Like Marie Kondo, only meaner.

I thought from time to time I could republish some work lingering in my portfolio. Here’s a piece from that collection. I hope you enjoy.

There’s a very small and beautiful Japanese lady called Marie Kondo who goes into people’s homes, helps them assess what’s needed in their life and what isn’t, and then has them say a deep and heartfelt goodbye to all of the personal items that once had a place in their existence but have long since wreaked havoc on the state of their affairs.

She’s basically me if she came with a set of matches and an affinity for the phrase, “Do you really need that sweater seeing that we’re all gonna die one day anyways?”

Matt and Ava have learned how to hide their things. It really is a glorious art to find that pair of sweatpants with the knee in the hole and the waistband that’s too tight, scrunching itself into a neat little ball in the closet as if I’m some well-mannered Japanese TV host with a penchant for sparing people’s feelings and who doesn’t enjoy the smell of burning fleece.

I just feel that stuff is stuff. To tag a sentimental value to something seems almost foreign to me, save for the few trinkets from close friends and family that actually mean something. But gathering stuff for the sake of stuff gathering is akin to the man storing surplus grain in the larger barn he builds so that he can take a load off, pop open a cold one, and enjoy the feats of his labor (Luke 12:16-21).

Oh but then spoiler alert: he dies.

I have to ask myself daily where my treasure is. I have to light my own match and hold it close to the things I think I own. I own nothing. I am a steward of God’s good graces. I am merely borrowing my home and my car and my dog and my daughter and my husband and all the other things that surround me that reflect an erroneous semblance of safety.

There is nothing safe about this world. Remember that. I’m not saying there is no joy, no hope. Oh gosh no. WE are that joy and that hope to a barren world that thinks it knows better. Which is why it’s so important to burn the mental ties to anything that keeps us from being salt and light.

The more tethered we are to “our” treasure, the less valuable we are to others.

But the more we light the fire to the ties that hold us to worldly thinking, well, we lift up and away, feet dangling, eyes toward heaven.

© 2023 by Ericka Clay


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The dust of ourselves.

I thought from time to time I could republish some work lingering in my portfolio. Here’s a piece from that collection. I hope you enjoy.

I’ve been playing at this for so long, I sometimes don’t know the sound of my own voice.

I’ve become the thing I think that I used to hate. The woman sandwiched so perfectly into life that you’d never think to pop her out of it, put her in brand new territory.

Have I gotten stale? Am I nothing more than a useless bag in the wind?

Nah, I’m just thirty-seven.

I had a conversation with a friend about leaving your phone’s flashlight on. I’ve done this several times, but the worst part is scrambling to find how to turn it off. And it’s like my brain just can’t remember that step, so there I am, illuminating my whole world. Or rather, blinding everyone in the eyes.

My daughter giggles at me, gives me an “Oh, Mom.” And I look around like, is she talking to me? When did this happen? When did I become a mother of twelve-going-on-thirteen-year-old? When did this phone become the Rosetta Stone that I’ve still not managed to crack?

The world would make me think it’s all over. I found the first gray hair a few days ago in the Pet Supplies Plus parking lot. It was wiry and at half mast, and I ripped it out of my head. “Don’t do that!” Matt said, and I would have been more suspicious of myself if I hadn’t. Who goes around with a broken TV attena jutting out of their crown and clawing at the sky?

All of these things remind me of the thing I knew I’d never become. Old. No longer easy on the eyes (Ericka had her day, friends). I’m a walking, talking hormonal mess who keeps dialating people’s pupils at the random, and I no longer have any balance. I turned my head the wrong way the other day in our shed and almost ended up sprawled over my daughter’s bike.

I’m the female version of Mr. Magoo, slightly less myopic and with enough sense to worry about these things. But then again, I don’t worry much.

The whole world will pass away. Did you know that? You’re sitting here but one day you won’t. I’m typing these things, but one day I won’t.

I see the beautiful injustice in it all, but if it were purely just, God wouldn’t let us breathe anymore in the first place.

Sinful hearts and all that.

So what do we do with this thing, you and me? What do we do with aching backs and cracking hips and the dust of ourselves wrinkling and wearing like an old coat that just doesn’t fit right anymore?

