Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I was finally out of my mother's reach, but I was traumatized and still inconsolable over my father's death. Most of what happened in my life between 1981 through 1995 was ugly. It would take too long to relate everything that happened, so I'll be as brief as I am able.

In 1982, I married the kid who took me to California. We eventually made our way back to Brooklyn and then to Western Massachusetts. We separated in 1984 and divorced in 1985. Why? I was screwing his brother behind his back.

In 1984, I started dating a guy who was even more mentally and physically abusive to me than my mother had been. When we first started seeing each other and I told him how my marriage ended, he laughed and said, "I'm your punishment." And I was so demoralized that I fucking bought it and let him terrorize me for a long time. I finally got out of the relationship, but I still have physical scars to this day. I never took legal action against him because I was too frightened to do so.

After this, I was with an absolute gem of a man whom I married in 1990. He treated me kindly and with love. He had first been a friend to me and had seen me through the horrific end of the previous relationship. By this time I was becoming someone I recognized very clearly---I began to verbally and physically abuse this man. It enraged me when he just stood there and took the abuse, or when he grabbed my wrists to stop me, just as my father used to grab my mother's wrists to get her to quit punching. However, unlike my mother, I was always horrified over the abuse I doled out; that's when it occurred to me that I wasn't quite as far gone as I thought I was. I started counseling, but I never was able to admit to my psychologist what I was doing to my husband or to myself. As if I hadn't already fucked things up enough, I decided I wanted an open marriage, and brought another man into the house to live with us for a time. I watched myself destroy my marriage, and I didn't know how to stop doing so. I felt cut off from everyone and everything. I also felt ashamed of myself for hurting my husband, and incapable of knowing what a real relationship was like.

In early 1995, my husband bought a computer and we both joined America Online. I started making Internet friends with whom I had a lot in common: we had shared interests in music, books, cooking and many other things. It occurred to me that meeting people in this way could be a new beginning for me. Very gradually at first, I began to build friendships with others. I liked hearing about people's everyday lives because they seemed so normal to me. Even though they most likely had skeletons in their closets, these friends had more stability in their day-to-day existence than I had ever had in mine.

One of these friends was a musician like me; we also had matching tastes in music. We would spend hours chatting via private messages and comparing our CD, tape, and vinyl collections. At one point, my husband watched the interaction between me and this friend, and said, "You're going to marry this guy." I laughed.

Damn if he wasn't right.

Over the next year, "this guy" Matt and I fell in love. Right then, I swore that I would be a different person---that I would never abuse anyone again. I have kept that promise.

My husband and I split up.

I moved back to California again so I could be with Matt. We were married in 1998, surrounded by many of our online friends.

From that year to this, there have been so many different challenges: miscarriages, the loss of a pregnancy at five months' gestation, chronic illnesses, misunderstandings, the passing away of friends and family, growing apart, and then growing closer again. We both sought therapy to help us with these issues, as well as with Matt's chronic depression and my anxiety and PTSD. I felt myself becoming...normal. Boring. No longer on the rollercoaster. I loved it. I still do.

My mother was diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson's disease in 2005. We spoke very rarely in the last five years; I really didn't want to have anything to do with her. The last words I ever heard her say---in 2007, or thereabouts---was that I had been a total disappointment to her. I shrugged and hung up the phone. My family kept begging me to call her, but I politely refused.

So she died (presumably badly) in a nursing home in Florida this past May. My brother Joel was the successor trustee of her living trust. He called to let me know she had "left me something". Fine. After the estate was settled, her lawyer sent me a copy of my mother's trust documents--Anne had left me ten percent of her estate and Joel received ninety percent--along with a letter stating that all assets were depleted because of my mother's healthcare and maintenance costs. No surprise there; at least not to me. However, I think Joel was pissed off about this. We don't speak very much; he and I have had many disagreements over the years, but I believe he thought there would have been something left for him. Consequently, what happened next was something I should have expected.

I had always been told that when my mother died, I would receive the jewelry my father had given her. Now, she was completely paranoid about her jewelry, as its value was extremely high. She would have new hiding places for it in the house every two days or so, and she always knew where it was. As part of the residue of her estate (along with any other tangible personal property), Joel and I would have had the right to divide it 90 - 10.

