What They Were Told

What They Were Told—Detroit 1967

So here it is, the first story in my finally! Completed draft of Dispatches from Detroit.  I’ve got a few readers who are giving me some feedback, but then I’m hoping to pitch the collection to be published in book form! Thanks for reading! -eLisa

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No Organic Allowed

10 13 No Organic Allowed

Stealing Time Volume 1 Issue 3 Spring 2013 Quarterly Review by Holly Zemsta

Stealing Time is a magazine for, about, and by parents. When I discovered its existence, I was immediately intrigued, yet wary as well. Would it have an angle, an agenda to promote? Would it rise above the content of most parenting magazines out there? Thankfully, the answers are no and yes. Stealing Time lives up to its mission statement: “To provide a venue for quality literary content about parenting: no guilt, no simple solutions, no mommy wars.” Published quarterly, with an additional annual issue on pregnancy and childbirth, the magazine features a theme for each issue, this issue’s being “Relations.” Like the magazine’s take on parenting itself, the theme seems open to interpretation, which I found to be a positive thing.

 

My favorite piece in the magazine is Lisa Sinnett’s “No Organic Allowed,” a story that begins as a deceptively simple day in the life of a woman in Detroit. Elisa has just dug her car out after a blizzard so she can take her two small children to the supermarket. She needs to go because she has just received her WIC coupons and they are desperate for food. The conflict of the story comes when the cashier refuses to let her purchase organic cheese, despite the fact that it’s on sale and is the same price as regular, WIC-approved cheese. As the people behind her grumble and the cashier and manager treat her with barely veiled contempt, Elisa remains calm, even when her toddler ends up wetting her clothes. After leaving, she returns home to find the parking spot she labored to clear taken by someone else, yet she still manages to find hope in the nearby pine tree that is “still living, growing, and rooted in its own space.” The story is a heartbreaking, human look into the reality of poverty.

Stealing Time also features wonderful black-and-white photography that serves as the perfect backdrop to each of the pieces. I enjoyed almost all the work in the magazine, and I felt that this is a quality addition to the lit mag world that anyone, parent or not, would enjoy reading. It’s a thoughtful look at the world of parenting, but with a broad enough lens that everyone is included.

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Update: Elegy for Our Home in Detroit

I am overwhelmed with the response from people who have read “Elegy for Our Home in Detroit.’ Thank you for you many comments and kind words, it is very encouraging.  If you would like to ask me any questions about the story, please comment here, message me on Facebook (elisasinnett) or write me an email at elisasinnett at yahoo dot com dot mx or lisaannesinnett at gmail dot com. 

I’ve discovered that there are a lot of us out there. There are many people who are documenting what is being done to our cities, and many people who are being pushed out with gentrification. There are others who are pushing back, so right now I am going to tell you the names of one person who is documenting this in Detroit. Her name is Elena Herrada and she is on Facebook. She writes a letter to Beloved Detroit every night, telling the truth about what the forces are doing to people and how she is pushing back. Ariel Gore, founder of www.hipmamazine.com has been mentoring this story for the last six years, because some things are really hard to say, and take a long time to write, and Ariel has midwifed many writers’ stories that need to be told over the past twenty years.

I will post more links to people on this page as I learn more about people’s work, so make sure to check back if you want to learn more.

Elegy for Our Home in Detroit is classified as fiction because some of the details were compressed in time. For example, in the story, I lose the house in about two paragraphs, and it was more drawn out than that, but I will be addressing some of the stories hinted at but not told in my collection Dispatches From Detroit.  The manuscript is complete and in an editing phase. I have as yet decided whether to independently publish it, or to seek a book contract with an established publisher.

Thank you so much, eLisa Anne Sinnett

 

photos of my daughters published with their permission

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Elegy for our Home: Detroit

Here’s the link to the original published story of our exodus from Detroit:

http://hipmamazine.com/elegy-for-our-home-in-detroit/

 Hipmamazine.com

Dyani larkins 11-08 snazzy blazer

Dyani Armijo Sinnett The year we had to move

Elegy for our Home: Detroit: Reprint Originally Published at Hipmamazine.com

I’m sorry if I seem a little scattered since the invasion of Detroit; I’ve lost a few things, and if you can find them, will you send them my way? Two peach trees, one pear tree, one plum tree, five rose bushes, one fairy door, one swing set, used, one play scape, pirates and adventurers since moved on, one mural, and yes, what I really want back are those years. It was all eternity, but now we have been displaced. In the house that you live in, in the city you declare bankrupt, in the school system you have dismantled, you have stolen our memories.

