Bienvenue (Welcome) to My Mess

I am having a productive day. I have too few of these. I:

-got people on their way

-made the bed

-made a new fridge calendar

-made calls



-picked Lilli up from the bus stop

-fixed dinner

-did mom stuff

All done.

Then, I started thinking about my dad. The day he broke all the dishes and broke our hearts.

We lived on 20 acres, just outside a small town, near Kansas City. My parents were fighting and for a few hours one night, we left to get away from my dad. He was in a rage and there was no staying in the house when he was like that. We finally returned at the end of the evening when he was sure to be at work (he worked overnights) and what we found was a disaster.

I stepped inside our double-wide trailer, through the back door, and I could not see the floor. It was covered in broken dishes, clothes, trash, books, stuff. I could only walk on top of things. A bomb had gone off. My father’s ticking temper.

There were gouges in the fake wood paneling in the living room. There were broken pieces of wood used to stab the fake wood paneling. You couldn’t tell what had been spared and what hadn’t. The feeling I had was a mix of profound confusion, anxiety, fear, anger and deep, deep sadness. This feeling was not abnormal.

I don’t know why I flashed on that. But I also flashed on the things he used to tell me. How lazy I was. Would he be proud? Would he still complain? Am I good enough? What motivates me to be productive during the day? Is it love or justification?

And I began to fight with him (really I was arguing with myself, becuz he’s dead, he can’t fight) and I defended Me. I said to him,

You never taught me. You were too busy, too tired, too selfish, too crazy, too weak, too dumb to teach me. It was your fault that I was never able to accomplish anything.

And then I had to stop.

First of all, I’m not lazy, but I am broken. I struggle. Who doesn’t?

Second of all, you are all by yourself. Who are you talking to? Stop fighting with a dead man. He’s dead, he doesn’t think, feel, say, do anything bad any more. His burden of this harsh life was shuffled off a long time ago. He no longer judges me for my shortcomings. He can only see me through eyes that are no longer blinded by loathing, eyes that have seen paradise. He can’t feel anything bad any more, including disgust for me.

He treated me the way his father (mis)treated him. And then I really broke down.

When I realized my purpose.

This is my one chance, this life, to atone for the sins of my family and the years of abuse by taking all the responsibility of the past and choosing to move forward, in spite of the chaos, with a positive, loving heart. I see the wave of the past and I am the one to survive it. I won’t be taken by it. And I shield my own daughter from any more hurt. I take it. I can take it. I can take it and turn it around. I give my daughter the life I needed and wanted. I can withstand the wave because I am powerful, loving and disciplined through God’s spirit. Through God’s holy power, I will not drown in this abuse.

2 Timothy 1:7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

I’m willing to atone for my father, and his father, and every member of the past. And I do that willingly from a place of love and sacrifice and thankfulness. I choose something better. I don’t have to blame him, me or anyone else. I choose something beautiful for my family now. I choose to be smart and turn my whole legacy around. I choose to follow God and show my daughter where to go and where to look.

So thankful that when she sits down to eat breakfast, even tho she’s all alone, she bows her head to pray. Even when no one is watching. Then I know she has a relationship with God.

Every evil desire and abuse comes pouring into me. And I funnel that through Christ, and He turns that evil into good.


I am the bowl of refinement. I am the one who is intelligent enough to take what happened and boil it down and filter it. I take the brunt. I was meant for this purpose. I was made, if for no other reason, to give Lilli her chance.  God has amazing plans for my daughter and unless I took the beating of bad words and broken plates, she couldn’t get to where she needed to go.

Those broken nights so long ago made me. And I made her.

Christ took our punishment so we can get to where we need to go. If He can do that, I can do this.

I do what no one else could do. I stop it all from continuing. I lay down and die to myself so that my daughter doesn’t have to know what I know. My life is a sacrifice for her and then I truly understand why God sent Jesus. So we could do better.


(This is a real dream I had. I was never sexually abused, although I was verbally, emotionally and on rare occasions, physically abused. I believe the dream is a representation of the violation to one’s most private being–the thing that makes us holy and unique. Not actual sex. No one talks about our hearts being penetrated.)
There are moments in this life where the entire world slows down for just a second. Noises are blurred, images are paused and focused. And for a brief, fluttering instant we can experience a perfect communion with the eternal; a recognition of the divine. This moment hangs on like a perfectly formed raindrop, clinging to the surface of the present, waiting for the next moment to be bumped forward and resume the electric pace of the ordinary.
It’s a wet, rainy day. Gray, cloudy and cold. I find myself on the street outside my grandmother’s house. Grandma Shark, the one with the droopy earlobes. This is the house where she lived when I was a child. It’s cluttered with distant, whispering voices and the rooms are hidden and dirty. The house is huge.
Mists of breath, I pace along the sidewalk, waiting just outside. Then he’s just there. A young boy. He’s only 8 or 9, with blonde hair and large, round eyes. When I look into his eyes, they flap. Huge, like a fish. His lids spasm with long lashes and the motion is slowed. The boy asks me to ride with him and his grandfather in a car. Then I see him for the first time. The grandfather. He’s intimidating and silent, never speaks. I can tell he is angry and expectant. What does he want? Danger fills the spaces between me, the boy and the man.
Cut to the car. We ride together in a huge car. It is dingy and cold inside. The seats are stiff, slick, stained and dusty. The edges are torn and rugged. We rock and lurch down the street. I use my numb fingers to wipe away the fog on the glass. I rip my hand open on some jagged rusty metal holding in the window. It’s bleeding and I’m breathing through my teeth. I am in the back seat with the boy to protect him.
The old man grabs my legs and holds them tightly from the front seat. He won’t let go and he tries to touch me. His hands grope my thigh. I struggle and push him away. He touches my…the tears come. My cheeks are on fire. He won’t let go. I fight. I hit his arms. He stops groping me and grabs my legs tight. I look over to the driver’s seat and no one is driving. I look at him in the rearview mirror and I ask without words.
“Are you gonna grab the wheel??”
He shakes his head.
And he looks away. He has resolved to die. The car crests a hill. It picks up speed. I can see houses at the end of the street. They’re dark, the sun is setting. There’s a lake just beyond the houses. We’re speeding towards the black water. The steering wheel begins to wobble. I think for an instant about diving for the floor, the brake, the wheel…I buckle the boy and then slide to the floorboard. We’re gonna crash.
Then I panic again inside. What if we hit the water? Can we escape before we drown? I’m not doing anything! I look at the boy.
I’m awake now. My heart is racing.


