I gave everything that I was, everything that made me "me" over to our relationship.  So that the love I had for him was a living, breathing thing.  So that it was a relationship full of love, and laughter and life and joy and support and encouragement.

And he burned it to the ground.

All that is left of me is ash.  An empty shell full of ash.

You can't rebuild from ash.  You can't pick it up, it blows away on the slightest breath.

I'm an empty shell, full of ash I'm desperately trying to hold onto, but I can't.  Every memory is a breath of wind that blows more of the ashes of me away.

And every minute of every day is a memory of him, and the love I had for him. 

Every minute of every day, more of me blows away as those memories sweep over me in a wave of pain and agony.

Soon there will be nothing but a grey stain where my pile of ashes used to be, where my love used to be.

Where I used to be.

"You will feel a mild tingling sensation, followed by death."

Well, there wasn't actual death.  Would that murder was just a teensy bit more legal, there might have been.

What follows is an absolutely true story that's an important lesson on communication and consent in all aspects of sexy time. Oh, and prolific use of the words "cunt" and "fuck".  They're two of my favorite words.

I'm an online dater, I guess you could say?  Well, not currently as I've got no damned time but occasionally when I do find myself with free time I'll bring up the old OKCupid profile and see what's going on there.  Sometimes, it's really great.  Lots of interactions with thoughtful, entertaining people, lots of great sex.  Sometimes it's a cesspool of "Sup. Wanna fuck?" from a bunch of mouthbreathers, they don't get sex.  I met both my current boyfriends there, and they are wonderful people, so I put up with the cesspool to find the good ones.

A few years ago I was without boyfriend and had a plethora of time so I was on a dating frenzy.  Met this guy, we'll call him Andrew.  I'm relatively certain his name was Andrew.  Maybe it wasn't.  Whatever, now, he's Andrew.

We had a really great first meetup, good conversation, some flirting, he had really pretty eyes.  I'm a sucker for pretty eyes.  It was winter, we'd just had a heavy snow so roads weren't in great shape, and he texted to see if I'd gotten home safe. That was super sweet, and clearly none of that "I'mma wait 3 days to text her because I read that online" crap going on.  I hate that crap.

Now, I'm a really rather forward person when it comes to sex.  Sex positive and all that, I don't mind talking about it, and we definitely started talking about it.  He was a pretty darned good flirt, so I'm looking forward to our next meetup, thinking "Oh yeah, we're gonna bang."

Next meetup was for drinks, maybe dinner.  We planned it just like that.  "Drinks, maybe some dinner..." with the unspoken but totally there "Drinks and then we're skipping dinner to go fuck."

Important note: we'd met for drinks at a place close to both our houses, then I rode with him to his place, a couple miles away.

The making out was good, I'll spare you the details.  Except that he did this really strange staring thing.  I think, at some point, someone had complimented Andrew on his eyes by using the word "intense".  So I think, he was staring at me "intensely". He'd stop kissing, and look me right in the eyes.  "Intensely."  I had to just start kissing him or whatever to get him to stop, because it was about to make me laugh.  The bad kind of laughing at him, rather than the good kind of laughing with him.

We'd already discussed, in texts, the fact there would be condoms.  (Safety first, people!)  And as things were heading that way, I asked if he wanted to use his or mine.  He said his.  I didn't pay a lot of attention at the grabbing of said condom from a box, though I did pay attention to application. (Safety first, for reals though!)  I repressed my giggles at yet another "intense" stare, and we were into it.

Just a few minutes into enjoyable thrusting, I began to my lady bits.  Well, that's weird.

This tingling quickly turned to a nearly painful burning.  My cunt was on fucking fire, in a bad way, not a good way.  My immediate thought was that I just somehow contracted the godfather of all STDs on contact and my entire reproductive system was about to melt right out of my body.  I discounted that as probably not accurate as to what was really happening.

"Whoa, stop, wait."  He slowed, but didn't stop.  "STOP, GET OFF ME" and I shoved him off me.  "Why the hell is my cunt on fire right now?!?"
"You like that?  It's the condom."
"Do I sound like I like it?  What condom?"

At this point, there was shrinkage, apparently that doesn't just happen in the cold, and no more of that intense stare crap, dude looked scared.  He vaguely gestured towards the condom wrapper on the dresser, I picked it up.  "Fire and Ice" condom.  What the actual fuck. Who the hell thought it'd be a good idea to put Icyhot in a condom?

I got off the bed, and started gathering up my discarded clothing from about the bedroom, laying into Andrew the entire time.

"Why the HELL would you put CHEMICALS into MY CUNT without asking?"  Ah, there's my pants.  "What is your EVERLOVING problem, you fucking inconsiderate ASSHOLE?!?" That's not my bra, where's my damn bra.  "I did not ask for some random ass CHEMICALS to be shoved into MY CUNT.  HOW THE HELL AM I EVEN GOING TO GET THEM OUT?!?"  Fuck the socks. I don't need socks.  "WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF ASSHOLE DOES THAT?"

"I just...I mean...I.. just thought..." he started stuttering and stood up off the bed.


"What?" he asked, genuinely confused.


I stomped out.

Into the cold, and 8 inches of snow, no socks.  I stomped and growled my way down the side of the road, the sidewalks were unwalkable, all the while my lady bits were still on actual fire.  I honestly considered grabbing a handful of snow and stuffing it down my pants. Eventually someone drove by, slowed, started rolling down a window...I gave them a death glare and up the window went and they kept driving.  If it had been him...

Two miles, back to my car, lady cave still on fire.
Drive back to my house, can't feel my toes, bajinga still on fire.
You don't even want to know the lengths I went to in an attempt to stop that infernal burning.

Andrew's OKCupid profile was deleted the next day.



Tracey and her roommate watched the closest screen as Officer Terry called in his response to the possible robbery in progress and turned on his lights and siren.  He then started singing, badly off key, "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when I come for you..."

"Oh, he's got a feeling about this one!  Shit's gonna go down!!" yelled Tracey.  The rest of the bar patrons agreed with raised drinks and shouts of agreement.  Every Thursday, The Neighborhood Watch streamed the MPDC's Fifth District from 7pm until 3am, and offered happy hour specials all night.  Despite it being a weeknight, the bar was usually full of college students for the entirely of the stream.  Other nights, other streams, didn't bring in nearly the audience that the MPDC and Officer Terry did, he was THE fan favorite currently.  It wasn't full tonight, but it was about to be.