So I called Joel and asked him about the jewelry. He denied any existence of it and hung up on me.

I was utterly pissed off. I saw the jewelry as all that was left of my father. I knew she never appreciated what he'd given her and, if I had some of it, I'd value it much more than she ever did. And I also wanted something that would symbolize restitution for all she had done to me. I knew Joel was lying to me---he had the goods and wasn't about to give them up. So I decided to retain an attorney in an effort to get Joel to relinquish ten percent of the jewelry. I prepared an outline for the consultation, and then....

(here it is, kids---that which you've been waiting for for the last three days!)

How would I be any happier with that ten percent? Would I be any better or worse off with or without it? How could it make up for all the abuse I experienced? Who the fuck was I kidding, that I wanted it in memory of my father? It would just serve as a reminder of things best left behind.

If I was given that share of the jewelry, I would never have real closure in my life. I would never truly leave my past behind me.

And, after all, it was just...stuff...a pile of things to which society and economics have ascribed some sort of value and importance which has nothing to do with me getting on with my life.

I tore up the outline.

She's dead.

It's over; it's really, finally over, after forty-eight years.

That is a bequest far more valuable, much more important, than any tangible inheritance.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Setting The Scene, Part Two

Because I want to keep the worst elements of this story private, I am going to try to be as succinct as I'm able in this entry.

I can't remember the exact year this happened, but I think it was in 1970 when my brother Johnny was arrested in Florida and was sentenced to ten years in Starke Prison. This was the event that sent my mother completely over the edge. As the years went by, she became even more abusive to me, and to my father as well. When she was enraged, anything immediately at hand was a weapon with which she could lash out at us: a heavy ashtray, knives, broomsticks, hairbrushes. The worst in my eyes was the time in which during one of her screaming rages she broke an antique Chinese urn that my father had bought her as a gift, and used a shard of it to carve up his forearm as he physically struggled to grab her wrists to stop the attack. In my eyes, my father was sacrosanct, and for her to go after him was worse than her stabbing me in the hip with a steak knife.

I believe that in the 70s, it was virtually impossible for a man to admit to abuse at a partner's hands. The term "emasculation" comes to mind. I know my father felt trapped by his love for my mother---she was an absolutely beautiful woman, and he was not willing to give her up---and he must have also felt that if he had admitted to the physical abuse she dealt him, he would have been ridiculed. In addition, when he tried to intercede for me, he suffered more of her abuse. Later, during therapy sessions, I tried to hold my father accountable for not doing anything to help me, but I simply could not fault him for it. He was caught in the cycle and could not see how to escape, just as I could not get out because kids didn't just go call Social Services at the time.

When I was fourteen years old, I ran up a $200 phone bill in one month. My mother went berserk and started beating the hell out of me. What's memorable about this event is that it was the first time I decided to defend myself. I threw my mother down on my bed held her down, and began to hit her hard. My father, hearing her yells for help, tore into the room and pulled me off her. My mother went for me again with her fists, and my father---who before then had never raised his hands to me---also started beating me.

It was a betrayal, of course...but as I said earlier, I couldn't really blame him. I still can't. I know he was horrified at what he had done, and I wasn't going to push him for an apology.

My brother Johnny got out of jail in 1977, presumably for good behavior. However, this didn't help my mother in the least. Her abuse took on a new dimension for me when she began to sharpen her skills at mental and verbal demoralization, which were in some ways even more horrifying to me than the physical maltreatment. You can duck a blow---you can see the windup happen and at least try to get out of the way, but you can't look in someone's head to see what their next words will be. She once forced me to sit at the kitchen table to eat dinner while holding me down in the chair and hissing in my ear that the food was laced with arsenic and that I was to eat it all so that my father would come home and finally see me dying. When I would come home from a date, she would force me to take off my underwear so she could check it for "suspect stains".

Five months before high school graduation, the bottom truly fell out. In January of 1980 my father was hospitalized. A week later I confirmed with his doctor---who was also our family friend---that my father had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. However, he also told me that my father had had it for ten years but had been in remission until then, and that he had sworn the doctor to secrecy so that no one would know but them.