(This is an article that I wrote for our former church’s Sunday program. I interviewed the wife of a couple at Shoal Creek in Pleasant Valley, MO. They were new to the church and I was new to the writing team. This was my first time writing an article from an interview. Their story still inspires me. It was great to sit down with someone and document their spiritual journey. She was so open and honest. I would love to do it again. NOTE: I did change their names to protect their very private story.)
It was just last fall. October 2011. Melissa came to a crossroads. Literally. On her way to church for the first time in a while, sitting at the stoplight of I-35, 69 Highway and Pleasant Valley Road, she asked God to lead her.
Which way? Do I go back to the church I know? Or do I try Shoal Creek? Which way, God?
Melissa knew she needed God. But where would she find Him?
Earlier in the year, in February, Melissa experienced the worst possible moment in a marriage, the moment your spouse reveals a secret. Any secret can leave someone feeling vulnerable, anxious and overwhelmed, but this secret was devastating. He had betrayed her by being intimate with another person. However fleeting the encounter, the indiscretion left Melissa reeling and unable to trust. Understandably.
Soon though, words of wisdom rushed back to her. Words from her mother.
Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Melissa was ready to begin the journey toward reconciliation. Over the next rocky part of almost a year, Melissa and Rick went up and down on their return to faithfulness, a trail that is still being blazed.
Rick, for many years, was living like all of us, leading a very self-centered and self-focused life. He was in crisis.
Who am I? What do I want? What am I good for?
Something was missing. Rick thought that their marriage, their relationship, was missing some important ingredient. He was right. Sort of. Melissa knew what “the something” was. It was God. But how could she tell him?
Melissa’s friend had mentioned how much she enjoyed Shoal Creek. How different Shoal Creek was compared to traditional church. This was a surprise to Melissa because she knew her friend was definitely not a Mrs. McChurchy-pants. Her friend’s approval of Shoal Creek intrigued Melissa.
She turned right that fall day back in October. And she turned right into God. She wandered into the office at Shoal Creek and struggled through tears to finally ask for help. “Can I talk to someone?”
One of our senior staff members was there. He waited patiently for ten minutes while Melissa just cried. He listened for an hour and a half. Then he asked to meet with Rick and Melissa that Saturday afternoon for another hour and a half. This was an answer to prayer. Melissa had tried to contact a counselor and it would have been weeks before an actual appointment.
This leader could have been anyone. And he will kick the dirt and say, “Aw, shucks, it was all God.” BUT, it is because of his obedience and submission to God that this reconnection was made. God was able to use him. He revealed the worst parts of himself to reach that couple. He humbled himself to Melissa, to Rick and to God. He knew that God uses our sin and our mistakes for His plans.
Isn’t it miraculous that God can use every experience, good or bad, that formed and guided us for His glory? For His service, for His individual life-changing plans for our lives and in each other’s lives. Praise God.
From that day forward, God has moved slowly and amazingly in Melissa and Rick’s lives. Like a river, He has swept away the selfishness, settled the hurt and moved their hearts with the current of forgiveness and grace.
One day, Melissa was concerned and anxious about the past relationship. She thought, “Will this always be a part of who we are? Does he still think about her?”
She shared her anxiety with him. Rick touched her face with a sense of urgency, “I’m not that man anymore. You don’t have worry about that anymore.” Praise God.
Praise God that this bridge across the city was built, that these connections were made. These acts of selflessness change the course of people’s lives and demonstrate the vision of Christ. If we know the grace of God and do not share that, we are on a dead-end road. Whether it is across the room, across the street or across the world, God wants us to build those bridges. When someone’s life bottoms out and is washed away with the storm, we are the bridge-builders. God is the architect, but we are the hands for His plans. We are called to show God’s love so that others may know and see the truth, to see the way forward. Which way and to whom will you turn when you find yourself at the crossroads?Make those connections this year, this week, today…now.

Present Tense (Excerpt 2)

My memories erupt like dead-gray trees out of the dark depths where feelings feed.  I am a stone at the bottom, seen through the swirls.  I want to rise, but am unmoved by the ceaseless currents of the past.  The only place that these things, water and relationships live are in my mind.

