why not Burl? He’s my best “guy” friend in the world. I knew he had recently split with his longtime girlfriend. As friends, we had even watched a couple of movies together. So what if everyone jokingly called him by his middle name “Burl.” That didn’t make him a bad person. And maybe he did have a bulbous-like head much bigger than the rest of his body. No big deal! That bobble head of his was packed top-full of knowledge. I had witnessed him in action on the quiz team. And who really cared that he spoke with a thick, country boy accent and threw out occasional incorrect verb tenses? Most of the kids in my school did that, too. I was used to it.
So, plans were set. I had a prom date that I didn’t have to beg, cajole, or even pay into going. Senior life was good.
Or was it?
On the horizon loomed a scent I couldn’t quite put my finger on. What was it? My head said to me, “Be on guard,” but I pushed it aside. I had a date. That’s all that mattered.
On Friday, April 29, 1988, senior prom took place at the Marshall University Student Center, which was a short fifteen-minute drive from our tiny village of South Point, Ohio. I purchased a purple sequin and taffeta prom dress months earlier in hopes that I would have a date. Now that I was going with one of my best friends, my heart hammered with anticipation that this prom would be the best.
“No, you cannot tuck in the straps,” my pious father chided me. “The straps are meant to be worn, or you will not go,” he continued as I walked into the living room to get the mandatory family pre-dance pictures taken.
“Oh, my God,” I murmured to myself as I yanked out the spaghetti straps of my dress. “I can’t even look like the other girls.” I knew they would all be wearing strapless dresses.
I thought my father wanted me to forever remain in the Laura Ingalls Wilder stage dressing like Little House on the Prairie. Still, I had a date and would not let little dress straps ruin my night. In my idealized, romantic head, proms represented enchanted, magical evenings where girls got swept off their feet by their dates. Slow dances would happen where hearts would beat as one. Whirling through my naiveté dreams, I thought prom was Cinderella’s ball, and I wanted to WOW—even in my nerdy, spaghetti strap sort of way.
So off I went baring those spaghetti straps as Burl drove me to enchantment. But life has a way of reshaping naïve misshapen minds.
With Richard Marx’s “Endless Summer Nights” crooning as our prom theme, I stood breathless in the center of the university ballroom. It glimmered in candlelight. With emerald green and silver balloons carpeting the parquet dance floor, shimmering cardboard silhouettes of city scenes dotted the room’s landscape. The Dance Dimensions DJ pumped out the tunes of INXS, George Michael, Rick Astley, Michael Jackson, and Billy Ocean. For a moment, I stood and let the DJ’s multicolored dance lights wash over me. The warm bath glow stoked a fire in each cell of my soul. I felt radiant. I turned and hugged my best friends who had arrived. All four of us jumped and squealed with delight.
But…wait. What was missing in this dance scene? Air conditioning.
Why was it so blazing hot? Standing in that ballroom, I felt the heat smother me, and then a waterfall of wetness glided from my hairline down my face. Oh no! Hair and make-up emergency activated in an instant. I had jacked my hair to Jesus with one full can of Aqua Net, and now that effort would all be in vain. My 80’s poof quickly deteriorated into a sticky goo against my head.
As Billy Ocean cranked through the stereo speakers, “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car,” I be-bopped on the dance floor with my girlfriends. For every fast dance, my pre-prom angst of finding a date became a more distant memory. My golden girl friends and I could dance our hearts out without any dance partners.
But the first slow song brought out an issue that had never even occurred to me. What happened when a date reunited with his ex-girlfriend at the prom? Where was my slow dance partner? Oh yeah, I spied him playing kissy-face with his former but now present girlfriend on the dance floor.
Like a wounded soldier who has lost the battle, I slunk back to my table to watch all the couples dance their magical moment to Expose’s “Seasons Change.” Indeed, how fast seasons do change. My season of joy spiraled like a downed jet into a season of discontent. I was left sitting alone with my hair plastered to my head as the sequin top of my dress rubbed my boobs while the spaghetti straps slid down my shoulders. They seemed to remind me that I was the girl no one wanted as a date.
As I looked around the room, I was one of three sitting alone. Twirling the purple satin ribbons dangling from my nosegay, I spied the Ken and Barbie of my senior class nuzzling on the dancefloor. Their matching fake tans and Ultra Brite teeth glowed in the candlelight. I wondered what it was like to be in their dancing shoes? To be labeled the “pretty couple,” to always have a Friday night date, or to reign as the cheerleader dating the captain of the football team? I watched them and felt sorry for myself. Where was my Ken doll? Would I ever be the girl that someone pursued?
