Breadcrumb #499


I wake up and look out my window.  The sun is beginning to gently illuminate my sheer white curtains; and then I realize - there is nothing attached to my shoulder.

Pins and needles start rushing through me like a tidal wave. I contort my body, thrashing against my sheets. I am telling myself that I have an arm, that it really exists even if I can’t feel it at this moment; I am not dreaming its existence. My vision focuses on my phantom arm. I pick it up and place it on the empty pillow beside me and wait for its feeling to return.

My vision focuses on my phantom arm.

As I lay there I can’t help but think that this is what being with you felt like. Telling myself your love existed. Convincing myself that it was real, even if I couldn’t feel it at that moment. Even worse, waiting for it to come back.

I glance over at my phantom arm and see that it is real. The blood is pulsing through it as it should be, and it can feel the cold air of my bedroom once again.

My phantom arm returned, but your phantom love never did.

• • •

Breadcrumb #488


I have to say “Drive safe” when my husband leaves. If I don’t, he might get into an accident.

    I have to say “I love you” at the end of every phone call. If I don’t, and my mom or dad die, they might die thinking that I didn’t love them.

    I have to text “I love you” to all of them before I turn off my phone on the plane. If I don’t, they might think that I died mad at them.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, is the go-to reference for diagnosing mental illnesses. It contains approximately 297 diagnoses of mental illnesses, under a bevy of codes. They include codes for:

  • adult psychological abuse by nonspouse or nonpartner, suspected

  • adjustment disorder, with disturbance of conduct

  • mild neurocognitive disorder due to multiple etiologies.    

    I’m still looking for the applicable code for a two-year old girl who thinks she killed her mom with her thoughts. The code for a little girl whose mother disappeared a week after she wished her dead. The code for a little girl who doesn’t understand what spinal meningitis is or what a hospital quarantine means. Because everyone knows that little girls can’t hurt people with their thoughts.

     Except  . . .

     When I say “Drive safe,” my husband looks at me and sighs.

    “I will,” he says, his eyes tired.

    When I say, “I love you,” my mother pauses a little through the phone before saying, “I love you, too.”

    When I text “I love you,” they know what I really mean.

• • •

Breadcrumb #447


The Interlochen Bowl was empty on Sunday mornings. Rows and rows of the mental green chairs cascade down to the wooden stage, shimmering in a wet gloss. I pulled at the zipper of my red windbreaker. The rain turned steady. Down the path, sat the cluster of individual practice cabins, S Huts we called them. Each hut built of honey stained wood, their roofs drenched in chartreuse moss, carefully placed in between tall pine trees. Flutteringly came from the harp building on the bluff to the left, but nearly all of the S Huts were empty.

This was my final summer attending Interlochen Arts Camp, college in Chicago awaited me in the fall. Months ago, I declined a seat in the wind ensemble program. I loved my two previous summers at camp, but it seemed cruel to spend my last summer at home away from my mother. And I wanted to bask in the final days of unencumbered youth by the pool. My sister would be next to me with headphones on, my brother splashing his friends in the pool. Maybe I would drink for the first time with Erin and Olivia in someone’s basement. I even lined up an internship and promised my best friend, Adri, to go to all ten nights of Summer Fest, a music festival back home in Milwaukee. Then I got a call two weeks before my high school graduation. The orchestra program had a last-minute cancelation. There was no choice, I could not turn this opportunity down.

Weaving past the S huts with pianos, I got to my favorite by the dark green cabins with red trim. The Intermediate Girls Division looked like Christmas, a welcomed sight compared to the brown cabin I called home for the summer. S Hut 12 sat there waiting for me, the door half open. I climbed the two cement stairs and shut the door behind me. The hut was moist and musty, only chairs and music stands inside. My feet shuffled the sandy cement floor, the metal feet of the chairs screeched when I rearranged their order into a U shape. Careful not to pinch my hand as I slid the sticky windows back, I opened one on the north and south walls. Regardless of rain, the air was always thick with moisture, something about the Northern Michigan air and being locked in by surrounding lakes. A dry towel was something you missed, like your dog or mom’s cooking usually around week three of camp. A cellist a few huts down worked on arpeggios and the bassoonist, in the hut next to mine, started the first measures of their Mozart concerto. The rain dripped from the roof outside one of the windows. Drop. After drop. After drop. After drop. After drop. After drop. After drop.

