Wednesday, December 25, 2019

What Happened on 12/21/19: Debby Thompson, Ander Monson, Cathy de la Cruz, Stephanie Austin, Naomi Washer

On 12.21.19, we invited writers and readers to write about "What Happened" that day, however they interpreted it, as an exercise in mass attention, and promised to publish as many of the resulting essays as possible. So here we go! For more details and a full list of the contributors, click the What Happened page.


Down Dog
(What happened Dec. 21, 2019)

The day started when I opened Penguin’s crate, and she charged into Tiger, who’d been sleeping comfortably on the sofa, getting the sleep he needed to face the daily onslaught of the new puppy. At nine years old, he’s middle-aged, like his human counterpart. We’re both feeling our age against the full force of puppy energy.
     We all three hustled to the back door. I’m potty training Penguin, so I need to get her outside before she pees in the house.
     When she peed outside, I held a puppy party. “Yes!  Good girl!  Good pee!”
     This is my life now.

Penguin is no Olive. I recently lost my nearly fourteen-year-old Border collie. Olive was brilliant, intense, completely neurotic, and awe-inspiring. She was lightning and wildfire. She was the first dog I got after my life-partner, Rajiv, died, when all my care-giving instincts were still activated, and I needed to pour my love and energy into meaningful work. Olive was a hell of a lot of work. She’d been rescued from a hoarder, who had tied her to a tree all day long, so she came to me a hot mess of anxiety, resource protectiveness, and OCD. She attacked other dogs, shrieked to pierce eardrums, and fence-ran so intently that she dug grooves along the dog park fence. I’d worked hard with her, and gradually, over years, she came around—somewhat. Through all that dog training, and through my constant attempts to exercise her mind and body sufficiently, we got close. Sisters in the struggle.
     I’ve long said I wouldn’t do a Border collie again. The breed needs a job and acreage. It’s not fair to force a Border collie into a suburban lifestyle. It’s also hard on the owner, and at 56, I’m too old to keep up with a dog who needs to run miles and hours every day. I’d said that I wanted my next dog to be stupid and lazy. That combination would be so much easier, and such a relief. But I now I miss Olive and her Border collie intensity.
     I missed her so much that soon after she died I went out and got this terrier/blue heeler puppy, the anti-Olive, all meek and cowering and slow. I told myself it was because Tiger was grieving and needed a new friend, but I may have a slight tendency to project onto my dogs.
     Penguin is a rescue dog from a high-kill shelter in Oklahoma. She seems to have been stuck in a puppy mill situation, crated all day long. When I got her a month ago, she was terrified of people, especially men, and extremely submissive to other dogs. Confusingly, she’d walk right up to other dogs and then roll onto her back, belly up. It’s like she didn’t speak fluent dog yet, and didn’t know how to make friends. She was the geeky, weird kid in school no one knew quite what to do with, too odd to get bullied. Even Tiger seemed to have given up on her. He let her take his toys from him and fuss at him and even try to steal his food, because what else can you do with someone so hopelessly awry.

I went to feed the dogs. I used to make Olive and Tiger do tricks for their food. I’d gotten into that habit because the Border collie needed constant mental stimulation, so I was constantly teaching her new tricks. Olive could do 50: figure eights, say your prayers, twirl clockwise, twirl counter-clockwise, high five from behind…Tiger learned many of these tricks alongside Olive. For this feeding, I made him salute.
     Penguin can sit. That’s all she’s got. We’re working on stay. So I put her and Tiger in a five-second sit. Penguin turned her head away from the bowl of food, as she always does. She can’t stand to look at it while she waits, while her drool drips onto the kitchen floor. Once again she dripped drool, but she stayed. She did stay. That gives me hope.

I’ve learned something from every dog I’ve had. From Tiger, I discovered what joy looks like, happiness being something I struggle with. Even the concept of happiness has always been difficult for me, and after Rajiv died, it got that much harder. I’ve struggled even to conceptualize happiness, unable to remember what it feels like. But Tiger emits unbounded happiness. I’ve learned to breathe in his secondhand joy.
     I wonder what I’ll learn from Penguin. Maybe how to settle for less.

After more peeing and more praising, I crated Penguin, scruffed up Tiger, and went to my old ladies’ gym.


Dirty dog is one of the exercises we do for glutes. Also bird dog, reverse bird dog, down dog with pike jump, down dog with knee to chest, and more. It seems that dogs use their butt muscles a lot. At my gym of middle-aged women, we’re all fighting gravity, hoping that our muscles can uplift us.
     I, in particular, had been complaining about my butt as I did my dog variations and bridges. “I had a butt,” I’d say, lifting a leg for dirty dog, “but it fell. I need to lift it back up.” I’d lament all the clothes I couldn’t wear—most notably leggings—because I had no butt.
     “I bet you could buy one,” Cindy, one of the coaches, had said.
T     hen she went ahead and ordered me a butt from Amazon. When it arrived a week ago, I tried it on after my workout. I slipped my jeans over the padded underwear and stood sideways in the mirror. Curves! It was a fine ass, perky and confident. It wasn’t exaggerated; it was just exactly the size of the butt of my youth, the butt I’d thought I’d lost forever.
     When I went onto the gym floor to show Cindy, all the ladies there—about fifteen or twenty—ooh-ed and ah-ed. Like I was some hot, sexy thing. Then they converged and started grabbing at my butt, feeling up the padding, and prodding at the un-padded flesh beneath it. In a different context, such an onslaught might have felt intrusive, invasive, or even scary. But in this context, it had felt wonderful. “I have a butt now!” I’d gloated, and the ladies congratulated me as if I’d just become (or newly become) a woman.
     Today, a week later, when I left the changing room in my jeans and went to get my oat, an elderly woman (who knows my name although I don’t know hers), said, “Debby! Check out you in those jeans! Your butt’s looking good!” She gave me a knowing look, almost a leer, then slipped behind me and squeezed my ass. “And it feels so natural!”
     “It is,” I said. “I’m not wearing my padded underwear today.”
     “Oh,” she said, and pulled her hands back, mumbling an apology before making a hasty retreat.
I didn’t need an apology. I haven’t had anyone grab my ass in a long time. It just felt good to be touched.

“Merry Christmas, Debby!” people called out to me at the door.
     “Thanks,” I said, “but it’s actually Channukah for me, but Happy Holidays to you too.” Inelegantly stated, but not meant to be offensive. One woman, though, pulled her chin back into her neck as if I’d struck her, which somehow made me feel like a bitch.


But I’m a hypocrite, because I took my dogs for a photo from Santa.
     I’d done it last year, and it turned out to be my last winter with Olive. The photo shows all her intensity. (She gets no joy out of Christmas, or anything else. Tiger, on the other hand, is all joy.)
Last year I’d been in the middle of grading misery, so suddenly it seemed essential that I take my dogs for a photo opp. This year I’m on sabbatical, but I still have work to avoid.
     Penguin did surprisingly well with Santa. She’s come such a long way in the month I’ve had her. She used to be afraid of all people, but especially men. It helped that this Santa was wonderfully gender-nonconforming. Penguin settled into the crook of their arm, while Tiger nicely sat on command at Santa’s feet. I dare to be a little proud of them, even if Penguin leapt to freedom an instant after the photo was taken. Down dog indeed.

