A fifth-grade bully, a blossoming romance, a late-night crash
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My mother and I are both Leos, born thirty years and two days apart. For my first two decades I was a golden child: straight A’s, well behaved, on my way to the life everyone expected for me. Then I met a woman who allowed me to realize who I truly was.
My upbringing was not overly conservative, but I didn’t know how my mother would react to my falling for a woman. About a year into the relationship, I decided it was time to tell her. I waited until the last night of a visit, sitting at our kitchen table, the site of countless conversations both trivial and monumental.
It went badly. I felt like I’d done it wrong, even though I know there’s no “right way” to come out. I’d hurt my mom deeply, and I felt burned, too.
My first queer relationship did not last, but the rift between my mother and me persisted. Awkward phone calls. Passive-aggressive text messages. Uncomfortable visits. I worried I would never mend our bond.
Years later I met the love of my life, who is generous, kind, and remarkable. My mom seemed happy to see the stable partnership I had formed, but I expected neither of us would ever address the subject directly. Then, recently, my mom apologized for her initial reaction and the years of heartache that had followed. I was filled with gratitude. Leos are known for their stubbornness. I suspect our stubborn love for each other is what saved us.
As a young female engineer in the 1970s, I experienced my share of sexist treatment, but I developed a thick skin and a knack for quick retorts to the outrageous things my male coworkers said and did.
After twenty years I became a design supervisor. The company had recently hired an older engineer who was also a lawyer. At some point he was checking my drawings and said they did not meet the electrical code. I asked which section of the code I had violated. He showed me rules that were recommended to be adopted — in other words, rules that were not part of the accepted code yet. I pointed this out to him and to the chief engineer.
Several months later my employee review included the comment that I was “not sufficiently knowledgeable of the code.” When it came time to sign the review, indicating I agreed to what had been written, I refused. My supervisor was shocked. Nobody had ever refused to sign a review before.
A few days later the chief engineer came to my cubicle and told me if I didn’t sign, I would not receive a raise.
“Then I guess I won’t get a raise,” I replied, and I went back to my work.
Coworkers told me to “just sign the damn thing,” but I wouldn’t. Protecting my reputation as a professional was more important to me than any raise.
For most of his life my dad lived on his family’s farm outside a small town where everyone knew everyone, and everyone knew my dad was an alcoholic.
Some of my earliest memories are of going to bars and liquor stores with my dad. He’d pick me up from my mom’s house for our weekend visit, and we’d stop at the liquor store on the way to the farm. In his house there were always bottles of whiskey stashed in the laundry hamper, the back-porch cupboard, or the deep freezer.
Despite his drinking habit, he was dedicated to being a good dad. During our weekends together I had his undivided attention. We went camping and built model rockets. He taught me to swim and how to shoot a bow and arrow. We did farm chores together, and he helped me with my school projects.
Over the years his addiction worsened. He wanted to stop drinking and tried rehab and AA several times. When I went away to college, he went back into rehab and was finally able to quit. For the next seven years of his life, until he died of cancer, he was sober. Still, at his funeral, a man I had never met approached me and said, “Jimmy really lost his way, didn’t he?” I felt my anger rising to the surface. Couldn’t this man see the strength it had taken for my dad to stay in recovery? Who was he to judge?
A day or two before he died, I asked my dad what his final wishes were. I was planning to scatter his ashes at the farm, but he wanted to be buried in the family plot at the local cemetery. I couldn’t deny him his request. If he was going to be buried, though, I was determined to give him a fitting gravestone. I ordered an elaborate marker, nearly waist high and custom designed to reflect his interests. My handwriting was engraved on the back, spelling out memories of good times we’d had together. It was flashy, but I wanted to make a statement: this man was more than his addiction.
Apex, North Carolina
I refused to give up when the doctors told me I’d be unable to get pregnant, and my stubbornness paid off. Gazing into my daughter’s tiny, scrunched-up face for the first time, I felt a love I had never known existed.
More often, though, my stubbornness has been a problem. Sometimes my warped sense of pride won’t allow me to back down, even when I know it’s the best thing to do.
