Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Just over a year ago, I was introduced to a crazy group of writers in Fiction 440. The premise of the group is that every six weeks or so a prompt is given which must be used in a complete piece of writing (no poetry, no excerpts) of 440 words or less. The creators of this group come up with the words, and, well, sometimes I'm pretty sure there is a lot of drinking involved!

For instance, this month's words were: Potvaliant, sweaty and toad.

Yes, you ask, what the hell does 'potvaliant' mean! So did most of the F440 folks. Well, I'm not going to tell you...yet.

Read my fictional 438 word story and see if you can figure out the meaning before you read the definition at the end of this post.

Let me know what you think with either a comment here or head to my website: 

                                      The Hand of Fate

Emma’d been sitting in the beer tent for an hour, waiting for her date. Whatever had possessed her to meet here, in her town? What if he was a toad? Or worse, saw her and ran away?
She’d arrived early to enjoy the Squid Band, giving her nerves a chance to settle. Unfortunately, she’d attracted the attention of a boisterous group of barely legal drinkers. Clearly, the four were new to public festival drinking. Slamming beers, their off-tune singing had viewers shushing and sending dirty looks.
“How you doin?” the pack leader yelled at her, eyebrows waggling suggestively. Ignoring his overture, Emma searched for her blond, clean-shaven Match, Todd. He should arrive any minute. Seeing nobody who matched his profile, she fought the urge to flee and turned back to her beer, finding Mr. Romance approaching.
“Yamusttanotheardme,” he slurred, giving his enthusiastic friends a thumbs up over his shoulder.  Tossing a sweaty beer coupon onto her table, he added, “I’m buyin’ you a drink!”
Pushing the ticket back, Emma tried her best to ignore him, searching again for Todd.
Beer guy’s friends notched up their calls, egging him on to ‘get some digits.’ The band was wrapping up their set, and the crowd’s clapping drowned out his next offer to Emma. When she didn’t answer, he reached across and grabbed her elbow. Without thinking, she wrenched her arm away, deciding it was time to leave the tent. Clearly, Fate had decided Todd was not to be the one.
Before she took a step, a large hand clamped down none too gently onto Beer Guy’s shoulder. “You owe the lady an apology.” Emma looked up, and up, into deep blue eyes, shivered as dimples graced both cheeks and a smile and wink were directed at her from the tanned Adonis who had intervened.
Beer Guy’s friends howled their disapproval. “Shut it!” Emma yelled, leaning sideways to see past the two men in front of her. Prince Charming nodded his approval, and she felt her knees liquefy. Was this why women used to swoon?
“You and your potvaliant friends have behaved quite poorly to Miss…?” he looked toward her…
“…Miss Emma,” he finished. “Apologize and go away.”
“We’re very sorry for our behavior,” Beer Guy muttered, stumbling back to his table as the tent patrons cheered.
Smoothing her locks, Emma crooked her elbow in invitation. “Dance?”
“My pleasure,” tall and handsome accepted, allowing Emma to escort him to the street square dance area.
“Thank you, Fate,” Emma whispered.
As they danced, eyes only for each other, the couple never noticed Todd, searching vainly, before leaving with a shrug.

 *Definition of potvaliant: bravery induced by alcohol consumption
Did you figure it out? Tell me what you thought it was if you had another idea!

Thursday, July 7, 2016


     Tuesday afternoon, Day 4 of the Horsemanship Clinic, I watched Peter Campbell work a feisty black colt, rearing up and pawing the air, dallied to his saddle horn from my horse, whose expression was blasé, 'whatever, I've got this' as he moved his feet, used his hindquarters and strength to do a job he has NEVER done before in his eleven years of life.
     From the back of a friend's horse, offered up to me as a 'seat to watch your horse from inside the arena', I watched my horse spin on his hocks, calmly lope, move to allow the opening and closing of gates, transition from inside the arena to trotting down the path toward the pond, move like a cutting horse...all like it was no big deal.
     Just the afternoon before and earlier that morning, I had watched Peter Campbell as he rode my horse, who was lost and bothered, sweated pink skinned with the mental stress of trying to understand what was being offered.

