Beautiful Pain

the assignment for this poem was to write first a list of five concrete nouns, then a list of five action verbs, and finally a list of five specific modifiers (adjectives/adverbs). 

Once we had our lists it was then revealed that we needed to write a poem about a hand.  This is what I created.

“Beautiful Pain”

Her crafty hand writes your stories

across your skin in bizarre and poignant


Steadily, it grips the gun

that drives the needle to plummet deep into your

arm, back, leg, shoulder.

Sometimes you yell out when a tender area meets

this instrument,

but the hand continues to feel its way rather than go by

the book.

Accurate line-work and detailed fill flow quickly and effortlessly

from this faceless grip.

The hand is led by the needle which screams

against the moan and creak of the artist’s chair

as she moves in to get her angles just so.

You appear to sleep as you lie on her

table next to the ledge of

empty beer cans.

(No questions are asked, no explanations given)

But the irritation of her hand’s technique assures that you are gritting

your teeth, not resting your

eyes from hours at your computer.

The hand wipes the cool, soapy liquid over your inflamed skin one last, satisfying


without words you know,

the tattoo is complete.


My lists were:

Nouns:  tattoo, beer, book, computer, chair

Verbs:  scream, yell, sleep, write, plummet

Modifiers: accurate, bizarre, satisfying, poignant, crafty

Posted in my attempt at poetry | Tagged , | 3 Comments

the only thing that’s missing…

It wasn’t ever glamorous or extravagant.

Little rented cottages on small inland lakes.  Once a year for a week.

Mom, Dad, Kate, Chris, and then later, Michael.

Up and down the west half of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Glen Lake, Big Star, Bel aire, Pentwater.

Dad fished, Chris and I swam and played in the sand and ran amok, and mom read book after book after book.

Days were long and lazy and flavored with the sweet taste of that one can of Faygo we were allowed each day.

They smelled like sand and lake water on our bathing suits and grill smoke in our hair.

They felt like tight, sun stretched skin and itchy mosquito bites.

There was never a TV, so after dinner we went on drives.

My dad loves drives.  He has always loved taking the “back way” to get places.  Avoiding major roads so he can take in the scenery…and look for deer.

My mom was just as content to ride or sit at the cottage reading a book, so we rode.

Chris and I liked it for about 2.5 seconds.  Then we would get bored.

One year, up near Sleeping Bear Dunes, we went for an evening drive.  To look for deer*.

The trip got long.

We were packed in the family car driving and driving and driving.

And because we were near the lake, the roads weren’t straight shots; we were winding through thick woods very slowly.

It felt later than it was because the trees blocked out the evening sun.  There was no looking ahead because our eyes were met by a wall of forest and a tight curve.

Up and down hills.

My dad explained that these roads were made from old Indian trails, so they weren’t straight.

I begged for the window to be put down a little further.  I was feeling sick.

There were no deer here.

In fact, in the hours we were driving, there were no deer anywhere.  The “drive” was a bust.

And I was pretty sure we were lost.

But my dad kept up his cheerful facade.

“Dad.  The only thing we have seen are squirrels,” I whined.

My mom even had to reluctantly agree that this drive was turning sour.

But my dad was persistent, and in a last ditch effort to rally the troops, he made up a little rhyme:

First ya see a squirrel,
then ya see a deer.
The only thing that’s missing…
is a can of beer!

We all just stared.

The car was completely silent.

Then?  Raucous laughter erupted from the backseat while my mom picked her jaw up from the floor mat and stammered, “TOM!  That is just…well you can’t…that isn’t APPROPRIATE!”

But the damage was done.

The entire drive back to the cottage, Chris and I joyfully sang our new song.

All the while my mom made us promise to never sing it in front of anyone we know.

This week’s prompt was to write about something from your childhood that you still remember by heart.

Posted in me, memories from being a kid, nonfiction, Red Dress Club, summer fun | 9 Comments

pomp and circumstance

pomp: n. splendid or magnificent

The heat in the gym was like an uninvited guest.  A large, pushy, smothering uninvited guest.

Regardless of my choice to wear capri pants and a sleeveless top, my black gown was sticking to me in all the wrong places.

