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Edwards and Van Hollen Duke it Out at Goucher College

I had an opportunity to see Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Congressman Chris Van Hollen duke it out at the Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College, last Monday. If you’d prefer a debate about differing views and you don’t like a lot of name-calling, this was not the debate for you. It turns out that the candidates have a lot in common, so, to “score points” they pointed out inconsistencies, sometimes with great vigor.


The debate started with a 90 second introduction from both candidates. Van Hollen talked about delivering real results, knowing when to fight and when to find common ground, and – a dig at his opponent, being about more than just rhetoric, which does not get the job done. Edwards talked about the reality that even with our improving economy and college opportunities, Marylanders are struggling, and that she personally understands. As such, she can bring that understanding voice to the Senate and stand for struggling Marylanders.


Before detailing the differences, I’d like to point out the many things they agreed on.


When asked about Obama’s stand on Iraq and whether to send in ground troops, both said no, but to give air support, equipment and training to Iraqis, including the Kurds.


Both agreed that Israel and Palestine need a two-state solution. Van Hollen clearly stating that he was a strong supporter of Israel, Edwards explaining her work in the Arca Foundation to financially support J-Street – a pro-Israel, pro peace Educational Fund – before she joined Congress.


When asked about the Syrian refugees, both strongly agreed that they should be admitted to the US and both spoke strongly about the strictness of US refugee policies, including up to 18 months waiting periods, and how this protects America. Edwards called accepting refugees a moral opportunity and obligation. Van Hollen said that its in our interests, and that we also need to bring the conflictors in Syria together as Secretary Kerry is trying to do.


Both agreed that it is important for the Republicans in the Senate to consider and vote on Merrick Garland. Van Hollen said that a SCOTUS nominee should look at issues fairly, Edwards said that a nominee should have a wide range of experience, and especially value the 1st and 14th amendments.


Both also agreed that it is of paramount importance to maintain a Democrat in the Senate seat and not let another “Hogan situation” to occur. And this would be done by reaching out to all Marylanders, including the “red counties”, with messages of economic opportunities (Van Hollen) and an understanding that most people care about the same things – a good job, safe retirement, and for their children to have a better life (Edwards).

 

Both Edwards and Van Hollen are supporting Hillary Clinton for president, both consider either Clinton or Sanders to be viable candidates and both stress the importance of a Democratic president to stand up to the failed policies of the Republicans.

 

An interesting divergence was on the issue of the death of Freddie Gray and how to address its implications. Van Hollen said that his death represents a systemic problem with police transparency and accountability, that Congress can move forward with cameras, go deeper and fix a broken criminal justice system, stop jailing non-violent offenders. Edwards focused on the police as needing training and retraining, so that the community would partner with law officers to deal with crime in the community, and this needs to be something that our government funds.


Another divergence was the issue of Social Security and Medicare and how to keep it secure. Van Hollen talked about negotiating with drug companies for discounts, reducing special tax breaks and changing the focus from volume to quality. Edwards went in a completely different direction. Right now, there is a ceiling on the income that is taxed for Social Security and Medicare – $118,000. Edwards proposed raising that ceiling, providing an anticipated solvency for at least another 75 years.


And then there was the hardcore debate. Starting with “the effective progressive” and knowing when to compromise. Edwards led by saying that she does not compromise when a compromise conflicts with her values, such as on Social Security and Medicare. She talked about examples of issues where she compromised, such as playing down global warming education to get earth science education. Van Hollen said that Edwards was “all or nothing”.  One of the questions of compromise was a finance disclosure bill that had extensive Democratic backing. At the last minute, Van Hollen took the NRA off the list of organizations that had to disclose financial contributions. And as a result, Edwards would not align herself with her party and sign the bill. Van Hollen was quick to list all of the Democrats, including Cardin and Mikulski, who supported the bill, and used this to point out Edwards’ inability to compromise, instead of an instance in which he compromised too much. He also defended his record with the NRA, which is an “F”. However, he never explained why he chose to specifically take the NRA off the list.


On the issue of of the 2010 Simpson-Bowles plan which came up in the budget negotiations of the summer of 2011,  Van Hollen again said that Edwards was “not telling the truth” and that he considered the recommendations of Simpson-Bowles toward debt reduction, but with the intention of taking Social Security and Medicare cuts off the table. Edwards has accused Van Hollen of reversing himself on the issue of Social Security and Medicare, whereas she has always sought to protect it from cuts.
Last was the issue of money, and specifically, the $2 million worth of ads that Super PAC EMILY’s List has run for Edwards, even though she said she wouldn’t take Wall Street money. Van Hollen stated that Edwards was lying again, and pointed out that Edwards claims to want to get money out of politics but wouldn’t sign a “no Super PAC money” agreement. Edwards explained that she is proud of her support from EMILY’s List, an organization that supports pro-choice Democratic women – and funded Barbara Mikulski 30 years ago, but that she does not take money from lobbying organizations. Van Hollen rebutted again, claiming that EMILY’s List is funded by Wall Street, and Edward has also taken money from other lobbying organizations. There was no time for Edwards to rebut.


The debate ended with a final 90 second closing from each candidate.
Edwards pointed out that when Barbara Mikulski ran 30 years ago, people said that only the widow of a male senator belonged in the Senate. But she proved them wrong. Now Edwards is running, to give a voice to the real people of Maryland. Van Hollen stated that he wants to make sure that Marylanders get all that they deserve,  that there are dreamers and doers, and he wants to be a “Dreamer who Does”.


