The Pam Project

My cousin Pam had an idyllic life with a handsome doting husband/father and two beautiful children.

That was until Pam’s infant son was diagnosed with bone cancer. Pam spent months in a children’s hospital in Boston with her son and daughter while her husband worked in another state during the week and drove to Boston for the weekends.

Shocking and sadly, in 1988, while Pam waited for him to arrive in Boston, Joe’s heart gave out, and he died at just 38 years old.

Her beloved son passed away in 2005 at 20, and Pam heartbreakingly followed in 2009 at 57. After she died, I vowed to one day do something meaningful in her honor, although I didn’t know the what or how.

When Covid hit New York in March of 2020, I obsessed over dollhouses, renovating two and building one from scratch. My life was out of my control but I was in full control of the lives in the dollhouses.

Around the same time, I watched a show about the ancient Egyptians and their belief that when they died, their spiritual body continued to exist in an afterlife. They also believed that a person died not once but twice.

The first death was their final breath. And the second and final death was the last time someone uttered their name.

That’s how The Pam Project came to be.

Pam’s spirit could live on for as long as I spoke of her!

What better way to honor Pam’s memory than to build and donate a dollhouse for a child in need in her name?

And Pam loved Christmas, so I’m hoping to give it away by Christmas Eve.

The photos below are of The Pam Project — a work in progress and in memory of my unforgettable cousin Pam.


The house that Teri built on 11/25/21


My friends are helping to ready the house for its owner


Working on the interior design — where to put what?


The house with no name — yet. Any suggestions?

Stay tuned for the finished Pam Project.


“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.” ~ A.A. Milne

Roses for Ann


Ann Mindicino 11/6/1954 – 3/28/2020

For those who know me, you know signs are big for me, and I look for them everywhere.

My friendship with Ann began back in 1988 when I was thirty-five, and she was thirty-four. I was going through a tough time, and Ann and her husband stood up for me when I needed it the most. I never forgot their courage, especially her husband’s. He was a Vietnam vet, and he didn’t take any sh*t from anyone.

Our boys met in kindergarten, and our baby daughters were close in age. We spent a lot of time together over our 30+ year friendship. We shared tons of good times but plenty of dark times too. But as futile as life sometimes felt, we always talked each other out of stuff and helped each other bounce back.

And we had not missed celebrating our birthdays together for over twenty years.

That was until March 2020, when Ann died.

We spoke on the phone for over an hour on Thursday, March 25, and on Sunday, March 28, Ann was gone. Just like that. My casual goodbye to her on Thursday was our last goodbye.

Her family buried Ann in early April — on my birthday, which broke my heart. And because of Covid, there was no service for Ann.

So, for me, there was no closure. There was nobody I could talk to from the family to express my deepest condolences.  There was no commiserating with her friends about Ann, or sharing funny stories, because Ann was a character, and we would have had a laugh, along with a cry.

She was sixty-five years old when she died and had recently retired. She was funny, intelligent, chatty, a gifted artist, and a blast to be around.

And, okay, maybe she was a little too chatty, LOL.

Ann had so many plans. She was looking forward to being a grandmother. She wanted to travel. She was going to start painting again.

And Ann was obsessed with roses. She drew them beautifully, filled her yard with rose bushes, and posted stunning photos of them on social media. Any time I see a rose, I think of Ann.

Last Thursday, three days before what would have been Ann’s 67th birthday, I noticed one lone, long stem with a budding rose shooting up high above the bush in all its splendor.

I took it as a sign from Ann that she was thinking of me thinking of her.

When I checked the bud on Friday morning, it had started to open up even more, which made my heart glad. Because I knew that by Sunday, the rose would be in full bloom for Ann’s birthday.

Unfortunately, my gardening service came that afternoon and cut everything back for the winter, including the rose bush!

I was crushed. The rose was gone. So much for the sign from Ann.

On Sunday morning, I went outside and noticed the rose lying on top of my firepit.

Whoever had buzzed the rose bush had saved the rose!

Ann hadn’t given up that easily!

It was a cold day, and the rose was intact but fragile — which also reminded me of Ann.

I gently picked it up, and as I passed the stub of the bush, several rosebuds were hiding in the thorny brush.

Because the rose stems were short, I needed a small container. I went to my china cabinet, and the first thing I laid my eyes on was a crystal glass that Ann had given me! There is no way that was by chance!

I placed the glass of roses facing the sun so the buds could bloom and live to see another day or two.

Rest in peace, my dear friend. I sure hope they have roses on the other side.

Dinner Party Playlist

Way before Covid, I was working on two projects:

  • I needed to come up with a blog post idea
  • I was simultaneously trying to create a playlist for a dinner party I was hosting that weekend

Project #2 was easier to tackle, so I furiously typed out some of my favorite songs. As I scanned the list, I started typing in the memories I associated with the tunes.

The final result was an impressively diverse playlist, with some of my backstory thrown in.

I broke down the songs/memories into four distinct parts:

* Pre-party * Drinks * Dinner * Dessert

And voila — my life in a playlist in a blog post!

The pre-party setup can be stressful, so classical music helps take my mind somewhere else. It’s my party, and I’ll play classical music if I want to.

When I was five, my mom was in her early twenties and held two jobs. During the day, she worked at a local factory, and at night she worked at Arthur Murray Studio as a ballroom dance instructor. My first introduction to music centered around whatever accompanied the Waltz, the Tango, and the Foxtrot.

