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Booze Review: Rothman & Winter’s Orchard Apricot Liqueur

This is an experiment in making discipline a fun exercise, and I expect everyone to support this effort. In return, I will try and introduce you to an assortment of intriguing liqueurs, wines, and hard booze every single month until my efforts to stay within budget are complete.

As most friends of mine are aware, I have a decently large collection of hard liquor and am semi-frequently experimenting with mixing up new cocktails. However, this year I am putting myself on a budget in order to pay off some lingering debt, and as a result I am limiting myself to buying just one new bottle a month. Since I want the money to all be well spent, I am creating a booze of the month blog every month in which I will seek valiantly to justify the purchase of said bottle to introduce you to some worthwhile alcohol you may not have tried before.

March of 2015’s bottle is the Austrian apricot eau de vie put out by Rothman & Winter. For those not in the know, this is an eau de vie in the old European sense of the term, meaning a true fruit brandy produced by fermenting apricots, rather than a grape brandy which has been flavored with apricots after production. Although, wait just a minute… Rothman & Winter went one step further and steeped this eau de vie with apricots as well, so it is actually sort of both. The result is a sweet fruit liqueur which smells so authentically like ripe apricots it makes your mouth water, but please refrain from drinking it neat. This stuff belongs in a cocktail, and, properly mixed, it does wonders therein. While I think most places market the Rothman & Winter as a fruit liqueur and have it near the Pamplemousse (French grapefruit liqueur sure to be featured in a future booze of the month entry), others may call it an apricot brandy and have it near the regular brandies, so if you’re looking for it you may want to just ask for it by name.

Rothman & Winter's Orchard Apricot liqueur

Rothman & Winter’s Orchard Apricot liqueur

There are a ton of cocktail recipes from the early 20th century which call for apricot brandy (our grandparents absolutely swam in the stuff), so this is a great option for those, particularly if you like your drinks a little sweeter or weaker, since it is only 24% alcohol. Examples include the Darb and the Baltimore Bang, but you can make an apricot brandy fizz / brandy sour with these as well. It also goes great mixed with any other base liquor (really, pretty much anything!) and orange juice. Rothman & Winter’s brings in a much brighter, truer apricot flavor than some of the (dreadful, I simply must say it: some of them are dreadful) apricot flavored brandies out there, which is what I find most appealing about it. If you’re worried about the sweetness, simply alter the recipe; in the Gasper I made tonight (normally equal parts apricot brandy and dry gin) I added a bit of dry vermouth to even out the flavors, but I could also have made it two parts gin to one part R&W’s.

This liqueur is not crazy expensive, selling for around $32 total even in liquor tax happy Washington state (by way of contrast, it can probably be found for $25 total in New Hampshire). That reminds me, anybody taking a trip to NH this year? I’ll pay you to bring me back some Pamplemousse.


Passages from the textbook of goodbyes: the introduction.

For the benefit of the catechumen of goodbyes, there are a number of false depictions which must first be unlearned. What goodbyes actually consist of is very ancient, but the broader mythology of goodbyes is constantly rendered new and narrowly defined. Far too narrowly, in the view of this scholar.

A goodbye is not a shrug. It requires effort and attention. It is the loosening of knots, the sound of textured sisal rope being unlaced with great effort, the twisted cables picking up speed as they uncoil. They are not always painful or cowardly, though they can be both. They may be marked by toast raising and love making. They may not be impulsive; indeed, they can make you feel like a munitionette, spending hours crafting arms meant to dispatch individuals you have only abstract grievances with. Or perhaps some goodbyes are a shrug, because some are a trifling gesture. Not everything is dripping with meaning. If your life is like most, there is plenty of junk writing in it; sometimes it is the only word left with which to end a paragraph. Unless you are very young, too young to be reading this textbook, even, goodbyes are neither newly discovered nor freshly understood, and yet they can still feel incomprehensible. They may taste like heartbreak and defiance and relief, all poured over a spoon and sitting layered in a tumbler, a complex and terrifying pousse-café. They can be an attempt to better integrate new learning as well as an attempt to avoid the trouble of learning a single lesson.

Sometimes we realize we have been fighting a goodbye for months or even years, refusing to give it audience. Yet it always receives us. The emotion and memory drenched limbic system in our brains frets that every goodbye is one closer to the last. How many softly tossed farewells do we have left, of the sort that do not involve imminent death? To be alive is to be a survivor of and a party to this remorseless impermanence. Although this textbook is a good starting point, in the end, only hard won years of experience can fully illuminate the nature, import and contextual underpinnings of the world’s goodbyes. What can be conveyed herein is only a primer, but refer back to this text as life may warrant.

