You’d Be Prettier If You Smiled

This is my entry into the NYC Midnight Rhyming Story Challenge. The parameters were 600 words max, Genre: Action/Adventure, Theme: Hunger, Emotion: Infuriated. Let me know what you think in the comments.

It was a day like no other,

It started out shitty

When the barista said

Smile more, you’d be pretty. 

So I gave him the finger,

Stomped away in a huff.

Left without breakfast and coffee,

Hoping a tic tac would be enough

To get me through to lunch

Or maybe a snack.

What was this? Construction ahead

Please cut me some slack. 

So I turn down an alley,

A shortcut to work,

When a pack of dogs confronts me

All going berserk. 

I use my only superpower 

Calming techniques through DBT.

The dogs start to back down

They can feel my energy. 

I make it to my desk

With five minutes to spare.

I ask my cubicle mate

If she’s got a granola bar to share.

“Nothing for you,” she says. 

Oh, don’t be such a twat. 

I just asked for a snack

That’s not really a lot. 

That canine confrontation sapped me

I can feel my temper rise. 

What I wouldn’t give for a donut 

Or hell a burger and fries. 

Then it hits me, 

Alleluia, I am saved.

My emergency quarters

In my desk for a rainy day.

To the snack machine I go

Clutching my quarters tight.

The Funyuns and Cheezits beckon,

They are such a beautiful sight. 

Motherfucker no. 

This isn’t happening to me. 

The bag is stuck in the coil.

Dear Satan let me be. 

I shake the machine

Then lean my head and cry. 

I think it’ll be easier 

If I lie here and die. 

Limited PTO

Gets my butt back to my desk.

I’ll have to trudge through 

I can only try my best. 

I pull up a file

And start the pre-edits.

The words run together

My stomach gives me fits.

Somehow I manage 

Over the next three hours

To beat back the belly demons

Though I can still feel their glowers.

11:30 hits,

This bitch is out

Lunchtime fuckers

Let the hungry child out. 

Move it, dude, 

You’re moving so slow

Tie your shoes elsewhere 

I’m a woman on the go. 

I get to my favorite haunt 

Without much of a fuss.

The tide is turning my way

I hope, I pray, I trust. 

Much to my horror

I see the handwritten note:

The fryer is down, 

No food today, no hope. 

And then I feel it rising 

From my gut to my cheeks,

Anger so deep

It’s been simmering for weeks.

In the blink of an eye

My head just popped

Brains and goo all over 

That poor falafel shop. 

Official cause of death

Temper tantrum caused by hanger

A leading cause in young women 

A fatal unspoken danger. 

So, you see, St Pete

There’s no way I’d be dead

If that asshole barista

Had given me my breakfast instead. 

I stand before you

A victim of circumstance.

Please let me into heaven.

Please take a chance.

The Little Joys

Around here, when the seasons change, our bipolar tendencies rear their ugly head. In spring, it’s mania central. Projects get started, big ideas happen, we get a little agitated. In autumn, we are more subdued as our depressive nature kicks in and we struggle with the harsh realities of the world. I have seen this cycle in myself for the past 12 years. I’ve only begun noticing it over the past few years in my kids.

Rylee is particularly hit hard by the depression in the fall. We sat in my car talking the other day and she just crumpled. The tears flowed and she talked about how she didn’t know how to break the cycle. She has been maintaining a regular schedule of showering before bed, going to bed before 10, and waking up around 8. Now that Will is over COVID, he is cooking again, so she’s eating healthier. She has a bike that could get more use, but don’t we all have one of those? So she’s checking those boxes. I tried breaking it down into moment by moment, just making it through, but that didn’t resonate. Finally, I suggested “little joys.”

“Little joys” is not a novel concept, but it is an effective one. It’s simply having gratitude for the brief moments in our lives when all is good. It can be as simple as hearing your favorite song on the radio, seeing a beautiful leaf dancing in the wind, a whiff of your favorite lotion when you take your mask down to take a sip of water…the list is as infinite as the mind’s ability to dream. At first she scoffed, but as I pressed her for ideas, I could see “it” start to flicker. Her inner spark, her drive, her willingness to dig deep and make it one more day. 

The truth is, we are all struggling. With the news cycle, the pandemic, the soul crushing, more, more, more basis for American capitalism…add teenage existentialism in the mix and it’s enough to break you. I wanted to tell Rylee what I was really thinking–and that was that life is hard. It sucks big hairy moose balls a lot of the time. But if you reframe your mind to accept that the universe has balance and with every crappy thing that happens to you, a beautiful  thing will come along to counterbalance it, you can start to look for the little joys. And you hang on to them…because in this life, it’s all that fucking matters.

