An Hour After I Cast My Vote, I Wanted It Back


An hour after I voted yesterday, I wanted a do-over – not to change the person I voted for, but to change the heart of the person voting.

It hit me a few minutes after speaking with a friend, who said she’d cried as she voted that morning. “I didn’t think I would, but I did,” she smiled. I’d become so blind that it took me several minutes to realize what she meant – that the history-making moment of seeing a female presidential candidate on the ballot for the very first time was worthy of spending a second a bit overcome in that little booth.

I had not taken such a moment, and that’s when I realized I’d voted with hate – not love – in mind. I’d hastily filled in the little oval for Hillary Clinton pretty much as a tiny black-inked “f*k you” to the hate-filled campaign of Donald Trump.

And yes I now see the irony. And, God help me, the way out.

I started noticing the signs more and more in my last few runs around town. Despite all the negative press, despite the incomprehensible bigotry, misogyny and fear that underscored their campaign, “TRUMP-PENCE” (Pence! The man who doesn’t believe in such basic things as climate change and evolution and equal rights for the LGBT community!) signs kept springing up in State College. I didn’t know what to make of that. They stole my already labored breath. They made me feel differently about certain streets. In my mind, they may as well have said “A racist probably lives here.”

On Monday I crested a hill I’ve run a thousand times and there it was, a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” sign on the carefully raked lawn of the sweet old couple who’d saved me from heat exhaustion earlier that summer, offering me the shade of their carport and a cold bottle of water when I nearly collapsed toward the end of a sweltering 10-miler. My heart sank.

They seemed like such good people, I thought.

I was doing it without even realizing it. The seeds of hate, planted by good intentions like yearning for equality and justice for all, were sprouting inside me, coloring my judgment, allowing stereotypes to take over where once there were individuals.

“I just hate her, don’t you see, Robyn? She’s just AUGGH I can’t even think about her face without being disgusted!” a friend of mine raged recently, trying to explain to me why Trump would get her vote over Clinton. The hate creased my pal’s pretty face and made her nearly come off the cool grey sofa on which she sat. I stayed quiet, silently appalled and feeling sorry for the misguided, mangled heart of this woman I’d been regularly praying with in a Bible study for more than two years.

Trump’s face makes me feel that way, I thought, feeling more justified in my opinion than the woman sitting across from me, seething and in pain.

“Hillary’s a liar!” people said on social media over and over, ignoring all the times Trump lied – to contractors who worked for him, to students of his own university scam, to investors, to the IRS, to his first wife, to journalists, and to the entirety of America in every single debate.

Five statues of a naked, bloated Trump appeared in cities across America last summer. “The Emperor Has No Balls,” the project was called. People gawked and reveled in the mock-humiliation of the narcissist’s likeness bared for all to see. Many of the same people jumped down Trump’s throat for focusing on and judging women based on their looks over the course of his campaign (and his life). “Body positivity!” they chanted. “Fat shaming is disgusting!”

Hate is what brought us here. Hate on both sides. We picked a side we felt was filled with lies, immorality and terrible judgment and we dug in our heels against it. We ignored or made excuses for a candidate’s shortcomings or mistakes and pointed fingers instead. That one’s way worse, we accused.

I’m sure many people voted with love in mind. Hell, I even posted a video the day before the election, pledging to do just that. But many more, whether they recognized it in the moment or not, cast their votes yesterday based on hate.

Hate for big government.

Hate for small-minded leaders.

Hate for a broken system.

Hate for racism and discrimination.

Hate for lies and deceit.

Hate for immaturity and ineptitude.

Hate for immorality.

Hate for misogyny.

Hate for the idea of having a female president.

Hate for a pro-choice agenda.

Hate for a pro-life agenda.

Hate for Obamacare.

Hate for minorities.

Hate for the fear of gun control.

Hate for the fear of guns taking more innocent lives.

Hate for religions that are different than yours.

I admonish my kids when they use that word, and I’ve used it 24 times already in this post. Hate is a cancer and it must be eradicated. The good news is we already have the antidote. I think right now many of us are worried about how to deliver it to newly elected leaders who are, at best, in denial of even having such a disease. But there must be a way. It is up to all of us to follow our hearts, not our fears.

The first thing I will do is to take the signs down in my mind; I hope you will too. Force yourself to forget ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Train your mind to see individuals everywhere, not stereotypes. And if you read that sentence and thought ‘Yeah, I know a lot of people who need to do that,’ there’s a good chance you are still part of the problem.