I miss my home. I grieve the house we lived in when the children were small, the rooms they pulled their stuffed animals through by a long ear or a string, the marks on the door frame to show how they’ve grown, once a year in pen, because we were never going to leave.

The neighbor girl, Iztlali, painted the dining room a soft green and it resembles a room from a magazine, with the bronze chandelier and the long white curtains, but then I put in the toys, and art supplies and a rug. It becomes a place of ever-changing landscapes, and there Maria and Nereida spend hours; they sing, dress up, marry each other, and their stuffed animals become involved in long fairy stories from bright picture books.

The best days are the days after the trial when Cesar has been released and has already gone away to Honduras. Those moments are the sweetest, when the evening is hushed.

Soon, it will be time to lay Maria and Nereida down in their toddler beds, in the room with the mural that Itzlali painted. Fairy creatures from Mexico come alive at night and bring the girls into a nighttime world populated with one-eyed birds and bright colored flowers the size of their heads. “Mami, sing us another song,” the girls say, and I do, the one about the coyote.

And perhaps snowflakes fall from the sky, and Detroit quiets; my bedroom looks out onto the backyard, where the snow covers the play scape, the fruit trees, the garden fence.

Maybe I hear the back door open and shut, and the family that lives upstairs pop their heads in through the kitchen door; Patrice and her two children, Juan and Salome.

“I’ll get the kids up to bed,” she says. And soon my housemate and friend from the old neighborhood comes down the stairs, and we share coffee, or a drink, and whisper plans for our children, dreams for things we are going to do. She shows me her timeline to quit the Detroit EMS and become a midwife; I promise to look into classes to get my teaching certificate. Maybe we can get the kids into that new art school.

At night the Detroit sky still flames red in brilliant sunsets from the upstairs back porch, and the trees grow peaches and pears and plums in the summer, and the roses the Lithuanian woman planted wind through the fences in a pink, white and red barricade. I pick two-dozen red roses on the last day of school in the Migrant Center where I am the teaching assistant, and give each graduating mother a rose for completing the ESL course. But at the end of the year, we are all laid off and we have to re-interview for our own jobs.

I wear my mother’s clothes to the interview, a long, two-piece sweater dress with low-heeled loafers. I miss her. They still smell like her, lavender and fresh sheets. I resemble a round owl with tortoiseshell glasses, not even curvaceous, just round.

As I walk in I feel a chill invading my body. The principal interviewing me is an iguana, his tongue slips in and out of his moist lips. The union representative at the meeting exchanges a look with the principal, lifts his eyebrows. When I leave, past the large glass windows of the interview room, I can see their heads bent together. The secretary, a woman my age dressed in a tight leather pantsuit and 4-inch heels walks into the room. The men smile at her. She asks a question, or says something, and they laugh. I don’t get the job and everyone in our center is replaced by a Teach for America Volunteer.

I find a job where I fit in. I work at Wendy’s; the smock is blue and white, and it makes me look slimmer. My coworkers don’t look down on me, and because of my freckles, some of them even call me Wendy. I’m one of the fastest cashiers, they say. “That’s pretty good,” I say. There is no history, just me, tying on my blue and white headscarf in the bathroom at Wendy’s hamburgers.

I can make change by counting backwards, so I know if the computer is wrong. I never needed a calculator to do math. I can just open the cash register with a key and count out the change; since I can do math fast in my head it also means I get the best shifts. When the line is nine deep, I like to catch someone’s eyes in the back line, see their hungry look, and watch their surprise when they get all the way up to the front in no time. It also means I get to talk to whole football teams, people who would never talk to me when I was in high school — they are filled with gratitude when they get their orders.