Well, the world would give a whole lesson on how not to be and look like you. But Jesus, well, He wants every dying second of it.

Because we die, we walk a little closer to Him. And as we live, we’re proof that He exists.

Because who else would want a bumbling thirty-seven-year-old who once was going to marry Prince William and now practically loses a finger each time she slices an orange?

He does. And I’ll never stop being grateful.

© 2023 by Ericka Clay


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Like a flower breaking earth.

You’re still here in all your flesh

and memory serves to correct me

on the little details caught up

all around me like dead skin in dust.

How often I look at photos memorizing

the ghost lines of a gone face,

paying my condolences to an empty casket

and curled consciousness, yellowed with the wear

of bringing you out and setting you in my sun.

And grief is a cruel mistress, keeping the dead alive,

or maybe the living just dead enough for me to still own you,

take your future captive,

to tell stories to my friends of the used to be,

ignoring that there is a right now going on in a universe

I don’t belong to.

And it’s only when I set my heart on my Portion,

On the lone One who knows the intricate weave of all the cells

I can’t see,

That I can see my right now, too, how it doesn’t have to be

darkened by the once was.

How I can bury you whole and still breathe,

watching you breaking through all my wrongs

like a flower breaking earth.

© 2023 by Ericka Clay

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And I didn’t even kill anyone.

Working with my father was the best and worst thing I ever did.

Best because it was with my father.

Worst because I almost died.

The first time, we worked on an all-girls school in Massachusetts. It was exactly like you’d imagine an all-girls school in Massachusetts to be. I remember it was made of stone and there were a lot of trees and the bathrooms felt like they were possibly time portals to the 1940’s.

Essentially, it’s pretty much the way everything is in Massachusetts.

My father was a waterproofer and so was his father, and even my mother’s mother’s father was a waterproofer who happened to teach my dad’s father how to waterproof.

And for the longest time, I had no idea what waterproofing actually was.

But that day, I got to learn.

Essentially, waterproofing is ensuring a building doesn’t leak. I can’t remember exactly what else I learned that day because at one point I was too busy trying not to die, and during the first part of the day, I was too distracted by what I was going to eat for lunch.

I’m one of those people who you see and say, “Well, my goodness, where does she put it all??”

Wouldn’t you like to know.

So, after a morning of attempting to stay fully planted in the year 2000 (even after I flushed the toilet) and balancing in the sky on scaffolding precariously hanging on the side of the all-girls school, we got to eat grinders from a sandwich shop in the downtown area that looked exactly like you’d expect a Massachusetts downtown to look like. We ate in my dad’s truck which always smelled like sweat and caulking.

I don’t remember what I ate, but it most likely involved salami.

After lunch, it was time for death.

I was up on the scaffolding doing whatever it is I was supposed to be doing (which I’m sure involved a strict set of important tasks that were shoved forcefully from my mind to make room for daydreams of Prince William) when I did the thing my father precisely asked me not to do: I attempted to die.

Well, actually, he just told me to be careful to watch my feet because there was one section of the scaffolding that didn’t have any boards. And I proceeded to forget this.

I went down quickly. I should have plunged from our thirty-foot perch straight down past the beautiful tall trees and windows to the time-portal bathrooms to my death on the pine-needly ground, but I didn’t. My hands reached out, and I grabbed blindly for a board that magically appeared and held on tight as my father helped me back up onto the scaffolding.

Needless to say, our work day was over, and I was forbidden by my mother to ever waterproof again. Which was a shame because, well, salami.

The second time I almost died was when I was working again for my father. I’m starting to see a pattern here. Either work or my dad is trying to kill me. I’ll perform more experiments and get back to you.

Anyways, this time, he worked in an office for a waterproofing company, and I was to be his assistant. This was great because never have I been more skilled in the art of Minesweeper or attempting to take a nap under a small desk sandwiched in a cubicle.

Pro tip: bring a coat. It makes a glorious blanket.

On one of these days, I decided to be helpful and make popcorn in the microwave. This ended up being partly unhelpful since I put the popcorn in for way too long, and we ended up meeting the Boston Fire Department.