For every slow song played that night, my status remained the same: I sat alone picking at the sticky sequins rubbing me in all the wrong places. The smell of rejection billowed around me like the stench of methane. My sour face manifested defeat; it didn’t help my slow dance cause.
In the end, this social laceration cut me to the core and left me bleeding on the dance floor. The looming storm which once clouded my pre-prom thoughts had finally burst forth, raining down and washing away my Cinderella fantasy.
As I returned my friend’s cell phone message, I recalled being the once-distraught girl hoping, wishing for an enchanted prom. I know not having a date felt the same as walking around with malaria—like being an infection no one wants near. After rubbing this old wound once again, I resolved to help find this girl a date. In my senior scrapbook, I documented the 1988 prom as a “good time.” With a wry grin, I knew those two words were a lie.
Today, my good friend, Burl, describes himself as a “distinguished engineer” on social media. I knew his bulbous head would land him a great career. Although he didn’t marry his high school sweetheart, he did marry someone a few years younger than us.
And even though I still remember the third-degree burn of a terrible senior prom, my heart has since wrapped itself around Ken. Yes, every night I get to fall asleep in the arms of former Mr. Fake Tan and captain of the football team. In the end, I realize even a bad prom makes for a memory. More than thirty years have passed since this “burn.” Since then, I’ve come to learn that what matters most are grateful hearts burning for one another. Also, that “home” can be found in a loved one’s arms.
Who would have guessed back in 1988 that this nerd would one day became someone’s Barbie? Through my Ken doll, the burn of teenage heartache finds soothing relief.
"The Burn of Teenage Heartbreak" was originally written for ENG 532: Studies in Place and Setting. The assignment was to write a story appealing to the five senses. This work is literary nonfiction and was published by Turnpike Magazine for Issue No. 8, November 2019, page 22.
Link to complete issue = https://turnpikemagazine.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/turnpike-issue-no.-8-nov-24-7.pdf
Sunshine at Night
Faceless, bearded suits watch me…
I am their fantasy girl.
In six-inch platform heels, I shake and shimmy on the stage, exposing myself to a room full of strangers. I am in an altered state. I am not the me of myself. With spray-on tan, luminescent make-up, and orange body glitter all aglow, I am “Sunshine” in the flesh. All of my flesh…thrust into nameless, soul-less men as I take their money.
Little girl me once dreamed of being a star—not “Sunshine.”
But into the night, I dance…
Music pulsates. Thump. Thump. Thump booms the bass.
I project one image on the platform while other thoughts pummel my mind:
Pay rent, bills, tuition…
“Momma, I need new shoes.”
“Momma, why don’t we have a house like other kids?”
I’m living the American dream of want more, pay more, go further in debt. I live the world’s greatest lie: my life is controlled by fate.
Don’t slip. Don’t fall. Just Dance.
“Hey, Sunshine! Shake your sunbeams over here! In front of my face!”
“Oh, yeah, Baby! Bend over. Sit right here.”
I have four more hours on the clock.
“Here’s twenty for ya, my Sunshine!”
Time creeps its petty pace at night.
“Momma, can we buy this? I’m hungry.”
“Come here, Sunshine! You’re fucking beautiful. So fucking brilliant.”
Here I am. Voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in school.
Now, I am an empty shell of who I once was.
It was then, I dreamt of being a star.
Writer's Challenge = Write a fictional 250-word story on the theme of "Dreams." I took a 100-word story that I had written in ENG 532: Studies in Place and Setting and expanded it for this writing challenge. Although I'm a creative nonfiction writer, I enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself outside my writer's comfort zone. "Sunshine at Night" was selected for publication in Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Issue 4, June 2020. *Warning: Explicit Language.