I once proudly watched my mother gracefully waltz to the first classical piece I ever heard, so about forty-five minutes before my guests arrive, I’ll start with:

The Blue Danube – Johann Strauss

Air on the G String – Johann Sebastian Bach

Whether you prefer the Bach original Air or violinist August Wilhelmj’s late 19th-century stunning take titled Air on the G String (G string being the violin), both are stunningly moving. But this Stjepan Hauser’s chilling rendition has his cello whispering air.

Prelude in C minor, Opus 28, Number 20 – Frédéric Chopin

I don’t know how Barry Manilow got away with ripping off this classical classic in his song, Could It Be Magic. Manilow’s melody is based almost entirely on Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude in C minor, Opus 28, Number 20.  I hated the Barry Manilow song, but I disco-danced to Donna Summer’s Could It Be Magic version at Studio 54 uncountable times.  If there weren’t so many awkward oohs and ahhs, it would have made my playlist.

In 1961, at around eight years old, I began taking piano lessons from Sister Regina Mary, who further set in motion my love for, and appreciation of composers like Beethoven, Bach, and Strauss. The intricacies of each movement I played made me appreciate the allure and the angst of melodies that needed no lyrics to evoke myriad emotions.

Beethoven was my favorite classical composer, primarily because not even his deafness could stop his otherworldly genius.  He created music for the ages — some of his most beautiful pieces came after he could not hear.

Moonlight Sonata – Ludwig van Beethoven

Moonlight Sonata is the first piece I semi-mastered on the piano. It remains my all-time classical favorite, and I still play it on my keyboard. The melody is desperate, yet tender; happy, yet melancholy. And oh, the chilling beauty of those three sorrowful notes.

Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 – Ludwig van Beethoven

This Beethoven piece was Sister Regina Mary’s favorite, and she played it brilliantly. I love Valentina Lisitsa’s rendition.

And speaking of Beethoven, who didn’t love…

Roll Over Beethoven – Chuck Berry

OR…

A Fifth of Beethoven  – Walter Murphy

IT’S COCKTAIL TIME!

Going back to as early as 1956, the three women who raised me taught me to love music. Here are some of my all-time favorites:

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

I was only three years old in 1956, but I vividly remember singing along to this song in our apartment on Huron Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The Twist – Chubby Checker

In 1960 everybody was doing the twist.

You Really Got Me – The Kinks

This 1964 hit song was my first introduction to heavy metal.

I Got You Babe – Sonny and Cher

In August 1965, my grandmother’s ex-boyfriend, Steve the butcher, saw me walking on Success Avenue in Bridgeport. He pulled his car over, kissed me on top of my head, and handed me two twenties. I bought a killer pair of red-checkered bell-bottoms, a white ruffle crop top, and a transistor radio. All of the popular radio stations were playing I Got You Babe nonstop. My grandmother demanded to know where I got all that money, but I never revealed it.

I Can’t Help Myself – The Four Tops

You Can’t Hurry Love – The Supremes

Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

In 1967, at age fourteen, my eighth-grade St. Ambrose friends would sing this song to me as a joke. I was poor, but I was happy. That was until I moved from Bridgeport to Westport that summer, which changed my life — and not in a good way. I never saw my Bridgeport friends again. What a difference eleven miles can make. Some would have called it rags to riches. I used to call it rags to bitches.

NOW FOR THE DINNER MUSIC.

But first, a story about someone who made a massive impression on me during a difficult time in my life.

My time in Westport took a turn for the better when in 1968, I met a young woman named Sally White, who worked in the Record Department at Klein’s Stationery on Westport’s Main Street. Sally knew everything there was to know about music, so my Saturdays usually consisted of a trip to Klein’s to visit her, listen to whatever she was playing on the record player, and buy some 45s.

We bonded immediately, maybe because I shared her love of The Temptations, Dion, Richard Harris, Dionne Warwick, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Traffic, and Nina Simone, to name a few.

Sally would guide me through the latest and greatest artists, albums, and top 10.  I could walk in and give her two or three words in a lyric, and she would immediately know what song it was. And while a song’s tune was the catch, we both agreed that the lyrics inspired and fueled the soul.

Below is my selected playlist of dinner music songs in honor of Sally’s recommendations all those years ago. She sadly passed away in 2017.

The Times They Are a Changing – Bob Dylan

Sally was obsessed with Bob Dylan because she thought he was a genius at exploiting racism, social injustice, and poverty — something I was all too familiar with from my Bridgeport years.

MacArthur Park – Richard Harris

This 1967 song was written and composed by Jimmy Webb as part of an intended cantata about how Webb found and then lost the love of his life. The song consists of four sections or movements. All of them are incredible, but the second and third movements are my favorite. The second movement starts with the words “There will be another song for me,” followed by the third section, which is entirely instrumental, led by drums and percussion, punctuated by horn riffs, and beyond amazing.

“There will be another song for me, for I will sing it. There will be another dream for me, someone will bring it.” This verse gets to me every time.

Cry Like a Baby – The Box Tops

At the beginning of 1968, I still had no friends, so I routinely and pitifully danced to this song alone in my room in front of a full-length mirror — and sometimes cried like a baby. Thank God for Sally!

Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends

Simon & Garfunkel released this song on April 3, 1968, on my 15th birthday, and I took it as a sign. To know me is to know that I can find a sign in anything. I still had no friends, so in desperation, I invited the popular girls over for a birthday slumber party, but most of them politely declined. Only one said yes, and she helped me turn everything around, and we remained the best of friends for years and years. We were indeed bookends. “Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.”

Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix

I learned about “drum fill” from Sally. As a piano player, I had no musical interest in drums — that was, until Sally and Hey Joe. I also recall slow-dancing to the song with a boy I had a massive crush on at some fancy-schmancy Westport, Connecticut Ball. I think it was the Holly Ball, or maybe it was the Cranberry Ball, or the Mulberry Ball, or the Poisoned Ivy Ball — some such ridiculous Waspy-ass name. I’m sure my dance partner has zero recollection because I’ve seen him at many high school reunions, and he’s never mentioned it.

Theme From Valley of the Dolls – Dionne Warwick

Regarding Valley of the Dolls, Sally explained that I could buy the 45, but as far as she was concerned, I was too young to buy the racy book or go to the movie. After purchasing the 45, I rushed to the book department, snatched up the novel, and in between voraciously reading it, hid it between the mattress and box spring of my bed.

No Expectations – Rolling Stones

People Got to be Free – The Rascals

In July 1968, I was working as a Mother’s Helper in Westhampton Beach, New York. I first heard The Rascals song at a bonfire party on Hotdog Beach with a bunch of townies. Westhampton-rich made Westport-rich look poor.

Dance to the Music – Sly and the Family Stone

Dance to the Music came out in 1968. And I confess to dancing on the bar with my friends to this song at Rialto’s in Port Chester, New York, while underage drinking.

Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone

By 1969 I had plenty of friends, but this song reminded me of those lonely couple of years. “There is a long hair that doesn’t like the short hair for being such a rich one that will not help the poor one. Different strokes for different folks.”

Woodstock – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

I was supposed to go to Woodstock with my cousin Pam and two of her guy friends on their motorcycles. I chickened out at the last minute. She went without me, but they had to turn back because the New York State Thruway was infamously shut down.

Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys – Traffic

Around 1971, Sally introduced me to this remarkable song written by Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood. The piano solo is insane.

TIME TO WRAP IT UP WITH DESSERT:

Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man – Johnny Cash and June Carter

I was first introduced to country music when I got to Brevard College in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Brevard, North Carolina. I started listening to the Carter Family, Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and of course, Johnny Cash and June Carter. I found the flirty banter between Johnny and June almost as good as their singing.

Come Down in Time – Elton John

Back in 1971, this was the first Elton John song I ever heard. He had me at “I came down to meet you in the half-light the moon left.”

Back Stabbers – The O’Jays

I discovered that backstabbers in Connecticut were no different than those in North Carolina.

Dirty Work – Steely Dan

I will forever associate Steely Dan with my unforgettable Delta Airline years in Miami and Coconut Grove, Florida.

Love’s Theme – Love Unlimited Orchestra

As a Delta Flight Attendant, I worked most holidays. I still recall driving to Miami airport on Christmas Eve, 1973, in full uniform — this #1 hit song blaring on the radio in my Karmann Ghia. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with myself than at that moment.

Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – Steely Dan

My life was surreal in 1974. I recall belting out this song while driving in my convertible on the Rickenbacker Causeway from Miami to Key Biscayne, where I had recently moved to a luxurious “Stew Zoo.” I was dating a Miami Dolphins Superbowl MVP, and my life was like something out of a movie. My Delta flight attendant days deserve their own book. It’s on the list.

If You Want Me to Stay – Sly and the Family Stone

 

You Should Be Dancing – Bee Gees

Days after transferring from Miami to Chicago in 1975, I attended my first disco party at The Bavarian Bicycle Club — “The BBC” for short. This unforgettable song was pulsating throughout the club. The Bee Gees were back!

Let’s Hear It for The Boy – Deniece Williams

1984 was a special year for me because my son was born.

Faith – George Michael

Followed by the birth of my unicorn daughter in 1988.

And that’s the end of the party!


I treasure this photo with Sally White at her record store, Sally’s Place in August 2011, while attending my 40th High School reunion. I’m the one with tears in my eyes because I knew it would be the last time I would see Sally.

Arrested for Alleged Sexual Abuse

This startling headline appeared in my local newspaper last week:

Arrested for Alleged Sexual Abuse

Now, most emotional triggers hit me like a ton of angsty bricks, so before I even got to the lede, my heart was pounding, but shockingly, in a good way.

The article was about a 41-year-old volunteer male paramedic for our local Fire Department who was charged with second-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

According to the story, the police investigation resulted in the paramedic’s arrest for inappropriately touching a 13-year-old boy.

I felt pity for the child, but I was relieved that his abuser was exposed for the pedophile that he is. I imagined the young boy had a family who loved and believed in him and that they would do everything in their power to make him whole again.

I closed my eyes and asked God to help that poor kid to forget.

And then I wrote a note next to the article, asking my husband to save it for me.

When he warily handed me the paper, I immediately cut out the five-paragraph article and displayed it on my desk.

A short while later, my husband wanted to know why I cut it out. I just shrugged.

After a day had passed, he wanted to know why I would torture myself by placing the article front row and center on my desk.

Later that evening, my husband was still asking me why.

Why. Why. Why.

Please, don’t think me insane, but the article was a salve.  Honestly, I would frame it, but I don’t want to alarm or upset my family.

Why?

Because the article is validation, that’s why.

Because the predator inappropriately touched a thirteen-year-old child, and he got arrested, that’s why.

Because this deviant will serve time in jail, that’s why.

Because Mr. Molester was publicly humiliated and exposed, that’s why.

Because the innocent little boy will never have to be sexually assaulted by that sicko again, that’s why.

At the end of the article, the detectives requested that if anyone thinks they might have been a victim of a similar incident to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-244-7477 or call 911. All calls are confidential.