They’re exactly how you’d expect the Boston Fire Department to be.

I didn’t die, and I didn’t even kill anyone.

But let’s just say naptime didn’t feel the same that day.

I have never since been invited back to work with my father. I’m not really sure why since I’m the sort of person who can sit quietly for incredibly long periods of time until I’m either plunging to my death or burning down a building. But that’s fine. His loss.

If he’s ever interested in hiring me again, he knows where to find me. Under this desk.

© 2023 by Ericka Clay


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Guilt is a bird in my ribs.

If there’s a memory that I can feel the taste and smell of everything, it’s the day I did the splits and ended up in the emergency room. Not because of the splits but because of the lone piece of wood that popped up unabashedly from the floor to defend itself from me.

Into my leg it went, a pain so clean and succinct, I made myself pretend I had imagined it, the heart in my chest knowing otherwise.

I didn’t tell anyone about it until my mother came to pick me up, and only then I whispered it to her like I had been a victim of a very cruel game.

My crime was being alive and not knowing where my voice went.

Years later, I tell a friend about this event, and I laugh because children are silly, and she stares because who suffers pain due to the guilt of feeling that pain in first place?

I do.

The whole time you’re a young Catholic girl, guilt licks you like a kitten. It’s not all a horrible thing to have a pet, especially one that’s gentle. But it follows you around, and you just assume, as young children do, that everyone else is just the same.

That everyone has something small and breathing that nestles against their necks when they have the audacity to do or say something just left of what’s right.

There’s a friend I have who I truly wish wasn’t. I play with her when my other friends can’t see. Her name is Marcie, and she’s the opposite of cool. I am, too, with my big flutter bangs and coke bottle glasses, but I’m best friends with the most popular girl in our class so you really can’t mess with me.

Plus, my mom’s a teacher, and I can make her give you detention. At least I’m pretty sure I can.

I go to Marcie’s house, which is cluttered and smells like dust. There’s a fine coat of it everywhere, and some dances mid-air in the light streaming through the windows and glass sliding door. We pretend to be veterinarians, her sizable congregation of stuffed animals our patients, and I like typing on the blank-screened computer as I check our patients in.

It’s the most fun I’ve had in a very long time, and when Monday comes, I ignore Marcie completely.

My guilt is a bird in my ribs I shut up with excuses.

Marcie sings in church and her voice is the loudest in the building. She stands in front of me so I can watch her thick, waist-length hair sway like a pendulum. The girls in my row stare and giggle, and my face stares and giggles, too, but my insides wonder what it would be like to do what I really want to do. To sing at the top of my lungs to God, eyes shut to the cruelty of unrelenting hearts.

Marcie dies when we’re sixteen, but it’s been years since I’ve seen her. I moved and live in New England while she stayed and lived life in Arkansas. I imagine myself her best friend if things would have remained the same. I can see myself sitting next to her in class and having sleepovers, talking about boys. The best of friends we’d become, time and a backbone changing my outlook.

But time is vicious and they ran plumb out of backbones, so I never did tell her how much I wanted to sing next to her.

And I suppose her leukemia wouldn’t have acknowledged me as a formidable adversary anyhow.

My guilt grew and had to be fed, and it’s exhausting when it barks at me late at night. It will be a constant rendering, this existence of quiet prayer in the dark to something I don’t even understand and swallowing down that chirping bird until all I can feel is a slight flutter.

Until I can finally go to sleep.

© 2022 by Ericka Clay


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Every time my heart broke.

I never understood death until my dog died Christmas morning two years ago. I wasn’t a stranger to human death. My great-grandmother died when I was sixteen, and before that, my great-uncle. I had seen their bodies still, and I had seen their bodies in motion.

But neither of them knew my heart.

There’s a fine line in your life when somebody or something you love can no longer be reached. There is the “before that moment” when life hurts and there is the “after that moment” when life still hurts, and you find yourself shuffling to the corners of your house to find something that’s no longer there.

It left me in a panic when my dog, Roxie, died. That evening, I had an attack, one that I hadn’t had in a very long time, and only two things calmed me: stepping outside to stare up at heaven and going inside to find my daughter. I could see her body still breathing, a reminder that maybe not all the good had decided to pack up and move away.

