And why are you speaking in secret code?

There was a buzz on the playground about some secret hole. You know, down there. When I asked my sister who was three years older for a few anatomical details she said she knew but wouldn’t tell me.

“Why won’t you tell me?”

“You’re too young. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Well, I know there’s only two holes. One for poop and one for pee. If there’s another one, what’s it for?”

“It’s where the babies come out. Now leave me alone and go to sleep.”

“You’re lying and you’re scaring me. I can’t sleep now. …


What do they know?

I met them at a writer’s conference, my first ever. They have become my muses. The people I go to for inspiration, validation, celebration.

There were 12 of us in a memoir workshop at Writers in Paradise, the annual writer’s conference at Eckert College. Each of our 25-page submissions were dispatched by group email weeks ahead of time, providing ample opportunity for intimidation. I read bios filled with MFAs, published books, impressive university teaching credentials and a two-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts. I looked for a reason not to go. There was the cost. Then I…


A story of loving two men

It wasn’t love at first sight or anything so profound. Instead, it was a gradual process of getting to know one another. Nigel was a biologist. He’d written his doctoral dissertation on the milkweed bug. I learned many interesting facts from Nigel. When I complained about the critters that were feasting on my milkweed, he explained in great detail the non-sex life of the Oleander aphid. They give birth to themselves, or rather clones of themselves without actually having aphid intercourse.

I found all of this fascinating. My husband, Hugh, did not. Bugs were of no interest to him except…


That’s a Tomato Plant, Sweetie

I was proud of that “Dare to Say No” T-shirt that mom picked up at the JS (that’s what we called any of the myriad of thrift shops where we bought all our clothes except for shoes and underwear (it’s short for Junk Store).

An impressionable, eager to please kid, I wore that anti-drug campaign slogan with pride. …


What’s changed in a year?

As a home care nurse in Baltimore, I learned years ago how to get in and out of a house without touching any surface with my bare hands. My first AIDS patient had open sacral wounds and explosive diarrhea. I was nervous, so I called my supervisor for a reassuring pep talk.

“Are you planning to have sex with him?”, she asked.

I assured her that hadn’t entered my mind, or his.

“Well, are you going to share a needle with him?”

I hoped not.

“Get over yourself then and go see him. Just wash your hands.”

I’ve been stuck…


To make up my mind

Phyllis had always had a difficult time making up her mind. Her mother never gave her much chance to practice, and so that particular skill just never fully developed.

Regular or decaf? Chocolate or vanilla? The white socks or the blue ones? Simple choices people make hundreds of times every day were burdensome to Phyllis. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence. It just took more time and energy than Phyllis had to spare. That waste of time was what made her nervous.

She’d managed to graduate from community college, having majored in something called “General Studies,” taking classes recommended for…


But once, I did it anyway

He was in love with the crossing guard. Each day, when we walked the two blocks to take his sister to kindergarten, he would watch in rapture as the guardian saint of children held up her white-gloved hand and commanded the cars to stop.

To his three-year-old eyes, that was as impressive as Moses parting the Red Sea. He loved the shrill sound of her whistle as she made the big kids stop in their tracks and again as she set the masses free with a tweet and a wave of her hand.

So, when I came across the policeman’s…


A community of grievers

I once read of a man who grieved so for his wife that he put her ashes into capsules and took one with the rest of his medication every day. Others thought that was disgusting but I understood. If I had my daughter’s ashes, I might not be able to let them go. I might rub some in my hair, have a little snort now and then. Lick my fingertip and taste just a pinch. Bake some into brownies. Anything to keep her with me.

You never know what we’ll do. We’ve lost the filter that kept us behaving like…


I had a big garden

Just last week, I was 20 years old
With long thick hair parted down the middle
This morning, in my mirror is a woman
With thinning white hair so short it needs no part

Just last week, I marched in Washington
to protest a war in a faraway land
Assuming, in my naivety
that all lives matter

Today, faced with the reality
That some lives matter more
My son marches with a sign
“Say her name”

Just last week, I backpacked through Europe Using my thumb and youth to get a ride Today, I add Lyft and Uber to my…

Eileen Vorbach Collins

Baltimore native battling fire ants in Florida. Award winning essayist. Pushcart nominee. Writes because it’s cheaper than therapy.

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