Sex Spread


Within seconds of the lights going out at my first slumber party, a voice in the dark said, “Stephanie, do you know how people do it?’”  It was the fifties and I was eleven.  I didn’t have a clue what ‘doing it’ meant.  Until that night, my fantasies were about being the fastest bike rider in the neighborhood.  But fevered whispers meant there was shame in my innocence.

“Have you ever seen a naked man,” the twelve year old hostess whispered.  My belly filled with hollow dread.

“Sure,” I said, as nonchalantly as possible. “My little brother, all the time, and once my dad, but that was by accident.”

“Well, then you already know what a weeny is,” she said.   Terrified of what was coming next, I covered my head with the blanket.  She continued.  “When a man and woman do it, it’s exactly like putting a hot dog in a bun.”

Totally, blindsided, that was enough initiation for one evening.  When they spoke again, I pretended to sleep.  Lurid visions of body parts and questions about why anyone would want to do that to themselves or others consumed me.  For the rest of the night, an uncooked wiener in a white bun floated across my mind’s eye.

In the morning, I left for home on foot, giving myself time to make a plan for what to do with this new knowledge.  First, I thought, repeat hot dog in a bun often enough that it can be said with authority.  Second, seek out campfires and other activities involving the dark.  Then, do what was done to me: drop this bomb on the naive and unsuspecting, as in, my siblings.



IMG.jpeg                                                       Yours truly in the third grade

Born into a family of unusual names, or so I proudly felt in my early years, none of us ever had to concern ourselves with others possessing the same fore or last names.  My parents, Sol and Jacqueline Urdang, named us Stephanie, Melanie, Nathan, and Gretchen, in that order.

In the third grade, a few weeks after the beginning of school, without understanding her impact on my vanity, a friend at lunch said, “There’s a new girl and her name is Stephanie.”

“No, there’s not,” I said, naively confident since I’d never before met another.

“Oh, yes there is, and she has long black hair all the way down to her waist.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said, staring at the floor of the cafeteria.

“Whether you believe me or not, it’s true.  She’s from California and her hair is beautiful.”

“What’s her last name?” I had a bad haircut but I knew for sure she was not an Urdang.

“Shush, here she comes.”  I saw the blanket of glistening hair swinging in the wake of the new girl, and so did everyone else.  At eight years old, she was a force of nature.  My friend turned in the direction of my ear and whispered. “Stephanie Cassandra.”  I left the cafeteria furious at I didn’t know what.

The third grade was many decades ago and since then, I’m relieved to say I have met a few Stephanie’s without one ego collapse.  The latest was in October of this year.  I was at a doctor’s office and when I heard my name being called, as I followed a Latino girl in her thirties to her desk, she looked over her shoulder and said,  “My name is Stephanie too.”

“Oh,” I said, “what a nice coincidence.”

We sat at her desk as she was filling out papers to prepare me for my time with the doctor.  Without asking if I even had any siblings, she said, “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Melanie,”  I said, purposely avoiding mentioning Gretchen because she died twelve years ago of smoke inhalation.  Memories and words on the subject don’t come easily, especially to a stranger.  Stephanie didn’t respond so I said, “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Gretchen,”  she answered.

#36: Endings and Beginnings


When all was said and done and my mother got ready to depart from a gathering, with every inch of her six foot skeleton, she’d stand and announce, “Well, it’s been real.”

After 36 weeks of collaborating with Marissa Bridge on the Silent Journey, the naked stem signifies the moment to say goodbye and thank you so much for following us.    It has indeed been real, and the weekly publishing practice has been a tangible blessing.  We have a new idea for the future, yet like dormant orchids gathering elements in order to whip up new buds, our next project is still simmering.

Meanwhile, I’m starting another weekly commitment titled  The First Time for Everything, on the vast subject of memorable milestones, as in the first kiss, the first death of a loved one.  My goal in all these writings, but espeically in this divisive time, is to tell stories that remind us of what we all have in common: our humanity.

#35: Degas’ Orchid


In writing #35 of 36 posts for this series, the logical approach would have been to  compare the fallen orchid flower to resignation, to endings.  However, in all honesty, I was humming along with plans of tying the election victory of our first woman president with the image, which  looks like a Degas ballerina bowing before its appreciative audience. I thought I had it nailed.  But alas, Tuesday night’s results have taken me down to my knees.  Hatred’s mounting the nation’s helm.  And I am challenged to meet the beauty in Marissa’s image.

I’ve experienced low points in American history, but the scope of this feels worse than others.  Yet if politics are part of natural cycles, similar to the way dormancy produces more blooms, and personal depths of darkness create growth in the spirit, this crises is an opportunity.

While the dust is still unsettled and the path to decency unclear, my orchids are all quite busy producing bloomstalks.  In utter chaos, once again, I turn to them.

#34 The Orchid Effect


Like a butterfly in reverse, the blossom folds into its cocoon.

I once visited a small pine forest in Mexico where Monarchs gather and suspend their lives for the winter.  It was early morning, before all the tour buses arrived.  John Gibson and I hired a guide who walked up a mountain path beside the horses we rode.  Closer to the hooves than our lofty positions, he coughed from the dusty trail.

Even though the guide spoke no English and our little Spanish did not include insect breeding, he conveyed the difference between the genders: the dot on the lower wings of the males.  About a dozen tall straight pine trees stood bright orange from millions of Monarchs lining the trunks and branches.  Not only was the sight more brilliant than any Fall I’ve seen, all around us, we heard the soft flap from their flying wings, and felt the air move on our cheeks as they flitted by: our own private Butterfly Effect.  Sublime.


#33: Muliebrity Comes to Town


Muliebrity is what I see in this fading flower.  Soft colors, veins in petals, flesh and tentacles, its form is totally feminine.  Just in case, muliebrity refers to womanly powers, the female version of virility.  Interesting that most people are quite familiar with the masculine description, but the woman’s term is little known.  Therefore America, get ready, because muliebrity and virility are Stronger Together.


#32: The Fluttering Heart


After months of being close to home with mending bones, in early June last year, Marissa drove me out to Sag Harbor to see the exhibit of all thirty-six paintings in her Silent Journey.  On crutches and still trembling from the effort of reinhabiting my legs, I was repeatedly drawn toward the end of the series to look at this piece once more.

Marissa explained that it’s effect was from painting on handmade Wallis paper which has a fine sand surface.   As if looking at a butterfly’s final flutter, movement is what I see.  Even though the blossom is going down, and at the time, I was rising up, it was the grief and joy in this painting that exquisitely called my name.

Signed, Proud Owner of #32.