I came away from the debate realizing that I really don’t like dirty politics, but this is an awkward situation. There are two candidates running who agree on many, many issues. There are two fundamental differences between them. One is background. Chris Van Hollen is a well-to-do white man from a well-to-do district who has spent his life in politics and lobbying, whereas Donna Edwards is a black woman who has lived a life with some hard knocks, but still managed to get a law degree, raise a family, work for private industry, run two non-profit organizations, and THEN get into politics. The other is an issue of values and compromise. On issues that involve her core values, Edwards does not compromise. Van Hollen has been willing to negotiate on issues such as Social Security, Medicare and the NRA when he thinks its necessary.  Me personally, I’m voting for the black woman who doesn’t compromise on her core values.

 

Donna Edwards’ College Tours and the Student Debt Conundrum

When you’ve had to pay off nearly $100,000 in student debt and it takes you nearly 20 years, there’s a better understanding of the need to address the student debt issue, and US Senate Candidate Donna Edwards has that understanding. Since July, Donna Edwards has been visiting college campuses around Maryland and talking to students about the issues that matter to them, such as student loan debt. So far, she’s visited 8 colleges: Johns Hopkins, Towson, U-Maryland College Park, Bowie State, Morgan State, Coppin State, U Baltimore, and Prince Georges Community College, and plans to visit more after the winter break. Why students? Because 18-29 year olds make up 21% of the voting population, and have the most untapped potential – if they can be attracted to the voting process – to make a difference in local and national elections. Voting as a student is actually quite complicated. Registration is a new process if you’re not driving, knowing what to put as an address requires some thought, voting absentee may be necessary, forms must be obtained and deadlines must be observed when mailing in the ballot, researching the ballot takes time and in many cases, the local issues are not relevant. Because students may not be taking major financial responsibility for their lives, wage laws, and Social Security and Medicare, aren’t the issues they care about. However, one thing they do care about is student debt.

 

Donna Edwards’ story is easy for students to relate to. Having gone to college at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, then to the University of New Hampshire Law School, she racked up $91,000 in student debt and made her last payment at age 50 when she was swearing in to her Congressional seat. She believes that young people shouldn’t have to go through that. And with $2.1 trillion in collective national student debt, the Obama administration believes that too. Since 2012, the Obama administration has been spending billions of dollars to ease the burden of student debt with programs such as PAYE – Pay as You Earn, which caps monthly payments at 10% of take-home pay, and forgives loans at the end of 20 years for individuals with a financial hardship. Pell Grant amounts have been increased, tax credits have been tripled, other programs include Debt Forgiveness after 10 years of public service for careers as varied as military enlisted and officers, firefighters, law enforcement or corrections officers, nurses or medical technicians, school librarians, public defenders, family services workers, child care workers, special education teachers, math and science teachers in teacher shortage areas, faculty members of tribal colleges, and of course, Peace Corps volunteers. There are other options available. Income-Contingent Repayment has been in place for years, capping repayment on 20% of take-home pay.

 

The next milestone in President Obama’s vision, which Edwards shares, is free community college. President Obama has spent the past 7 years talking about the critical role that community colleges play in providing opportunities for remedial students, older students, part-time students, and career changing students who need to re-train for today’s workforce. In his state of the Union address in January 2015, he made his controversial proposal for tuition-free community college for students maintaining a 2.5 GPA. Interestingly enough, several states, Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota, are already trying it, and others: New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Oklahoma, are considering it.

However, what Edwards found out on her college tours is that students have a wide range of concerns well beyond student debt that cover the nation and the world. So the discussion of student loan debt is only a piece of the puzzle in addressing their issues and while Edwards talks about student debt for a few minutes, the real focus of her tour is an hour long Q&A on any topics that the students care about. At Towson, Edwards talked about Cyber Security, data breaches and how the US can catch up technologically, the key to national security being technical education. At an interview at Johns Hopkins with students from “Her Campus” Edwards talked about domestic violence, a woman’s need to feel safe in her own home, and how tougher gun laws would reduce domestic murder, given that most women who die from domestic violence die from a firearm. A question came up at U. Maryland about Israeli-Palestinian relations. Donna Edwards has visited Gaza to gain understanding about the situation and is committed to a two state solution which would address both Israeli and Palestinian concerns.

 

Other questions arose about the environment and issues with the Chesapeake Bay, money in politics and Citizens United, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, BlackLivesMatter and the need for criminal justice system reform, and Maryland’s heroin overdose epidemic. Edwards addressed them all, in depth and with facts, showing her commitment to understanding both national and Maryland-specific issues.

 

Edwards is hoping to visit Goucher College as a future stop on her college tour because of its groundbreaking work with in-prison education. President Obama has put in place an experimental program to give some prisoners access to Pell Grants, and Edwards is working to make it a possibility for all. Today’s Millennials are tomorrow’s future leaders. It’s something no politician should forget, and a concept that Donna Edwards is committed to recognizing as a cornerstone of her campaign for Senate.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the campaign, please visit http://www.donnaedwardsforsenate.com. If you’d like to volunteer for the campaign, please e-mail me at qwlauren35@aol.com.

BEST Democratic Club Introduces Edwards and Van Hollen to Baltimore’s Gen X and Millennial Voters

On Saturday, September 12th, the BEST Democratic Club hosted Activate Baltimore, providing a platform for Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Congresswoman Donna Edwards to introduce themselves to some of Baltimore’s young Democrats. The event started at 5:30, and the Congresswoman arrived to a  group of dedicated supporters who cheered her on. She worked the crowd as people dined and discussed politics. Also in attendance were John Sarbanes, Sheila Dixon and other local Baltimore politicians.