As my name was called to come forward to assist the graduates, I felt myself rise and waddle to the stage.

I could hear the gasps.

I heard a loudly hushed voice mutter publicly, “that poor woman!”

Sucking my breath in through my nose and standing taller, I tried to look less round, but it was no use.

I was nine months pregnant and stretching that graduation gown taunter than it was ever intended.

I smiled widely at the first row of graduates as they stood and filed toward me.

Taking the first student’s name card, I felt a shiver plunge down my sweaty spine.

circumstance:  n. formal display or ceremony

She was smiling at me in a way I had never seen.  Her eyebrows were high and she looked like she could take off running.

Running to her future.

As I smoothed her card and turned it right side up, I waited for the cue to pass it to our assistant principal who would begin reading the almost 200 names.

Graduate after graduate passed in front of me.

Sweat pooled under my cap, threatening to break free in rivers down my  neck and temples.

My feet were so swollen that I had to step out of my flip flops and stand bare-footed on the gym floor.  At this point my water could have broke and I probably wouldn’t be able to tell.

But despite the nervous glances by my principal and all the concerned questions from the graduates, my son stayed put.

He stayed put but kicked and partied throughout the ceremony.

And as the names were called and family cheered and sweaty students shook the hands of the administration I realized that in 18 years I would be cheering.

Each of the students belonged to someone.  Each graduate started out as a kicking little life in a mother’s womb.

As a graduate gave me a spontaneous hug before hearing his name called, my brain flashed forward 18 years and tears welled up in my eyes.

I quickly snapped out of it, took the next name card, shifted my heavy weight from one swollen foot to the other, and painted on a huge smile.

After all, the class of 2009 was graduating with pomp and circumstance.

This week’s Memoir Prompt:  Write about a memorable graduation.

Posted in life changes, me, nonfiction, Red Dress Club | 11 Comments


It was just as much a part of summer vacation as boating and skiing and sunning and swimming were.

In fact, for one week each summer, it was the mandatory nightly routine.

The cottage was small.  Painfully small for two adults, five teenagers, and two kids.  I mean, it was only a two bedroom cottage. But somehow that added to the comfort of it all.  That scrunchedness made it even more fun.

The kitchen table was meant to seat six, but we jammed in nine.

Shoulder to shoulder.

The people on either side of you were your enemies and your allies in this game.  They could help you pile up Draw Twos on someone or they could change the color on you at the last second causing your lone card to multiply into an entire “mit-ful” as my dad would say.

I chose my seat wisely.

Back to the windows on the long side of the table.

Never next to my mom who would act like she felt bad as she skipped you every. dang. turn.

And I liked to sit across from my middle brother because we would high five as we launched an evil Draw Two attack on one of our neighbors piling up until someone broke the chain and had to draw ten.

Ideally my then-boyfriend would be on one side and my best friend would be on the other.  I could punch either of them without too much retaliation.

We always played Riemersma Rules which basically meant we did everything we could to screw people as hard as possible.

You can keep adding to Draw Two’s and Draw Four’s increasing the draw until some poor sap doesn’t have one to add to the pile.

When a hand is done?  You have to keep all the cards in your hand for the next hand.

If you can’t play?  You have to keep drawing until you can.

We are sort of evil.

I’m pretty sure it was named Uno not for the number of cards you are left holding, but for the finger you are holding up at the jerks who just made you pick up 16 cards.

Yes, I said jerks.

My happiest memories are when my family is ragging on each other and falling out of chairs with tears tumbling down cheeks at the number of yellows in your hand.

And NO ONE will change it to yellow.

So much awesome.

The night would grow darker, snacks would be passed around the table, the 300th soda would be cracked, and another hand would be dealt.

When we were little, Cottage Week meant no TV.  And although as we got older there was one available, it wasn’t of much interest during Cottage Week; we would instead have Pearl Jam playing somewhat quietly in the background.  It would be loud enough for us to all break out in song every now and then.

As the night wore on, the small kids would go to bed  on the front porch, and my mom would throw in the towel, grab her book, and head to her room to read. This is when it would be requested that we “keep it down”.