I give them life.  I continue their being.  The runoff from the past floods around my chin.  It’s rising fast.  My feelings spill out, spill down, splash and crash, there’s no stopping them.  Play in them.  Drown in them.

This water should baptize and bless me.  But it threatens to sink me.  I still bend to his will even though his will does not exist any longer.  He has possessed my spirit from this sunken tomb of emotion.  I drown.

Dear Reader,

This is an excerpt from my short vignette-style memoir. Available on Amazon.  Check out my book.  FREE for a limited time.  Enjoy!


Martha Maggio

Survived By…(Volume 3)

Broke Down by Martha Maggio

 I hate this car.                                                               

I was driving home from the dinky, little office job I had snatched up and latched onto a few weeks ago.  It was in the next town over and totally mindless.  I knew if I stayed home any longer, I would shave my head again and break the promise I made to Syl.  So, I was making money and not driving anyone crazy, but I had to drive myself crazy (and to work) in this strange, ridiculous, impractical vehicle every day.  I asked him not to buy it, but he made it clear that it was important to him.  How could I argue with a dying person?

But now I’m stuck with it.  I was just another SUV in the drop-off line.  Another SUV in the fast lane.  Another gas-guzzling, soul-sucking status symbol.

I’ve got to trade this in.

But then I knew what that would mean.  Dealing with a car salesman.

You can wait.

All I seemed to do these days was wait.  Wait for the pain to go away, wait for his benefits to come in the mail, wait for my child to talk to me, wait in this endless line of traffic to get on the highway.  I couldn’t see much past wipers, rain and blurry red taillights.

I turned on the radio while I waited.  Probably a wreck.  I hadn’t even really looked at all the features on the dash.  I started pushing buttons.  I opened the console.  The sunglass nook.  And then the glove box.

Did anyone keep gloves in there anymore?  Do they still call it a glove box?

And on top of the owner’s manual was an envelope.  My name was printed on the front.


I could hear him say my name.  His voice, not mine.  My face liquified at the sound.

Why do I look at myself in the mirror when I cry?

The rearview mirror was right there and too tempting to avoid.

Feel this.  Look at this.

The tears reminded me of streaked ammonia over a well-paced linoleum floor.  I mopped them up with some napkins from the glove box.  I pulled over to the side of the road and pushed my hazards on.  The light wouldn’t come on.

Dammit.  I hate this car.

Finally, the button depressed.  Some slow, left-over drops fell from my chin and onto the paper as I tore the envelope open.  My phone dinged.  It was a text from my mom.  But I had to read this first.


     I know you didn’t want this beast of a car.  But I wanted it for you and Syl.  It’s the safest car on        the road.  I wanted my girls to be safe.  It’s the last thing I could do for you.  I love you.  You’re            the last woman I’ll ever love and I’m so thankful for that.  Don’t sell it.  Keep it.




I love this car.

I just sat in the car.  By the curb.  In the rain.  I read the letter over and over again.  I wasn’t aware of the time until my phone chimed again.  This time, a text from Syl.


Soon Enough by Lillian Maggio

I’m quitting school.  I’m running away.  And I’m taking Max with me.

I sat in the back of the bus.  Max had gone home early with a bloody nose and I was riding home alone.  It was Garrett’s stupid fault.

I’m okay, I’m okay.  It was my fault.  I should have controlled myself.  I’m okay.  Don’t worry.

That’s what he would have said.  He would have tried to make everything better.  And it would have worked.  We would have forgotten all about it and laughed and talked and shared secrets.  Just like always.  But he wasn’t there.

Garrett had been at it again, taking people’s seats and annoying everyone.  This time he took my seat, even though no one else but Max even sat at our table.  I sat across from Garret, so I was still next to Max, and the two of us would have ignored Garrett.

He isn’t even there.

But Max had other thoughts.

“Excuse me,” he said, not looking up from his tray, “but that’s where my friend usually sits.”

Garrett looked at him with a smirk.  “So?” he almost-snarled.  “You gonna do somethin’ about it?”

Max took a deep breath.  “I was going to ask you to move.”  He cleared his throat.  “Now.”

Garrett decided that he didn’t really want to move anywhere for anyone.

I replayed the scene in my head as I got off the bus, walking towards my house.  People had been jerks before, but this was the first time I had seen a real fight break out.  Well, more of a one-sided fight.  Max didn’t really have much time to damage Garrett’s face before a teacher stepped in.

Stupid.  Stupid.  Stupid.  But sweet.

I tried to open the door, but of course, it was locked.  I rang the doorbell and waited for a long time, but nobody came.  I looked behind me.  No cars in the driveway.  There was nobody else home.

I was all alone.

I pulled out my student ID card and tried to jimmy the door open like I had seen a girl do on the Internet.  Unfortunately, no luck.  And now my ID was all chewed up.


I walked over to the window and looked through.  There wasn’t much to see.  Harold barked at me, and I got a ridiculous idea that Max would have appreciated.

“Harold!” I shouted.  “Open the window!”  I banged on the glass, but he just scampered off into the kitchen.  So much for man’s best friend.

If I really have to get in, I can always break the window. But that’s just a last resort.