Too late for me, but not too late for others, that’s why.

Life for My Friend in Afghanistan

Much of this blog post about my Afghan friend will be intentionally vague. I will refer to her as Fatima, although that is not her real name.

I’ve changed her name and the circumstances under which we met to protect her identity and safety and ensure the organization’s anonymity that helped facilitate our friendship.

Soon after 9/11, in the capacity of the publisher and chief operating officer of World Press Review Magazine, I was invited to a two-day conference with students and educators from war-torn areas of the world—primarily the Middle East, South Asia, and the Balkans.

I was looking forward to the conference because there would be a delegation from Afghanistan, and I wanted to meet them first hand, hoping for an exclusive interview with one or more of them.

I brought along a spiral notebook hoping to fill it with enough material about my interaction with the Afghan contingent to write a compelling, knock-your-socks-off article for Worldpress.org.

The notebook had the following words on the cover: NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST.

As I entered the reception room, I saw a handful of young women in pale blue full-body cloaks, otherwise known as burkas. Their faces were completely covered except for a small area around the eyes, camouflaged by heavy netting. As they huddled closely together, I walked over and introduced myself.

When I stuck my hand out in greeting, I realized that their cloaks had no armholes. I awkwardly apologized while they all silently bowed their heads up and down.

The conference organizer informed me that I would be sitting with Fatima, an Afghan teacher, and her students.

As we went around the table offering our names, Fatima quietly prompted her students to introduce themselves. To be honest, if she hadn’t spoken to her students, I wouldn’t have known the difference between student and teacher. With all that material covering Fatima’s face and body, I wouldn’t have known if she was sixteen or sixty.

I made a few quick observations: At first glance, I was unnerved by this hooded creature. The woman looked like a blue ghost, and the semi-transparent mesh fabric covering her eyes made it impossible to garner any sort of emotion from them.

Fatima was eyeless and faceless, and I wasn’t sure where to focus my own eyes. I can usually tell a lot about someone through their eyes. Do they make eye contact? Do their eyes reveal sadness or gladness? Are they happy to see me?

Because the semi-transparent mesh obscured her eyes, the fabric made it impossible for me to size her up. I felt self-conscious as I tried to focus on where her eyes should be, but I forced myself to do so anyway.

Her burka was nylon—you know, the kind of fabric that doesn’t breathe. And as I tried to make small talk, I couldn’t help but imagine how uncomfortably warm she must have felt.

Surprisingly to me, we hit it off right away. I suppose my knowledge of Afghanistan and the cruelty of the Taliban helped to promote easy conversation. Her English was excellent, and we were equally interested in each other’s stories.

The burka served as a roadblock between us, though.  Here I was in my designer dress—hair and makeup accentuating my persona while she sat there visibly invisible. I unfairly imagined what she looked like: Dark eyes, swarthy skin, with teeth in need of an orthodontist.

She asked me about my family background, and I told her about recently finding my paternal family.

I explained to Fatima that until June of 2001, I knew nothing about my father or that side of my family. She listened in fascination as I told her about discovering that my father was a Syrian Christian. And that his mother, my paternal grandmother, was in all likelihood a Syrian Jew and that I had five half brothers and sisters I never knew existed.

I divulged something to her that I had never uttered out loud before: That I had finally found peace and relief, and although I never knew I needed it, I felt almost whole and more complete than ever before. I shared a photo of my daughter and half-sister, and she enthusiastically agreed that they looked eerily alike, although not surprising.

She delighted in the story and the discovery of my heritage and newly found siblings. The woman without a face listened in amazement and peppered me with question after question. I will remember forever what she said to me after I finished telling her my story: “You can’t see it, but I’m smiling.”

And then it was Fatima’s turn to tell me about herself. She was in her early 30’s, and coming to America was a life-long dream.

She, too, had found peace in 2001, when in October, the United States invaded Afghanistan. “Until then, the Taliban treated girls and women worse than animals,” Fatima whispered in her thick accent while furtively looking to the right and left, as though there were spies among us.

Her head hung low as Fatima explained that when the Taliban came to prominence in the fall of 1994, life as she knew it changed for her. “The Taliban imposed strict and oppressive rules and orders based on their misinterpretation of Islamic law. Women had effectively committed the crime of being born a girl.”

Fatima pointed out a student of hers that was old enough to be in the seventh grade, but she had just finished second grade because, under the Taliban, she had not attended school for almost seven years.

In 1994, the Taliban’s assault on women began immediately. They barred women from attending classes or working at Kabul University. The Taliban forced nearly all women to quit their jobs, which had a devastating impact on household incomes, especially widow-headed households, which, according to Fatima, was common in Afghanistan.

They drastically restricted women’s access to medical care, brutally enforced a burka dress code, and made the ability of women to move about Kabul impossible. The Taliban forced them to quit their jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses, journalists, government officials, and clerical workers.

She further explained that domestic violence had become rampant in Afghanistan—the physical evidence conveniently hidden under the burka.

“Under the Taliban regime, there was a complete ban on women working outside of the home, which made it impossible for me to teach,” Fatima explained. “And there were no schools for girls anyway, so my profession was useless,” she continued, barely audible between her whispering and all that material covering her mouth. When I told her it was hard to hear her, she apologized, saying that as a veiled woman, it was also hard for her to hear and that the burka was claustrophobic and unbearably warm.

Her depiction of the Taliban was haunting.

