R is for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Caroline stopped scrubbing the sink and asked, “Why are you limping?”

r is for rheumatoid arthritisI leaned against the counter and handed Jenna my bag. “My ankles are swollen,” I replied using my right quadriceps to slightly raise my foot and show her the angry red joint. “They both hurt but I can’t even stand on this one.”

A wince overspread my face as I lowered my toe back to the floor.

“Let me help,” Jenna said.

“You’re too young to have arthritis,” Caroline said as Jenna supported me while I hopped over to a chair.

“What?” I ejaculated and bumped my ankle. “Damn!”

“You’re too young. My mother has arthritis. You’re just a kid.”

I sighed.

“Rheumatoid arthritis attacks young women,” Jenna told her. “Your mother probably has osteoarthritis.”

“Do you hear yourself? Attack! Why would your body attack you?” Caroline lit a cigarette then put the kettle on to make another cup of coffee.

Jenna helped me rest my feet on another chair then replied, “That’s what actually happens with autoimmune diseases. The body attacks itself.”

“It doesn’t make sense that your body would attack you,” Caroline said. “You’re body is made to be whole.”

Lord? I silently pleaded.

“And this is a fallen world,” I replied aloud. “There’s illness and accidents and death.”

Caroline thumbed through a paperback book that no longer had a cover. Looking up at me she said, “Every day you should repeat, ‘My mind and body are in perfect balance. I’m a harmonious being.'”

Jenna’s mouth opened. I shuddered.

“That’s how you’ll heal your body,” Caroline.

I huffed out a loud breath.

“W-W-What good is that?” Jenna sputtered. “She needs a doctor.”

“I’m never sick,” Caroline said.

Another huff escaped. “You had the flu last month?” I said in a shrill voice. “You were so sick, I took care of you and the girls.”

“That’s not sick, sick,” Caroline replied. “Nothing like rheumatoid arthritis.”

Please? I mutely begged my Friend.

“Affirmations are words. Good words,” I said. “But you actually have to do something to reap the benefits.”

“You think you’re so smart,” Caroline said. “I know some things.”

Again, my head shook of it’s own accord.

“What makes you so rigid?” Caroline asked., her nose wrinkled as if she smelled something distasteful.

Another loud sigh escaped.

“Reciting some magic words won’t make this go away,” I said. “Eating better, more dance classes, more sleep, following my doctor’s instructions — those work. Positive thoughts help me feel better but they’re not magic.”

“Then you’ll just be sick,” Caroline retorted.

My head shook again.

“I’ll help you upstairs.” Jenna said.

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Q is for Quixotic

q is for quixotic“She called me quixotic,” I fumed. “Me? Quixotic?”

Before answering, Jenna placed her Spode teapot on the table and added a plate of lemon shortbread.

“At least it’s a nice word,” Jenna said.

Through narrowed eyes I glared at Jenna.

Well it is nice,” she insisted.

“It was an insult. She was calling me strange, a fool.”

“Probably,” Jenna agreed pouring the tea. “You probably seem strange to Caroline.”

“I’m not strange when she needs someone to babysit,” I replied. “Nor when she wants to borrow money, nor when she needs someone to talk to for hours and hours, nor when she expects me to pay rent for space I can’t even use.” I let out a deep sigh.

“Did you tell her yet?” Jenna inquired.

I nodded, “That’s when she called me quixotic. She blew up. Said I had to rent both rooms.”

“B-bloody hell!” Jenna sputtered. “She expects you to go on renting space you can’t use?”

I shrugged. “She needs the money.”

“She ought to have considered that sooner and made the space livable,” Jenna retorted. “You’re not going to continue paying for both rooms?”

I shook my head. “I told her to get a second housemate. She said no. She likes things as they are.”

“Of course she does,” Jenna said. “She’s got a live-in friend, spiritual director, babysitter, and cook who pays rent.”

I chuckled. “I said I would be only be paying for one room after this month.”

“She’s fortunate you gave notice,” Jenna said.

I nibbled a biscuit and sipped my tea.