Usually my dad stayed and played with us teenagers for a bit longer.

Snacks would start to become crumbs and without my mom there acting all innocent as she clobbers my ten year old brother?  We would tire of the game quickly.

Someone would gather the cards and set them neatly on the sideboard.

For the next night.

Posted in I was an angsty teen, memories from being a dumb college kid, memories from being a kid, nonfiction, Red Dress Club, summer fun | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

smooth and cool

Hey friends from The Red Dress Club.  It’s me, Katie Sluiter of Sluiter Nation.  I’m over here today with my post because I just felt it fit here since it’s about my past before becoming a Sluiter.  I will probably post more remembeRED posts here if they take place pre-Sluiter.


I am not rebellious.

I think I covered that fairly well in yesterday’s post on Sluiter Nation.

I know this now, but I was unaware of my goody-goody lot in life as a teenager.

I so badly wanted to be a rebel.  I wanted to do something wrong and…cool…but not too wrong, but way cool.


The evening was warm and clear, but we were all piled on the sectional in the basement watching Pulp Fiction for the billionth time.

When the movie ended, Ken headed to the back deck for a smoke break before we started the next movie.

I had known Ken was a smoker for a long time, but had recently found out that more than half of the people in that basement had become butt-suckers.

I was startled at first…then bummed.

Why had no one included me on this newly found rebellious act of being an angsty teen?

Even my best friend who, up through middle school, was the most painfully shy two-shoes you had ever met, was all about burning a dog every now and then in social situations.

In fact, she was bumming a stick off Ken on the deck.

Well screw this noise, I wanted in.

“Teach me to smoke,” I announced to the two of them as I silently close the heavy glass sliding door.

They just stared at me.  There was laughter in their eyes, I could see it.

I glanced behind me through the door.  Cort and Mat are picking up the ping pong paddles.  Erin is cuddled with her dog on her end of the couch.  Phil and Robb are laughing about something said to the ping pong players, and Lance is reclining with his hat over his face probably wishing we would just start Reservoir Dogs.

Two-thirds of the people inside are smokers.

I turn back to Ken and Tonya.  They are both sitting there with their smokes…so cool and calm.

Two-thirds of the people on the deck are smokers.

“Come on, guys,” I said with a bit too much whine.

“Ok, but all Ken has are Menthols,” Tonya told me.

“So?” I was totally acting like I knew what she was talking about.

“Well, it’s just that…they…it’s just going to burn a little.”

“Whatever, give me one.”

I snatch the cigarette out of Ken’s stained hand and smell it.  Minty.  How could this be bad?

I put it in my mouth and lean in to the flame that Tonya had lit for me with her pink lighter.

Nothing happened.

“Um, Kate?   You have to suck in while it’s in the flame.”

“I know that.”


I suck in and watch the cherry glow.

I quickly realize my mouth is full of smoke.  I let it fall out of my open mouth without even coughing. I try to act all “whatever” about it.

I am awesome.

And cool.  Don’t forget cool.

Ken is giggling.  As in wipe-the-tears-as-he-shakes kind of giggling.

I shoot him a dirty look.


“Ok, Kate?” Tonya begins, “You don’t just put smoke in your mouth, you have to actually inhale.  Otherwise you look lame. Only lame smokers don’t inhale.  In fact, they are called non-smokers.”

“Well teach me to do that.  What do I do?  Swallow?”

“OH GOD, NO!  Come on, Kate.  You were an honor student, swallowing is not the same as inhaling.  You are not EATING the smoke.”

Ken is dying.


“KEN!  Stop laughing at me.  I need help.  I want to be all slow and cool and blowing it out my nose like you do.”

And now Tonya is laughing.

These are my friends.


“Let’s just start with inhaling.  Watch what I do.  I will pull the smoke in my mouth and then breath it in.”

She takes a long drag on the stick, pauses and motions for me to watch, then she over exaggerates a breathing in of whatever air is in her mouth.

“Ok, I get it,” I say as I snatch my cigarette away from her.

I suck in a bunch of smoke.