     How did this change happen?

     In the beginning...
          Four years ago I began my journey with Peter Campbell Horsemanship, bringing my then nearly eight year old Paint gelding to a Colt Starting Clinic. Since then, Snickers, a.k.a. 'Owen' in the PCH crowd, and I have been in many four day clinics and a few ten day ranch clinics in Wyoming. Discovering PCH has shined new light upon my entire life-work, family, writing,'s all based on the same principles.
          My horse and I have made many good changes; however, underneath the surface there has remained a tightness. Snickers is a big boy, 16.1 hands, stocky, strongly built and when he gets bothered it's all (sometimes more) than I can do to give him direction. He's also quite creative in how he chooses to dissuade me from getting him to move his feet (the basic necessity)...there's been bucking both uphill and down, spinning away from my leg, pushing on my hands, rearing, kicking, you name it.
          This past winter was hard on us (me and Snicks). My daughter deployed to Qatar with the USAF, ramping up my anxiety and reactivating PTSD in an unexpected way. It threw me. Hard. It's been six years since my son's death, but 2016 has been an ass kicker. I was a mess, but I did my best to push through, keep moving forward, and put on a good face. My horse is pretty sensitive, because all my inner stress showed up in his behavior. I thought I was doing all right, but he mirrored my insides with new pushiness, rushing gates, and bother bother bother. It got a bit better the last month, but that tightness rested below the surface, waiting. I could feel it in him, probably because he could feel it in me.
     Which brings me to this recent clinic...    
          Day One I could feel Snicks tighten up around the arena panels. When I asked him to move closer, neared the round pen gate, walked on the back open field side, the knot of 'no thank you' was quivering. We got through, but it wasn't 'right'.
          Day Two, all I'd asked of Snicks was to stand at the gate, move his hind feet a step. I'd been working with him here at home, asking for patience standing at panels, moving his hindquarters, etc. But, it's not about the gate. It's about his feet. It's about connecting his feet and his mind to the reins. Peter gave me direction, which I tried to follow. Yet, it all fell apart in that sunny arena. Snickers ran through my legs, tossed his head, pranced around. Old habits are hard to quit, and I didn't do enough, allowed my horse to spin away (reliable in my inability to do what was required).
          Day Three Peter had us riding out of the arena, down a woodsy path, working on our feel and their feet. Snicks' bothered behaviors rose to the surface. By the end of the morning, he was sweated through as he finally relaxed, standing and breathing out deeply as each of the H1 participants walked past us to head back into the arena; but, from inside, that bubble lurked. After ending class, as I walked toward Snicks' pen, Peter asked to ride my horse in the afternoon.
          Hours later, Peter was still working. Watching my horse working so hard at the wrong thing, so uncertain, so sure that what Peter was offering couldn't be the real deal...Knowing that I'd put that into his guts...It's a tough thing to see.
          Peter talked as he worked (though there were long stretches of silence as there was simply too much going on), explaining that it didn't matter WHY the horse had those inner feelings but rather that the human directed the horse to the proper path.
          Still, as time after time my horse fought the offerings of the Master (and Peter will argue that term, but he truly is the real deal, the master of horsemanship, the one person who will never quit the horses' needs) I watched with teary eyes, feeling the angst. It mirrored my own turmoil. All of my pain, frustration, fear was being reflected in my horse. My brain went back to the afternoon of my Robbie's death, Snickers locked in the back stall of the trailer for hours as I sat on the concrete driveway howling, as sirens screamed and police and rescue vehicles arrived, as dozens of people arrived to try and much pain and roiling emotions and my horse locked in, feeling all of it.
          At one point, Peter released the class and spectators. He was going to be awhile. Owen wasn't in a spot he could be left at, and it might be midnight, or the morning, before Peter would be okay leaving off. Nobody left. The work continued. At least another hour or so later, Peter rode out of the arena to his trailer and the weight of the silence was powerful.
          That night at the potluck, I was spent, quiet, grateful, overwhelmed. My husband was worried. I understood, but couldn't explain. My PCH family, because truly these amazing friends are family, would walk by and place a hand on my shoulder or give a brief hug. Palpable support, understanding, and a sense of awe of the day's happenings.
         Day Four, Peter again rode Snicks. Yesterday's change shows up the next day. The morning proved to be better, but the bother was still there. It was after lunch, during the afternoon class when the clouds seemed to dissipate and Owen finally had his 'big day at the ranch.' His feet suddenly (not suddenly at all) moved. His mind was calm. Anyone watching would never have known this horse had ever had trouble.
          Owen was a horse with a job. Dally a colt? No problem. Move a colt from one end of the big sandy arena to the next? Easy. Spin around in tight circles like a reining horse? Pfft, watch this! Open and close gates? Of course, Peter!
          I watched it all from back of a nice little Haflinger. Peace settled into me. When Peter asked if I wanted to ride my horse I trotted over, mounted up (had my horse gotten even taller somehow?), and sat on a cloud. Gently grasping the reins, I was afraid to move, to undo what was happening. "Ride it like you own it!" Peter yelled, and I moved, floating on this brand new horse. Peter moved to sit outside the arena on the hill, giving directions. Beneath me, liquid gold flowed. No pushiness. A willing partner.
          "Back him an 1/8th and bring his front end around." Smooth. Easy. I rubbed my horse's neck and dropped my head down to his mane. Tears of joy and love and release threatened as I smiled into my horse's neck. Priceless. I will never be able to repay Peter for what he has given me and 'Owen'.