Square beef slabs, pink and plump, stacked on their paper squares line the walk-in shelves until it’s time to carry them over to the grill. I know how to work every station, the register, the grill, the Frosty machine, the fryers, and the cleanup stations– pots and pans, mopping, scrubbing the bricks, vacuuming. Window washing. My apron is caked with grease when I work the grill, and when I close the restaurant I have sweated and cooled down so many times throughout my shift I feel like an athlete, both spent and high on endorphins.

The giant stainless steel lettuce chopper is the only machine that I edge away from. I told my bosses all those shiny little blades were too much for me. I wanted to see what my arm would look like chopped into little squares; I’ve always liked blades. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that out loud. Maybe that’s why I’ve never made Manager, even though I said, “Just kidding!”

How do I lose the house? It happens in stages. Wendy’s doesn’t pay that well, and Cesar is back, and in and out of the house; I can’t get him to move out. Then, one night,

Cesar starts a fight in the bar; two guys drag him outside, throw him down on the ground and start kicking him in the head. His cousin stabs one of the guys, and is arraigned with attempted murder. His cousin saved Cesar’s life; I take the money out of the house to pay for the lawyer and his cousin’s freedom. But I am finally able to tell Cesar to go to hell, and he mostly stays away. I think he’s met someone. Zubayda. They move back to Cesar’s family farm in Honduras. That’s what I hear from his cousins.

Then the storm rips half of the roof off, and the house loan pays for the contractor that fixes the roof, but he doesn’t fix it. Kent threatens to kill me when I try to get my money back. Don’t ever use Kent’s roofing in Detroit. Fuck you Kent. Your dad is rolling over in his grave for what you did to his business, you mother fucker.

“Your kids like to play in the backyard, don’t they?” he says. And the next day, the back gate is missing from the yard. And so the house loan pays for a new gate, and bars on the window, and another guy, a neighbor to slap some tar on the roof to hold it together for the winter, and a floor and ceiling for the upstairs kitchen, ruined by the roof that Kent built. It’s like Stephen King started writing nursery stories and implanting them into people’s yards in Detroit, and you can’t return the book back to the library, because the library’s been burnt down.

There’s always a place for money to go, until I start having to buy the food with the credit card again, because one thing about Cesar being in Honduras, is that he’s in Honduras, not here, and the girls need shoes and winter coats.

So we get behind, and then we get behind some more. Patrice, who rents the upstairs rooms, gives birth to Emma, and then Patrice moves out to the east side into her new boyfriend’s place. Things just fall apart little by little. My house goes to someone with 17,000 to spare. I’m not allowed to buy my house for 17,000, but someone can. The couple is bright eyed with glee. The woman laughs and takes a picture of the sales price. “You have to post that, they won’t believe what a steal they can get here,” he says. He didn’t pronounce the ‘r’; they’re not from around here. They barely glance at me.

I start selling the furniture little by little. The one-bedroom apartment we can rent in the town just north of Detroit doesn’t have room for all of the bookshelves and dressers. I keep the table from the house I grew up in, the one we made with dad, and the girl’s bunk beds. I keep mom’s blue mixing bowl, and the girls’ art supplies and dress up clothes. As I pack the last box in the truck, I sniff new adventure too.

The girls are bewildered by the silence in the suburbs. They learn how to cross the street. They learn how to ride their bikes. They are ten and twelve when we move out of Detroit, and their babyhood is gone, forever in the house on Larkins Street, on the dead-end block where we climbed down onto the freeway with jugs of water for the truckers the day the traffic stopped and the power grid went out on the entire Eastern Seaboard.

I want to write a new history for myself. I do not know the name of my great-grandmother. It is as if a giant hand deposited us here, lifted from the nothing, a myth of a place over the ocean; always within a few miles of the narrow place in the river called Detroit.

Michigan, from space, is in the shape of a mitten; it is a left hand. Left handed like me, and the narrow strait of Detroit curves around what would be the thumb joint, the rest of the state is filled with trees and people who are sure that Jesus is white and wants us to bomb the infidels. The talking heads on the TV say that what happens now is what matters, and what came before is nobody’s fault who is alive today, and we should forget it.