Take the Brownie!

Quarantine has not been kind to our bodies around here. We are weighed in regularly at our quarterly psychiatrist appointments, but with everything going telehealth, it had been since January that we had a weigh in. So imagine my surprise when we all weighed in within a week and found that Jolie, Rylee, and I had all gained 30 pounds each, and Paisley, our little string bean who only gains 2-3 pounds a year, had gained 18. Our doctors were not worried, as it seems a lot of people have gained during quarantine. But they did warn us to be careful because another 30 lb gain wouldn’t be seen as kindly. 

Will, ever the health conscious of the two of us, kicked it into high gear and had Rylee sign up for MyFitnessPal to track her calories to help her lose 10 pounds. (Jolie is firmly in the IDGAF camp and is managing herself.) While his intentions are undoubtedly pure, it has had devastating effects on my middle child. She obsessed over every bite she put in her mouth and let the negative self-talk creep in, wishing aloud how she wasn’t so fat or ugly. Last night was the final straw when she collapsed at the end of my bed and started bawling her eyes out. She explained that she was tired of looking at food as what you can and can’t have. She was offered a brownie in her video editing class and she said she knew she would have too many calories if she took it because she had Italian wedding cookies to sample in her baking class later that afternoon. She decided to take it anyway but then, in a fit of guilt, she stashed it in her backpack and threw it away after class. “But Mom, I really wanted that brownie. I just wish I could go back to when I didn’t care what I put in my mouth.” And I really felt that. Because I too, had been dieting since I was 13. And it sucks always looking at food as good and bad. Worrying about the extra calories and fitting into your clothes. Both of my parents are obese. I am technically obese. I don’t want my kids to struggle like I did. 

I was thinking last week about my impending 43rd birthday and what I had learned in my 42nd year, the year of epiphany and wonder. I had high hopes for that year, but I was struggling with a blog post that encapsulated my year, one that was ¾ spent in quarantine. It struck me that I have become the epitome of Gen-X—as long as I’m not hurting anyone, do I really give a fuck? I wear a mask, I socially distance, I eat something sweet every single night, I smoke the occasional joint to relax. Yes, I weigh too much according to the BMI scale. My bloodwork probably isn’t where it should be, but I am a firm believer that I have one life to live and by god, I’m going to live it. I hope I model this philosophy to my kids because after all, we should let them be kids. Model good behavior (Rylee and I are gym buddies, we cook healthy dinners together) and let the doritos fall where they may. I don’t want to be a skinny 92 year old looking back wishing I hadn’t forsaken the extra dollop of whipped cream. I’d rather go out as the plump 70-something who rocked too hard at her favorite band’s concerts and enjoyed one too many cheese plates. It’s trite. It’s quaint. But it’s true. Just let it be.

And for christ’s sake, always take the brownie!



I’ve never been so unsure
Of being sure
about anything in my life.

On the one hand, my love for you is
Fierce, undeterred, immovable,
And yet it is also fluid and wavelike
as a particle in quantum mechanics.
It is overwhelming, all encompassing,
However, it is not unwavering.

As much as I wish to be solid as a rock,
I am but the grains of sand,
Shifting and moving to mold to pressure.

I feel my spirit drawn to stability,
To communication, digitally,
Where the telepathy leaves off.
To pet names,
to holding hands in the grocery store
To a lover’s touch,
To knowing my boundaries.

I am an orchid,
Who needs water,
And loving words,
And light to thrive.

Inasmuch as I know
Our fates are intertwined,
I also know Mars and Venus
Could never rule the cosmos.
You would have to lose
the very thing that makes us fit.

I am here but a short while,
I can love you innately
and still desire comfort.
Of this I am both sure and unsure.

We’ll be okay.

I sit here in the flesh-toned naugahyde chair and watch my daughter’s heart rate on the monitor. It dips into the low 40’s, sending off warning bells, and then jumps back to the 70’s, silencing them just as quickly. This is a cycle that will repeat itself through the night as her body digests, processes, and eventually eliminates the week’s worth of prescription medications she took earlier today. She was tired of it all, she said. Later she would admit that it was completely an impulsive thing when she felt her life was out of control. Her dad and I had gotten onto her about her attendance in online classes, she was smitten with a new boy, and, well, COVID. In an unthinkable moment of despair and impulsivity, she emptied her weekly pill case. She regretted it immediately, and texted me “are you home,” bursting into tears when I opened her door to check on her. 