A cellist a few huts down worked on arpeggios and the bassoonist, in the hut next to mine, started the first measures of their Mozart concerto.

One of the tween-filled cabins erupted in high pitch screeches, pulling me back to the reason why I ventured out in the morning at 9 A.M. while most of the camp was sleeping in, a perk of Sundays. I arranged the extra music stands, one in front for my sheet music, two on the right flipped over like a table to hold all of my tools: reeds, pencils, water, swabs, tiny screwdrivers, cork grease, key oil, and a metronome. The two chairs on my left held my case and dripping coat. I unzipped the case, revealing my clarinet tucked under the soft polishing cloth. Folding back the cloth, I pulled out the two middle joints and pushed them together, careful to align the bridge key. Then the bell at the end, and the barrel at the top leaving just a sliver of space for tuning. Finally, I gently pushed on the mouthpiece and placed my clarinet on its stand.

In the box of reeds, I rummaged for the one with four tick marks. I removed the reed from its plastic holder and plopped it in the small cup of water, letting it soak. After a few seconds, I picked up the reed and pulled it between my lips, removing the excess water. The reed returned to the face of the mouthpiece where it had been placed four times before; the black leather ligature tightened just enough to secure the reed in place.

Slowly, noodling through low registered warm-ups, sound bounced off the thin wooden walls out through the open windows, playing with the bassoonist and cello down the way. Everything rung with freshness and warmth. My upper body swayed slowly, side to side, as my fingers and breath took control. The bell of my clarinet left the resting position on my knee and circled in the air. Scales became mediations and solos became stories of late night s’mores, a first kiss by the lake, making friends from Serbia to Detroit, and never wanting to leave the four walls that surrounded me. The only time that existed was the clicks of my metronome at 60 beats per minute.

• • •

Breadcrumb #415


IT’S A TIME before our own – before 1987, when she labored for 6 hours trying to meet me – and my mother traps me inside our wooden cabin. The cabin, of which I only see the kitchen through a sepia lens, holds strong against the powdery winds of the West. My knowledge of the West in this era spans as far as Hollywood’s depiction of it – women in full, lace-trimmed skirts; cowboy hats kissing moonshine.

    When I remember the dream where my mother kills me in our desert home, I picture her boarding up all the exits. Her mouth curled at the edges, the hem of her dress stirring up dirt as she circles the house scattering coal. I quickly realize the hearth is not the only source of smoke. Grey threads weave through cracks in the paneling, expanding into clouds. They surround me in swirls as the wooden walls pop and crackle sporadically, at first, until they begin to give in to the heat. Pop - I am as good as dead. Crack - my mother is a murderer. My body drops to the floor in an attempt to find breathable air, my hands gather the skirt of my frock and press it against my desperate mouth. No nod or explanation is ever given for why she wants me dead, but it never surprises me that she does.

    She does not always do it with fire. She has also shot me with a polished pistol after taking twenty paces. She has pushed me into the roaring rapids as I wash clothes on the river shoreline. My quick-draw is never quick enough. I don’t know how to swim. The dreams come one at a time, although sometimes they pile behind each other. The scenes are divided by silent movie cards with ornate calligraphy - “Episode I,” “Episode 2,” “Episode 3.” A wagon train of mini-certain-deaths.

My quick-draw is never quick enough. I don’t know how to swim.

    I wake one morning with the lingering image of my mother sitting cross-legged on dirt, watching our home furious and flaming. She waits until the elements absolve her. I enter the kitchen and my mother eyes me from the table as I pour bold brew into a coffee cup. Her middle finger thinks against her ceramic mug, tapping once and twice. She examines my movements, combs my face for something recognizable. With her voice even and nice she says, “Sometimes the child you want is not the child you get.”

    I take a gulp full of coffee and smile a pure, silly smile right at her face. Confronted, she turns quickly toward the window, grimacing at the sunbeams. I cross my legs in my chair, my spine stretching.

    Small death after small death, by now I am immortal.

• • •