“You know,” I said. “Caroline is the quixotic one.”

“I’d call her something else entirely,” Jenna snorted.

I smiled. “She lives in a dream world.” I took a sip of tea then continued, “It never occurred to her that I would stop paying for the whole floor.”

“Why did you wait so long?” Jenna asked.

“I didn’t want her to get a second housemate,” I answered. “The three of them are enough.” I took another sip of tea. “But I don’t care anymore. I need to save money to move.”

“I’d have moved sooner,” Jenna said.

“Yeah,” I nodded. “But money’s been tight and I love the girls. It seemed a good decision at the time.”

“But not now?” Jenna asked.

“No,” I said, “not now.”

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P is for Perfect Pancakes

p is for perfect pancakesCaroline stopped beating the contents of the mixing bowl, blew a lock of hair out of her eyes, and said, “Have some pancakes.” She continued to beat cradling the bowl in the crook of her left elbow and using quick, intent strokes.

Farrah’s eyes met mine. She snickered.

“No thanks,” I answered. “I only have time for a quick bowl of cereal.”

“Why don’t you make us pancakes?” Adhita asked.

“Your mom’s making them,” I said.

“You make perfect pancakes,” Adhita sighed. “Mom, why don’t you make pancakes like Mel?”

“I make good pancakes,” Caroline answered pausing in her labour.

“Mel’s pancakes are like corn muffins or biscuits,” Farrah said. “Yours are tough. The butter doesn’t even melt into them.”

“I make them from a mix, like my mother did,” Caroline said. “I don’t know how to make them from scratch.”

“Even when Mel uses a mix, they’re soft and fluffy,” Adhita replied.

“I make good pancakes,” Caroline insisted. “They’re just like my mother’s. I beat them just as she did.” Caroline continued beating.

“Why aren’t yours tough?” Farrah asked me.

Caroline stopped beating. My brow furrowed. I willed it into smoothness again, took a breath, and said, “I don’t beat the batter. I just stir the liquid into the flour until the dry ingredients disappear.”

“Nonsense,” Caroline said. “You have to beat them or there’ll be lumps. That’s what my mother always said.”

“Lumps are good,” I squeaked. I took a breath and continued at a  lower register, “They make pancakes tender. Beating the batter develops the gluten and makes them tough.”

Caroline lit a cigarette and said, “I don’t know anything about gluten. My mother never said anything about that. They’re delicious pancakes. They’ve always been good enough for you girls. You should be grateful to have a mother who’s makes you breakfast.” She took another drag on her cigarette. “You could be forced to eat cold cereal, like Mel.”

My eyebrows raised. I lowered them before speaking, “They asked. I answered. You needn’t like the answers.”

“I’m not stupid,” Caroline said. “I make perfectly good pancakes.”

My forehead furrowed. I stared into her angry, blue eyes.

She looked away and took another drag of her cigarette, “If you want perfect pancakes so badly, then get Mel to make them. But she can’t, can she?” she asked the girls. “She has no time.”

I took a deep breath, got up, put my bowl in the dishwasher and said, “If I can’t answer simple questions about making pancakes without offending you, there’s something really wrong.”

“I’m not stupid,” Caroline said.

“Why do you keep saying that?” Farrah demanded.

“Mel behaves as if I don’t know how to do anything,” Caroline said.

“I asked Mel how she made perfect pancakes,” Farrah declared. “She answered my questions.”

I shook my head and left the kitchen.

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O is for Opposite

o is for oppositeOpposite me, separated by the sealed window, her dark eyes and mine lock in a gaze. We share similar golden skin, dark hair but her dress is soiled, ripped. Dirt streaks her face. Her bare feet stand on piles of refuse amidst shanties made of cast off wood, plastic, corrugated aluminum.

“Huh. Huh,” I whimper leaning against the solid warmth of Papa’s hand. Traffic has halted our car. The scents of leather upholstery, air conditioning, aftershave, and pipe tobacco comfort me; the smell garbage heap on the opposite side of that pane of glass cannot intrude. Her face reaches in through the glass; I touch my smooth cheek, my cheek not hers.