I have to admit, my first reaction was blind rage. How could she do this to me? To her sisters? To her father? Her friends? Once I calmed down I called Will and made arrangements for Rylee and Paisley, and then I rushed her to the hospital.

While I watched her sleep, I couldn’t let go of the nagging feeling that I had done something wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have laid into her so much about her coursework. Maybe I should’ve checked on her more in her room. But she was a teen, I was giving her space that I thought she wanted and needed. And then in my own irrational train of thought, I settled on breastfeeding. I thought I had done the right thing, the good thing, the natural thing by nursing each of my children past a year. I nursed Jolie the longest, at just over 2 years, and while it bonded us when she was an infant, I wonder where those benefits are now. We have 3 mental illnesses, 3 suicide attempts, and 5 hospitalizations between the three kids. Did I unknowingly transfer all of my bad genes to them by nursing them so long? I recalled a facebook post my friend put up the other day saying, “Facts that are true: Your parents did the best they could AND their choices still wounded you.” This rung so true when I thought about nursing the kids. And it kills me to think that I did something out of pure love that had such dire consequences. Whether or not there is scientific basis for my conclusion, my oldest daughter still has a mountain to climb.

She needed monitoring overnight to make sure she hadn’t affected her heart or her lungs. We got the all clear this morning. Now begins the hard work of processing the why and making sure it won’t happen again. She has a tough road ahead of her, but she has an incredible support system. I’m certain with a little grace from both of us, she’ll be soaring again soon. 

Becoming Destiny! (A glance back)

I recently found some old writing for the beginning of an autobiography I started 10 years ago in the midst of my divorce (before my breakdown). I’m happy to say that I am in a much more self-aware place than I was 10 years ago. The pain is gone. The scars have healed. The “plan” still has not been revealed, but the journey has been steadfast and rewarding.

How can one reach the age of 32 and have no idea who they are? Isn’t this supposed to be a complex of the existentialist adolescent, something to ponder for hours on end at a coffee shop while ignoring calculus homework? And yet, here I am, 32 years old, ironically, at a coffee shop, wondering who the hell I am.

I mean, by 32 I kinda figured I could give a perfect 20 second sound byte to answer the open-ended question, “Tell me about yourself.” I look around and see “Don Brown, 60, corporate buyer, happily married family man who just wants to retire to the lake and watch his grandkids grow” or “Lauren Hayes, part-time Jazzercise instructor, MOPS leader, doting wife and mother who’s trying to lose the last five pounds to surprise her hubby by wearing new negligee for their anniversary.” 

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that those superficial responses are the be all and end all of Don and Lauren’s personalities, but I also find myself trying not to become a casual cynic by automatically assuming that Don has homicidal tendencies toward his boss that are only suppressed by his nightly scotch binges, or that Lauren’s piqued interest in a more toned ass is for the hot yogi who plowed her after last week’s Bikram class. Even if that is the case, is it healthy for my mind to jump right into the basket of someone else’s dirty laundry? Especially when I have loads of my own to sort?

I am well aware that my sudden identity crisis partly stems from the discomfort I have with my own sound byte. “Destiny, 32, recent divorcee, single mom.” It’s not exactly something that I’d want to just roll off the tongue at a class reunion or networking event. Sure, I could pick other modifiers to throw into the mix—editor, writer, mom of three amazing kids—but then I’m left with a feeling of lying by omission. A ridiculous burden to bear, of course, especially since Lauren’s chirpy introduction has zero hint of guilt for the fact that she still has yoga dick breath, but it’s one that I carry nonetheless.

Whatever the reasons for my recent obsession with solving the “who exactly is Destiny” mystery, I feel compelled to give my inner Encyclopedia Brown the reins for a while. I’m not looking for a new sound byte, or really even to polish what I’ve got. Instead, I seek a simple level of comfort and familiarity with my own beliefs and outlook, which might help me feel less lost and wandering and just might help me to be a more grounded mom and a positive contributor to society. 

But really, I just want to feel good again. I want to lose the shame I have from creating a broken home for my children. I want to lose the feeling of failure I have for my life being unexpectedly thrown off course from where I imagined I’d be. I want to go one whole day where my smile is genuine, my laughter is pure, and neither are masks to cover my anger and grief. I want to be at peace with where I am without constantly searching for where I want to be. I want to know, even if it is knowing through faith, that I am on the right path in this journey. And by right path, I mean my path, not one I’ve adopted because it’s the one everyone says I should be following or because I’ve hitched my sled to someone else’s dog team. I want to know me—me at 4, me at 13, me at 23, and me at 32—so that as I move forward and am hit with all of the surprises that I expect life will throw my way, I am not knocked on my ass trying to deal with a lifetime of suppressed feelings and a false sense of identity. 

