the sign

“if child sexual abuse left physical scars instead 
emotional ones, people would be horrified”

-darkness to light website


maybe it would be a round patch, warm brown background with a golden yellow border. smooth white iron-on material on back although it could also be sewn on with needle and thread. maybe it would have a flame or a cloud, signifying power and beauty and destruction in one.  maybe it would have a spiral made of a dashed line, depicting the twisting mind that freezes and stomach twirls interspersed with stomach drops. maybe it would have a single dot, a single mark isolated and fully exposed. maybe it would have a heart, orangey pink with a strong gray border, not letting anything get to the green core. it would be a sign.

it could mean i made it, i’m not ashamed, i’m a badass, i was so scared, i was hurt, i was violated, i’ll never forget, i’m healing, bent but not broken, i’m a rock thrown in the wheel, interrupting the cycle…

and if everyone knew the sign and if people wore them on their sleeves or their jackets or their hats or had black and white versions tattooed on their arms or their legs or the soft spots between their thumbs and fingers…if they did that then i could see them. or maybe even more,  they could see me.

the loneliness surprises me. a coffee date or rowdy party or singing with friends or cards or gifts or flowers or texts soothe me, remind me of the now, keep me grounded and i am grateful. when pleasure counters pain i am grateful. when settled calm replaces frantic thinking, i am grateful. when i understand some detail and feel a sense of letting go, i am grateful. when i’m walking and squint because the sun is so bright, i am grateful. when i immerse myself in a green leaf and notice lines i never did before, i am grateful. when i see a baby not yet hurt by the world, i am grateful. when i speak to my preschoolers with tenderness and fierce respect, i am grateful. and and yet, a quiet but heavy loneliness remains.

so then i fantasize that i could walk into the coffee shop or the party or the circle of friends and see the signs. i could go to the grocery store, see a woman choosing a green pepper and notice the sign on her sleeve. i could walk down main street and pass a man jogging, the sign on his tshirt. i could walk up to the liquor store and watch an old man carry his paper bag, the sign inked with old-school blue on his forearm. i could wait at a stoplight and glance over at the old woman driving her clean tan car, the sign swaying from her rear view mirror. but then this also means i could wait in the high school parking lot and see a former preschooler, the sign so small drawn with marker on the inside of her arm. or i could be at the state fair on dollar day and see bus loads of elementary students, the sign on backpacks and wristbands. i could see them, they could see me.

or then i imagine meeting up with my offenders…and i wonder if we’d all be wearing the sign.

the knowing. while every story is different, owned only by the person who lived it, there are threads that run through. the time warping. the lifetime of aftermath. the secrets. the triggers. the polarizing mind. the hidden shame. the lost self. the unanswered questions. the betrayal. the loss. the grief. the loneliness.

so in those moments when i am baffled by my loneliness, i fantasize about the signs and wish people were wearing them.

to the people i count

(photo circa 2009 • meg duerksen)

i’ve sung for them to come and like sweet livestock, they squeeze through the door opening. we’ve started our collective lamaze-style shh-shh-shhhhhhh and i quickly whisper count each of them before closing the door. once i’ve reached the magic 13, i always tell them, “you are more than a number to me”…they are skin and bones and smiles and fear and wonder and knowledge and dirt under fingernails and fuzzy hair and spirit and soul and fierce love…so much more than a number.

but there are people walking this earth today who, for a moment, are simply numbers to me.

and to you, unknowingly numbered people, thank you.

in a store or on the sidewalk or driving past, there are days i count you. one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four…

at least one out of four people is a survivor of child sexual abuse.

and you random number fours are the antidote to my lonely grief.

i’ve done this to seven. one-two-three-four-five-six-seven, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven.  when i needed to see that at least one out of seven people has experienced miscarriage.  then i remember when i was pregnant following miscarriage i gave everyone the number one. every single person i saw was the result of a successful pregnancy. every person i saw a visible reminder to hope. one, one more, one more, one more.

and sometimes i count each person i see now as one. every single one of us with a story. every single one of us with a hell. every single one of us survivors. every single one of us with memories. every single one of us with a voice. every single one of us. every single one of us one of us. one. one. one. one. one.