Congressman Van Hollen came in around 6:20pm, just before the presentation started. The president of the club gave some very powerful opening remarks. He said that Baltimore is Maryland’s only true city. It is the home of the Maryland Zoo and the Maryland Aquarium, for music, there is the Baltimore Symphony, for theater, there is the Hippodrome and Center Stage. And of course, for sports, there are the Ravens and the Orioles. And yet, Baltimore does not get her due. Why, because Baltimore Democrats aren’t voting. In the 2014 election, only 20% of the city’s Democrats voted. And as a result, a Republican governor is in office. It’s time for Baltimore to look in the mirror, go after her due, and show elected officials that she should be courted, by voting.

The president then thanked both candidates for coming, explaining that each would have a chance to present themselves, and then respond to questions that reflected Baltimore’s issues.

Van Hollen spoke first. He pointed out how many faces in the crowd he knew personally, although he slipped up in trying to name the offices they held. He then talked about the fact that young people are impatient for change. And in fact, he too is impatient for change, and impatient for America. He said that Baltimore and especially Freddie Gray had experienced broken promises. Instead, for Maryland to be healthy, Baltimore needed to be healthy, and all of its neighborhoods needed to be healthy so that each individual can live up to his or her full potential.

The club president then presented the questions.

The first question was about transportation. Governor Hogan has just cut Baltimore’s Red Line from the budget, turning down $900 million in federal funds. What could be done on the Federal level to address Baltimore’s transportation issue? Van Hollen talked about the Grow America Act, a proposal from the Obama administration to invest in both transit infrastructure and new public transportation. Van Hollen suggested that this could be a source of funding for the Red Line in the future.

The second question was about the rise in heroin addiction in Baltimore and how efforts to combat it could be funded. Van Hollen spoke about SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and making sure that it was funded.

The third question was: what can be done about student loans, which represent $1.2 trillion in debt? Van Hollen discussed refinancing loans at the rate of the federal reserve, as well as Obama’s plan for free community college, and income based repayment plans.

Congresswoman Edwards spoke second and there was an immediate contrast in what she chose to say. Congressman Van Hollen did not speak at all about who he was as a person, but the Congresswoman shared a story that resonated with America’s working families. She talked about her father, an Air Force veteran, who chose the military as an escape route from West Philadelphia, moving the family around to provide a middle class home. She talked about being the first generation to go to college, and the massive student loans she had as a result. She talked about how, after her divorce, she went for a period of time without health care, got sick, and was stuck with a painful emergency room bill. And so she said, she understands what working families go through and what working families want – a decent job at a decent wage, and a chance for the next generation to thrive.

When the questions began, they were the same but slightly reframed. The club president talked about how the Red Line would have impacted social and economic mobility. Edwards talked about transportation as a way of connecting communities and stated that the loss caused by the Maryland government was unacceptable. She stated that losing the red line had cost Baltimore about 30,000 jobs. She then spoke of finding a way to hold onto the funds so they would be available once Hogan was gotten rid of.

The issue of heroin addiction was framed in terms of money allocated – $800,000, not nearly enough to address the problem. Edwards talked about legislation she had re-introduced, the SOS Act, to put naloxone kits in the hands of first responders so that they could help individuals who were dealing with drug overdose. She reiterated Van Hollen’s message that drug addiction should be treated as a health issue and not criminalized.

Last was the question of student loans. Edwards shared the story of her swearing in date for Congress as the  date of her last payment on her $100,000 student loan bill. She pointed out that students with debt can’t buy homes, can’t start businesses, and can’t participate in the American economy. But productivity goes up when young people are not saddled with student debt. In terms of what to do, she said that she would look at ways not only to refinance student loans, but to forgive them entirely.

At the end of the evening, the Democratic Club thanked Van Hollen and Edwards for coming out. As an observer, I found the Congresswoman more compelling, more genuine, and more interested in going the extra mile on social and economic issues. She backed her views with the determination to introduce legislation that would make a difference for Maryland. Perhaps Van Hollen was being more realistic about what could be done with a Republican Senate. But when you shoot for the stars, you might make it to the moon.

If you would like to get involved with the campaign, contact Perrice Austin at perrice@donnaedwardsforsenate.com. We’d love to have you!

Face-off at Maryland NOW Forum – Edwards vs. Van Hollen

Chris Van Hollen faced off with our Donna Edwards on Sunday at a forum run by Maryland NOW. Interestingly enough, the invitation to be part of the forum was offered to anyone who plans to run. Next year’s primary is on April 26th, so maybe it’s too early, but it seems rather odd for two contenders to have such a head start. We shall see if anyone else jumps in later on.

The forum ran from 1-2pm – unfortunately, Rep. Edwards had to leave early, which lost her some points from the audience. But NOW’s 4 big questions, and one main audience question got answered.

The forum started with opening remarks, and it was very interesting to hear the different messages. Van Hollen’s message; I’m not “A”, but I support “A”. He’s not a person of color, he’s not a woman, he’s not LGBT, he’s not disabled, but he supports their causes. Edward’s message was the counterpoint, a woman’s voice, a mother’s voice, makes a difference. Frankly, I think we have enough able-bodied, straight, white male voices in the Senate. And if we want a progressive voice, we’ve got Bernie Sanders. But what we don’t have enough of is women’s voices. So, I agree with Donna – it makes a difference.

