The Dance

Voices

Painting by Maya Fielder

 

She begins her hourly dance. It takes her ten steps until she can fully straighten her legs. She over-balances forward and threatens to fall into his arms. He slows the pace of his retreat as she finds her center and in a minute they have completed their circuit of the carpeted expanse. Daniel gently lowers Faith into the chair where she began. He puts the finishing touch to her blanketed lap with a gentle tuck and hands her a floppy stuffed cat. A sideways shuffle left brings Daniel before his next partner. With a soft Romanian-accented invitation, “Come on, Iris. Let’s dance.” Daniel smiles and takes Iris by both her knobbed and stiffened hands and pulls her from her chair…
At 11:30am sharp, we pulled up to the foster home. It was the appointed time to pick up Mom for her weekly Wednesday trip to see Linda at Riley’s Beauty Parlor. It was also the last. For sixty years, you could know when Riley’s was open for business by the giant ring of Phyllis’ keys hanging from the door lock, where they would dangle until she closed and locked the door at five. After this Wednesday, it was a door that would open no more. Ladies with a taste for tight curls, sculpted and hair-sprayed into a helmet that would weather the rigors of cooking and housework for a full week between appointments, have become few and far between. Beauty operators with the chops to effectuate these industrial-duty friseurs are fewer still. Sometimes doors close the last time and forever.
As we lightly knock and step into the foster home, we can see that Faith is home today. (She is always there, but not always home.) Today her eyes follow us into the room. There is a ghost of a smile as her hands reach out for a double-fisted grip of silent welcome. Her beautiful eyes say it all. They must. Her lips, her tongue, her throat lack the flow of words to fuel them. On the days when Faith is not at home, she sits and stares at her hands in her lap, ignoring her floppy cat. Or, more correctly, the eyes point at the hands in the lap. The use of the personal pronoun implies a person in attendance. Some days Faith is not home. But today is a good day. Faith is home today.

Mom sits in the fourth recliner. She’s the bossy one. The princess. And, according to her, the saint.

Iris is a singer. All the verses of every hymn rise up from a throat unused to the mundanities of secular speech. Start a song, she is suddenly awake, upright and singing. Her vocal coach, is rumored, was a fallow pasture’s rusty gate: too few visitors to give the moving parts exercise. The song creaks to a close as she settles back silent again into her chair.
Esther runs hot and cold. Cold, she sighs and stares into a melancholic present. Hot, she’s ready to dance. Esther does not need to be lead in the dance. She dances all on her own. Eyes aflirt, her speech a rapid-fire torrent of verbs and indeterminate pronouns punctuated by the soft susurrus of laughter. “…once he told me to do that. In them days it was all like that, you know. ‘Course, you might not remember. It wasn’t long before she came in with a whole stack them things to be dealt with, and none of us knowin’ where to begin. It’s hard sometimes…”

Brief Attendants

Voices

 

5-gila_callback
The midwife who attended my stillbirth was beautiful. Her name was something like June or Juliet. She sat at the end of my hospital bed, framed between my spread knees. Her mouth set in an unhappy line and she was strangely silent. My husband, Edgar, shook in full body trembles in his seat beside me. I lay pinned to the bed, the source of all the trouble. I was delivering a dying five-and-a-half-month-old fetus.
The midwife wore light blue scrubs. The space between her eyebrows was furrowed, and she was not quite meeting my gaze. Younger than the other midwives I’d met during my short pregnancy, I decided she belonged somewhere else. I wanted to gently lead her out of the dark room into a sunlit kitchen. I wanted to sit her down at a table with a cup of tea. She belonged in a yoga studio with other beautiful women or a hospital room where a live infant waited to be caught. Not this nightmare place.

Drag Queen Nurse

Voices

98

 

When I showed up in drag at the Las Vegas biennial meeting of the Nurse Alliance of the International Union (SEIU), I wasn’t sure how my colleagues would respond. The theme this year was Nurse Leadership for Healthcare Quality and Justice, and the conference kicked off with dinner and a viewing of the first 2017 Democratic debate. Will my dress and make-up be perceived as a distraction from the serious struggles for immigrants, low wage workers, and the non-White marginalized? It was going through my mind as I walked to dinner from my hotel room.

 

I realized that going around in drag is consciousness raising; most girls and women that I know experience male aggression every day and in every situation no matter what clothes they are wearing

 

One nurse grabbed me and said “I need to talk to you. Privately.” She leveled her gaze and said: “I WANT your earrings.” Not long after, another, formidable and serious-looking nurse approached and said: “On behalf of Rhode Island, I have to tell you I LOVE what you’re doing.”

 

             After dinner, dancing and karaoke with the Nurse Alliance, I walked around the casino in my party clothes. A loud group of tall, drunk, white male strangers approached me while pointing and laughing at me. One called out “give me a hug” and I began to walk a little faster and avoided making eye contact. He intercepted me, however, and pinned me against the wall while grinning and said “Oh, no man, I’m gonna give you a hug” as he wrapped a muscular arm around my neck. Though I wasn’t hurt, I felt humiliated and angry that these men felt entitled to assault me. I wondered if it was the radical feminist logo on my shirt, but realized it was simply because I was a man wearing a skirt and a bright red wig.

 

             I didn’t feel very good about myself when I woke up the next morning. I felt embarrassed that I had done nothing to challenge the assailants or  report the event afterwards. I felt stupid for walking around in drag. I felt bad about feeling bad— after all, I wasn’t hurt. Mainly, I realized that going around in drag is consciousness raising: most girls and women that I know experience male aggression every day and in every situation no matter what they wear.

