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My Bipolar Father had a Gun

Recently published on Vox Populi, this story provides a human face to reports of school shootings….and the emotional trauma inflicted by proximity to weapons.

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That Does It!

First published in Story News, October 2019, I repost my essay here to let Trump supporters know I understand what it feels like to be betrayed by a leader you trust and want to believe in. But we must recognize when they cross the line, violating our own moral compass. When to say, “That does it!”

Sitting on the couch, my nerves splayed, I said a silent prayer that his televised announcement would allow him to clear his name once and for all. I was half-convinced I could will it to be so.

Tell them, Bill. Tell them this is simply not true.

After watching his confession, I turned off the television in silence. I robotically descended the basement stairs, emerged with a putty knife, and went outside.  

Tears streaming down my face on that hot August night, I began to scrape two bumper stickers off my car – stickers that had been there for five years. Ever since Bill Clinton’s first campaign for president in 1993.

My husband knew I was hurting and, after giving me some time alone, followed me out to the driveway.

“Are you angry that he lied to the nation?” he quietly asked.

I hesitated, confused by my shattered illusions.

“No, I’m hurt. Bill apparently has slept with everyone but me!” I retorted, trying to make light of my despair. “That does it!”

But…in truth, I was mad that he’d lied. To me. It felt personal. It was personal.

That night, the truth robbed me of my faultless president. And made me feel like a fool for defending him against all comers, of which there were many. Friends and foes alike queued up to remind me what a sap I’d been, how my blind devotion to a charismatic leader had prevented me from seeing what had apparently been quite obvious to others: He wasn’t worthy of my trust. But I hadn’t believed any of the stories about him until I heard it from his own feckless mouth.

Instead of firing back in Bill’s defense as I’d always done, I had to take their ridicule on the chin. Worse yet, I had to break up with my president.

* * *

William Jefferson Clinton was to me what John Fitzgerald Kennedy was to my mother: a young, charming, sexy, brilliant, passionate leader. My childhood home was graced with JFK’s stunning profile: framed in photos, etched on china and brass, embodied in three-dimensional figurines. When he was killed, my mother deeply mourned him and our nation. After she died, I found files of newspaper clippings she’d kept in memoriam. She’d never believed the stories of his sexual liaisons.

Although his pasty face and Big Mac-engendered physique weren’t exactly sex-symbol material, the sum of Bill’s parts added up to be my heartthrob. He had that certain je ne sais quoi. All the accusations about his illicit affairs over the years only made him more alluring. (They weren’t true, anyway.) Even though I have gay friends, his Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell military policies were okay by me. Even though I witnessed low-income parents struggling to comply with his Welfare-to-Work initiative, I didn’t falter in my devotion. Despite my peace movement alliances, if he bombed Serbia, they must have deserved it.

The harder friends tried to dissuade me, the more I dug in. Especially when Bill wailed on that sexy sax. And bit his lower lip. He was welcome to feel MY pain anytime.

In my eyes, Bill had human foibles and was politically expedient, but he was intelligent and his heart was in the right place as he set the course for our nation. He was ever-civil even in the face of unreasonable adversaries. And he was strong enough to partner with a woman who radically upgraded the role of First Lady. (However, that only complicated our relationship because, although I had a mad crush on Bill, I deeply respected Hillary.)

Yes, hypocrisy ruled the day as I harmonized with Marilyn McCoo on Wedding Bell Blues: “Bill, I love you so, I always will. I look at you and see the passion eyes of May…” (My husband was remarkably tolerant of my fantasy.)

I flaunted my illicit affair. Co-workers pasted my photo on copies of The National Enquirer whenever Bill’s latest accuser was featured. Union leaders would bring me token campaign paraphernalia (bribes, really) inscribed with his name – pens, hats, t-shirts, and the like. One friend gave me a life-size cut out of him, which initially graced my office before being featured in my stairwell at home.

I had many enablers, although not all shared my infatuation. In fact, some declared him “totally gross.”

Then that slutty Monica Lewinsky tried to bring him down with her lies. Damn that Newt Gingrich for fabricating charges. Like Hillary said, it WAS a right-wing conspiracy. They could all go to hell. Bill was my guy. Until…

Until…the day he appeared on television and confessed he’d had “inappropriate relations” with THAT woman.

Bill had betrayed me. Me! I was a woman scorned. That’s why I understand what’s happening now.

* * *

Sitting on the couch, a friend and I shake our heads in a synchronized fashion as we watch the latest Trump scandal unfold: Witnesses are confirming that Trump withheld much-needed funding from the Ukraine to defend itself against marauding Russia unless it did opposition research on a potential Democratic candidate. Then publicly invited China to do the same.

“Why do they stick by this criminal?” I rhetorically ask. He responds by asking me the same question with a different inflection and a few well-placed swear words. Because answers are not readily forthcoming when behavior defies logic. The frosting on the (let-them-eat) cake is that Trump’s campaign has raked in 50,000 more small donors since the impeachment inquiry began.