The real Bigfoot

When you are a type 1 diabetic (T1D), a lot of people have the notion that your main struggle in life involves you wrestling with the specter of carbohydrates and battling to survive our sugar drenched diets without spontaneously developing gangrene. These ideas are largely defined by the historical data on what has killed the most diabetics in the long run, as well as a larger American obsession with food and diet.

Yet for the T1D community–patients, family and close friends–there are frankly often more pressing issues. The painfully slow progress towards better technology to help us monitor and prevent complications which can kill us this very night (rather than decades from now) is a great example. The previous blog was a true story about one of my own experiences with what medical professionals call hypoglycemia unawareness. It is a condition that impacts a cross section of diabetics, from toddlers to the elderly, and it can come and go unpredictably over the course of a diabetic’s lifetime.

This condition is especially dangerous when T1Ds are sleeping, because the production of epinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter involved in triggering low bloodsugar symptoms, is suppressed when you are asleep. In January there was a short film posted on the NY Times chronicling the exhausting life of a mother whose T1D daughter, Grace, was living with hypoglycemia unawareness. “Midnight Three and Six” takes an unflinching look at what it is like to have a child who has a condition that could kill her without warning at any moment. The Chamberlain family deals with the risk by having a service dog who is trained to alert Grace when her bloodsugar is sinking. Her parents also wake themselves at midnight, three am and six am to check her bloodsugar.

The Chamberlains are far from alone. In the wider T1D community, many parents spend time sleeping on the floor next to their child’s bed or routinely waking themselves to check their child’s bloodsugar throughout the night. They do this because the danger is real; every year diabetics die, often in their sleep, from undetected hypoglycemia. Some of us are lucky enough to develop hypoglycemia awareness, or are able to use Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) to help keep an eye on our levels. CGMs are devices implanted in your skin for up to a week at a time, which can provide information on when your bloodsugar is trending downward. CGMs can alarm if you are getting too low, or in some cases can communicate with your insulin pump to trigger the pump to alarm.

Currently, however, they cannot do much more. The vast majority of CGMs are not utilized to shut off insulin pumps if bloodsugars are sinking too low, and they are also not able to broadcast their data to a parent who may be away from their child at work. While CGMs collect reams of data on bloodsugar levels, the information they are collecting is not yet being utilized in any systematic way to fine tune insulin dosage levels. The technology to do all of these things already exists.

In December, Wired magazine put out an amazing article examining the revolutionary work being done by tech savvy parents of T1D children to fill the appalling technology gap in how the American healthcare system treats diabetes. It explained how one dad’s desire to be able to see his 3 year old son’s bloodsugar levels even when the child was at daycare led him to hack an Android app that would broadcast all of the blood glucose readings to his cell phone for easy monitoring. When John Costik tweeted about his invention, it sparked other T1D families and friends across the country learning how to “jailbreak” CGMs to improve the accessibility of the data, or even to run the test results through algorithms in order to predict (with much success, I should add) how patients should adjust their insulin levels. The journalist writing this piece, Dan Hurley, had even heard of a man diabetes insiders dubbed “Bigfoot”:

“I heard from one official in a leading diabetes organization that somebody had actually stitched his own bionic pancreas together. The person, I was told, had taken a hack like Costik’s for exporting blood glucose data, married it to an algorithm like Leibrand’s for deciding how much insulin a pump should administer, and then figured out a way to get the algorithm to automatically control the pump.”

In this case, Bigfoot does exist, and Hurley eventually found him. Later reporting from sources such as the online diabetes magazine diaTribe confirmed his existence as well as the existence of the largely automatic bionic pump he invented, and, in an especially interesting bit of news, the fact that he and some partners have begun launching their own biomedical company, seeking to bring an automated (“closed loop”) bionic pancreas to market by 2017. I, for one, will be watching for any new Bigfoot sightings.

Luck: a prelude to a piece about the real Bigfoot

“Do you know where you are?”

My brightly lit bedroom seemed to be swarming with men wearing stethoscopes and surgical gloves, pacing in the seemingly tiny, narrow margins around my bed, talking to each other with acronyms and Latinate words I couldn’t follow. I was probably in my bedroom, still, so that was the answer I ventured; what I didn’t mention was that it felt a lot different from how it was before I fell asleep.