Part of Officer Terry's popularity was his seemingly unerring sense of when a call was legitimate, always indicated by his awful singing of the song from that old television show "Cops".  The local YikTweet would be spammed right about now with #terryscomingforyou and #theneighborhoodwatch, and more and more folks would show up to watch Office Terry do his job.

Tracey's iHUD showed her a message that Francy and Joe were on their way, and she blinked it away.  She started to get out her own tablet to pull up BlueTube online.  It was easier to sign when she didn't have to keep angling her neck so much to see the bar's screens.
"Francy and Joe coming?" asked Martin.
"Yeah, they're on their way, probably coming from campus, so should be before the action really starts.  I'll get another pitcher."
Officer Terry covered the area surrounding Gallaudet University, and most of the cops in MPDC District 5 knew rudimentary ASL to interact with the large Deaf community there.  Francy and Joe, who were both Deaf, rarely missed a Thursday night watching the stream.  Apparently they'd seen the online call that tonight would be a fun one, and it was enough to pull them away from studying for finals.

Tracey made her way to the bar and asked Mal for another pitcher of their usual.  "Oh, and Mal, can you turn on CC for the screens over by us?  Francy and Joe are coming."
"Sure thing, and y'all try to keep it down this week, eh?"  Mal always made the same joke now since last month's incident.  Francy and Martin got into a heated argument, and Martin knocked a whole tray of drinks out the waitress's hands.  ASL arguments may not be loud, but they could be dangerous to passers-by.
"We will, Mal.  But you know that call was some bullshit.  The Sarge had no right to chew Terry out like that.  The law is pretty clear on..."
"Don't get it started back up now, you're not a lawyer yet.  Go.  Drink." Mal laughed as he shoo'd Tracey away.

By the time Francy and Joe had arrived, the bar had filled up.  Officer Terry's sixth sense was again correct, and over the next two hours, everyone watched the MPDC stop the robbery in progress and start cuffing suspects, through Officer Terry's chest camera.  It wasn't the most exciting robbery in progress they'd ever seen, but watching the cops do their work so well was always entrancing.

Once the hum in the bar picked up with conversation again, Francy pointed at the screen then tapped her brow twice while she shrugged, then held up one finger and made a couple wide circles in front of her, then tapped her brow again, more vehemently. How does he know?  He ALWAYS knows!
Tracey spoke and signed back "Right?  I don't think I've seen him be wrong in, what, 4 years?"
"It makes you believe the conspiracy theorists who say it's all fiction" Martin signed and spoke.  His 3 table companions all clamped their hands closed in front of their mouths, then wiggled their fingers over their heads while laughing. Shutup, Martin.
Martin's name sign, given to him because of his mop of excessively curly hair, was so often preceded by a goodnaturedly "shutup" that it was a running joke with the group at this point.
"I didn't say *I* believed them..." he mumbled and signed with small, sheepish motions.

On the screens, Officer Terry was transporting the suspect, and most bar patrons started paying their bills and heading out.  It was almost midnight. Sometimes suspects were talkative, despite knowing all they said and did in the car was streaming live to thousands of people.  Officer Terry seemed to have a knack of keeping those type of suspects talking, and could be downright hilarious while doing it, so Tracey and her group kept watching.  This suspect seemed to understand the value of silence, and Officer Terry was unusually quiet himself.  There were only the sounds of traffic, the engine, the dispatcher on occasion, to be heard as Officer Terry's hands, fingers occasionally moving and tapping on the wheel, filled the screen.  Tracey figured they'd probably change streams soon, and come back to Officer Terry once he'd gotten back to the station.

Francy suddenly crossed the first two fingers on both hands and moved them infront of her in a criss cross pattern, with sharp motions. REVERSE! She had a look of panic on her face.
"What?  Okay, how far?  What happened?" Tracey signed and asked, then rewound the live stream on her tablet.
Francy made a chopping sign in front of her after a few minutes of rewinding, and Tracey started the replay.  It was just...Officer Terry's hands, Tracey couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.
Francy pointed two fingers from her eyes to the tablet screen, directly at Officer Terry's right hand, which seemed to be dancing on the wheel, and that's when Tracey saw it.
She tapped Martin and Joe, signed sharply and said loudly "Watch, y'all, are you seeing this?  Do you see this?" and she replayed that section of the stream again.

Officer Terry was using the ASL alphabet, awkwardly, obviously trying to not make large movements, and keeping his hand mostly "on" the steering wheel.  The letters could be made out as he signed them, in silence.

H. E. L. P.

B. O. M. B.

Love and loss. And herpes.

I spent quite a few years working for Borders.  Yup, that Borders, the bookstore that started off as awesomesauce and slowly fell apart until complete and total bankruptcy.  In it's 'golden years' Borders was a fantastic company to work for and one of the best jobs you could have in the company was to be a trainer.  They were opening stores at an incredible rate, and each of those new store openings needed a team of trainers to spend almost a full month in a strange city for the process they called a "Sort".  (Because you had to sort trucks and trucks full of product.)  So I got to travel a lot and meet a ton of great people.  Met my husband through being a trainer, actually.   My memories of Borders will forever be fond.

I was That Kind of Person and took my cat, Hazel Stone, with me on sorts whenever I could.  She was a good traveler, would tolerate being on a leash, and while she was one of the meanest cats I'd ever known to ME, she would just eat up attention from strangers.  One sort I took her to was in Las Vegas.

During a layover...somewhere between Mississippi and Vegas...these 3 little old ladies who were also, actually, going to Vegas, insisted on petting Hazel for good luck.  I had her out of her carrier, on her leash, in the smoking lounge.  She was calico, and for some reason these old ladies kept calling her a 'money cat' and said that petting her would make *sure* they'd win in Vegas. I'd never heard that before, but did look it up eventually and apparently that it is an old superstition that calico cats bring good fortune.  Who knew?

Once at the sort, other trainers would visit my room at night, before bedtime, to get in some kitty petting time.  (One of those trainers had previously worked in casinos, knew all about dealing and odds and rules, and she had some amazing good fortune at the casinos that trip...I'm sure it was all Hazel.)  The hotel cleaning staff left notes about how pretty and sweet she was, and store staff at the sort would ask about her every day.  She became a kind of mascot for the sort, for some reason.  I'd had her on other sorts, but this mascot thing had never happened before.  I think most people thought I was just a little too crazy-cat-lady for bringing her, but in Vegas, no one thought it was crazy.  I think that speaks volumes about the quality of personality in Vegas.