While in PetSmart, we bought anti-poop-eating medication. Stool-No! is a chewable tablet “formulated to facilitate deterrence of stool eating.”
     Yeah. I spent $24 to make my dogs’ feces taste bad.
     This is my life now.
     Penguin is a shit-eater. She probably developed her coprophagia because she’d been cooped up all day long in a tiny cage that rarely got cleaned. Poop-eating is a common behavior in puppy mill dogs. So I try to have empathy for poor Penguin; her life was a lot worse than mine. Still, I’m not enjoying my new role of keeping Penguin from eating shit. Dog help both of us.
     At the dog park, people are terrible about cleaning up after their dogs, and, since Penguin prefers her snacks hot and fresh, I have to run around the dog park picking up after other people’s dogs.


Which is what I did next. Today I decided to try a dog park in a posher part of town, hoping it would be cleaner. The one near me, where we’re already regulars, is known as the rougher dog park, with “rougher” describing both the people and the dogs. Tiger, a husky mix, is one of the rough-and-tumble dogs who likes to play hard. Surprisingly, Penguin also does well with the rough dogs, partly because she immediately submits to everyone. She’s an odd mixture of curiosity and submission, each trait vying with the other for dominance. I never have to worry about her initiating a fight, as I did with Olive. If it weren’t for her poop-eating, the dog park would be fun again.
     Olive (I have to be honest) was not fun at the dog park. Her bossiness and resource protectiveness made dog park trips stressful. But at least she didn’t eat shit.
     The posher dog park turned out to be even shittier than the rough one. People stared down at their cell phones while their dogs did whatever. And so I ran around picking up other people’s shit. It felt like too obvious a metaphor. But also all too real.
     I had hoped, once upon a time ago, that my contribution to the world would have been something more productive and meaningful than this.
     Only one guy noticed my manic waste-removal. When I explained that my dog was a poop-eater, he said, “We all have our flaws,” and then returned to his phone.

Just when I thought we were ready to leave, Penguin started running, doing zoomies around the perimeter and then chasing after a one-year-old Catahoula mix. It was as if at that exact moment, her herding gene activated, and she became a cattle dog. She ran and ran after the big dogs in her deer-like way, little leaps of freedom, her body trying to figure out what it was needing to do.
     And then she found her voice. Her first real bark, beyond the tiny yips I’d heard. I felt like a parent must when their baby says its first word. Penguin was becoming empowered.
     No good can come of that.
     Within minutes, she was shrieking nonstop like the Alvin and Chipmunks Christmas album, her inner Miss Bossypants unleashed. It was enough to make mellow Tiger step up and give her a good growl. I was glad to see him put up a fight, even if Penguin resumed her shrieking after only the briefest possible pause.
     She may be the second coming of Olive after all.
     Happy Holidays.



Ander Monson has two books forthcoming from Graywolf in February 2020: I Will Take the Answer (nonfiction) and The Gnome Stories (fiction). He's one of the curators of this site.


21 Mini Essays about December 21

Violence Against Women

I woke up around 9am from dreams about investigating a house that was part of a crime scene and taking selfies outside of it—not with the house in frame, but with the view of a lake nearby. The house was on this beautiful lakeside property so it felt like I was on a vacation, but I knew a woman had been murdered inside. When I stepped outside the crime scene house to look at the beautiful landscape view and take photos, I got vertigo and for some reason I thought my photos would capture the vertigo because when I looked through the viewfinder I saw a deranged triptych that was swirling.
     Inside the dream-house, I kept looking for blood, but it just looked like an abandoned house where maybe teenagers had held a party that had gotten out of hand. I kept trying to make everything be blood—spilled pink nail polish for instance. I clearly wanted to see blood.
     I left my car running outside in case the murderer was still on the loose and I needed to race off. I felt like I wasn’t actually supposed to be here and saw another crime scene being investigated down the street. “Maybe that’s where the body was actually found,” I told myself—believing it was an extension of the same crime scene and not a different one.

Around 7:30pm, I got an alert from the Citizen app that a woman had been assaulted “by a group of teenagers” 900 feet away from my home. It happened in an area that is very dark, where I always feel unsafe at night when I’m alone.

2019 was the first year in my life that a woman I know was killed by domestic violence. I didn’t know what “unreal” could feel like until this happened.

Text Messages from Friends

I woke up to text messages from a Los Angeles friend asking if I’d be in New York on the 23rd. Kate W. sent them right as I was closing my eyes to fall asleep last night/this morning at 1:04am. At 8:57am, I incorrectly told her “No” immediately and then quickly corrected that actually “Yes” I would be in town on Monday, but gave her the caveat that I’m sick with a cold and she can do what she wants to with that information.

When I looked at my phone, I saw that I had a message from my friend, Tonopah. She wanted to know the name of “the amazing film artist from Minneapolis who made the film about bra shopping.” I responded that her name was Sarah Jacobson.

I finally texted my friend, Kate H. back to let her know I’d be open to catching up via phone tomorrow.
     My friend, Liz texted to ask me if I wanted to see the Cats movie in January. I said “Probably.”
     My friend, Natalie texted to ask me if I was going to Texas. I said “Yes, Tuesday.”
     My cousin, Austin texted me to ask if my Chinese herbs were working. I sent him photos of the herbs that were working well for me since he is sick with a cold too.
     I texted some hometown friends, Ash and Iliana about a news article where the very white director, Terry Gilliam critiqued Black Panther. I included lots of eyeroll emojis.
     Ash texted Ili and me a photo of her parents in “ugly” Christmas sweaters. I thought about how my family was never into stuff like that
     Around 7pm, my friend, Genevieve and I texted about the holidays. We realized we have both shared a crush on the same male astrologer. Then we talked about our favorite sound baths in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles.
     Kate W. finally texted me back to show me that she had arrived in New York and was hanging out with her niece.
     At 9:18pm, my friend Patrick texted me something funny about the Gangstarr song “Mass Appeal.”
     At 11pm while I was already asleep, Patrick texted me about how he had spent the evening with his dad and dad’s friend poking around his dad’s 100 year old neighbor’s house because he was worried about the neighbor. Patrick’s dad could hear the neighbor’s phone ringing and see that his car was there. Patrick said that they used a ladder and had flashlights and did this for 20 minutes but because of white privilege, no one stopped three white men trying to break into a house. And they were never worried about getting hassled by police. The 100 year old neighbor was out with his family by the way.
     I was asleep when Patrick was recounting this story to me. Perhaps dreaming about Kim Kardashian in Black Face, or Terry Gilliam being upset that voices other than his are being heard—or maybe I was dreaming about the Hotel California. I don’t remember.