The Taliban banned movies, music, dancing, clapping during sports events, beard trimming, shaving, card and board games, cameras, children’s toys including stuffed animals and dolls, television, and paper bags. They outlawed hanging pictures in homes, pet parakeets, satellite dishes, chess, cigarettes, alcohol, magazines, newspapers, most books, anything made from human hair, nail polish, statues, pictures, paintings, or photos of any living thing.  Children were forbidden to fly kites or sing songs.

“They even forbid applause, although the ban was a moot point since, as a woman, there was absolutely nothing left to applaud. We used to describe ourselves as the living dead.”

The only public transportation permitted for women were special buses, which were rarely available, and all of their windows, except the driver’s, was covered with thick, filthy blankets.

The Taliban indiscriminately beat Afghans with heavy clubs and long sticks daily. They publicly stoned adulterers to death and amputated the hands of thieves. They banned films with women, and images of females in newspapers, books, shops, or the home. Every visual depiction of a woman was forbidden.

When paying any merchant, a woman’s hand could never be exposed when handing over money or receiving their purchase. Makeup and nail polish were illegal, as well as white socks and white shoes. The Taliban frequently cut off fingers with nail polish.

While the burka existed before the Taliban, its wearing was not a requirement. It was only when the Taliban came into power that the burka became mandatory. Even girls as young as eight or nine years old had to wear a burka. They enforced the wearing of the burka with threats, fines, and severe punishments. And even the accidental showing of a foot or ankle resulted in brutal on-the-spot beatings or, in some unfortunate situations, amputation.

Fatima explained that a burka is expensive and can cost the equivalent of five month’s Afghan salary. And any woman unable to afford a burka faced house arrest. In some neighborhoods, women would share a single garment, many of them waiting days and weeks for their turn to go out, despite their lack of food and medical needs. Fatima described women and girls as wingless birds.

She quoted me an often-used Taliban phrase: “There are only two places for Afghan women. In her husband’s house and the graveyard.”

When I asked her why she was still wearing a burka, she answered that even after the fall of the Taliban regime, many women felt that there was still no safe alternative. “The majority of women who don’t wear a burka face the possibility of being single for the rest of their lives,” said Fatima. She emphasized that it was still a struggle for a woman to gain employment, so they had no choice but to continue relying on men for money. “Men don’t want to marry women who do not abide by hijab.”

She looked around to see if anyone was listening before she continued. “We had to paint our windows black so that no one could see inside, and I could not see outside. So, you see, for seven years, my world was dark.” She paused then, and I imagined that perhaps she was holding back tears. I tried especially hard to see her eyes but to no avail. And yet, I didn’t need to see her face to feel her pain as she continued.

“Yes, my world was dark for seven years because there was a complete ban on women’s activities outside the home. Unless a close male relative could accompany me, the Taliban forced me to spend most of my life in my house. So, when the Americans arrived, I was silently hoping that the worst was over for us. And that my seven years of misery were over.”

We spent hours talking about the horrific life of an Afghan woman. From eight years old, girls were not allowed direct contact with males other than a close blood relative, husband, or in-law. Women and girls were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which caused many illnesses to go untreated. Women faced public flogging and execution if they violated Taliban laws.

The Taliban perpetrated egregious and unending violence against women, including rape, abduction, and forced marriages.

Women were not allowed to speak, laugh, or make any sound in public because it was deemed improper for a stranger to hear their voices. Women were also barred from being involved in politics or speaking publicly and could not appear in the streets without wearing a burka. And they could not wear high-heeled shoes because if a man would hear a woman’s footsteps, it might excite him.

Fatima further explained that the light blue burka was commonly worn in Kabul and was native to Afghanistan. The cutwork by her eyes pricked her skin, leaving bloody marks and very little room to breathe and rendered her unable to eat. The small mesh panel allowed such limited vision that even safely crossing the street was difficult. And wearing the burka regularly often led to headaches, poor eyesight, hearing loss, asthma, and other severe disorders.

But worse than all of it was that Fatima longed to feel the sun on her skin.

I shocked her when I suggested that she take off the burka. I tried to assure her that no one in Afghanistan would ever know. After all, we were safe and sound in New York. She silently shook her head no.

We said goodnight, and I gently hugged her. She couldn’t hug me back because the burka constricted her arms. As I awkwardly patted her back, she leaned her head on my shoulder, and we stayed that way for a good while.

I awoke very early the next day, having had a fitful and sleepless night. I walked to the dining room, where I sat in quiet solitude at one of the many long tables. I ordered a coffee and mentally played back all I had learned and heard from my Afghan friend.

As I feverishly wrote in my notebook, a beautiful light-haired brunette woman sat across from me.

Let’s just say she had me at “good morning” because it was my burka-less friend!

Through my tears, I gazed into her piercing hazel eyes and attempted to speak, but I had to pause for fear of crying. She had the whitest of skin, probably because it had barely seen the light of day. I was finding it difficult to breathe. But she was calm.

Her smile was radiant. She had an endearing space between her two front teeth. It was a tiny gap but adorable and unforgettable.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her burka-less students.  They were visibly unsure of themselves and wary as their eyes darted around the room. The girls clustered together and hunched over each other.  Fatima looked over at the girls and gave them a head bow which they all respectfully returned.

When Fatima looked back at me, she said, “The girls are quiet because they’re used to being voiceless. Most of them have been kept inside and unable to go to school. Some of us women ran underground schools in our homes for girls and women under the guise of sewing and knitting classes. Many of my student’s parents were arrested and lost their jobs. They have seen teachers shot and executed for secretly schooling girls like them. My students have witnessed atrocities that children should never know or see. And I fear that even with the American presence in my country, their voices will never be heard.”