So how do I do this? I unplug for a while. I read. I reflect. I pray. I write. I enjoy the simplicities of life as they come. I do what I have to do to keep going each and every day, knowing that time won’t heal all of my wounds, but that it’s one hell of an analgesic. And with less raw pain, I gain perspective. 

It’s hard to look at anything but the torn flesh and the congealing blood when there’s a knife sticking out of your chest and you wonder if you’re going to survive. Even after surgery, it’s difficult not to fiddle with the stitches or wince as the bandages are changed, as you are thankful you’re alive but are certain you will be scarred forever. And as you continue to heal, you curse the world for the itching caused by the scabs, but at the back of your mind, you think, “at least the stitches are gone.” As the scar turns from purple to pink, you push it to recall the pain of the original wound, angry that your body will carry this mark for the rest of your life, forcing you to explain your trauma. 

At this stage you have two choices: You can either continue to push the scar, even long after it fades, so that the injustice will never be forgotten. You start to walk hunched over; you get residual pain in your back, your head, your legs—none of which are a result of the original wound but which you claim would not be a problem if only you hadn’t been stabbed to start with. Or you let the scar fade, understanding that your fingers will occasionally find their way to the fleshy ridge, but that even that road will become obsolete with time. And soon it becomes a small aberration in your skin tone, nothing more extraordinary than a freckle, just another place to be kissed by a future lover.

To say that this is the crossroads where I find myself isn’t entirely true. I know which turn I want to make. The road markings are clear. The real life examples of where the “other turn” leads flash in my mind as a warning of the melodrama and bitterness that is guaranteed if I choose that route. Absolutely, I know the right path. But making that turn means releasing the pain and anger for all of the dashed hopes and dreams I had. It means admitting I was wrong. It means asking for forgiveness. It means letting go of my pridefulness and selfishness for the promise of dignity and a greater sense of self—one that is not defined by my trials, but by how I chose to overcome them. It means relinquishing what I thought was my destiny in order to find myself, Destiny.

A friend recently posted on her facebook status, “While you’re figuring it out, God has it figured out.” I believe that, even if I don’t necessarily live it, particularly at a time when my own faith is shaken. Really, it should be so simple to stop figuring it out and let God handle it. And yet I still struggle with wrapping my brain around my situation, my divorce, my future. “Yeah, yeah,” I say to myself, “God’s got it figured out. Now if He could just give me a peek at this master plan of His, that would be grand.” But perhaps I’ve already gotten that nudge by knowing which turn I need to make at the road’s end. Maybe I need to go ahead and make the turn instead of worrying whether I have enough water in my backpack for the journey or protesting that I shouldn’t even be at this intersection if things had gone as planned.

So I take a step forward, trying to figure me out and hoping that as I do I’ll learn to trust that God really does have a greater plan for my life. And if He doesn’t, well, it’s not like He’s sharing anyway. I might not know the plan, but I’ll sure as hell know Destiny.

On the 10th anniversary of my breakdown

I am coming up on the 10 year anniversary of my mental breakdown, my psychotic break, my come apart. The details of the weeks leading up to the day I was found walking down I-75 barefoot with three children under 6 in tow are sparse. I know I didn’t eat for around 7 days prior, and I didn’t sleep for 5, so a psychotic break was inevitable. I remember the details of being picked up by a stranger in a black SUV and transported to a police station where they were finally able to get a hold of my ex-husband to come and get me.(The privilege is not lost on me there.) I remember every single minutiae of that day, as the details haunt me even to this day when I feel like my life is spiraling out of control. But one big difference between Destiny 10 years ago and Destiny today is a sense of self and a sense of purpose.

The 18 months after my come apart were literally spent trying to put me back together. My brain chemistry was all out of wack, I had a diagnosis of depression then PTSD then finally bipolar 1. I had taken a sabbatical from my job in September of 2010, a month after my breakdown, and was living on alimony and child support. People have done it on less, but raising a family of four on less than $1700 a month means you are barely making ends meet. I relied on government assistance as I tried to figure out what was wrong with me.

As anyone with any familiarity with bipolar 1 can attest, if you’ve broken once, you’re gonna break again. And I did. In February 2011, I was back in the hospital. I was put on the gamut of medications all while trying to regulate my cycling. My mania would throw me into psychotic episodes where I would be a divine being, a werewolf, a movie starlet, or an alien ambassador just to name a few. I managed to eke out some semblance of sanity for me to get hired back on as a copyeditor for my old journal in November of 2011. 

