Here we are roaring up to June and it’s looking unlikely that anyone is going to ask me to give a commencement address. But just in case…

Whatever it is that you want to do, don’t do it to show them, whoever they are, because by the time you do it, they, whoever they are, your parents, your relatives, the neighbors, and anybody else who said, You’re a feather, you’ll never amount to anything, what planet are you from?, all of them are going to be sick or dead or dotty or just trying to get through the day, and nothing is going to be about you and whatever you did. If you are lucky enough to be able to do whatever it is you want to do, do it for yourself and the joy and worthiness of doing it, because even if they, whoever they are, aren’t sick or dead or dotty, they will not care a fig, you’ll hardly even have a chance to get your news in, at the very most, they will only say they aren’t surprised one bit, not one bit, didn’t they always say from the beginning that you were going to do great things, and you’re going to say, “Whaaa?” Satisfaction and respect and fulfillment and purpose and meaning are not out there. Do whatever you do, for your best self who can appreciate it more than anyone else ever could, and if you do it, you’ll have done it against all odds, so fill with pride, you hero you.


By Irene Zion


It was two weeks past my due date.  My babies could hardly move anymore.  It was just too tight inside.  It must have been uncomfortable in there.  My doctor was on vacation; so another one took his place.  I saw him three days before my labor began and he said everything was great.  I was two weeks overdue with enormous twins. There were two separate heartbeats in there, nice and strong, everyone alive and ready.  He gestured with his hand for me to leave the room.  I was told to go home and continue to wait.  I wasn’t his patient.  He was just covering for my doctor.

When my labor began, I was thrilled.  I had been carrying the names in my wallet for two girls and two boys.  This is the paper with the names from my wallet:

I was in the labor room alone with the nurse.

I’m having twins! I said, laughing.

I was so happy.  I was so happy that I thought I would burst from happiness.  Finally I would find out who my babies were.

In the delivery room with me were Victor, my Lamaze coach, the covering doctor and a nurse.  There was another doctor in the room, but I did not notice him.

I pushed and I pushed and all the while I was puffing and I was laughing.  I was so happy.  My first baby was born and someone quietly said she was a girl.

That’s Lenore Emily! I was delighted!

No one spoke. There was no sound.  The other doctor was working feverishly with Lenore Emily at the side of the room and then he ran out the door with her.  She had never made a sound.

Where did he take her? I asked. Who was that doctor? I wasn’t worried, though.  Everything was going to be so great!

No one answered me.  No one said a word.  Then I was having contractions again.

I pushed and I pushed and my second baby was born, but again, there was no sound.  The doctor didn’t speak.  Victor didn’t speak.  No one looked at me.

Who is the baby?  Is it a boy or a girl? I asked.

Still no one spoke to me.  No one answered me.  I was delivering afterbirth in total silence.  Everyone in the room looked away from me.  Finally, my Lamaze coach walked to my side.

Your second baby is a girl, but she is dead, she said, already walking away.

Her name is Margot Eliza! I shouted, and then a noise began low inside me and got louder and louder.  It filled me up; it filled up the room.

A nurse brought Margot Eliza over to me all washed up and wrapped in a blanket.  Her lips were a deep, dark red.  Her skin was milk-white.  She looked healthy and beautiful.  She looked asleep.  I was convinced she was alive, but no one was trying to bring her back to health.  No oxygen.  No commotion around her of doctors and nurses.

Why aren’t you trying to help her? I cried out, over and over.

The panic was growing inside me.  I looked away from Margot Eliza’s perfect face.  I thought of Lenore Emily.  I screamed at Victor to go find her, to find out where she was, to make her be alive. He didn’t speak but I didn’t stop screaming.  He left.

The doctor was sewing up my torn flesh.  I couldn’t get up.  I was alone with the doctor in the delivery room.  He never said a word.

If it were true, if Margot Eliza were dead, then the doctors had to hurry to harvest her heart and her liver and her kidneys and her lungs and her corneas and her skin so that other babies could survive because of her!  I begged the doctor to get more doctors to quickly do this.  My entreaty was met with more silence.

I found out later that Margot Eliza had died before she was born.  Her parts couldn’t be used to save other babies.  Margot Eliza was more than dead.  She was too dead.