Link to complete issue = https://www.flipsnack.com/bwmag/beyond-words-magazine-issue-4-june-2020/full-view.html
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Most of my life, I have struggled with an inflammatory bowel disease known as ulcerative colitis. I wrote this story years ago for another graduate level course. It got published by Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which is an online forum for those battling such diseases. Due to their formatting constraints, they edited it (more like chopped and diced it) into 1,000 characters. Not 1,000 words but characters. Anyway, here is the essay in its entirety. Published February 1, 2019
Link = https://inflammatoryboweldisease.net/stories/reflections-from-a-uc-warrior/
Never Surrender to Battle Fatigue: Reflections from a UC Warrior
It’s Christmas time. A crooning cowboy wails “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” over the store intercom. I’m rubbing elbows with a throng of other holiday bargain shoppers in a western wear store located in a small, southern Ohio town some fifteen years ago. While pushing and shoving occurs among the redneck, camo-wearing types, I clamp down on the hand of my three-year-old son as a lightning bolt of pain shoots through my gut.
Paralyzed, I halt my holiday bargain shopping. With cowboy boots in hand, I feel sweat beads pop out on my forehead that force me to assess my surroundings.
I know this pain. In a few moments, I will drop to my knees. My enemy has arrived in this store. It has trailed me, stalked me, since my late teen years and stands ready to fight at the most inopportune times. With bullet-fired speed, it punches me and shouts its warrior chant: “You are going down, sister!”
I drop the boots, jerk my son’s hand, and grab the nearest sales associate.
“Do you have a restroom?” I choke out through the Herculean pain that has seized my entire body.
“Yes, ma’am, we do. Right over there,” replies the salesgirl wearing a pasted on holiday grin as she points to an inconspicuous door.
With child dangling from my grip, I fling open the door and slam it shut. My enemy takes aim again as I hunker over in excruciating pain.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” inquires my three-year-old.
Through clenched teeth, I whisper the command, “Turn around and face the wall, Bub.”
Why does propriety step in during times of war? Don’t I need a witness to the ensuing battle that has just begun in case I don’t make it out alive? No. It’s too hideous! This war is not appropriate for anyone at any age. I have locked horns with my enemy, and I already know this fight will be UGLY—all the way to the bloody, messy end.
Since my teen years, I have struggled and battled with an inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis (UC). For the weak-stomached individuals, the dirty details will be overwhelming. So, just stop right here. Don’t read any further. Sometimes, it’s all right to sit the bench. For me, the “bench” arrived many years ago in the form of restrooms that are necessary to my participation in life.
In short, UC results in the inflammation of the large intestine—a.k.a., colon and rectum. When the lining of the large intestine becomes inflamed, ulcers form on the surface. Because the colon stores stool before defecation, a sufferer experiences severe cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. As a chronic, life-long disease, ongoing treatment is necessary. In the long run, no cure will end the wars, which sufferers like me combat.
Why was I blessed with this “glorious” disease? Was it because of my effervescent personality? Or did I just piss off the wrong individual who sentenced me to a lifelong pain-in-the-ass disease? Maybe during gestation our Creator looked at me and thought, “Yes, thou shalt be a restroom critic. Go forth and inspect.”
Lord knows I have visited every restroom that I have journeyed past during forty-eight years on this planet—some nice and clean but also some unlit, filth-laden ones that no one should ever visit. EVER. When a flare-up occurs, this inflammatory bowel disease warrior cannot afford to be persnickety. Hell, even finding a tree to hide behind might be the best call to action when traveling life’s weary roads.
Living with UC is like living with a bomb waiting to detonate. I never know exactly when the “pain” is going to hit, and when it does, everyone better duck and cover. This chick cannot wait for someone holed up texting in a stall. Oh, you stall-hogs know who you are. I have seen your slovenly ways. This soldier has NO time for you to Facebook, text, YouTube, or talk to your “ever-so-important-friend” while imprisoning a commode needed for duty. This colon clock of mine tick-tocks, tick-tocks the few precious seconds before eruption occurs. When my body triggers the battle alarm, this UC soldier springs into action.
As a warrior, I have discovered a few “triggers” for my flare-ups. First, not finding a restroom or available stall will send me into a ten-alarm fire mode. No amount of first responders will aid my relief. At this realization, I have approximately thirty seconds before explosions occur no matter how hard I attempt to stop them.
Nothing screams “humiliation” worse than shitting your shorts at a football game because of occupied porta-potties. As a matter of fact, I once ditched a pair of my favorite undies in a trash can while tailgating at a Marshall University football game in Huntington, West Virginia. Thank goodness jeans hid the remaining dirty evidence that day.