I don’t know what kind of change will come from above in the next four years. But I do know that in my life, nothing will change if I don’t. I am the leader in my home and I can be a leader in my community, and I choose to lead with love. I have to, so that I can survive and my children can thrive. We are building their inheritance every day, all of us, the ones who I disagree with on fundamental issues and the ones who weep beside me today.

Last night I cried for our country, especially for the vulnerable and marginalized among us who now might be facing an even steeper uphill battle than they’ve always known. I turned off the TV early and crawled under my covers, trying to pray for God’s will and for our nation’s incoming leaders with a heart that was not clouded by grief and anger. My phone continued to buzz and light up throughout the night, friends and family as stunned by the news as I was grasping for a way to make sense of the darkest implications of this election swirling in their minds.

But as one of our nation’s best and brightest leaders knew, that’s not the way forward. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose actions as a regular American citizen had more of a lasting influence than many of our country’s previously elected presidents. That, today, should inspire us even more than his actual words.

This is not me determined to put on rose-colored glasses. This is me with eyes swollen from crying, a heart heavy with anxiety, but a soul that thankfully keeps color-correcting my vision when I begin to process issues or people in black and white, and when the shades of the future I see in my mind become ominously dark.

Love is bright and bold and multi-colored. Our nation is likewise, and it will continue to be that way – more so every day, in fact. If we make it so.

Another famous MLK quote that I woke up thinking about this morning actually was paraphrased from another pastor, Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister who, in 1853, wrote:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.

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The Picture I Never Thought I’d Share


Do you ever find yourself so mentally exhausting/exhausted you just can’t deal with your own neuroses anymore? That’s where I’ve been this past year or so.

Honestly, I think this is the best thing about middle age. I’m not talking about a midlife crisis; it’s more of a midlife catharsis. I think we all get so damn sick of the same insecurities, hang-ups and excuses we’ve suffocated ourselves with for so long that we finally stop bitching about it – to ourselves or others – and begin the arduous yet wholly satisfying task of beginning to breathe fresh air rather than continuing to choke down the toxic fumes we’ve carefully, carelessly manufactured inside our own thought bubbles for decades. Because time’s a wastin’, people.

More to the personal point: I wore shorts this summer. All summer. Granted, not every day, but enough. Much more than in previous summers, which was basically never. I wore them in public places and in my own backyard. I wore shorts on long runs around town and on short trips to the park with the kids. I wore them on vacation. I wore them out with friends and while running errands. I wore them on dates. I wore them at the lake and the pool. I went to the lake and the pool.

And you know what? I not only lived through it, I eventually began to enjoy it. The more I ran in shorts, for example, the happier I was that I wasn’t overheating, and the longer I was able to run, and the more I began to notice that the muscles in my legs were really starting to come into clearer focus. Funny how that works.

It took awhile, but I no longer worried about people snickering behind my back, looking aghast at my pasty gams – shuddering at the awfulness that is me. Those were all legitimate(ly crazy) fears I’ve always lived with. I’d spent all previous summers wearing yoga pants around the house regardless of the temperature, because not even I wanted to see my bare legs in the privacy of my own home. A few years ago I wore jeans to the beach in August, for Christ’s sake.

You might think I’m crazy, but I bet you are, too, and I hope right now you’re thinking more about your insecurities than mine. Maybe for you it’s not shorts; maybe it’s wearing a bathing suit that’s difficult. Maybe it’s your crooked tooth you can’t stand, or your stretch marks, or your thinning hair. Maybe it’s the size of your fill-in-the-blank you don’t like. Maybe it is whatever it is, and that’s for you to know and not me.

My point is, this summer I said ‘Screw it.’ It’s hot outside, and nobody cares about this but me.

Obviously, I’m oversimplifying things. I did not miraculously reach a point where my long-held, damaging self-beliefs were suddenly hauled away like last week’s trash. In reality, it’s been a painstakingly slow process. I’ve had, collectively speaking, years of therapy regarding my various insecurities. I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about them. I’ve been in an ongoing support group to deal with trauma from my childhood. I’ve read books professing my worth as a child of God and a person of value in this world. These books all have passages underlined and highlighted by me, hopeful notes scribbled in the margins and eventually left to gather dust. I’ve journaled and meditated and tried to “run it out.” I’ve taken lessons from a crumbled marriage and a life of trial and error and applied them, like layers of Papier-maché, to my worldview.