Then I was in the recovery room.  Victor came back to say that Lenore Emily was in the neonatal intensive care room.  She needed blood.  She had swallowed meconium.  She couldn’t breathe.  She was dead, but they brought her back. Victor looked broken inside.  He was so quiet.  Victor had to go home to the kids.

The nurse in the labor room had only heard one heartbeat, and it was weak. She hadn’t told me because I had been so happy, but she had called the neonatologist.  That nurse and Dr. Cohen saved Lenore Emily’s life. Victor and the rest of the people in the delivery room already knew that one of my babies was dead. They already knew the other baby was in trouble.  I was so happy, no one wanted to tell me.  No one knew how to tell me.  No one wanted to be the one to stab me in the heart.

Margot Eliza had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck three times.  Three times. Dr. Cohen knew he couldn’t bring Margot Eliza back to life.  He was trained.  He knew the difference between dead and too dead.

I was alone in the recovery room.  My brain was spinning.  I no longer knew what was true and what wasn’t. A nurse came in the room.  She asked me if I would like to see my baby.  I jumped from the bed, but she said I couldn’t go into the neonatal intensive care room.  She took out a Polaroid picture and gave it to me.  Part of Lenore Emily’s head was shaved and an IV was inserted in her head.  She was in an incubator.  She was getting oxygen.  Tubes came in and out of her everywhere.  This is the picture.

I asked the nurse if Lenore Emily could survive.  She looked so frail. The nurse said that she probably would.  She needed O negative blood, but the hospital had run out of it.  They had sent for more.  The nurse said that the oxygen was helping her to breathe.  I wish I knew this nurse’s name.  I still hope to find out.  She knew how to speak to the grieving.  She was an angel.

Your other baby was beautiful, she said. 

She was exactly like this one, she said.

I asked if they were identical, because no one had told me, no one had spoken to me.

She said that they were perfectly identical.

I asked if I could see Margot Eliza.

I asked if I could touch her.

I asked if I could hold her.

Not right now, she said.

My father and my mother came into the room.  My father was in a three-piece suit and his tie was held with a gleaming silver tie clip; there were silver cuff links on his cuffs and his black shoes were shined. Tears were pooling in his eyes.  There was nothing he could say, but he had dressed formally to show respect for the dead.  My mother spoke.

You see, Irene Marie, I was RIGHT to not buy that double stroller you wanted, wasn’t I?  You just had to have it ready, didn’t you?  You didn’t even think of the inconvenience for me, did you?  I would have wasted all that money and then I would have had to go to all the trouble of trying to return it!

The keening began again; it arose unbidden from deep inside me.  It increased in intensity, permeating my cells, suffusing the room.  My father took my mother by the arm.  He took her away from me.  He knew she was poison.

Victor returned.  I had no sense of time. There was a knock at the door.  A woman came in with a clipboard.  She had red lipstick on and she had a huge smile on her face.

I was right!  Everything was a mistake!  My babies are fine!

She walked over to me in the bed and handed me the clipboard.  I just need your signature, she said.  She was smiling.  I looked down.  It was a death certificate.  I threw the clipboard across the room. The keening began inside me again, penetrating my muscles and my fat and my sinews and my organs.  It emerged into the room, pervading the atoms in the air, pushing forcibly at the walls and the ceiling and the floor.

Victor picked up the clipboard and signed the death certificate. He moved so slowly, as though he were moving under water.

She asked if we would be having a funeral.

Victor said no, not a funeral. It would be too depressing.

Just take care of it, he said, quietly.

I told Victor that Lenore’s middle name had to be changed to Margot.

Victor looked at me and spoke.

We were never going to have twins.

This never happened.

We have a daughter.

We won’t speak of it again.

Then he had to go home to the kids.

He never spoke of it again.

Everyone grieves in his own way.

I understood what had happened.  My middle is Marie.  Victor’s is Michael.  Sara’s is Miriam.  Lonny’s is Misha.  Timothy’s is Maxwell.  One of my babies died and the other was born dead because the middle names I gave them did not start with the letter M.  I killed one of my babies and almost killed the other with my thoughtlessness.  Both my babies would be alive if only I had given them middle names beginning with M. The guilt was paralyzing.

I wanted a funeral. I called the nurse.

I said that I needed to hold my baby.