On March 23, 1980, my father died. I remember screaming to God in front of my entire family, asking why He didn't take my mother instead. She heard me, but did nothing, and I think that was when she started to fear me a little. She avoided me throughout the wake and the funeral. I was inconsolable and felt completely unsafe, totally vulnerable.

She sent me to college in September. I wasn't ready, even though it meant getting away from her. I sat in my dorm room and looked at the walls and did absolutely nothing. I failed the first semester. I was failing the next semester. I had no idea what to do, and a slow, quiet panic built in me. Near the end of second semester, we were called into the dean's office for counseling. The dean told her I had not attended a single class. I can't even recall if I was expelled or not, because what happened next pretty much erased the memory of that meeting.

My mother and I left the counseling session and walked to the lot where she'd parked. She got in her car, but wouldn't unlock the door for me. I watched her hit the gas hard and begin to drive out of the lot.

Fine, I thought. Later, bitch.

And then she spun the car around and drove straight at me. I stood there, shocked. I remember thinking, "Fuck! She's going to hit me if she's not careful. Wait a sec...she wants to hit me. Holy shit, she wants to KILL me!"

As she got closer, I saw she was smiling maniacally. I turned and ran to get out of the way, and I fell on the ground. She missed me, but not by much. I got up and started pelting down the lot, and she came for me again. I dodged the car. I fell down again, she tried to hit me again, I ran, she followed. Finally I tripped and fell just as I was getting out of the way one last time, and her tire grazed my foot.

I don't remember what happened next, or if I was really expelled. Then the semester was over and I was back home for the summer, making plans.

I'd met a boy the previous summer at Rockaway Beach and he had moved to California to work for a large company. He had come back to New York six months later for additional training and was planning to return to work in early August. He asked me to go with him. I agreed. Much of the summer was spent in tossing various personal items out of my window at three AM while he stood below, catching them, putting them in his car, and taking them to his house so they could be packed for the trip to California.

Somehow, my mother got wind of the plan and called the cops to assist her in kicking me out of the house. My boyfriend met me outside and we drove to his place. I had been saving my clothes to pack last, I had nothing to wear but what I was already wearing, and had no money. His family kindly donated some clothes, and he bought me some sneakers.

A week later, my mother called my boyfriend's house. She had found his phone number in my phone book. His mom answered the phone to my mother's yelling, and she immediately read my mother the riot act for being rude and abusive. I got on the phone, and my mother demanded that I come back to her house because my uncles--her brothers--wanted to talk to me and my boyfriend. Today. Now.

I don't know why I decided to go, but my boyfriend and I got in his car and drove over there. We were met by my uncles, who started grilling my boyfriend. My mother just stood by, hurling irrelevant abuse. My uncles asked what did he think he was doing, told him how they were going to stop him from taking me, etc. He answered them very respectfully, and when they found out what he did for a living, they paused and told my mother that he seemed nice and that he appeared to have a promising career. My mother was shocked, and began screaming at them to kill me and my boyfriend. They ignored her and took my boyfriend with them to talk outside the house on the stoop.

I was alone with my mother and I knew what was coming. She turned to me and lunged---and I was so tired of this, so goddamned tired. I decided I'd finally had enough and I didn't really give a shit about what I was going to do. I caught her wrists and threw her down to the slate kitchen floor. It was like wrestling a rabid dog; I literally saw her foam at the mouth. She bit my arm, and I just beat the hell out of her. I finally got up off her; she was crying, cursing, and spitting at me. She rolled over on her side and vomited. I felt completely detached as I watched her retching. Although shaky from adrenaline, I made it to the front door. My hands and arm hurt badly. I kissed my uncles goodbye and walked with my boyfriend to the car. He and I left for California about two weeks later.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Setting The Scene, Part One

My mother, Anne Radosti Calkins Carosone Sasowski Redington, died on May 11, 2010 at the age of eighty-three, from complications of dementia and Parkinson's disease. I was at work when I got the news via Facebook. Before I could stop myself, I grinned and exclaimed, "Holy shit! My mother's dead!" My co-workers turn to stare at me, aghast. I quickly packed up my purse, told my supervisor what happened, and took off for five days of bereavement leave.

Bereavement, my ass. How do you mourn a parent who tried to kill you?