The first question, NOW president O’Neill, took what’s happening in Baltimore and spun it toward violence against women and girls, asking what public policies could make a difference. I expected this to become a discussion of VAWA, but both Edwards and Van Hollen turned to economic and social justice issues, Edwards discussing the fact that people in prison tend to have seen violence in their homes, and that we need to reach out to them, Van Hollen talking about ending the war on poverty and the war on drugs.

The next question was on health care and abortion, and the current trend of limiting access instead of legislating outright bans that would get overturned by the Supreme Court. NARAL cause these “TRAP” laws, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. O’Neill also talked about how abortion is something that 1 in 3 women under 45 use at some point in their lives. Van Hollen talked about his fight to keep anti-abortion riders out of appropriations bills at the federal level, but could not discuss it on a personal level. This is not to say that Edwards has had an abortion, but the way she discussed it was different. She talked about the importance of using the word “abortion”, to not be afraid to name it as it is, because it is a real part of women’s lives. She also talked about the importance of access for poor and low income women, because they are the ones most affected. Personally, I believe that a wealthy woman can get to a clinic somewhere, can get around the access laws. But a woman who is taking off from work, who cannot travel. That is the woman who is affected most, that is the woman who’s right to access must be fought for.

The NOW president then asked about economic justice issues for women, not only that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, but more importantly that 70% of tipped wage workers are women, and the tipped wage is $2.13/hour and in many cases, tips barely bring earnings up to the minimum wage.  Edwards’ response was on-point. She talked about how not only do white women make 78¢ on the dollar, but black women only make 70¢ and Latina women only make 49¢. And so it is women of color that need Equal Pay for Equal Work the most. Edwards sponsored a bill to raise tip wages, but could not get co-sponsorship. Her hope is to eliminate the tip wage; something that would make a huge difference for millions of women. In contrast, Van Hollen’s take was changes to the tax code, and differences between those who make money from work vs. people who make money from money. He talked about fees on trades and investing in education. Frankly, I could not see how his comments related to Equal Pay for Equal Work, and I was quite disappointed.

The last moderated question was about retirement, seniors who outlive their savings, and dependency on Social Security. The candidates were asked to comment. Van Hollen talked eloquently about protecting, modernizing and expanding Social Security. He talked about not cutting benefits, increasing the minimum benefit, giving credits for caregiving. What Edwards talked about was simple. That Van Hollen hadn’t always been on the bandwagon, that he was willing to consider Simpson-Bowles bill that included cuts to Social Security, whereas, she had never wavered in rejecting cuts, and she was determined to get regular cost of living increases.

The one question from the floor was on TPP. Edwards stated that she had been opposing TPP from the inception and only supports trade deals with strong worker protection. Van Hollen also said that TPP was a bad deal and that he opposed Fast Tracking it, but he could not say that he had always had this view.

Well, that was it. In my view, there were strengths and weaknesses shown by both candidates. And again, the choice is clear. Do you want someone who supports other people’s causes, or someone who represents those causes, understanding them personally? I think we need the personal voice.

If you’re interested in actively campaigning, or supporting the campaign, please go to https://donnaedwardsforsenate.com

Meeting Donna Edwards – A Maryland Congresswoman running for Senate

On March 19th, 2015, I got an e-mail from EMILY’S LIST – an PAC dedicated to promoting pro-choice Democratic women – announcing that they were going to be endorsing two black women who were running for Senate. I was immediately piqued, and went on-line to see who they were. One was Kamala Harris, California’s State Attorney General and the other was Donna Edwards, a Maryland Congresswoman. The idea of a black woman from Maryland in the Senate really energized me. It had been 17 years since Carol Moseley Braun was in the Senate, and I felt that, if Donna Edwards stood for my values, I would do everything I could to get her elected. So I started digging around. I went to her Congressional website, I went to Votesmart.org, I googled all of the articles I could about her. And what emerged was a very bold, energized, progressive woman, who stood up for what she believed in. She stood up for women, organizing a coalition to address domestic violence. She stood up for science, as a former writer at NASA Goddard, and on the Science and Technology committee in Congress, winning funding for research and STEM education. She stood up for ex-offenders, building coalitions between charities and business owners, to get ex-offenders good paying jobs. She stood with Obama in support of free community college, but also made a point of visiting schools, public and private, around Maryland to understand their issues. She fought for funding to get after school meals for children living in poverty.

To say the least, I was excited. This was a candidate who really shared my values. Now, I should point out that the fact that she was a black woman caught my interest, but I was wary. There are currently two black men in the Senate, Tim Scott and Corey Booker. I also did some research on them. Tim Scott does not share my values. He is a Tea Party Republican, who is convinced that because a white majority elected him, racism is dead. I was so unprepared to learn of someone so completely deluded about the state of America in the 21st century. It shattered any notion that being black – or being a woman – meant that someone automatically deserved my vote. And it made me realize how much more important it was for me that Donna Edwards be elected to the Senate. Here was someone who represented me on every level.

So I started to get involved. I went to her website, www.donnaedwardsforsenate.com and signed up. I called around until I found her press secretary and expressed my interest. I liked her on Facebook. And I started to tell everyone who would listen that Donna Edwards was “the real deal”: a progressive candidate who would stand up for Marylanders, using her personal experiences as a black woman, as a single mom, as a community organizer, to make a difference. And my enthusiasm was noticed. I got a call one day from the campaign saying that Donna Edwards would be in Baltimore, and would I like to meet her.