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“the worst part of holding the memories is not the pain.
it’s the loneliness of it. memories need to be shared.”


head turning connection


head turning connection

i look back to check for cars.

my feet dig in the gravelly dirt just enough to make noise.

my mind and my heart are busy in conversation like awkward friends.

my dog is leaping from road to field, avoiding the soppy ditch, not thinking beyond.

when the cars approach, i gather the dog’s collar and set myself away from the coming dust cloud. a glimpse of community with the car’s occupants, i wave, then as soon as the car passes, i release the dog and she runs as though she’s been held captive forever.

this is the daily rhythm, familiar and full of peace.


the other day my mind sprinted and caught up with my body.

a moment when checking for cars transported me back.

my neck turned almost owl-like,

my eyes met the confines of my sockets,

my mouth pulled open a bit,

all while still moving forward.


as a 39 year old woman checking for traffic, i wasn’t scared.

but my mind felt my body and remembered something.

looking back for traffic used the same physical motion i used many times before.

it was the same head twisting on the amazing seven neck bones, the same eyeballs moving towards movement on the horizon, the same mouth dry from breathing in, the same calculated steps.

i would look back at those who just passed me…were they looking back at me?

i would look back at those who were blocks behind me…were they gaining on me?

back at the car that just passed…were the passengers calling out the window?

back at the dog in the yard…did he escape the fence?

the door that closed…was someone coming or going?

the child’s call…was it for me or someone else?

the bird on the wire…did it notice me?

the squirrel in the tree…was her mouth full?

i would look back when it got louder.

i would look back when it got quieter.

and then as my head turned back to center, i would scan the in-between places and corners, the holes in fences and the blanket covered windows. and then with heart rate increased, a focused effort to walk steady and even paced, i would look back again.


the other day i was 39 feeling beautiful and strong and safe and sure when my body reminded me of what it was like to be on guard. my heart felt them both, my soul nodded at knowing all along, my mind stayed with the discomfort, i willed my body to soften and take in a little extra oxygen with solid steps forward.


mind and body and soul…getting connected.

{september 2013}


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my wide eyed self on this earth for forty years

rosy cheeked, wispy hair

calling myself dee dee, knowing my place in the world

running naked in the austrian mountains, on your mark get set go

getting found when lost at preschool, the stained glass adding color

owning a brown messenger bag knapsack for kindergarten, a plastic lined front pocket

sitting on my first grade desk under the kind allowance of our teacher, legs swinging over the edge

hunting for mushrooms in the forest preserve, posing for a picture

holding the weeping willow’s branch, swinging across the chasm of ditch

wearing white high top gym shoes laces undone, riding a red and gold bmx dirt bike

folding the flag in perfect triangular fashion, keeping it off the ground every day after school

acting as peter pan in the school play, my pouch full of gold glitter feet clad in felt

taking pictures, sending film off in the mail for developing delaying gratification

moving to a town where kids sat outside at night, acting braver than cars

learning to drive, the broken board of the garage causing no shame

riding mopeds barefoot in cut-off levis, white tshirts, the eagles from our lips

thin and crispy pepperoni mushroom pizza dipped in creamy italian, red coach our next stop

hand sewn prom dress, little children watching me leave

card games on a dorm room floor, peaches and cream carpet cleaner

nude volleyball under the full moon, women suddenly all the same

sitting in a wading pool inside, three of us not too many

claiming a classroom as teacher and student, the windows making one wall

wearing my grandmother’s dress, my mother’s shoes, committing to love

dole passionfruit juice in a home that felt absent of adults, npr chiming the day’s news

shelves from bricks and boards, creating a job that was all i wanted

fertility chart on bright yellow cardstock paper, an elevated temperature through day 39

mama toto lotion from the body shop across new skin, white bottle with blue lacy font

holding my baby in a red polka dot jumper, signing a contract with a name that still felt new

batik fabric holding earthly remains, rainbow yarn knit to welcome my son

women committed to saying god and fuck in the same sentence, cheese and homemade jam

lamenting over the existence of the tv show survivor, later hosting a party in its honor

dishes the colors of the rainbow, three decades of life determined a fiesta

life cereal with cold milk in a hospital bowl, breakfast in one hand another baby in the other

bubbles with preschoolers and elders, grandpa gus drinking the bubbles like a shot

getting the high score on a pac man game, moments later a worker pulling the plug and loading it up

chicken strips and every dipping sauce available, diet coke cooling the warm greasy air

sir isaac lattes, red and yellow coffee shop setting the stage

painting my door red, finding the right balance of orange and pink

standing in a room with people i knew twenty years earlier, energy made clear

eating tamales with no question of what, men dancing to high school musical as dessert

with strength and choice turning smoke to fire, wholly tired and satisfied

my wide eyed self on this earth for forty years

the secret task

we are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.