I gulped, hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

I walked around the back of the house.  More windows, none of which could be opened from the outside.  I did a full circle around the house—two full circles.  But nothing came to me.  By then it was nearly four o’clock.  My legs were tired, my feet hurt, and I was soaking wet from the rain.  I was angry.  Exhausted.  Frustrated.

Oh, Mom, I guess I’m gonna get kidnapped and raped now!  It’s always “Go straight to the front door when you get off the bus so nobody grabs you!”  Well, if you’re so worried about me, where are you now, huh?  Where the hell are you now!?

I need to text mom.

I sent a message to my mom and no reply.  After a few minutes, I called my grandmother and asked if she knew where mom was.  She hadn’t heard anything and I set off Grandma’s crazy button.  “Oh my god, she’s dead.”  She said she would try to call or text Mom and see if she could reach her.  “Don’t move,” she said.

Where would I go??

I stomped my feet, I kicked the dirt, I cursed loud enough for the whole world to hear me.  And then I lay down in the grass, defeated.  I looked longingly through the window into my room.  Harold looked back at me, head cocked to the side, as if to ask, “Hey, why aren’t you in here giving me food?”

And I burst into insane laughter.  I was sitting outside, covered in mud, while a dog sat in my bed and stared at me.  And then I thought: dogs are outside all the time, and they never had any trouble getting back in.  They go through the dog door!

The freaking dog door.

I jumped over the railing of the porch steps leading up to the back patio, almost gleeful at my realization.

I am a toothpick!  Like all the kids said for years.  Of course I will fit through the dog door!

I lifted the flap and stuck my arms in, then pulled the rest of my body through.

I am a genius.

After my little happy dance, I breathed the warm inside air.  My smile began to fade, and I was pulled back into reality.

I’m all alone.

I flopped onto the couch, barely holding back tears.  Harold was licking them off as they fell.

I wish my dad was here. I wish I could sit and cry on his shoulder and talk to him and he would make everything better.  Just like before.  Before.  Our heartbeats. Together.

My phone chimed inside my pocket.

A happy-sounding anime pet told me I had a new text from Mom.  I checked my messages, hoping for comfort.

SO SORRY!  ON MY WAY!  Wreck on highway.  Just got Gma’s txt after I read urs.  Be there soon!  XOXO

I texted her back.

Grandma’s not here.  I’m all alone.  Rough day.  Will you be here soon?

A few seconds later, there was another chime.

I will.  Soon.  Real soon. 10 mins?

Not soon enough.

Dog with a Blog

So. I had a tiny come-to-Jesus moment the other night. I proverbially, threw my hands up in the air and said these words, “I just want to write, I have to write. And I don’t care any more if anyone reads my stuff or even likes it.”

You see. I’ve been worried, for a very long time, that my work is not work unless it has a price tag dangling from the corner. One or more of my graphic design teachers (when I went to a 2-year community college for art less than 10 years ago) told me never to do any work for free. Which is funny, because every other entry-level graphic design position in KC seems to be an internship. Unpaid. Ha!

So I decided to harness my art skills, writing skills and any other skills I had by writing a book. I had big dreams of book signings and elbow rubbings. And everything started to make sense. I thought I had found my calling (132nd calling, to be exact, but who’s counting? Stop counting!). But writing books takes years and I can’t seem to get past short-story status.

When book writing didn’t pan out, I figured blogging was where I might find my stride. Short, little bursts of wisdom and creativity with creative media on every post. Perfect! I was made for that. My skills line up with that like 2nd graders going to extra recess. But everyone has a blog. I even know a dog with a blog. And several babies. Pretty sure.

So. Being creative sucks. It’s hard to find an outlet. One that pays anyway. And you’re competing with a bunch of talented and untalented creatives, alike. Ones that have gone to school for journalism, English majors, natural-born Hemingways or Picassos. And the other heaps of craft and Christian blogs that fill the ocean of online literature. How can I ever hope to keep my head above the waves in a sea of blogs?

But in my come-to-Jesus moment, with tears, I realized. Who are you doing this for?

Through some pretty painful thoughts, my epiphany rose. Your writing is the voice you always wanted. And you just want to be heard because you felt like you never were. Same with acting, art, anything. Your hands and mouth and mind won’t stop, even if you tried. They’ve had their freedom. You were the 4th child of a crazy family who wasn’t big on sharing, feelings or truth. Your voice was lost on that sea of insanity. You don’t want to be ignored. You have something to say.

But, it has to be more than that. Because everyone has that story. What God is leading me to is this.

GOD: If I gave you a voice, it was to use for me. Not to heal your broken heart. Not to sermonize. Not to exorcise your demons. Not to psychoanalyze your issues. But to work for me. And I have taken care of you. I will continue to do that. You show my power in your weakness. Stop worrying about money. I will not let your voice drown. Like the boat that I was in and kept tall on the waves that I stilled, I will raise your voice for those that need to hear it.

After having my moment, I received an email the very next day. It might have been spam, but God can even use spam I think. Here’s what it read:

Hi There,
I came across your artwork and absolutely love it. 🙂

Probably spam. But it was an offer for artists to send in their designs and earn a percentage on what they sell. They probably saw my art because I started working on to sell my art on t-shirts and bags. This email featured a site that was very similar to customizedgirl, just an upscale version of the same concept. And they claim to be socially conscious. Of course they do.