When I was a teenager, my dad and I would fight like dogs trying to establish dominance. Caught up in the heat of the moment, we’d spew venomous words. Afterward we would make meaningless apologies. To this day my relationship with my dad is strained and superficial.
Decades later my thirteen-year-old daughter and I are repeating these ugly scenes. She lashes out with anger, and I spit hateful remarks right back. I’ve called her selfish, a spoiled brat, lazy, insensitive, rude, and sloppy. She’s told me to shut up and often will exclaim, “Oh my God, why are you still talking?” She wonders aloud how her amazing dad could ever have married someone as irritating and obnoxious as I am. When I said I wanted to slap her for her disrespect, she retorted, “Go ahead. You can’t hurt me, because I don’t care about you.” One time I screamed nonsensically that I had reached my limit and was going to leave her and her dad both. “Drive safe,” she answered. I packed a bag and walked out the door, only to return an hour later after she had gone to bed.
Sometimes I’ll glimpse myself in the middle of this fury and wonder why I can’t stop. I get caught up in the argument and refuse to relent — just like I did with my dad. I know these fights with my daughter won’t end well, and with her I have so much more to lose. I’m terrified that she and I will end up with a relationship like the one my dad and I have, and it breaks my heart. I love her so much. Why can’t I simply act like an adult and walk away?
When neither of us is willing to give an inch, I need to picture that sweet little face peering up at me for the first time and remember how overwhelmed with love I felt.
After I graduated from college with a degree in English, my father offered to talk to someone he knew in publishing in New York City, to help me find a job. I wanted to write the great American novel, and I figured working in a publishing house would be a good first step. But I had my mind set on getting a job by myself. I wanted to earn it. To accept a parent’s help would have made me feel like I was still a kid.
I set up some interviews on my own, dressed in a suit and high heels, packed my briefcase with copies of my résumé, and took the train into New York. I remember sitting in small offices high above the city, telling the interviewers how qualified I was and how much I wanted the job. But I wasn’t offered any of those positions in publishing. Instead I ended up getting two part-time jobs in my hometown: one as an editorial assistant at a tiny, family-owned publisher and one at a bookstore.
I wonder now what would have happened if I hadn’t been too stubborn to accept my dad’s help. I might have been working at a publisher in New York City instead of at the bookstore the day my old high-school crush came in to browse. He and I wouldn’t have bonded over our love of books, much less gotten back together. We certainly wouldn’t be celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
It wasn’t that I was stronger than the other girls; it was that I was too stubborn to give up. We all lay on our backs, scattered across the mat, heads and feet raised, arms outstretched. The contest was the culmination of a summer gymnastics training session, and at first I didn’t even consider trying to win. The gym was packed, not only with kids my age (six), but with big girls, girls who wore eyeliner and puffed up their hair-sprayed bangs to stiff and wonderful heights. I didn’t stand a chance.
When the coach called, “Go!” I tightened my abs, raised my arms and legs, and waited. The little kids dropped out first, but I held on as the minutes ticked by, until I found myself in a smaller, more committed group. My stomach burned, and I was thinking about quitting when some of the big kids started to give out, too. The girls who wore bras. The girls who’d educated me on what the word crush meant. I wanted to see if I could do what they couldn’t.
Soon everyone was out but one other girl and me. My muscles were scorched. My head and feet dipped low.
“Go, Heather! Go, Heather!”
The chant floated across the gym from girls I didn’t know. They were cheering for me! Then I realized that my competitor was also named Heather, and they were really chanting for her. Well, that did it. I raised my head and feet and out-Heathered that other gymnast, whose limbs fell quivering to the mat. I won.
My prize? A king-size Snickers bar and a reputation for grit.
Raleigh, North Carolina
We met twenty years ago. I can still picture the way her blue eyes sparkled in the lights strung outside the brewery on that first night. We had feelings for each other, but we both still had a lot to learn, and it didn’t work out. Over the next decade she got married and had a son. I got married, too, and had a son and a daughter. She became an artist and trained as a kickboxer. I got my master’s degree and became a teacher and a long-distance runner.
