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Essays

Dangerous Dips and Curves Ahead

ROAR
June 14, 2017
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The Tucson desert was in full bloom that spring of 1975. I had just turned thirteen and was in the backseat of the rental car with my two younger brothers. They smelled like dirty socks. We elbowed and pushed each other as the car rocked us with each switch in the road. We had been driving for over an hour. I was hot and hungry and I had to pee.

My father, not used to such a narrow, winding road, leaned with the car in anticipation of each turn. My mother braced her hands on the dashboard, pressing her right foot on an imaginary brake pedal. Up ahead was a yellow sign that read, Dangerous Dips and Curves Ahead.

“That’s great,” my father said looking at me through the rear-view mirror, “I want a picture of you in front of that sign.” Before I could respond, he pulled the car to the side of the road, grabbed his beloved Nikon from my mother’s lap, and walked towards the posted warning.

I crossed my arms over my chest, feeling the small bumps underneath my new, scratchy bra. There was no way I was getting out of the car.

My father waited, focusing his new, wide-angle lens on the sign. My brothers got out, unzipped their flies and let loose dueling streams onto a flowering roadside cactus.

“Come. I’m ready,” my father said, beckoning me.

My mother was focused on the blooming desert. “I’d love to paint this,” she said from the passenger seat.

Make him stop, I wanted to shout at her. Instead, I got out of the car. “This is stupid,” I said, refusing to pose in front of the sign.

My brother, the one exactly thirteen months to the day younger, said, “Oh, I get it.” He laughed and, not wanting to be left out, my ten-year-old brother joined in.

“It’s funny,” my father said. “Trust me.” He guided me to his chosen spot in front of the sign. “Smile,” he said, snapping a rapid succession of photos.

Then we climbed back in the car, where my mother was still admiring the desert, and pulled onto the highway. I still had to pee. The next rest stop with a toilet was not for thirty miles, but I held it in.

I held it all in.

Salt

The Citron Review
April 17, 2017
In “Salt,” Laurie Ember considers the eponymous substance’s capacity to kill and to give life. She juxtaposes the image of a slug desiccating in a pile of table salt with her own child, who—through the peculiar machinations of genetic shuffling—needs to be conspicuously salinized with pretzels, capers, olives, literal handfuls of salt, just to maintain homeostasis, just to stay alive, “a sodium addict with her life-saving fix.”

– Zach Jacobs, CNF Editor

As a little girl, I poured salt on slugs. Summer fun. Thick, white mountains from blue and white containers of Morton’s. Iodized or not, it sizzled their slimy bodies, dehydrated them.

“I’m melting!” I’d yell as they turned to mush.

They wasted away, lives extinguished in seconds, saline tidbits for the birds.

* * *

In college, with boyfriends and frat friends, we sprinkled salt between thumb and forefinger, licked it off, slugged down shots of tequila, sucked slices of sour lime. Briny lushes wasting the nights away until graduation. All in fun. Taken with a grain of.

* * *

Years later, our four-week-old baby was vomiting, dehydrated, listless, gaunt.

My husband and I rushed her to the ER.

Her blood pressure was falling. She was in shock. They stuck her with needles. She didn’t cry.

We were told this condition is genetic. A missing enzyme resulting in dehydration and salt deficiency. It’s called salt-wasting.

When both parents carry an abnormal allele, each child has a 25% chance of having the disease, a 50% chance of being a carrier like the parents, and a 25% chance of having two normal genes.

We had taken salt for granted. Squandered it. Underestimated its value. Ignored its place in history. There was a reason civilizations traded with it, that Gandhi marched for it. Salt is essential, and needs to remain in the bloodstream to sustain life.

We did not know salt-wasting was a thing.

Approximately one in fifteen thousand live births.

In our city of ten million, we might find sixty-seven similar kids. But only if they lived. And only if they wanted to be found.

Our baby was fading. Her whole body tasted like tears.

This is termed a salt-wasting crisis and rapidly causes death if not treated.

Rehydration was critical and constant.

We learned to dose her with saline from a needle-free plastic syringe. She sucked it down. Craved it. A sodium addict with her life-saving fix.