But whatever. It was simply a reminder. Keep doing what you love. It doesn’t matter where your art goes. It goes.

And. I saw a blogger post a blog post (one they had not written) on Facebook, liked by another blogger. The blog post was about an amateur blogger asking advice from a successful blogger. That’s like 4-blogger deep. Not kidding. “That’s like Inception in the blog-o-sphere.” (joke credit: Guy C. Maggio)

Great article. It opened my eyes. Her advice was stop worrying about your writing. Just let it speak for itself. I saw this after my meltdown. I mean, moment of clarity. Ha! It was a confirmation of what I already decided. God was showing me that. Affirming that. Assuring me.

Every time I have reached a meltdown-able moment in my life about anything. Love, work, school, parenting. I have to reach a point of clarity from exhaustion. I’m fairly hard-headed and I love beating that big, hard head against the wall. I usually try to force my agenda/dreams/choices through some narrow, attractive door of opportunity. Until I see for myself, it just won’t go. Then I can let go and walk away because I have no pushback left.

And then I usually walk by an open window. Usually. 🙂

Present Tense (Excerpt 1)

I am four years old.  They are fighting.  I don’t remember the words now, but they are yelling.  Fuzzy scenes, like cloudy dreams, blurring in and out of focus.  Down in the basement, in the laundry room, I hear hot voices and cold words.  I peek around the corner.  He pushes her down on the concrete floor.  She’s weak, flailing, grabbing with desperate hands.  She can’t resist.  She scrambles up when she sees that I’m there.  She stutters a lie through tears, “I’m okay.”  She says it certainly.  Forcefully almost.  But I see the truth in her eyes.  She’s scared and we both think she’s going to die.

My mother has long, dark hair.  She would look like a Native American mother warrior with her tan, lined face and downward-turned eyes/mouth except for her bangs.  She won’t wear her hair without bangs.  She fell out of a moving car when she was just five years old.

Her forehead is scarred from the accident.  It is a terrible mark.  It’s dull purple with blue and yellow streaks, permanently bruised somehow.  It has deep white ridges where the flesh comes together to hold back brains, blood and skull.  It looks as if the bone just under the skin is broken and could spill its contents from the slightest pressure.

I touch it as if it could bite me.  It is tough though, surprisingly and sufficiently.  It’s troubling, remarkable and totally unbelievable that someone could have such a scar and be walking around performing everyday tasks.

I’m staring up at her from the front seat of the car.  She’s seatbeltless.  Hair full of wind and eyes on the road.  Her fingers are wrapped around the thin metallic wheel.  Her forehead is rough, but her cheeks are feathery and thin, soft under my tiny hand.  When I trace her lips, she playfully snarls, bares her teeth and chomps at my fingers.  She has beautiful, somber eyes, full of pain and pensiveness.  She doesn’t often have a smile, but when she does, you know it’s for you and you know it’s for real.

She is five years old.  She is riding quietly in the backseat of the sedan.  She falls asleep.  Her hand, arm or knee gently releases the door latch.  Within a breath, she is inches from the road, ground rushing under her.  My grandmother, from the front seat, is holding her hand or arm so she won’t fall.  My grandfather is braking.  My mother will be crushed by the turning back tire unless Grandma lets go.

Grandma lets go.

Li’l Lil is taken to the hospital and that sickening cut at the top of her sadly-sweet baby face is her rippling flag of salvation.  Her never-ending experiment of bangs begins.  On some level, consciously or not, this must make her feel like a little girl for the rest of her life.  A scared, torn-up little girl who hides her secrets behind those bangs.  I know how she feels.

Dear Reader,

This is an excerpt from my book Present Tense.  It’s a very short, vignette-style memoir. Quick read with lots of imagery.  You can find the rest of my book Present Tense at  Here’s the link  You can read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Thanks for reading!

Martha Maggio

Survived By…(Volume 2)

One Month Later by Martha Maggio


She didn’t look at me as she sat down at the table.  Syl had grown distant from me over the last month.  Understandably so.  I was of no use to anyone, including myself.  I did not usually even drag a comb through my hair.  I had cut it all off the day after the funeral.

I just took the clippers I used every month on Harold, our dog, and shaved my entire head.  No hair guides or tapering, just full on buzz.  That was the first time I hadn’t cried about an activity in several days.  I had always promised myself to shave it on some strange occasion and that day seemed like the exact moment to pop that cork.  It was intensely freeing and satisfying, just as I thought it would be.  With my preoccupation in crying and eating, I had no time for hair.

But this drastic measure had naturally disturbed my daughter.  We didn’t talk about it.  She casually rubbed my head one day and said with a small smile, “Feels like teddy bear hair.”  I returned her smile with a solitary wink.  And that was all the conversation we had regarding Mommie’s new do.

On most days, I would take a shower, towel dry my very short hair and collapse into bed.  I wore sloppy shirts and dirty yoga pants.  I waited around for breakfast time, fed Syl, walked her to the bus stop and quickly walked back home to take a nap.  Today was different.

“Hi,” she whispered.

“How ya feelin’?” I asked.

“Okay.”  And she immediately started eating her cereal.

We sat in the dining room for fifteen minutes.  Silently.  While she slowly ate her flakes.  I read articles on my tablet and I could feel her eyes scanning me.  But every time I would look up to catch her eye, she would automatically shift her eyes to the window behind me.  The last time I looked up, she had stopped eating and was frozen, spoon in hand.  Tears rolled off her cheeks and landed in the sweet milk.