Next, stopped traffic will net approximately a five-alarm fire mode. Seeing cars backed up on a highway signals my colon like the start-up command at a NASCAR race: “Drivers, start your engines!” Vroom! I need to race to a restroom! Highway construction and traffic tie-ups became the reason I now carry a roll of toilet paper in my car. If need be, I will do my business between an open front and back car door. Vanity flies out the window during such emergencies.
Must I also mention food? Oh dear! Roughage—or heck, food of any kind—will result in a “rough” journey through my digestive system. The gurgles, growls, knocks, pings, and pains remind me each day that a simple cheese sandwich on the outside faces a grueling trek on the inside. In essence, anxiety of any kind will crank up the boom bass of my raucous intestinal jam session. No degree of horse pill or steroid to blow me up into a pufferfish will aid me in this fight. I am resigned to the reality that this disease which stalks my every move, requires me to go where no man, woman, or child would choose to go.
Once, I went in search of a cure at a Mexican clinic. Through word of mouth, I heard about a person who found “miraculous” medicine for UC at this clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. Desperation forces people to make drastic choices. As a twenty-something, I was willing to travel to the netherworld if necessary. Little did I know, Tijuana was that netherworld.
Anxiety-ridden, I boarded a plane and spent much of that flight to San Diego, California, in the restroom. Colitis, paired with an overactive imagination, on top of flying represent a triple threat. All I could envision the entire flight was crashing somewhere between Ohio and California. I figured during that trip that a poopy colon wouldn’t matter so much once my scattered remains were all gathered up.
That same train of thought also hit me once I survived that flight and crossed the border into Tijuana. Traversing the back streets of this netherworld seeking some mysterious clinic forced my colon into such epileptic seizures, I wasn’t sure I would ever make it back to the states alive.
After the fact, I realized that my colon attempted to warn me. I never should have visited that clinic, never should have braved the streets of Tijuana to find this voodoo medicine, and I should have listened to the toothless stranger who stuck his grimy face in mine and whispered, “A young lady like yourself shouldn’t wander the streets alone.”
Signs…the signs were everywhere.
Again, sometimes desperation forces soldiers into unknown territory. After that trip, I ended up in the hospital with rectal bleeding so profuse that my gastroenterologist almost fired me as his patient. Lesson learned: Miracles do not live in Tijuana.
On another occasion, I considered surgery to end this war. My hopes laid—literally—in the hands of the academic medical center at the Cleveland Clinic. Leading as the top digestive disease center of the United States, the Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute at Cleveland assured me that the most advanced treatment provided by the specialists would be my intestinal savior. With my Grand Canyon-sized medical history in tote, I drove almost five hours north to the Cleveland Clinic in hopes of retiring from this hard-fought war.
First, I spent hours waiting in a deep freezer called the waiting room. Sitting for any length of time when suffering from an inflammatory bowel disease just didn’t make sense to me as I continually stared at my appointment timecard. Once I made it to the examination room, I spent more time learning about J-Pouch surgery; wherein, specialists remove the colon and rectum and create a J-pouch reservoir for digestion.
Did I want to get cut? Did I want to lose my colon and rectum? Did I want to go through months of a two-step process? Deal with a temporary ileostomy until the process ends? What do doctors do with a defunct colon and rectum once removed? These questions fired off in my head like an automatic weapon as a team of doctors surrounded me.
After getting interrogated by the “team” (at least ten doctors), I realized my intestinal savior did not exist at the Cleveland Clinic. In case one has never experienced it, nothing says “problem solved” like bending over an examination table at the waist, dropping your drawers, and having your rectum checked for definitive proof of colitis in front of a team of witnesses. The humiliation of “ass investigation” was too much for this soldier. After pulling up my big-girl pants, I knew I would march onward through this war-torn mission.
With each flare-up, I am reminded how to live. I have learned from my enemy. It lives inside me and uses me as its tackling dummy. How glorious a pain free life would be! If given the choice, I prefer not only never knowing the seedy side of restrooms but also never meeting a team of professionals questioning my bum’s integrity. I also prefer not looking down into the bowl of life—full of its murky, dark details. For whatever reason, I am left to carry UC as my badge of valor.
In a spiritual sense, I am another ulcer—an open sore that faces disintegration. In life, I will encounter many “cheese sandwiches” that will not be digestible. My journey has taken me through poking and prodding (and the taking of glorious pictures) in areas that no one wants prodded (or photographed). This disease is one that I will carry for the rest of my life.