-george bernard shaw

i can clearly remember times when i’ve been told to “let it go”…i remember the eyes of my friend while i was miscarrying,  my doctor when i was giving birth.  i remember the words texted from a friend, a message repeated many times for a few months. i remember hearing the voice from my phone, guiding me in a darkened house meditation.

i’m letting one of my old tasks go.

transforming pain to power, living in the discomfort, using my skills to help others…that is my task now.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

the secret task

august 2013

she runs in small frantic circles, wide eyed and working. she’s busy.

she’s small. her hair is wispy and long. she has on a dress, creamy colored and hard to notice. her feet are bare, she likes it that way. her eyes are big. her mouth is opened bird like. she isn’t hungry or dirty or cold. she’s been fed homemade yogurt and bathed in ivory soap and allowed to wear what she wanted.  she’s been hugged and talked kindly to and reminded of her goodness. she has been nurtured, she’s been bolstered, she’s been amply prepared for her secret task: to look beyond for safety.

she sees safe in a relaxed-smiled person, a bird who calls back and forth, a dog with slow wagging tail, a low-branched tree, a pile of blankets. her eyes notice it, her heart swells for just a second before the openness is too big and it clamps down.

she can’t settle in these. this isn’t her task. she is to look beyond safe. she is to look for danger.

quickly organizing the danger into a vertical tier of threat, she can move this order with incredible efficiency. the bottom is low threat.  the top is high threat. every person seen or heard of is positioned.

oops, the way you raised your eyebrows at me just made you a little more scary, up you go. wait, you just reached down and pet that dog, okay, down you go.

you are a baby. you are lower than the bottom. i like to be with you.

yes! you smiled back at me, but since i had to work so hard to get it, you stay right where you are, and you’ll probably move to the top…so i’ll keep a little extra attention on you.

uh ho, i thought you were sitting on the sidewalk reading but really you’re asleep and the newspapers are your blankets! up you go.

you are the president of the united states, so you go to the top. but since i can’t interact with you, i just fantasize that you’re my grandfather.  then you’d put a tarp over my house and no nuclear bombs would hurt me.

hey! you ignored me when you walked past. thank you! down you go…but i’ll look over my shoulder a few times and see if you’re looking back at me…your final position to be determined.

hmmmm, you are pushing your shopping cart, but you’re not looking at anyone, you go just below center.  no wait, you just put fresh fruit in your cart, you go just above center.

you are my friend, you are at the bottom.

wait. you’re touching me under that hard to notice dress, you soared to the top.

wait. no. now it’s over and you’re being nice and talking to our other friends…so i will pretend you’re at the bottom but really you’re at the top, the tippy top…and you earned the first fixed position there.  

(and little did she know that in the coming years, the tier would grow to have a gravity defying shape of revictimization…several people sharing that tippy top position, never to be moved.)

ok. new plan for everyone:

the further you are at the top, the more i will act like you are at the bottom, so i can try to get you on my side.

the further you are at the bottom, the more i will watch you, because you might be tricking me.

i will get to you before you get to me.

and now to make it simpler:

if you are smaller than me, you are at the bottom.

if you are bigger than me, you are at the top until you prove yourself otherwise.

i will start at the top and work down the ever shifting tier of danger.

it’s kind of hard since she’s so small. but her calf muscles are developed from standing on tiptoe. her neck is limber from straining to see. her arms are flexible, busy with daily work in order to keep her task hidden. her face is toned from forced expressions of change. her heart is strong from swelling at safety and the immediate constriction of fear that follows.  every time.

don’t let your guard down.

work from the top.

win them over.

keep them happy.

stay alert for clues.

stay alert for surprises.

keep the work secret, no one can know where they are on the tier.

well, that little girl, a bit feral, has been approached. the tier of old memories is bathed in light. the same primal love of soap and food and kindness has corralled her. and now she scrambles a little more. her well worn paths are reduced to choppy segments. her legs used to more space, she’s awkwardly stumbling. her eyes used to darting further on the landscape, things are too bright. her heart used to the familiar dance of swell and constrict feels oddly numb. her ears used to waiting for startling sounds, quiet things are louder. scrambling and peering through cracks, it’s getting harder and harder to see beyond the fence of love that moves closer all the time. backing away in a quick crab like crawl lands her only against more love. the corners have disappeared. she’s losing her job of organizing danger.

she’s still little enough to hold and show things to and hide.

love edges in, crouches down, arms outstretched, promises repeated.

maybe while standing under a tree.

and hearing birds perched low.

and noticing a pile of blankets.

knowing the places to land

where the heart can swell and remain open.

knowing she’s been found

and it’s safe.

“here is the world. beautiful and terrible things will happen. don’t be afraid.”