Ken and Tonya have taken pause from their humiliating laughter to watch.

I smile with my mouth full of smoke and breath in mostly with my nose, but a little from my mouth.

I continue to smile as I breath out.

“Um, ok.  Sort of,” Tonya says.

“Look!  I am not coughing like a maniac!”

“That’s because you barely inhaled,” Ken chuckles.

“But I did it.  I am awesome.  And smooth.  And so cool.”

With that I take a longer, more confident drag.

The mint fills my lungs and burns.

I promptly cough my face off while dry-heaving.


This post was written in response to the prompt asking us to write a memory prompted by this picture:

Posted in a rebel i am not, doing something new, I was an angsty teen, me, memories from being a dumb college kid, nonfiction, Red Dress Club | 55 Comments

not my day

Hey, Red Dress Clubbers (and anyone else wandering in)…it’s me, Katie from Sluiter Nation.  This is my other blog where I write about stuff that I feel just doesn’t vibe with what Sluiter Nation is about–my immediate family and our joys/struggles.

This week’s post felt like it fit here rather than at Sluiter Nation. It is nonfiction about my father-in-law.

I hope you enjoy.

When we arrived he was sitting under his favorite tree as always.

Also as always, there were people around him.  He was never alone in those last days.

But I remember him alone.  I remember people too, but they were a blurred crowd around him.  People without faces.  Always there.

He would sit under that tree in his bag chair; his painfully thin, white, hairless legs crossed at the ankle, and both slender arms stationed on the arm rests.  He almost looked like he was part of the chair, but apart.

None of his clothes fit, but hung loosely from his gaunt frame.

His face, once chubby and exuberant, looked almost hollow and cavernous, with two bright blue eyes shining out from the depths–seemingly just for whomever he was currently speaking to.  Drinking you in…remembering you.

Where once he grew thick, tight afro-like curls, now sprouted only peach fuzz on his almost transparent skin of his skull.  Not that you could see it anyway; he almost always wore a hat.

And while he sat, people would surround him and chat about meaninglessness, and he would look out beyond the boats, past the fueling dock, and out over the lake.

Every now and then he would catch a small joke or hearsay of gossip and chime in with one of his classic one-liners, but most of the time he was quiet…listening to the world he was still a part of for a bit longer.

In my mind, there was a sailboat race that day that we visited.  I can vaguely recall comments about the direction of the wind and the effect of the waves on the results of the regatta.

There was also talk of what had happened that morning.  An accident.

By the time we arrived to pick up the latest news, the search had been going on for most of the day for the helmsman of the small vessel that collided with the navigation marker.

No one held much hope for a positive end to the news.

However there was almost a sense of relief.  Relief that the shroud of death chose somewhere else to linger today.

There was a collective sigh as we stood around…all looking out beyond the boats, past the fuel dock, and out into the small lake where a man was missing.

Someone broke the silence and tried to break the mood by asking him how his day was.

He looked at us and smiled.  Then replied simply, “Today is good.  Today is not my day.  Today was someone else’s day.  But not mine.”

Posted in being an adult is really not that great, cancer, changes, he died, i can't handle death, life changes, missing a you and a me, nonfiction, not being part of the group, out of my control, Pops, Red Dress Club, Saying Goodbye, stuff that means stuff | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

I’m Still Alive

It isn’t my “first rodeo” as the saying goes, but the anticipation and excitement never gets stale.

The floor is packed.  I am shoulder to shoulder with some huge guys.  Some of whom I know will be missing their shirts by the end of the show.

They mostly  patronize me, quite literally talking over my head about how long such a small, skinny girl would last this close to the front.  As if I wasn’t standing there, 6 inches under their big mouths.

And then it happens.

The entire arena goes pitch black.

A roar goes through the crowd and my small place on the floor is instantly gone.  I am crushed against the big guys who, although moments before seemed vaguely amused by my presence, are now ignoring it completely and squishing me to the point of nonexistence.

I feel my heart jump.

A single guitar chord pierces the darkness.  The contractions of the crowd grow stronger as a thunder roars through my ears.

In that moment the crowd is one and it is surging forward with that chord still hanging in the thick, smoke-filled air.