Hazel didn't die on this sort.  I just wanted to pause here and let you know that.

One night as I went to feed her...she could barely eat.  She was doing this terrifying jerking thing with her head where she'd kind of lean in towards her food but then smack her face into it and then back off and walk away a bit, kind of drunkenly, bumping into things.  Full.  On.  Panic.  Attack.

Now, I've had cats and other pets get sick before and dealt with vet visits, but I'd never seen anything like this kind of behavior. I could only think something was wrong with her brain, I was freaking my shit out, and I was stuck in a hotel room in a strange town.  I called the sort leader to get use of the minivan, and started digging in the phone book and it was Vegas, so there were 24 hour vets.  Full on 24 hour vet hospitals, not just emergency vets.  Yay Vegas.  Other trainers had been with the sort leader at the time, and they were calling around to store staff for local recommendations, and before I knew it there was a mini-van full of trainers and store staff taking Hazel to a vet.

Four of them came into the vet room with me, the other 3 couldn't fit.  The vet's doing her vet thing and checking over stuff and asking me questions and she said something like "I have a couple of ideas first, let's do some tests."  These tests, turn out, were eye-drops.  First one, drop fell into Hazel's right eye and WHOOSH the entire white of her eye turned bright pink, then it faded as she blinked.  I had my hands on Hazel, the vet tech and the vet where helping hold her, and then my 4 sort friends where all there as well, leaned in, looking equally worried and interested.  Hazel was a stress-purrer, so she was purring like a fiend.  The vet goes "Okay, we need to do one more."

She took out a different eye drop, into Hazel's eye it went, and WHOOSH, the white of her eye was this nuclear looking yellow, and it wasn't fading. It was pretty fricken trippy to look at, I'll tell you.  One of the store staff looks around at us all and went "Whooooaaaa..."  The vet goes "Yup, it's herpes."

Instantly, his and three other heads and 8 hands, jerk up and away from Hazel and the table.

The vet literally burst out laughing.  She could barely get out "It's feline herpes, it doesn't transfer to humans, it's not the same thing at all..." through her laughter.  A handful of hands started sheepishly reaching in to pet Hazel again.

Word had spread to the staff about Hazel having a vet visit in the night by the time of the morning meeting the next day. Everyone was expressing sympathy and concern and wondering what was wrong.  I explained that it was feline herpes, that it affected her upper respitory system and her eyesight.  That's why she was jerking around oddly...her depth perception and peripheal vision were all wonky.  There were hugs and relief that it was something treatable and nothing serious.

And then one of my co-trainers, this wonderful, flamingly gay, cheerful jokester of an older gentlemen who actually worked at the other existing Vegas Borders says to me, "So let me get this straight.  You came to Las Vegas and your pussy got herpes?"

Hazel was the first cat I ever had that was just mine; not a childhood pet of my parents', not picked out with a partner, just me. I was living in this cool little art deco place in Jackson, Mississippi and had not really thought about pets at all.  Come a knock on the door one night and there's some chick standing there with a literal basket full of kittens, trying to find homes for them all. Basket of kittens, y'all.  I was powerless.

Hazel Stone is a character in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; a rowdy, rough and tumble, red haired, 12-year-old orphan who helps start a revolution.  My new tiny kitten was mean as shit, rarely stayed still, and was a 'red head' since most of her calico was orange.  It didn't take me long to name her.

She was 14 years old when she died, less than 2 years ago.  I'll always miss my little walking STD.


For a very long time, I didn't understand why, at my predominantly black school, my award winning high school band got boo'd at halftime. By our own school. We could hardly make videos of our halftime show to watch after games (to watch them and improve, like the football players did, shit was serious y'all) because we couldn't hear ourselves over the boo'ing that was so much closer to the camcorder. We were good. Damned good. We were "WTF is this poor ass school from Crystal Springs, Mississippi doing with this kind of band, what?" kind of good. But no one at home cared when we brought home all kinds of state awards.

We were white marching band good.

I just have to take a moment and link a video here, because it's just so absolutely perfect, I've rarely seen a more perfect thing in my life. I found it about half an hour ago and I'm still giggling. It's about 4 minutes of a stand up comedy routine.

I didn't understand why the few schools we played that actually had bands, that could actually afford to have a band (many of the other predominantly black schools we played against didn't even have glass in their school windows, much less bands) that did the black band half time performances got cheered for like crazy. And our school members would be yelling at us "That's how you DO IT. That's how you DO IT, why don't y'all do it RIGHT?"

They weren't even marching, they were doing this weird high stepping thing. No, I mean High. Stepping. No, higher. You have no idea how high I'm talking about here. Did they even know what a roll step was?
And dancing, they would stop and dance, the band, would dance. What? And these turns...the way they did turns, they'd like...swoop down and turn, not even a proper sharp military-like corner at all.

They'd do this lean. What was that even, and everyone would cheer? Because they...leaned? They all had dancing girls in go-go boots with tassels. This was in the 90's y'all, not the 60's. Go-go boots. They rarely had flag girls, and never any rifles. They'd have 3 or 4 drum majors spinning their maces (always these half-sized things, not like a proper white band drum major mace) in these RIDICULOUS giant puffy hats that no self respecting band director had made their members wear in YEARS, and they weren't even conducting a damn thing, they were just showing off.

They were black marching band good.

There's a rich history and culture, and a hell of a lot of pride, around black marching bands. It is something that I can never fully understand, no matter how much I read about it. Because I have read a lot about it. I got older, and wanted to find out what the deal was, why...was there this difference in the bands? What did it mean? But it's not for me to fully understand.

It IS for me to know that it's important, and deserves respect. It's meaningful. It's black history and black culture and it matters. It is for me to look back and know that I was seeing pageantry and showmanship that was different, so different, than what I knew but that didn't make it lesser. It is for me to understand the nods to and appreciation of what came military bands, old time minstrel shows, jazz, ragtime...and to know that this music tradition is closely tied in with the growth of historically black colleges and universities, and how fucking important HBCUs were, and still are.