When I first got Roxie, I was young and stupid. I was an instant dog mom, dressing her up in clothes (a blue t-shirt and a black hoodie. I didn’t conform to the world’s standards so why should she?), and I would carry her around like the baby I wouldn’t have until a year later. She was so small, she’d belly under our couch just to poop. We didn’t even realize she was pooping under there until we moved, and as she got older and I studied her habits, I realized she was uncomfortable with us watching her every time she used the bathroom.

Finally, a dog with some sense.

I think the worst thing I ever did was tell her my secrets. It had been a long six years of suicidal ideation, a fancy word for “I just don’t want to be here anymore.” I loved my parents, I loved my husband. But I never saw in their faces such a pure sense of loss every time my heart broke.

In their defense, she was the only one who I’d ever let see me cry. And given the chance, I probably wouldn’t let them lick my tears.

But she did, with relish.

At night, we’d drink together—vodka water(s) with a twist of lime. She’d lap a drink while I’d watch Bridezilla late at night, watching women fly off the handle. And in cozying deep into my functional alcoholism like snuggling into a down blanket, I’d be thankful I wasn’t anything like them.

At least I had my life together.

She’d sit and watch me as I wrote, my attempts at being the next Shirley Jackson ever-present and as real as the giant aspirations I had created for myself. I’d get famous and maybe cart her around as Paris Hilton did with that little dog of hers, but Roxie was pretty fat, so I considered some sort of baby stroller contraption instead.

But then soon enough, I’d need a real one of those. I was pregnant. I didn’t let my heart catch up to my brain and realize that maybe I never would be what I always knew I would. So there I was, my dog side-eying my growing belly, leery of what would break open sooner than later while I closed my eyes to reality. Something I was pretty decent at if I do say so myself.

My child was(is) a force to be reckoned with, and sometimes, Roxie and I would hold each other, watching the havoc. It was like another being had invaded our space and dashed my dreams of glory and Roxie’s dream of pooping in peace.

We were tormented in the worst and best ways, having to grow outside ourselves. So we took to our late nights, sharing our vodka and mild regrets but not overly concerned because at least we had each other.

In the house with the demons, Roxie walked the wooden floors, never being able to sleep at night. The clip-clip-clip of her nails was morse code signaling her fear and discomfort until it echoed in my dreams.

In my room at night, God showed me the evil, and it was too strong for me without Him. I gave my life over, trusting Him and not a bottle of vodka to light the darkness. No more late nights and freshly made drinks.

I could tell Roxie was a little miffed.

My soul sang, but my mind was still a mess. Jesus saves, but the darkness especially craves souls willing to follow His lead. I worked hard and late and would look at Roxie sitting next to me on the couch and think, “One day, this, too, will only be a memory.”

Years marched as years often do, and when you look around, you realize how things have changed. My daughter grew, her body rivaling mine, and we’d play “pass the Roxie” as I’d teach her things about math and science and personal boundaries people often cross, people who have no real understanding of who Jesus is.

And I also taught her about grace, too, because without it, I would have been stuck on the couch, drink in my hand.

Roxie was who she still is in my heart and mind until she suddenly wasn’t. She got sick and her body detroriated, her spin protruding out of her skin. To hold her was to hold weakness, helplessness, a past slowly wearing away.

The worst part was her eyes because she knew it too. Soon enough, she wouldn’t know us anymore. I think maybe they were a soft reminder of my own suffering. How it pained me enough to live behind my own flesh and bone and how I was helpless to help the soul dying behind hers.

I think if anything, Roxie reminds me of Jesus. I mean obviously not the anxious pooping or nonstop barking or clip-clip-clipping across the hardwood floor. But the desire to just sit next to a person and look out into nothing and know the end of something is so near.

And the beginning? How beautiful it always is.

© 2022 by Ericka Clay


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There goes the neighborhood.

My great-grandmother used to wash her hands up to her elbows. Which I guess was more like washing her arms. She was obsessive-compulsive, something that wasn’t diagnosed until much later in life when she was also diagnosed as manic-depressive and schizophrenic. I remember the smell of soap and old skin, washing away something I just couldn’t see.