Then one morning we crossed paths again. By this time we were both divorced. Her blue eyes were hidden behind thick-rimmed glasses, and her little son sat across the restaurant table from her. I was alone at the next booth, my kids across town with their mother.
It turned out we’d both found married life suffocating: not enough vitality. We’d refused to become stereotypical married people. It was a pattern for us. In our younger days we each had refused our parents and our high schools, the cops who had arrested us and the laws that had put us in jails and recovery programs.
Later that night we met for beers, and for the next six years hardly a day passed that we were apart. We spent an alcohol-soaked year reclaiming our lost romance. Then we got sober and got married. She joined me in distance running and taught me a more disciplined way to train. I ran the Boston Marathon injured, popping ibuprofen for the pain in my knee, then spent the next week swollen and jaundiced, peeing coffee-colored urine. She ran the Maui Marathon and was carried off the course by paramedics as she came limping into the final miles. At home we tried to make our blended family work, but it broke our hearts the way the marathons had broken our bodies. We separated, then divorced, and spent four years apart.
In those four years she climbed mountains, learned to ski, and kept making art. She took some scary falls, got a lot of cuts and bruises. I got into trail running and raced well in a 50K, but the effort left me with chronic tendonitis. We both flirted with alcohol again.
Then last spring we took a slow walk in the woods one rainy afternoon. Something shifted, fell away. We talked about how our kids are teenagers now, how we’re getting along in our middle age, becoming our parents’ caregivers, getting bifocals and gray hair. We kept taking these walks, as spring turned into summer, until we decided to try for a third time.
These days we have glasses of wine or tea in the evenings, go to bed early, and don’t get hangovers. Sometimes we go for a run, or ride bikes for fun. Although neither of us has said so, we’ve surrendered our stubborn striving. It’s come as a relief.
Eight years ago my youngest daughter was a two-pound preemie in an isolette. I have a photo of her with her middle finger serendipitously lifted at my camera. I didn’t expect she would grow up to be the most stubborn creature I have ever met. She is prone to declarations, like when she says she will never get married. Boys aren’t gross, she tells me, but she likes her last name and her freedom, and no man is going to tell her how many dogs and Jeeps she can have.
Her relationship with food — what she will and will not eat — is exhausting. She often refuses to eat what she’s served and cannot be bribed or threatened to do otherwise. I once offered her a hundred dollars to take a single bite of cooked spinach, and she stared at me through narrowed eyes and said, “You don’t have a hundred dollars.” It doesn’t matter if we cut off snacks after lunch and don’t offer an alternative at dinner. If she doesn’t want to eat, she won’t. I want to raise strong women, but I wish she could save her iron will for the patriarchy and just listen to her mother.
A few months ago I took her to the doctor and begged for help. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a medical issue and that she wasn’t on her way to an eating disorder. But my daughter was growing fine and ate plenty when she felt like it. The doctor’s diagnosis was simple: stubbornness. Something softened in my daughter’s stance at the doctor’s office, however. Perhaps it was the kind woman in the white coat telling her that she needed to meet me halfway, or maybe it was the way I almost cried as I recalled how she used to eat everything on her plate.
When we got home, my daughter and I wrote a contract listing the foods she will never eat again and the foods she will eat one bite of. Any time I forget and put the wrong food on her plate, she points to the paper hanging on the fridge and says, “That’s on the contract, Mom,” or, “I’m only obliged to eat one Brussels sprout, thanks.” As unconventional as it may be, the contract works, and we have had far fewer fights at the dinner table.
She continues to be stubborn in other areas. When I tell her about periods — yes, it happens every month until you’re around fifty, and, yes, it can hurt — she wrinkles her nose and says, “I’m not going to have a period.”
“Well, it happens whether you want it to or not,” I say. “It’s part of becoming a woman.” Feeling it’s my duty to make menstruation seem fun, I show her the cute new polka-dot period underwear I’ve bought for her and promise her ice cream and chocolate.
“No,” she declares firmly and walks away from the conversation, probably drafting the next contract in her mind. I don’t want to tell her she can’t win this argument. Mother Nature is a much tougher negotiator than I am.