Anne was born in 1926 on the Lower East Side of New York. She was a very private person---but also notoriously prone to lying---so I could never be certain that whatever she told me was true. She claimed that when she was a baby, her parents gave her away to her Aunt Giuseppina (Josie), who operated a neighborhood numbers racket. Anne said she became a numbers runner before she turned six years old, and that Josie would often hand her twenty dollars as pay, telling her to "go buy candy".

When Anne was eighteen, she married a man named Johnnie Calkins. She said he died of renal failure on their honeymoon, and soon after that, she married a Mr. Carosone. She had two children from that marriage: my half-brothers Joel (Joseph) and John. She told me that Mr. Carosone was an alcoholic, was physically and verbally abusive to her, and had thrown her out of a second-story window; some of her ribs were broken in the fall. She decided to divorce him, and took the kids.

She insisted that she scrubbed toilets to keep a roof over my half-brothers' heads, but I find this unlikely. She had once mentioned that she'd been employed at Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn for a time, but I can't verify whether this is true or not. What I do know for certain is that during the time she was raising Joel and John, she met my father, Stanley Sasowski.

My father was born on New Jersey Avenue, Brooklyn, in 1915. His family was very poor. When Stenley was a young man, he worked for the CCC in Tennessee and sent money back home to his family. He then came back home and lived in his car to save money to purchase what was to be a series of body and fender shops in Brooklyn. He married, and a few years later divorced his wife because she was mentally ill. He had a son of his own from that marriage: my other half-brother, Stanley Junior, of whom he had custody.

In 1960, Stanley and Anne married. I was born in 1962. All of us lived in East New York in Brooklyn, right by the old Piels brewery. One of my earliest memories was sitting on my father's lap while my mother taught me to read out of the Dr. Seuss Dictionary. I was about two years old at the time.

When I was four years old, my father purchased the burned-out shell of a mansion in a residential area about a mile away from our home. The building was known as "The Haunted House", and my father restored it. Within a year, we had moved in.

Very early on, I remember my mother screaming for no apparent reason, and being brought along to evening doctor visits for which my mother had appointments. I also recall my father telling me that Mother was "talking to the doctor", so later on, I concluded that she was seeing a shrink.

When I was about six, everything seemed to go haywire. Stanley Junior was in the Marines and was serving in Vietnam. Johnny graduated from high school. Johnny and Joel kept getting into trouble. I learned a new word: heroin. I watched a drug dealer beat the shit out of Johnny in front of our house while the entire neighborhood watched. I saw the dealer try to beat up my father while my mother was hysterically crying and on the stoop. My father was covered in blood. Terrified, I hid in the broom closet---but then left the house and careened into the boulevard, nearly getting hit by the oncoming cars. As soon as I was across, I ran into my best friend's house and into her mother's arms.

I stayed there for a couple of hours and didn't want to go home that night, but my friend's mother coaxed me into it. She brought me home, and my mother started in on me with her fists. That was my first memory of being beaten severely.

I'll continue this tomorrow.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Got My Ass Kicked Today, And I Enjoyed It.

I've been holding out on you guys. Worse, I've been holding out on myself. Perhaps that's what needed to happen, but it ends here.

I need to post this for many reasons.

Yesterday, Matt and I took the day off to see Rush get their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was the most fun I'd had in a long time. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were funny, humble, and charming (Neil Peart was not there because he was on his way to New Mexico to get ready for Rush's upcoming tour). Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins was one of the guest speakers, as was Donna Halper---the woman who, while working at WMMS in Cleveland, Ohio, put Rush's "Working Man" on her regular playlist. The blue-collar hard-rock fans of Cleveland loved the song, and their appreciation led to Rush's record contract with Mercury Records. The band, grateful to Donna for "getting the ball rolling" (in their own words), acknowledged her on their first and second albums.

In her speech yesterday, Donna referred to herself as Rush's "big sister". That statement stayed with me--and today it made its way into my life and touched me directly in a way that I never could have imagined. This is what happened.

When Matt and I got home yesterday after the festivities, I went online to check out a particular Rush fan site that I frequent. Some individuals had posted a few incendiary things about Neil not being at the event, that he was a dick for not going, and the like. One of the fans then posted a statement that Donna had made elsewhere in response to the bashing and in defense of Neil, who is a very shy individual. Donna mentioned her own issues with shyness and tried to convey what it is like to speak to a crowd when one is so patently uncomfortable in doing so.