I didn't understand why there was a huge fight, press getting involved, actual friggen *protests* at my school to have a dancing girl line join the band on the field. We had flag girls, WTF did we need some dancing line for? It was just a bunch of girls in glorified bathing suits that weren't even a part of the band! It had nothing to do with the fact all the dancing girls were black, they weren't in the band!! They'd never been in band!

It had everything to do with the fact that all the dancing line girls were black.

They said it couldn't be done.

My brain weasels.  My broken wiring.  My voices.  My fucked up brain.  My demons. They said it couldn't be done.

They said life couldn't be lived.  That life was pain, that there was no future. I got news recently that someone I met, only once, killed themselves.  That was hard news to get, that news takes me places where They mumble and growl.  I don't know what he called Them.  I don't know if he realized he had Them.  I have a friend who calls Them her Big Black Dog.  It is not a friendly dog, it growls at her as it paces it's cage in her mind.

When I wanted to die, nothing could convince me that I shouldn't. No one could.
I honestly, deeply, completely believed with every fiber of my being that the people in my life, especially my husband, would be better off without me.
I honestly, deeply, completely believed that how I felt was the only way I would ever be able to feel.
I would get angry reading things about how not to kill yourself.  I RAGED at how unfair it was that our world was so fucking intent on not letting people take their own lives. I was so angry that it was so hard to find a way to do it that would absolutely work.  It had to absolutely work, or I'd just wind up a prisoner in some psych ward.  Googling suicide only brought up how not to, not how to.  I'd see news stories of a cop or passerby "saving" someone from suicide and I would rage and scream "Way to go, "hero" now they get to keep living in complete and abject misery, WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST LET THEM DIE?"

My first night in the crisis center, on a 72 hour hold against my will, I was so angry.  I was so angry at my husband, who had put me there, instead of letting me die.  I was awake all night, against the meds, alternating between thinking of desperate ways to kill myself, and sitting on the floor crying and rocking and moaning over and over "Why didn't I just do it, why didn't I just do it, why didn't I just DO IT."  I was a fucking prisoner, it had happened, I had let it happen, I was in the fucking looney bin and getting there was the single most humiliating, dehumanizing experience of my life.

It starts with a room with no door handles.  No wires, no loose furniture or fixtures.  No clothes, they take those and give you a robe that won't close in the back, because the strings have been cut off.  And a guard, watching you. Watching you constantly.  Sometimes, it's a guard with a gun.

And then, once transported like an animal
(this is no exageration...the transport was an old ambulance van with everything gutted out of the back, with a grate, and a small bench at the very back, behind the grate, the grate that separates you from the driver and anything moving or touchable, so it's like those station wagons you see that people have for their dogs, and you sit on a bench, in a robe that won't close in the back, right at the back windows, where the people in cars behind you stare at you as you're driven across town and there's no door handles)
once you get to the crisis center, every hour, all night, a blue light in your face as a psychology intern comes in to "check your vitals".  The doors don't completely close, there's no handles.  Every hour, every night, that blue light, that intern, making sure I was alive.  I hated him.

By the time I left, killing myself was my crutch. "I'll try to get better, I can always just kill myself."  I would never say that to anyone.  Not the psychology intern and his blue light, not my therapist, not my doctor, not my husband.  No one could know how tightly I held that crutch to my chest, or it would be taken from me.
Two years later, They made me use that crutch.  I was standing in the bathroom, and my hand was pink and blue and white and gummy, sticky from pill coatings...I was swallowing them with handfuls of water in between each pile I could manage to swallow and the coatings were melting off on my wet hand.  And soon, the room with no handles, the guard, the robe, the same. fucking. van.
I was in another handleless hellhole on another 72 hour hold, and angry again. But this time I stayed up all night thinking "Why...did I do that?"  I was so angry at myself for what I'd tried to do.

It's been three years now, nearly.  I look in medicine cabinet and don't think about how all those drugs are always there, if I need them.  I see knives or ropes or long trails into the cold mountains and they are not my crutch.

I am honestly, deeply, completely happy that I'm in this world.

They were wrong.

It can be done.

I was wrong.


"I thought I'd see you sooner.  Before you went so far off for your schooling."
"Don't start on that, Nanna, you know I always wanted to go to Amherst."  My great aunt had been one of the first female students to ever attend Amherst, I didn't understand my family's disapproval of my going there.
"Hmph, Massachusetts.  Too cold, too busy.  You should be here where it's warm and people have time for each other."  I couldn't really get angry with her chiding, it had been over three years since I'd been in Florence, MS.
"Well, I'm here now."
"Yes you are.  But you aren't here to visit me.  You're here for a reason."  My heartbeat surged and I could only close my eyes and let out a small, pinched cry.  She knew.  I wasn't crazy.
Nanna gathered me up into a hug as the tears started.  "It's okay, my Anna Banana, it'll be okay.  Why didn't you come to me sooner?  When did it start?"  She led me to her couch, grabbing a kleenex box from the kitchen island on the way.
"A few months ago.  My birthday."  That night unfolded in my mind as I started telling Nanna about it.

I will never forget it.  My roommate, Lucy, and I were at a Kappa Kappa Psi party, proudly drinking our beers out of bottles rather than "hiding" them in cups, finally.  Eliot sat down next to me, took the Miller out of my hand and said "No, no, no, Anna.  You're only going to drink real beer now" and handed me some kind of microbrew.
"This is...this is really good!  What is this even, it's good, it can't be beer?"  My volume control had been set slightly louder than a decent inside voice by my previous drinks, and a handful of heads turned our way.
"Shhhhhh!  I don't want everyone to know about my stash.  Do you...wanna come see it, my stash, maybe have another?"  Even with a heady buzz I recognized Eliot had suddenly turned nervous, but I discarded the notion he was up to anything.  He was Eliot, he was my best friend.
"Yes!  More please!"

He led me through the crowd, winding around well wishers who all wanted to toast, couples making out, the drum line trying to convert their routine from snares and base to solo cups and kegs.  We laughed our way past them, through the kitchen and out the back door.  The Kappa house was close to the practice field and that's where Eliot was leading me. Everything seemed a little too dark and I blamed my crooked steps on the uneven sidewalk.  We passed the entrance to the practice field and reached the door to the building that housed the old field locker rooms, now padded over with acoustic cushions for practice rooms.  We should not be here, the building was locked after midnight.
"Eliot, where are we going?"  I stopped walking, and remembered back to his sudden nervousness when asking me to leave the party.
"Just, not much farther, you'll see."  He sounded tense, his voice was quivering and he grabbed my hand and gave it a tug.
"Stop."  Something inside me seemed to swell.  I suddenly felt a clarity, despite all the drinking, and I needed to know where I was going.  "Eliot, where are you taking me?"
"Just, somewhere, uh, my stash, you'll see."