I look in the mirror to see if there are answers to the history written there, but I see nothing. If I stare at myself long enough my eyes will start to scare me. I believe there is something you can see in eyes, and that is what we see into other people, but myself? I keep seeing an attic room behind me filled with trunks and boxes, things of value peeping out: velvet, wooden, and silver, entire rooms, lifetimes of treasures, carried over from other places and other times, carried in the hold of ships, treasures stolen from the manor houses, traded in exchange for safe passage to another place. This room is full of stolen pickings.

I would have lost the house anyway; I am glad that the one peach tree still bears fruit. The new couple that lives there tore down the playhouse and built a fire pit. I drove through the alley just to see; it was dusk. They took the pear tree out too, and laid cement down. I stepped out of my car and I could hear laughing. I peered around the garage and the new bike shed. I smelled a strong odor of weed. They have painted over the graffiti on the garage, and the tall grass and the grape vines are gone. I wonder what would happen if I introduced myself to them. If I told them that they are standing on hallowed ground; it used to belong to us, and we to it. I know that this story has happened to people over and over again in history, that the owners will never see who I really am, through the smoke of their campfire. But there is a bigger universe than I can see, and what happens down here doesn’t alter that. The change has already happened, and there is enough to remind me of this under the moon, and in the morning below the day blind stars. But, I miss my home. I miss the baskets of peaches in the summer, and the long days on the back porch, when my children were small.

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Soldado Hermano

One of the Quakers at Meeting on Sunday told of a Liberian child soldier that he met that is now doing peacemaking in American schools. I started thinking of when I was volunteering at the Detroit Windsor Refugee Coalition, and one of the refugees couldn’t sleep and talked to me all night. I am not much for poetry, but this is how the journal entry came out.

Soldado Hermano-Brother Soldier

 

Gregorio

I saw your face again today

a different world

a different time

far flung into the future

from when I first saw you

 

You walked at times with a military cadence

as if you were still a soldier

conscripted from your school bus

on your fourteenth birthday

 

You escaped when your battalion

El Atlacatl was clearing and burning a path

north to Honduras

you ran before the flames

a shadow, hidden in smoke

maybe your comrades thought

you disappeared in the fire

but you melted into

the Morazon hills.

 

How you made it to Canada’s border

you didn’t tell

but in fits and starts you

confessed to what was required

of the black-shaded soldiers

of las fuerzas armadas salvadoreñas

 

I closed my yellow pad and stopped writing

There would be no asylum application now

but you couldn’t stop talking

the picnic table was our confessional booth

the back porch our church

at some point when the lights on the Ambassador Bridge to Canada were replaced by Detroit’s slate gray predawn sky

I fell asleep

 

in the morning you were gone

and I prayed that you would be

free and transparent

light as a bird.

 

Gregorio

I saw you tonight.

this time you were a polite American teenager listening to music with his father

at a park in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

you said excuse me when you passed by

 

I saw your eyes again

your face,

your bones

there were no shadows

no ghosts

no murdered friends

 

You were as I dreamed you

prayed you

hold you still.

 

 

 

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You are a Writer!

writing.jpg

 

 

This is a fantastic reminder of what we need to do to keep ourselves on point as writers. What we say does matter! And Lynn Shattuck’s encouragement is worth the read. Just in case you don’t have time to read it because you are a busy mom and are doing laundry today, here’s the gist of it.

1. Write

2. With others

3. Submit

4. and celebrate other writers when you find something great to share!

So Lynn, great advice, you say it so much better, so here it is: click on the link below for some encouraging words.

 

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/10/4-things-we-must-do-to-be-writers/

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Toast

My children don’t eat toast, and please don’t go off and tell me that I have to offer it to them 15 times before they will stop turning their noses away. This theory of what ever it’s called when you offer a kid spinach fifteen times. I know there’s a name for that like aversion therapy, no, fuck, that’s what they do in the psychology clinic where I signed up for the paid trials when I needed some cash in college. Whatever. My babies do not eat toast. They do not eat peanut butter. And the ‘babies’ are teens now, and I have failed nearly completely in teaching them to eat one of the all-time cheap foods for the masses.  The in-between jobs moms, and the underemployed moms offer the toast and jam for breakfast. Mom earns the Silver Star, at least they ate something. They do not eat peanut butter. They do not eat fried peanut butter sandwiches, one of the staples of my childhood. No also to fried bologna packman smileys, spam, powdered milk and/or potato flakes, canned green beans and anything else from the commodity food box.