When my mother and I would take her to the grocery store, I’d always sit under the basket, being chauffeured by my mother who navigated the abuse of someone who wasn’t technically in her right mind. I know now this was the love that Jesus talked about, an unconditional concern for those who can’t fend for themselves. My mother would pick the wrong can of peas, and there’d be a tug of war, a show for all the world to see (at least the world inside of Kroger’s), and I was more than happy to be teetering far below it on four rusty wheels.

At the end of these trips, my great-grandmother would purchase a box of Virginia Slims, and I was eerily attracted to how long and thin they were. I imagined it was something Lucille Ball might have smoked—the heroine of my five-year-old heart—and it’s a miracle I’m not a smoker now. But maybe it has something to do with my great-grandmother deciding to quit in her early eighties like she was as tired of smoking as she was of the world’s inability to choose the right can of peas.

In her home office, it smelled like the dust of faraway years, the same ones I saw Lucy live on my TV. There was her marble pen and clock set she still used and her drawers with her checkbook and stamps. I can see her sitting there, almost unconcerned about how old she was and how almost everyone had died, allowing the strength of her will to keep her upright.

In the hallway, outside of her office was the project my great-uncle—one of her sons—had done as a kid. It was a plaque that on one side listed facts about Lincoln, and on the other, facts about Kennedy. And from the tender age of five, I couldn’t stop thinking about Lincoln having a secretary named Kennedy and Kennedy having a secretary named Lincoln, and how all the world seems like a mess of coincidences unless you know the truth.

I’d sit at the upright piano where the picture of my grandmother, my great-grandmother’s daughter, was framed in black and white. It was beautiful and haunting because she seemed closer to my age even though it was taken on a day God didn’t need me to exist.

I’d play from the yellowed piano books in the front room—the same ones my grandmother and great-uncles played from—and make music about little boys and their dogs and clocks that wouldn’t stop ticking.

When I was done, I’d creak the pedals of her ancient exercise machine and pretend to watch the broken TV that hadn’t worked since the fifties.

The dead fish on the wall my great-grandfather had caught and mounted would watch me as my great-grandmother poured another mug of whole milk into her Campbell’s soup mug. She’d drink it down, and I thought maybe it was the secret elixir behind everything—like why her air conditioner had been stolen twice while she was sleeping but nobody had laid a hand on her. Or like how her elderly neighbor had been kidnapped in broad daylight and beaten and killed in an alley for a gang initiation, but she had remained unscathed.

She wasn’t the type to open the door for anyone.

I’d sit on the couch, the hurt in my heart knowing what this house, this home used to be and what it was now. There goes the neighborhood was such a heavy rift in the air, you could play it on the piano.

I’m frightened of my great-grandmother even at fifteen when I haven’t seen her in years. She’s sitting in a wheelchair at her nursing home with the other older people waiting for something, anything, to come through that door. When she sees me, she says, “Ericka, get me a cup of coffee,” as a way of a hello, and I try not to be spooked by the fact that she still knows who I am all these years later.

We sit in the dining hall as she doesn’t eat and talk with her, or at least my mother does. All the things I know about her like hopping on the back of my cousin’s husband’s motorcycle that one time or chasing the ones she loved with a hammer are piled high in the back of my mind, and I take a slow climb as I recognize she’s scared, too.

“Can I have that?” she asks my mother and reaches for the medal chained around her neck. It’s of the Virgin Mary, and at the time, I think it was a weird request, but you get used to weird when a person fills a sink full of soap and water just to wash their hands.

Later on, she dies and joins all the ones who already have. Older now, and betrothed to Christ, I know what that fear was. Your whole life you spend washing the past off you and chasing it away with tools in your garage or closing your eyes to missing air conditioners or looking at that funny bass hanging high above your head, and you can smoke all the cigarettes in the world, and take their diagnoses, the ones that pretend to define you.


You’ll never truly defy the weight of all that weighs you down. Not unless you find the One whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:29-30

© 2022 by Ericka Clay


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