And it happened.  Everything slowed down.  This was not a drunken mind parsing surroundings a little bit slower, things in my line of sight literally stopped moving at a normal speed, including Eliot.  On the edges of my vision everything started getting cloudy, it felt like thin, white curtains were being pulled shut across my face.  In my mind, but moreso in that fuzziness, I saw one of the practice rooms, there was some kind of red splattered all over the floor, strange lights, and then I saw Eliot, shoving me against a padded wall, kissing me furiously and the floor and chairs were covered in that red and I couldn't breath and I shoved Eliot off me and screamed.

But I shoved nothing.  Eliot was close, but not touching me.  We were outside the practice hall and everything was moving normally again, but I could barely stand up straight, I was nauseaus and dizzy and my heartbeat was so fast it was hurting my chest.
"What did you do?" I screamed at Eliot.  "Did you...did you put something in my fucking drink?"  I started trying to run away from him, but could barely stumble a few steps.
"No!  Anna, what's wrong, what's going on?  I didn't, I didn't, I wouldn't put something in your drink, what's wrong?"
And then I passed out.

"What did you really see?" Nanna had a thoughtful look on her face.
I sighed and shook my head.  "Eliot was in love with me.  He'd put candles and rose petals all over the practice room where we'd met freshman year.  He was going to ask me to the Kappa formal."
"Oh dear.  I am sorry it had to happen like that.  You've written me about Eliot, he sounds like such a nice boy.  It's hard at first to learn to focus on it."
"But what IS 'it', Nanna?  What the hell is 'it', because now it won't stop!"
"It's your gift, Anna.  We call it Asking."
I could feel the emphasis as she said it, I could feel it in my chest.
"Asking?"  As I said it I could feel it again, I could feel the weight of the word.
"That's just what we call it.  You can Ask a question, and you can Listen, and you will always know the true answer. Asking, Listening, Hearing.  Not sure who started calling it that, but we all do now.  You can never be lied to, never, not if you Ask." My entire world changed as I processed the implications.  So many things suddenly made sense.

"Wait, who's 'we'?  Who else knows about this?"
"Every female in the family.  Well, most of us anyway.  It seems to skip sometimes.  Your mother thought it had skipped you, I thought you're so crafty maybe you were just keeping it a secret."
"MOM DOES THIS?!?  Like, while I was growing up, mom did this?"
Nanna laughed harder than I'd heard her laugh in years.  "You should see your face.  What were you doing, hiding under some bleachers, going parking with that boy you had for so long?"  She laughed more as I blushed.  "We didn't keep the gift, Anna.  I didn't.  Your mother didn't."  Her voice had turned sad.
"What, how?  How do you stop it?  Because I can't stop it.  I mean, it doesn't happen all the time, but I can't stop it when it does, and I can't choose when it happens."
"You can stop it.  And you can learn to control it, you just have to practice.  You can learn to Ask or not to Ask whenever you want, you can learn when to Listen, and when to not.  And if you do that, if you stop Asking at all, if you stop Listening at all, after a while it will just fade away, you'll stop being able to Hear.  And it never comes back.  It will never come back."
"Why would you do that?  I mean, Nanna, seriously, if you can control it, then why give it up?"

"There was one of us who kept the gift her whole life.  It is very powerful."   She stood and walked over to her mantle and took down the photo of her, Pawpaw, all her sisters, and the whole passel of kids and grandkids and great grandkids.  I think it was from their 50th wedding anniversary.  She handed it to me.
"Your grandfather was not my first husband, Anna.  Open up the back."  I did, and behind the photo was a yellowed, though immaculate, old photo.  I'd seen other old photos of Nanna and knew it was her, but I did not recognize the man she was with.  It wasn't Pawpaw, and it was very clearly a wedding photo.  The shocks just kept coming today.

"There will come a time, Anna Banana, when you will fall in love with someone.  You've had your boyfriends and I know you've loved them, but this will be different.  They will complete you, your soul will connect with theirs in a way you can't understand until it happens.  And when it does...once that will always Listen to them.  You will always, no matter what, Hear what they mean when they speak to you, when they whisper to you on the pillow at night.  It won't just be your lovers.  It will happen with your friends that get that close.  It will happen with your children.  Anyone that you have that connection with, you will always Hear them."  She reached out for the photo, stared at it for just a moment, then put it face down on the coffee table.  "People say that you have to be completely honest with someone you love, that honesty is the only way to make it work. This is...not true, Anna.  We aren't meant to know everything."

I stared at the cold fireplace, and then, it clicked.  "It was Aunt Ruthie, wasn't it?  She kept her...'gift', it's how she did all the things she did."
"Yes.  Ruth decided that since it was just us girls, someone had to take over the business after dad.  She figured knowing when she was being lied to would come in mighty handy.  It did."

I couldn't keep my mind still as I drove back to the Jackson airport. Aunt Ruthie, Nanna's sister, killed herself when I was thirteen.  She had never married, so the financial legacy she left behind with her passing went to her sisters, and our entire extended family is well off to this day.  I kept remembering visits to her office when we were young, which she barely seemed to tolerate.  How infrequently she joined the family for holidays.  I turned on the radio to distract myself from too many things to think about.

"I must become a lion hearted girl, ready for a fight, before I make the final sacrifice.  We raise it up, this offering, we raise it up.  This is a gift, it comes with a price.  Who is the lamb and who is the knife?"

I turned the radio off and kept driving.



"Are these eggs organic?" my customer asked.
"Well, they're not USDA certified, but these eggs are from Chef Sigi, he has a small flock of pastured hens..."
"Right, but are they organic, what do the chickens eat?"
"Ah, these are given a non-soy, non-GMO feed supplement when needed, but that's mostly in winter.  Of course this time of year, they have the pasture, so whatever they find, plus table scraps and excess vegetables from the farm, and..."
"So they eat bugs."
"Uh...yeah, yeah, they eat bugs which is actually why Chef Sigi runs them through the garden regularly, for pest..."
She interupts me, again, to proudly state to her friend with her, "See, they're NOT organic, they could be eating anything in that pasture, and there's no way of knowing where those bugs come from.  You really have to ask these kinds of questions to know what you're eating these days. Vitamin Cottage has certified organic eggs, and they're much cheaper than these."