All the while, I’ve alternately avoided mirrors or I’ve glared and grimaced into them. Neither tactic worked. Until.

You know how sometimes when you say a word over and over it begins to not sound like the word – like any word – at all? Flaw. Flaw. Flaaah. Measure. Measure. Mezsh-ur? Mezzzuuuurr.

That’s what happened when I stared into the mirror long enough to realize it was just me staring back – a dizzying and disorienting revelation.

When I was 22 and fresh out of college, I came across this framed Norman Rockwell print, “Girl At the Mirror,” in an antique store in downtown Saratoga Springs. The expression on the young girl’s face was exactly how I felt, and would continue to feel for another 20 years. I bought it immediately and took it to my first apartment; it moved with me 12 more times in the ensuing two decades. Oddly, though, in all those apartments and rental houses and duplexes, I mostly kept the print in the basement or tucked away in a spare bedroom. As a grown woman, I was embarrassed that it resonated so deeply.

But sometime last year I Googled the painting and read that Rockwell said the magazine picture of movie star Jane Russell was an addition he regretted including; the girl who posed for the portrait did not actually have it on her lap.

This created an opening for a new interpretation in my mind. If you take away the magazine, what is she looking at? I wondered. What is she comparing herself to, if not to the Jane Russell she’d seen in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (or the very title of that film)? She must be comparing herself to something. To the popular girl in school. To a comment her father made. To the way she’d seen her mother look at her own reflection in a mirror.

Because we don’t just see what is in the mirror, we see what is there in relation to everything else we have seen and heard. The question is, can we unsee it? Can we close one eye and blot out Jane Russell with our outstretched thumb? Can we un-hear the playground taunts from grade school about whatever innocuous physical characteristics made us stand out? Can we un-feel the heartbreak of rejection from our teen years? Can we flush from our systems the constant hyper-sexualized messages pop culture skewers into our TVs, phones, magazine stands, radios, clothing racks, brains, friends, sexual partners and psyches?

Flaw. Flawe. Flaaaah. Measure. Measure. Mezzzhuuurr.

I used to say I hated mirrors; I would mostly avoid them, walking briskly by with averted eyes, looking down at the sink while washing my hands, never straight ahead. That was dumb. I was a 2-year-old throwing a blanket over my head and thinking that would keep me invisible.

Nah, nah, I can’t see me!

A mirror shows you the truth; it’s your mind that immediately distorts and judges it. So, bolstered by all the self-improvement steps previously mentioned, along with my newfound knowledge of Rockwell’s Jane Russell regret, I started to treat the mirror like the object that it was meant to be. I tried to stop distorting and judging. I stopped looking into the mirror, and started to just see what was there.

I started to see my legs exactly as they are. The calf muscles I’ve always known were too wide (Says who? “Society”? Magazine covers? An ex-boyfriend?) slowly became, simply, my calves. I took ownership of the ankles I always wished were thinner, the pale skin I always wanted to be more tan, less freckly, the thighs I had longed to be more toned. Mine. Mine. Mine. Only mine. Only for me. For the movement of my body through my life. For dancing and running and walking and swimming. To serve as a lap for my boys. To allow me to wander and explore, to climb and to hike. To wrap around someone special. To let me see the world from a vantage point that’s 5 feet, 8 inches off the ground.

I saw my legs, my whole body, in the mirror. And what I saw was not “better” or “worse” or “thinner” or “fatter” or “paler” or “darker” or “shorter” or “longer” than yours. It was just mine. It’s so obvious I can’t believe I’d missed it all these years. Of course my legs don’t look like Faith Hill’s; they’re not hers, dumbass. They’re not supposed to look like her legs. They’re supposed to look like Robyn Passante’s legs. And they’re doing a damn fine job of it.

These legs look different today than they did a year ago, partly because I’m running more than I ever have, and partly because I see them in a different light than I ever have. Then again, I am also not the person I was a year ago, or three years ago, or six months ago.

Every day I am trying to be more myself and less other people’s expectations, more confidence and deliberateness and less old habits and cyclical mistakes. I am trying to figure out what it means to live a really good life. I am trying to be more open to experiences, to chances, to life as it unfolds. I am trying to be less apologetic, more giving, less cynical. I am trying to abandon the false idea of perfection. I am trying to live out my faith. I am trying to trust people. I am trying to trust myself.