In the Bathroom

I sat on the toilet reading from my phone about dying puppies and Kim Kardashian in Black Face. The puppies were bought from breeders and had Parvo. I read about the dogs in The L.A. Times and at first I wondered why anyone would be surprised about breeders treating dogs this way and then I read on about just how badly the dogs were treated and I understood why this story still needed to be told.
     I read about Kim Kardashian on Twitter. My first thought was that I didn’t recognize her. My second thought was that everyone is imitating an image of an image.
     Oh and also back to the puppies—please don’t buy from breeders. That dog was tortured because someone was willing to buy it. I always think people know they shouldn’t buy from breeders, but then some very intelligent person I know buys a ridiculously cute dog from a breeder. I think it’s way worse than drinking almond milk as far as awful things we could all easily stop doing go—because the problem is that it’s not just you, it’s all of us.
     Then while still on the toilet, I infoseeked someone I found attractive. Infoseeking is when you seek information about someone you are interested in. You could call it Google-stalking, but that puts a brand on it and sometimes you’re using social media to do it. Sometimes you’re asking a friend for dirt. Also “stalking” is a really intense term for trying to figure out if someone has a girlfriend, is married, etc. based on 5 minutes or less of internet use and then maybe forgetting the person exists altogether, which is more often than not what happens. I honestly don’t even remember the name of who I was infoseeking now. This is why I am off of social media.
     I took a long hot shower. I used tea tree oil soap. I wore a shower cap because I didn’t have time to wash my hair. I made sure that the shower was long and hot because I am congested from a cold or sinus thing.

I had to pee as soon as I walked in the door. My body always knows that when I’m walking up the stairs, it will get to pee soon. I think my bladder is blessed with a good survival mechanism.
     I opened my mail while sitting on my toilet.

The Clothes I Wear

I got dressed and noticed the hem of my dress was falling but didn’t care because my horoscope said to “Get dressed up” and this vintage purple and white gingham dress was one of the only clean things I had to wear.
     I am notorious with fallen hems. In 2012 when I had my Going Away party in L.A., I wore a dress that I had bought in the valley specifically for that occasion, but thought was too long so I just quickly cut it at the last minute with regular kitchen scissors and tried to apply some fabric tape that kept falling all night during my Going Away party. I must have looked so sloppy. I felt like Kristy McNichol in Summer of my German Soldier, after she has shamed herself and someone yelled at her to pull up her falling knee-highs.

As I walked, a slight rip in my tights started to cause chafing on my left thigh. I kept thinking if I could fix it somewhere privately, it would stop hurting.

I very uncharacteristically didn’t bring a water bottle with me and of course got thirsty. I wanted the freedom of leaving my apartment with just a coat on and everything I needed in my pockets: wallet, keys, phone; like a man.

Taking the Subway

From when I had gone to sleep the night before to when I had woken up at 8:55am to when I had actually left the house at 10am, I decided not to take the L train or the J train, but the G train to get to my therapy appointment. The route changed three times.
     I got to the train on time and it was two minutes late. The two minutes late made me nervous since I don’t trust weekend-trains.
     Someone’s phone went off on the train. It was playing the song “Hotel California” and now I can’t get it out of my head even though it has stopped playing and I can’t help but think it must have been a joke to set someone’s ring tone to “Hotel California.” Even retyping it now, I am getting the song stuck in my head. Such a lovely place... No it’s not. And I know.
     I know because once I was in the Hotel California. Ok, not really. But when you look at the LP album art or on the back of the CD, all these people are gathered around inside a building and it looks sort of like they’re up to no good purely based on the fact that it’s the 1970s and there are so many of them and supposedly there is a ghost in the background. I’ve been there.
     And now I can’t remember for the life of me why I was there. I feel like I was buying something off of Craigslist or giving someone I met once a ride or something.
     L.A. is weird. I remember I had a friend with me because I learned the hard way that entering someone’s home for a Craigslist purchase can be scary. Anyway, I can’t remember what I was buying or who I was with, but I know it happened—and the apartment building wasn’t that nice.

My nose hurts from all the blowing and I’m jealous of this woman on the subway eating a sandwich. Normally I think eating on the subway is gross, but the G train is surprisingly clean. Maybe one of the only subway lines I would ever eat on. Now I wonder why New Yorkers never rank subway lines based on “clean enough to eat on.” It will be my new icebreaker.

Now I’m on the A train. It came immediately when I got off of the G train. It almost seemed too good to be true or like I was being rewarded by the universe for not paying $20 for a car that is ruining the world*, like drinking almond milk or buying a $1,000+ dog from a breeder. *Lyft doesn’t treat drivers/employees right, lots of women get assaulted by their drivers, oh and yellow taxi cab drivers are literally killing themselves. Also the environment.
     Then I took the Q or R train (I don’t remember) to my support group, while drinking a medium (I forget what Starbucks calls their sizes and I don’t care) almond milk (I am the devil) latte.
     Once off the subway, I walked on the sidewalk through an area selling Christmas trees and saw a guy who looked like my sorta ex, Ben. The sorta Ben-looking-guy had a cute dog and a beautiful girlfriend. I was happy and jealous for these two. These three, if I count their dog, who didn’t seem like it was from a breeder.
     Then I took the 2 or 3 train one stop to Hoyt. A man on the train stared at my plastic CVS bag—I think to try and see what I had bought. Then he looked at me. Then he went back to singing along to his music which had curse words.
     Also, I know I should have brought a bag from home with me, but I wanted to feel free like a man.
     I got off the train after one stop and headed to the G train. I had surprisingly good subway luck for a Saturday.
     As soon as the G train started moving, my friend Adam called me. I texted him to let him know I was on the train and couldn’t talk because I’m not one of those people whose about to have 10 seconds of a telephone call in front of everyone before it cuts out.
     While exiting the G train, I realized I hadn’t peed since I left my apartment at 10am and it’s after 3pm now. That seems super odd. I drank orange juice that tasted like glue and a very big almond latte.


Normally I have therapy on Tuesdays, but due to an ice situation in Connecticut, my therapist had to reschedule to Saturday, which I was unhappy about, but honestly it was the only time I have had therapy on a Saturday in all of 2019 and here it was happening on the shortest day of the year, which is also the winter solstice.
     It turns out that my therapist’s weekend office is located right next to where I first lived when I moved to New York. However, I was hungry and in a hurry to get to therapy so I didn’t have time to ponder it.

I finished my breakfast before my therapist came and got me and just as I suspected, we had an interpersonal dynamic processing session since we had sort of had a weird exchange happen when she rescheduled on me at the last moment on Tuesday.
     We processed our miscommunications and while I respected her for “going there” with me, I wonder if I should find a new therapist. Not because of this. I believe this resulted from her maybe not being the right fit for me. Who knows. Me in the future probably.
     After my therapy appointment, I called a nearby Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist to see if they had time to give me a consult since I was still miserable with my cold. The TCM herbalist said they could meet with me tomorrow and I didn’t think it was appropriate to admit that I was being impulsive and had they been available to amuse my impulsiveness at this very moment, I would have happily given them $170 for one week’s worth of herbs. However, sleeping on it and probably feeling a tiny bit better tomorrow, I will not feel so impulsive. Nor will I want to come back to the city.


My intermittent fasting alarm went off at 10am as I was walking out the door—alerting me that it was time to eat, but I didn’t have time to eat. I needed to get to therapy by 11am.