Through all the painful suffering, I see the irritants and ulcers that life presents everyone. With ulcerated pictures glaring at me from life’s holy photo album, I can vouch that we all must accept life’s trials and tribulations. No cures exist to end them. One may choose to cut out and remove a twist or turn on this roller coaster journey. In the end, the twists and turns provide a vision of the universe as a vast landscape filled with pockets of despair but also with pockets of hope.
Returning back to that western wear store during the Christmas holiday, I am Harry Dunne from Dumb and Dumber. Recall the bathroom scene when Harry learns too late that the commode won’t flush. Ah, yes—I, too, am unable to flush my enemy away on that memorable holiday shopping excursion. When the battle ceases and the flame throwers and missiles have halted in this war room, I turn to discover this one-seater of a restroom doesn’t flush.
“Flush, you bastard!” screams my heart in true Harry Dunne fashion.
As the sweat continues to pour, I jiggle the handle and hear a small voice facing the wall: “What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“Nothing!” leaps from my lips as I rip off the top of the commode. “Don’t come over here, son! I have to fix this commode!”
To no avail, this soldier stands unable to flush away the dirty details of the intestinal battle. After surrendering, I wash my hands, grab my child, and look both ways outside the restroom door before exiting. Granted, I feel terrible for the minimum-wage worker left to discover what I was unable to hide. Like me, that worker must accept the murky, messy pains that this diseased society presents.
Through the trials and tribulations of an inflammatory bowel disease, I know I stand as an infected body living in an infected world. This roller coaster journey I traverse, reveals greater truths and wisdom issuing forth from this pain-in-the-ass disease.
In the end, it serves us well to grab a hold of Hope that resides within this diseased world. Grab it, never let go, and ignore the battle fatigue knocking on the door—waiting and praying for surrender. For this represents more than a disease. . . It is a drill sergeant molding and shaping me into life’s soldier—training me to maximize and tap in to an ultimate warrior’s strength.
With this rigorous regimen, I stand dressed in my battle gear. . . ready to fight, seize, and retaliate against my enemy as life’s battles rage on.
The University of Akron put out a writer's challenge about dealing with COVID-19. In this literary work, I contemplate the lessons the pandemic is possibly trying to teach. It was immediately accepted and published by RubberTop Review, Vol. 11, 2020.
Link to complete issue = https://www.uakron.edu/english/docs/FINALRubbertop11Interior.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2yC2DWMS9Xd1-owN-TWZUSL6yAeKcLAIzYA_3ngzjD6gWa7XBmc_C99gc
Somewhere in the Gallery of Important Things
It is quite the ordeal.
The neck gaiter, the gloves, the hand sanitizer, and the can of disinfectant. All of these weapons as I head to the battlefield. I am armed and ready.
What will I confront on this mission? Will I come out victor or victim?
It now takes a concerted effort just to head to the grocery store in Anytown, USA. Small routines, simple tasks are no longer so simple. All that folks once took for granted is set on a new course in the eyes of a pandemic. Somewhere in the gallery of important things, lessons lie waiting to be learned. To be picked up, examined, and re-configured.
During the powerful trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, lives are changing. Time is evolving. We sit indoors through stay-at-home orders. We are lumps of clay waiting to be molded and shaped into what? What new landscape will arise after the sea surge crashes all around?
This is history in the making.
And I wonder, what emerges from this storm of infectious meditation?
I park at a distance from the grocery store’s entrance. Pull on my gloves. Adjust the tube of cloth over my nose and behind my ears. I am wrapped snuggly in ways only I think will protect me best in this moment of time. I step forth from the comfort zone of my vehicle and march forward with a firm heart and determined mindset.
With choreographed precision, the store doors open like magic. What am I entering? Could this automatic mouth suck me in and devour me whole? Is this death’s portal waiting to suffocate its next victim? Like the fear that rises from gut to throat upon the closing snap of a roller coaster safety bar, I wonder what kind of ride this will be?
Here, in Anytown, USA, residents tremble in fear and trepidation.
In swift motion, I wipe down the handlebar of the shopping cart. Is the virus, this invisible enemy, there—lying in wait? Or does it sit upon the can of corn I grab? What about the bag of chips? Am I shaking hands with this unwelcome visitor? Or caressing it on this grab-and-go mission? Its stance is a dangerous dance, a dalliance with a strong-armed partner. I didn’t ask for this chance tango. All I want is to replenish food supplies for this stay-at-home liaison.