This was an actual interaction from about two years ago when I was working in a small, all-organic, all local grocery store. And, she was right, you have to ask the right questions.  But I was giving her the right answers and she was too blinded by a shiny official certification to hear them. (Now, all of what I'm about to say isn't about soapboxing, it's just some info, so please stay with me even if you hate hippies and are already rolling your eyes at this point.)

A lot of people are concerned about food these days, so organic is Thing.  People may be concerned about huge corporate agribusinesses like Monsanto doing bad things, or about what they're putting into their bodies through their food, or about migrant workers, or about small family farmers...there's plenty of good reasons to be concerned about our food.  And because of this concern, there's a lot of Things that have popped up on our food labels.  When it comes to mass produced food, these Things usually mean jack squat.

"Cage free" is a Thing now.  Word got out of the horrid conditions chickens are kept in, people didn't like that and wanted change, BOOM, cage free labels. Well. "Cage free" means that the chickens must have access to the outdoors.  Whether or not the chickens actually go outdoors, or are even able to walk for that matter, is irrelevant; one tiny door in the side of a 3,000 square foot warehouse that holds 9,000 chickens is enough for that label.  (Okay, maybe I'mma soapbox a little.  Sue me.)

You know what my farmers have on their egg carton labels?  The date from 2 weeks ago, marked through with a pen, and this week's date written in instead.  You can path out a carton's journey over summer from the farm, to the customer, back to the farm when a customer returned the empty carton for the farm to reuse, with those marked off dates.

Ah, yeah.  "My" farmers.  I run a farmer's market.  These aren't really my farmers; I don't own them, I don't employee them, I sure as hell don't wake up at dawn and work til sundown seven days a week with them.  But they're still MY farmers, and I bust ass to support them every way I can, because they don't always get the support they need elsewhere.

I think for most people, when they hear the words "farmer's market" a certain image comes to mind.  Heck, you can google image search it and there's the image.  It's become part of the general collective of knowledge that if you're concerned about food, for whatever reason, then skip the grocery store altogether and shop at a farmers market.  That is The Thing You Should Do.  Because that's healthy, well-grown food, sold by small family farmers.  This image might be a lie.

Just like with labels, when it comes to buying from a farmer's market, you have to ask the right questions. You have to do some homework.  You have to look past shiny labels and look for the masking tape with a price written on it in Sharpie, the reused egg cartons, the scale that's seen better days but the farmer always rounds down for you anyway.  So here's some tips for the next time you hit up your local farmer's market, from an inside (and very biased) source.

-Show up early, real early, two hours early, and watch the farm stands unload and set up.
You may see a couple of folks hauling out pretty genericly marked bags, boxes and baskets of produce from the back of a dirty, worn-out pickup truck: this is probably a good sign.

And then you may see someone unloading cabbages that are still in the boxes that have your local grocery store's logo on them - individually wrapped in plastic, someone's taking them out of those boxes and plastic, and putting them out in a basket on a table. Or they're going through a basket of apples and peeling off the bar code stickers that say "Product of Mexico". Clearly a bad sign.  In most places, any random person willing to do the work can show up at food distribution hubs and buy food wholesale, and then resell it anywhere they want.  It is literally the exact same food that's at your local grocery store with the labels removed.

-Talk to the person selling the food.
I think that "asking about the food" is another part of the general collective knowledge of what to do at a farmer's market.  But what questions do you ask?  Get specific.
Ask the person selling the food if they are the person that grew the food.  Some small family farms, or community farms, may have the luxury of affording a staff member to work the market, so it may not be The Farmer, herself, that day at market. But they better have been involved in growing that food, or you're just looking at a reseller.
Ask what they use for pest control against cabbage beetles.  (Warning, mentioning cabbage beetles to a farmer might get you an
expletive filled tirade.)  What about aphids?  What about deer, coyotes, moles?  What do they use against powdery mildew and early blight?
Do they use rotational grazing if they raise livestock?  Do they follow biodynamic practices?
How many people work on the farm, where do these workers come from, are they migrant workers?
If they're certified organic, ask them why they wanted the certification.  If not, ask them why not.  (Again, be prepared for possible tirades concerning the USDA.)

What variety is the vegetable they're selling, is it an heirloom?  Where do they buy their seed?  Do they save seed?
A small family farmer will answer these questions for you.  I mean, okay, not if you sound like you're grilling them, but if you open up a dialogue with them, they're happy to tell you what they do.

Gonna chase a rabbit here for a minute.

There is a misconception that organic food tastes better and/or is more nutritious than a conventional counterpart.  This is the biggest piece of total bunk that has ever been bunked, until you start talking about varieties.  Flavor in produce, and some studies point to nutritional content as well, is all about variety. The varieties that are widely grown by huge agribusinesses, organic and conventional both, are chosen for traits well they store, how well they survive shipment, uniform size and shape, disease resistance...see "flavor" anywhere in that list?  Nah, flavor is a foot note. Heirloom is slowly becoming another Thing, but it actually has merit when you're talking about flavor. Go to a farmer's market in late summer.  Look for the tomatoes.  Cherokee Purple, Amish Paste, Nebraska Wedding, Kentucky Beefsteak, Green Zebra...tasting these tomatoes will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

-Learn when what you want is in season.
If you live in Florida or Southern California, then your availability by season, and variety of produce available locally grown, is phenomenal.  But for the rest of us, local, small farm grown food comes and goes and if you want something specific, you gotta know when to find it.  Fall is the harvest season, so the bulk of produce availability is going to be in late August and September.  This is definitely the time to shop markets if you want to can or otherwise preserve foods, you can find great deals from farmers who have too much of something.  There are some specifics that pop up at other times, though. Asparagus is a very early summer crop, you need to start looking for that in May.  Spinach and most lettuce varities don't do well in the heat, so they're early and late season, but not easy to find in the hottest months. This is a great link for this type of thing:  You can also look up your state's Agricultural Extension Office.