-frederick buechner

knowing a place


a few weeks ago one of my stories was published on the blog our stories untold. it was a moment where i felt like i was living out one of my favorite quotes: 

i now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. -brene brown

as i do the dance of feeling the pain in order to let it go, i am grateful for all the people who remind me of love.

tomorrow marks 12 years since i miscarried when i felt and tasted and heard the love of people. i wrote the following piece almost two months ago and it seems fitting to give light to it today.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – -

knowing a place 

by kristin neufeld epp, august 2013

we drive through a town in missouri and the carload resounds:  oh, remember this place?  me: no, i don’t.  them: yes, look! that store with half the sign missing? me: nope. them: okay, look: that’s the parking lot where we saw that puppy?!?!  me: nnnnnope. them: yes! there’s the place we ate! you don’t remember? me: well…kind of.  yeah, i can imagine i’ve been there. them: but you don’t really remember? me: no. i don’t.

passing the restaurant, the parking lot, the place we ate, the tended empty park, the gateless ball diamond, the open funeral home, the closed bank, the flowers planted in an old bathtub, the worn houses spreading further apart at every moment, we approach the edge of town.

a seemingly nondescript building that might have housed a fix-it man back in the day is on the near horizon.

me: oh yeah! yes! now i remember this place!

them: what? now you do? why now?

me: i don’t know, but i do. 

:: :: :: ::

this morning i walked the same road my feet have hit at least 100 times before. i’ve felt every emotion on this road. and today i remembered the place. the place where joy and pain mingle. the place where peace and turmoil, like magnets, repel each other until turned. the place with post-funeral-like laughter through eyes relaxed from a work-out of grief. the place that is uncomfortable and dishonoring to itself. the place that is so compounded that the only way to know it is to hold it and work the layers. i know it. i’ve been here before.

this is like miscarriage. perhaps even more, this is like birth after miscarriage.

the relief of knowing it was felt in my throat, my belly, my heart. my mind gifted me with parallels.

the invisible loss. my smiles and jokes balanced with secret tears and wails. the body betrayal. the quiet knowing that i’m stronger now. falling into the holy of seeing my baby’s face and doubling over with grief of the dream buried under the apple tree. scrambling to keep the ties on everything untangled. the heightened awareness of what other people think and want. this is like living with an open wound hidden in plain sight.

i remember telling people, almost everyone who would listen.

i remember the stings: at least you weren’t that far along…at least you have a child already…it’s so common…at least you didn’t need a d&c…at least you have a supportive husband…it was probably for the best (if you know what i mean)…god has a plan.

i remember nodding in agreement…knowing the threads of truth. and behind the nods with gently raised eyebrows and slightly cocked head were screams that i would have given anything to be farther along so i could have felt my baby move. screams that i wasn’t sure how to love my other children in the face of such loss. screams that it being “so common” didn’t comfort me, it just added to the shame that i couldn’t get over it.

i remember the replies where people owned their tears…the salt staying off me: i’ve been there…i know…time will pass…it’s not your fault…there’s nothing you could have done…i’m different now…i’m stronger now…you can’t change the past, but you can heal…the answer may never be known…sometimes bad things just happen…every day is a choice…welcome to the club you didn’t want to join…you’re never alone…

i know this place.

i’ve traveled here for a lifetime with a heavy load on my back, one whose straps had familiar positions dented in my shoulders. a baby strapped to my chest crooning and perfect, giving and taking life, pulling sweet warmth from my chest, relieving pressure. a child holding my hand looking back leading me as often as i’d let her. a tree planted that we would eat from in the coming months. a body bleeding out memories, the red too shocking to look at.

i remember the landmarks of smiling to hide defeat, embracing the prickly mystery of god, cushioning it with a blanket of fear, dabbing the wounds quickly so no one would see them, stumbling to respond to “how are you?”, wanting to make the story worse to solidify it, wondering what lesson i needed to learn, what flaw was being showcased, swallowing deep gratitude with betrayal. i stopped at all those, i knew them without knowing how well i knew them. i had known them most of my life.

this is like that.

i want to tell…almost everyone who will listen…and there have been awkward spurts of sharing when the eight and nine and twelve year old in me took over.

i’ve already told myself the replies that sting:  at least it wasn’t rape…so many kids had it worse than you…at least your parents believe you…at least your offender apologized…you have everything any victim would want…look how amazing it made you…this is why you’re a great preschool teacher…god knew what he was doing…all things happen for good.

i’ve been here before, I know the truth in those statements…but this time I choose not to just nod. I give voice to the screams that all lead back to angry, sad, complicated, confused, scared, shame filled, bone deep grief. 

i remember how it was.

so i’m taking a different route through town. finding new landmarks, noticing places worth hanging out at, places worth walking past, folks to wave at, some to sit with, all to learn from. i could ramble and wander forever here or sprint a shortcut through yards ferris bueller style or walk slowly and pay attention. no matter.