“Ok, how many fingers am I holding up?” Three fingers encased in opaque, milky latex were raised. I said as much as my interrogator moved on to pricking my finger to check my bloodsugar, which was 118, a good level for me. High for someone whose pancreas worked, but decent for a type 1 diabetic (T1D) like myself. I watched my EMT as he turned to talk to a man standing behind him. “So the low was 14, and she’s back up to 118 now.”

I was 9 years old, but I understood what they were saying. When your bloodsugar sinks below 55 your brain starts to shut down; you become confused and lethargic, and slowly start to lose motor skills. When it goes below 30 you go unconscious and your organs start to shut down. You go into seizures sometimes, or simply pass out. I had passed out myself, but then sat upright in my bed and screamed in an eerie, unresponsive way at my father, who promptly called 911. The paramedics arrived and resuscitated me, with one of them pausing to check my bloodsugar as the others set up my IV. A bloodsugar of 14 is perilously close to coma, close to death. This is a level where your heart can be impacted, which is what typically kills T1Ds who sink into severe hypoglycemia. Many people who get this low never come back.

They had saved my life, and just in the nick of time. As an imaginative child I would wonder if my beloved grandmother, who had died a few months prior, had intervened on my behalf and slowed my descent into the white light long enough for the ambulance to arrive. I had a difficult time understanding how my diabetes had escalated so rapidly around me, encircling me without warning and shutting me out of life: one minute I had been feeling a little under the weather, sick in bed, and the next I was descending through a tunnel towards a white light, which felt like my destination but kept getting harder and harder to reach. It was only when I was brought back to consciousness that I realized how tricky this disease really was: it could sucker punch you so hard, only luck could save you. Or luck and the spirit of your dead grandmother, but maybe that was just another way of saying “luck,” after all.


Dark winter mornings when I am not sick or dazed or distracted I go jogging down steep, narrow lanes to the beach. Pushing myself out the door and into the teeth of an indifferent drizzle or a frigid rain feels foreign, like the sort of thing self-conscious people do when they want to prove something. I tend to imagine assorted stock characters running down the roads and secret staircases around me, yelling to a blank faced audience, “I am proving something! I am embodying the moral for this trite, dreadful story!”

I refuse to cop to inhabiting trite, dreadful stories, at least not this early in the morning.

Sometimes the fog is thick and the sun is never up. “Is this foolish?” I’ll wonder aloud to nobody in particular, since nobody real ever seems to be out on these hillsides at 6 in the morning, flanked as they are with houses built precariously into slopes or alongside cliffs. These houses are an affront to gravity and soil erosion. Would the unseen dwellers inside them recognize foolishness if they saw it bobbing through a dark fog with a headlamp and a bright rain jacket? Are they squinting out at me from some cavernous room, like modern cliff dwellers briefly contemplating what my trite story might be?

Running in the dark requires focus and leaves no room for extraneous thinking. There is a short list of things that stay front and center in my mind while everything else falls away. That’s the best thing about running, of course, the laying aside of ideas, the profound mental respite, even if it is at the cost of a certain amount of physical discomfort. By a certain footfall, six hundred or so in, I can taste the sea water I am running towards easier than I can name the streets I am running on. The streets don’t care a whit, of course; they’re as impractical as the houses and exclusive to the point of being forgotten anyway.

The view down towards the bay features a long stretch of enticing sand and the west curving Me-Kwa-Mooks Point: the left, cocked ear of this peninsula that is “shaped like a bear’s head” (“Me-Kwa-Mooks” in Duwamish). Nobody calls where I live Me-Kwa-Mooks anymore, even though it’s an imaginative, geographically savvy name. These days we call the bear’s ear by a pidgin word for “eventually,” which usually seems to me like naming a place “shrug,” or “whatever.” But sometimes, when my brain has reached just the right amount of respite, I will spy the curl of the shoreline far below me and smilingly whisper to myself, “Eventually what, bear’s ear? Eventually what?”