Knowing your area's seasonality can also help avoid non-local food shipped in from wherever.  Tomatoes in June? They may be from a greenhouse, but are more likely from Florida.  Avocados are a tropical plant, the trees cannot survive temps below 20 degrees, so how cold are your winters?  Corn on the 4th of July?  Dollars to donuts that's from Mexico.

-Ask if you can visit the farm.
If you ask someone if you can visit their farm and they give you the runaround or flat out say no, this is a red flag.  This is a red flag with klaxons ringing and a giant glowing neon sign saying DON'T BUY THIS FOOD.  Small family farms want you to come see what they do.  They may tell you that you can visit, but they're too busy to show you around, and that's God's own truth, farmers are the busiest people I know.  But, they want you to experience their world.  They want you to be more connected to the food you eat, because they are.  They want you to know how hard they work, for so little reward, under so much risk.

They'll introduce you to their chickens, which are running around in pastures and maybe getting into the cucumbers and having to be chased out.  And they might just sell you a dozen eggs with these big, firm yolks that are bright, deep orange, that are as organic as they come.

We all have that one movie.

I will never, as long as I live, pay money to watch a French film ever again.  I might, maybe, by someone I loved and trusted, be persuaded to watch one for free.  It'd be a hard sell, though.

"À ma soeur" is a French film from 2001.  In the US it was called "Fat Girl".  Quite a few people I knew were raving about having to see this movie.  That it was a full on masterpiece.  That it would change my life.

It should be noted I worked at a Border's Bookstore in Nashville, TN at the time.  There wasn't a lot of culture in Nashville that didn't revolve around The Grand Ole Opry, but there was a little indy theater close to the bookstore that would play foreign films.  And there were the slew of college kids who always went to the indy movies, then would come to the cafe and talk about their life changing film viewing experience over mochas and our Frappaccino ripoff.

One of these college kids also worked in the cafe, and looking back on it now, I realize he was a hipster before there was a term for hipsters.  At any rate, I had a massive crush on him.  (The age difference is not as bad as it might sound.  I was only 24 but I'd been on my own since 18.  People who'd never lived outside their parents' homes, or a dorm, were certainly "kids" to me at the time.)  So he and his friends are telling me about this TRULY LIFE CHANGING film, they were going to go see it again, and by golly I was surely going to go see it with him, anything for a chance to hookup with this adorable proto-hipster.

Story is a mother, older daughter, younger daughter are on holiday...somewhere in Italy.  The older sister, Elena, is gorgeous and skinny and has long, shiny, beautiful hair and she's just old enough to get the attention of boys who think they're men. (College kids are apparently the same in any country.)  She is a massive flirt.  The younger sister, Anais, is dumpy, has nappy curly hair, she's awkward and weird.  Elena is 15, Anais is 13.

Elena starts a flirtation with an older law student they meet, and eventually he sneaks into the sisters' shared room to makeout with Elena.  He wants to have sex, and she is resisting.  He threatens to just go find other girls, who will have sex with him, as real proof of their love, she resists and resists.  He finally brings up anal sex, telling her that she'll still be a good, pure virgin if she only has anal sex, and Elena gives in.  The camera is on Anais's face, in her bed across the room, watching them, as you hear Elena's pain and the law student's uncaring grunts of satisfaction.

This scene, man.  It was a disturbingly true scene, it was powerful and difficult to watch.

The next day, all three go to the beach, but of course Anais is left there on the beach by herself while Elena and the law student go off for more making out.  When the girls are together again later, Elena shows Anais that the law student has given her an opal ring, and says that they are truly in love and that she will probably go all the way with him.  Elena is glowing, and Anais is obviously upset, but tries to hide it with her kind of "older than her years" ideas about sex. She says something like "Well, you're stupid, I want my first time to be with someone I don't love, so I can just get it over with and move on."  That night the law student is back in their room, and this time Elena does not resist his urges for vaginal sex.

In between these few mentioned scenes, there are amazingly poignant scenes with Anais alone, imagining men vying for her affections, in her odd and awkward way.  There are scenes where the sisters have fights and are utterly cruel to one another, yet then there are scenes where their connection, love and trust is undeniable.  It's extremely moving.

And then the movie reminds us of exactly how young all the players are.  The law student's mother shows up at their holiday flat and explains to the girls' mother that her son has stolen a ring from her and given it to some little girl.  Oh, does the shit hit the fan when the truth of the relationship is revealed.  Mom tells the girls to pack, the holiday is over, they are going back to Paris and their father is going to deal with them.  Next you see them in the car, they're driving a rather non-busy stretch of road, and stop at a rest area to sleep.

And that is when, I shit you not, an axe murderer comes out of the woods.  An. Axe. Murderer.  I couldn't make this up.  He brutally kills the mother, bashing in her face, then strangles Elena to death as Anais watches from the backseat.  Then he drags Anais out of the car and rapes her. Cut scene to cops talking to Anais, and her telling them she was not raped.  The end.

This is where you might want to look away if bad language bothers you.


That was pretty much my exact reaction coming out of the theater.  Proto-hipster and his friends really didn't know how to react.  They kept trying to psychobabble something at me about meanings, but I was having none of it.  I left them all standing in a parking lot staring at me as I ranted and raved my way to my car and drove off.  Axe murderer.  Out of fucking nowhere.  Fucking.  Useless.

And so that's my movie.  The movie that taught me to never, ever put my trust in a French film, or an adorable hipster, ever again.

Lessons from the ladies.

"Usichokeoze nyuki".  After a bit of research, I learned this is a Swahili proverb, "Don't provoke the bees."

A proverb, to me, is a pithy phrase that comes from a very literal situation, but is used metaphorically to teach a lesson.  It has historical and/or cultural meaning you have to understand for the proverb to impart the lesson, and to have that pithy punch.  "Nervous as a long tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs" isn't a proverb, it's just a saying.  "A stitch in time saves nine" is not just a saying, it's a proverb.  Back when hand-sewing clothing was a real part of life, mending a small tear could save you having to either mend a much larger tear later, or sew an entire new pair of pants.

In my world, "Don't provoke the bees" has a very real, literal context.  I've found myself sitting in a chair, both feet propped up on a stool, my ankles covered in ice packs.  They were both painfully swollen to twice their normal size, due to 17 bee stings between the two of them.  In my world, you do not want to provoke the bees.  So despite "usichokeoze nyuki" coming from a culture that I literally know nothing about, the proverb hits home instantly.