More than 1,800 people die in a single day declare this morning’s headlines. And I think, how long will the storm linger? I hear it’s not the size but the surge that lets a person know when she is in touch with that which is real. This storm surge stands at the door of my subconscious and knocks its formidable questions.
As I consider this morning’s uniform, I think I resemble a kid wrapped up for play in the snow. Winter gloves and neck warmer display a sense of seasonal bitterness, but it’s the bitter bite that I fear. This stands as no play time. It’s not a winter’s discontent but a spring of action. I arm myself to fight off this invisible intruder who has entered the doorsteps of everyone’s life. Now, we must move in this world with serious, set intention. These are planned, calculated steps outside the safe domains of home.
We had it so good. But did we appreciate it?
Is that the lesson to learn? Did we not love enough?
We only are given so many mornings to get up and move about the world sharing love and compassion to all living creatures. Did we fail? Is that why the storm clouds gather here? Bringing us to our knees. Beckoning upon our backs. Bending us. Breaking us over.
I confront other shoppers during today’s mission. I don’t want to pass them. To breathe in their air. What if this shopping soldier on my right is the enemy in plain sight? Or that one? Notice how I duck and swerve as I approach each passer-by. Don’t breathe. Be sure to exhale after passing. Make sure my neck warmer is tucked in place over my nose. Don’t let it slip. Don’t let in the enemy.
I move purposely and with swiftness through the store. Timing is of the essence. Don’t dawdle. Is it lingering in the air? Just above my head? I remind myself “head down.” Keep moving. Keep pushing forward. Stay focused. Intent.
“How are you today, ma’am?” the employee stocking the shelves asks.
I can’t resist. Can’t ignore. I don’t have it within me to not respond. Be polite. Be kind. Childhood teachings force my hand. But this evil enemy isn’t so kind. He loves to strangle, to choke. To take away polite breathings.
“I’m fine. Thank you. And you?”
“Oh, I’m just working away. Guess I should be glad to have a job now. Right?” Stack, stack. Stack the cans. He moves methodically on his own mission.
Don’t make eye contact. Keep pushing the cart through the aisle. Maybe he won’t say much more.
“Yeah. We all should be grateful,” I reply over my shoulder as my gloved hand reaches for chili beans. And I mean it.
How many am I allowed? Oh, right. Limit three per item. I nod my head up-and-down in agreement. That’s new store policy. That’s what the sign states hanging at eye level. Here, I pause and consider. It is a symbol of greater meaning. Panic buyers dictate a new course of action. Now I shake my head in exasperation. We all get punished for this hoarding.
But then I think of the four bags of brown rice setting in my pantry. As I snatch three from the shelf with a soldier’s hungry appetite for victory, my eyes dart around to see if I have a clear line out of this aisle. Then, I steer away from Mr. Conversation. With swift movement of my cart through the crowd, I justify my rice-grabbing ways because this provision is difficult to come by these days. When I see it, I grab it.
What behaviors get justified in the midst of a pandemic? What should we learn from this experience?
This ride is one we all wish to be over. We are mounting the rising wave. Haven’t even hit the pinnacle. And when we do? Then what happens? 1,800 lives yesterday. All gone in a single day. That’s the total I read in the morning headlines. This is the chatter of news reporters on TV.
I mull over this number as I turn into the next aisle. More shoppers. Crowding the lane. Where’s their six-feet distance? Why are they so close? Have a list. Grab and go. It’s a simple notion, but one that’s difficult for most to abide. What is it about human nature that rejects rules and compliance? Why do we linger and move in slow motion? Why can’t we rationalize that which stands before us? 1,800 human lives in the course of a 24-hour period. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, someone’s loved one, creations of life. Sunrise to sunset. It is a dawn and an end that makes a soul weary with worry.
I weave around the obstacle course. Holding my breath each time I pass another. What is this virus that attacks the lungs and beats the body harder than flu, harder than any wave pounding upon the shoreline? What is the gasping for air, the headaches, and the body tremors? Are we not in this world to spend our breaths, to share our aches, and tremor in wonder? Who made this illness that attacks indiscriminately? Who opened the door and let it waltz right in? Now, it rubs against the earth, wearing and washing, washing and wearing us out of our bones.