“She is poor,” Papa tells me. “Her mother and father don’t have enough money to feed her. She is searching for food.”

I want to look at his face, to see in his eyes the meaning of his words. But I must not look away and lean farther back against his hand to feel his touch.

“Maybe we can find a way to help her,” Papa says and leans forward to speak to the driver, Pablo.

The car begins to move again. Our opposite pairs of eyes remain tied together for a few seconds more.

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N is for Nightmare’s At An End

Comes a moment when light shines and the nightmare’s at an end
When shadows fail and wounded hearts rejoice to see the dawn
Comes a moment of laughter and our spirits sing with joy
When Love shows Love is stronger than our fears


n is for nightmare's endDawn has come but I’ve only got the beginning. I’d like to have the whole song. But the nightmare’s at an end, isn’t it? And doesn’t that deserve a glorious song?

I get whole days when my heart doesn’t hurt. Everything is richer, clearer, brighter. Colour is more colourful — the blue in the sky flirts with me, asks to be touched. Trees and grass smell green — the way it did when I met the cow. That was a dream or so I imagined. It seemed so far away. Now, it’s all around me.

A Grief Observed comes to mind.

The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Either way, we’re for it.
What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?
Maybe the nightmare’s at an end but I’m still for it. Maybe the song won’t be finished for a while: dawn isn’t noon. But I know the sun has risen. I know laughter and joy. Just keep me close to You, Beloved. Just keep me close. We both know me, how impatient I am, how I hate suffering and think I’ve payed my dues in that area. If You must continue to cut, keep me close else I create a new nightmare.

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M is for Maybe

“I’ve been thinking that maybe…” I said.

“Yes?” Dr. Vogwall prompted.

“Well, the woman,” I began. My head tilted forward, my eyes strained as if I searched for something.  “When she was alive, things got done.”

“What sort of things?” he asked.

“The bills were paid. There was food in the cupboards. We weren’t allowed to eat it,” I emitted a snorting laugh. “But it was there. Whenever the cupboards were open, even on Saturday morning before they went shopping, there was food.

“The kids had school clothes and coats. Even my hand-me-downs were clean, pressed, and mended. And the housekeeper came every week day; I was never kept out of school to take care of the younger kids.”

“And after she died?”

“Chaos,” pain seized my face. I pushed it away. “The power was cut off several times because he didn’t pay the bill. We nearly lost the house when he didn’t pay the mortgage. The cupboards were empty until I was caught stealing. He went through housekeeper after housekeeper. Just chaos.”

“Maybe he didn’t have enough money,” Dr. Vogwall suggested.

“He had enough before she died,” I replied shaking my head. “She never worked.”

“You think the woman kept things stable?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe she made sure things were done. Maybe, just by being there, she made life better for us.”

“So what does that mean to you today?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. My forehead furrowed, “Maybe she took better care of us than I’ve thought. Maybe she mitigated his craziness somewhat.”

I pushed my hair away from my forehead and pulled up my sleeves, “She should have taken me to the police. That was a serious failure: you can’t just keep a child. I don’t know if he prevented her but she found ways around him — like with the ballet lessons. But maybe, just maybe, even with her own craziness, she did her best to give us a normal life.”

Dr. Vogwall nodded, “Maybe she did.”

L is for Learning to Live With Myself

“You’re almost an adult now,” Caroline was admonishing Farrah as I walked into the kitchen to get yoghurt. “You’ve got to make time for your studies as well as your job. I know you want money but your studies come first. Ask your father for money.”

l is for learning to live with myselfThirteen year-old Farrah exhaled a long, huffing breath and then responded, “My job doesn’t interfere. I just forget and then there’s not time to do everything.”

“Then ask Mel for help,” Caroline said glancing over at me. “Mel, you’re good at math.”

“W-e-ell,” I stuttered. “Yes. But Farrah’s good too. She’ll figure it out.”