During one of our conference breaks, we walked outside, and Fatima tilted her pale face up toward the sky and basked in the sun, her hazel eyes closed.

As she turned away, with her back to me, the sun revealed the shiny red highlights in her hair. Her head no longer hung low; she was walking tall and strong. Her mighty shadow towered larger than life alongside her.

Why September 18 for the far-Right Rally?

When I heard about the far-right extremist pro-Trump rally, my first thought was if September 18, 2021 was chosen for a particular reason.

I have my theory about the date, although maybe it’s a coincidence that on September 18, 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which required that people who had escaped from slavery be captured and returned.

Former Donald Trump campaign official Matt Braynard who is spearheading the far-right extremist rally, recently told HuffPost that “protestors would be discouraged from holding election or candidate-related signs or wearing MAGA gear.”

His request sounds unconstitutional to me. And anyway, why not put it all out there? Is Braynard afraid of something?

I suggest you read the entire Fugitive Slave Act because A) I hope it will disgust you, and B) It eerily mirrors the recent Texas abortion law.

Is it possible that Texas lawmakers used the Fugitive Slave Act as a boilerplate for their draconian abortion restrictions? I say yes.

The Fugitive Slave Act essentially gave every American citizen the authority to hunt and roundup fugitive slaves.

Section 6 in the Fugitive Slave Act made it shockingly clear that captured slaves could not testify on their behalf or defense: “In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence. . .”

Section 7 warned that anyone assisting or harboring slaves would be subject to a fine up to $1,000 (equivalent to $35,000 today) and imprisonment of up to six months.

Ironically, the harsh, brutal, and oppressive measures in the Fugitive Slave Act caused such outrage among abolitionists that its existence served as a vehicle to fight even harder against slavery.

The law also incentivized and spurred the continued operation of the Underground Railroad, a network of over 3,000 secret routes and safe houses used by slaves to escape from the slave-holding southern states to the free northern states and Canada. In 1850 alone, an estimated 100,000 slaves escaped via the network.

Many historians believe that the reversal of the Fugitive Slave Act in June of 1864 (14 years after its enactment), contributed to the country’s growing polarization over slavery and is considered one of the causes of the Civil War, which began in 1865.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) has vehemently condemned preparations for the September 18 far-right rally. “We just have to make sure that if they are ready to get violent, that we’re ready again in a better way than on January 6 to defend the Capitol,” Swalwell said.”

With Trump out of office, defending the Capitol should be a breeze.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also condemned the far-right extremist rally. “And now these people are coming back to praise the people who were out to kill, out to kill members of Congress, successfully causing the deaths — ‘successfully’ is not the word, but that’s the word, because it’s what they set out to do — of our law enforcement, Pelosi said.”

According to a January 29 letter Braynard sent to the Department of Justice and FBI, the mob who stormed the Capitol on January 6 looking to hang Mike Pence, and resulted in the deaths of five people,  were nonviolent and “reasonably believed they had permission” to enter the Capitol.

Permission by Dear Leader Trump?

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said Monday evening that “it looks like, from all indications, our law enforcement partners are well prepared for this one. They seem to be taking the intelligence very seriously, which raises a question as to whether or not they did on January 6, but that’s another issue.”

Another issue, indeed.

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 7: A New School With a Side of Baptism

CHAPTER 7

A NEW SCHOOL WITH A SIDE OF BAPTISM

January 1961

Mem, Mom, and Mere Germaine huddled around the kitchen table, whispering to each other. I was supposed to be asleep, but I snuck out of bed to try to hear what they were saying. Mom was doing all the talking, and it was mainly in French. I tried my best to figure out what was going on, but I was confused.

Mom was telling Mem and Mere that for me to go to St. Augustine Elementary School after Easter break, I needed to get baptized.

Wait. Was I going to a new school? Nobody told me that. And I had no idea what a baptized was.

Mom went on to tell Mem that she would have to pretend to be my mother because the Catholic school wouldn’t accept anyone from an excommunicated family. Mere said that she didn’t want Mem to lie, but she had to agree with Mom that the only way I would get into St. Augustine’s, was if they pretended that I was Mem’s daughter and Mom was my sister!

Then Mem piped in that it was about time they baptized me Catholic anyway and that there was no reason I should be Greek Orthodox and risk going to Limbo. She blamed my dad for that.

Wherever Limbo was, it didn’t sound like a place I wanted to go. And no way did I want to go there with my father.

Then Mom said that if anyone at St. Augustine asked, she would tell them that she was married to an oil rig worker stationed out of state and that Mem and Mere were widows. Mem and Mere bobbed their heads up and down like Mom was the boss of both of them.

They had always taught me that lying was a sin, so why was it okay for them?

The next day Mom sat me down and told me that because of Barbara Titone, I was going to a new school.

I was thinking about all the ways I could punch Tit out for causing me so much trouble. Mom scolded me for not paying attention.

Then Mom said that if anyone at St. Augustine asked, I had to tell them I was Mem’s daughter. When I reminded Mom that lying was a sin, she told me to “shut it.”

It was Mem who told me that right before Easter, I was getting baptized. I wasn’t crazy about getting a pile of water dumped on my head, but what could I do? Mem promised me that she would take me to Howard Johnson’s for a banana split afterward, so I was excited.

Every time I saw Tit at school, I gave her the rat face, so she stayed far away from me, but so did everyone else because they thought I wasn’t right in my head.