As our little girl grew, we filled her with green olives, dill pickles, caper berries, cornichons, pretzels. We stuck pitted black olives, like rings, on her fingers. She ate one at a time, grinning. She was having fun. We poured mounds of Morton’s into her hands and watched her lick it up. Replenishing and plumping. Thriving, unlike the slugs that foamed and disappeared.

Seeking Expert Piano Tuner

Grand Piano Passion
February 20, 2017
[First published in Cheat River Review, November 2016]

the-ale-quail-830x621Seeking expert piano tuner, must have a good ear – as well as experience with antiques – to tune and restore a beautiful walnut baby grand with original brass pedals, ivory keys, and a chipped ivory Steinway & Sons insignia just above the keyboard (this bothers me every time I look at it, being an unnecessary blemish of age) that cannot be replaced because I can’t – nor would I want to – purchase new ivory, since the elephants are more important (I see them swaying to the melodic notes that rise from the piano even when they are standing in the savanna or a dusty zoo, remembering everything they never forget) plus, the original bench, which matches the rest of the piano, has a wobbly left leg and needs re-staining, both inside and out, although I’d have to remove my old sheet music, now dated favorites by Billy Joel, Elton John, John Lennon, and even a frayed songbook from Free To Be You and Me – free to be me, or at least free to be what once was me, but I need help remembering because now the piano sounds off key and wrong in every way, action stiff and slow to respond (tuner must be willing to help move the books that are on top of the piano – I ran out of room on my shelves and have piled them in stacks of ten, un-alphabetized, but by category of fiction, memoir, short story, poems, essays, and the favorite children’s books I once read to my girls – heaps of them, some of which I’ve read recently and others that I’ll get to as soon as I can, along with my notated volumes of classical music – the Mozart Sonatas, Bach Inventions, Chopin Waltzes and Mazurkas, the Complete Works of Scarlatti, Thirty-Two Sonatinas and Rondos for the Piano, Debussy’s First and Second Arabesques), and also there’s a mess of photos, including ones of my grandmother (who gave me the piano as a high school graduation present), and her daughter (my mother) on the day she married my father (who never played a musical instrument, other than the washboard, but loved to listen to classical piano), next to the picture of my daughter and new son-in-law, who every time he visits with my grown-up baby girl, plays my piano better than I ever have or ever will (he gently mentions the flatness of the lower registers), and so I’m seeking your expertise to make it sound as beautiful as it once did so that he will continue to bring her home.

[artwork: via Grand Piano Passion, The Ale & Quail, a watercolor by Annika Connor]

Whatever Will Be, Will Be

mariashriver.com
August 26, 2013

Recently, I found myself humming an old tune from my childhood.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

It’s not necessarily a song I want stuck in my head and I wondered why it suddenly popped in there. I have never been one to accept “what will be.” I have spent most of my life trying to control it, shape it, fight it, and downright spit in its face.
Read More

Avoiding Sun Spots Over 50

huffingtonpost.com
August 7, 2013

It’s 102 degrees out and I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt. I don’t want to be wearing a long-sleeved shirt, but it’s also relentlessly sunny in Los Angeles and, according to the dermatologist, I should be staying out of the sun.
Read More

Doesn’t That Make Me Feminist?

CulturalWeekly.com
June 26, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about feminism and how I fit into the world of women “Leaning In.”
My mother is a big part of this story, but I only just realized it.
Read More

How Teaching My Daughter How to Draw Reminded Me How to Write

MariaShriver.com
May 29, 2013

“Draw for me,” said my two year-old daughter one Saturday. Then every Saturday. And every Sunday. And every day in between.
Read More

Things I’m Noticing During Menopause

huffingtonpost.com
May 10, 2013

I’m noticing that it’s harder to get up in the mornings
And it’s harder to stay asleep at night
I have more aches and pains than usual
My boobs look great in a bra, but not so great out of one
Few men whistle at me anymore
But the few that do make me smile.
Read More

Laundry In The Empty Nest

huffingtonpost.com
May 1, 2013

We dropped off our youngest at college last fall and welcomed the empty nest. We had all been silently dreading the goodbye, but it seemed to go smoothly. She needed some reassurance, so we promised to visit during the first two weeks. She was finding her way, choosing her classes, making new friends. She liked her roommate. She was adjusting to her new life, and we were adjusting to ours.
Read More

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