Donna's defense of Neil and her compassion for him prompted me to send her a message and a friend request on Facebook. I thanked her for her words and support of Neil, and mentioned my own issues with shyness and the fact that I have PTSD (yeah, I know I never told you about this; more on that later), which makes me really uncomfortable around many people.

This morning, I went online and frequented the sites I usually visit daily. When I went to Facebook, I saw Donna had added me as a friend and that she was available to chat. I sent her a chatbox as follows:

Me: Thank you for EVERYTHING!!! Yesterday was so much fun. XOXO You don't have to respond to this if you don't wish to.

Donna: You're a silly goose. I wanted to respond. I sent my phone number. Call me.


At that moment, I realized that I had a couple of new messages in my Facebook inbox. I checked them, and they were from Donna; she had sent them about a half hour before I had sent her my chatbox. There it was: one of the messages was a request to give her a call.

I know that those of you who know me personally know that I'm the one who crawls into a corner and falls asleep at parties and that I'm not really good around people, for all that I'm a funny wiseass online. You're familiar with my intrinsic shyness, so you probably know what it took for me to pick up the phone and dial the number. And when Donna answered the phone, I panicked.

I don't remember when I started crying, but I do remember that Donna encouraged me to really look at myself, which is something that I've always been terrified to do. We talked about my shyness and diabetes and fibromyalgia and PTSD, and her shyness, and Judaism, and the both of us having had life experiences that would curl your hair. She asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to write. And the answer was really so simple that it almost sounds ridiculous: she said, "So, do what writers do."


I was reminded of one of my favorite Peanuts comics, in which Charlie Brown is at Lucy's psychiatry booth for the umpteenth time. And Lucy gives it to him straight:

Charlie Brown: What can you do when you don't fit in? What can you do when life seems to be passing you by?

Lucy: Follow me. I want to show you something. See the horizon over there? See how big this world is? See how much room there is for everybody? Have you ever seen any other worlds?

Charlie Brown: No.

Lucy: As far as you know, this is the only world there is, right?

Charlie Brown: Right.

Lucy: There are no other worlds for you to live in, right?

Charlie Brown: Right.

Lucy: You were born to live in this world, right?

Charlie Brown: Right.

Lucy: Well, LIVE IN IT, THEN!...Five cents, please.

It's in my hands. I can stew in my shyness and my fear of being ridiculed, and I can point a finger at everyone who's fucked me over...or I can point that finger at myself and take responsibility for me and my actions. I can do, I can live, I can be.

Donna kicked my ass today, and I love her for it. I am proud to call her my friend and big sister...and I am proud to have decided to do, and live, and be.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Oinking One's Way To A Middle Way.

Hello. So. Where have I been? Not here, for sure. Why? Got no excuse, but I'll tell you what's been going on:

One morning about a week after my little hootchy-cootchy on the Metro Red Line Hollywood station platform, I was completely unable to get up out of bed. Everything hurt. I called in sick to work. I figured it was just a flareup of fibromyalgia or some such until I started feeling really feverish. I took my temperature and it was 100.9. The fever got higher as the day progressed, and that's when I started thinking that this wasn't fibro.

By the late afternoon, I felt as if an entire mountain range had grown wheels and had run me over. I'm not exaggerating: when you lie in bed and you have to pee, and you feel so shitty that you actually start thinking you'd much rather piss the bed than even try to move so you can get to the can, that's the kind of feeling it was. At least with fibro, I've been able to crawl to the bathroom if I needed to. Anyway, I did go pee, but only when my husband got home from work and basically almost carried me to the can.

Two days later, my husband took me to Urgent Care. I'm not much for emergency rooms for stuff like this, and my own doc is always full up because he's a great guy, so it's hard to get a same-day appointment with him, much less a same-week appointment. So the Urgent Care doc takes a look at me, takes my temp, and said, "H1N1...go see your own doc."