It all started about eight years ago.  My husband and I decided to try brewing mead, and gave up abruptly during the planning stage when we discovered the cost of a 20lb bucket of honey.  At that time in our lives, the price was far too high for something we might screw up on our first attempt.  At some point, my husband jokingly said "We should just keep bees, then we'll have all the free honey we want."  I remember my exact reaction:

"Keep bees?  You can't just keep bees, who DOES that?"

Well, I do.  And I will never, for the rest of my life, not be a beekeeper.  Keeping bees is the single most fascinating experience of my life.  It is a constant wonder, with constant lessons to learn.  I have my own selection of proverbs from beekeeping now.  I thought I'd share some of them with you.

"Never leave your pliars on your wax."

One method of beekeeping is to have pre-molded beeswax foundations to insert into the wooden frames that are inside a hive. This encourages the bees to build out their comb along these foundations and in the square frames, kind of like a blueprint. These frames of comb are easier to handle, more stable, and can be used for years in multiple hives. You can go "foundationless" and bees will build comb down from a top bar where they secure the comb, but the frames will be harder to work with because they aren't as stable, and they have a tendency to not last more than a season or two. Every usable, sturdy frame of drawn out comb is a near priceless commodity in beekeeping.

The foundations are very thin...and if they get too warped or damaged, the resulting comb that the bees build on it will also be warped, the ladies will follow that little blue print exactly. This is not disasterous for a hive, but it can lead to problems down the road with uneven and patchy frames of honey comb.  If the warping is bad enough, it can eventually lead to a gigantic mess and entire frames will have to be scrapped.

Be mindful of how your current actions will affect your future.

"Bears will come."

no title Bears do not go after beehives for honey, despite what A. A. Milne has told us all these years.  The inner frames of the hive are full of bee larvae, a ready supply of protein.  (I suppose images of Pooh munching on little partially formed bees would have made for an entirely different type of book.)

The first night that the bears came, they just knocked one hive over and left some muddy paw prints on the side.  The morning after the second night the bears came, I went outside to find pieces of my two hives strewn about the entire yard, and my yard was full of lost, confused bees and dead bees were everywhere I stepped.  I just collapsed.  I cannot remember a time in my life when I was more devastated.  All that hard work raising them from a package, all the inspections, all the wonderful hours sitting by the hives watching the ladies come and go.  Everything was gone.  It was autumn, far too late in the year to restart a hive.

I sat there in the mess of my hives crying, inconsolable, until my husband, who had started trying to clean things up shouted "Here's a queen!"  It was unbelievable that a queen had survived the feasting of the bears.  Queens would not have been able to fly much at all at this point, they would have been in the brood area of the hive, and the nights were cold.  Yet there she was, on the wreckage of a frame, surrounded by workers who had gathered to her in the night.  We were able to piece together enough frames and boxes to have a single hive with her in it.  That hive survived the rest of autumn, through winter into next spring, when it could rebuild and grow into a strong, healthy colony.  Safely moved from our yard close to bears, to a friend's yard that didn't have such nightly visitors.

Tragedy will strike.  It can be survived.

"Always keep an empty hive box around."

In late spring and early summer, feral hives that are strong and heavily populated will go through a natural population expansion process called "swarming".  (Kept hives that aren't managed properly can also swarm, we beekeepers try to avoid this.)  About half of a hive's population, and their existing queen, will set out from their hive to find a new home. The bees leaving form this huge cloud of bees.  I've been standing in the middle of one of these swarm clouds (poor management that first year of keeping...) and it was so loud, I had to yell to be heard by someone 4 feet away.

This cloud will eventually choose a location to gather up and hunker down, usually on a tree branch somewhere, with the queen safely in the middle of the swarm. Scout bees will fly out in all directions, looking for a suitable home.  They could leave their hunker down place at any minute.

If you should ever have the experience of coming across a swarm of bees hanging in a tree, Keep Calm and Call a Beekeeper.  It is terrifying to see a swarm, either flying or once landed, if you don't know bees.  However, since they have no home to defend, bees are at their absolute most docile during swarming.  I got a call a few years ago from a friend who found this small swarm in her lilac tree, knew I was a keeper, so called me to find out what to do about it.  My husband and I grabbed our empty hive box, and went out as soon as we could to capture the swarm by essentially just brushing it off the tree into the empty box.  This was the spring after we'd lost one of our hives to the bears and we didn't have the money to restart a second hive, and I was still rather depressed over the loss.  (Having two hives is extremely beneficial to hobby keeping for a variety of reasons, and I get very emotionally attached to my hives.  Each hive has their own personality, and every queen becomes my darling.)  We got a second hive for free, and the bees got a safe, secure home.

Stay positive, even in the worst of times.

"We need more jars!"

The entire reason that bees produce honey is to provide food stores for themselves for winter.  The area of the country that you keep bees in, and how long and how cold the winters are determines how much honey a hive needs to have come fall.  A strong hive can produce excess honey, and only this excess is harvested or the hive will starve over winter.  As a keeper, you work hard to help your ladies create a strong colony, so that you can benefit from this excess.

The first season, the bees had to build up their entire home from nothing. All their spring and early summer forage pretty much got turned into wax to draw out comb on their foundations, instead of being turned into honey. Then the bears came next season, and every drop of honey that we could salvage was for that patched together colony to survive winter.

So many of the frames that we had then were mauled and destroyed, the third season was again all mostly build up for our surviving hive, plus our captured swarm.  Also, my area of the country was smack in the middle of a pretty signficant period of drought, and even strong, established hives from keepers I know didn't have excess that year, there simply wasn't enough blooming to feed the ladies.

But it finally happened.  A season with two hives and one of them very strong and healthy, a season free of bears, a season with a little bit more rain.  It was not the biggest harvest, it was only about 23 pounds.  But it was my first harvest, four years after setting up my first hive.

Right now, eight years after that first hive, I've got a 20lb bucket of honey just waiting to be turned into mead.  Bottles and jars of honey have homes in various places around my house.  Friends and family got jars of honey comb for Christmas gifts. Downstairs there's still a honey super I pulled from the hive back in fall that'll be about another 30 pounds of honey that I haven't been able to harvest yet...we need more jars.

All the hard work will pay off.