Now, I don’t get many chances to rub elbows with greatness. Twenty-five years ago, I saw Senator Teddy Kennedy walk down the hall of my jobsite in Hudson, MA, surrounded by media and attendants, emanating power. Twelve years ago, I shook hands with Senator John Kerry, after campaigning for him in Greensboro, NC. A chance to actually have a conversation with a Congresswoman was on a whole different level. What would I say, what would I ask, what could I do to make the most of this opportunity? I had a few hot buttons of my own, but I realized that if I wanted to convince others to support her, I had to cast my net wider. So I asked my friends. What would you ask someone who was running for Senate? And they gave me a list. A very long list. I wrote it all down, and took it with me.

I met Donna Edwards in front of the Cross Street market on a mild Saturday afternoon, joined by two friends who also wanted to meet her. I shook her hand, told her my name, and showed her my list. She smiled, and began to talk.

  • She talked about having a father and a brother in the armed forces, caring about veterans issues and noting that efforts were being made to meld military and veteran databases so that military leaving the service would get a continuum of care. She also said that Maryland has one of the largest veteran populations in the nation, and addressing veteran issues was a personal priority.
  • She talked about the national crisis of police brutality how good policemen did not want to be tainted by the actions of bad ones, and that creating a culture in which they could speak up would weed out the bad apples, and we would start to see change. She also talked about the importance of community policing, of weeding out candidates who were not psychologically appropriate, and encouraging candidates to apply who reflected the communities they served.
  • She talked about her respect for the need for a strong Israel, but also for a Palestinian state. She had not seen Netanyahu when he came to visit. She also explained that she stood with the president on his deal with Iran, and that enough work had been done to shape the bill to give Congress say on Iran negotiations – it was now a bill that the president was willing to sign.
  • She talked about the American crisis of caregiving, the toll it was taking on ordinary people, especially the sandwich generation, and how it was recognized. That the Child Care Tax Credit was also for individuals with elderly dependents, and efforts were being made to enable caregivers to get more support and training in their roles.

There were other things on my list and I’m sorry to say, she did not get to them all. I had to share her with my friends and they also had questions and concerns. But all in all, in walking and talking, she gave us three hours of her time.

More than ever, I want to fight to see this woman get elected to the Senate. I want to talk about Donna Edwards to anyone who will listen, I want to find others who want to campaign for her, I want to invite others to find out who she is and what she stands for, and see what I see. Bold, energized, progressive. That’s Donna Edwards. And that’s the kind of Senator Maryland needs and deserves.

If you’re interested in actively campaigning, or supporting the campaign, please go to http://www.donnaedwardsforsenate.com or write to Perrice Austin at perrice@donnaedwardsforsenate.com.

MOURNING ANGELA

 

My body tried to warn me, but I didn’t want to listen. On Saturday, it sent a back pain; I ignored it. On Sunday, it sent  stomach ache. Not feelin’ it. On Monday, the spotting was the final hint, and then on Tuesday,  the geyser came. Another miscarriage..

 

At 10a.m. on a cloudy day in September, I was midway through an experiment on a new cortosteroid that would just have to wait. My mind had flipped into mushroom mode, and all I could think of was getting back home to the comfort of my own bathroom where I could hide from the world and cry in peace. So I ran to the ladies’ room, stuffed my underpants with paper towels then fled the lab with its sterile blue walls, institutional tile floors and rows of test tubes and microscopes, holding up my “everything’s fine” countenance until I could get to my car.

 

The brief drive home required just enough concentration to block out everything but the pain. But when I got home, I couldn’t escape the voices in my head. Two years, five miscarriages.  Each one took another piece of my sanity. I had a PhD in pharmacology and ran a cutting edge research lab, but I couldn’t do the most natural thing in the world. Rows of prenatal vitamins, immunological and progesterone boosters, and herbal remedies mocked me from my medicine cabinet. The reality of my failure and the treachery of my uterus surrounded me. Seventeen years ago, when I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, I was. Now at age thirty four, when I wanted to have a child, I couldn’t. So there I sat in my cream-colored upstairs bathroom, crying. Again. Just as I had five months ago, and three months before that. Was this some sort of punishment of a vengeful God?

 

Only my mother and my husband Randall knew about the abortion. To the rest of the world, I was an obsessive ice queen who had probably never thought about love, let alone sex. I had spent nearly fifteen years of my life immersed in books and research, clawing my way through college and grad school, then letting my Ph.D. and my “I’m-in-control” attitude open new doors for me while I slammed the door shut on the disaster of my youth and my ill-fated attempt at love.  Darryl, the boy who had gotten me pregnant seventeen years ago, had disappeared from my world as soon as I’d told him. Evidently he didn’t love me the way he said he did when we’d been rutting like pigs in the back of his car.  I dated sporadically after that, until I met Randall.

 

 

My marriage to Randall had shocked my co-workers, but he had broken through my ice shield with an overwhelming barrage of warmth and laughter, from holding hands and kissing in movie theaters to watching Tyler Perry movies and the Daily Show at night… to breakfast in bed before church. Randall had pulled me out of my career-minded rut and giving me a reason to try to love again.

 

We had met when my lab needed an IT consultant to create a system for the reams of data that threatened to drown us. Randall was completely in his element and had hit the ground running. He learned everyone’s jobs – the high minded researchers, the clinicians, the research assistants and the lab technicians. He looked up enough on rheumatoid arthritis and cortosteroids to make sense of our research. Then he designed a database that would fit our project and gave it enough bells and whistles to make us want to use it. All that with a laid-back, “I got this!” attitude that was so different from our pressure-cooker environment. In fact, I hung around him as much as possible, supposedly to help him tweak the database. He would make me laugh at myself with a stream of “hate the manager” jokes and I loved it. After he finished his contract, we started dating.  At thirty nine, he was still awkwardly lanky  with glasses and a receding hairline –  a typical black geek. With me being short and chubby, we were the comical perfect pair.