While I waited to get baptized, I focused my attention on the top outside corner of our back porch, where two small birds were busily making a nest using dried leaves and twigs.

Soon, the birds had a baby! Mem called them Oiseaux, which means birds in French. The mommy bird peeked her head out of the nest while the daddy bird watched their wobbly baby hop around on our rotting rail. I knew which one was the mom because she was smaller than the dad. I asked Mem if she thought their tummies growled like mine when they were hungry. She said she didn’t know. My belly was always growling from hunger, and I was afraid that they were hungry too.

But mostly, I was afraid the hungry rats would eat my new friends. I asked Mem if rats ate birds, but she didn’t know that either.

There was a window in our kitchen, close enough to the nest for me to watch them. I put a small pot of water on the rail and laughed with delight when the birds took turns dunking their tiny heads in it. But Mem took the water away, explaining that it would bring other things, and I knew exactly what she meant by that. Every time I pressed my face against the windowpane, I prayed to God to make sure the rats didn’t eat my birds.

On the day of my baptism, Mem dressed me in all white. Mom couldn’t come because she had to work, so she sent one of her friends who came as my godparent, and Mere was a witness. Mem lied to the priest and told him she was my mother. Mere kept quiet and didn’t say one word. The priest was rough, and the water he poured all over my head and face was ice cold. Some of the water went up through my nose, and I started to choke. The priest forced me to keep my head back even though I was having trouble breathing. He told me to be strong for Jesus and that the Holy water would save me.

On the bus to Howard Johnson’s, Mem told me that Catholics were against divorced people. She explained that both she and Mom were divorced because they both married bad men. She made me promise not to tell anyone about their divorces, or I would have to go back to school with Barbara Titone. I told Mem I never wanted to see Tit again, but I also didn’t want to lie. She responded that I shouldn’t give her any trouble and just do what I was told.

On the first day of school at St. Augustine’s, the kids were friendly, but the nuns were strict and grumpy. I made it my business to lie, lie, lie, and told everyone I met that my dad was a famous oil rig worker who worked far away and that I lived with my mom and older sister, even though nobody asked.

When I got home that day, daddy bird was lying limp on the porch. I poked him, but he didn’t move. Then I noticed the empty bowl of rat poison in the corner. I dragged a kitchen chair outside and climbed up to the nest, where I found the baby and mommy dead.

I took them out and laid them next to the dad. Then I poured water on their heads to baptize and save them, but it didn’t work. I carefully placed my birds into the bowl of poison, hid them underneath the bottom level of the porch, and prayed to God to force the rats to eat them and croak.

Stay tuned for Chapter 8: Mother’s Day 1961

Say His Name

This past Sunday, Kat O’Brien, a former journalist and baseball writer for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Newsday, broke her silence about a major league baseball player who raped her eighteen years ago, when she was 22 years old.

Kat’s words cut through me, and it was a tough essay to read.

I wanted to reach out to her, but I wasn’t sure how, so this blog post is the best I can do. I hope Kat reads it one day.

What I found most heartbreaking about her trauma was that she didn’t name the player because she felt it “would only open me up to the possibility of having dirt thrown on my reputation.”

Eighteen years later, she’s still afraid to say his name. For good reason.

And so, eighteen years later, this unnamed despicable rapist still has her under his powerful thumb.

I get it.

I’ve been afraid to say his name for 54 years.

After this MLB player raped Kat, she went back to her apartment and drank a bottle of red wine in a desperate attempt to numb her sadness and rage.

I can’t even begin to count the number of bottles of wine I drank to numb myself. I’m still numbing myself.

As I read Kat’s heartbreaking essay, I wondered if she had ever said his name to anyone close to her. I hope she did because it does help somewhat.

I only know that because I’ve said my abuser’s name to a select group of people over the past 54 years. “Select,” being the operative word.  And what I discovered is “select” doesn’t mean I always chose the right people to tell.

When Kat was finally able to talk about “it,” she was asked, “But you really couldn’t get away?”

More than twenty years ago, when I finally mustered up the courage to elaborate on the unspeakable gory details to someone I thought was the closest to me, she  asked: “Are you still talking about that?”

My heart throbbed out of my chest as I read Kat’s words. It was beating so hard that my shirt was moving. I warily looked around at my family gathered together by the pool for fear that one of them would notice.

The rape followed Kat for the rest of her life. She didn’t trust intimacy. She felt unsafe. And she quietly and courageously dealt with the small daily assaults that came and went.

Since Mid-January, Kat’s been having nightmares. She’s been crying on and off every day. She hyperventilates, and her chest pounds in fight or flight.

I feel like I know Kat.

I get her, and I feel her pain.

Because she’s me. She’s a lot of us. Too damn many of us.

She also wrote that her fear of losing her job in sports journalism is long gone and that she’s found her voice.

But in my opinion, Kat’s voice is infinitesimal compared to what it could be—because she still can’t say his name.

And I disagree with Kat that being a rape survivor is only a tiny part of her story. I don’t see how that can be true, given everything she has had to endure.

At the end of her essay, Kat writes that she has finally found the sunlight. I sure hope that she has. She deserves some light, some respite.

Since reading Kat’s essay on Sunday, I can’t stop thinking about her.

And I’m thinking about her rapist too, because maybe—just maybe, he’s afraid.

Because maybe—just maybe, Kat’s the one with all the power.

And if she ever reads this blog post, I only have one thing to say to Kat:

SAY HIS NAME.