A few years ago, in an attempt to work through some family trauma, I embarked on the Camino de Santiago, a five-hundred-mile pilgrimage across Spain. My days were largely spent alone and in my head, walking at a fast clip.
The Cruz de Ferro, a tall wooden post with an iron cross on top, is a landmark along the route, marking the highest point in the pilgrimage. Many pilgrims place stones there, representing the burdens they are ready to leave behind. Before setting down the piece of mica I’d brought from home, I reflected on my journey to that point. Then I said a prayer and continued down the trail.
Over the next few miles I felt a lightness in my step and was almost giddy. Then, as I made the steep descent downhill, I fell and heard a popping sound in my right arm. When I tried to right myself, both my arms screamed in pain. I was beginning to panic when three Croatian pilgrims gave me water and got me standing. I managed to get to the town where I was staying that night. The host at the pilgrims’ hostel offered to get me a taxi to the hospital, but I decided to take some ibuprofen, have a few glasses of wine, and walk to the hospital in the morning.
It was an awful night, and the next day I opted for the cab. It turned out I had two fractured arms and a broken thumb, with just over 125 miles left to walk. Not for a second did I consider flying home. I was there to finish the Camino.
Unable to carry my backpack, I sent it with a courier to the next hostel. When I arrived, the host embraced me and brought me a glass of gazpacho. He offered to wash my clothes, gave me a private room so I could rest, and invited me into his kitchen to watch him make the paella we would eat that night.
The next morning every step of getting dressed was slow and painful. I heard the other pilgrims eating breakfast and leaving to hit the trail while I struggled to get my sleeping bag packed. Stressed and anxious, I made my way to the dining room and frantically searched my guidebook for the address of the next hostel so I could send my backpack ahead. I devoured breakfast and took more ibuprofen. My host gently took me by the shoulders and said, “Sarah, you have to slow down. This is why you are broken. The Camino is here to teach you this lesson, and you must listen if you are to finish.” His words affected me deeply. After a good cry, I felt ready for the day.
The rest of my Camino was taken at a slower pace. From then on I learned to ask for help and to receive it. Complete strangers would buckle my backpack on me, wash my clothes by hand, and smear sunscreen on my face. It was my determination that kept me on the path till the end, but it was the people I met who made my journey a success.
Fort Collins, Colorado
I was an angry thirteen-year-old whose parents were undergoing a protracted divorce. Snooping at my mother’s desk one afternoon, I discovered an acceptance letter bearing my name from a reform school: I was going to be sent away in two short weeks. My parents hadn’t even consulted me. I resolved to run away first.
A few days before my enrollment at the school, I rode my bike to my father’s house to pilfer some camping supplies. My plan was to hide out in the fields around my neighborhood, sneaking into my parents’ houses during the day to eat and use the bathroom. I hoped eventually to find someone who knew how to jump trains. With that skill I could make a complete escape.
I gave no thought to the harm my actions would cause my family. I had no concern for my single mother and my hardworking father, who had to cruise the streets looking for their missing child. I did not consider how embarrassing it would be for them to have to ask my friends if they knew where I was. All I could think about was refusing to capitulate to their demands. I didn’t really want to run away. I just wanted to make a point.
I lasted a week before my brother’s friend found me, exhausted, dirty, and bored, and brought me to his house. His parents called my father to come pick me up. When my father pulled into their driveway, I got in the car without a word.
As it turned out, the school my parents sent me to gave me much of what I needed: independence, consistent rewards and punishments, the right to be judged on my actions. For the first time in my life, I made friends who were loyal, kind, and encouraging. It redirected my life.
Nevada City, California
My grandfather was a professor of political theory for many years. During my childhood he exerted quiet dominance at family dinners, seldom speaking and choosing his few words with agonizing precision.
He is still a private, composed man. As he’s grown older, the daily tasks he’s performed for decades have become challenging and take him longer. His eyesight has diminished, so reading the three newspapers he subscribes to is an all-day affair. His hand trembles when he writes.