I had about 20 minutes and saw an Au Bon Pain, which seemed like a way better breakfast option than McDonald’s across the street, but it was so crowded. I ended up at McDonald’s and got a sausage biscuit, a hash brown and orange juice. I didn’t want to eat McDonald’s on the first day of winter or any day really, but here I was. I tried not to be annoyed that a tourist couple took a really long time to figure out what their perhaps first McDonald’s order ever in their lives was going to be—in front of me while I was pressed for time.
     Once I got upstairs, ready to shamefully eat my McDonald’s, I walked into a tiny waiting room full of people sitting in small chairs. It was “New York small” and now I needed to squeeze in with these folks and eat…McDonald’s.
     I sat in a tiny chair that was actually uncomfortably tight for my plus-size body. I realized that I would need to use the chair across from me to put my coat, hat and scarf so that I could then place my food on my lap. I felt like a giant man in a little girl’s playhouse.
     My orange juice tasted like glue.

I was cold and tired and looked around for a non-chain coffee shop, but didn’t see one. I walked into Starbucks, where I passed a homeless man opening the door for everyone who walked in. Normally, I’m immune to giving money to people who ask for money in New York because I don’t have that much money (unless I am sick, post-therapy and feeling like throwing down some money on Traditional Chinese Medicine for my 10-day sinus infection) and if I gave everyone who asked for money in New York—money—I wouldn’t have any money left. However, it was so so cold out that it actually sort of hurt to exist outside and I wasn’t out there for very long. And I imagined how cold this homeless or down on his luck man might be and I bought him a $20 Starbucks gift card because I thought with $20 he could buy enough so that he could be inside, out from the cold and hopefully not get kicked out. I gave him the gift card on the way out and he told me “God bless.”
     My now deceased father used to sometimes get breakfast by himself and he said sometimes people would ask him for money while he ate and he would say, “If you sit here and eat, I’ll buy you your meal.” It’s a little weird to do, but I get the idea—he was happy to feed someone who was hungry versus giving money that could be used towards drugs or alcohol. I guess that’s where I get it from—the wanting to help in a way that seems like help. But also I hate feeling controlling, which is what telling someone they can only use your money for food feels like.

I turned on the oven, remembered I had dinner leftovers I could eat and quickly turned off the oven.
     I proceeded to eat a late lunch via last night’s dinner leftovers while watching Schitt’s Creek, which I have come to love recently.

As the hours passed, I made a Newman’s pizza and some elderberry tea. I used my new pizza cutter. I added almond milk and honey to the tea. I wasn’t really hungry, but I knew I only had a little more time to eat due to the intermittent fasting.


I walked to the G train and past the last spot I saw Ben, my sort of ex, in my neighborhood. It wasn’t the last time I saw him, but the last time I saw him on my turf.
     I decided in my head that there’s basically a plaque at the tree near where Ben and I kissed goodbye. I remember honestly being surprised that he kissed me, because he didn’t seem like someone who would show affection in public, which is weird because he kissed me in public on our first date. But it was nighttime after our first date and this was a public daytime kiss. I don’t know why it surprised me.
     The plaque would say “Ben and Cathy: Things were sort of alright for a moment. We were almost a normal couple for a second (at least in Cathy’s mind).”
     And then I kept on walking—
     To the Broadway G train which is how Ben got home from our first date. I replay this moment in my head more than I should—all the things I did wrong that didn’t give us a chance from the get go—like the failure of us is entirely my fault.


The security guard at my therapist’s office was not playing around. I feel like there are definitely two types of building security guards. Those who fall asleep at their desk and those who are willing to take a bullet for their job. This guy was definitely the latter. He wanted to know all the details of where I was going and he studied my ID closely, very closely.

Support Group

I started walking to the subway to head to a support group that I’ve been going to for the last five months.
     I got to my support group 15 minutes early. The support group facilitator and I talked about physical therapy, mental health therapy, and podcasts. Eventually the other early folks quieted down to listen to us and it made me nervous that my conversation was on the spot.
     I stepped out of the room for a minute to cancel my 4pm massage. I was still sick with a cold and I knew a massage would not be very enjoyable. I imagined myself face down unable to breathe with all my congestion and paying someone $150 for that experience.
     Back in the support group setting, there is a really comfortable red chair that is always taken. Today, December 21st I was there early enough to claim my throne. It was really comfortable.
     I shared in the support group and I cried during my share.
     There was a woman in the support group who looked familiar and I couldn’t quite place her.
I wanted to talk to several women after the meeting, but they all got swarmed by other women with the same idea. I thought someone was going to talk to me—to tell me she related to what I shared, but instead told me I could reach out to her if I ever needed to and I felt taken off guard because it put all the onus on me when I’m in pain to reach out. Now I know I won’t do that to others. It doesn’t feel good.
     I guess if you’re really worried about someone who seems in pain or upset or emotional, maybe ask, “Hey, is it OK if I call you sometime to chat?” versus “Call me if you need someone to talk to.” because people truly in pain are often in too much pain to reach out. Also: don’t buy dogs from breeders, don’t drink almond milk, don’t use Lyft or Uber, please don’t wear Black Face or let anyone think it’s acceptable to do so, and take a re-usable bag with you everywhere you go just in case.
Full disclosure: I am fine at this moment. I was just emotional yesterday.
     I left the meeting when it was over, forgetting my trash aka the Starbucks cup. I tried to wait in line for the bathroom, but there was pee all over one seat and then the person in the other stall was taking too long for me to want to wait.


I can’t get “Hotel California” out of my head. It’s like a disease.


On the way to the subway, I stopped to look at the street where I first lived on when I moved to New York in 2014. I don’t see it often—maybe once every other year at most and it always feels like seeing someone from my past who I used to be incredibly intimate with, but now don’t have any contact with.
     At noon, I looked down my old street and recalled how dark and desolate that street was at night. I joked to friends that I always felt like I was in the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video on that street after dark, which I think means I didn’t think anything bad was actually going to happen. It was fun-scary.
     In the summer of 2014, I lived in a dorm room inside of Pace University for three months. I was right across from Brasserie Les Halles where I went for a drink or a drink and appetizers at least once or twice—maybe more. I noticed that I technically lived on John Street, which I had completely forgotten. This only feels significant because one of the biggest things to happen in my romantic life these past five years in New York was a weird two-year affair with someone named John from 2015-2017. And then John came back in 2019 for about a two week period. It was like he slithered in through some weird portal the cosmos had missed in the universe’s well intentioned plan to keep us apart indefinitely. But don’t worry, he slithered right out.
     My belief that everything in our lives foreshadows our future, we just don’t understand it yet feels validated by having lived on John Street before I really lived on John Street.

Drug Store

I walked to CVS where I bought some nasal spray and something to clean my humidifier. The “something” is shaped like a little fish that “swims” around your humidifier to clean it for 30 days.
My phone number wouldn’t work for the CVS discount, so I used my mom’s number and got so many coupons with my receipt that I felt like I was learning a lot about her:

  • $3 off $10 of cleaning supplies
  • $3 off of $20 of health care products
  • $2 off of $10 of Dunkin Donuts coffee
  • $1 off of $4 of Oreos
  • $2 off of $8 of coffee
  • $2 off of $8 of paper products
  • $1 off of $5 off of cooler beverages. 