Another trip to the hospital in May of 2012, thankfully work was understanding and Will took the kids. I was so doped up I don’t remember much of 2012-2013 other than trying to stay sane enough to keep my job and keep my kids. I couldn’t put in many hours at work, so I was still just above the poverty line, but I had a boyfriend at the time who helped keep me afloat. After that relationship ended, I threw myself into work to try and make a decent living as a copyeditor. In 2013 I no longer qualified for government assistance, so my diligence was paying off.

The first half of 2014 was full of horrible relationships and I had just about given up when I met Adam in July. A relative neophyte in the world of relationships, he instinctively knew what I needed and has supported me from the moment we met. In October 2015, I put our relationship to the test and was admitted back to Good Sam’s psych unit for a week. Just another case of going off my meds. Thankfully that was the last time because the formulary that they put me on after that trip seems to be the magic cure. Since 2015 I have had only a handful of depressive episodes and a handful of seasonal manic episodes, but no mania to psychosis. My meds have no side effects, other than requiring 8-10 hours of sleep at night, something I can do now that my kids are older. 

In May 2016, I had saved enough to buy my house. Since then I have been working on paying down the nearly $40K of debt I had accrued. I’m halfway there, and every week I eagerly hop on Credit Karma to see how my score has changed with each additional credit card payment. My days are long as I put in long hours at work to try and pay off my debt faster. But I try and balance out the long hours with quality time with the kids. Especially as they are getting older and Jolie will be out of the house soon. I am constantly running the kids somewhere for something, as any mom of teens will attest to, but I honestly would not change this season of my life for anything. Adam and I are in a good place, the kids can come to me with their problems, I am still working on moving beyond waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I am happiest when I can live in the moment.

Today I look back on how far I fell and how I scraped by to make it where I am. Thanks to Will, I don’t think the kids have ever wanted for much. They all know we have to wait for payday for any major purchases,and we have had our share of mac and cheese or ramen nights. I still have the scars from being under the poverty line. Every time I hand my debit card over, I cringe just a bit as I pray it goes through, even if I have plenty of money in my account the dread is still there. I wonder if that will ever go away, or if that’s my own brand of PTSD.

So on this 10 year anniversary of my come apart, I think it’s important to recognize all the people that helped put me back together. My parents, my siblings, my boyfriends along the way, Will—I couldn’t have picked a better father for my kids, I wouldn’t change that for anything. Douglas, my rock, my bff. Adam, my partner, my true north, the one I want to have coffee with forever. It’s been a long road to get here, and I know I still have a ways to go, but I feel confident in who I am as a mother, lover, friend, child of the stars.

I love you all, some more than others.

Une tarte aux abricots change ma vie.

The kitchen was scorching with the late July air. Dinners in the south of France consisted of summer salads like couscous, tuna, tomatoes, and corn. Anything to keep from turning on the oven. An exception was made for Uncle Robert’s birthday–he was coming over to celebrate and mama Liliane had made a special dessert for the occasion.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” I asked, inquiring about the delicacy on the counter in front of me.
“Une tarte aux abricots,” Liliane responded. “Tu aimes les abricots?”

I had never had an apricot—fresh, baked, dried or otherwise, so I honestly couldn’t tell her whether I liked them or not. Fruit at my house growing up was your run of the mill apples, bananas, and oranges, with the occasional peach thrown in. That summer in France I was introduced to cerises (cherries—with the pits in them), prunes (plums, not prunes as we know them), and now les abricots.

Liliane took one of the remaining apricots that she hadn’t used out of the bowl and split it neatly down the middle with her hands. She handed it to me and told me to try it. I took it willingly and put the fruit to my mouth, feeling its downy skin upon my lips. Kind of like a peach, but different. I sunk my teeth into the flesh and was immediately rewarded with the sweet, slightly acidic taste that only a fresh, ripe apricot has, a taste that made the roof of my mouth tingle and made my tongue keep running across my palate as my mouth tried to figure out what exactly I was experiencing. Since that moment, I have been a fan.

Even today, when May rolls around and the first crops start appearing in stores, I seek out the freshest apricots. Less messy than a peach, softer than a plum, the unique taste of a fresh apricot immediately transports me back to the summers I spent in France in high school. We are an ocean apart and I haven’t talked to Liliane in 20+ years, but I learned more than to speak French those summers ago. I was introduced to a whole new world of gustatory delights that I still appreciate today.