“What? What is it?”

She couldn’t speak.  She just kept crying into the bowl.  Her hand finally released the spoon and it fell awkwardly to the table.  She grabbed her face and finally let out a whimper.  She sniffed and sucked the fluids escaping her face and hands.  She lost complete control.

“Tell me, sweetheart.”

“I miss Daddy.”  More sobs.

“Me too.”  I touched her back and ran to the kitchen for tissues.  I plucked one of the two boxes on the counter.  It was too light and I shook it.  Empty.  I ran my finger inside to make sure.  The other box was empty, too.  No tissues, as we had used them all very quickly.  I wasn’t ready to go out in public yet to get some and I forgot to ask my mom for more each time she brought groceries.  I grabbed the paper towels off the rack and ran back to the dining room.

“Here.”  I laid the paper towels beside her hand.  She didn’t take them.  She was sober and distant again.  I couldn’t help but feel like a failure about the tissue.

Dangit.  Dang Kleenex.  I should have a pack of Puffs strapped to my friggin’ wrist these days and all I can think about is taking my nap.

“Mom.”  she started.  “Mom, I love you.  But you’re making me miss Daddy more.”

I was gutted.

Oh my God.  She’s right.  I am a failure.  Get it together.  She needs you and you are freaking out.  You selfish, horrible mother.  You are letting your baby fall through the cracks.  GET. IT. TOGETHER.

I took a deep breath.  “Okay.”  I smiled.  “I’m sorry.”  I felt like dying inside.  I felt like smashing myself in the face a thousand times.  I felt like flipping out and bawling my head off.  But I just breathed deep and smiled.  The tears came to my eyes, but I held them back.

She got up from the table after holding my gaze for a few moments and then took her dish to the sink.  She went to the door, put on her backpack and waited for me.  I grabbed my keys and put my arm around her.  We walked together to the bus stop.  We sat on the bench just a few steps from the stop and waited for the bus.  We were really early, but we enjoyed just sitting together in the cool morning.  She touched my hair and whispered, “Teddy bear hair.”

The bus pulled up and I didn’t want to let go.  She pulled away and I saw my hand flop back to the bench.  My hands.  They were so pale and thin.  They seemed just as old and wrinkled as my mother’s.  When did they age?

Syl looked back at me and knew that something had changed.  She knew that we could move forward now.  And that she could count on me again.  This seemed to make her happy.  She didn’t smile, but I could see the light had returned to her eyes.  She didn’t have to worry about losing her other parent to a mental breakdown.

“Have a good day, Sweetie.”

“Have a good day, Mom.”

A Pleasant Surprise by Lillian Maggio

I wasn’t ashamed to walk onto the bus, my face soaked with tears.  I got quite a few odd looks from my classmates though.  Even the bus driver seemed concerned.  I suddenly realized I might look like a mental patient ready to be committed, and felt a warm sensation crawl up my neck and onto my cheeks.

Holy moly, this might just be the most embarrassing moment of my life.

I walked down to the back of the bus and sat down. I pressed my face against the window and watched as my mother disappeared into the distance.  The moist, refreshing glass felt good on my embarrassed-hot face.  I wasn’t happy, but I was… almost relieved. Things were finally going to change.

I hardly noticed him sit down next to me.  “Hey.”  It was a boy that I had seen wandering around at my dad’s funeral.  I whipped around, hitting my elbow on the hard metal wall.


Stupid, careless, ridiculous.

The warm feeling came back.  I hoped he couldn’t see me blushing, then immediately pushed that thought out of my head.

Why do I care what he thinks of me?  I don’t need him.  I don’t need anyone.

But who was I kidding?  I would latch onto any friend I could find.  “Hi.”

He looked away.  It may have been the light, but I swore the tips of his ears were slightly reddish-pink.  “Max,” he whispered, barely audible.  So his name was Max, or maybe Maxwell.  I held back a giggle as I thought.


“Syl,” I stated.  “Short for Sylvestra.”  I made a slight gagging noise and pushed my tongue out a bit while I laughed to indicate my acknowledgement of my too-big, too-formal first name.  I shifted in my seat, studying him.  He wasn’t exactly cute.

His skin was pale, as if he didn’t get much sun (but how could anyone, here in Oregon).  He had shaggy brown hair and bangs that might have covered his eyes if he didn’t keep them tucked away behind his ears.  His round-framed glasses gave him an almost-comical appearance, but he wasn’t smiling.  I doubted he smiled very much at all.  Neither did I, though, after everything.  Only when I was nervous. Like now.

“Gum?” he offered.  I took it, the polite thing to do.

Tropical Mango.  Yuck.

I chewed it anyway, and was surprised by the taste.  As a little kid I had always hated anything mango-flavored, but it didn’t seem so bad now.

“Thanks,” I muttered.  “Can you keep secrets?”

His eyes lit up, but he didn’t smile.  “Sure,” he said.  “Can you?”

“One million percent.”  I mimed crossing my heart, and he did the same.  I felt about seven years old.  “You first, or me?”

“I don’t mind,” he mumbled.  He began absentmindedly tapping his fingers on the seat, in the few inches between the two of us.  Taptaptap.