Today is the first day I have ever really looked at CVS coupons and I didn’t realize how confusing they were.
     From CVS, I texted my mom a photo of a cat-with-sunglasses stuffed animal and told her that if my sister was still looking for a holiday present to buy for me, she could get me that. I was half-joking. I want someone to buy me this stuffed animal. Even though it will one day end up in landfill. I can’t win. I’m sorry.
     The cat is orange and I’ve always wanted an orange cat. It has green glittery sunglasses on and a red sweater with a Christmas tree on it. The cat looks overweight. I love overweight cats.

Gourmet Grocery Store

I wandered into a gourmet grocery store, but nothing looked good to me. Plus, I was too far away from home to get prepared food. It would be cold by the time I arrived and then I would have to reheat it and then it wouldn’t be very prepared.
     While there, I noticed a box of Chocolate Cheerios which I didn’t know was a thing.
     One data point: the box says “Made with real cocoa.”
     Two data points: the box also says “Can help lower cholesterol.”
     Three data points: the box says “Gluten Free.”
     I am left with so many questions.

Voicemails from Friends

Adam left me a voicemail: “Hey Cathy. Thanks so much for the books. Um, just calling to say ‘thank you’ and that was so nice of you. Thank you for the treats. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.”
     Adam is who I lived with my after I moved out of the Pace University dorms. I lived on his couch for one entire month in 2014 rent-free. I met him in the year 2000 or 2001 when I was classmates with his girlfriend at the time, Jessica. I sort of broke girl-code by becoming such good friends with Adam, but that’s what happened. I had an amazing friendship with Jessica for all of my 20s and now Adam has been like family for most of my 30s. I have a theory that as Jessica changed like people do, Adam still had qualities that reminded me of the old Jessica and maybe that is why we are so close.

Natural Food Store

I decided to stop at the grocery store on the way back to my apartment. I bought something called Annie’s Ginger Elixir (in shot form, so it looked like something you would buy from a scantily clad waitress at a club while waiting in line for the bathroom), a ginger shot (not in as cool of a container), some Knudsen juice (Morning Blend, which is my favorite), organic free range beef franks (because I was having a weird craving), salmon (I don’t feel like I need to defend or explain this), a pizza cutter (because it’s honestly weird I don’t own one), a Newman’s pizza (because I believe in having a backup frozen pizza at all times just in case and also because I just bought the pizza cutter), and some Kombrewcha, which is the only kind of alcohol I like these days.

Mail from Friends

When I arrived home, I had mail that wasn’t bills or junk.
     My friends, Christene and Patrick from L.A. addressed their holiday card to me as “Lil’ Rat DLC” and somehow it still found its way to my mailbox.
     My friend, Kate from Wisconsin sent me her yearly family portrait holiday card.
And the Poetry Project sent me a beautiful poster for this upcoming New Year’s Day reading marathon.

The Internet

Adam and his wife, Becky made a funny holiday video and sent it to me and presumably their other close friends.
     I Googled a potential new therapist and found that she doesn’t take insurance and thought about the ethics of so many supposed good therapists not taking insurance and what that means for people who don’t have a lot of money.
     I didn’t masturbate even though I wanted to and instead Googled one of the herbal supplements my acupuncturist recommended and discovered the company who makes it had been sued for selling products with lead in them.


I got in my bed and tried to take a half hour nap and couldn’t sleep even though I was tired. I thought about masturbating which happens anytime I get in my bed before bedtime these days. My bed has lots of sexual energy I think and I have decided I am OK with that.

Moon Ritual

I wrote in my Moonology diary. I added belated entries for November 25th (“Took Brian cupcakes…shared them with him, his mom and Kayla) up to present day, December 21st (“Saw the Kim Kardashian Black Face pics”). There obviously isn’t much space for entries in the diary.
     Also in my Moonology diary, I wrote a belated Gemini Full Moon Forgiveness list and since the full moon triggered my ninth house of study, travel, internet, religion, spirituality and dreams I focused on forgiving some past professors (someone who was sexist, someone who was just mean), a past classmate (someone who sexually harassed me), a past teacher (someone who bullied me), “everyone mean on the internet” (I forgive you Trolls, at least right now in this moment), my parents (lots of stuff), my older sister (the list is ongoing), a friend who forgot my birthday, my ex’s, my therapist, my physical therapist (she teased me) and the Lyft driver who bullied me into riding in his vomit-filled car for 45 minutes last Thursday night.
     I also wrote about where I have been gossipy or superficial recently.
     Lastly, I wrote about the areas of my life where I should be more positive: my love life, forgiving ex’s, and assuming the best from other people versus the worst.

Phone Calls from Friends

At 8pm, I talked to my friend, Alicia in Seattle for an hour on the phone. It was honestly more healing than my 11am therapy session and Alicia is an artist, not a therapist. I told Alicia that and she started laughing because she said she had recently told that exact thing to one of her friends. I cried during our phone call because I unexpectedly told Alicia about a friend I had a falling out with who was the victim of domestic violence this year: Aliana. I told Alicia about Aliana in the context of Aliana being the first friend I ever realized drove me crazy purely for the reason that she reminded me of me. “She was like a mirror,” I said. And mirrors can be hard to look at.

Cathy de la Cruz is a writer and artist from San Antonio, TX currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She works in publishing and has an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona.