I am trying to stop looking so hard into the mirror, and just see.

Rob legs

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My Favorite Summer Tradition Is Full of Trash and Treasures


My happily gloved environmentalists.
My happily gloved environmentalists.

“Who would do this?” Evan asks, picking up a smashed water bottle and dropping it into the plastic bag I’m carrying. We are walking to the end of our street, where it bends around a corner and spills into a gas station and convenience store. The boys insisted on starting this litter cleanup tradition a few weeks ago, fueled by a passion for the environment sparked in their elementary school. They are on summer break, but I’m finding that school is always in session for me.

This is the same half-mile stretch where nearly all of my runs begin. Here I start up my running app, and here I pause for the traffic light, and here I adjust the volume on my phone and pick a good pace song.

“Who would do this?” he says again, dropping a silver gum wrapper into the bag, and with sudden embarrassment I think about the earrings I tossed aside right here one day while jogging. They were an old pair, inexpensive, not my favorites, and I’d forgotten to take them off before leaving for my run. They were long and dangly and it took just ¼ mile of them jangling against my earbuds for me to become annoyed enough to discard them.

I pulled them out of my ears and tossed them toward the edge of the sidewalk, never breaking stride, feeling like a badass runner who sacrifices anything that gets in her way. I thought maybe I’d see them on my way back through and carry them home. But I never did.

I wasn’t a badass that day. I was part of the problem my kids are now diligently trying to solve, one stray wrapper at a time.

The bigger the find, the more incredulous the boy. "Someone threw THIS on the ground?"
The bigger the find, the more incredulous the boy. “Someone threw THIS on the ground?”

A few weeks ago they came to me and announced I had a new title. “You’re Reuse, Mommy,” Evan said. “Kostyn is Reduce, and I’m Recycle. So your job is to make old things into new things.”

“Uhhh,” I said. “OK.” Ever since then Kostyn has been turning out the lights and pestering me about water usage while brushing my teeth. Evan tries to recycle everything. Everything. And when cornered, I lamely point out how I reuse plastic grocery bags to pick up dog poop in the yard, and turn empty toilet paper rolls into mini helmets and cars for their smallest stuffed animals. It doesn’t feel like enough, but it’s something.

They walk a few paces ahead of me, both wearing thin black winter gloves they pulled out of the closet before we left. Kostyn is also wearing a winter hat – mine – which he says helps to keep the flies away from his head. I smile at the two of them, imagining what passing drivers think of my gloved environmentalists who occasionally stop to chase little brown bunnies through the empty field to our left.

Besides the rabbits, we see groundhogs and squirrels and bluejays and a pretty white cat Evan momentarily mistakes for a statue. We see wildflowers, and trails of ants, and berries I tell them not to eat. This has quickly become my favorite summer tradition.

“Maybe if people see us doing this they’ll want to do it too,” Kostyn says, picking up another cigarette “bottom.” I tell him that’s really the best way to teach somebody something, to lead by example, and what a great job they’re doing.

They ask a lot of questions about the cigarette butts, and I tell them smokers probably don’t think about the fact that the ends of their cigarettes contain chemicals and plastic and traces of tobacco. They look harmless, small things that don’t matter, discarded with a simple flick. Like cheap earrings, I think with shame.

The evening's haul.
The evening’s haul.

Our plastic bag is stuffed full by the time we reach the bend in the road. We cross the street hand in hand in hand, and I tie the bag’s handles together and toss it into the garbage bin, then offer to buy them a treat.

The first time I offered, Kostyn asked why they were getting treats, and I wanted to hug him, hard, for the intrinsic reward he’d already felt. This day when we walk into Sheetz, the teenager at the counter smiles.

“It’s the litter cleanup crew again,” she says.

“You remember them?” I ask, putting a Twix ice cream bar and an ice cream sandwich on the counter.

“Well, there aren’t many kids who come in here this time of year with shorts and gloves on,” she says. I smile and turn back toward them, but they are in mock battle with each other by the doors. The gloves have morphed into something else in their minds, and I rein in their superhero antics before a display gets knocked over.

On the way home I wave and call hello to an old man sitting on his front step. “Mommy, isn’t that a stranger?” Kostyn asks in a low voice.

“Well, yes, but he’s also a neighbor,” I say. It’s a difficult concept to understand, that we’re all strangers and neighbors. It is not just his yard. Or my earrings. Or your cigarette butt. It is their world. It is mine. It is ours. And every day, they are making me into something new.