destroy authorization

The destroy authorization letter for our friendship was first drafted the day that we met up and you drove me, blissfully unaware, around Seattle while we attempted to sort out a place to have dinner. I was so happy we were going out. You have no idea how genuinely happy I was to see you out, since you had come out so seldom in all the years you’d lived in the city. We bantered back and forth and I felt like it was old times; you were the girl I grew up in love with, still. You were charming and smart and thoughtful and funny and absurdly dynamic. You were an inventive encyclopedia of random knowledge. You were amazing, your husband was amazing, the two of you were the best accomplices I could imagine.
Then you told me you had physically assaulted him in a bar the three of us had frequented. I could not comprehend what you were saying. You did what?
My brain catapulted ahead of me and quite against my will I was soon picturing you assaulting him inside that bar. As you explained what had happened, I felt the horror of the year I had spent being verbally and physically assaulted by a paranoid schizophrenic stalking me. The anxiety of my own assault-fueled PTSD started to rise in my chest. I quieted it in the way I always do, by telling myself, “That was then, this is now, that was then, this is now. You’re just in a car on your way to a restaurant.”
It works for me, this approach, but when I had quieted my own PTSD and rejoined the conversation you were explaining why you did not think you were an abuser: because you felt bad and were going out of your way to tell everyone so they would hear it from you personally. The absurdity of everything my brain was trying to process at once–quelling an anxiety attack, worrying about your husband whom I cared for, balking at the words you were saying while still trying to be fair and listen–left me very quiet. I remember looking out the car window and realizing that the only reason we were going out for dinner was so you could make this confession to me. You were confessing but you were making it clear that you did not want to hear from me that you were abusive. I was there to forgive and empathize only. I was relieved my PTSD was so mild, as several elements from the conversation could have been enough to trigger painful memories, but you were oblivious.
Your husband was going to a relationship counselor with his female friend, you announced, isn’t that bizarre?! He had refused to go to one with you! Yes, I agreed. It is very bizarre. Something dysfunctional is going on here, but it does not justify assaulting him. Nothing does, nor ever will.
Of all the scenes with you that have ever rendered me pointlessly heartbroken and furious, none was more poignantly surreal to me than this one, the one that started so promising and quickly turned traumatic. Traumatic because I wanted to cry and fight with you at once, but I was repressing the urge to cry and fight because no amount of crying could reach the girl you used to be; she was a long time gone. And no amount of fight could win the perpetual wars. You complained about the fighting with your husband, but in truth you were feasting on conflict; compromise and understanding were not what you craved from him so much as total control, and any sign that you were not in complete control of his life was a grand excuse for a fight, which you enjoyed anyway.
I knew then the true meaning of your paranoid outburst from years prior, when you had said to me that you had done a Tarot card reading that made you insecure because it said I would make your husband a better wife than you would, and you responded by cutting me out of your social calendar for months. Never mind that the Tarot cards had never consulted with me about this pronouncement, since I would have told them to back off.
It was clear from your response that you looked on him as your possession first and a person second. He was yours in body and soul and even the non existent threat posed by your Tarot card reading was enough for you to try and regain complete control by not allowing me to even be around. Really terrible non-compliance, you seemed to reason, could understandably result in physical assaults. You felt bad, you assured me, but there were reasons you had acted that way. That situation with the relationship counselor could drive some people to divorce.

All our pretenses.

How do most people keep interested in their everyday lives? I suspect there might be a really great trick most people are employing every day to hurdle through the tedious fog of boredom or nihilism that might otherwise seize us and do violence to all our pretenses. What do you do, dear reader?

While I used to get better all the time at leaping from one hobby to another and keeping distracted, I detect that you can really hit a wall with these things. I’ve spent months learning ever more exotic cocktails. I’ve actually put together something called cumin syrup–a sweet syrup with earthy, peppery cumin infused throughout, because nothing more enraptures your tongue than utter, tits-to-the wind anarchy–and combined it with a light, fruity Peruvian brandy called pisco, bitters, some citrus juices, a glug of club soda and an ice spear.

This is a real deal craft cocktail. Aren’t you impressed with…. oh. No, no, dear reader, do not google “ice spear.” You will only find pictures like this.

That is not the right kind of ice spear, but I digress. The point is, I’m just a little bit crazy. I think this is a sign that I’m pretty bored much of the time and have to go to great lengths, I have to syrup-ify cumin, to keep from losing the script (as an aside, I like to think that every masterful cooking and cocktail blog is driven by someone equally bored out of their minds with life, but unwilling to go there cause it’s hard enough to get a book deal isn’t it?). In my case, even then, there’s really no telling. Scripts have been lost. Whole scenes have had to be redrawn from scratch, or ad-libbed.