Last summer I stayed with my grandparents for a few days. On the morning I was to leave, my grandmother and I waited at the table for my grandfather to join us for breakfast. Even by his new standards, it was taking him an unusually long time to shave and get dressed. Eventually my grandmother went to check on him.
He had fallen while getting out of the shower and couldn’t stand up. How long had he lain on the bathroom floor without calling to us? I listened from around the corner as he asked my grandmother to help him up, but she was too weak and unstable to bear his weight. He became exasperated, and his voice took on a desperate, nearly cruel tone I had never heard from him.
My grandmother said she would go and get me.
“No!” he cried. “Absolutely not!” He sounded like a young child refusing his parents.
I didn’t dare go into the bathroom. The thought of seeing my grandfather’s naked body terrified me. I feared it might usher in a sort of death for him, undoing the effect of his every word and gesture for as long as I’d known him.
In the end we called the fire department. He protested that, too, shouting, “No!” until the moment the unheeding firemen came through the door.
New Orleans, Louisiana
© Anselma Cardenas
With only two weeks of teaching left before I went on maternity leave, I was determined to get through the remaining course material. I’d made it to my last month of pregnancy without a major incident, which wasn’t easy for a type 1 diabetic, and I wanted everything to continue as planned.
Forty minutes into a seventy-five-minute class, I began feeling lightheaded and heard the frantic beeps of my glucose monitor, warning of low blood sugar. I looked in my bag for some glucose tabs, but I’d failed to replenish my stock. I accepted a student’s offer of pretzels and M&M’s and plowed ahead with my lecture.
The next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes to fifteen horrified faces staring down at me. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been unconscious. Long enough to vomit all over myself and lose control of my bladder. One student bolted from the room in search of a responsible adult. (I’d clearly lost that status.) The rest stayed until the EMTs arrived with a gurney and a school staff member briskly announced that class was over.
When I returned to the classroom two days later, the students and I were a little embarrassed to see one another. I told them I hoped that, if they learned nothing else from the semester, they’d remember to listen to their bodies’ needs.
“Dissolution of the marriage” is the phrase I used in the e-mail to my attorney. I refused to use the word divorce. I’d refused to use it when I had filed for legal separation months earlier. I’d also refused to use it when my husband had left me for the third time. I’d refused when the cops had brought him home. I’d refused after his first round of rehab, and the second. I’d refused when he’d gone to jail. I’d refused when he’d stolen my car, twice. I’d refused when he’d failed to pick the kids up from day care. I’d refused when he’d lied over and over. I think I had started refusing long before any of that, when I’d decided staying married was more important than my happiness.
I once read a book about investing. It said that the longer we invest in something, the more value we assign it, even if its true value has diminished. Instead of cutting our losses, we wait for the return on our investment long past the point of reason.
Our strengths are also our weaknesses. I was a loyal, steadfast, faithful wife, but I was only hurting myself. Divorce was my white flag of surrender.
Gig Harbor, Washington
I was a single mom of a teenager in Chicago, working full-time and going to school at night to finish my master’s degree. My daughter experienced regular crises in high school, and sometimes I could take only one course a semester because I needed to be available to her. But each class brought us closer to an imagined better future.
One afternoon I found my application for financial aid in a pile on the dining-room table and noticed the due date was that same day. I shoved it into my purse and headed for the campus, five blocks away. I needed to get the form to the financial-aid office before it closed, so I could finish my degree on time.
A block and a half from our apartment a man walking the other way slipped his arm into the shoulder strap of my purse and gave a strong tug. I tugged back. For a few seconds we stood there looking at each other, both gripping the bag. Then he gave a ferocious pull that sent me to the sidewalk. Still clinging to the purse, I curled up in a fetal position, thinking only about the deadline I had to make. I probably had only three dollars in there, but the application was precious.
As the man started kicking me, I clutched the strap even tighter and screamed as loudly as I could. He took off running. Full of adrenaline, I got up and gave chase for about half a block before I realized I had no plan if I caught up to him. So I turned around and walked to campus.
Only after I had submitted the form and left the financial-aid office did I start to shake and cry. I had taught my daughter that if a mugger ever tried to take something from her, she should let it go; that nothing was worth getting hurt, and everything was replaceable. Still, when that man had tried to take the purse with my application inside, it had seemed irreplaceable to me. Feeling bitter pride that I had hung on, I went home and started dinner.