“You’d better get it figured out soon,” Caroline told her. “I don’t have time to deal with these letters. Why doesn’t they just give you detention? That’s what they did when I was in school.”

Farrah and I shared a quick glance.

“They don’t give detention when someone hasn’t finished their homework,” Farrah told her mother.

“They should,” Caroline replied. “Why do I pay taxes if they don’t do their jobs?”

My eye brows lifted. I pulled them down before Caroline saw them.

“You have to fix this,” Caroline told Farrah, “or you’ll have to give up your job.”

Farrah emitted a little squeal, “That’s so not fair,” she said. “I get straight A’s in nearly every subject and I’m getting a B+ in math.”

“I mean it,” Caroline said. “I don’t want letters from your school. I have enough to do.”

Farrah and I traded another glance.

“I have to do things I don’t want,” Caroline continued. “I want to go out for a drink after work or to a gallery but I come home to make dinner.” She turned to me, “I’m sure Mel makes herself do things she doesn’t want to do.”

Does she know what she’s saying to her daughter? I mutely inquired of my Friend. She’s keeps telling her that she doesn’t want to care for them.

“Mel, you have to do things you don’t want to, don’t you?” Caroline prodded.

My eyebrows raised again; I pulled them back into place. “There’s not much I do that I don’t want to do,” I replied. “And I don’t know what that has to do with anything.” I looked into Farrah’s eyes, “You want to do your math, true?”

“Yes,” Farrah nodded. “I just forget.”

“I suffer from that disease,” I said. “I’ve been learning to live with myself.”

Farrah’s forehead ruffled.

“I don’t use direct deposit anymore because I realized I’m better if I hold the cash in my hands,” I said. “Direct deposit gives me a number and it’s not real. With cash I see the amount I have for bills and expenses and the amount I can use for whatever I like.”

Farrah’s head was still ruffled.

“The cash tells me I have fifty dollars to spend on books,” I explained. “Otherwise, I’d spend two hundred dollars and have to eat ramen until I got paid again.”

“That won’t help Farrah,” Caroline said. “She should just give up her job and get money from her father.”

“I don’t want to ask him for money,” Farrah told her. “I can earn my own money.”

“What if you do your math first?” I suggested. “Then it’ll be out of the way.” My head tilted on one side, I perused Farrah for a moment. “You’ll read no matter what,” I said.

“Maybe” she nodded.

“That’ll just make some other subject a problem,” Caroline interjected.

I shrugged. “All I know is by learning to live with myself rather than remake myself, life is a lot easier. I get the things done I need to do and, thus far, haven’t stopped doing the things I was already doing.”

“Adults don’t do it that way,” Caroline insisted. “Adults make themselves what do adult things.”

My face felt hot. I took a deep breath and shrugged one shoulder, “Then I’m not an adult.” The heat in my face lessened. “Forcing myself never worked. I’d still forget. Learning to live with myself just works better. It works. It’s practical.”

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K is for Kind Friends

k is for kind friendsStanding in the doorway between the kitchen and sun room, I asked Bridgett and Robert, “Would the two of you please eat these biscuits?”

“Comfort food’s not so comforting?” Bridgett asked.

“They’re delicious but the repercussions aren’t so pleasant,” I answered.

“I’m sorry,” Robert said.

“Thanks,” I replied. “I’m glad I had a couple but now I just need them gone.”

“I can take one for the team,” Robert said.

“A prince among men,” I answered.

“I’ll eat one,” Bridgett offered.

“I’m fortunate to have such kind friends,” I told them.

“We know,” Bridgett replied with a smile.

“We endeavour to be kind,” Robert added.

J is for Just So You Know

“Just so you know,” Liam said as I closed my music notebook. “I’m not convinced.”

I laughed, “If a couple of scones, a dirge, and a Bossa Nova setting for the Sanctus was enough, I’d open Conversions Я Us.”

j is for just so you know“If you’re not trying to convince me, why do you bother?” he asked.

“At first, I did want to convince you. I was flattered that you asked me about my faith. You ask serious questions. I wanted to answer them,” I replied.