Adventure Time + The White Meadows = Adventure Meadows

Adventure Time + The White Meadows = Adventure Meadows?

Last year, sleep problems plus the Seattle International Film Festival led to an increase in the number of strange and vivid dreams I was subject to each morning, as my overtired brain would finally settle in for the deep sleep it failed to achieve during the previous night. The first chance I had to realize something had gone seriously catawampus was when I started having dreams combining plots from the bleak films of Mohammad Rasoulof (The White Meadows, Goodbye) about life in Iran, but choreographed via the silly lens of a Pendleton Ward animation (Adventure Time). These are not two things that really go together well (it’s like transforming one of the world’s most depressing 2 hour scripts into an 11 minute color-and-joke-explosion), but my sleep deprived brain cared not. For a couple of weeks my dreams were full of inappropriately color-infused, animated Iranians, all of them busy with the work of surviving under oppression or doling out oppression on others, albeit with silly dialogue and a magic dog.

I know they sound atrocious, but I fell hard for these dreams. I felt all the absurdity of life tightly compacted in them, the utter ridiculousness of everything swelling each frame till it forced you to cry and laugh hysterically. It was a terrible idea for a show–offensive, probably horribly confusing to anybody else, a little like this blog and every journal I’ve ever kept–but perhaps because it was replete with images and motifs that are meaningful and familiar to me, I found it terribly effective. It was as if the tireder my brain became, the more effective it was at writing me love letters that embodied the Napoleon quote, “From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step.”

The older I get, though, the more I know this means I need a change. When your boss schedules a meeting with you to tell you that she wants to make sure you know you are too smart for the job you’re doing–that even though she doesn’t wish to lose you, she knows you could be doing a lot more with your life–you start to suspect your time being so comfortably unchallenged that your ennui-racked brain invents implausible TV shows should probably be drawing to a close.

But change is difficult for the weak spirited, coddled cocktail snob I’ve become, so I’ve tried to gradually gear up my ability to be disciplined enough to overhaul my life. I took up jogging, and got back to taking the bus into work every day, even during 50 hour work weeks when I’d rather just nap in the evenings. This is improving my fitness and finances, but it’s also just about proving I can be a far more disciplined person. I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop spending my time on silly distractions that don’t help me grow as a person, but neither sublime nor ridiculous are really the adjectives I want to be using to describe my life ten years from now. The words I want to be able to use are interesting, challenging (in a good way, of course), and maybe even the holy grail of words people spend their lives trying to encompass, fulfilling.

And now the awful truth is that I have started the hard work of studying for the GRE, which is probably the most dead serious thing I’ve done in an age, and a lot harder to crack jokes about than cumin syrup. There is not a damn thing about it that is sublime (although it feels pretty ridiculous from time to time). My brain has to work for it every week, but the wonderful thing is, I am less bored than I have been since I was 17 years old. So even if it is just plain foolish to go back to school at this stage in my life, I am pretty content to try, and I’m definitely interested to see how it all turns out. Almost as interested as I was in those dream TV shows.

Quiet as kept.

Despite having a busy social life, I am pretty good at going missing when I need to. My life is not so melodramatic that this happens very often, and the act of doing it seldom feels as dramatic as it may sound. I do not disappear like a loved one who has passed away yet still haunts all your memories. And it is never like those childhood friends I had who all moved to the mid-Atlantic when they grew up. They really believed the TV shows that said the place everyone wants to live in is New York, and seemed confused when I insisted on staying behind with my umbrella and my mysterious corporate job that doesn’t sound at all like the adulthood they had me down for. No, when I disappear I suspect it is neither that painful nor that much of a relief, but something in between, something I have been told maybe aches sometimes, when there is a full moon, but which people usually just accept, and maybe even celebrate when they remember that time I hung up on them in that fight we had. Oh, that terrible fight.

Even my terrible fights usually start out pretty nondescript, and there are parts of Seattle that feel so very hushed at night, you wouldn’t think terrible fights ever happen in them. When we stepped out to traipse along the crumbling sidewalks in February, the tranquility was reminiscent of the soft, moonlit flood plains of the Nooksack. Farm lands like the ones we were cultivated in are usually more comfortable for you, I know. You do not find the humanity that is always filling the streets of cities terribly compelling. You don’t have the patience to observe and rationally assess the intentions of strangers. It takes so long! Who are these people to expect you to do so much work? It is much simpler and more satisfying to assign motives and qualities to everyone else. It helps you feel in control to decide you already know strangers so deeply that you are quite weary of them after your first encounter.