I said that I needed to have a funeral.

I needed a headstone.

It’s too late, she said, she’s gone.

I understand that she is dead, I said,

but I need to hold her.


I’m sorry, she said, your baby has already been cremated.

They were very efficient.  No time for second thoughts.  No one had ever once asked me what I wanted.

They took care of it.

Someone had taken her little body with her paper white skin and her blood red lips and her perfect sleeping face down the back elevator to the basement incinerator.  Someone had slid her immaculate little body into the furnace where the fire was already burning with gangrenous feet and cancerous tumors. Her flawless little body was consumed in the fire of medical detritus, and I had never even touched her.  I had never even held her.

They could give me no ashes to bury.

There is really nothing left when you burn up a newborn, she informed me, they are so small.

Margot Eliza was the big one; she weighed close to eight pounds.  Lenore Margot was slightly smaller.  She was born first.  She was dead and then she came back to life because I changed her name.  She was safe now.  My live baby had a safe name.  Her middle name began with M.

The next day they put me in a room with another, empty bed.  My real doctor visited.  He was sorry.  Sorry didn’t help.  The room filled with flowers. The smell of the flowers made me feel sick.  It was the smell of death.  Flowers kept arriving:  flowers in vases, arrangements of flowers, and flowers in pots. Flowers of death overflowed the room.  The windowsill was cramped with flowers.  Flowers spilled out onto the nurses’ station.

I got a roommate.  The woman behind the curtain was on the phone complaining bitterly.  She had another boy.  She didn’t want a boy.  She wanted a girl.  She told all her visitors how unlucky she was, how devastated she was.  She had only wanted a girl.

I thought of ways to kill her.  I could smother her with a pillow as she slept.  I could stab her with the butter knife from the food tray.  I wanted to kill her, but I didn’t do it.  I was too tired.  I went home instead.

I had three little children at home and Lenore Margot in my arms, but I was no longer in my body.  I was on the ceiling.   I watched from the ceiling.

My body virtually never put Lenore Margot down.  It had to protect her.  My body was doing a good job.  It nursed Lenore Margot and sang to her and played with my other children.  It was a good mother.  It read to my children.  It helped the children with their homework.  It was a good wife.  It made wonderful dinners from scratch every night.  It slept with my husband.

I watched from the ceiling to make sure that my body did everything right.  We had dinner parties every other weekend.  My body prepared course after course of gourmet food.  I watched from the ceiling as my body’s hands folded the napkins a different way each time. It used the good dishes. It prepared it all while carrying Lenore Margot.  It served it all while carrying Lenore Margot.  It never put flowers on the table.  My body did not disappoint me.  It continued to function well, while I lived on the ceiling.

One day a friend came over.

How are you, really? she asked.

I returned to my body and I said,

I want to die.

She had to leave; she forgot that she had an appointment.

I went back to the ceiling.

In my dreams Margot ages along with Lenore.  She is always just out of reach.  She is silent.  In my dreams, Margot now has tattoos of beautiful birds on her milk-white skin, birds in every color, birds landing, birds taking off.  Quiet birds.  Margot dyes her hair dark now.  Her lips remain red.  She is thin and beautiful.  She is silent.  She stands at the edge of the door.  She doesn’t come closer, but she is interested.  She watches Lenore and me quietly, in my dreams.  I talk to her, but she doesn’t answer although she looks right at me.  So far, for twenty-nine years she visits me at night.  So far, for twenty-nine years she has not spoken a single word.

Joyously Obscene

By Mary Hendrie


I learned to curse from the kids down the road. I don’t know where they learned it. Maybe they snuck into the living room late one night and watched Cinemax. Or maybe someone let them listen to that George Carlin bit (Carlin, of course, has become my cursing idol – what an appreciation for language that man has). They knew all the basics and a few interesting combinations. I didn’t know what “fuck” meant but understood it to be foul and taboo, so the combination “buttfuckers” struck me as joyously obscene. We were the kind of kids who integrated new words into our vocabulary by shouting them while jumping on the trampoline, leaping off the bed or bounding from one piece of furniture to another trying not to touch the floor — lava, obviously. If you had first encountered cursing in such a magnificent, joyful, wild atmosphere, you would love it, too. Few things entertain me more than the thought of my eight-year-old self in mid-air shouting “buttfuckers” with glee.

