By Sandra Perrenot
I can remember the first time I was really aware of how important it is to breathe. I had just jumped off a wall and missed the tree branch I was aiming for; I was lying on my back like a goldfish on a rug gasping for air. Anyone who has ever had the wind knocked out of them knows that feeling. Sweet, sweet oxygen… We breathe all the time, in blessed unawareness of the life that fills our lungs.
I remember rushing to the hospital trying to remember all the crap I read about childbirth. Pant, they said! Breathe through the pain. And so gasping and panting I welcomed my babies to the world. They have made me gasp, pant and breathe through many moments of joy… and pain.
Breathing on the way to reach my Sarah when she called needing help, “Mom he hit me,” she said sobbing. Preston was concentrating on driving to her and me? I was just trying to breathe. In… two, three, four…out two…three four. Just get me there to see with my own eyes that she’s ok. The detached part of my brain was wondering why I needed to tell myself how to suck air in?
In the car, I’m driving mom home. She’s hooked to her oxygen tank and I’m listening to every breath. Walking from the house to the car takes a lot out of her. “Breathe through your nose, mom. Suck in lots of oxygen…slowly….do you feel better now?” Unconsciously I breathe in rhythm with her, but somehow it feels right. For nine months her air was mine. It’s hard for both of us. She’s breathing through the ravages of her aging body. I’m breathing through the iron band of pain circling my heart. She labored to bring me to life, and now both of us are laboring as she leaves her own life behind. No one ever tells you what hard work it is to die.
And now I lay me down to sleep. I will breathe, and dream, and somewhere I will find the oxygen I need for tomorrow, and for the tomorrows to come. I can do this. All I need to do is breathe.
By Nicole Cater
She sat lonely,
spread out on the ground.
Her home was far
but not too far,
a speck in the distance.
Close enough to see,
far enough to forget.
The summer sun
was baking the grass,
turning spots to yellow.
The grass didn’t matter.
It was of no consequence.
She was here for the sun
and the pink cloud-like flowers.
She hated the house.
For even when it was stifling,
his presence made it ice cold.
So far from the prison of its walls
she was free to soak up the warmth
and the sun was generous.
She called the flowers pink clouds
For that is what they resembled.
Their true name was
Queen of the Prairie.
As she slowly picked
the best blossoms,
Intertwined them into a crown,
Secured them under
the bands of her pigtails
and wore them round
her neck and wrists,
that became her name too:
Queen of the Prairie.
For here she was queen
and she ruled all she saw,
except for the speck of the house.
He ruled that.
He would always rule that.
She was no baby, no sniveling brat.
But she had not yet reached
her magical teen years.
Her sister had reached those teen years.
They used to be
Queens of the Prairie together,
back when they shared the same secret.
She supposed they still shared the secret.
But only she was the
Queen of the Prairie now.
Her sister became too old, too lucky,
Too busy at forgetting,
at putting it all away,
locked in a mental box
with a hidden key.
Occasionally she found the key,
opened the box.
She urged patience, perseverance.
The Queen of the Prairie would grow,
she would grow too old,
she would not be of interest.
And then she would have
her own mental box.
She could hide the key
or even destroy it altogether.
But not yet,
not just yet for the
Queen of the Prairie,
for she could hear him call to her,
bellowing across the formidable distance;
ruining her patch of sun,
turning her veins to ice.
She removed her pink cloud flowers.
Those were hers alone,
her special secret.
She was still too young,
so he could taint her body.
But no one could taint
the Queen of the Prairie.
by Nicole Cater
She passed away. She moved on. She went to her heavenly reward. She died. Too young, I’m sure they said. Only 45, so much life left to live. Think of her poor children. Her little boy, does he even know what is happening? She died.
I feel bad for this woman, so sick, so young, so much to live for, now so gone. How do you mourn someone you never met? More importantly, how are you supposed to feel when one woman’s tragedy is the best gift you've ever received? She is nowhere and everywhere. I’ll never see her. I cannot hide from her.
There she is, her name tattooed on the shoulder blade of my love. Again, on his bicep, the hourglass, sand run down to nothing, the date, the last day of her life. A mere 20 days before the last day of my marriage. The little boy, not so little, taller than me even, on the cusp of manhood. He looks like her. I’ve never seen her picture. But I know he doesn't look like his father. He must look like her. He looks like the woman he doesn't even remember. He calls her mom. He calls me mom. We share him, and I hope, if she knows, she doesn't mind.