The walk we were on did not require much interaction with strangers, though. It was an inconsequential errand run to pick up more wine. Your appetite for alcohol seems excessive at times, but I had more pressing things to confront you with than your binge drinking. I suppose that sounds alarming to somebody. Settle in, have a drink yourself, dear reader; it gets worse.

What did I expect from you? I only wanted some clarity, some tiny lucid moment where we could walk arm in arm to the weeping willow tree behind your childhood home, to the tire swing beneath the pale green tendrils. One of us would sit in the tire and the other one would lean against the tree, like when we were kids. The wind would make that long rustling sound as it passed above us, the one that always seemed to whisper, “The winds are rough over the sea to the west and isn’t it exciting?” We would relax like people do when they’ve known each other 27 years. People do, you know. I’ve seen it.

You would say to me, “Why did you imagine us here? It is better than Seattle but this house holds painful memories for me — my parents fighting, our poverty, my mother’s drinking, my father’s abandonment. It was not the idyllic setting you thought it was, not really.” I would say, “I know. But this is to remind you how far back our battles go. This is to remind you where our friendship was forged.”

You would unfurl your slender fingers and use them to pull your voluminous, lovely hair into a loose bun, gesturing to me with your head before noting, “You tie yourself into knots too much with this idea you need to be somebody’s hero. Maybe no one needs your heroics, or wants them.”

“Maybe nobody does,” I would have to admit, a little defeated, “but you won’t beat this thing on your own. You know you need to be in treatment.”

That’s actually about as far as I can take the fantasy version of what I was hoping for that night, because in truth I can no longer imagine you delivering a lucid response to such a statement. There is no visualizing success in this scenario. I tried to, I actually tried and tried, but all I could imagine was you looking at me, all eyes and quiet as a nun, quiet as the years of silence that followed every awful row we’ve had or every horrifying thing I’ve watched you do to someone you pinned to the floor with your unyielding, unwarranted indictments. Quiet as kept, as they say, cause the real secret we’re all keeping is that your mental illness has flattened everything and everyone around you. After our walk for more wine, after you filled the quiet spaces with your drunken tirades, when we returned to the less than idyllic house you live in now, you accused us–your best friends, your only friends–of keeping secrets from you. You flew onto the porch yelling, “Lies! Keeping secrets! I don’t believe you!”

I didn’t end up with much of a chance to tell you from a tire swing that you need help, or that I will discreetly disappear if you don’t get it. If your house is quiet these days, if your street is quiet, if even the winds over the sea to the west are quiet, it’s because there’s no room for us anymore. We got pushed to the edge and then pushed again, and sometimes I know I will ache a little for the loss of you, my darling, when there’s a harvest moon. But mostly I will just accept it.

Sometimes the wheels fall off.

There were years when I would cock my head and puzzle over how you could be so calm through the storm seasons in your house. I would even ask you plainly, “How are you doing this?” You routinely answered by citing love, I remember clearly. “But you’ll be pared away to nothing by the blade you’re so besotted with,” I’d murmur, always feeling myself unconvincing and troublesome for saying anything at all.

I never said, “I love you and don’t want you destroyed, do you understand?” I hoped it was always implicit in my questions, and pure and bright as that feeling was, never complicated by anything sordid or any pettiness toward the person you lived with, whom I always cared for. I am not all ethics and valor: I had seen other men so destroyed and never tried to reason with them. They were already shipwrecks, of a sort, and I never knew one I treasured enough to risk interceding for.

You were always different, at least in that sense. Even a fool would protest you being poorly treated. You’re simply too lovely for us to sit on our hands.

I should not have admired your courage, since I knew it was so foolish, but I did. You always seemed to have limitless grace and patience for the tornado you lived with. At your worst, you could seem excessively unassertive. Most of the time I’ve known you, though, you’ve managed to be a funnier, kinder, more interesting person than I had any business being friends with.

There’s no reward for spending your limitless grace and patience on someone who can’t benefit by it. I have spent my whole life watching people do this. It would be more admirable if the excuses we were always making and the storms we were always weathering were free, but they never could be. They are so very costly. The first major revelation I ever had about surfacing from an abusive relationship with a mentally ill person was just how bare it strips you, how it feels as if it destroys you from the inside until you are a hollowed out husk with nothing left for your assailant to feast on. Let no one trick you: it is the least trivial matter I’ve ever seen up close.