     Since returning home, my horse is different. He walks to his feeder, instead of running. Loading him to haul to Brighton yesterday morning to ride, he was quiet. Waiting in the trailer while I fueled up at a crowded Speedway, quietly standing, and I heard him sigh, relaxed, a couple times. During our ride, despite vicious deer flies and nearly 100% humidity, calm, fluid movement and willingness. When reloading to leave, Snicks stepped so big he brought his final foot under the trailer floor and he thumped it just above his hoof line. He lifted it, and I could almost hear him, "Dang! That hurt!" No running backward or freaking out. I asked him to move back and he responded, and then slow and quiet moved back into the trailer when asked. And he waited. No big deal, his expression said to me.
    This morning I'm heading out to ride in my pasture. I'm not anticipating problems, though riding here in the past has been quite a rodeo event. I know my horse can do it. I know it was never about the gate.
     I can't wait to see what I can do for my horse, as we continue our journey, as I count my blessings to be a part of the PCH Family, supported and encouraged by beautiful people who understand without explanation what this is all about.
     "Thank you" isn't enough, but I humbly and gratefully offer my thanks to all of you. Thank you for sticking by me. Thank you for 'getting it' and allowing me to work at the wrong thing in order to get my mind and feet aligned. My life would be so very different without you all in it.
     And now, I'm off to ride my willing partner and offer him my best, to give something I've never given to get something I've never had, and to learn from every opportunity.

***"Peter-ism's" are the sole property of PCH.  :)

***Photos are property of Ferguson Photography, Christine Ferguson photographer extraordinaire!

***Special thanks to Peter & Trina, Gail, Katie L., Diane, Tina, Sylvia, Paula, Beth, Dee, Cindy, Faye, Matilda, Christine, Brian and Paula, and everyone else I'm surely leaving out here because my brain is a colander these days! I didn't cry at the clinic, but writing this? You betcha! See, we live life twice, once in the doing, and again in the writing of it. In the writing, I am free to let it all out.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016