December 21, 2019

I wanted to wake up at 6 a.m. but instead it is 7 a.m. and disappointment in myself starts my Saturday. I swallow my thyroid pill then start the countdown until I can drink a cup of coffee. My dad is still dead. I turn on my computer thinking I should start writing. I should write something. My dad’s urn is on my bookshelf. He mentioned ash spreading in the ocean. The ocean does not need anything else put in it right now. His picture is next to his urn. Grief is later.
My daughter calls out for me. MOMMY. She is 4. MOM! She is capable of getting out of bed on her own. I wait a minute. She yells again. I make the coffee then shuffle into her bedroom and unplug her nightlight, which is a blue swirling solar system.
Good morning. You can get up on your own, right? She wants me to carry her. I tell her she’s too tall for me to carry her. I say tall, not big. I don’t want to make comments when I pick her up, like, you’re heavy or you weigh so much. She’s a petite kid overall anyway, but is that a complex? Is that an eating disorder at 16? We power struggle. I want you to pick me up, she says. You need to get up on your own, I say. She sits up in bed. Pick me up and carry me to the door and then I’ll walk. Please. No, I say, you can get up and walk downstairs because you’re almost 5. Everything is negotiable. I carry her downstairs.
My dad died two months ago from an aggressive form of lung cancer. There is no good way to die, but lung cancer is for sure in the top five worst. He could not breathe. The oxygen was cranked to an 11. He coughed so hard he’d throw up. He could not swallow and received nutrition through a PEG tube for the last six weeks of his life. He could not get better. I could not save him.
My counselor suggests the power struggles with my daughter might be about love, not control. The 4-year-old is not all the way adept at expressing feelings, so when she wants you to pick her up, or put on her shoes, or do any other thing she can do herself, she wants you to show her you love her. I say maybe. I ponder this. I put my hands in my hair. I shift my body. She stops me. She asks what is that? She asks what is it I’m feeling in my body when I talk about how my 4-year-old and I have power struggles. I say I do not want her to grow up with learned helplessness. I want her to help herself because sometimes she is all she has.
My husband and I rush past each other in the kitchen, exchange our “it’s the goddamn weekend before Christmas and real shit has to get done today” lists. He puts on a hat and goes to Lowe’s. I pack up the bag for the day. My daughter has her swim lesson. We will stop over my visit my grandma in her new digs in the senior living center that is not a nursing home. We will go to the zoo to see the horses because my daughter watches Spirit Riding Free on Netflix and a horse at the zoo looks like Boomerang. Grief is on the list but toward the bottom.
My daughter and I have breakfast. A Lara Bar for her. An egg burrito for me. When she’s finished, I remind her to put her plate in the sink, which she does without argument. I load the dishwasher. I start the dishes. I load the washing machine. I start the washing machine. I go into her room, lay out her swimsuit, clothing, shoes. Today is the last swim lesson of the year. I instruct her to get into her suit and clothes because we have to move, move, move, move out the door. I brush my own hair, my own teeth. I step outside my room to call down at her to hurry up, but she’s standing in front of me. She laughs at me. You thought I was downstairs, she says and keeps laughing. She changes into her bathing suit and comes into my bathroom, and I brush her hair and brush her teeth. I tell her today we’re going to have a good day.
Her swim class is not far from our house, and it is winter in Arizona which means tolerable weather, so we walk. We meet her new swim instructor, a kid. A guy. Her current teacher is the same teacher she’s had for a year. We both like her. She is young and kid-focused and energetic. They are 20 years younger than me, and I am again confronted with my own age.
Our tradition is to buy a chocolate milk after swim class. Sometimes she drinks the chocolate milk. Sometimes it ends up in the refrigerator for two days. Habit is habit whether it’s beneficial or not. We walk home. We get in the car. We put the Frozen II soundtrack on at full volume.
My daughter and I sign in at the front desk of the senior living center not nursing home, and we have to be buzzed back to the memory care unit. My grandma is not in her room. We check the dining area. Twelve wheelchairs, my daughter counts out loud. My grandma is not in the TV area. We go back to the dining room. You missed her, my daughter points out.
My grandma is seated with two other women. They are not talking. One stares at her food. One shakily tries to feed herself a piece of salad. My grandma stopped coloring her hair awhile back, and she’s been refusing a shower since she got here, and she hasn’t had her hair trimmed in I’m not sure how long, so I did not recognize her though I have seen her several times. Though I understand what has happened with her over the last several years, it is jarring for me to see her now the way she is, small and weak and gray and swollen and riddled with pain. We walk toward her. A staff member stands at a table near the front with two men.
Your name is Henry, she says to the man, and his name is George. You two are friends.
I don’t hear Henry’s response.
You are, she says. You two are great friends.
Again, can’t hear Henry’s response, but I see him sit back in the chair and shake his head, like everything this woman in front of him is saying is ridiculous and untrue.
I tap my grandma on her good shoulder. She turns. She reaches out a hand and takes my arm. Thank god, she says. Thank god, it’s my family. She says this several times to the women she’s sitting with. It’s my family, she says. Get me out of here, she says.
My grandma asks about my mom. I say my mom is at her house, but my mom was here yesterday. She takes a bite of her pumpkin pie. She asks where my mom is. I say my mom is at her house, but my mom was here yesterday. She puts her fork down. She asks where my mom is.
My grandma used to take me to visit various relatives. Cousins of my grandmother. We visited Lucy and Anna. Sisters. Anna had Alzheimer’s for what felt like twenty years. We’d walk in the front room and stood in a sea of Lucy and Anna’s pictures of themselves when they were young. Anna was in the front bedroom, curled up in her bed, hair so white it blended in with the sheets. Lucy had a woman come in to do Anna’s hair. She’d put a bow in it. Lucy would point the bow out to us. Isn’t that a pretty bow for Anna? Grown women. Never left their childhood home. Something about a strict father. Something I don’t know that I want to know.
My grandma wants to go back to her room.
I ask if she wants to finish her pumpkin pie.
No, she says, and scrunches up her face.
I ask what was for lunch.
Pork and beans, she says.
Like you’re on a camping trip? I laugh at my own joke.
I wheel my grandmother back to her room. My daughter wants to help, so she holds one handle of the wheelchair and pushes with me.
My grandmother says again she is happy to see me. She asks me why her shoulder hurts. I run through it again.