Liam opened his lips to speak but I rushed on before he could voice the first word, “But early on, you told me, ‘Your God is either cruel beyond measure or insane. How could it be otherwise?’ It took a while but eventually I realized that I can’t convince you.”

“You can’t,” he said. “You make up stories about God and suffering — like my sister did.”

“No” I replied. “But I did realize that you can’t see what I see, what she saw.”

Liam articulated each word with precision, “You see nothing. She saw nothing. You just comfort yourself with lies.”

“Six years ago, I’d have insisted you were wrong.” I shook my head, “But not now.”

“Because you know I’m right,” he replied.

“Because I know that it won’t work to tell you you’re wrong,” I said. “I can tell you how I’ve changed. I can show you that my writing is no longer full of wistful longing for halcyon days. I can play joyful music, tell you about the series of songs I’m working on, or my design projects. You can see my face go all red and excited because I’m teaching sewing and design or because I’m studying math. You can come to dinner every week and hang out with my friends who are so close, they’re family. But none of that matters…”

“You’re right about that,” Liam blushed and blurted out, “I’m glad you’re happy. Glad you’re off the pain medicine. You were so loopy.” He blushed again, “I didn’t mean…”

“It’s okay. I know what you meant. And none of that means God isn’t cruel.”

“Your God let you suffer for years, only now are you happy. And even though you’re happy, you’ve still got problems.”

“True,” I nodded. “You see my suffering and your sister’s suffering as examples of God’s cruelty or insanity.” Our eyes met and I smiled, “You did call Him insane.”

“He is either cruel or insane.”

“You can’t see any reason God allows suffering,” I said. “The good that comes just doesn’t outweigh the pain.”

“God knows the suffering we’d undergo, that we’d visit on each other,” Liam replied. “He could prevent that. Only a cruel or insane God would allow cancer, child abuse, terrorism.”

“There are those who’d say, ‘Only a cruel or insane person would experiment on animals.'” I replied. “But you do and you’re neither.”

“I treat my animals humanely,” Liam said. “God isn’t humane.”

“God doesn’t follow our idea of humane,” I replied. “You don’t follow PETA’s idea of humane. And if they could reason and speak, your animals might agree with PETA, not you.”

“They’re mice. Bred for the lab. That’s they’re purpose,” Liam asserted.

“We’re God’s. Made for a purpose,” I said.

“So you say,” Liam insisted, “but where’s your proof?”

“That’s just it,” I retorted. “You have a preconception of God, how He acts or ought to act. If He is good, there’d be no suffering. You can’t imagine that suffering might be a good thing even though you cause your lab animals to suffer.”

“My animals are treated humanely,” Liam repeated.

I breathed took in a deep breath and relaxed my shoulders. “I know you treat them as humanely as possible. They still don’t live as animals naturally live. They’re not even pets. They’re manipulated.” I smiled wryly, “That’s suffering. To live in a cage and not be able to run and hide or move about and use muscles that were made to climb is suffering. It’s horrible to be thwarted.”

Liam’s shoulders stiffened, his fists clenched. “What would you suggest?”

“Me?” I asked, my voice squeaky. “That you continue your research, You’re doing good things.”

“Then I’m not cruel,” he retorted. “But God is.”

“That’s what I mean: you don’t see what your sister and I see,” I replied. “And I can’t open your eyes.

“PETA doesn’t see that your research is so important, experimenting on animals is necessary. I see it. You see it. But they don’t.”

“You mean you see God isn’t cruel but I don’t,” he smirked.

“Yes,” I answered. “And there’s nothing I can do to convince you otherwise. God will have to do that.”

“Maybe a blinding light,” he smiled.

“If that’s what you need,” I replied. “Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to find ways to say what I mean.” I nodded at him, “You encourage me to do that. I really believe that you want to know if God is cruel or insane or something else, something immensely good.”

“You believe He’s the latter,” Liam said.


“Why are we friends?” he asked.

“You don’t have to agree with me for us to be friends,” I told him.

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