My senior year of college felt like the perfect time to run my first marathon. At the age of twenty-one, I had completed a few half-marathons already. I had the blind optimism of youth, as well as a runner boyfriend and a friend who promised to help me train.
When I told my dad, a lifelong runner, of my plan, he replied that marathons aren’t for everyone. How insulting! I thought as I channeled my indignation into motivation. How dare he! I said to myself as I began training in the July heat. How dare he! I thought again as I reluctantly cleared my senior-year calendar of late-night parties. I began to doubt myself only when I hallucinated during a particularly hilly twenty-two-mile training run.
The marathon took place on a perfect November day: sunny, crisp, and cool. Though I started out promisingly, I couldn’t keep up with my running partners, who politely wished me well as they pulled ahead. Close to the twenty-mile mark I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my knee. My boyfriend joined me for the last leg, to offer encouragement. At one point I was moving so slowly he outpaced me while walking.
I finished with a time just over five hours. At the finish line I limped toward my father and fell into his hug, no longer offended by his statement. Marathons are not for everyone.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Lois was my mother-in-law, and I loved her, but for most of her life she was beyond stubborn.
The family stories about her were well-known. When she was six and hospitalized for appendicitis, a nurse gave her a piece of gum each day. One day the nurse said Lois could have only a half piece; there was one stick left, and it had to be split with another child. Not only did Lois refuse the half — she never chewed gum again.
She started smoking when she was thirteen, in the backseat of her best friend’s sister’s car. Lois choked her way through her first cigarette, hating every minute of it, but she continued smoking because all the other girls did. By the time she graduated from high school, she was up to two packs a day. A few years later, feeling the stress of raising three children, she was up to three packs. She smoked through family dinners, holidays, visits from grandchildren, weddings, colds, and the flu.
Lois would not drink water because she believed it “drowned” parts of your insides. She insisted that her mother had died because all she’d been given in her last days was water. Whenever someone drank water in front of her, she’d say, “Your stupid decision. Live with the consequences.”
Later in life she would not leave her home. The world had gotten too dangerous, she said. Her husband sometimes asked her to go for a drive with him, but she always refused.
One morning, as she was about to light her first cigarette of the day, Lois collapsed.
By the time the ambulance arrived, she was blue and couldn’t talk. Her husband had to answer the EMTs’ questions. Yes, he told them, she smoked quite a bit. No, she had not been to a doctor in a long time — not since the birth of their youngest child, who was now thirty.
The doctors determined that Lois’s body was riddled with cancer. One asked her if she smoked. She opened her eyes wide and said with fervor, “I used to, but I won’t ever again.”
She meant it. When she got home, she insisted that all the cigarettes in her bedside table and the bathroom cabinet and the car and the garage be thrown out. We happily rounded up cartons and packs, ceremoniously tossing them in the trash, as determined as she was that she’d never smoke again. And for the last three weeks of her life, she didn’t.
Farmington, New York
After I completed my training as a Waldorf-school teacher, I applied for job openings on the East Coast and got a position at a school in New York. My family and I moved across the country and into a 150-year-old farmhouse.
My youngest child, Rex, enrolled at the school where I taught. Rex, who is nonbinary, had completed first grade at a public school in California, but because they were six years old, Waldorf policy stated they would be in first grade again. I thought Waldorf’s strong focus on art would make Rex happy, but from the start they chafed at the school’s rules:
“I will not sit like a king or queen. It’s ridiculous and uncomfortable.”
Rex spent the afternoon in the office.
“I will not pretend that I can’t read so other kids feel better.”
This time Rex was allowed to use the paper shredder in the office.
“I will not put beans in a jar. I’m not a bean counter.”
After weeks of meetings I agreed that the school wasn’t a good fit for Rex. Regardless of what rewards were offered, Rex wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t stay at a school that rejected my child. My husband and I sold our beloved farmhouse and returned to the West Coast.