You were in Illinois at your condo, I say. You went out for your latte. When you got back, you slipped in the garage and dislocated your shoulder. Your neighbor called 911. You were in the hospital for a week. You moved into a nursing home for about two weeks. The decision was made to bring you to Arizona for the winter to help you physically recover. The place you were in was not great. We are here. We are not in Illinois. We are here to take care of you. You have trouble remembering.
I tell her again she has to at least get physically stronger. I point out her wheelchair again. I show her her feet, ankles, and legs, which are swollen. I peel the socks she’s wearing. They are soaking wet. I ask if she spilled something. Yes, she says. Then, no. I press the button in her room to call the caregiver.
I tell my grandmother if she went back to Illinois, she’d have to go to another place like this only family would not be nearby. She’s been living in her condo and relatives have been checking in on her and handling her meds but her memory is getting very bad and all of them are unable to keep up. I tell her she’d have to stay in a place like this or hire someone to live at her condo. She managed in her condo because she’s lived in it for 40 years and relied on long-term memory to get her through the day. Now, she is close to family, but the environment is strange and the choice regarding her care was difficult and stressful for all of us. The caregiver arrives. I ask about the wet socks. The caregiver tells me her ankles and feet are leaking fluid. I wash my hands.
My dad’s feet and ankles swelled up, but he was in heart failure. Edema happens in disease and in the elderly. I hired caregivers to care for my dad. I made sure he had everything he needed for as much time as he had left. Walking a person to death is an honor in life, so I’m told. Grief is my new year’s resolution.
Once my grandmother is settled into her chair, she looks at me and looks at my daughter and puts her hand on her shoulder and says her shoulder hurts. She asks me why her shoulder hurts. I tell her everything again. My daughter picks up pictures on the other side of the room and brings them over. My wedding photo. Pictures of my grandmother’s parents. A photograph of my daughter in her dance costume from last year. My daughter points out people in the wedding photo. She points to me, she points to my husband, she points to my grandmother. She points to my father. My grandma turns to me. She says she has a silly question but she’s going to ask it anyway. I nod for her to go on though I know what’s coming.
She asks how my father is doing.
He passed away.
She shakes her fist. I knew it, she says. I’m sorry for you.
She tells me my father was a handsome man, and that was his undoing. My father was a complicated man with complicated relationships, and his ex-mother-in-law was no exception.
She asks where my mom is. I say she was here yesterday, and she’ll be back soon. My grandmother asks me how she got to Arizona. I tell her the story again. She asks again about my mom. My grandmother says she has to go to the bathroom really bad. She is not a big person, but she is in pain, and she is confused, and she is dead weight, and I am overwhelmed with sadness and my childhood.
Listen. We are both going to give our all on the count of three.
I get her to wheelchair, and I push her to the bathroom, and she reaches for the handicap bar, and I put my arm under her arm and she stands there struggling with her pants, so I help my grandmother pull down her pants and underwear and then I should not leave her alone but I stand outside the door and tell her to tell me when she is done because I want her to be the way she used to be.
I help my grandmother back in her wheelchair. I help her back in her recliner. I realize she did not wash her hands, so I bring her a wet wipe. She asks for her purse. I give her the purse. She opens it. No checkbook. My mom has the checkbook. My grandma asks me if they are going to bring her dinner. I say yes, she’ll be taken for dinner. She looks through her wallet. She needs money for a tip. I say no, she doesn’t need to tip. She asks me if I need money, I say no, I do not need money. My daughter says she needs some money. We both laugh. My grandma gives her .50. When the relatives in Illinois went through my grandma’s condo after she was in the hospital, they found close to $5,000 in cash stashed away in drawers and closets. We say goodbye. We walk out through the main hall of the senior living center not a nursing home. I hear what I think are the opening chords of John Lennon’s “Imagine” but instead it is a middle-school choir singing a song about Jesus.  Disappointing.
We put the Frozen II soundtrack on at full volume on our way to the zoo.
Last year, I invited my dad to the zoo with us. I struggled to find activities to include him in, and I thought he’d say no, but instead, he met us out front, and he wore his long coat. This was before cancer, but he’s been in bad health for several years, and he already appeared cachexic, a word I still do not know how to pronounce, a word I did not understand until I got access to his medical records over the summer and found it written everywhere, a word I had to look up. It means “chronically ill looking”. It means a person who is wasting. We walked around the zoo, my dad in his long trench coat, already looking like he was dying, no longer handsome, undoing himself but in a different way. He’d stopped cutting or washing his hair, so it was slicked back with oil, and it was long and scraggly and yellowed, and I was embarrassed. He looked like he did not belong.
My daughter and I see the horses. She plays on the playground outside the petting zoo. The trees have signs around them that asked zoo visitors not to carve their initials below dozens of carved initials. We leave the zoo. Get back in the car. We put the Frozen II soundtrack on at full volume.
At home, I turn on the TV to babysit, and my husband and I discuss Christmas and finalize Christmas lists for our family. I make dinner. Salmon and salad for us. Cottage cheese, pretzels, and a fruit smoothie for my daughter. I switch the laundry. I start a new load.
When it’s time for bed, I grab various items that need to be returned upstairs and start to walk up. My daughter yells after me to wait. Wait. I cannot go upstairs until she goes upstairs. I stop in the middle of the stairs. She walks past me and gets to the top and turns and says, ok, you can come up now. Tell me again it is not about control.
I brush my teeth. I brush her teeth. I brush her hair. Forget my hair. We get into pajamas. I put on a new pair of sweatpants that happen to be red, and my daughter takes it as a personal attack that I have Christmas pajamas and she does not. I remind her she refuses to wear pajama pants. I tell her it’s time to pick out books to read before bed, and she chooses Pig the Elf, which is a delight. Children’s books fall into two categories for me: subtle, smart humor that will make them better people and sappy, overwrought fairytales that contribute to the downfall of the human race. The Pig the Pug series falls into the first category. I sit up with her in her bed, and she sits next to me. We had a good day, she says. She is breathing, and I am breathing. I start to read. 