I love cursing the way I love beer. It is a guilty love, one that cannot possibly be good for me, one that concerns my mother a little. In high school, she heard me singing along with Ani DiFranco: “I may not be able to save the whole fucking world, but I can be the million that you never made.” Mom sighed. “I guess you and your friends all talk like that, don’t you?” I recently sent an invitation to a small sampling of my rather large Catholic family — only to the ones who already know i don’t go to church — inviting them to read my blog. It was another tentative step into the online world of self-promotion in which the line between enthusiasm and shamelessness is thinning by the day. The invitation included a suggestion that my family members could share the blog with anyone they know who might be interested, but it also came with a warning: “If you know anyone with a strong aversion to four-letter words, this may not be the kind of thing they’ll want to read.”

This e-mail lead to a conversation with my Mom in which I explained how I really do need to improve my vocabulary and she said how she loved Julie and Julia except for all the cursing, which she found not so much offensive as simply unnecessary and distracting. I could relate. I’m always talking about how writers have annoying and distracting habits that they seem to have been trying out for effect, but the effect just didn’t come out so well.

But I also believe cursing can be used to great effect, like the time my brother talked our mom and sister into a staged argument in the mall parking lot. My sister Katie, generally recognized as the polite one in the family, called shotgun as we all went to get in the car. My mother, more commonly known as the nicest lady ever born, voiced her objection.

Mom: No, I want to ride in the front.

Katie: But you always get to ride in front.

Mom: Fuck you, Katie.

Seriously, it was priceless. Just the briefest moment of shock passed until we all realized our mom would never use that word. John, who had orchestrated the scene, couldn’t contain his smile. Mom has probably blocked it out, but to me it was completely unforgettable.

Cursing does a lot for me, actually. There are those who call it cheap, low class, anti-intellectual, a sign of a weak mind, a foul temper and a lacking vocabulary. All these things are true, of course. But sometimes, my mind is weak, my temper foul, and my vocabulary lacking — there’s no getting around it — I run out of words sometimes.

In college, I took a women’s self-defense class for credit. I was OK at sparring. I learned the moves and did the exercises, even lost a couple pounds. Found out I could hit pretty hard, too. For the final exam, we had to fend off an attacker (a former cop or something, a man paid to show up in padding and a cup and threaten us). I was terrified. I had stage fright, for one thing. I knew I could hold my own against a classmate; I’d even given my friend a bloody lip by accident one time. But I was afraid of the pressure of not getting mugged (or raped or killed) in front of the whole class. I was afraid I couldn’t let fly witht he fists on a total stranger. Our teacher had instructed us to keep shouting “no” at the attacker as we fought him, and being raised in the polite tradition of “yes,” I was afraid I couldn’t raise my voice against him.

When my turn came, we stood in the center of the room, encircled by my classmates, acting convincingly like total strangers until he said, “Hey lady, can I play with your titties?” No kidding. Fucker gets paid to say this shit. I was shocked, but the adrenaline rushed in like a title wave as I shouted, “Fuck no!”

My classmates laughed a little. We were all surprised by my voice, considering I’d been labeled as “the nice one” by our teacher. The attacker grabbed my arm, and then I fought him. I fought him like hell, and I didn’t care anymore if he had a cup on. My classmates were chanting, “No! No! No!” with every punch, and I was going to ruin his day. Ruin his life. Ruin his family tree. After class, he took off his protective gear and we all talked for a few minutes. He was a nice guy, in his 50s, a grandfather, but still terribly fit. He was harmless after all, and he’d been there to help us learn our own strength. He helped me find my own voice, that’s for sure. And as vulgar as anyone may think it is, I know exactly what I’ll say if a real attacker ever tries to touch me.

What I told Mom was that when you’re trying to hang with geniuses, professional journalists, people with PhDs and book contracts and all you’ve got going for yourself is a spunky attitude and a foul mouth, it leaves something to be desired. It can make you feel pretty ignorant. And yet, there’s something satisfying about being a high school girl and using the word “cunt” to unsettle boys who’d never seen one. Truthfully, after exchanging e-mails with certain very literate friends, I do hit dictionary.com pretty hard, but let us never underestimate the power of a well-placed “fuck.”