More guitar teases ring out. Not quite making up a song, but revealing to the audience that yes, that which they came to see is lurking out there in the darkness.

The horde becomes more persistent. Like lemmings to the cliff, they follow those guitar taunts and the throb of a bass warming up wanting to be as close as possible to the magic.

Just then the stage lights up and before my eyes have time to adjust to what I am looking at the first notes of the first song fill the arena and I am deaf to anything but the rhythm of the bass.

I get tunnel vision and do not see the pushing masses around me.

I use the repeated constrictions of the mob to thrust me forward.  I wriggle in between massive muscles and damp T-shirts.

I step on feet and elbow sides.

Someone asks if I want to be lifted.  I shake my head without uttering a sound and continue forward.  If I am lifted, I will go over the front and be forced to walk to the back, where I will have to start my quest over again.  There is no time for that.

I am so close.  I can feel the heat of the lights.  My stomach is thumping with the bass drum.  I am almost there.

Just then a huge circle of metal heads forms around four sweaty bare torsos.  They push each other.  More torsos get involved.

This is not going to stop me.

I push one of the torsos out of my way, my hands sliding on his dripping skin. He turns with rage in his eyes, but doesn’t know what to do to the skinny T-shirt staring back at him, so he steps out of the way.

This is where I stop to take a breath.  The first song is done and its follow up has started…just as quickly and heavily as the first.  Do I stop now?  Do I enjoy the view from here?  There are only two rows of sweaty obstacles in my way.  Do I respect their position and give in?

Hell no.  I am too damn close.

I suck in my breath and squeeze into the extinct space between bodies one arm out in front of me until I feel the rail.

I grab hold and pull myself through the throng.

I have arrived.

The air that was once heavy and damp with sweat and song lifts briefly, giving me a reprieve for a split second.

Most of the looks I get are of confusion mixed with respect.  Even the bouncers give me the nod of a job well done.  And I notice they keep an eye on me.

I watch their hands as they point to the surfers as they approach the front, and instead of reaching up to help, I bend myself forward to avoid the crippling weight.  The bouncers, in turn, reach over me to grab the flailing bodies.

I am safer here than stuck in the masses.

This is where I will stay for the next couple hours. I will raise my arms and scream along to the songs I know well.  I will nod my head and high five others around me when the obscure favorites are played that only we know.

Because we are super fans.

And tomorrow?  I will have the bruise across my ribs to prove I was there.  That I could see their lips move.  That the singer made eye contact with me.

I will lovingly add the ticket stub to my growing pile.

And dream of who will come through our city next.

Posted in being free, concerts, i like heavy metal, me, memories from being a dumb college kid | 10 Comments


I had never been in a recovery room before and I am not sure what I expected.

I think I expected to smell something.  But the smell never came.

I think I expected there to be more people.  But it was just us.

I followed the soft footsteps of the nurse around a corner and into a largish open room with one gurney-bed in it holding my loopy husband.

The rest of the recovery room was quiet and empty.  Apparently Sunday night was not the busiest time for surgery for this small community hospital.

As I approached, the nurse informed me that since waking up from surgery, he had been gleefully thanking all of them for a job well done.

I smiled cautiously as I approached. I knew what he was like drunk, and it sounded like drugged up was going to be similar.

I was still halfway across the room when he noticed me.

“THERE SHE IS!  THERE’S MY WIFE!” he exclaimed.  He sounded as if he had had an entire fifth of Captain Morgan.

He started telling me how great of a job the surgical team had done taking his appendix out.

“Hey, I really should buy you all a beer,” he insisted.

The nurse giggled.  “But this is Zeeland.  On a Sunday.”

“Well not right now,” he explained.  “Clearly I am in no condition to drive.”

He was still laughing at his own joke when the doctor came in and explained the procedure and recovery to me.

I was only half listening because I was keeping an eye on my husband who was clearly still high and flirting unabashedly with the nurse staff.

“Um, do you think he will be walking around by Wednesday?” I asked in a hushed voice.

But he heard me.