     Once upon a time, a young girl dreamed of being a writer. She imagined walking into a bookstore and lifting a novel from the shelf, seeing her name on the cover, her face in the author section. There would be author events, where folks would come and buy her book and she would be asked to sign and take pictures.
     Later, this girl dreamed bigger, imagining more than one book on shelves, possibly even a book accepted by a publishing company! She would be invited to talk to students, young readers and writers, to share her story and encourage young writers to be brave enough to tell their own tales.
     In her wildest dreams, the woman saw her own writing idol/mentor/motivator reading her novel, and greedily, also imagined hearing from said idol about the powerful story she'd written.
     These were my personal fairy tales, dreamed up and whispered about to my loving partner as we settled in at night's end.
     I still remember him nudging me to send in my first novel for self-publishing. "It's only your life long dream," he'd scolded. So, I did it. I hit send...and waited. Then, I worked my ass off for half a year in order to get it published.
     I still remember holding the first proof copy in my hands, a solid book, my name on the cover beside an orange poppy. He took my picture, and I didn't care that I wore not a lick of make-up. I plastered that picture everywhere! One of my proudest moments!
     Standing in a packed and crowded Bestseller's that summer at the Flowers for Rodney debut was surreal. My young girl's dreams were playing out, and I pinched myself to be sure I wasn't going to wake up surrounded by my childhood menagerie of stuffed animals, still dreaming; but, it was real.
     Fast forward to my second novel, They Said She Was Crazy, picked up by Tate Publishing, including my picture and author page. Bringing an inscribed copy with me to Manhattan, New York for Book Riot Live 2015, I nervously awaited my chance to give my (unbeknownst to her) writing idol, Laurie Halse Anderson, what I consider my most powerful piece of writing to date. It was more than I could have dreamed. Her eyes teared up, there were hugs and thanks, and I floated away...and waited.
     Over the next six months I posted gentle nudges, reminders, pleas to LHA: 'Just wondering if you've had a chance...', 'Long flight to China might be a great time to read...', etc. I didn't want to harass, but I so wanted her to read my work. Of course, I wondered, what if she'd already read it but hadn't commented because she didn't like it? Plus, I didn't want to become someone that my 'BFF' felt the need to avoid, so I continued waiting, and quit worrying.
     As the adage states, a watched pot never boils. Last Friday I came inside and casually checked my phone. Without thinking, I clicked on 'Messenger', read the new message. Reread. Reminded myself to breathe. There, on my screen, upper right corner, 'Laurie Halse...' As if I needed her full name? She'd read my novel. She thanked me for sharing. She wrote that it was 'devastating and powerful.' My idol read my book! She thanked ME! She described it as powerful!
     I'm not quite sure it's truly sunk in yet, or that I've taken a full, deep lungful of air since last week. What I do know, is that sometimes dreams really do come true. What I wonder is, what the hell am I supposed to do now? When something seen as so ridiculously out of reach happens, what's the next step? I've been pondering that since seeing that message on my phone. It was scary, actually, thinking of future goals. Now that some of mine have happened, it seems more important to create new dreams for myself.
     Once upon a time, a fifty-something woman dreamed...and dreamed some more...

Sunday, June 19, 2016


     Holidays lean toward the difficult level on my survivor scale, though Father's Day hasn't usually set me off. Usually...a ridiculous term when describing the path of grief.

     I woke this morning, feeling the room spinning when I rolled over to check the time. Hangover impossible, since no alcohol has entered my system in awhile. Settling in, taking a few breaths, a migraine approach seemed possible; perhaps a flu bug, as last night an aching beneath skin level appeared. It passed. I rose, tentative, but moving.

     Since my own father was on the road, traveling home after a southern visit, I called and chatted, wishing him, of course, a happy day. Learning postpartum, so to speak, of a 90th birthday celebration, where 'there was quite a crowd' of long since seen relatives, I felt myself begin the slide down into Funky Town. Not the Funky Town of my college years, swiveling and gyrating gleefully on the dance floors, but my New Normal's Funky Town.