 

Being a White nurse and a man means I can get attention whether I’m wearing a wig, a uniform, or suit. Surprisingly, I became tearful. Not because I felt ashamed, but because I felt waves of empathy and love coming from hundreds of Union nurses, the majority of whom were women and many non-White.

 There was an open mike on the last day of the conference. I shared my experience with the intrusive men that had transpired the night before, and my belief that sexism and rape culture are a major impediment to healthcare quality and justice. Nurses suffer a disproportionate amount of violence in the workplace, and I am proud that the Nurse Alliance is tackling this problem because effective patient care is impossible if we don’t feel safe.

 

I spoke out, but I had difficulty looking around the room because I didn’t want people to pity me. I also know that being a White nurse and a man means I can get attention whether I’m wearing a wig, a uniform, or suit. Surprisingly, I became tearful. Not because I felt ashamed, but because I felt waves of empathy and love coming from hundreds of Union nurses, the majority of whom were women and many non-White. I was approached by several nurses after I spoke who wanted to make sure I was okay and to let me know that what happened was not okay. My colleagues wanted to be sure that I didn’t feel abandoned.  Not one asked me what I was wearing or if I had been drinking. There was no suggestion that I was “asking for it” or in some other way to blame for the assault.

 

             As I returned to my seat from the microphone, I was grateful to sit next to a man. As a union organizer and nurse, he thanked me for speaking up and went on to say he is a father of two boys and he is committed to educating them to not belittle others. The behavior of bullies is entitlement, he said. Without asking, he hugged me but it was clearly an embrace of solidarity, not pity or condescension.

 

 

Greetings From the Other Side

Voices
pexels-photo-51021
Here’s something I didn’t anticipate when I decided it was time to check myself into the hospital for suicidal thoughts last Thursday: how many people I would have to tell this to in the first half hour of arriving. Because I am who I am, this was an immediate source of anxiety—how to phrase it, what I should sound like when I said it, whether or not this whole thing was a dumb, stupid mistake. Checking in: Why are you here? I’m having suicidal thoughts. Second check-in: Why are you here? I’m worried I might hurt myself. With the first nurse, second nurse, first resident, her advisor: I’m depressed, I’m suicidal, I’ve been this way for a very long time, and I would like it to stop please. 

So: I could kill myself or I could go to the hospital. I went to the hospital.


 If I learned anything this past week it’s that I need to say the word. There is a certain safety in talking about depression, and certainly I’ve done plenty of that. But suicide is different. Writing it right now feels different. Admitting to having suicidal thoughts feels like admitting a fundamental problem in myself and my life. To be clear: I love my life. Depression didn’t let me access that love. Suicidal thinking, looping and looping, didn’t let me access my life. I’m speaking openly about it now because having been forced to say it out loud over and over again — something I’d never done; any of my talk or writing about suicide was about how it was a phase of my past — broke that loop. It’s so easy to normalize the idea when you keep it to yourself, flatten its sharp edges over time and repetition, make it seem possible, which quickly becomes probable.
I told the therapist working with me that on Thursday, I’d started the day by blowing off my reiki appointment. And then ignoring a deadline. And then when it came time to get ready for work, the weight of it seemed unwieldy. So: I could kill myself or I could go to the hospital. I went to the hospital.
“That must have been terrifying,” she said. “To really believe those were your only options.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way, and the words clicked into place. I’d thought about it as a weakness at worst, a rational decision at best. But both of those options came from me, and both were terrifying. To see no other choice! I hope I’m never there again. I hope none of you find yourselves there, either.
So I’m home after six of the most boring, rehabilitating, indescribable days of my life, feeling like myself again, and ready to talk about it. You’ve gotta deflate that depression bubble so it doesn’t consume everything. It loves to gobble everything up. I’m so lucky to have people who love me, and I’m trying to let them support me. Trying to believe it’s not a burden. Trying to support them right back.

 


ariannaArianna Rebolini lives in Brooklyn with her partner and two perfect rescue cats. Her debut novel, PUBLIC RELATIONSwas released in May.

Brief Attendants

Voices

 

5-gila_callback
The midwife who attended my stillbirth was beautiful. Her name was something like June or Juliet. She sat at the end of my hospital bed, framed between my spread knees. Her mouth set in an unhappy line and she was strangely silent. My husband, Edgar, shook in full body trembles in his seat beside me. I lay pinned to the bed, the source of all the trouble. I was delivering a dying five-and-a-half-month-old fetus.
The midwife wore light blue scrubs. The space between her eyebrows was furrowed, and she was not quite meeting my gaze. Younger than the other midwives I’d met during my short pregnancy, I decided she belonged somewhere else. I wanted to gently lead her out of the dark room into a sunlit kitchen. I wanted to sit her down at a table with a cup of tea. She belonged in a yoga studio with other beautiful women or a hospital room where a live infant waited to be caught. Not this nightmare place.

 

Malignant

Voices
KitchenKave
What do you remember from life at age eleven? Do you remember your sixth grade teacher? Do you remember your crush? This is typically a time in which we start to notice our bodies changing at rapid degrees. Our sense of self-consciousness grows with new acne and hair and hips and breasts. Our friends and school are our world. We want to experience more than what is in our homes, we yearn to become teenagers like the ones in the movies.