Stephanie Austin's essays have appeared at The Nervous Breakdown, The New England Review, and one was a runner-up in the Summer '19 WOW! Women on Writing's Flash CNF contest.


I wake in Paris, where they don’t do daylight savings, so I wake up “late”—an hour later than my internal clock typically wakes me at home. By the time I get the coffee going it’s nearly 10 o’clock, but I don’t wake Joe yet because he arrived yesterday from Chicago and I want him to sleep off any jet lag until the coffee is ready. Every ten minutes or so in this apartment, the water heater in the bathroom, on the wall above the tiny tub, makes a loud thumping noise that sounds like a gas explosion though I know it is not. This is where we’ve come to spend part one of our Christmas holiday—in Paris, in the 20th arrondissement, in a 5th floor walkup. I boil water and brush my teeth and let the coffee steep in the press and look out the window at the apartment buildings across the street with their prayer flags and narrow balconies. The walls of the Airbnb are a pale, comforting green. The furniture is wood, a medium shade; an old-fashioned French aesthetic. One wall is lined with books—Montaigne’s Essais, Annie Ernaux, Perec, Foucault.
     Joe wakes up and I hand him a cup of a coffee with a drop of sugar from the box labeled DADDY which I’ve learned is a common brand of sugar in this country. Joe and I drink our coffees on the chaise and talk morning talk—little things I’ll try to remember but won’t because they don’t necessarily matter. What matters is that we’re having coffee together again after being apart for three weeks during my writing residency in a chateau in the northeast. We talk about our upcoming trip to California for his friend’s wedding; the cocktails he’s designing for the reception; what a strange concept a wedding registry is. Joe looks around at the apartment and says it feels like home. Today, because he’s here, I feel more calm than I did before he arrived.
     I bathe in the tiny tub. This tub is absurdly small. This tub is laughably small. I’m not even 5’1” and I can barely fit my entire body in this tub. I think about how Parisians can be so effortless and graceful when they have to maneuver their bodies in and out of these tiny tubs. I try not to think about the water heater falling from the wall and crushing my skull. I think about the scenes I’ve watched of people bathing in French films to help me figure out how to gracefully cleanse my body in this cramped yet lovely space. In the other room, Joe is compiling a list of answers to questions from my mother about what my parents should get him for Christmas. We’ll be flying from Paris to New England next week for Christmas Part Two. I rub soap on my body and rinse it off while thinking about the pile of presents on the bureau in the living room that Joe and I are saving for Christmas Morning in Paris.
     We walk down rue de la Chine and Gambetta to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery. I’ve wanted to wander this cemetery for years and now here we are. But I’ve not dressed warm enough for the December cold, so I keep close to Joe whose body radiates a comforting heat. It’s a bit gray, and we know it’s going to rain later, so we want to see as many of the dead writers and artists we’ve planned to visit before the rain comes. We begin in the columbarium which is old and stately and beautiful, each column containing a bronze flower-holder. The combination of red and yellow and pink and orange flowers brings a brightness to the gray of this day. We wander the aisles until we find the three we’ve been looking for.
      Isadora Duncan, the mother of modern dance, was my idol in high school when I was still a dancer. She died in a car accident when her scarf got tangled in the automobile’s back wheels. I crouch down to take a photo, and the glare captures my body in the frame.
     Next is Perec. His column is white and plain and doesn’t reflect much of his personality or character, but maybe that’s okay. The Polaroid photo we take comes out blurry, but we like it anyway. After a visit to Richard Wright, we turn down the winding cobblestone paths.
     We search for Proust. It takes ages to find him. We’ve written down the division locations for each person we want to find, but it’s still the kind of hunt that requires time and presence of mind. We look up an image of his grave online and walk around the entire perimeter, and many aisles in between, until we find him. I take a picture of Joe with the disposable camera and he takes one of me. It will be weeks before we find out what these photos look like.
     Next up is Marcel Marceau. I want to take a photo of his grave for my father because when my father was young and still an actor, he was actually a magnificent mime. We find the headstone almost glowing white in the sun that’s just emerged from behind the clouds. Dried roses and a pair of white gloves have been placed on Marceau’s grave. We look at the stone and take a few photos and realize that Marceau was born on the same day as Joe.
     I want to find Colette next, but the search for her becomes a massive failure. I’m freezing by now, and section 4 is long and winding and the shape of it is confusing, and eventually I no longer have any idea of where we are inside the cemetery. We keep turning corners and walking up and down uneven sets of stairs, finding ourselves in all the wrong places. I don’t want to give up, but I’m feeling a frustrated Mood coming on. Joe shakes me out of it, as he is always able to do, and we decide to recalibrate our plan: we’ll visit Bellmer and Zürn first, and a few others, then circle back and try again to find Colette.
     I’ve wanted to visit the grave of Hans Bellmer and Unica Zürn for years. It’s low and black and shiny and seems so new, and they’re buried together, though I always think about them separately too. Bellmer wanted them to be buried together. I’m not sure if Zürn would have wanted that too. Joe counts how old they were when they died, and I tell him the story about Unica Zürn leaping to her death from the window of Bellmer’s 5th floor Paris walkup. I make a bad joke about the 5th floor Paris walkup where we’re staying, and he laughs, but I say I’m sorry for being dumb and thank him for loving me anyway.
     Abelard and Heloïse…oh Abelard and Heloïse, you saucy kids! It’s not hard to find their grave at all: they basically live in a castle in section 7. It’s huge and ornate and they’re resting forever beneath statues of their bodies resting forever. There’s a fence around the area, so we can’t get too close, but we walk around each side of it admiring the carvings—the strange gargoyles with beaks in their mouths; Abelard’s flowing locks of hair.
     As a gift for Joe’s cousin, we look for Jim Morrison’s grave next in section 6. We’re not particularly attached to Jim Morrison ourselves, so when a man sitting nearby sees us peering at the stones and down at our phones and up at the stones and tells us, It’s in there…I want to tell him we’re visiting Morrison on behalf of someone else. But with my leather jacket and Joe’s Doc Martins, I know we looks like a couple of punks who are into visiting the graves of dead musicians, and technically he wouldn’t be wrong in that assessment in this moment, so we thank him and wander into the maze, capturing what turns out to be a really good Polaroid shot.
     We wander up to the Memorial Garden where couples and groups of families and friends are seated talking on the benches, taking in the view. You can see all of Paris from up here. We smoke a cigarette and look around, still a little mesmerized that we made it; we’re here. It gives us the strength to try again to find Colette, and we do: we find her, and there she is, and I’m so happy to see her. A tour guide is speaking about her to a group of French people. I take a photo from the side but wait to take more until the tour group is gone. They start to walk away and I’m positioning my Polaroid shot when the guide turns back and asks in French if we’d like a customized tour, but I’m so cold by then and I know the rain is coming that I politely say no.
     We walk toward section 49 and see the sky darkening. We need to find Chantal Akerman before the rain comes. We find her quickly, a star of David on top of the rounded stone and the words Enfant d’une rescapée de la shoah inscribed across the front: Child of a Holocaust survivor. I’m missing most of Hanukkah while I’m in Paris. Akerman died in 2015, the year I finished grad school. I miss my friend who introduced her work to me. We take another Polaroid as a gift for another friend and hurry out of the cemetery, before the rain hits, to a small café.
     The sign outside the café says COFFEE in English, so we think it will be a place that targets foreigners, but it turns out to be a neighborhood spot where everyone knows everyone who enters. We get a couple of filtered coffees and Joe orders a crepe warmed up with raspberry jam. Though I don’t usually put sugar in my coffee, I do now because I am in France where they give you a little sugar packet on the saucer with your coffee and a biscuit, and it feels good and right to live this way. I pick up a few words and phrases of the neighboring conversations. It’s still gray outside, though the rain hasn’t yet begun falling. Joe and I both takes notes for our reports regarding what happened on December 21st, and I think about how some of our descriptions will be the same while others will be entirely different from each other.
     I hear the café owner talking about a salad and sandwich she had for lunch and something about a dog or a child named Colette. Everyone keeps saying Colette like it’s a person but there are also many references to a dog so it might be a dog. One man tells the owner she’s a good mother, and a woman tells the owner that she needs you which honestly could refer to the daughter and the dog but I’m guessing she’s referring to the daughter. This woman starts talking to the man about how she’s been trying to visit her sister, that her sister doesn’t live that far away but that she can’t reach her on the train because of the metro strikes. We finish our coffees and walk back around the corner to the Airbnb, up the five flights of narrow, winding stairs. Joe takes a nap on the chaise while I have a snack—a banana and two chocolate biscuits—and take more notes on the day before deciding to join him, because napping seems a requirement when you’re on holiday and when you’ve just spent several hours wandering around a cold, gray cemetery. We fall asleep for a while. When we wake and look out the window, the sky is earl gray.
     Joe bathes in the tiny tub while I finish writing my notes about our afternoon in the café. He picks a spot for dinner while I fix my hair and makeup. The brasserie is right around the corner. We settle in at a table facing the street on the glassed-in patio. I order a glass of cabernet sauvignon and the waiter says the one listed below it is much better. More expensive, he says, but worth it. More expensive, he says, but it’s only 4 euros and 90 cents. At home, this glass would be $15. We have a good laugh over this and decide on our meals—duck confit for me with salad and potatoes, pot au feu for Joe with bone marrow. We play a little with the phrase pot au feu and decide that pot of fire will be a much better name for soup night at home. Joe asks when we’re moving here and I say I’ll start a Moving to France fund in my savings account. We joke about it, and we know it’s not something we’ll do tomorrow—we have a life in Chicago, our families in the States, our literary community in our city—but I can’t help thinking how calm and at peace with myself I always feel when I am here, in this place where everyone eats slowly, and the waiters don’t try to push you out of the restaurant, and no one pulls their phone out at the table. This lifestyle makes it easier to be present. The food comes quickly and it’s magnificent. The meat and carrots in Joe’s pot of fire are so tender that each bite melts in my mouth. We’re in heaven. We keep saying this is how life should be. When Joe dips a piece of fresh baguette into his broth and hands it to me, and I place it in my mouth, it’s so delicious that my eyes actually well up with tears. I’m actually crying over how delicious this meal is, and that makes Joe and I laugh hysterically, which only makes my eyes well up with more tears.
     Back at home, Joe stays up late to write about what happened on December 21st. I lie in bed for an hour, before falling asleep, looking at articles on my phone about how to incorporate the simple pleasures of a French lifestyle into my lifestyle back at home.

Naomi Washer is the author and translator of several chapbooks. She lives in Chicago where she is the editor-in-chief of Ghost Proposal.

Check back tomorrow to read more about What Happened on December 21, 2019. —Ander and Will

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