SPOTLIGHT: The Way Out: 40 Empowering Stories by Laura Stamps


At first I thought she was a man. But she wasn’t. She was just a very tall woman, at least six feet, maybe taller, probably taller. Dressed in a tank top, shorts, and flip flops on an early spring day too chilly for beachwear. Every visible inch of her body was covered in colorful, intricately designed tats. Up both arms to her jaw and down to the tips of her fingers. Up both thighs and down to her brightly lacquered toenails. Her hair dyed blue-black, gelled, multiple earrings in each ear. She was an imposing sight. Stopping in the dog supply section, she chose a package of dog biscuits and then stepped into the center aisle at Target. That’s when she saw me watching her. That’s when she smiled at me. A sweet, shy, gentle smile. And that’s when I knew. Her body is her armor, a tattooed wall constructed around a sensitive soul. It’s her art form. Her mode of expression. Her protection. That’s when I knew. She’s just like the rest of us. Camouflaging, guarding, coping the best way we can. I smiled back at her and continued pushing my cart down the center aisle toward the register. She stopped in the beauty supply section and reached for a bottle of Neutrogena moisturizer. Good choice. I use that one too.


I’m an art collector. Abstract art. That’s my thing. Nothing beats going to the MOMA in NYC and surrounding myself with paintings by Klee, Kandinsky, Pollock, Mondrian, Stella, and Diebenkorn. Not that I collect those paintings. Are you crazy? Do I look like a millionaire? Of course not. No, I buy art on Etsy. Hey, don’t knock Etsy if you haven’t tried it. Anyway, the minute I hear the Rothko Exhibition is at my local art museum I’m in my car and down the driveway. Thirty minutes later I buy a ticket and enter the Main Exhibition Hall. The first painting I see is mammoth in size, a seamless blending of alizarin crimson, cadmium orange, and lemon yellow. Wow. How did he do that? I rush toward the painting for a closer look, but not before the museum guard intercepts me. “Move back, ma’am,” he warns. What? Can’t he see I’m an art collector? After I walk through the entire exhibition, I sit on a bench to feast my eyes. All those giant Rothkos. Together. On every wall. And that’s when I feel it. The positive life force pouring out of these paintings. It’s like they’re living, breathing beings. No kidding. But what kind of sense does that make? Everyone knows Rothko suffered from depression. I mean, the man committed suicide. Yet these paintings vibrate with happy, joyous energy. How crazy is that? After a while I grab my purse and stand up. Poor Rothko. Obviously, he’d never heard of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Especially the first one. No, I’m not a Buddhist, but I learn things every day. I’m on Facebook, okay? “Life is suffering,” I say to the guard on my way out the door. He nods. “Yes, ma’am,” he says. And it’s true. Knowing that there’ll be ups and downs. That it’s normal. Especially the downs. It gives me peace. Too bad Rothko didn’t have my cell number. I could have told him that. And I would have too. I mean, really.


Walking through the garden, Julie stops in front of a large clay pot filled with wilting zinnias. “You’re dying,” she says. “This isn’t right.” Julie has a problem with reality. She refuses to accept it. Rolling up her sleeves, she heads toward the toolshed next to the daylilies where she pulls on a pair of rubber gardening gloves and grabs a spade. Returning to the zinnias, she pushes aside a clump of yellowing leaves and plunges the spade into the soggy soil, digging all the way down to the bottom of the pot, searching through the rotting dirt for the offender. And there it is. Just where she thought it would be. Threading her fingers through the tangled roots of a massive weed, she rips it out. Now the drainage holes in the bottom are open again. Now water can flow freely through the pot, and the soil can dry out. “Let this be a lesson to you,” she says to the zinnias. “Never accept what you don’t want. There’s always a fix. Find it.” Returning the spade to the toolshed, she removes the gloves and brushes the dirt from her sleeves. Satisfied, she turns, unfurls her wings, and flies away.


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