So I went to see my own doc. He was kind, and decided to let me in to see him on that same day. He met me and my husband at the back entrance to his office, where he and two of his staff were positively swathed in masks, and who can blame 'em? They gave us masks to put on, too. And by this time, everything hurt---hair, teeth, internal organs, lymph nodes, muscles, bones: everything. I couldn't breathe deeply at all because doing so triggered an epic cough, and I'd keep coughing until I started retching. By this time my husband was also feeling ill, but he didn't have the same crushing exhaustion I had, or the fever, or the coughing.

The doctor did swabs of my nose, and of my husband's as well. We were sent home with scripts for inhalable antivirals and narcotic cough syrups and were told to come back in a week.

What I noticed about being this sick is that my fever also did lovely, spectacular leaps into the first five triple digits...and stayed there...until it crashed down to about 101. The bed was sweat-soaked constantly. The delirium was fun, too. At one point, I woke up to my rapidly-moving hands; I was back in my chef days, making trays of ziti!

We went back to the doctor's a week later, and he confirmed that I had swine flu. But wait! Not only did I have swine flu...I also somehow got Type A flu at the same time. My husband tested negative for everything. This blew me away, of course, because of the communicability of H1N1.

My doc was concerned about how the illness would affect my diabetes. When it comes to communicable diseases, diabetics are always in the "high risk for complications" group. I had been testing my blood as I usually did, but now I saw numbers I never thought I'd ever see: 450, 510, etc. It seemed impossible that my blood glucose could ever get that high. I was unable to really do much except keep taking my diabetes medications at the same dosages I had been taking them before I got sick. But the levels never seemed to go down. What was also worrisome is that I wasn't physically able to cook the foods I'd been making to help me maintain good blood glucose levels. I was very weak, and my doctor decided to put me on disability until further notice.

People very kindly pitched in to help. My in-laws brought good, home-cooked meals for me and my husband, and friends did some shopping for simple foods I could eat. And I just lay in bed...which, after a week, starts to suck a kind of suck that's almost intolerable.

Two and a half months later I was pretty much recovered, if still weak...but I went back to work. Two weeks after that, I had bloodwork done and got the results. My white count was way high, and my A1c was at...14.

I almost fell over. Who the fuck has an A1c of 14?! I had worked hard last year to get that number down to a good level, and I'd been glad that it had been as low as 7.0 at one point before I got sick. A 14 is for someone who eats a double cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke every day. A 14 is a pint of premium ice cream five times a week after eating a double cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke every day. It was unfair! I didn't even get a chance to enjoy the road to a 14. I hadn't had entire pizzas or bags of peanut butter cups. And I realized that at that time, I could have made any of three choices.

I'm a natural rebel who doesn't like to be told what to do. It would have been so stupidly easy for me to say "Fuck this. I'm going to eat what I like now. I've been sick and I want to enjoy myself, and my A1c is high as it is, and I just don't want to give a damn for a while."

But I can also get very gung-ho when something is very important. This is partly due to my own anxiety issues as well as the human urge to "make things right". I could just as easily have said, "Oh, my GOD! I'm never eating bread again! I will never, ever allow a piece of chocolate to pass my lips for the rest of my life! I will exercise for four hours every day!", etc.

As far as what happened, look: I am honestly not trying to put myself on some sort of pedestal here. I'm a real pain in the ass most times. So I truly believe that it was not out of some sort of intelligence, but out of total disgust and resignation, that I told myself, "Shut up." So I just went back to eating what I'd been eating before I got sick. I walked a little bit each day, and let myself have a few fun "cheat days", during which I happily rooted in some chocolate or pizza or some such.

On January 2, 2010, almost two months after those results, I had more bloodwork done, and my A1c measured 6.7.

It's probably good that I just stopped bitching and just shut up. I should do that more often.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Today I left work and did my usual traipse down Hollywood Boulevard to the Metro train station at Highland. I had my iPod with me, and I was so glad to be out of the office and going home that when I got to the platform, I cranked the volume and did a little Raqs Sharqi---that’s bellydance--- to a little something called Würm (no, Yesfans, not the studio version. I was heretical and danced to one of the finest interpretations ever: Edmonton, 1984). For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the old rock group Yes wrote a song called “Starship Trooper”. The third part of this piece is called “Würm”, and it was originally part of another song that the group’s guitarist brought to Yes. It has three chords---G, Eb, C---and they go spiraling up and up for three minutes or so, over and over, till they crash into a cool little climactic guitar solo that pans back and forth between yer ears.