I say a quiet word of thanks as I approach the cashier to pay for my purchases. No one’s in line. I have it to myself. Empty the cart. Watch each item roll along the conveyor. Scan and bag. That’s the motion of this ride.
We, too, roll along the conveyor. Not understanding the magnitude of the price that we receive with life. Being born isn’t enough. There is a greater price to pay. Count our blessings. Breathe it all in. Shine it all out. Every step, every choice depletes the fuel tank that is filled with love. A resource we are to offer and share to one another.
Didn’t we do enough? Are we taking more than giving? Are our supply tanks on empty? These troublesome questions pummel me with each breath.
“That will be $54.37, ma’am,” says the lady standing on the other side of the Plexiglass. It’s a new protective installation. For her to avoid my breath. And I to avoid hers. We create our barriers—whether real or imagined. We attempt to prevent dis-ease.
As I reach for my debit card, I hesitate. Is this a hand grenade? Do I carry the enemy in my purse? Is a personal detonating mechanism waiting to discharge within my hand’s grasp? I whisper another word of thanks for gloved hands as I finish the transaction. This dis-ease makes me question every step.
“Thank ya, hon. Hope you have a nice day,” she says as I place the bags into my cart.
“I just want you to know, I really appreciate your work, your service at this difficult time,” I reply in a muffled voice through my neck gaiter.
And I really mean it.
As I roll towards the exit doors, I wonder, how much will this trip truly cost me? What price will I pay?
Somewhere in the gallery of important things, I think we haven’t appreciated enough. Here, in Anytown, USA, we haven’t lived and loved fully. We haven’t noticed the finer details. Instead, we have allowed dis-ease to dictate our minds and behaviors. Who’s acting responsibly? Who’s living recklessly?
The questions continue firing their rounds on this battlefield.
Like, what’s essential to life? And do we value it? What’s a good leader? Is it one that does best for himself? Or one that does what’s necessary for others? Somewhere in the swell of this sea, I know we should all be learning about loving the world and all that is in it. We have failed to accomplish this our mission. Our reason for journeying here. And now there is a price to pay.
When I step outdoors, I breathe in the fresh air. I know we are in touch with something that is real. Lessons from the universe urge us to walk away from this storm with a new vision, a new perspective.
Some say that “words don’t teach; experience teaches.” So, I wonder: will we see with new, enlightened eyes? Or will we continue making our way through a haze of fogged lenses?
I hop in my car and sanitize my hands.
Once home, I will disinfect the bags, wipe down each grocery item, wash my hands with a surgeon’s thoroughness, strip off my battlefield uniform, hop in the shower, and then shelter in place. This is quite the ordeal.
And yet, I think…
This dis-ease is a universal immersion.
With our cups steeped into a boundless ocean, will we finally see ourselves as part of it and the infinite sky?
Maybe through this christening, each living soul will be cleansed and refreshed.
For when the sea’s swelling swing ceases, might we then see this passage of time’s storm move like winds over the water…
Reborn with humbling hopefulness.
At Shaffer Farms
One day, I opened and read from holy scripture called poetry.
And within the lines I learned about the “sense of escape sharp as a knife-blade” that “hangs over the dark field of your body, and your soul waits just under the skin to leap away.”
That reminded me of you…
In your brown and blue eyes, in your breath, and in your furriness, I leaned into you and all stress from the human world melted away.
But you left…after seventeen years in the physical world… you said “goodbye” and leapt away into the spring equinox. Such a glorious, beautiful day to depart after we walked the perimeter of the farm. You wanted me to find my own way…a new trail.
So, when my life broke like a pane of glass, I sought you in other ways to soothe the pain. Along a spring breeze, across the budding trees, upon the back of a deer, I saw evidence of you.
Then, you directed my path.
Towards Cecelia, Kentucky, where a little one waited for my arrival. A red merle. So different in appearance.
And you whispered through the vibrant pink, red, and yellow sunrise, “Trust me. I still walk beside you.”
What seemed mysterious and moment-by-moment nearly unbearable, this caramel and cream furry friend soothed. She dammed all cracks. With her wet, pink nose and slobbering kisses, she slowly filled crevices of this old heart.
As I now walk the farm with a new four-legged companion by my side, I see you in the small sinews of my prayers. It’s the answer of your breath and your love.
*More literary work to come as manuscripts get published. Stay tuned and see my writing as it grows and develops.