During the time when I was on unemployment, not speaking to my family, or floundering around in an upstairs flat, steps in the back, no driveway, carrying toddlers, spending all my spare money on babysitters and rebuying the same five hundred dollar car ….I did not get my kids to enthusiastically eat the easy to prepare food standards for toddlers. It’s not so easy now.

At least they eat tortillas, but that involves standing over the stove and burning my fingers for at least for ten minutes, it involves finding enough Tupperware to pack with rice and beans only to find it moldering in a backpack a week later, and to fill out the reduced/free lunch form for the girl who won’t eat anything but the school lunch.

Oh, I forgot to mention. These girls will eat bread. An entire baguette from the day old bread section, three pieces of fry bread at the powwow– anything that ends in an –o or and –a involving a tortilla—burrito, quesadilla, taco, or a fried piece of bread with the middle cut out and an egg fried in the middle—a sneaky egg, and then, when I give up on the whole cooking thing—anything with bread as the main ingredient in the refrigerator case in the save-a-lot, or the always there five dollar cheese pizza from the Little Caesars’s. But til this day, my girls, one of whom now drives, cannot make a piece of toast or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

* Editor’s note. My seventeen year old has spoken to me about grammar, run on sentences, and the identity of her breakfast–toast with avocado.

 

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Lisa’s First Review Shout Out to Stealing Time by New Words

STM3_Relations_SinnettStealing Time Volume 1 Issue 3 Spring 2013 Quarterly Review by Holly Zemsta Stealing Time is a magazine for, about, and by parents. When I discovered its existence, I was immediately intrigued, yet wary as well. Would it have an angle, an agenda to promote? Would it rise above the content of most parenting magazines out there? Thankfully, the answers are no and yes. Stealing Time lives up to its mission statement: “To provide a venue for quality literary content about parenting: no guilt, no simple solutions, no mommy wars.” Published quarterly, with an additional annual issue on pregnancy and childbirth, the magazine features a theme for each issue, this issue’s being “Relations.” Like the magazine’s take on parenting itself, the theme seems open to interpretation, which I found to be a positive thing.

The opening editor’s essay, “Built By Hand” by Sarah Gilbert, kicks off the theme of relations by discussing the strained relationship she and her husband have with his side of the family. After three decades of tension, communication begins to trickle in from various relatives, including her estranged father-in-law. Having only been in contact with her mother-in-law’s relatives, Gilbert finds the wealth of new information enlightening: “This was where my boys’ strong hearts and problem-solving brains had come from. . . . This was how my youngest could run two miles without stopping at almost my pace.” No easy miracles occur, however. She is unable to let go of her anger toward those she blames for the family rift: “I want to let my anger die away to ash, but this new half a family kindles both my sense of pride in my boys’ heritage and my wrath. I let it smolder.”

Fiction and nonfiction pieces continue along these lines. Jason Squamata’s nonfiction piece “A Noir Aspect” details a relationship that doesn’t work out, seemingly for the best—the narrator seems somewhat unprepared for a life with a woman who has a three-year-old child. One gets a secondhand sense of the difficulties of dating for single parents: “I worried for [the child] and felt guilt over the confusion my love affair with his mother had brought into his world.” Jackson Connor’s “Limited Spiritual Access” describes the difficulty of being a stepfather in a Mormon family. Despite helping to raise his wife’s four children (and having their own child together), the author notes that “only the first marriage in Mormon culture is eternal.” But despite a persistent feeling of being on the outside looking in, by the end of the essay he comes to understand his own role in their lives. “Snow and Coffee,” a story by Bhaswati Ghosh, follows the life of Aruna, an Indian woman who moves to Toronto with the assurance that her husband will follow within the year. Nine years later, she is still alone save for her son, whom she struggles to support by working in an Indian restaurant in a nearby shopping plaza. After years of experience as a journalist in India, Aruna had been confident she would obtain the same type of job in Canada, and the story is a bleak vision of what must befall many immigrants. Yet it ends hopefully; her relationship with her son is solid and healthy, and Aruna learns to cope with her single parent status and find her own self again.