We turn off the television in silence. We reach for our adult beverages, crank up the music, and start stress-eating.

I’ve been hoping that, with the latest breaking news, the Trump 2020 banners will come down, along with the Confederate flags that seem to correlate with the Trump endorsements in my upstate New York town. Hoping my Facebook “friends” who originally supported Trump will read my next post and say, “Oh, wow. That does it! You’re right! He’s gotta go.”

I remain disappointed. But maybe this latest misdeed will do it.

Phew! The madness will be over soon.

WHAT?! The banners are still up, and more are appearing. His supporters continue to accuse me of spreading fake news because “he’s no worse than you Democrats,” and I must be “a sore loser” – which we all should be based, on how the election was “won.”

My head is bloody from banging it against the wall. My tongue is bloody from biting it in certain social circles. I want to shake Trumper friends (especially women) until they come to their senses.

Yet, my long-overdue rejection of Bill back in the day gives me hope. As I watch the current impeachment inquiry coverage, I reflect on my blind allegiance, my unwavering support in the face of significant evidence to the contrary. Granted, his accusers weren’t up against a Clinton News station masquerading as “fair and balanced.” Bill didn’t incite angry mobs in his own defense, polarizing friends and family, adding lies to lies. But Bubba is not The Donald – I couldn’t crush on him if he were. Bill has a foundational believe in democracy. And his “crime” was inconsequential compared to what patriotic whistleblowers are telling Congress today.

In public service cases like this, thanks to investigative journalists in particular, evidence does mount, and the final straw – the one that destroys unwavering devotion – can present itself quite unexpectedly. Because once you know, you can’t not know.

* * *

Ten years after I’d scraped my bumpers clean, I walked into my last cabinet meeting prior to retirement from public education. I was feeling a little melancholy until…I realized all my colleagues were wearing Bill Clinton masks. We joked about my schoolgirl crush and misguided idolatry, but there was part of me that still felt embarrassed by my own naivety. I could still get in touch with my profound disappointment; my disillusionment still stung.

That same year, thanks to a friend of a friend, I was asked to serve as a facilitator at the first Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. In the hotel lobby, I ran into my ex as he exited the elevator. In his inimitable style, Bill sauntered up to me, extended his hand, and thanked me for volunteering. He was taller and thinner than in my dreams, and we’d both aged over the ensuing years. A decade earlier, I would have melted on the spot (and perhaps slipped my room key into his pocket). But that day, I meekly replied, “Thank you for the work you continue to do on behalf of global health and economic justice.”

As they say, the thrill is gone. While I still believe he’d been the right president for the times, integrity did and does matter.

Because this rabid supporter of a president facing impeachment did eventually sever ties with her beloved, I believe it possible that many in Trump’s “base” will start to break up with him, too. They just haven’t felt the weight of the final straw yet. But they will.

Devotees don’t go down easily but, with the right evidence presented in the right way, we can and do (eventually) say, “That does it!”

Until then, I’ll continue to watch broadcast news as if it’s roadkill: I don’t want to see it but can’t resist taking a peek.

I loved that guy….until…..


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Ms. Magazine published “Keepers,” a poem I wrote in 2016 under an assumed name so as not to upset family members. But it’s time for all who have suffered from the shame to come out into the light of justice. I share this now to honor my foremothers’ truth. And hope you will honor yours.

Click below to read online.

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Her Wings Not Strong Enough (reprise)

She hangs
Luminous melon-green wings

He set his trap
Her crime flying too close
Caught in the web
Of a foe she dwarfs

Helpless against his cunning
She gave up
Her wings not strong enough
Invisible threads stole her freedom

One would not guess
The spider could win
With a weave so delicate
It belies intent

A beautiful creature
Even in death
Did she succumb too soon
Unaware of her power?

Her captor not present
To claim his prey
I cut her loose
Denying him reward

She falls to the ground
And I wonder why it is
I would presume
The insects’ genders.

©2018 Patricia A. Nugent

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A Long Goodbye

Click below to read my recent essay about gun violence, as published in the Albany Times Union.


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Click below to read what happened in church last Sunday.

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This, Too, Shall Pass

Too late, I spotted Baby Jesus’ feet sticking out of Punkin’s mouth – snatched from the tabletop nativity scene. I flew across the room to rescue the Prince of Peace. Punkin took a big gulp, and Jesus disappeared down his gullet.

I’d had that creche since childhood. Each day, I’d hop-scotch the shepherds from table to table across the living room –– bringing them closer to the manger where Jesus would be making a grand entrance on Christmas morning. As an adult, I still moved the Wise Men closer, following the star, even though I’d long rejected the literal narrative of his virgin birth. The story still holds magic and nostalgia for me.

But the Savior had disappeared into my dog’s stomach. Like Jonah and the whale.