Did people stare at me? Yeah. Was my avoirdupois flying around? Oh, hell, yeah. Did I give much of a rat’s? Nope. Why? Because I was dancing again. I hadn’t done it in years, and it felt great. Sit down, kiddies, and I’ll tell you a story.

When I was a little kid, I was frail and sickly. I had anemia and had to have blood tests two to three times a week. I missed a lot of school from kindergarten to about third grade, but when I hit eleven years old my health improved and I decided to get active. I took platform and high-diving lessons, swimming lessons, and I also studied ballet. I loved doing all these things, and it was a pleasure to learn new skills and to feel my body grow stronger. I also studied belly dance on the side because it “opened” my pelvis, which subtly aided my ballet technique in turning and leaping.

Due to some sudden changes in my life, I stopped doing all these things when I was nineteen. I went through the next decade without much physical activity, but in my thirties I returned to my Raqs Sharqi studies with the same enjoyment I experienced the first time I learned how to do hip circles. I chose a dance name: Shaheen [Falconess], and decided to extend my practice with some props. These were a matching pair of steel scimitars which a Western Massachusetts blacksmith forged for me. I danced with them in all sorts of ways; balanced on my head, shoulders, hips, back, and stomach (I used to flip them from dull inner edge to sharp outer edge on my stomach, which was both great fun and stupidly dangerous).

More life changes…I moved to California and married my husband, and stopped dancing. We tried to make babies. This didn’t work. And then in late 2005, my body just collapsed. I woke up one morning and could not get out of bed. Everything hurt, and hurt on the screaming level. Eventually I crawled—and I mean crawled—to the bathroom to pee, crawled back to my bed, fell asleep again, and slept for forty-eight hours. Figuring something was not just wrong but totally fucked up, I went to my doctor, who sent me to specialists, who did a whole bunch of tests and said ChronicFatigueFibromyalgiaEpstein-BarrPsoriaticArthritisProbableLungCancer...


Additional tests proved that I didn’t have lung cancer after all, but when the docs said That Word, I immediately put the cigarettes down and I haven’t smoked since. I may play with sharp things too much for my own good, but I’m not totally stupid. Why screw around?

Anyway, I was so smacked down by these conditions that I needed to use a walker, which wasn’t so bad because it was a bitchin’ candy-apple red and had hand brakes, a basket for my stuff, plus a built-in seat so I could rest if I got really exhausted. However, a few months later I went on disability because I just couldn’t physically make it to work and back. This was completely frustrating, as being at home all day made me stir-crazy. I also had my own ideas about treatment, and I didn’t want to take the drugs my doctor wanted to prescribe; most of my visits were spent in arguments with him over medications with really scary side effects.
One of my dearest friends (to whom I owe so much) sent me vast amounts of heavy-duty glucosamine/chondroitin to help me with the psoriatic arthritis; I took megadoses of this supplement daily. I also did a lot of research on fibromyalgia and practiced nutritional healing with garlic, oregano oil, CoQ10 and lysine. At this time I started to practice zazen; I wasn’t able to sit in full lotus position or even half-lotus, but I could sit in a chair and count my breaths. Slowly, and with much patience, I began to walk again; I had a few setbacks, but I could finally get about slowly and go back to work after a year.

Since then I haven’t felt nearly as bad, even with the relatively recent diabetes diagnosis…but I haven’t felt as well as I did last Friday night, when I got on a treadmill for the first time in two years and, during a slow walk, decided to run for about a minute. Yes, run. I cranked that basstich up to 6 MPH and almost flew. Sure, it was only for a minute, but damn if I didn’t do it. I can’t even remember the last time I did.

So, remembering how good that little run felt inspired me to shake my thang all over the subway platform while waiting for the 4:17 to roll in. As I danced, I watched people laugh, I saw some who were unnerved, and some others were clapping in rhythm to my steps. And it didn’t matter if anyone thought I was an idiot, or if they approved of what I was doing. I suddenly just saw a human family---my human family.