The magazine’s poems are a little more loosely centered around the “relations” theme, probably necessarily so. “Wolves Eat Children” by Heather Bell delves into the death of a child: “. . . And so I am here to tell you what the doctors // will not: that when you lose a baby, you will feel like a Nazi and the sadness will fill // the room quietly on stilts, hovering at the ceiling. . . .” Kristin Camitta Zimet’s “Choker” goes to the other end of the spectrum, beginning with a child tasked with untangling her mother’s choker necklace and ending with a different type of necklace as the mother dies: “. . . Your arms raise an O, / clasping my neck as you go out for good.” And in Changming Yuan’s “Codicil to Allen Qing Yuan,” the narrator entreats her son to inter her remains on the Internet: “In an e/cask, and send it / To a site that will / Never be on hiatus.”

My favorite piece in the magazine is Lisa Sinnett’s “No Organic Allowed,” a story that begins as a deceptively simple day in the life of a woman in Detroit. Elisa has just dug her car out after a blizzard so she can take her two small children to the supermarket. She needs to go because she has just received her WIC coupons and they are desperate for food. The conflict of the story comes when the cashier refuses to let her purchase organic cheese, despite the fact that it’s on sale and is the same price as regular, WIC-approved cheese. As the people behind her grumble and the cashier and manager treat her with barely veiled contempt, Elisa remains calm, even when her toddler ends up wetting her clothes. After leaving, she returns home to find the parking spot she labored to clear taken by someone else, yet she still manages to find hope in the nearby pine tree that is “still living, growing, and rooted in its own space.” The story is a heartbreaking, human look into the reality of poverty.

Stealing Time also features wonderful black-and-white photography that serves as the perfect backdrop to each of the pieces. I enjoyed almost all the work in the magazine, and I felt that this is a quality addition to the lit mag world that anyone, parent or not, would enjoy reading. It’s a thoughtful look at the world of parenting, but with a broad enough lens that everyone is included.?[stealingtimemag.com

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Literary Kitchen Quick Write: Something You Made

Junk

Junk

Here is one of the great secrets of our times. Lisa cannot do things with her hands. Puppets without eyes, toy boats banged together with nails head straight to the bottom of the drainage backup puddle, corn that was fried not boiled, caked onto the bottom of a cast iron pan, these things were strewn across my childhood like the parts of a many limbed artists doll model crushed in the driveway. I was much better at disassembling. Debbie Dominguez and I would cruise the streets of our neighborhood in Northwest Detroit on our bicycles, looking for interesting garbage to pull into pieces, washing machines and stoves were pulled apart, bright wires and dials our booty. Leaking bean bags were completely cut open, and we looked for treasures inside like they were a box of Cracker Jacks. We found broken watches, thermostats, kitchen items that no longer worked. I wish I could tell you that we discovered that we knew how to put the pieces of these abandoned objects back together and sold them at a sidewalk lemonade stand. We didn’t. We tore the machine apart, but we elected not to make it whole. We left it there to rust behind our garages, not important enough to rage against.

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No Organic Allowed

Read the Story Here! 

No Organic Allowed

I have made a commitment to stop being an indifferent blogger, and start posting again. Yes, so I’ll start with the good news.

It’s my birthday! And while I will not tell you how old I am, I will tell you, I have never been this old, and I am glad to be here. The other bit of good news is that my story “No Organic Allowed” has been published in the May Issue of  Stealing Time, a Parenting  Magazine.

My writing has been recognized before, but this was my first professional fiction piece and I am pretty excited about it.   They have graciously allowed me to publish this all over the place so that more people will hear about Stealing Time, A Parenting Magazine.

Enjoy the story, and consider sending a link to this page to people you know who are parenting at any age. Also please consider subscribing to Stealing Time, they are a good bunch of people, after all, they picked my story. It’s an actual magazine that you hold in your hands, not just on the screen. Thanks for reading! Print Lives!

This story is dedicated to Nora and Dyani who were there, and for all the parents who are seeing beauty in their lives, even when it’s hard. 

 

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