A year later I got a job at another Waldorf school, and Rex enrolled in third grade there.
Day one: “I’m not going to copy the teacher’s drawing. She is a terrible artist.”
I knew then it wouldn’t work out.
This June Rex received a master’s degree in art education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m proud to say their stubbornness paid off.
Debbi Stone Cassidy
My younger sister, who has a four-year-old son and is currently pregnant, refuses to get vaccinated against COVID-19. She often says that, “as someone who worked in medicine” (she used to be a veterinary assistant), she wishes she could get the vaccine, but she just can’t. First she said her doctor had told her not to get the vaccine because she’d previously had an anaphylactic reaction to antibiotics. Then she said she wasn’t allowed to get the vaccine because her heart doesn’t pump blood properly. During a recent call she told me that, because of her respiratory issues, she not only can’t get vaccinated but also cannot wear a mask. At her outdoor gender-reveal party last summer, my parents and I were the only people who wore masks and stayed socially distanced.
For months my parents and I have tried to convince my sister to get vaccinated — if not for her sake, then for her children’s. We flooded her with articles and statistics, but she only doubled down on her rationalizations, however increasingly thin. At this point I have given up on convincing her, but our father keeps trying, even though his efforts lead to fights.
Until recently I worked for a Seattle public-radio station. At work I was asked multiple times if I knew anybody who still wasn’t vaccinated. More than once I heard colleagues say that they had to “unfriend” or cut off distant relatives or acquaintances for their anti-vax views. Their tone was usually mocking or exasperated.
For me it’s not an us-versus-them political fight over vaccination, because the “them” isn’t some faceless other. I can’t cut my sister off. I love her. I just hope I don’t have to visit her from behind a hospital window.
I bought the donkey from a slaughter auction. Named Cinderella — Cindy, for short — she was emaciated and had painfully overgrown hooves. Clearly she had not been cared for in some time, if ever. It was also immediately clear that she’d formed a strong aversion to humans. People called her “resistant,” “obstinate,” and a “stubborn ass.” Luckily I have similar tendencies, especially when it comes to those who’ve been mistreated.
Cindy has lived with us for just over two years now. Although she shyly eats treats when offered, tolerates the farrier who cares for her hooves, and seeks out a gentle ear rub now and again, her opinion of humans has not shifted much. Visitors occasionally become frustrated by her quiet defiance, but let me tell you, we humans are the stubborn ones, with our inability to think differently about these amazing animals.
Mistreated for centuries, donkeys have a lot to teach us about relating to each other and the world. Donkeys know how to slow down. Try to rush a donkey, and you’ll quickly discover they have far more patience than you. Donkeys are independent thinkers. Deeply intelligent, they like to be offered a choice and ample time to consider. They are pacifists at heart and can rarely be provoked. Donkeys take every opportunity to play. A hula-hoop, a hat, or a hose can provide hours of entertainment. They cherish their families and grieve deeply when separated from companions. Given a reason to trust, they are the most loyal of friends. Given a reason not to, they will never forget.
If I have learned anything from my time with Cindy, it is that she could be my greatest teacher.
Fort Collins, Colorado
The Readers Write section on “Being Stubborn” in your March 2022 issue made me wonder what is stubbornness and what is determination. It’s all about perspective. Kristin Leong illustrates this when she writes about her unvaccinated sister. Who is more stubborn: Those who refuse to be vaccinated or those who try to convince others to be?
I can easily relate to Staci Kleinmaier [Readers Write on “Being Stubborn,” March 2022] when she writes that, after her late father’s recovery, people refused to recognize him as anything other than an alcoholic.
My mother used alcohol to deal with her rape as a young teen. She managed to stop cold turkey — after forty years of drinking — when her husband told her it was either him or the bottle. I always will be grateful for the eighteen years of sobriety that followed. We built a new relationship, and she was able to restore her dignity and love of life.
Likewise my brother was addicted to meth for many years. He managed to quit and spent his last five years serving the unhoused community of which he had been a member.
It takes unimaginable courage for people in addiction recovery to resume control of their lives. Because of my mother and brother, I understand that people are far more multifaceted than most of us believe.