The Buddhist term sangha means “community”, and, as a rule, refers to the Buddhist community as a whole…or it can also mean any group of beings who are at a level of greater realization than are others. I think sangha is more than that. Those people on the platform---I don’t know if they were Buddhist or not. I don’t know if they were Republicans, I don’t know if they molest chickens for fun and profit, or if they’ve found the meaning of existence. And it doesn’t matter. They—we—all of us—are sangha. There’s no special membership, no exclusivity.

(Yeah, dogs and cats and iguanas and molested chickens and trees and everything in the universe, either “good” or “bad” are included.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Well. It’s been---what? Five months since I’ve submitted an entry? And here I am, slinking back to my blog like an errant schoolgirl. Bad, bad Tasia.
I have been unable (unwilling?) to get past some stuff that’s gone on in my life since March. But now, like the little “dead” guy on the cart in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I feel fine, and I want to go for a walk. Well, mostly.
Here’s what went on:

1.) I found a website that was all about East New York in Brooklyn, where I grew up. The site was created by the nephew of a woman who was one of my father’s tenants; she lived above us in the duplex in which I spent my first three years. The site actually showed the house to which my family and I next moved, and pictures of its history over the years from the early part of the 20th century until today. And my father’s name was also mentioned in the information that accompanied the pictures. This was a kind of setback for me, as seeing all of this opened up a Pandora’s Box of memories which have been difficult for me to handle: things with which I’d not yet come to terms from my past, which involved the physical and mental abuse I received from my mother on a daily basis.

2.) I got pregnant. I could hardly believe that it happened, and after years and years of miscarriages, too. This was not something that my husband Matt or I wanted, and we knew how it would end up, anyway. Sure enough, six weeks in---miscarriage.

3.) My cousin Alicia died; she was 50 years old. She was my father’s sister’s daughter, and a professor in Merida, Mexico. Apparently she went out for a meal, ate something that caused some sort of allergic reaction, and just-----died. Bam.

4.) Matt’s father John was diagnosed with emphysema. Yes, he has since quit smoking.

5.) Matt was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. According to his physician, it’s not inevitable that Matt will be diagnosed with full-on Type II diabetes if he immediately improves his diet and loses weight; in other words, he should act as if he already has the disease. I am glad that he does not have to take any meds at this time!

It’s been difficult for me to deal with a lot of this, but I am doing it, just as for months I sat around and said, “I gotta get back to my blog”, and one great friend told me, “Yes, you must,” and gave me all sorts of sound reasons to do so. Sometimes it’s difficult to realize that loved ones can help when you’re in a bad way, and that you don’t have to cope alone. True, no one can do things for you, but inspiriting words from friends can soften one’s situation.

I am proud to say that Matt is taking better care of his health now than he ever had. He diligently reads labels and is eating more simply, and understands more about simple carbohydrates and how they affect his blood sugar levels.

Two weeks ago or so I decided to become a vegan. Here are some links that discuss the benefits of a vegan diet for diabetics:



(Please cut and paste; the "insert link" tool on Blogger isn't working. Sorry!)

I was very excited to learn about this, and I have been easing Matt into eating this way little by little. Due to my past years of being a vegetarian/vegan chef, I’m already familiar with vegan replacements for basic ingredients like cheese, cream, milk, and eggs, and there are so many substitutes for meats, poultry, and fish out there. ..and not just the tried and true tofu, either! I recently purchased some gorgeous vegan “shrimp”; I had tried them about ten years ago and found them delicious. I plan to marinate them in lime juice, cilantro, olive oil and fresh garlic, and to serve them with zucchini, chives, and roasted red peppers over brown rice. Yum.

Of course, with the choice of going vegan comes the inevitable political ramifications of doing so. I am all for animal rights and for eating cruelty-free and for buying cruelty-free products to use in my home…but I will not stop taking my medications because they have been tested on animals, nor will I donate any animal product clothes I currently have to charity. I am not in the financial position to give things away to replace them with others: to do so would not be sensible. When my Uggs and my wool cape are destroyed from use, then I will purchase cruelty-free replacements for them. Some will say that this does not make me a “true vegan”, and that’s OK. I can’t afford to be impractical in a lousy US economy and while living in California when I can barely afford to shell out the copays for my meds. Lawsy!