The night I saw you and couldn’t sleep for worry, it was not because of anything you said. It was because I looked and looked and looked for you, but all I could see was armor and misery.

I know someone who would benefit by some grace and patience, and yours in particular. Take all you have left and spend it on yourself. Don’t be so impatient for yourself to be better or to feel “normal” or to crack funnier jokes or make more thoughtful observations. Don’t beat yourself up for not being the same person you were when you started this. At our age, no one lacks baggage.

The second major revelation I had about surviving an abusive relationship was just how resilient a healthy childhood and loving family and friends can render you. It sounds so cliché that I normally never mention it, but it saved my life and it will save yours, too. I did not know if I was capable of feeling like myself, or of experiencing regular emotions again, much less expressing them; I was sunk in the worst depression I had ever experienced and was barely functioning. Yet, with a little help and some distance, in six months I was back to both knowing and chattering away ad nauseum about my emotions. Central to my recovery was my ability to resurrect the knowledge I had buried deep in my chest, the idea that I had inherent value that could not be dismantled by another person no matter how intent they were on doing just that. This is essential stuff, the blood and bones of our existence, the sort of thing our parents painstakingly honed and sewed into our hearts. In the blown out wreckage of my life seven years ago, this little piece of affirmation looked and felt nearly indestructible. I trust you will find it yourself in the coming weeks. If it isn’t there, your other friends and I will happily craft you a new one. Shh, listen: we’ll craft you hundreds.

I know you don’t often feel like it, but you are still there, underneath it all. I recognize the heart you’ve carefully packed away. I heard it still beating when I hugged you, I whispered my old question at it, and while you are healing I will await its playful response: “How are you doing this?”

(Title taken from the Neil Halstead song Sometimes the Wheels)

Winter Prose

You wrote a book of poetry entitled Summer Poems, but I know you live in a state of winter so deep it takes tremendous cunning to survive. I have seen your tracks and the blood you leave at kill sites. The animals in your old hunting grounds still seem haunted. They show tension in their torsos and vigilance in their faces. They stay ready to flee or do battle. Did you know most movement starts in the torso?

What was that story you told at your reading, the one that made such an impression on the women in the audience? Was it the one about being the son of Russian immigrants? Sly dog! Your family tree boasts not a single Russian. Perhaps a tale of being exiled from your family? Do you ever despair of having to always seek pity so you can sell a book or sleep on a couch? Surely you wish you could show off your fangs sometimes, flesh out the story more, frighten them with the dark truth of your exploits. But you can’t eat pride, now can you, old coyote?

I used to think maybe the female characters you wrote were pathetic because you never knew any heroines growing up. You had only a polarizing mother whose toy heart broke when she was 6 and then sat without purpose, motionless in her chest. Most movement starts in the torso, and what if yours is hollowed out? What then, old dog?

You write female characters who are flat, deflated, pretty to look at but incapable of being dynamic or wielding power over themselves or anyone else. You are the only dynamic actor in your own stories, a carnivore always day dreaming of motionless prey. How startled you must have been to find yourself arrested, when it turned out you weren’t even cunning enough to sniff out the bait the cops laid for you. You’re an idealist, you told your mother. They threw you in prison for that. I can see how you came up with that line; after all, you simply believed too deeply in your vision of the world as passive, incapable of resisting your desires. All the anxiety you had inspired in others must have left you too relaxed. You never felt a tingling in your spine, or any indication of danger.

You’re 68 but still charming, you tell yourself, still good looking. Still hungry. Let the cows at Barnes and Noble pity you, you figure; you can take a heifer. A few years in a federal prison probably pricked a hole in these ambitions. Terrifying isn’t it, this changed world you live in now? Frightening to discover you aren’t the only one who knows old coyotes like you prowl the streets. The world is full of dynamic creatures, and most of them are younger than you now, more sophisticated. They take your own words and craft a steel jaw trap from them. They took the rope you had so carefully packed in the back seat of your rental car and showed it to a jury. They might as well have pulled your own teeth and used them to slit your throat. Savages!

They’re still looking for you these days. You’re in their sights, always. And what can you harvest to survive on, stuck in winter as you are? The pity of kind hearted women who don’t know the real reasons you were exiled?

Step carefully, old dog. Keep your torso tensed and your ears turned, listening. Someday someone might just turn up and tell your benefactors a true story about you.