Mother Nature does her best to make up for mankind's failings.
Mother Nature does her best to make up for mankind’s failings.

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Eight Things I Don’t Do Enough (Not Counting ‘Mop the Floor’)


I think if there was a dust-heart on every scale, the world would be a happier place.

A few weeks ago my sons pulled out the bathroom scale, which lives under a dresser in my bedroom gathering dust, and took turns seeing how much they weigh. Of course they wanted me to join in the fun. “Mommy, your turn! Let’s see your number!”

The next 1.3 seconds inside my head went something like this: “Noooo way I haven’t stepped on that in forever I don’t like scales they don’t like me my shoes are on should I take them off I’m wearing too many layers I just ate lunch the number would be wrong what if the boys say my weight when we’re in public I shouldn’t be weird about this don’t let them see how scared you are,” all while a slightly embarrassed smile, masked as amusement, was spreading across my face.

And then I declined. Stupidly. For no good reason. “Nahhh,” I said as casually as I could muster, as if the tone of voice I used made a difference in the way they understood my refusal.

They didn’t understand it, of course, and pleaded a couple more times before moving on to a new discovery, leaving me there in the bedroom staring at a dusty black scale and thinking about what I might have inadvertently just taught them – or missed out on teaching them – by what I didn’t do.

Unfortunately we don’t just learn from words and actions. We also learn from silence, refusal, inaction and disregard. And those lessons are perhaps scarier than the ones we actively, knowingly teach our kids, because we’re not really in charge of them. Sometimes we’re not even conscious of them. They’re just happening, right there in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday, because of the space we leave open to interpretation when we freeze, or stay silent, or appear oblivious, or say “Nahhh” with no reasonable explanation.

The realization bothered me so much that I came up with a whole list of things I don’t do very much that could very well be affecting the way my boys view themselves and the world around them. So this year, in a twist on the traditional New Year’s Resolution, here is a list of eight things I don’t do – or don’t do enough – that I will aim to do with both intention and frequency in 2015.

Eight Things I Don’t Do Enough

Pick up trash. I always thought I was pretty good at this one, until I went for a ½-mile walk with my kids last summer. That’s when I noticed that I picked up easy target items – an empty Gatorade bottle, a discarded plastic grocery bag – while my kids picked up every tiny piece of trash they saw. Everything. It must have taken us 40 minutes to walk that 1/2 mile, and that empty plastic bag I’d picked up was stretched full of straw wrappers and gum wrappers and receipts and broken pieces of godknowswhat. There is no difference too small to make in the world.

Say the compliment I am thinking. Everyone wants validation and words of affirmation. I’m pretty good about doling out compliments to the people I know, but not the people I don’t know. If I want my kids to be observant, kind-hearted and sincere, then I need to start modeling that, which means not just noticing someone’s pretty bracelet or well-behaved child, but telling them so. Every time you think something positive, say it.

Work toward my dreams. The other day my boys asked if I’d read them a children’s story I wrote long ago, which they love. So I brought my laptop over to the couch and opened the Microsoft Word file that houses my dream. Why is it still on my laptop instead of in the hands of a publisher or agent? I have long envisioned the day I could hand them a hardcover version of it, and they’d see their names inside and their mom’s on the cover, tangible evidence not just of imagination but tenacity. Don’t let your kids become the only dreams you work on.

Read. Not counting what’s on my laptop or iPhone, my kids rarely see me read. I have stacks of books I’d like to get to but don’t make the time. I don’t like what that is subtly telling them. Sometimes clichés are true: Knowledge is power, and reading is fundamental.

Put myself in the photo. When I look back on an archive of photos that document my kids’ growing up years, I want it to be apparent that I was there enjoying it with them, even when my hair was in a ponytail and I didn’t have lip gloss on. They do care about your appearance – but not your looks.

Cross traditional gender lines. My kids routinely ask me if my favorite color is pink, and are always shocked when I say “No.” Someday they’ll hopefully understand the subtle power and unseen strength in all that women do and are, but for now what they see is whether or not I hand the hammer to a man when it’s time to hang a picture. If you don’t want them to believe in stereotypes, don’t become one.