all routes will lead to the main drive, the one that approaches the seemingly nondescript moments, the one that creeps to the edge of town.

the edge where i finally recognized where i was.

and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – t. s. eliot




photo show

if it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.
-seth godin

my photos are up in mojos, a local coffee shop. the idea scared me. and it excited me. i “tried” it by thinking about it. then i did it.

i love my pictures. the slants and high contrast and focus. i remember taking each of them. i remember my thoughts. i have a story for each summed up in a word or two.

choosing them and printing them off was like pulling cupcakes out of the oven. affixing them to mats was like frosting. adding text to them was like sprinkles. then i loved them even more. i took pictures of my pictures. i smiled at my favorites. i felt the tender pangs looking at others.

photo of photo

carrying them in to the shop was scary. i resisted the urge to discredit them. i felt awkward and giggly. i remain grateful to have had friends help hang them. i said i felt like an imposter. i was encouraged and nudged and referred to as “the artist formerly known as kristin.” when i wanted to take a picture of the college boys sitting in a booth with my photos, my friend fake posed so i could hide behind my shyness a bit. i filled out my skin while i covered walls as the evening went on.


going in for the first time was scary, like nervous stomach diarrhea scary. i felt exposed and shy and proud and excited all at the same time. deep breath, stand tall, smile at the things you love.

i had dreamt that all the photos fell off, was reassured that they were fine. but when i went for the first time panels started literally falling off the walls. another friend took me to the hardware store for the tiniest, longest nails we could find. we went around and hammered two nails into each panel while people were milling about.  do it, she told me.

claiming my work with pounding interruptions.

claiming a part of me that i love knowing that even if i would be the only one who loves it, it is worth loving.

the artist formerly known as kristin

she left pieces of her life behind her everywhere she went.
it’s easier to feel the sunlight without them, she said.
-brian andreas

all photos in the show can be found on instagram: kristin1973 Screen shot 2013-08-28 at 10.00.11 PM


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on march 22 i walked the dirt road and paused to build a cairn. on this road made of rocks, i built one three high. on this road worn down by years of cars and tractors and semis, i chose … Continue reading

lessons from the hunt

we set out to collect abandoned railroad spikes with the quiet hope of finding one of those greenish glass marble like balls. i was schooled this day by my son.

we ate first at the restaurant “closest to our house if we are riding down main street” and then headed to the tracks.  these are quiet tracks and i gave the same rules, hopes, plans and boundaries as always. we walked collecting spikes. i had a backpack and once they picked up 3-4, they could put them in my pack. eliza was a quiet and steady companion, absorbed and uncharacteristically content with a seemingly mundane task.

at one point i got a strong but dull awareness that i’d never walked this stretch of track before. i’d been beyond it and i’d been behind it, these are the same tracks that are half a block from my family’s home. but in 26 years i’d never been on this stretch…the stretch between main street and sand creek.  i asked the kids if they felt weird being here, if they felt like something was wrong, if it felt like we shouldn’t be here.

micah says,
“well yeah, it feels like we shouldn’t be here
because we’ve never been here before.”

lesson one.

we walk on really quietly, picking up spikes, noticing abandoned buildings, listening for dogs, guessing on what is causing the rustles in the woods. then we start talking about how cool it would be to actually find one of those glass balls. we’ve heard different theories on what they are, but we know they can be found around the tracks. we talk about how rare they are, how old they are and then bam. there it is. a perfect air bubble filled greenish glass ball, chipped and worn in spots.

micah says,
“we were just talking about it and we found it…
that means we should always talk about what we want.”

lesson two.

my heart swirled with the gift of learning, we got back to our bikes, cinched up the back pack, and i heaved it on. the weight of it made me wobble and giggle and feel foolish.

i weighed it when we got home: 44 pounds of spikes and 1 hand warm of glass ball.

stopping still for one second


as a teacher, i invite children to 32 seconds of stillness every day. we listen to an old woman in japan sing a lullaby about carp. sometimes children sit. sometimes they curl up on their sides. sometimes the lean right next to me. sometimes they lay on top of me. sometimes they spend half their time running to turn off the lights. sometimes they spend the entire song gathering blankets and pillows for themselves.

we almost always do another 32 seconds…she sings for us again…and then, then there is maybe one second where we are all still at the same time. bliss.

i have an image that has landed in my mind regularly for years. i imagine the world getting pulses of peace. a simple moment where everything is Right. i believe in it. i want it. i wonder if it has ever happened. i wonder if it is happening the moment the thought comes. the possibility of global rest makes me giddy.

finding this poem tonight brought those two things to mind…now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still. ahhhh…

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.