“What’s Wednesday?  What’s WEDNESDAY?!?” He asked with the same joy and impatience of a child who has walked in on a secret surprise conversation.

I hesitated.

I was enjoying this joy from him, however drug-induced it was.   I felt bad bringing him back to his harsh reality.

I looked down at my hands and said quietly, “your dad’s funeral is Wednesday, babe.”

The joy left his face and he got very serious.  But it was the seriousness of a child who is about to tell you something you already know.  It was cute seriousness.  It was drug-laden, funny seriousness. Even if the topic was anything but funny.

“Oh yeah,” he said, “my dad died.  did you know that?  My dad died today?” he asked the doctor.

The doctor looked at me with incredulity and puzzlement.

“Yes, it’s true.” I nodded,  “His dad passed this afternoon after struggling with lung cancer.”

“I am so, SO sorry,” the doctor said.  I could tell this wasn’t the usual routine after surgery.

There was more explanation of what would happen and discussion of bringing him up to his room.

It was also decided I would spend the night with him on a cot.

Because I did not want to leave him alone that night.  His dad had just died.

Posted in appendix shuffle, being an adult is really not that great, cancer, he died, i can't handle death, life changes, missing a you and a me, nonfiction, out of my control | 10 Comments

White Agony

the following post is entirely fictional.  Any resemblance to people in real life is entirely probable.  But this did not happen, and Lord help us, hopefully it never does.

The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round. ’round and ’round.  ’round and ’round.  The wheels….

She was trying to keep things calm even though she was terrified.  Her knuckles ached as she clenched the steering wheel, squinting into the bright white sheet in front of her.

This was certainly not the first time she had traveled this dark road in the winter.  She had experience, so this should be easy.


He had no idea.  He was happily snug in his car seat, singing along with momma, the same as every Tuesday night.

Every now and then he would stick out a chubby little mittened hand and proclaim “ohhh” at the swirling terror around the car.

It delighted him.

It horrified her.

“Just concentrate,” she told herself.  “Concentrate and keep things light.  Take it slow.  You’ll get there.”

The people on the bus go up and down.  up and down.  up and down. the people on the bus…

The wind would switch direction and the snow would swirl and swoop into a curtain of white.  Her car would pull to one side while maneuvering an unforeseen drift across the dark road.

Ice patches would sneak up from behind the white insanity momentarily seizing the control she struggled to hold on to.

Her stomach would drop in that tiny second.

A prayer would be murmured, “please let me get us home safe.  please let me get my little boy home safe.”

And back to the hypnotizing white swirls.

The door on the bus goes open and shut. open and shut. open and shut. The door on the bus…

This was the worst part of the commute.  This long, dark road.

On warm summer nights they fly down this road with the windows open, laughing at the breeze blowing in their faces.

Tonight they bundled themselves against the bright darkness outside the vehicle.

She just wanted to get home.  Inside their warm house.  In their pajamas.  Cuddling on the couch.

She let her mind wander to that place.  Just for a second.  Just for part of a second.

The wipers on the bus go swish, swish swish.  swish, swish, swish. swish, swish, swish.  The wipers on the bus go…

The world suddenly became incredibly small.

The wind incredibly loud.

She snapped back to their tense reality, but it was too late.

Their universe went all topsy turvy.

Very quickly their solid ideas of the physics of the world–knowing “up” from “down”–vanished.

There was a sense of being shaken.

And then the cold, white agony surrounded them.

As did silence.

Except for the blowing of the wind.

And the cry of a terrified, chubby-handed child.
The title came from a little help from my writing sounding board, twitter.  Thank you, @alannacoca!
Posted in fiction, Red Dress Club | 16 Comments

left behind for the best

Six bridesmaid dresses.

Ten friends and counting…pairing off.

rings and flowers and vows.

young brides.

doting grooms.

happy lives.

new homes.

gifts from registries.

swelling tummies.

growing families.

over a dozen babies born.

smiling and celebrating with them.

as I sit in my house…alone.

not a wife.

not a mother.


for him.

to make my forever.

Posted in being an adult is really not that great, how i met your father, Mama Kat, me, my attempt at poetry, not being part of the group | 7 Comments