A Novel on a Blog

I had all but given up on my unfinished novel titled My Stolen Diaries, which I began writing in 1992.

In early 2015, my book had 168 pages and 117,653 words, and I wasn’t even close to finishing it, so I decided to put my novel on hold and instead concentrated on creating a blog.

In March 2015, I launched my blog, The Teri Tome.

In April 2015, I only had 328 visits to the blog, but by March of 2019, The Teri Tome had over 27,000 monthly visits.

With that kind of monthly traffic, it seemed like a no-brainer to revisit My Stolen Diaries and analyze whether or not it made sense to add chapters from my book onto my blog.

In July 2019, I wrote an article about the pros and cons, and shockingly, the post has to date been viewed over 10,000 times. [You can read To Blog or Not to Blog My Novel here.]

Writing the blog post was incredibly useful in that it helped me figure out a format for excerpting from my decades-old unfinished book. And the many thousands of page views I received from my post solidified my decision to add chapters of my novel to my blog.

After much thought, I decided my novel-on-a-blog should be called a Novelog. In January 2020, I posted a Disclaimer and the first six chapters of my novel.

I was reasonably sure the chapters would bomb, so the thousands of hits the posts garnered made my heart happy.

My blog traffic immediately increased by almost 50%, primarily due to the My Stolen Diaries chapters.

Of my 32 total posts in 2020, seven of them were chapters pulled from the novel.

And shocking to me was that when I calculated the traffic numbers for my top five blog posts in 2020, four of them were from my ancient rough draft novel!

It turned out my most popular blog posts were less of a post-mortem on what Teri was writing in 2020 and more about what Teri was writing in the 90s.

The Teri Tome generated over 300,000 page views in 2020, a whopping 47% increase from 2019, primarily due to the page views for my novel My Stolen Diaries.

The thousands of people who have been reading chapter after chapter has given me new resolve to pull out my book and take a fresh look at it.

Maybe, just maybe, my languishing novel has legs.

And 2021 might even be the year I finish it. In the meantime, keep a lookout for more chapters coming to The Teri Tome soon!

Blue Mind


Three unfortunate incidents forever changed my view of expansive bodies of water.

In 1959, my life jacket got caught on a rope dangling from a swim raft on a Caribou, Maine Lake.

Were it not for the actions of an observant young man watching from the shore; I might not be here to tell you this tale. I’ve spent a lifetime silently thanking him for saving me that day.

In 1967, while hanging out with friends on Nash’s Pond in Westport, Connecticut, we witnessed a ginormous snapping turtle crawling out of the water.

The combination of its scary, dinosaur-like appearance and aggressive behavior towards us resulted in its untimely death at the hands of the youngest guy in our group. I’ve also spent a lifetime horrified by the senseless murder of the upside-down turtle by impalement.

It was only yesterday that I read online that female snapping turtles travel on land to lay their eggs and are at their most aggressive. So in all probability, we tortured and killed a soon-to-be mommy.

In 1981 I was on a 27-foot sailboat that nearly capsized in a storm that came out of freaking nowhere.

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have water issues.

I never venture into any large body of water, and yet I have this weird obsession with it.

So much so that it’s on my bucket list to one day live on the water’s front.

But most definitely in a high rise.

I fear all vast bodies of water, and yet they calm me. The spilling, plunging, surging, and pounding of the waves as they crash onto the shore causes my heart to race, and not in a good way.

I can’t count the number of times I have covered my eyes while watching a rough and turbulent ocean in movies, including in the film Frozen, when Anna and Elsa’s parents perish in a stormy sea. Fast forward!

And yet the sheer beauty, power, and sound of water go a long way to healing my heart. My go-to Alexa request when I can’t sleep is the crashing of waves.

For me, spending time near water is as effective and way more immediate than any sedative. Even though it scares the bejesus out of me.

And nothing cures my writers’ block more than sitting at the water’s edge. Words, sentences, and entire paragraphs churn over and over in my head, mirroring the waves rolling and frothing close to me.

But not too close.

There is a theory called “blue mind,” which concludes that being near, in, on, or under the water can make us happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what we do.

I’ll agree that I feel a profound water-associated peace whenever I’m near an ocean, sea, river, or lake.

But to be clear, there is no way I would ever go in, on, or under any body of water.

Years ago, I self-diagnosed myself as having thalassophobia vs. aquaphobia because I’m not afraid of the water per se. It’s what’s lurking beneath its surface that freaks me out.

I’m obsessively drawn to the feel and sound of it. Just don’t put me in it.

The light reflecting off the water surface, the sound of the rising tide, and the spray of the sea on my face remind me that I’m in the right place.

I suppose it’s my brain on blue.

Oh, if it were only possible to stay in a Blue-Mind forever.

Yesterday while anxiously waiting in a parking lot for a special someone who was having craniofacial surgery, the song Blue World by The Moody Blues came on the radio.

It’s A Blue World
by The Moody Blues

Heart and soul took control
Took control of me
Paid my dues, spread the news
Hands across the sea

Put me down, turned me round
Turned me ’round to see
Marble halls, open doors
Someone found the key

And it’s only what you do
That keeps coming back on you
And it’s only what you say
That can give yourself away

Underground sight and sound
Human symphony
Heard the voice, had no choice
Needed to be free

Fly me high, touch the sky
Left the earth below
Heard the line, saw the sign
Knew which way to go

’cause it’s easier to try
Than to prove it can’t be done
And it’s easier to stay
Than to turn around and run

It’s a blue world
It takes somebody to help somebody
Oh, it’s a blue world
It’s a new world

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