They hang coats over chairs. I hang them in the closet. A small thing a woman does, without being asked, without being acknowledged, because that’s where coats go. And there is the box. Lovingly wrapped in a special t-shirt. Here she is. This is her. For months she was hidden behind a box of tools. I found her when I was looking for a drill. I didn't know what to do.
When the man is at work and the boy is at school, sometimes I sit with her. I tell her I’m sorry she lost her family. I promise her I am taking the best care possible of them. I swear her son will become a good man. I remind her she was first; I’m no replacement, I just came after. I clean her box, making sure it is not dusty or dirty. I re-wrap the special shirt around her. She no longer hides behind other boxes. She has her own place of honor. She sits on a high shelf, where she can watch, if she chooses, to make sure the man she loved and the boy she birthed are being well cared for.
I think she will rest. I will not forget her. I will not let them forget her. She deserves that. She was a wife. She was a mother. Bodies are temporary. Memories are forever. And even though I see her everywhere I look, I am not threatened. I am pleased. Look at what she has given me. Her ultimate sacrifice is my ultimate joy. It isn't possible for me to love the man, to love the boy, without loving the woman who gave them to me. Yes, she is gone. But she will never be forgotten.
by Nicole Cater
I stand here in defiance of all that is wrong with me. No matter how hard my life is, I will not let it beat me. And it is hard, so very hard. I have my appointment soon to get the steroid shots in my sacroiliac joints that will allow me to walk for three months until it is time for another round. The first round of needles contains a numbing agent, the second contains the steroids. The second needle must hit its mark exactly, a joint a quarter inch wide.
There is a screen in front of me so I can watch the whole process through x-ray. I no longer feel the needles poking deep into my flesh just as I no longer feel any shame at having my ass bared in front of six people. For my last session, I had my mother apply a big pink bow fake tattoo right at the top of my crack, just to lighten the mood. There’s no use in crying about these things. Crying gets you nowhere. Better to put on a facade of good cheer. No one likes a whiner.
But internally, I whine. I can’t help it. When every joint in my body screams bloody hell when a rainstorm is still two days off, it’s hard to laugh and put on a smiley face. When addiction to painkillers has become a scary monster for doctors, it’s hard to explain to them that busting you down from 400 milligrams to 150 milligrams isn’t protecting themselves, it’s torturing their patient.
I laugh at my own condition when someone asks how I am doing even while I fidget in the chair because no position will ever be comfortable enough. No one wants the truth. No one wants to hear that I just barely made it out of the house because I’m so fatigued from never sleeping. They don’t care that I spent twenty minutes putting on makeup so I won’t look as sick as I really feel. They can’t fathom the idea of getting three or four hours of mere dozing for three days.
But I go through it just the same. What’s the alternative? As I said, crying gets you nowhere. It’s reserved for those special occasions when sleep is an impossibility and emotions are a live wire. And I’m just as likely to laugh my fool head off as I am to cry. Because as much as the pain hurts and is relentless, it is a part of life. It doesn’t go away. It can be adapted to. Humans can adapt to anything. It is background noise. Sometimes loud, sometimes a mere murmur.
Occasionally I miss the things I can no longer do, but the truth is I’m often too tired to care. I’m too busy learning to deal with pain that is new, fresh, pain that has never been there before. My fingers ache. But those are small joints; joints that are affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis. My Ankylosing Spondylitis is supposed to stay in my large joints, that damn back pain I’ve been fighting for fifteen years. My knees and shoulders can burn; my fingers and toes are off limits. I need something to still call my own. I want desperately for something to still work. I’ve come too far to give in to this bullshit now.
So I defy you joints. You will not hurt. I will not let you. Oh, you may think you get to wreak fiery havoc on my hands and feet, but I’m telling you no. They are all I have left and I will not yield them to you. Not without a fight. I defy you to sabotage the only appendages that allow me to express myself freely, openly, without having to laugh through the pain. I’m not old enough for that yet. I have too many years ahead of me. Think what you will on rainy days, but you are wrong. I stand here defiant against you. And damn-it, I will win!
This is our showcase page, containing various submissions from various Authors. Please look for snippets about the Authors following their pieces.