I remembered the night I had told him I’d been pregnant before. We met for dinner at a waterfront seafood restaurant; I picked a place we’d never been to before, a symbol for exploring new territory. We dined to the sounds of a jazz quartet with a window view of the marina filled with sailboats. We could see the sun setting on the horizon. It was a perfect evening.

 

Just before the check came, I said, “Randall, there’s something I need to tell you. It could change how you see me, but it’s important. I think you know how much I like you. I hope we’ll become very close, but you also need to know how seriously I take birth control. I got pregnant when I was seventeen. I thought I was in love and I didn’t understand enough about sex. I didn’t think that one time would do it. But it did. And I didn’t want to be a teenaged mother or waddle through my senior year pregnant.”

 

I stopped. I’d never wanted to get serious enough with someone to trust him with these three pieces of information: I had sex at age seventeen, I got pregnant, and I aborted the child. I wasn’t ashamed.  The abortion had been a pragmatic decision, but no one liked to hear that. I was supposed to have anguished about this for days and weeks, teetered on the fence, contemplated keeping the child and raising it. I did none of that. I was too young, too scared, too busy, too “teenage” self-centered, too carefree, just-plain-not-ready-to-be-a-mommy.I aborted the child and never looked back.

 

Randall  reached across the table, took my hands in his and kissed them. “It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Our pasts are in the past.”

 

The relationship turned serious after that and that’s when I allowed myself to fall in love again.  About three months after our dinner conversation, Randall presented me with a nice big box of condoms. We gleefully used them up. He bought more. A year and a half later, we eloped, honeymooned in Aruba and started the fun-filled task of making babies. We’d been trying ever since, and failing miserably.

 

Because Randall knew about my first pregnancy, it never occurred to either of us that we’d have any trouble having a child. But after the second miscarriage, we went to a specialist. When he couldn’t find a problem, I researched how to prevent miscarriages. I cut out our one-on-one basketball games and pillow fights. I gave up my favorite cheeses, along with my daily cups of coffee and nightly sip of wine. I tried omega 3 and calcium tablets along with my prenatal vitamins. I took hormone supplements. I switched from burgers and pork chops to beans and quinoa. I gave up sugar and switched to honey. I drank sixty four ounces of water a day and bought a juicer. I tried pre-fertility cleansing and self-massage. I followed every instruction, tried every remedy. The miscarriages kept happening. But this was the one that crushed me.

 

All the other pregnancies had ended within a month, so when we got to seven weeks, complete with morning sickness and too-tight jeans, we got cocky. Randall dangled my wedding ring over my belly. It moved in a circle – a boy. I even went to the maternity section at Macy’s. Their pants looked as though they were made for women who were in their third trimester, but I bought a few pairs anyway. That’s how far it had gotten.

 

Randall came home early when he couldn’t reach me at work or on my cellphone – I had left it on the kitchen counter. I’d already been in the bathroom for 5 hours, sobbing off and on and bleeding non-stop. I could hear him as he pulled into the garage, and as he bounded up the stairs to my sanctuary. I didn’t want to come out so he talked to me as I sat on the throne, saying anything he could think of that might comfort me, but not really having the words. After he brought me hot herbal tea and Aleve, he started to talk about God. He told me that he prayed for my happiness more than he prayed for a baby – that a baby would come when God was ready to send us one. Sadly, I wasn’t convinced, and cried some more.

 

After 2 more hours, the worst of it was over, so I left the bathroom, grabbed a Depends from the linen closet – after the first two miscarriages, I knew the routine – filled a hot water bottle and climbed into the bed. Randall lay down with me, and rocked me back and forth until I fell asleep in his arms.

 

The dream started out with gentle fluffiness. Then scenery appeared – a yellow room with little bears on the walls in red jackets. The curtains with little piglets and stuffed sad donkeys fluttered in an open window; a lamp with little balloons sat on a bureau in the corner; a cherry stained wooden crib with yellow blankets and a mobile over top rested against the wall, along with a matching changing table. I was sitting in a rocking chair, barefoot with carpet under my feet, holding a baby. Nursing a baby. So contentedly. Stroking his fuzzy hair, smiling at his chubby little hands, ignoring the slight pain of his gums against my nipple. Then my son let go of my breast, with white dribble running down the side of his mouth, and looked up at me. He had the softest brown eyes with jet black eyelashes, a button of a nose, and plump cheeks, just like Randall’s baby pictures.

 

As he smiled at me, he began to fade. His beautiful brown skin became translucent as though I was looking through him at my lap. Then my baby disappeared altogether, and I sat there, bare-breasted, confused, shaken and wondering where he went. I looked around and the bears, piglets and donkeys all looked back at me with sad eyes. The donkeys were crying. The balloons at the lamp base had turned into yellow roses, for death and funerals. At that point, I knew my son was gone for good, never coming back. I began to cry.

 

As I rocked back and forth sobbing in my chair, another image began to appear in front of me, a teenaged girl, a carbon copy of me at seventeen. She had my long legs, my curvy hips, my rounded chest, my freshly permed hair. Then all of a sudden, she didn’t look like me at all. She looked like Darryl. That’s when I knew it was Angela, the name I’d given to the child I aborted. Now Angela stood in front of me with a face that kept changing.

I reached out to Angela, but my arms went straight through her body. Then she stepped toward me and through me; her memories, her thoughts, her feelings, her sensations became my own as we journeyed through her life.