“I like reading.  A lot.”  People thought it was weird that I loved books, but for me it was like a portal to another universe. Another way for me to ignore the problems of my real life.

He stopped tapping, and his legs began to swing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  “My mom’s in the army.”

“I still play pretend.”

“I sleep with a stuffed dog.”

“I’ve watched R-rated movies since I was seven.”

“My dad wouldn’t let me watch R-rated movies until last year.”

It almost became a competition.  Who has the most embarrassing secrets?  Is it Syl, with her weird addiction to grape soda?  No, here comes Max with his ten-second rule of picking up dry food off the floor.  It seemed to go on and on.  I didn’t care that he was almost a stranger anymore; everything we said somehow brought us closer to being friends.

It’s just like the pleasant surprise of mango-flavored gum.  Something you didn’t think you’d like, might actually be pretty good.  Someone you thought might be an idiot, could turn out to be the best friend you’ve got.  Who knew what curveball life was going to throw at me next?

I certainly didn’t.

Survived By…(Volume 1)

By Martha and Lillian Maggio

A short story about two women surviving grief and the enormous loss of their loved one.  Written by a mother and daughter.


William Windsor Gage, 44, passed away on August 14, 2015 at Evergreen Hospice in Kirkland, Washington.  William was born on October 28, 1970 in Kansas City, MO to James and Katherine Gage.  Survived by…

The Day We Buried Him by Martha Maggio

I laid on the bed in the late afternoon on top of the well-worn comforter we shared for years.  I hadn’t even bothered to remove my muddy flats.  All the guests were gone.  All the food was put away.  My mother was downstairs, picking up plates and napkins.  And my daughter was quietly resting in her room.  I don’t know if she was asleep, but she was still and I simply couldn’t hold up my head and body any longer.

He’s gone, he’s really gone.  Breathe.  Breathe.  It’s okay.  You’re okay.

I can’t DO anything without him.

My face contorted in a soundless cry.  Between the silent sobs, I gasped.  Sharp, shrill intakes of air rushed through my throat and chest.  My forehead throbbed from the pressure of the day and at the bottom of my pain, I felt sick to my stomach.  Flat on my back, too tired to move.  I ached for him down into my legs and out through my toes.  The back of my neck felt heavy, pressing a fist-sized hole through the pillow, bed, floor.  I imagined my nose as a mountain and my eyes-endless springs. My cheeks and lobes burned as the cool tears ran sideways.  My mind ran down like a stream following the water over the contours of my face landing in the pools of my outer ear.

I wanted to sleep, but my eyes shifted and my lids fluttered every few seconds.  The panic had never really left from the moment the nurse whispered, “He passed.”  The anxiety and tension merely settled in my neck, shoulders and lower back.  I began to think that I would never relax again.  I would never sleep for more than a few moments without waking up in a sweaty, startled heave.

The last three nights, I had passed out from exhaustion.  I dreamed about floating in the ocean.  It was comforting and peaceful.  The air was misty and light, soft-white clouds just above my face.  I could feel the moisture dancing on my lips leaving sweet, little kisses of salt.  Bubbles breaking on my chin, refreshing and cool.  Bursts of breeze under my nose.  I would try to look at my feet bobbing up and down on the waves and then the water would grow dark and dangerous.  I would see small movements and I could feel bodies moving underneath me like sharks.  Bumping me.  Each encounter more intense and terrifying than the last until I would jerk to a stupor.  For only a few precious seconds, I wouldn’t realize that my husband was gone and I still felt normal, married, loved.  And then, the pain swirled back in with my gathering awareness.  Immediately.  Completely.  Always.

There was no way I could drive a car, shop for groceries or even walk my daughter to the bus stop in the morning.  Those things were never going to happen again.  I couldn’t even brush my teeth without crying.  Every cup, book and doorknob was warm with his fingerprints.  I even looked for his hairs in the brush.

I brought his pillow slowly up to my face and took a deep breath.  Then small, quick sniffs.  There wasn’t any smell.  His cologne, shampoo, his sweat was already gone.  Not even a trace.  It smelled like week-old laundry.  And I cried into the pillow.  Screamed.  Slobbered.  Surrendered.


Scared and alone, I finally passed out again as the night came down through the soft, white curtains just above my head.

Lost In Thought by Lillian Maggio

I buried my head under the pillow as soon as my mother walked out.  I tried to think about something, anything other than Dad.  I tried to think about books I’d read, or even stories I’d made up in my own mind.  I thought about TV shows, and videos, almost anything.  But he was always there, at the back of everything.

I was just about to drift off to soundless sleep when I heard it: my own heartbeat.  My lobe folded up inside the opening of my ear and intensified the pulse.  Loud and clear. I listened to it, the constant noise.  One more thing to keep my mind off of the past four days. But then the memory came.

I remembered hearing my own heartbeat before, when I had come home crying one day after school.  I had run to my dad on the couch and leaned my head on his shoulder.  He had comforted me, and we had simply sat there for a while, saying nothing at all.  And I thought about him.  His death.  The funeral.

I hated the funeral.  Everybody said the same thing:
He’s not really gone if you remember him.
Everything will be alright.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
Another angel for heaven.

They had no idea what it was like to have your entire life just explode.  They would never understand.