     "Just keep swimming," as Dory reminds us, so I decided to reorganize my writing room, which used to be Robbie's room. (Yes, I know. I hear your sighs and eye rolls even as you read of this well thought out choice.) Since painting the living room, all the pictures have been stacked on the large book shelf now relegated to my "Writing Room." I began at the top, wiping off the dust, quickly making choices of which pile each should be placed upon: Give to Katie, put up in living room, or put up in Writing Room.

     Of course, this was a bad decision. Of course, I should know better than to browse pictures once the trip down the oiled slip-n-slide has started. Of course, I picked up one framed photo after the next.

Katie's six month old montage of red velvet dress poses should go to her, as should her softball team composite. But, what of Robbie's baseball picture? I've always hung them together, one more memory held beneath glass between oak stained frames. They'd hung on my hallway wall for nine years, yet the idea of hammering nails and replacing them overwhelms me now. 

Robbie's baby face, his soft blue, striped Snoopy onesie, fuzzy hair haloing his punkin' can it hurt so much to see this now? I've walked past it dozens, even hundreds of times, touched my fingers to his beautiful face. Smiled. Moved on and finished my day.

     My 3 stacks were quickly obsolete as memories flashed with each photograph. Frame after frame went into the bottom of the bookshelf instead, where I can close the doors and deal with them later...or never perhaps. I hear my counselor telling me, of course it hurts. To not hurt we need to take away all of the love. Never! Y
et, moments like this, when my heart is freshly breaking, wringing my guts, angry tears making me blind...moments like this beg for relief. No one can comfort this pain, ease the ache of a mother missing her only son.

     So all the pictures of my son, for now, remain stacked neatly and safely. I know they're there. I don't know how long it might be, before I am able to watch the videos, peruse the albums, or hang up the pictures.

     What I do know, is that I don't have to have answers to these questions today, or tomorrow, or until I'm ready.

     For today, hanging prints and artwork will be enough. Writing, will be enough. Robbie understands, and that will be enough for today.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Final "Normal" Day

     Six years ago tonight, I went to sleep knowing my children were safe. Six years ago tonight was my final night of normal, of breathing deeply without pause, of sleeping without wishing for more. I had no way of knowing any of this at the time, of course; nonetheless, my life has taken on a new sense of normal in six years time.
     Tomorrow marks the sixth year without my son's smile to greet me. Now, it is only in my dreams, memories and pictures that I glimpse his shining brown eyes and light up the room smile. It is still too much for me to watch my videos, delve into the scenes of my young, chubby faced son, hear his giggles and see him teasing his sister, my daughter, who misses him as close to my loss as anyone else can come.
     For a number of reasons, or perhaps for no reason at all, this year has seemed harder than others without my Robbie. They are all hard, heartbreaking, terrible to bear...yet, the past six weeks have wrung me dry, twisted in new ways, leaving me bereft and broken anew.
     Tonight, I purposefully attended a Yin/meditation session. New place. New people. "Throw yourself in, let go completely, and find your center." I know. My husband gave me 'the look' when I told him my plans. Charging through my turmoil and fears, I went to Ardha Moon Yoga and let myself fall, and breathe, and weep. My muscles stretched and my heart expanded.
     As the instructor knelt at my head, scented oils on her fingers, rubbing my forehead and aiding my release, I knew it was the right path. There is no hiding from this grief. There is only forgiving myself for fearing another year, another day, another breath in a world without Robbie.
     So, tonight I go to sleep knowing what tomorrow holds, facing one more day, and hoping that he will visit my dreams, bring me peace, and let me know in some way that he is still watching over me.

     Sweet dreams...

Monday, May 9, 2016


     Today, one week away from another year. Will the six year mark be harder, easier, or different in some measurable way from the last five death-iversary dates? Perhaps I will be swooped by hawks, covered in double rainbows, swarmed by beautiful butterflies, and see #34 in new and unusual places. Perhaps there will be none of those things, but Robbie will still be with me despite being gone.