 

Feeling Angela’s abortion from inside of me was an unpleasant sensation, but muted from true pain; the ability to sense pain was not there yet. But the ripping sensation of her soul leaving the flesh I’d created was unforgettable. Then, almost at once, we settled inside a new womb, one where we could grow healthy and strong. Angela came into the world with the a different face, but she was still my daughter. Birth was a frightening experience; the horrible squeezing sensation, the air’s frigid embrace, the desperate need to inhale. Then we were enveloped in a mother’s arms, and pecked on the forehead by a father beholding his first child. All of the pain had been worthwhile.  We blossomed from the love that surrounded us, crawling, walking, talking, laughing, playing. But our emotions changed awkwardly as our sisters came into the world, and we went from only to oldest. We longed for our parents’ attention as we grew, we made efforts to be noticed, and even stifled our shyness so we could bear the ballet recitals our mother inflicted on us – along with pain-filled toes, the overstretched muscles, and other changes ballet created in our body. We got our first bicycle when we turned nine. And that  first ride seemed as wonderful as flying might be, feeling the flowing air, balancing with the grace learned in ballet, conquering inner fears in order to go out into the world. There were a few scrapes and bruises from bicycle spills, but they were nothing compared with the wonderful sensation of the wind.

 

Time flew as we strove to master each school subject and earn each A that got our parents’ attention. Breasts grew and menses flowed with the agonizing monthly pain. We discovered boys, but kept our thoughts private – we were shy. We longed to be noticed, and flinched at rejection when our male classmates dismissed us as too brainy. Then time slowed with the conflicted emotions and new unexpected sensations from our first kiss, stolen from behind a school building at the late age of seventeen. Overwhelming joy filled us as we raced off on our bicycle, heading home to journal that first kiss. Then the truck slammed into our body as we ran the red light, the wheels crushing the bicycle into our thigh, the broken ribs piercing through lungs and flesh. Then it was all over as our brain bounced and splattered on the roadway and could no longer feel the excruciating pain.

 

As I screamed, I could hear Angela saying: “Feel my death now, so you will appreciate your children.”

 

Randall heard the screams I carried into my own state of awakeness. He held me as my body trembled, and my tears ran down below my ears and onto the pillow. I lay fetal, and stayed that way until morning, reliving the feelings of this child who was my own but not my own, knowing I was finally mourning the death I hadn’t mourned 17 years ago.

 

When the morning did come, I had stopped shaking, although parts of me were still reacting to the realness of the dream, and the feeling of crushing bones and hemorrhaging organs. As Randall went off to work, I called in sick, and then went to the front door in search of a newspaper, out of some morbid sense of curiosity. The obituary was on page three of the Metro section. Seraphina Robinson, age seventeen, had been killed in a truck accident while riding her bicycle. I wondered if I should go to the funeral. What could I say to this mother who did not know me, and would not understand that this was also my daughter who had died? How could I tell her our daughter had known joy in the moments before she died, had savored her first kiss, had felt in love? I realized my words could never comfort her, so I decided not to go.

 

###

 

For the next six months, I used a diaphragm while I sorted out my feelings about motherhood, and the sanctity of life. When I was finally ready to try again, we conceived quickly, as I knew I would, but finally, against the odds, I carried the pregnancy to term. We named our son Michael, my second angel.

Waking Dad

When Harris Thompson refused to eat a Snicker’s bar, his youngest daughter, Lori, knew he was truly dying. Her dad had never in her recollection turned down chocolate, and certainly not the luscious combination of chocolate, caramel and peanuts. But by that time, everything else was gone, so it kind of made sense. He had had so many strokes Lori had lost count. He’d lost his card sense, and Harris Thompson could memorize 52 cards and 13 books as easily as adding two plus two. Harris Thompson could add a stack of 6 digit numbers in his head back before calculators. It was a sad day when he couldn’t add two plus two, and Lori put the cards away. In the final days, he had lost his ability to speak, but not his ability to communicate. Like the time he dropped his drawers and stood in the doorway of the house, just to let Lori know that he was tired of kale and sausage soup. Lori switched to Campbell’s and everything was honkey dory after that. But it was the Snickers bars that told her that it was time to call the family.

The next morning, Harris’ oldest daughter Lenore drove down from DC to North Carolina with her youngest daughter Ashley, who wanted to see her grandfather one last time. His middle daughter, Allison, had flown in from Alabama a few days before; she and Lori stood at their father’s bedside, singing spirituals – at least the few they actually knew – just to be doing something that spoke of their love. Their dad hummed along; he wasn’t gone yet.

But folks say Harris Thompson died on purpose at the point when Lenore hit 90 miles an hour. The lights in the house flickered as his ghost flew up the highway to watch for cop cars and freak motorists who might stray in Lenore’s path. She got there an hour late, to find her two younger sisters waiting for her, with the shell of her father in repose.

Thompson had moved into Lori’s house to die. The fight against cancer had been lost, in fact, the fight had gone out of him, and so she had opened her doors to her father, to make sure his last days were spent surrounded by love. She supplied countless Snickers bars and Taco Bell chalupas, another of his favorite foods. Single dads don’t always eat healthy.

Three daughters gathered together to say a last farewell. Their dad had secreted an ancient bottle of whiskey in the closet, and they opened it up, grabbed some paper cups from the kitchen and filled them to the rim. And then the wake began.

“When I was young, I wondered if Daddy had ever passed for white. Mom said he’d had red hair and green eyes when he was young, so I asked him one day. He said that he tried it once. Back in 1932 when he was ten years old, he snuck into a whites only amusement park in DC. He hated it. What was so great about an amusement park that your friends couldn’t go to? Why would anyone want to go on rides alone? He never did it again. He was a colored man to the end.” Lori told her story, gulped down a mouthful of whiskey and passed the bottle.