I rolled over.  I couldn’t just lay there and do nothing.  When I was sure Mom and Grandma were nowhere near, I hopped out of bed and went straight to my desk.  Everything was the same as it had been just last week.  Before everything changed.  Before.


I couldn’t keep thinking about that.  I reached for my sketchbook, which was at least half-full of doodles and drawings.  I put my pencil to paper.  Nothing happened.  There was nothing.  Nothing but shock and fear and sadness.  In anger, I broke the pencil against the paper and threw the book at my desk.  It collided with my laptop.

You’re so stupid!  Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

I stomped.  Hard.  On the floor, to make my point.  I banged my head against my palm before flopping back onto my bed, fuming.  And I began to cry.  The tears were so unexpected, I sat straight up and blinked twice.  I wiped them away with my sleeve.

I am not a baby.  I am not a baby.

I finally started thinking about something else.  I am a tragedy.

The kids at school would have false sympathy for me.  They would suddenly all become my friends when they realized it wasn’t funny to tease me.  I would hate that.  I wanted them all to keep bullying me.  I just wanted them to be honest, for once.  I didn’t want to be lied to.

Was I lying to myself this whole time?

I played each day away in my own little world, scared to come down to reality.  But not this time.  This was real.  I couldn’t escape to my own fantasy ever again.  Not after this.

And I found that I couldn’t think about anything else but him.  I was stuck.  I was lost.

Eve and the Apple or How Does Your Garden Grow?

close up tulip.jpgOh Eve. Why’d ya have to eat that dern ol’ apple? To be fair, she had a craving. As a girl, I can understand. Plus, she was tempted! She didn’t fully understand the consequences. I’ve never heard of a woman being tempted by a piece of fruit, but there wasn’t a chocolate tree back then.  Mmmm, chocolate tree.

AND God didn’t seem to spell it out.  All she had to go on was the word of a snake and her very limited understanding of what it means to be obedient. One little mistake and you’ve got your period for the rest of your life??! Doesn’t seem quite fair. Also! Mankind did not fall until Adam took a bite. I’m totally okay with blaming him. Right, ladies?

Of course, I joke. The situation is much more complex. Adam and Eve walked around with God in the garden, having conversations, getting to know the world God created, growing, learning, communing with God. Naming the animals. Taking care of stuff. Being trained.  Asking when the first chocolate tree might go in?  The first caretakers or gardeners or conservators. However you like. So, it’s not written, but I’m sure they probably had more than one conversation about THE tree. Right? Maybe not. Maybe God pointed out THE tree and said, “Don’t eat that. ‘Kay??” And maybe he only did that one time. Don’t we ask our children, “How many times do I have to tell you??” Once should be enough.

Gall dern it, Eve! You ruined it for all of us. I truly believe that we experience this temptation every bleeding month. We are tempted into leaving the garden by biting into that juicy delicious morsel of self-doubt. It is peppered with other feelings of self-righteousness, ego, pride and wrath. It turns so sour and bitter on our tongue with each hearty mouthful. But once you start chowing down on some ripe slices of self-serving negativity, it’s hard to stop. Impossible even. And we share that generous portion of ugliness with everyone who sits at our table. So our table doesn’t have many guests after a while.

I can imagine Eve grumbling to herself like a regular jerk.  “God doesn’t want me to be smart.  I can be smart.  I can eat this apple.  Why can’t I have some apple? Why would God want me NOT to eat the apple?  Why can’t I be smart, powerful and all-knowing like God?”  With Satan whispering in her ear the whole time, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”  And we don’t even know what we’re asking for.  You asked for it, Eve.

I do this with my relationships.  Every month.  Blowing. It. Up.

Satan drove that wedge between our families in the first days. This is our curse to battle and be rigid against. But we don’t wage war like this with arms and armor. We fight against ourselves to remain soft and malleable like those first bits of dust God blew breath into.

The garden, in this instance, being our preserved place of grace with our husband. Or family and friends. When I’m not on my period or leading up to that time of the month, I’m an absolute angel. I care for everyone. I don’t mind caring for everyone. I prefer caring for everyone. Then, once-a-dern month, I get downright irascible. Contrary. Irritable. Squirrelly. Vindictive. Hateful. Profane. Bitchy! RESENTFUL!!! UN-friggin’-GRATEFUL!!!!! Wrong. Dead wrong I am. I go kicking through the gates of paradise, right on past all my blessings, shaking my fists on the way out. I go willingly and with spite.

How do I combat this? Oh, God, how do I fight this? I feel it coming every month. I feel those negative feelings welling up inside and I don’t want them. I want your love to spring up inside of me instead. I want to stay in the garden. I don’t want to be separate from you. I don’t want to do this on my own. You know better, God. I see that. Show me how to love my husband. Remind me why I love him. He really is a good man and you’ve given me that. You brought him to me and gave me a reason to love him. You brought us together. Remind me why I’m here. Help me stay here. Help me evict those dark emotions that don’t belong in your garden. Weeds are strong and fast. Once they take root, I’m done for. Don’t let me slip away into sin and wander the desert of loneliness and despair without you or him. Help me find my way through this jungle of emotion, cravings and confusion. I know it’s not the truth and I want what’s true. I want to do life with you, God. I don’t want that forbidden fruit of my selfishness. I want to be humble and peaceful. I can’t do THAT without you.