     Recently at Mason's Spring Fling, I was moving past a table when I noticed my novel, They Said She Was Crazy, on a table next to a sign that said 'Books that I Recommend.' Obviously, I stopped, commented, and took a picture. 'ORACLE' the booth stated, and when I looked closer noticed a woman in the midst of reading another woman's cards. She was familiar, but not well known to me.
     As my brain searched for the connection, she looked up, smiled at me and said:

"Oh! You! I knew I was going to see you here today! Robbie told me I would be talking to you."

     Yep. 'Robbie said'. And there I was; crying, my amazing husband leading me to sit in a chair and wait to speak to BeBe. What she told me was nothing I didn't already know, but such a welcome and unexpected reminder of how much my son connects with people here in my small town.

     Over the last two weeks I have unexpectedly and rather miraculously run into many numerous former students, received surprising emails from strangers, and had the honor of speaking to teens about the power of our stories. Again, I'm sure these meetings are my sweet boy, making sure I'm okay, that I am reminded in this most anxious time of the year for me, that my emotions are not wasted, that we all matter in this chain of love and life.

     Remember, that your words have the power to change the world...whether it's one person's world, your community's, or a nation's. Be kind. Notice. Interact. Challenge depression. Engage. We can never know what others are carrying. Let your words be the difference. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kristine E. Brickey Interview



     Today has been one of those days where I feel tears threatening at the strangest times. Sitting in my classroom, one of my sweet eighth grade girls is falling apart, asks to sit out awhile. Checking in a bit later, I just hold her hand, let her know that her feelings count, her reactions are real and necessary. She returns part way through class, smiles at me on her way back to 'normal', our secret safe between us.
     That's the thing with loss and sadness and living past despair that wants to eat you alive and tear you apart. It's always hovering, breathing hot steamy moments into a day that seems harmless to anyone nearby.
    Maybe it was that girl's need that sparked my own memories. Maybe it was the email from a stranger, sharing a connection with not being able to visit her stepfather's gravesite. Maybe it was the sunshine that my Robbie loved to soak up from his vantage point on the garage rooftop. Maybe, just maybe it was nothing.
     Listening to 'Pink' as I write this evening from a new perspective above Bestseller's Books and Coffee in Mason, tears threaten to spill over. I push them away. I listen to my amazing writers share their powerful, personal words and I am again fighting tears. My fingers fly across the laptop, creating a character strong enough to embrace the death of her abuser and fight for her future in unconventional and creative ways. Still, the tears are close.
     Sitting amidst my high school writers does not push the imminent grief burst away. These young adult writers know me too well. They have made me cry, laugh while crying, out loud and silently at different times with our sharing and bonding through the power of our words.
     So, I will get through another unconventional Mason Writes! session with my lovelies. I will probably make it tear free until I drive home. Then, in the dark five minutes it takes me to reach my safe haven, I will let the tears flow. I will miss my boy, seen so often in different faces and glimpsed for a moment or less in the faces of these 'kids' that I love so much.
     Embrace the weepy bursts of grief. They matter. They heal.

Monday, March 21, 2016


     When Curt Smith contacted me about writing an article I was thrilled. After an hour interview, I was still excited but also worried. Emotions were brought up, roiling around inside me again after talking to Mr. Smith about my beautiful Robbie.
     However, today the article showed up online, and I am so glad that I toughed it out and followed through with this opportunity. As I stood in line at Starbuck's, I read the piece, cried as I remembered, sobbed at what my friend, Tammy had shared, and smiled as I finished. Hard. Tough. Important. Someone will pause. Someone will understand. Someone will be angered, but that's because they're not ready, not there yet, too raw or hurt or in denial.

Link to LSJ article:

     It's only been a few hours, I'm still in Detroit participating at MRA 2016 at Cobo, and I've received numerous emails from people sharing appreciation, asking for more information about how to live beyond suicide, and wanting They Said She Was Crazy as soon as possible.

     Please read the article, read the book, contact me, ask for help, share a smile and a story and a kind word.

     I look forward to more email and communication from readers. You matter to me. We all matter.

Feeling blessed,

Kristine E. Brickey