“Dad’s great grandfather had been a slave, but Dad never really understood that. He just knew that his great-grandfather was a kind old man who wouldn’t tell on him, if Dad stole his cane. It was a game they played, back when he was 5 years old.” That was Lenore’s piece.

“I remember when Dad took us to Aunt Jillian’s third or fourth wedding. One of my 14 year old cousins was playing with a baby. I asked if it was her brother, but my cousin said that this was her son. I didn’t know that 14 year olds could have children. But when I asked mom later, she said it wasn’t something she could explain just then.” Allison felt the burn of the whiskey on her lips.

“Grandpa used to babysit me and Madison when mom had an emergency at work. He taught us how to play spades, how to count cards, how to make a bridge to shuffle with. We played with chips; he told us that if we played with pennies, that made it an entirely different game, and you had to take it seriously.” Ashley wasn’t but fourteen, but they let her have a sip from Lenore’s cup.

“Do you remember when Star Trek came out? I was only 3 years old, but Dad loved it. He loved everything science fiction. He had heard HG Wells War of the Worlds when it was broadcast on radio, and talked about how it scared everyone – everyone thought that Martians had really landed on Earth. Dad loved Isaac Asimov and started me reading sci-fi books by the time I was 8.” Another swig by Lori.

“Dad had the neatest job. He let us go to work with him, and there were big banks of computers and everyone had stacks and stacks of punch cards, each with one little line of information and tons of patterned holes. Sometimes he would let us feed the cards into the computer and it would print out a calendar with a picture made of dots and dashes. The pictures were always shaped like naked women, but we just thought it was interesting that you could make a picture that way. He had his own desk and one of the drawers had this secret stash of food. Peanut butter and crackers, mostly. And snickers bars.” Pass.

“Dad wasn’t old enough to fight until World War II was nearly over. But he enlisted anyway. Aunt Hannah has pictures of him in his uniform. I loved looking at them. It seems so strange to know someone who was part of World War II, but then, with colored regiments, there’s no knowing if they would have seen any action anyway.” Lenore again.

“Do you remember how Dad used to wake us up at 4 o’clock in the morning and drive us down to his favorite creek to go crabbing? I was always so scared that a crab was going to bite my toes but he was fearless. He would pick them up with one hand, thumb and pinky across a crab body and throw it in his tin pail. Crabs in a barrel is so real. They would literally fight each other. Limbs came off. It was actually kinda gross, but they tasted good.” Allison’s head was starting to spin.

“I remember how much Dad loved to pass books around. I remember when he discovered Watership Down. He loved it so much that he got every one of us to read it. Do you remember that passage about when the rabbit Hazel dies, leaves his body behind and goes running through the spirit-woods without anything to worry him anymore? I think I want to read it at Dad’s funeral.”

Everyone was good and drunk by then. It was time to call the coroner.

“So what should we do?”

“Cremate him.” said Lenore. “I think that’s what he wanted.”

“What he wanted, “said Lori, “was for us to put him in a boat in the middle of the Arctic Ocean and let the elements claim him once he got too feeble to be of any use to anyone.”

“He may have said that 10 years ago, but that was before he started dying. Dad hung on to life at the end.”

“Yes,” said Allison, “He did.”

“Do you think they’ll burn him in his clothes?”

“We can ask.”

There was an old tuxedo in the closet. Lori and Allison lifted the body while Lenore worked each arm and leg on. They had been talking for so long that the corpse had gotten stiff. But it was important that he have pants on.

“If they’re going to burn him with his clothes on, then we should pack them with things that belong with him.” Lori rummaged around in his chest of drawers and found a deck of cards. Those went into one pocket.

“We need a Snickers bar. I’ll run up to the store.” The procured bar was stuffed into the other pocket. A handkerchief with his initials went into the breast pocket and then Harris Thompson was ready to meet his maker.

The coroners came with a gurney. With graceless practice, they flipped his body from the bed to the gurney. And then they wheeled him away. It made his death so final. When the daughters had been drinking, Harris Thompson seemed present, but now, there was nothing but a corpse.

“We should do something more.” thought Allison

“What do you have in mind?”

“Well, he still has some fireworks left.” Lenore remembered putting them away when she had helped her dad move in with Lori.

“It’s May. Tell me you’re kidding.” Lori thought about her neighbors.

“Nope, said Lenore. “Let’s shoot off some fireworks.”

They waited until it was dark out, and then went out and stood on Lori’s back porch. The top of the package had sparklers; everyone lit up, and they swirled and twirled on the porch for a few minutes before getting down to the good stuff.

“Does anyone know how to do this?”

“Not really. I just know that you stand back.”

In the end, the sisters decided to let Ashley light the first firework. She positioned a Roman Candle in the ground, lit it, and jumped back onto the porch. It sputtered for a few seconds then went off in the air, spun around and headed back to the house, hitting a window.

“Hmm. Too much wind.”

She moved the next one further out. It was a starburst, and it lit up the sky above the house. It went on that way for a while. Lighting one, watching it erupt into color, then die down into sparkles. Then on to the next one. As a finale, everyone went out into the yard and lit four at once. Three daughters and a granddaughter saying good-bye. The night sky bloomed with light for a few moments. Signifying the shortness of life within the grand scheme of things.

“Is that all?” asked Ashley.

“That’s all. When it’s over, it’s really over.”