This was unusual behavior for Punkin. Unlike Dolly, he was not a forager. He didn’t typically eat our stuff; it was more his style to crash into it. But since a mast cell tumor had invaded his golden body, he’d been on oral chemotherapy, which dramatically altered his behavior. The potential cure turned my joyful, interactive dog into a recluse who hid under the piano rather than interact. Knowing that was no life for Punkin, we discontinued treatment to try to re-kindle some of his spark before he died. The Universe granted us a couple more months.

During that time, he ate Jesus. Seemed fitting in a way.

I called the vet’s office: “My dog just ate Baby Jesus from the manger.”

Silence. Crank call?

I repeated myself.


“I’m serious. It was ceramic – about one square inch. I’m quite sure it went down whole – I didn’t see Punkin chew him.”

Pause. “Well, that gives a whole new meaning to ‘the body of Christ,’ doesn’t it?”

I allowed myself to laugh, despite concern for my dog and the disappearance of the lead in my childhood nativity scene.

“Unless he shows distress, just watch for Jesus to exit the other end.”

“I think he’s too big to come out the other end.”

“You’d be surprised what Jesus can do. Don’t underestimate him. It’ll pass.”

Laughter in the background tells me I’m being broadcast. That clinic had quite a run (and financial boon) with Punkin’s antics over the years.

I hung up and told my husband we had to monitor every poop, searching for the baby. Like King Herod.

“Jeezus,” he replied.


Over the next few days, we watched for the Second Coming. Nothing that appeared was recognizable as the body of Christ. After three days, we had to assume he’d found another way out.

-Excerpt from Healing with Dolly Lama: Finding God in Dog

by Patricia A. Nugent Copyright 2021

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One Nation, Under Rage

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Night Visitors

I hear a commotion down the hall. I think I recognize my father’s voice, but I’m too groggy to zero in on it. It’s dark, except for the bright lights outside the door.

The voices become clearer. My father is arguing with the nurse, saying he wants to see his daughter, his daughter who is in the hospital following a tonsillectomy.  I hear him say that he couldn’t sleep, so he brought my stuffed bear for me.

He sounds angry, and I register embarrassment that my father is raising his voice at the people taking care of me. The nurse, however, is insistent that he can’t just barge in after visiting hours and that he should come back tomorrow morning. I hear slamming doors and then silence.

The nurse quietly enters my room and puts the bear in my bed. When she leaves, I grab for it and snuggle it. It’s not just any bear – it’s the bear my dad bought me after my mom dragged me away from it in the store, telling me it was too expensive. A few months later, I had found it on Christmas morning in the bottom of a big empty box “from Santa.”

Today, I am the one going to see my father after visiting hours. After spending the evening with my mother, his room is a stop on the way home. He, too, is often sleeping when I sneak in the employee entrance, but nurses today know it’s better medicine to get a goodnight kiss from a loved one than to toss and turn in a fist-clenched sleep. I try to bring him special treats that I hope he’ll enjoy. And I can’t help but note that I too have sounded angry at his caregivers from time to time in my zeal to protect him.

The circle remains unbroken. And the night is a little less dark thanks to night visitors.

-Excerpt from They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad by Patricia A. Nugent

I still have the bear, but no longer my father.

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High Heels

I awoke from the ether-induced stupor, alone in the cold, sterile facility. The pain in my throat told me my tonsils had indeed been removed. There was seemingly no one around.

I lay there waiting, not sure what would happen next.  Still groggy from the anesthesia, I drifted in and out of sleep. My dreams even frightened me, featuring surreal events and creatures. I was alone and scared. I was seven.

Then I heard her coming. Heard her high heels clicking rapidly down the hall. I knew they were coming my way, instantly knew that was my mother. She breezed into my room like a breath of fresh air, exuding her typical high level of energy and self-confidence. She hugged me, and I could feel the excitement of her world of business and politics emanating from her professional garb. I knew that she had postponed or interrupted something important to be with me, knew that I was more important to her than any unfinished business. She stroked my head and gave me ginger ale until I drifted back to sleep. But I still heard the distant clicking of her high heels when she left.

Today, more than 40 years later, it is my high heels that click down the hall. Click down the hall of the nursing home where my 87-year-old mother now lies alone. It is she who awaits a visit, awaits someone to comfort her, to assuage her fears and loneliness. To give her a sip of water. I am the one who brings the sights and sounds of the outside world into her little room. And I am the one whose heels she hears getting fainter as I too soon leave her alone again.

 “I heard you coming,” she said as I entered the room tonight.

“I know you did, Mom, because I remember hearing you walking down the hall when I was in the hospital”. I told her the story of my recognizing the sound of her high heels after my surgery. She cried, and I cried. We cried for all the places she could never go again. We cried because our collective world has gotten so small. We cried because our time together is drawing to a close.

It is now my turn to take care of this woman, to pay on a debt I can never fully repay. It is I who must now miss meetings and appointments and parties because she needs me. For there are many places my high heels take me, but none as important as to my mother’s bedside.

-Excerpt from They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad by Patricia A. Nugent


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