Pray out loud. I want my kids to grow up turning to God in times of gratitude and distress. How are they going to know how to do that if I don’t show them? Since they can’t hear all the silent prayers I send up – for them and others – I need to pray aloud, not just at the dinner table or at bedtime, but when I receive good news about a loved one. Or when we pass the aftermath of a car accident. Or when they tell me a friend is sick or hurting. When you get the urge to call on God, do it out loud.

Step on the scale. The fight against our culture’s barrage of messages that suggest women are largely imperfect (and objects to conquer) is a daunting one, yet frowning at the mirror or refusing to get on a scale only reinforces those lies. I want my sons to grow up believing all women are beautiful and deserve respect because they love and respect themselves. There is no numeric value attached to who you are.

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Dark Matter


“The universe is coming apart at the seams,” astronomy and astrophysics professor Robin Ciardullo says to the 20 people watching his PowerPoint presentation in a small classroom on Penn State’s campus. It’s 10 p.m. on a Saturday and we’re all listening to his lecture on how, after decades of research and billions of dollars in space exploration, astronomers have come to the conclusion that the universe actually doesn’t make as much sense as they’d hoped. You can tell by the way he’s flailing his arms and throwing bewildered looks around the room that this conclusion, at least for Ciardullo, is deeply unsettling.

It fills me with a relieved sense of calm.

I’m sitting in the front row of this insightful little show, just one of many offered during Astro Fest, a four-night astronomy event that coincides with Central Pennsylvania’s Festival of the Arts. Given that the universe itself is a work of art, local astronomers take the opportunity each year to showcase its brilliance, commiserate about its frustrating unpredictability and – through the magic of 3D movies and million-dollar telescopes – remind us of our relative insignificance.

“I just feel … insignificant,” I say to Chris almost exactly one year earlier, the day after the first flashback jolts my body with nausea in the present over a putrid memory just beginning to bubble up from the distant past.

We are on vacation at a beach in Delaware and I am staring at the vastness of the ocean and my sons building trenches in the sand. But all I can see are the shadows deep inside my psyche, disjointed waves of anxiety and fear and a sense of resigned worthlessness that until now have had no shore on which to crash.

Ciardullo presses a button and a new slide appears, explaining how gravity should be slowing the expansion of the universe, but instead the opposite is happening. For some reason, planets and stars and asteroids are flying apart at a faster and faster rate. Astronomers theorize that this is due to a mysterious dark matter, about which very little is known.

“Everything we see and know about is only about 4 percent of the universe,” Ciardullo says. I empathize with the strained effort it has taken to shift his view not just on the composition of the universe, but on the previously held belief that he understood it.

“It is hard to have the memories now,” I write to myself a couple weeks after the trip to the beach. “My brain has done such a good job of hiding them. And I always wanted to understand myself better but now I feel like I don’t know who I’ve been, like I am someone different than I thought I was all this time….”

Ciardullo is using numbers and ratios and scientifically proven data to preface and explain the existence of dark matter, something he says nobody can see. I sink lower in my faux leather armchair and stare at the percentages he has put up on the screen:

Constituents of the Universe:
Stars, Planets, Asteroids, etc. – 1.5% Mass
Gas, inside and outside of galaxies – 13.4% Mass
Dark Matter – 85% Mass

“Searches have proved that dark matter does not emit light, does not absorb light, and does not reflect light,” Ciardullo says. “It is totally invisible, aside from the fact that it has gravity.”

The journal is a lined writing pad, bound at the top with a spiral ring and cluttered inside with confessions, confusion and the crushing weight of a child’s pain. “The images are so far away, decades away, but chokingly vivid. I can hear him shushing me, forceful, I can feel how little he really saw me or cared about me. That little girl didn’t feel like a person in that moment, in that dark spare bedroom. She felt less than a living, breathing thing, lying there still and quiet, like a stuffed animal rather than an innocent child. That feeling of insignificance is so strong it weighs me down, even all these years later, and in the light of day.”

Scientists like Ciardullo are working hard to understand dark matter, this nonluminous material that makes up so much of who we are as a universe. The planets, the moons, the gaseous balls of light that we wish upon are really just the icing on a cake made of unknown ingredients, a vast shapeless sea that is at once holding things together and, it turns out, pushing them apart.

Dark matter is all around us, wrapped around our constellations and tucked into the folds of our memories. Unseen forces and hidden hurts and grave errors of judgment, black spaces we can’t see or refuse to see but can feel, taking up more room than they should, mystifying scientists and middle-aged women who spent their lives believing one truth and then painstakingly unraveling another.


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